When Jane Field, in her assumed character, had lived three months in Elliot, she was still unsuspected. She was not liked, and that made her secret safer. She was full of dogged resolution and audacity. She never refused to see a caller nor accept an invitation, but people never called upon her nor invited her when they could avoid it, and thus she was not so often exposed to contradictions and inconsistencies which might have betrayed her. Elliot people not only disliked her, they were full of out-spoken indignation against her. The defiant, watchful austerity which made her repel when she intended to encourage their advances had turned them against her, but more than that her supposed ill-treatment of her orphan niece.
When Lois, the third week of her stay in Elliot, had gone to a dressmaker and asked for some sewing to do, the news was well over the village by night. “That woman, who has all John Maxwell’s money, is too stingy and mean to support her niece, and she too delicate to work,” people said. The dressmaker to whom Lois appealed did not for a minute hesitate to give her work, although she had already many women sewing for her, and she had just given some to Mrs. Maxwell’s daughter Flora.
“There!” said she, when Lois had gone out. “I ain’t worth five hundred dollars in the world, I don’t know how she’ll sew, and I didn’t need any extra help—it’s takin’ it right out of my pocket, likely as not—but I couldn’t turn off a cat that looked up at me the way that child did. She looks pinched. I don’t believe that old woman gives her enough to eat. Of all the mean work—worth all that money, and sending her niece out to get sewing to do! I don’t believe but what she’s most starved her.”
It was true that Lois for the last week had not had enough to eat, but neither had her mother. The two had been eking out the remnants of Lois’s school-money as best they might. There were many provisions in the pantry and cellar of the Maxwell house, but they would touch none of them. Some money which Mr. Tuxbury had paid to Mrs. Field—the first instalment from the revenue of her estate—she had put carefully away in a sugar-bowl on the top shelf of the china closet, and had not spent a penny of it. After Lois began to sew, her slender earnings provided them with the most frugal fare. Mrs. Field eked it out in every way that she could. She had a little vegetable garden and kept a few hens. As the season advanced, she scoured the berry pastures, and spent many hours stooping painfully over the low bushes. Three months from the time at which she came to Elliot, on the day on which her neighbors started from Green River to visit her, she was out in the pasture trying to fill her pail with blueberries. All the sunlight seemed to centre on her black figure like a burning-glass; the thick growth of sweet-fern around the blueberry bushes sent a hot and stifling aroma into her face; the wild flowers hung limply, like delicate painted rags, and the rocks were like furnaces. Mrs. Field went out soon after dinner, and at half-past five she was still picking; the berries were not very plentiful.