BY JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY
But a few miles from the city here, and on
the sloping banks of the stream noted more
for its plenitude of "chubs" and "shiners"
than the gamier two- and four-pound bass for
which, in season, so many credulous anglers
flock and lie in wait, stands a country
residence, so convenient to the stream, and
so inviting in its pleasant exterior and
comfortable surroundings--barn, dairy, and
spring-house--that the weary, sunburnt, and
disheartened fisherman, out from the dusty
town for a day of recreation, is often wont
to seek its hospitality. The house in style
of architecture is something of a departure
from the typical farm-house, being designed
and fashioned with no regard to symmetry or
proportion, but rather, as is suggested,
built to conform to the matter-of-fact and
most sensible ideas of its owner, who, if
it pleased him, would have small windows
where large ones ought to be, and vice versa,
whether they balanced properly to the eye
or not. And chimneys--he would have as many
as he wanted, and no two alike, in either
height or size. And if he wanted the front
of the house turned from all possible view,
as though abashed at any chance of public
scrutiny, why, that was his affair and not
the public's; and, with like perverseness,
if he chose to thrust his kitchen under the
public's very nose, what should the generally
fagged-out, half-famished representative of
that dignified public do but reel in his
dead minnow, shoulder his fishing-rod, clamber
over the back fence of the old farm-house and
inquire within, or jog back to the city,
inwardly anathematizing that very particular
locality or the whole rural district in
general. That is just the way that farm-house
looked to the writer of this sketch one week
ago--so individual it seemed--so liberal,
and yet so independent. It wasn't even
weather-boarded, but, instead, was covered
smoothly with cement, as though the plasterers
had come while the folks were visiting, and
so, unable to get at the interior, had just
plastered the outside.
I am more than glad that I was hungry enough,
and weary enough, and wise enough to take
the house at its first suggestion; for,
putting away my fishing-tackle for the
morning, at least, I went up the sloping
bank, crossed the dusty road, and confidently
clambered over the fence.
Not even a growling dog to intimate
that I was trespassing. All was
sward beneath my feet was velvet-like in
elasticity, and the scarce visible path
I followed through it led promptly to the
open kitchen door. From within I heard a
woman singing some old ballad in an undertone,
while at the threshold a trim, white-spurred
rooster stood poised on one foot, curving
his glossy neck and cocking his wattled
head as though to catch the meaning of the
words. I paused. It was a scene I felt
restrained from breaking in upon, nor
would I have, but for the sound of a strong
male voice coming around the corner of the
Turning, I saw a rough-looking but kindly
featured man of sixty-five, the evident
owner of the place.
I returned his salutation with some confusion
and much deference. "I must really beg your
pardon for this intrusion," I began, "but
I have been tiring myself out fishing, and
your home here looked so pleasant--and I
felt so thirsty--and--"
"Want a drink, I reckon," said the old man,
turning abruptly toward the kitchen door,
then pausing as suddenly, with a backward
motion of his thumb--"jest follow the path
here down to the little brick--that's the
spring--and you'll find 'at you've come to
the right place fer drinkin'-worter! Hold
on a minute tel I git you a tumbler--there's
nothin' down there but a tin."
"Then don't trouble yourself any further,"
I said, heartily, "for I'd rather drink
from a tin cup than a goblet of pure gold."
"And so'd I," said the old man, reflectively,
turning mechanically, and following me down
the path. "'Druther drink out of a tin--er
jest a fruit-can with the top knocked
off--er--er--er a gourd," he added in a
zestful, reminiscent tone of voice, that
so heightened my impatient thirst that I
reached the spring-house fairly in a run.
"Well-sir!" exclaimed my host, in evident
delight, as I stood dipping my nose in the
second cupful of the cool, revivifying
liquid, and peering in a congratulatory
kind of way at the blurred and rubicund
reflection of my features in the bottom of
the cup, "well-sir, blame-don! ef it don't
do a feller good to see you enjoyin' of it
thataway! But don't you drink too much o'
the worter!--'cause there're some sweet milk
over there in one o' them crocks, maybe;
and ef you'll jest, kindo' keerful-like,
lift off the led of that third one, say,
over there to yer left, and dip you out
a tinful er two o' that, w'y, it'll do
you good to drink it, and it'll do me
good to see you at it--But hold up!--hold
up!" he called, abruptly, as, nowise loath,
I bent above the vessel designated. "Hold
yer hosses fer a second! Here's Marthy;
let her git it fer ye."
If I was at first surprised and confused,
meeting the master of the house, I was
wholly startled and chagrined in my present
position before its mistress. But as I
arose, and stammered, in my confusion, some
incoherent apology, I was again reassured
and put at greater ease by the comprehensive
and forgiving smile the woman gave me, as
I yielded her my place, and, with lifted
hat, awaited her further kindness.
"I came just in time, sir," she said, half
laughingly, as with strong, bare arms she
reached across the gurgling trough and
replaced the lid that I had partially
removed.--"I came just in time, I see, to
prevent father from having you dip into
the 'morning's-milk,' which, of course, has
scarcely a veil of cream over the face of
it as yet. But men, as you are doubtless
willing to admit," she went on jocularly,
"don't know about these things. You must
pardon father, as much for his well-meaning
ignorance of such matters, as for this
cup of cream, which I am sure you will
She arose, still smiling, with her eyes
turned frankly on my own. And I must be
excused when I confess that as I bowed my
thanks, taking the proffered cup and
lifting it to my lips, I stared with an
uncommon interest and pleasure at the
She was a woman of certainly not less
than forty years of age. But the figure,
and the rounded grace and fulness of it,
together with the features and the eyes,
completed as fine a specimen of physical
and mental health as ever it has been my
fortune to meet; there was something so
full of purpose and resolve--something
so wholesome, too, about the character--something
so womanly--I might almost say manly,
and would, but for the petty prejudice
maybe occasioned by the trivial fact of
a locket having dropped from her bosom
as she knelt; and that trinket still
dangles in my memory even as it then
dangled and dropped back to its concealment
in her breast as she arose. But her face,
by no means handsome in the common meaning,
was marked with a breadth and strength
of outline and expression that approached
the heroic--a face that once seen is
forever fixed in memory--a personage once
met one must know more of. And so it was,
that an hour later, as I strolled with
the old man about his farm, looking, to
all intents, with the profoundest interest
at his Devonshires, Shorthorns, Jerseys,
and the like, I lured from him something
of an outline of his daughter's history.
"There're no better girl 'n Marthy!" he
said, mechanically answering some ingenious
allusion to her worth. "And yit," he went
on reflectively, stooping from his seat in
the barn door and with his open jack-knife
picking up a little chip with the point of
the blade--"and yit--you wouldn't believe
it--but Marthy was the oldest o' three
daughters, and hed--I may say--hed more
advantages o' marryin'--and yit, as I was
jest goin' to say, she's the very one 'at
didn't marry. Hed every advantage--Marthy
did. W'y, we even hed her educated--her
mother was a-livin' then--and we was well
enough fixed to afford the educatin' of
her, mother allus contended--and we was--besides,
it was Marthy's notion, too, and you know
how women is thataway when they git their
head set. So we sent Marthy down to
Indianop'lus, and got her books and put
her in school there, and paid fer her
keepin' and ever'thing; and she jest--well,
you may say, lived there stiddy fer better'n
four year. O' course she'd git back ever'
once-an-a-while, but her visits was allus,
'cause, you see, Marthy was allus my
favorite, and I'd allus laughed and told
her 'at the other girls could git marrid
ef they wanted, but she was goin' to be
the 'nest-egg' of our family, and 'slong
as I lived I wanted her at home with me.
And she'd laugh and contend 'at she'd as
lif be an old maid as not, and never
expected to marry, ner didn't want to.
But she had me sceart onc't, though!
Come out from the city one time, durin'
the army, with a peart-lookin' young
feller in blue clothes and gilt straps
on his shoulders. Young lieutenant he
was--name o' Morris. Was layin' in camp
there in the city somers. I disremember
which camp it was now adzackly--but
anyway, it 'peared like he had plenty
o' time to go and come, fer from that
time on he kep' on a-comin'--ever' time
Marthy 'ud come home, he'd come, too;
and I got to noticin' 'at Marthy come
home a good 'eal more'n she used to
afore Morris first brought her. And
blame ef the thing didn't git to worryin'
me! And onc't I spoke to mother about
it, and told her ef I thought the feller
wanted to marry Marthy I'd jest stop his
comin' right then and there. But mother
she sorto' smiled and said somepin' 'bout
men a-never seein' through nothin'; and
when I ast her what she meant, w'y, she
ups and tells me 'at Morris didn't keer
nothin' fer Marthy, ner Marthy fer Morris,
and then went on to tell me that Morris
was kindo' aidgin' up to'rds Annie--she
was next to Marthy, you know, in pint
of years and experience, but ever'body
allus said 'at Annie was the purtiest
one o' the whole three of 'em. And so
when mother told me 'at the signs
pinted to'rds Annie, w'y, of course, I
hedn't no particular objections to that,
'cause Morris was of good fambly enough
it turned out, and, in fact, was as
stirrin' a young feller as ever I'd want
fer a son-in-law, and so I hed nothin'
more to say--ner they wasn't no occasion
to say nothin', 'cause right along about
then I begin to notice 'at Marthy quit
comin' home so much, and Morris kep'
a-comin' more. Tel finally, one time
he was out here all by hisself, 'long
about dusk, come out here where I was
feedin', and ast me, all at onc't, and
in a straightfor'ard way, ef he couldn't
marry Annie; and, some-way-another,
blame ef it didn't make me as happy as
him when I told him yes! You see that
thing proved, pine-blank, 'at he wasn't
a-fishin' round fer Marthy. Well-sir,
as luck would hev it, Marthy got home
about a half-hour later, and I'll give
you my word I was never so glad to see
the girl in my life! It was foolish
in me, I reckon, but when I see her
drivin' up the lane--it was purt' nigh
dark then, but I could see her through
the open winder from where I was settin'
at the supper-table, and so I jest
quietly excused myself, p'lite-like,
as a feller will, you know, when they's
comp'ny round, and slipped off and met
her jest as she was about to git out to
open the barn gate. 'Hold up, Marthy,'
says I; 'set right where you air; I'll
open the gate fer you, and I'll do
anything else fer you in the world 'at
you want me to!'
"'W'y, what's pleased you so?' she says,
laughin', as she druv through slow-like
and a-ticklin' my nose with the cracker
of the buggy-whip.--'What's pleased you?'
"'Guess,' says I, jerkin' the gate to,
and turnin' to lift her out.
"'The new peanner's come?' says she,
"'Yer new peanner's come,' says I, 'but
that's not it.'
"'Strawberries fer supper?' says she.
"'Strawberries fer supper,' says I; 'but
that ain't it.'
"Jest then Morris's hoss whinnied in the
barn, and she glanced up quick and smilin'
and says, 'Somebody come to see somebody?'
"'You're a-gittin' warm,' says I.
"'Somebody come to see me?' she says,
"'No,' says I, 'and I'm glad of it--fer
this one 'at's come wants to git married,
and o' course I wouldn't harber in my
house no young feller 'at was a-layin'
round fer a chance to steal away the
"Nest-egg," ' says I, laughin'.
"Marthy had riz up in the buggy by this
time, but as I helt up my hands to her,
she sorto' drawed back a minute, and says,
all serious-like and kindo'whisperin':
"'Is it Annie?'
"I nodded. 'Yes,' says I, 'and what's
more, I've give my consent, and mother's
give hern--the thing's all settled.
Come, jump out and run in and be happy
with the rest of us!' and I helt out my
hands ag'in, but she didn't 'pear to
take no heed. She was kindo' pale,
too, I thought, and swallered a time er
two like as ef she couldn't speak plain.
"'Who is the man?' she ast.
"'Who--who's the man,' I says, a-gittin'
kindo' out o' patience with the girl.--'W'y,
you know who it is, o' course.--It's
Morris,' says I. 'Come, jump down! Don't
you see I'm waitin' fer ye?'
"'Then take me,' she says; and blame-don!
ef the girl didn't keel right over in my
arms as limber as a rag! Clean fainted
away! Honest! Jest the excitement, I
reckon, o' breakin' it to her so suddent-like--'cause
she liked Annie, I've sometimes thought,
better'n even she did her own mother.
Didn't go half so hard with her when her
other sister married. Yes-sir!" said
the old man, by way of sweeping conclusion,
as he rose to his feet--"Marthy's the
on'y one of 'em 'at never married--both
the others is gone--Morris went all through
the army and got back safe and sound--'s
livin' in Idyho, and doin' fust-rate.
Sends me a letter ever' now and then.
Got three little chunks o' grandchildern
out there, and I never laid eyes on one
of 'em. You see, I'm a-gittin' to be
quite a middle-aged man--in fact, a very
middle-aged man, you might say. Sence
mother died, which has be'n--lem-me-see--mother's
be'n dead somers in the neighberhood
o' ten year.--Sence mother died I've
be'n a-gittin' more and more o' Marthy's
notion--that is,--you couldn't ever hire
me to marry nobody! and them has allus
be'n and still is the 'Nest-egg's' views!
Listen! That's her a-callin' fer us now.
You must sorto' overlook the freedom,
but I told Marthy you'd promised to take
dinner with us to-day, and it 'ud never
do to disappoint her now. Come on."
And ah! it would have made the soul of
you either rapturously glad or madly
envious to see how meekly I consented.
I am always thinking that I never tasted
coffee till that day; I am always thinking
of the crisp and steaming rolls, ored over
with the molten gold that hinted of the
clover-fields, and the bees that had not
yet permitted the honey of the bloom and
the white blood of the stalk to be divorced;
I am always thinking that the young and
tender pullet we happy three discussed
was a near and dear relative of the gay
patrician rooster that I first caught
peering so inquisitively in at the kitchen
door; and I am always--always thinking of