One day in October a carriage drove up to the door, after the work on the house had been carried as far as Claxon’s mood and money allowed, and he and Clementina were picking up the litter of his carpentering. He had replaced the block of wood which once served at the front door by some steps under an arbor of rustic work; but this was still so novel that the younger children had not outgrown their pride in it and were playing at house-keeping there. Clementina ran around to the back door and out through the front entry in time to save the visitor and the children from the misunderstanding they began to fall into, and met her with a smile of hospitable brilliancy, and a recognition full of compassionate welcome.
Mrs. Lander gave way to her tears as she broke out, “Oh, it ain’t the way it was the last time I was he’a! You hea’d that he—that Mr. Landa”—
“Mrs. Atwell told me,” said Clementina. “Won’t you come in, and sit down?”
“Why, yes.” Mrs. Lander pushed in through the narrow door of what was to be the parlor. Her crapes swept about her and exhaled a strong scent of their dyes. Her veil softened her heavy face; but she had not grown thinner in her bereavement.
“I just got to the Middlemount last night,” she said, “and I wanted to see you and your payrents, both, Miss Claxon. It doos bring him back so! You won’t neva know how much he thought of you, and you’ll all think I’m crazy. I wouldn’t come as long as he was with me, and now I have to come without him; I held out ag’inst him as long as I had him to hold out ag’inst. Not that he was eva one to push, and I don’t know as he so much as spoke of it, afta we left the hotel two yea’s ago; but I presume it wa’n’t out of his mind a single minute. Time and time again I’d say to him, ‘Now, Albe’t, do you feel about it just the way you done?’ and he’d say, ‘I ha’r’t had any call to charge my mind about it,’ and then I’d begin tryin’ to ahgue him out of it, and keep a hectorin’, till he’d say, ‘Well, I’m not askin’ you to do it,’ and that’s all I could get out of him. But I see all the while ’t he wanted me to do it, whateva he asked, and now I’ve got to do it when it can’t give him any pleasure.” Mrs. Lander put up her black-bordered handkerchief and sobbed into it, and Clementina waited till her grief had spent itself; then she gave her a fan, and Mrs. Lander gratefully cooled her hot wet face. The children had found the noises of her affliction and the turbid tones of her monologue annoying, and had gone off to play in the woods; Claxon kept incuriously about the work that Clementina had left him to; his wife maintained the confidence which she always felt in Clementina’s ability to treat with the world when it presented itself, and though she was curious enough, she did not offer to interrupt the girl’s interview with Mrs. Lander; Clementina would know how to behave.