On Sunday the church bells of Hillsboro rang out across the ripening fields with a grave and holy sound, and again at evening knocked faintly, with quiet sorrow, at doors where children watched for the first star, to make their wishes. Night came, and to the croaking of frogs, the moon rose over Barly Hill. In the early morning the grass, still wet with dew, chilled the bare toes of urchins on their way to school where, until four o’clock, the tranquil voice of Mr. Jeminy disputed with the hum of bees, and the far off clink of the blacksmith’s forge in the village.
At four o’clock Mr. Jeminy, with a sigh, gathered his books together. He sighed because he was old, and because the day’s work was done. He arose from his seat, and taking up his stick, passed out between the benches and went slowly down the road.
It was a warm spring day; the air was drowsy and filled with the scent of flowers. A thrush sang in the woods, where Mr. Jeminy heard before him the light voices of children. He thought: “How happy they are.” And he smiled at his own fancies which, like himself, were timid and kind.
But gradually, as the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, he grew sad. It seemed to him as if the world, strange and contrary during the day, were again as it used to be when he was young.
When he crossed the wooden bridge over Barly Water, the minnows, frightened, fled away in shoals. Mr. Jeminy turned down toward the village, where he had an errand to attend to. As his footsteps died away, the minnows swam back again, as though nothing had happened. One, larger than the rest, found a piece of bread which had fallen into the water. “This is my bread,” he said, and gazed angrily at his friends, who were trying to bite him. “I deserve this bread,” he added.
Old Mr. Frye kept the general store in Hillsboro, and ran the post office. It was easy to see that he was an honest man; he kept his shop tidy, and was sour to everybody. Through his square spectacles he saw his neighbors in the form of fruits, vegetables, stick pins, and pieces of calico. Of Mr. Jeminy he used to say: “Sweet apples, but small, very small; small and sweet.”
“Yes,” said Farmer Barly, “but just tell me, who wants small apples?”
Mr. Frye nodded his head. “Ah, that’s it,” he agreed.
At that moment Mr. Jeminy himself entered the store. “I’d like to buy a pencil,” he said. “The pencil I have in mind,” he explained, “is soft, and writes easily, but has no eraser.”
“There you are,” said the storekeeper; “that’s five cents.”
“I used to pay four,” said Mr. Jeminy, looking for the extra penny.
“Well, perhaps you did,” said Mr. Frye, “but prices are very high now.” And he moved away to register the sale.
Farmer Barly, who was a member of the school board, cleared his throat, and blew on his nose. “Hem,” he remarked. “Good-day.”