The next morning Lois sat on the front door-step of the Maxwell house, between the pillars of the porch. She bent over, leaning her elbows on her knees, making a cup of her hands, in which she rested her little face. She could smell the sea, and also the pines in the yard. There were many old pine trees, and their soft musical roar sounded high overhead. The spring air in Green River had been full of sweet moisture and earthiness from these steaming meadow-lands. Always in Green River, above the almond scent of the flowering trees and the live breath of the new grass, came that earthy, moist odor, like a reminder of the grave. Here in Elliot one smelled the spring above the earth.
The gate clicked, and a woman came up the curving path with a kind of clumsy dignity. She was tall and narrow-shouldered, but heavy-hipped; her black skirt flounced as she walked. She stopped in front of Lois, and looked at her hesitatingly. Lois arose.
“Good-mornin’,” said the woman. Her voice was gentle; she cleared her throat a little after she spoke.
“Good-morning,” returned Lois, faintly.
“Is Mis’ Maxwell to home?”
Lois stared at her.
“Is Mis’ Maxwell to home? I heard she’d come here to live,” repeated the woman, in a deprecating way. She smoothed down the folds of her over-skirt. Lois started; the color spread over her face and neck. “No, she isn’t at home,” she said sharply.
“Do you know when she will be?”
“No, I don’t.”
The woman’s face also was flushed. She turned about with a little flirt, when suddenly a door slammed somewhere in the house. The woman faced about, with a look of indignant surprise.
Lois said nothing. She opened the front door and went into the house, straight through to the kitchen, where her mother was preparing breakfast. “There’s a woman out there,” she said.
“Who is it?”
“I don’t know. She wants to see—Mrs. Maxwell.”
Lois looked full at her mother; her eyes were like an angel’s before evil. Mrs. Field looked back at her. Then she turned toward the door.
Lois caught hold of her mother’s dress. Mrs. Field twitched it away fiercely, and passed on into the sitting-room. The woman stood there waiting. She had followed Lois in.
“How do you do, Mis’ Maxwell?” she said.
“I’m pretty well, thank you,” replied Mrs. Field, looking at her with stiff inquiry.
The woman had a pale, pretty face, and stood with a sturdy set-back on her heels. “I guess you don’t know me, Mis’ Maxwell,” said she, smiling deprecatingly.
Mrs. Field tried to smile, but her lips were too stiff. “I guess I—don’t,” she faltered.
The smile faded from the woman’s face. She cast an anxious glance at her own face in the glass over the mantel-shelf; she had placed herself so she could see it. “I ain’t got quite so much color as I used to have,” she said, “but I ain’t thought I’d changed much other ways. Some days I have more color. I know I ain’t this mornin’. I ain’t had very good health. Maybe that’s the reason you don’t know me.”