Mr. Lander brought himself under censure by venturing, without his wife’s authority, to lean forward and tap on the door-frame with the butt of his whip. At the sound, a shrill voice called instantly from the region of the stove pipe, “Clem! Clementina? Go to the front dooa! The’e’s somebody knockin’.” The sound of feet, soft and quick, made itself heard within, and in a few moments a slim maid, too large for a little girl, too childlike for a young girl, stood in the open doorway, looking down on the elderly people in the buggy, with a face as glad as a flower’s. She had blue eyes, and a smiling mouth, a straight nose, and a pretty chin whose firm jut accented a certain wistfulness of her lips. She had hair of a dull, dark yellow, which sent out from its thick mass light prongs, or tendrils, curving inward again till they delicately touched it. Her tanned face was not very different in color from her hair, and neither were her bare feet, which showed well above her ankles in the calico skirt she wore. At sight of the elders in the buggy she involuntarily stooped a little to lengthen her skirt in effect, and at the same time she pulled it together sidewise, to close a tear in it, but she lost in her anxiety no ray of the joy which the mere presence of the strangers seemed to give her, and she kept smiling sunnily upon them while she waited for them to speak.
“Oh!” Mrs. Lander began with involuntary apology in her tone, “we just wished to know which of these roads went to South Middlemount. We’ve come from the hotel, and we wa’n’t quite ce’tain.”
The girl laughed as she said, “Both roads go to South Middlemount’m; they join together again just a little piece farther on.”
The girl and the woman in their parlance replaced the letter ‘r’ by vowel sounds almost too obscure to be represented, except where it came last in a word before a word beginning with a vowel; there it was annexed to the vowel by a strong liaison, according to the custom universal in rural New England.
“Oh, do they?” said Mrs. Lander.
“Yes’m,” answered the girl. “It’s a kind of tu’nout in the wintatime; or I guess that’s what made it in the beginning; sometimes folks take one hand side and sometimes the other, and that keeps them separate; but they’re really the same road, ’m.”
“Thank you,” said Mrs. Lander, and she pushed her husband to make him say something, too, but he remained silently intent upon the child’s prettiness, which her blue eyes seemed to illumine with a light of their own. She had got hold of the door, now, and was using it as if it was a piece of drapery, to hide not only the tear in her gown, but somehow both her bare feet. She leaned out beyond the edge of it; and then, at moments she vanished altogether behind it.
Since Mr. Lander would not speak, and made no sign of starting up his horse, Mrs. Lander added, “I presume you must be used to havin’ people ask about the road, if it’s so puzzlin’.”