She entered the sitting-room, the people following. There were her three old friends and neighbors, the minister and his wife, Daniel Tuxbury, his sister and her daughter, Mrs. Jane Maxwell and her daughter, and her own Lois. She faced them all and said it again: “I ain’t Esther Maxwell.”
The lawyer jerked himself forward; his face was twitching. “This woman’s mind is affected,” he declared with loud importance. “She is Esther Maxwell. I will swear to it in any court. I recognize her, and I never forget a face.”
“I ain’t Esther Maxwell,” said Jane Field, in her voice that was as remorseless and conclusive as fate.
Lois pressed forward and clung to her.
“Mother!” she moaned; “mother!”
Then for once her mother varied her set speech. “Lois wa’n’t to blame,” she said; “I want you to know it, all of you. Lois wa’n’t to blame. She didn’t know until after I’d done it. She wanted to tell, but I told her they’d put me in prison. Lois wa’n’t to blame. I ain’t Esther Maxwell.”
“O mother, don’t, don’t!” Lois sobbed.
She hung about her mother’s neck, and pressed her lips to that pale wrinkled face, whose wrinkles seemed now to be laid in stone. Not a muscle of Jane Field’s face changed. She kept repeating at intervals, in precisely the same tone, her terrible under-chord to all the excitement about her: “I ain’t Esther Maxwell.”
Some of the women were crying. Amanda Pratt sat sewing fast, with her mouth set. She clung to her familiar needle as if it were a rope to save her from destruction. Francis Arms had come in, and stood close to Lois and her mother.
Suddenly Jane Maxwell spoke. She was pale, and her head-dress was askew.
“I call this pretty work,” said she.
Then Mrs. Babcock faced her. “I should call it pretty work for somebody else besides poor Mis’ Field,” she cried. “I’d like to know what business your folks had takin’ her money an’ keepin’ it. She wa’n’t goin’ to take any more than belonged to her, an’ she had a perfect right to, accordin’ to my way of thinkin’.”
Mrs. Maxwell gasped. Flora laid her hand on her arm when she tried to speak again.
“I’m goin’ to tell her how I’ve been without a decent dress, an’ how I’ve been luggin’ my own things out of this house, an’ now I’ve got to lug ’em all back again,” she whispered defiantly.
“Mother, you keep still,” said Flora.
Mrs. Green went across the room and put her arm around Lois, standing by her mother. “Let’s you an’ me get her in her bedroom, an’ have her lay down on the bed, an’ try an’ quiet her,” she whispered. “She’s all unstrung. Mebbe she’ll be better.”
Mrs. Field at once turned toward her.
“I ain’t Esther Maxwell,” said she.
“O Mis’ Field! oh, poor woman! it ain’t for us to judge you,” returned Mrs. Green, in her tender, inexpressibly solemn voice. “Come, Lois.”