send Marilla up with the waist, but old Aunt Libby
Nicholson brought in a dress pattern, and she was
so particular and such a talker that she took up the
whole afternoon of both women. Mrs. Avery sent
word to be sure and have her suit ready by Thurs
day, as George was going to the meeting of the
Ohio State Medical Society up to Cleveland and
wanted her to go along; so if the dressmaker s lamps
burned far into the night there was good reason
When Mrs. Coulter came next day she said she
had received a letter from Molly and she thought
the goods was just lovely and that they looked for
her Friday morning sure, and for her not to fail
them. Jim would be at the Union Depot to meet
" But do you know I declare I m gettin kind
o foolish I m jist bound I won t go without that
waist. Ain t it pretty? That shirrin 11 set it off, too,
138 FOLKS BACK HOME
won t it? Do you think it s jist right in the back?
Seems to me it s kind o "
Marilla was a first-rate girl, or would have been
if she didn t get to talking sometimes and do things
wrong end to and never find it out till she was nearly
done, and then have to rip it all out again. There
were a good many little annoyances of one kind
or another, so it was just at dusk Thursday even
ing that Almeda got around to Mrs. Coulter s
" I wish Elnora hadn t set her heart so on that
shirrin ," she said to Marilla. " It s such slow work.
If it was tucks, now, I could do it on the machine
in no time. Ah! " She bent herself backward to rest
her tired muscles. " This settin up every night and
every night ain t what it s cracked up to be. I wish
you d light the other lamp too, Marilla, whilst you re
about it. I want all the light I can git on this fine
stitchin . You needn t do any more now. You done
enough for one day. See what kind of a supper you
can get up. And, Marilla, make the tea extry strong.
I got to set up till this thing s done."
As she sat stitching away, the brilliant contrast
of the black and white made her tired eyes burn as
if for sleep. She passed her hand over them, and was
just gathering up the goods anew upon her needle
when the side door suddenly opened and Mrs. Coul
ter stepped in.
THE WARNING 139
" Why, Elnora Potter! How you scared me!"
" I ain t got but a minute to stay. I must hurry
right home. Mercy! Comin up them steps o yourn
just about finishes me. I dropped in to see how you
was gettin along with my waist. Why, you ain t
got it near done, have you? "
" O my, yes. They ain t much more. They s just
this shirrin , an* some finishin up to do around the
bottom, and put the sleeves in, an a few little things.
I was held back a good deal by Mrs. Avery s suit.
When do you start? "
" I was going on the 10.40, but if you "
" Oh, well, now, don t you worry. I ll finish it if I
live, and if I don t live I ll come and tell you. I ll
send it up to you by Marilla the first thing in the
morning. Before nine o clock, anyhow."
" Now, you ll be sure? "
" Oh, I ll set up till I git it done."
" I hate to think of you doin that on my account.
I could go on the afternoon train, but I told them
to look for me But we could telegraph em! "
" No, I wouldn t do that. If Molly was to see a
telegram and get a sudden scare, you don t know
what might happen. No, I ll set up and finish it.
Why, they ain t hardly nothin to do! I ve set up
many s the night before this, an will, I guess, as
long s I can see to thread a needle."
i 4 o FOLKS BACK HOME
" Well, all right, if you can. I ll run along now.
Land! Don t it get dark quick now? Good night!"
After supper, Almeda set to work with all her
might, once in a while dropping a word to Marilla,
but for the most part silently attacking the task,
which was greater than she had given Elnora Coul
ter to suppose.
" Well, I should say you did make the tea extry
strong, Marilla. Twould take the bark off a white
oak. . . . My! This black and white hurts my eyes
like all get-out. ... I guess I ll leave the shirrin
to the very last, and if it comes to the worst, I ll do
it the first thing in the morning by daylight."
" Can t I help you, Miss Carey? " asked Marilla.
" No. You done enough for to-day. Why don t
you go to bed? Settin up this way! You ought to
be ashamed of yourself, an you dead for sleep."
" Up there in the dark all by myself? " whined
" O fudge! What is there to be afraid of?"
"Hark!" whispered Marilla.
" That s only Mumma s dog howlin ," sniffed Al
meda, and returned to her work.
" They say it s a sign somebody s goin* to die
when a dog howls that way."
" Well, I guess that s so. Somebody s dyin* every
minute. You oughtn t to pay any attention to such
THE WARNING 141
The girl made an inarticulate protest and curled
herself on the lounge. Presently, overcome by fa
tigue and the late hours for the three nights previ
ous, she fell asleep, and Miss Carey, looking up as
she threaded her needle, forbore to waken her. It
was some company to hear the tired girl s regular
As it grew late the footsteps of passers-by became
rarer and rarer, and finally ceased. The sounds of
daylight and human activity hushed, and in their
stead came the sounds of the night and that activity
which we fear is human, either in the flesh or out
of it: the furtive snapping of the woodwork yielding
to the pressure of an unseen foot; the creak of the
shutter crying lonesomely; the squeaking of the
leafless boughs chafing one another in the night
wind that now wailed pitifully through a chink in the
door, and now hushed as if hoping for an answer;
that frightened scurry and shriek of the mice scram
bling behind the plastering; the rattle of a bit of
mortar falling down the chimney. The lights in the
houses about disappeared. Here one vanished, there
another, until at last the only radiance in all Minuca
Center shone through the window of the house
where one woman slept, and another thudded with
the machine or whipped her hand out rhythmically
with the sure movement of the deft seamstress, fend
ing off momently the wolf that momently returned.
142 FOLKS BACK HOME
Each hour the bell of the flax factory sounded more
clearly as the watchman told the passing night. As
the twelve strokes began, the seamstress paused.
" I don t believe but what I could get that shirring
done to-night, after all," she said softly to herself,
leaning back and looking at her work. Stepping
noiselessly, she tiptoed out into the kitchen and got
a tumbler from the cupboard, slipped the bolt of the
side door, and went out to the well. She let the
bucket down and, while it rilled, stood looking at
the night. It was strangely dark and still. No star
shone. The sky hung low and sullen, and as her eyes
relaxed themselves she could see a deeper black was
stealing up the heights to mid-heaven from the
west. A faint breath fanned her cheek a moment,
and then died away. There seemed to be something
in the hush that waited expectant. Far, far off yon
der somewhere a dog howled a long and dreary
howl. A cold chill went over her. " Somebody is
walkin over my grave," she said, and drew up the
bucket of cold water, the chain clucking as it rolled
up on the windlass, and the bucket swung on the
"My! that s right out o the northwest corner,"
she said, after she had drunk.
She shut the door, put the glass away, and tip
toed back to her work. Manila moved uneasily from
time to time and muttered in her sleep. At last Al-
THE WARNING 143
meda was on the last row of the shirring. The black
and white stung her eyes, but it was almost done
now. She would send Marilla up The door opened
suddenly. She looked up. There, with her hand on
the doorknob, stood Elnora Coulter.
" Why, Elnora Coulter! What brings you "
And even as she spoke there was no one, no one
but herself and the sleeping Marilla. Was Elnora
trying to scare her? She waited, but there was noth
ing. She hearkened. There was no sound of foot
steps. There was nothing but the dog howling far
off yonder somewhere. A chill crept over her, an
awful fear of something. Mastering it, she rose, took
the lamp in her hand, and went to the door. There
was no one. The whole world seemed to be holding
its breath, intently listening.
"Elnora!" she called.
There was no answer. She stepped out by the well
and held the lamp over her head. She hearkened.
She could hear the wick sucking up the oil. The hair
of her head prickled.
" Elnora! " she called again.
But none answered. A sudden gust of wind puffed
out the lamp she held. A blinding flash of lightning
flickered through a scud of clouds flying athwart the
sky, and the unseasonable thunder cracked above
her head. The lamp fell from her hands and shivered
into bits on the brick walk. The tall trees bowed
144 FOLKS BACK HOME
themselves under the fierce gale, and with a shriek
she fled into the house.
" Marilla! " she cried, and shook the girl roughly.
"Marilla! Wake up!"
The apprentice moaned: "Don t let them bury
me. Oh, don t, Miss Carey. . . . Oh, I m so glad
you waked me. I had such a terrible dream. I
thought they were putting me into a grave, and it
seemed like "
"Marilla! Did you see her? "
" See who? "
" Elnora Potter."
" Elnora Mrs. Coulter? Why, was she here? No,
I didn t see her. Why, it s nearly one o clock! What
was she "
" Listen to me. I was sewing on her waist, as wide
awake as I am this minute, and the door opened
and there she stood, and I says to her: Why, El
nora! What are you doing here at this time o
night? and just as I spoke to her she was gone. I
thought at first she was trying to play a joke on
me, and I took the light outdoors, but there wasn t
" O Miss Carey! It was a warning! " gasped Ma
rilla, and clutched Almeda frantically. " Oh, I m so
afraid! I m so afraid! "
"Hark! What s that?"
It was the first pattering downfall of the raindrops.
THE WARNING 145
The storm broke that had menaced all night. The
whole world no longer held its breath and waited,
expectant, eagerly listening. And now the furtive
silence was filled with thronging noises. Mysterious
footsteps tracked through the house; beckoning fin
gers tapped on the window and, as the startled
women swiftly turned, as swiftly withdrew into the
darkness; unseen watchers, spying on their terror,
whispered and tittered. Clutching each other, rigid
with fear, the two women sat till fatigue overpow
ered them, and the gray dawn struggling through
the watery skies made them look livid as corpses
tumbled in a heap in the dull yellow light of the
A rapping at the sitting-room door aroused them.
Almeda answered the summons. There stood Silas
" Elnora s dead," he said, and his chin quivered.
" O my Lord!" gasped Almeda, her knees shak
ing. " I knew it! I knew it! "
" Why, Meda, how could you? You re the first
person I seen. I come right here, first thing."
" I seen her as plain as I see you right now. Come
in, come in. I declare I m just so upset I don t know
what I m about, keepin you waitin out in the rain.
I ll take your umbrella. r
" How do you mean you seen her? "
" It was a little before one o clock." He made a
146 FOLKS BACK HOME
movement. " I was settin up sewin on her waist
that she was goin to wear to Columbus to-day."
Mr. Coulter choked and moved his head slowly
from side to side.
" No, poor girl! she won t never wear it any place,
an her heart was plumb set on it. Well, sir, the door
opened and there she stood. Now, Silas, you know
I never was one o them that goes around tellin
such things, and I never believed one speck in em,
but it s as true as I m settin here, an I says to her,
Why, Elnora, what are you doing up this time o
night? No, I didn t, either. Now let me tell the
truth about it. I was just goin to say that, but I
didn t get it all out, and she was gone. Tchk! tchk!
tchk! Tell me about it. Did she suffer any? "
" I don t know, I don t know," he quavered.
" Here lately, you know, she has been havin them
spells and was doctorin fer em, but I didn t think
they was nothin specially dangerous. It didn t seem
possible. I was awful tired last night when I went
to bed, an all I know is that I waked up long about
twelve I remember hearin the bell over to the flax
factory strike, an I counted. She was up then, but
I must a fell asleep. Long toward five I waked up
again, an when I found she wasn t there I felt kind
o uneasy an got up an went to look for her. She
was in the spare room, layin on the floor. I called
to her, but but she " something swelled in his
THE WARNING 14?
throat as if to strangle him; he drew in a long, shak
ing breath " but she didn t answer me. She ll never
answer me ag in. Oh! Oh! O my Lord! O my
Lord! what shall I do? What shall I do without her?
Thirty-seven years, Almedy thirty-seven years."
The sobs burst through his cramped throat like
coughs. After a little he said: "Poor Molly! Poor
Molly! I m afraid to let her know. I m afraid it ll
Almeda sat with her hands clinched together. The
tears rising slowly in her under lids dripped down her
withered cheeks and splashed one by one on her
knuckles, white with the intensity of her grip.
" Ever since we was little girls we ve been the
closest friends. Silas, I hope you won t think it hard
that she should come to tell me she was gone, but
last week she said to me, Le s make it up that
whichever one of us is called first shall come and tell
the other. She kept her word, Silas, she kept her
The waist lay where it was until after the funeral.
Almeda could not bear to touch it, or any other
work, until then. The story of the apparition of El-
nora Coulter spread over the town, gathering the
most marvelous additions as it went. Almeda sent
for Brother Longfellow, the pastor of the Center
Street M. E. Church, which she attended.
i 4 8 FOLKS BACK HOME
" I want you should hear the straight of it just
the way it was," she said to him, when he came,
" with nothin added to it, ner nothin took away.
It s no small thing to tell the truth; it s no small
thing, Brother Longfellow; but as near as I can I m
goin to do it. And, Manila, if I make it the least
bit different from what I told you that night, I want
you should correct me. I was sewin on Elnora Coul
ter s waist the night she died, she expectin to wear
it down to Columbus the next mornin . It was close
on to one o clock and I was settin by this work
table. I had the big lamp on it, the one I dropped
when the wind blowed it out when I was outside by
"The door opened there! jist like it s openin
now. They s somethin wrong with the ketch, and it
comes open itself. I don t lay no stress on the door
openin , because a spirit could go right through em.
Now, Marilla, you stand right there. That s where
Elnora was when I looked up. I says to her Wait
a minute; I ll get the waist and show you exactly
how I was."
As Almeda picked up the garment she said: " I
was as broad awake as I am this minute. See? Here s
the needle stickin where I took the last stitch."
She stopped and was silent for a long time. The
hand that held the waist dropped by her side. The
other went up and clutched her chin, the knuckles
THE WARNING 149
resting on her lips. The preacher and the apprentice
waited fixedly for her to resume. She came over and
sank down into a chair.
" Manila, you come here a minute," she said at
length. " Do you see anything about them last few
"Why, Miss Carey! The last four or five are all
every which way."
" Do you, Brother Longfellow? "
" Why, yes, Sister Carey," he said, after he had
adjusted his glasses. " They look uneven as com
pared with the others."
" Well, now, there it is," said the dressmaker.
" That was the fourth night I had set up late and
that black and white is very hard on the eyes. The
last time I seen Elnora alive she come in without
knockin at that side door, and stood there where
Marilla stood a while ago. ... It must a be n the
door blowed open. . . ."
Her voice dwindled into silence, the others star
ing as mazed as she yes, as dismayed as she at the
inevitable inference. For it was not the explication
of Elnora Coulter s ghost alone they saw unfolded,
but the explication of all questionable shapes that
have been seen since time began; seen with the
mind s eye from within outwardly, and not the other
way around; when the soul lies tranced in the middle
state between the sleeping and the waking.
150 FOLKS BACK HOME
Manila s disappointed superstition first awoke.
She cried in pettish anger: " Then it wasn t a spook,
at all? O fiddle! " Determined, though, to have it so
in spite of everything, she argued: " But it must
have been! It just must have been! How could you
been a-dreamin setting up there sewin ? "
The preacher hushed her with a gesture of his
hand. " This is God s doings," he reproved her, " and
no small matter. He would have us know the truth
concerning them that sleep. How any one particular
ghost came to be seen is less to be considered than
how ghosts came to be believed in; Your experi
ence, Sister Carey, your most wonderful experience,
shows plainly how they came to be believed in."
He spoke of the coincidence of Mrs. Coulter s
death, and how such instances, rare though they
might be, were yet frequent enough to keep alive
the ancient heathen doctrine that the dead are rest
less and unsettled. Deep within her heart Almeda
Carey mused on things the preacher never dreamed
of. It had torn her soul with anguish that, since it
seemed that, after all, they could come back, the
single visitant from Behind the Veil should be El-
nora, and not that nearer one by far to her than
ever Elnora was, her one and only lover in the days
of youth when it is always sunny, her one and only
lover, whose dear face through all these years still
smiled upon her from beneath his jaunty soldier cap,
THE WARNING 151
whose curly locks still glistened in the light of that
spring morning long ago. Even were the darling
vision to vanish in a moment, why had it not come?
" He giveth His beloved sleep," she heard the
preacher say, " not weary wanderings to and fro."
And on the instant disappeared forever all the haunt
ing discontent, the queryings and questionings, and
the calm peace of disillusionment reigned in their
She rolled the garment up whose last four stitches
held so much for her. In David s certitude she spoke
the words that David spoke: "I shall go to him;
but he cannot come to me."
I DECLARE, if it wasn t for the looks of it, I
wouldn t go one step."
The man standing outside the day coach
of the north-bound train said nothing. It did not
seem necessary to him to say anything now. He
had responded to that sentiment too many times
" But, of course, now that I got my ticket bought
and everything," reasoned the woman leaning out
of the car window as if to convince herself. " Cousin
Jabez invitin me so particular and all. And then I
hain t be n back to York State for thirty year. You
was with me then. You mind how I took you along
with me? I woosht you was goin along now. I don t
feel right about leavin you all alone. It dooz seem so
kind o heartless."
"Oh, I ll get along all right," said the man
calmly, and looked to one side.
" Well, you must write and tell me how every
thing is. I know I ll feel awful worried about you.
You ll write now, every week."
" Yes, ma am. Hullo, Johnny. How re you? "
THE ELOPEMENT 153
" Be sure and lock up everything when you go
way from the house."
" Yes, ma am. That s Johnny Mara."
" Is it? And do up your dirty clothes every week
in a bundle and take em over to Longbrake s so s
Miss Bennett kin git em when she comes for their
wash. Laws! I feel awful worried about your socks;
you jist go right through em and nobody to darn
em for you. Well, you ll jist have to git new ones. I
got the biggest notion not to go at all. If it wasn t
for the looks of the thing, I d back out right now.
Don t forget to change the under sheet once a week.
You know where the clean ones is, in the lower bu
reau drawer. And put the top sheet in under you and
the clean one on top. Tchk! I ll bet the bed won t
be made once the whole time I m gone. I got a
good notion not to And mind, you water them
plants. If it should turn real cold, you better come
home once in a while and look after the fire and
see how things is gittin along. I wouldn t have
them plants git froze, especially that pineapple gera
"All aboard!" called out the conductor.
The man outside the car brightened up and cried,
"Well, good-by, ma!"
" Good-by, Augustus," she answered, gripping the
hand he gave her. "Write reg ler. Put the milk
bucket out every night on the back porch. The
i 5 4 FOLKS BACK HOME
tickets is in the blue cup on the second shelf of the
pantry cupboard, and when they give out you must
remember and git more Mercy! " The train gave
a jerk as it started. She held on to her son s hand.
" Well, good-by, Augustus. Don t track in any more
mud n you can help when it rains. I expect the
place ll look like distraction. Pity sakes! I woosht
I hadn t V come. Well, good-by, Augustus."
The train was going so fast that Augustus was
forced to let go. His mother shouted, " Oh, say!
Wind the clock Saturdays " But the car swept
past the linseed-oil mill and she sank back in her
seat, saddened by the consciousness that he had not
heard her and now it was too late to tell him. She
just knew there would be something she would for
get at the very last minute. For half a cent she
would get out at Mt. Victory and take the next train
back. But when the brakeman opened the car door
and first inquired and then answered his own ques
tion, " Ma-oun Vict ry? Ma-oun Vict ry," she sat
still. She might as well go on now that her ticket was
punched. It would look kind of green for her to get
off after having gone so far, but still
Augustus went back to the coal office at once de
pressed and elated, but a little more elated than
depressed. He was lonesome, but he was also free.
It was a new thing for him to do as he pleased,
though he would be forty on his next birthday. All
THE ELOPEMENT 155
of us have had mothers; few of us had so much of
a one as Augustus Biddle had. She took entire
charge of him, his goings out and his comings in, his
downsittings and his uprisings. All that the proverb
about the hen with one chick hints at was exem
plified in her treatment of the only surviving mem
ber of her family. She was too strong-minded to be
his slave, but all that she did was for his temporal
and eternal welfare. Realizing that letting him
" piece " between meals, sit up till all hours, eat
candy and cake and such trash were but species of
the Higher Cruelty, she was yet among the first to
revolt against the doctrine that sparing the rod
meant spoiling the child. Nevertheless, she held that
when a child was naughty it ought to be punished,
and the way she did it was now part of the history
of Logan County. It was a byword in Minuca Cen
ter, " Augustus! if you do that again, I ll stick you
with a pin!" Yet it must have been that the pin
was mightier than the rod, for the young ones that
used to take doses of " peach-tree oil " and were
slapped halfway across the kitchen when they were
naughty, were always whining, " Aw, I don t want
to," and, " Cain t I stay out a little longer? " while
Mrs. Biddle had only to come out on the back porch
156 FOLKS BACK HOME
And Augustus promptly answered, "Hoo!"
" Yes, ma am," and dropping everything, the boy
ran to see what his ma wanted.
It is always a surprise to parents to find that their
children are growing big. They see them by interior
vision as perpetually only about four years old. So
when the perilous season of life comes, father and
mother are taken unawares. But they think, anyhow,
it is only the girls that need watching. Not so with
Mrs. Biddle. She knew that it is a time when all the
ordered universe of a boy s life melts and dissolves
away and that in its fumes are pictured iridescent
phantasmagoria of the strenuous life, battle and hero
ism and deeds of high emprise. Vague ambitions stir
the heart. One does not know for certain whether
he will dip his hands in Indian blood or be a detec
tive, whether he will find a gold mine or brake on
the railroad, but he will go far away, maybe clear to
Galion, and be rich, and when he comes back people
will say, "That s him!" It seems as if his beard