From The Pictorial Review
Ben Brooks filled his mouth with mashed potatoes, pushed the emptied plate to the centre of the table, and kicked his chair back. It was Saturday night and he made ready to go to Almont. He ran his fingers through his mat of yellowish-grey hair, dirt-seamed fingers of a farm-labourer, as he went for his coat and hat on the nail behind the door. He had no team of horses to harness, not even a worked-out mare and paint-bare buggy, such as the renters went to town in. That had all gone long ago when the land went. He was no longer even a steady farm-hand. All that was left him was the old house with its garden patch, and the barn, which now housed a few chickens.
His daughters, Aggie and Josie, clearing away the supper dishes, looked at each other.
Pa, you aint goin without seein Ma!
Ben grunted, and started up the stairs. His wife sat propped up in bed, muttering to herself. On the little table beside the bed, he saw the pie-tin on which Ma burned mullein-leaves, and the old tin funnel through which she inhaled the fumes when she felt an attack of asthma coming on. Ben shuffled in the doorway and rubbed the back of his hand against his unshaven face. It might go hard with Ma if she started to wheeze, now that she was so bad with her side.
Is that you there, Ben?Get me the little jugover the doorYou be careful, nowIts cracked.
She tilted the jug upon the patch-quilt, a brown jug, with cattails painted on it. She had won it in a race at the Fair, when she was Sadie Chambers and keeping company with Ben Brooks. Her bony hands moved; her fingers felt about. She picked up a twenty-five cent piece and three nickels. The effort tired her.
Put the jug backCareful, nowYou take them forty cents an get them earringsThey must be fixed by nowMa died in em. I want to die in em.
Dont be a fool, Ma! You aint goin to die. Didnt Doctor John say you was goin to last longern me?
Im a-breathin awful heavy.
Dont talk like that, Ma. We got to have you. Ben put his hand on his wifes thin shoulder. You wait till I bring back them earrings of yourn, anyhow.
Dont let that Sam talk you into spendin any of them forty cents, now.
Dont begin a-wheezin while Im gone.
His daughters followed him out on to the porch.
Now, Pa. You come home early. You know Mas sick.
Ben hurried down the path. It was a habit formed on the many Saturday nights when, because he took a glass, or at most two glasses, of beer, his wifes shrill Dont you be a-gettin drunk, now! pursued him far down the road. But he did not turn around, when out of sight, to shake his fist in the direction of the house and exclaim, You old fool! Nor did he mutter, as he plodded on The old miser. Dont I know? Aint I seen her a-hangin of them old dresses of hern out on the line sos the farmers wives ud think shed lots of things? Shes cracked about her pretties! He did not even whistle to himself.
He found Old Sam leaning against the watering-trough at Predmores Corners, waiting for him. Like two old horses meeting in a strange pasture, they rubbed up against each other. This was their way of greeting every Saturday night. On the mile and a half to town they did not exchange a word.
On the hotel corner, Ben turned to Sam. Got a dime?
No. Have you?
Well get a dime or two, said Sam.
Editor Tinsman might have a job he wants done, Ben suggested.
Or Ed Snover, or Doc Greenshields, added Sam. Marb Brab might have something.
I got forty cents Ma gave me to get her earrings, Ben confided.
Have ye? Well get a dime or two, somehow.
The two old men waited on Newberrys Corner. Marb Brab came along.
Good evening, boys.
Howdy, Mr. Brab.
Marb Brab went on without offering them a job. Editor Tinsman said Hello! to them as he crossed the street to his office. Al Jersey came along. They stepped out in the middle of the sidewalk, scuffled a bit, and laughed loudly. But he had nothing for them.
Id better get Mas earrings, fore its too late.
Better wait a bit.
No, Id better go.
If you work it right, mebbe Tibbits will take just thirty cents.
Catch Roy Tibbits a-doin anything like that!
Mebbe Ill get something while youre gone, Sam concluded. Ben started up the street.
Charlie Wade, the photographer, passed Newberrys Corner, and Lawyer Moreland, and Ed Snover.
Got anything? Ben asked, when he returned.
Lets go an look in the drug-store window, Sam suggested.
Mebbe Hepplethwaitell want us to turn the ice-cream freezer.
They walked up and down in front of the plate-glass window. Hepplethwaite didnt beckon to them. They heard the town clock strike tenthere was little chance of their earning anything.
Sam went through his pockets. We aint got nothin we can borrow a dime or two on, have we?
Mas sick. She thinks a wonderful lot of them earrings. If it was next week, when Mad be better
You might say you just forgot, Sam interrupted. Next Saturday night wed sure make some money an get em back.
Mas sick. Its one of her pretties.
Lets go home, then, Sam grumbled. Im tired of a-hangin around here.
They started for home. Farmers drove past them. A wagon loaded with three generations of Jeddos good-natured, noisy, the laughter of the women and young girls sounding shrilly above the gruff voices of the men, clattered up from behind. Hello, Ben! Hello, Sam! Want a ride? Tumble in, boys! Tumble in! Lots of room!
The two old men shook their heads and tramped on. Ben did not brag of the exploits that ended when he married Sadie Chambers; nor did Old Sam talk of the Saturday nights when he, and not his red-headed son, was hired man of the Predmore Farm. They reached Predmores Corners. Good-night, Sam!
I got them earrings, anyhow, Ben prided himself, as he went along the stretch of road. An I aint had a drink. Wont Ma be surprised!
Aggie and Josie came to the door when they heard Bens step. Pa! Oh, Pa! they called to him. Mas dead!
Now, now, Josie! Dont say that! She aint, Aggie! She aint, Josie! Say she aint dead!
Mrs. Lowell was the first of the neighbours to come in the next day. She brewed strong tea for Ben and looked after the girls:
Now you run upstairs, Josie, an you, Aggie, an get fixed. People will begin a-comin soon. An you, Ben, go put on that black coat of yourn.
Ben wandered from room to room. His daughters watched him. He wiped the face of the Swiss clock with his sleeve. He found the Worlds Fair souvenir spoon in the china-closet, picked it up and put it down again. He took the silver-handled cane that Uncle George had brought with him from the city, and carried it about.
Aggie turned to Josie. See, hes already a-takin of Mas pretties.
Hell sell em all for drink, now Mas gone.
Ma loved Grandma Chamberss earrings, didnt she, Aggie?
Yes, Josie. An the jet beads with the locket on em. An the Swiss clock.
An the silver pitcher-frame.
An Uncle Georges cane with the silver end.
Ma loved her pretties.
Pall sell em all for drink, now Mas gone.
They began to cry.
We dont care for ourselves, Aggie appealed to Mrs. Lowell. Its you ought to get something nice. Youve always been so good to Ma.
Yes, one of the nicest, said Josie. Itd be such a comfort to Ma to know you got the best. Pall sell em all for drink, now Mas gone.
Ben took Grandma Chamberss earrings into the parlour where Ma was lying in her coffin. She didnt know, she didnt know I brought em home. Here they be, Ma! Here they be. See, on the coffin!
Ben was moved by the appearance of the parlour, by the silence, by the heavy odour, that oppressive odour present at funerals, in rooms where windows and shutters are seldom opened. Mrs. Lowell had made everything beautiful for Mas last day at home. She had brought all the best flowers from her garden and disposed of them about the room. Ben saw the white asters which Mrs. Lowell had piled upon Mas rocker and set at the head of the coffin; the store flowers brought by Undertaker Hopkins that she had placed upon the coffin-lid; the pitcher of cosmos beside the family Bible on the little stand in the window; the zinnias on the marble-topped table in the corner; the dahlias on the window-sills; the stray asters and cornflowers pinned to the curtains; the sweet alyssum twined around the picture wire of Mas daguerreotypeMrs. Lowell had always been good to Ma.
Mrs. Lowell had brought chicken-broth and tidied up Mas room whenever Ma was sick. She had been a great help to Ma when Uncle George came home to die. Now Ma lay in her coffin, white, with her hands folded over her breast. Ma would have a fine funeral. Mrs. Lowell had seen to everything.
His daughters were not like Mrs. Lowell. They didnt know how to make a room look pretty. Ben had hoped that Aggie and Josie would turn out differently, when they had been too young instead of too old to be married, and Ma had gone about the house singing. Now Ma was gone, and left all her pretties behind.
Aggie! Josie! Ben called to his daughters. Ma loved her pretties. You can have em all. You divide em, I cant.
Aggie and Josie looked at each other. The pretties were theirs! What had got into Pa?
Mis Lowell ought to get one, added Ben. Shes always been so good to Ma. The beads an locket, she might like that?
Now, Pa, you better go into the dinin-room an lay down. Youre so tired.
Mis Lowells always been good to Ma, Ben repeated.
Youre so tired, Pa. Go lay down on the lounge.
They watched him shuffle out of the room, and waited until they heard the springs of the lounge creak under his weight. They knew there were pretties in Mas bureau that Pa had forgotten about. They started up the stairs, treading carefully, and keeping close together. They reached Mas door. Aggie turned the door-knob with both hands and stepped softly into the room, with Josie close behind her. They left the door open so that they might hear Pa better. They opened the closet door, hesitated, looked in. There was Mas bureau. They tried the two top drawers. They were locked.
The keys, Josie! Where be the keys?
Ma kept em rolled up in a stockin.
Well find em.
They opened the next drawer, filled with Mas best clothesthe Paisley shawl, Mas best silk dress, the dress of Henrietta cloth, the cashmere dress, Mas best muslin dress, and the red flannel skirt edged with lace knit out of red yarn.
Both pulled at the third drawer. It flew open. Balls of yarnpink, green, red, yellow, blue, of various sizes, left over from many quiltings, rolled out upon the floor. They felt about for rolled-up stockings, in the cotton-batting, under the piles of aprons, between the folds of babies clothing.
Them be ours, Aggie.
Where be them stockins?
They opened the fourth drawer. Their hands threshed about, ran into each other, tumbled the contents. They straightened up and looked at the shelves.
They wouldnt be in them boxes, would they, Josie?
The basket! Lets try that.
They took down the large, clean, basswood market-basket. Josie lifted the hinged cover. They found Mas white wool fascinator hood, a pair of woollen leggings, Mas best knit slippers, a thick brown veil, and a pair of black woollen mittens.
Here be the stockins.
They upset the basket. In a rolled-up pair of grey woollen stockings Josie found the keys.
Give em to me. Go an look, Josie. Pa may be a-comin.
No, wed hear im. Open the drawer, Aggie, the right-hand one.
They saw the lacquer box and the red leather purse that Uncle George had brought Ma from the city. Aggie took the purse. Ma used to keep her money in it. But it was empty. The lacquer box held Grandma Chamberss things. They lifted out carefully the shawl of Spanish lace, a small Bible with a gold clasp, six worn silver spoons, a coral cameo breast-pin, a piece of thin gold chain, and Grandma Chamberss jet beads with the locket.
The idea of Pas wantin to give away Grandma Chamberss beads an locket, said Aggie. The idea!
Its just like Pa. He aint to be trusted.
Now that locket, that locket ud look right smart on you, Josie. Mad be glad you had it, I know. An Mad like me to have Grandma Chamberss earrings.
Youll own three spoons, Aggie, an Ill own the other three. Mebbe the lace shawl ud look best on me?
Ill have the Bible, an you can have the cameo pin. Well find something for Mis Lowell.
The upper left-hand drawer was filled with many small paste-board boxes, one on top of the other. One of them held Mas best switchgrey, like her own hairwith the side-comb and bone hairpins in place. They took out the comb and pins. In a little box within a box they found an old needle-book that had belonged to Mas grandmother. From another box they took a black switch, worn before Mas hair turned. Josie thought it might come in handy. In other boxes were several pairs of Mas specs, which she had put away as she needed stronger one; Mas under plate of false teeth, which she had never used; a lock of some ones hair; several gold-plated breast-pins in the form of flowers; and a round locket that looked like a watch, with pictures of Pa and Ma, taken on their wedding day.
You take the breast-pins, an Ill have the round locket. Well find something for Mis Lowell.
They looked around Mas room. Pas bureau did not interest them. They took down the jug from the shelf over the door. Its contents rattled. They upset the jug upon the patch-quilt, and divided fifty cents between them. Then they went downstairs.
The cane, Josie, you take that, an Ill have the spoon from the Worlds Fair. Ma was proud of Uncle George, wasnt she, Josie? Shed want us to keep the cane, an the silk hat in the grand leather case, an the white gloves, an the box with the cigars in it.
They went into the parlour, where Ma lay in her coffin.
Them earrings are mine, now, aint they, Josie? You got the beads an locket. Well find something for Mis Lowell.
Ben heard them. Hadnt I better take the pretty over to Mis Lowell? Shes always been so good to Ma.
Aggie and Josie looked at their father and at each other.
Yes, Pa. Well get it.
They went back into Mas room. They looked around, at the top of the bureau, at the shelf over the door. They opened the door of Mas closet, and closed it again. They saw the jug where they had left it on the patch-quilt.
Ma wouldnt want us to give away that patch-quilt of hern, would she, Josie?
No, Aggie. Thatll be good on our bed, cold nights. Well give Pa the brown one. Itll be warmer.
Aggie took a ball of string, wound smooth and hardpink and green string from the drug-storetied end to end, and Mas jack-knife from the pocket hanging on the closet door.
You get a sheet of paper, Josie, from the bottom of one of them drawers.
They wrapped up the jug carefully, and went downstairs.
Here it is, Pa. We did it up nice. Be careful now, an dont you undo it.
Ben was pleased. It looked like a Christmas present. Mrs. Lowell had always been good to Ma. He took the South road to the Lowell farm. He saw a woman near the red barn. He felt of the parcel, turned it about. His fingers followed the outlines. He wanted to undo it, but he was afraid he would not be able to do it up so nice. The woman in the barnyard was Mrs. Lowell, feeding her chickens.
Ben worked open a corner of the paper, and inserted his finger, without disturbing the string.
Mis Lowell should a had something nicer. It aint good enough to be given for Ma.
He started back for home. I aint goin to take that jug to her.
He took a few steps, then straightened up and turned about. His heart beat fast; there was a light in his eyes. He was young again, one of a big crowd, watching the girls race at the Fair. His Sadie was leading them all. Everybody cheered for her. She ran right into his arms, and they gave her the first prizethe very jug he had in his hands.
He took the jug out of its wrappings, and hurried across the farmyard to Mrs. Lowell.
Im bringin you one of Mas prettiesthis here little jug with the cat-tail paintin on itshe won it at the Fair. She was Sadie Chambers then, an she beat all the other girls, anOh, you oughter seen how she ran!
This story was analysed in "How to Study The Best Short Stories by Blanche Colton Williams (1919)."
It also appeared in "The Best Short Stories of 1916."