The Coming of the Stimpsons
Helen E. Williams
IRENE had been watching for her husband and when he came in sight, above the crest of the hill, she hastily caught up a cape and threw it around her and went out on the verandah, wet and icy with the sleet-like rain which was still falling in a slow, discouraged fashion. William saw her there, and drew something from his pocket and waved it above his head.
“Well ?” she cried, impatiently, “will he take it?” But the wind blew his answer, if he made any, away, and he only hurried on faster. “Is it good news ?” Irene called again, as he turned in at the gate, and this time she caught his reply.
“Great! The very creamiest of the creamy !”
He ran up the steps and followed her into the house, cold and dripping wet, but radiant.
“You are not joking? He will really take it?”
“Has taken it—or as good as. Heavens, Irene! Couldn’t you have waited inside ? Look at your shoes ! Sopping !”
But Irene cast off her cape and danced him round the room.
“William!” suddenly stopping, arrested by an unwelcome thought. “Do bargains hold good if a man is temporarily insane when he makes them ?”
Her husband laughed.
“Meaning that no one in his right sçnsçs would have taken over this
precious White Elephant of ours? Still, I remember two people who were idiotically happy when they came here not so long ago.”
“Oh, us!” His wife’s voice sounded contemptuous. “That was different,” she added, conclusively. “Let me see the paper, William. I want to see it down in black and white.” “It’s from his agent,” explained William, as he produced it.
“Oh! His agent!”
“But it’s practically clinched. Stimpson himself will be back in ten days, and if we’re still of the same mind, you see, he says we can vacate any time after that. If not—”
Their eyes met above the letter spread out on the table between them and they smiled.
“I guess our minds won’t change,” remarked Irene. “But two weeks ! I did so hope we could move right away. It might almost as well be next month, next year, next lifetime.” They had to pack, her husband reminded her, and after living there— how many years had they been there? —six?—seven?—yes, seven years this coming May, they would have accumulated more or less things. At first Irene proposed beginning the joyful work of taking down things at once, but finally decided to leave everything as it was for just one more night. William brought in kindling and built up the fire, which had gone into a decline in the excitement of knowing that the “White Ell,” as they had whimsically nicknamed the
house, was actually disposed of at last.
“Not many more fires we’ll make here,” William observed, as Irene returned from a conference of a culinary nature with Swedish Katarina in the kitchen.
“No! Just think of it, William! My arm is quite sore with pinching. It is too, too good to be true !”
“Still, we have had pretty good times around this same fire, you and I. Pretty—good—times.”
“Remember the nights we have sat here building castles in Spain?” William nodded.
“And the Christmas Eve we hung up the first little stocking—over there?”
Irene made a pretence of straightening the rug to hide a sudden trembling of the lips. And William reached down for some cones and watched them blaze up, one by one, and sink to whitening embers. Irene was the first to break the silence.
“It will be better for you to be in the city. You will earn twice as much in that office, and without working half as hard.”
“Yes. And it will be more cheerful for you, too. Don’t you remember how often you have said that living in the country the year round was neither better nor worse than living in a contracting cage?”
“Did I say that? I’d forgotten. But it will be heavenly to be able to go to theatres and symphonies whenever we are so disposed. And to visit, and shop, and market— I won’t need to bother, because those seeds are damping off, now. It’ll seem queer not to have a strawberry bed of our own, though, won’t it?”
“And I set in some extra good varieties last spring. It would have’ been a corking bed. But I don’t imagine Stimpson knows a Downing or a Haverland from a Senator Dunlop or a Wm. Belt. Probably he’ll let the bed all run out.” William got up and walked about. “I’ll have to
speak to Stimpson about that,” he frowned. “It would be a sin to let
“But what would we care if it was sold? It wouldn’t matter to us then.”
“N-no. No. No, of course not. Not after—” William sat down again. “Wonder if they will keep up the rest of the garden as we did, or seed it all down to grass? Those city beggars are so blamed lazy—and it’s taken us four years to get our asparagus bed to where it should be, and as for our blackberries— What’s the matter? What are you smiling at?”
“You are so—funny. If we sell the “White Ell” we can’t expect it is going to be kept just as we would have kept it. It’s—it’s not reasonable, William.”
William agreed, and they went out to supper, where they talked about the city and the new house William had his eye upon. After supper they talked more about the good times coming, and the relief it was to have the “White Ell” off their hands. They went to bed a little earlier than usual.
The next morning William sallied forth bright and early to see about disposing of his stock and the various farm effects which are not included in the deed of sale. He left Irene blithely singing as she and Katarina attacked the work of dismantlement. For one reason or another he had more difficulty than he had anticipated in finding purchasers. One man was just going out of sheep, so naturally was not anxious to add to his flock. Another had a shortage of hay and was himself selling off his cattle. A third would have been glad of just what he was offering, only the week before he had bought up, at an auction, more than he really had room for, because they went “so dirt cheap.” It was nearly night when he returned, and he had only a conditional offer for his sheep to show for his day’s work. Irene, too, looked tired, and a little pale.
“I had no idea we had so many things in the house,” she said, rubbing her head as if it ached, as they
sat down to supper. “We can never take them all away with us, and I hate to burn them up, and even more to leave behind for those Stimpsons to handle over.”
“We won’t have much superfluous room in the other house,” (they had fallen into the habit of calling their new home “the other house”) said William. “It won’t be a “White EH,” you know.”"
Irene stirred her tea thoughtfully. She supposed not. Oh, of course, it would have to be smaller. They wanted it smaller. The “White Ell” was much too large. That was one of its faults.
“William,” after a slight pause, with a sudden influx of interest, “did you send that horrid, red-headed but-. cher’s boy here after my chickens?”
“I told Perkins he might have them,” he told her, carefully avoiding her eye.
“Oh,. William ! My Rhode Island Reds!—to the butcher! I wouldn’t let him have them. He was almost aggressively insistent, and said you sent him, but I—I couldn’t!”
“I tried Armstrong and Yeats and six or eight other farmers, first,” William defended himself, “but they all had more than they wanted already.”
“We’ll leave them for the Stimpsons, then. The butcher shall not have them. I set my foot down there.”
“Well, don’t glare at me as if I was a Herod decreeing the slaughter of the Innocents,” grumbled her husband. “What’s a chap to do if people persistently refuse to buy?”
“Dear me, I don’t know ! But don’t let’s quarrel over it, anyhow. It’s quite bad enough as it is. I mean— -oh, you know what I mean !”
William was inclined to think that he did as that week went slowly by. and they found themselves in the middle of the next.
One night he could not sleep, and crept downstairs, intending to smoke a pipe before the drawing-room grate. But it was later than he had supposed, and the fire was out and the room
looked cold and uninviting, with all the familiar ornaments gone, and packing cases occupying the centre of the floor. He was on the point of turning back when he noticed some papers on the chair beside him, and turning them over idly with his hand, hardy thinking what he was about, Peter Henderson’s Spring and Summer Catalogue, beneath, caught his eye, and he took it up and fluttered over the pages, stopping now and then to read some heading or look at a picture. Here were Henderson’s Early Giant Bush Lima beans, pods split and showing four large creamy beans, manning the boat-shaped, satin-lined emerald pendants. Here were luscious specimens of his old friends the Earliana and Ponderosa tomato, ears of Golden Bantam and Country Gentleman corn, with the_ husks partly torn off and strands of silky tassel still clinging to some of the pearly kernels. The old stand-by, Telephone pea. Intermediate carrots, Snowball cauliflowers, Golden. Self-blanching celery, Jenny Lind muskmelons, Swiss chard, Calhoun pumpkins. Mammoth Summer Crookneck squashes—they were all here !
And the flowers ! How many long winter evenings he and Irene had hung over the enchanted pages, pencil poised mid-air, life narrowed down to flowers they “really must have,” or reluctantly, regretfully agreed they “could do without” ! By-gone discussions as to ways and means came back to him as he glanced at a picture, or read a few words of an encomium on a page with a turned-down corner, and ran on to the next. Buff-pink Spencer Sweet Pea : a beautiful, large,
waved flower of primrose-buff, veiled with a rosy plush, deepening to pink at the edges — Variabilis Gladiolus : enormous spike, color deep pink flaked blue-black—Red Goliath Mignonette: the average spikes of flowers are immense and are compactlv filled with giant florets, the brilliancy of whose fire-red columns contrasts effectively with the rich green of the foliage—And here were the
roses they had intended “going into” ! The Silver Moons and Harmosas, the Mrs. Arthur Robert Waddells and Crimson Ramblers stared back at him reproachfully. The blackberries and raspberries recalled the new-old fear that the Stimpsons would not keep up his garden. Even the insecticides and hoses, the lawn-mowers and cunning garden tools fascinated, held him. A paper, next the back cover, slipped out 'and fluttered to the floor. As he stooped and picked it up he recognized 'the closely-covered sheets as the list they had made out several weeks before, when the present reality of leaving the “White Ell” was not even a possibility. The same instant he was recalled to himself by a stealthy movement in the hall, and looking, round saw Irene, with a long black braid on either side of her head, standing on the ‘threshold.
“What are you doing here?” she asked in a strange voice. “You stayed away so long I thought perhaps you were—”
“I was just glancing through this ■catalogue—I don’t know why. I could not sleep, and it was lying about.” “William, would you like to—?” He had turned to take up the lamp, and something prompted him to say, as he pretended to stifle a yawn, “Precious idiots we were to lay ourselves open for all the work that list would have meant. The amount of gardening we will do at the other house won’t fatigue us much, that’s one consolation.”
“No.” There was a little catch in Irene’s voice. “You are glad of that, aren’t you, William?”
“You bet!” said William. “No more days with your work never done.” “No more seedlings damping off,” murmured Irene, looking toward the sills, where rows of little pots usually stood.
“No more dogs getting at vour sheep.”
“No more leaky roofs, and inconvenient cupboards, and lack of modern improvements.”
‘ No more birds picking into your best berries.”
“No more trouble about keeping maids because it’s so lonely.”
“No more shortage of hay because of droughts.”
“No more chickens carried off by skunks.”
“No more sugaring in the springtime.”
The antiphonal chant ceased as suddenly as it had begun. The two stared at each other for one long moment, without speaking, then, silently, turned and went upstairs. *****
The next morning William woke very early, but Irene was up before him. He dressed quickly and 'went down to the kitchen, where he found Katarina just lighting the fire. She. had not seen her mistress. William looked through the different rooms, paused at the foot of the third-storey stairs, and called twice. She had been working there late the night before. Very likely she was finishing up something or other in the back part, and did not hear. He ran up the stairs, two steps at a time. She was not in the room where they stored the garden tools, nor in the one they some*, times used as a bed chamber, when pressed for room in the summer. The store-room, too, was empty. As he turned away his eye was caught by a baby carriage, which had been moved out of its place. Obeying an impulse he did not stop to analyze, he went in. Beside it were wrapping papers and twine, which looked as if they had been hastily thrown down. And on a chair near little unfolded rugs of many delicate shades, white dresses and lacy bonnets, a little yellow, tiny socks and bootees, and one pair of shoes—unworn. William put out his hand and touched one of the socks, awkwardly. He looked at the carriage, at the little worn spot on the oil-cloth, at the' dangling strap. Something seemed to tighten in his throat, and he left the room precipitately.
He was not surprised to find the front door, in the hall below, unlocked, nor, as he left the house behind and struck out across fields, to see the bars in the farther meadow down. Irene saw him coming when he was still some way off, but she did not move—not even when he came quite up and stood beside her looking down. They stood so for a long time. At last Irene drew a quick, sobbing breath.
“I can’t go, William, and leave her. I cannot dö it.”
“There is no need to,” said William, putting his arm about her. “Poor old girl ! Why didn't you tell me before you felt that way about it?”
“You will really stay—with everything all packed7—because I want to ?”
“Because we want to.”
Suddenly she dropped on her knees beside the little grave, and lifting an evergreen limb, pushed aside the dank, russet leaves beneath with her bare fingers.
“Just look, William ! The first snowdrops! They are coming up!”
He nodded, watching her, sombrely, till she looked up at him with eyes that hurt, then he drew her to her feet.
“Come away, my dear ! Come back —home.”
The sun was just rising over the
hills, gloriously. The patches of frozen ground, where the snow was already gone, gave ever so little under their tread. Great, jagged, grey, cakes of ice were thrown up against the river bank—the submerged parts honeycombed and yellow—‘but the centre of the stream was clear, mirroring the “pussies” swaying, Narcissus-like, above the glassy surface. The air was as keen and bracing as yesterday, but with a difference— spring was come. As they neared the “White Ell” a robin—the first they had seen—flew out from the hedge, flirting its tail, and cocking its pretty head this. way and that as it looked for a place to build its nest.
“I feel as if we were just coming home, too,” said Irene. “It's rather ridiculous, isn’t it, William?” Her tone embraced the events of the last week.
“Not a bit of it!” said William, sturdily. “We’ve found out what we want, and it’s not everyone who does that so easily. What do you say to taking a look at the strawberry bed7— just to see how it wintered? It’s shorter this way,” he added, as Irene veered off to the right.
“Yes, I know. But I wanted to look at my pansies—just to see—”
They looked at each other and broke out laughing.
“Stimpsons, indeed!” quoth William.