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Play Days

Beyond the Toll-gate

Sarah Orne Jewett




     BARBARA was not a very large girl, and she had seen only a little of the world; but she was much pleased with what she had seen, and was always interested in everything new and strange. All the first years of her life had been spent in the heart of the town, and there she had been kept most of the time in the house with her mother; for the children in that neighborhood were neither good nor pleasant. But Barbara did not think it was stupid to stay in the house so much; her mother talked to her a great deal and could always think of some way to amuse her. Mrs. Snow sewed all day except when she was working about the house, and sometimes Barbara sewed too, for she was already clever with her needle, and sometimes she played with her doll. Every day she had to read two pages and to learn a spelling lesson, and sometimes she wrote on a slate "Barbara Snow," "Barbara Snow," - a whole slateful of Barbara Snows, in queer, tumble-about letters, but her father thought she would make a good plain writer in time. He used to set the copies on the slate after Barbara had gone to bed, and sometimes in the morning she would find, "Will you take a walk to-night?" and would copy it just as carefully as she could, for she was always delighted when she could have a walk with her father and mother. Mr. Snow was away at his work all day, and I believe this was the only thing which troubled Barbara much, - that he could not stay at home.

     One night, a while before my story really begins, he had come home looking very much pleased about something, and after supper he told Mrs. Snow and Barbara that he had something to show them. Barbara could not think what it was, and was more and more puzzled when they first walked some distance, and then took a horse-car and rode a long way. But at last they stopped at the pleasantest-looking shady side street, and Mr. Snow presently stopped again before a pretty gray house, unlocked the front door, and asked them to walk in. It was a little house, and the trees in the street shaded it, and there was a little garden at the back with a tree of its own, and a grape-vine by the kitchen window, and a grass plot, and there was a seat under the tree. Barbara's father asked if they really liked the house after they had seen it all, and Barbara's mother said it was the nicest house she ever saw for three people like themselves; so you can imagine how proud Mr. Snow was to tell them that he had bought it that very day, and had had almost money enough to pay for it, and that he thought he could save enough to pay the rest by the last of the summer.

     Barbara and her mother were as happy as queens, and they went about to see everything again and to look into each of the rooms. Barbara found that the window of hers overlooked the little garden, and that she could put her hand out and catch the leaves of the tree. At last they had to lock the door and come away, though they would have liked to stay much longer. Barbara thought it was great fun to have a ride in the horse-car so late in the evening. They kept passing other cars with bright red lights, and her father let her have the money to pay her own fare, and the conductor smiled pleasantly at the little girl, and the bells on the horse-cars sounded like something saying Barbara's new house - Barbara's new house - Barbara's tree - Barbara's tree - all the way home.

     It was very soon after this that they moved, and soon it seemed to Barbara as if she had always lived in the new house. It seemed home-like at once when the furniture was put in its place; but I know you will believe me when I tell you that every day Barbara found something new. Once it was a lady's delight in bloom in the garden; and another day some scarlet-runner beans, which her mother had given her to plant, came up long before she expected them; and one morning a woman, who lived alone in the next house but one, gave her a dear gray kitten. Mrs. Snow was very busy all the first week getting the house into good order, and Barbara helped her whenever she could, and learned to keep her own bit of a room as neat as wax. She hemmed herself a little duster one day; her mother told her she need not be careful about the stitches, and she never enjoyed sewing so much. It was too bad that her father could only be at home in the evening, but that could not be helped, and he was as happy as they, and whistled and sang merrily; and he put up shelves and mended the cellar stairs and the grape-vine trellis, and drove nails somewhere or other until it was too dark to see. And he kept saying that Barbara was growing rosy, and it was worth everything to all of them to live in that fresh air. He was so glad he had bought the house, and a man felt like somebody when he had earned a home of his own like that.

     Barbara could go out doors as much as she chose, for the streets were so quiet; and she used to like to walk up and down and look at the other houses. There did not seem to be any children living very near except two or three little babies. Two girls and a boy used to go by every day to and from school, and Barbara used to wish they would stop and say something to her; she was very shy with other children, and would not have thought of speaking to them. She was to go to school herself when the next term began in September; she dreaded it, but September seemed a great way off, so she did not think of it much.

     One day when she had been living in the new house about three weeks, she took a longer walk than usual along a street which she had never followed before, and she came to a place where there was a gate across the road. She walked close up to it, and could not think what it meant. The road looked very pleasant beyond, and there were some teams not far ahead which had surely got past the great gate somehow. And Barbara wondered about it and stood still watching until a woman drove up in a rattling wagon. She seemed in a great hurry, and an old man came out of the little red house at the side of the gate; then the woman gave him some money, and he opened the gate and she went through. The toll-keeper was just going into his house again when he saw Barbara. "Did you want to go through, little girl?" said he; and our friend answered sadly, "No, sir; I was only looking." And then with great bravery she asked, "How much would it cost?"

     "Only a cent for you, dear," said the toll-keeper, who seemed to be a very kind old man. "Perhaps I shall go in some day," said Barbara, and he smiled at her as if he should be as glad as she if that ever happened. "You just call 'Gate' if you don't see anybody, for these warm days I don't sit by the front window. I'm getting a little deaf, so I keep the gate shut this time o' day, but I don't keep folks waiting; there are plenty will run toll if they get the chance." And then he nodded and went in.

     There was a little red seat at the side of the house, and Barbara sat down there and watched the people who drove and walked through the gate, and a great black and white cat came and rubbed against her, and once a hand-organ man came and played three tunes, and the toll-keeper himself came out to listen to him. You don't know what a good time Barbara had that afternoon. She was gone so long that her mother was afraid something had happened to her.

     And after this she thought of nothing so much as this toll-gate and the pleasant toll-gate man; and she went there three or four times to sit on the bench by the house and watch the people. Her father told her all about it; that it was a turnpike-road and they made people pay who went that way, because it took a great deal of money to keep it in repair. There were some bridges farther on. Somehow or other Barbara believed it was much pleasanter the other side of the gate than it was on the side she lived, and she wished with all her heart that she could go through and see for herself what was there. In all, four hand-organ men had gone that way and she had never seen any come back, and there were not nearly so many people coming out from this beautiful country as went in; but you see that Barbara was always there in the afternoon, when people were all coming out from town.

     When the gate was swung wide open she could see some gardens, and there were children playing about and shouting and calling to each other. And one hot afternoon a breeze came through and over the gate as if it were very cool and comfortable beyond. By little and little, Barbara made up her mind that everything pleasant was to be found the other side of the toll-gate, and that she should never be quite satisfied until she could see that part of the world about which she thought so much by day and sometimes dreamed at night.

     One day she had been to do an errand for her mother, and she saw a bit of money on the ground which proved to be a silver three-cent piece. Barbara looked up the street and down, but could not see anybody, so she shut her hand and went home as fast as she could run.

     "I suppose you can have it," said her mother; "it is not much, and if we hear of the owner I will pay it back. I don't believe you could find the owner, there are so many people passing back and forth all day."

     "I hope it did not belong to a little girl," said Barbara gravely, "for she will be so sorry about it. Can I spend it all at once?"

     "What for?" asked her mother, smiling.

     "To go through the toll-gate with one cent, and to come back with one cent, and to spend the other in there. I would truly be back before it was late. Oh please, mother!"

     Little Barbara was in real earnest about her plan, and her mother smiled the more. "What a funny girl you are," said she. "I wonder why you care about doing that?"

     "It is so pleasant there," said Barbara. "I wish I could go." And so Mrs. Snow said she might, but she must not wander too far, and must keep on the same side of the street all the way and not trouble anybody.

     So that very afternoon Barbara brushed her hair smooth, and put on her best dress and the hat she wore to church, and kissed her mother good-by as if she were going on a long journey. Indeed she felt as if she were, and her heart failed her for a minute as she went back to see if there was any milk in the kitten's saucer, but she would not have given up going for all the world, and went away bravely down the street. The neighbor who had given her the kitten had come to see Mrs. Snow, and they were sewing together.

     "What an old-fashioned little thing she is," said this neighbor as they watched our friend go away. "I asked her yesterday if ever she wasn't lonesome without any mates to play with, but she said she told herself stories when she was lonesome. She's as good as gold, I can see that, and as neat as a nun."

     "Yes," said Barbara's mother, leaning out of the window to see her again before she turned the corner, "she makes no trouble at all for a child."

     Barbara hurried, she was so anxious to get to the gate, and the old toll-keeper looked surprised and pleased when she came up to his window and reached up her hand with the three-cent piece. "I'm going through to-day, sir," said she, and the old man nodded as he gave her the two cents in change. "I hope you will have a good time, my dear," said he kindly; then Barbara took two or three of her short steps, and was fairly on the other side of the gate.

     It was a little strange that the street and the houses and the people were after all very much like those she had always seen. It was very pleasant, but it was not as different as she had supposed it would be, though there were fewer houses and a great many more fields; and she picked some flowers that were growing by the side of the road, and these were worth coming for; she had thought there would be some flowers. Once some ladies drove by in a pretty low carriage, and they smiled at Barbara, who was standing there just then, and who smiled at them, but they did not know she was a little girl who had half hoped to find fairyland and all the beautiful things she knew about, on that side of the toll-gate.

     Barbara could not help growing sorry; it had been better to think all those treasures were there and not to go through the gate, than it was to be here and find everything so much like what she had seen before. There seemed to be no place to spend her cent, and it would have been very hard if she had not had the flowers.

     But by and by, when she had walked out into the country a long way, or so it seemed to her, she came to a small house with rose-bushes all in bloom round it, and vines growing on strings that were fastened to the low eaves, - morning-glories and scarlet runners; and such a pretty cat sat in the doorway. So Barbara stopped to speak to her. Just then somebody came to the door, and when she saw our friend she said: "Don't you want to come in and see the pussy?" So Barbara went in.

     "Whose little girl are you?" and Barbara told her. Then the woman asked if she had been sent on an errand, and Barbara told her about wishing to see what was beyond the toll-gate; that her mother knew, and she might go as far as she liked, only not cross the street for fear of the carriages.

     "You have walked a good way," said the new friend. "I think you had better come in to see me a little while, and play with the cat; perhaps I can find something else to show you."

     Barbara was really getting tired, and she was glad to unlatch the little gate, and go into the house with her, for she seemed so kind, and in the room at the right of the door what should she see but another old woman who looked exactly like the first, and Barbara looked first at one and then the other with great wonder.

     "Why, you're just alike!" said she, while they both laughed.

     "We are twin sisters," said the first one she had seen, "and this is Miss Rhody Brown and I am Miss Ruthy."

     Barbara looked at them very hard, and saw that one had a black bow on her cap and the other a green one, and one had a rounder face. This was Miss Rhody, and she told her sister to fetch the kittens while she briskly went into the next room and came back with a little chair just large enough for Barbara. The kittens and the old cat played together with some spools, and the old sisters and their little visitor watched them, and laughed a good deal at their frolics. I am so sorry I cannot tell you all about this afternoon, for Barbara got rested and had such a pleasant time. She told Miss Ruthy and Miss Rhody about her father and mother and the new house, and it was so strange to think they knew the old toll-gate man very well. She picked up their balls of yarn whenever they dropped them, and they said to each other afterward how thoughtful and good she was for such a little thing, and so well-mannered. And they gave her a picture of a boy with a dog, and showed her a great many other pictures, besides a large box full of shells which their brother had brought home from sea a great many years before, and these Barbara would have liked to play with for hours.

     And at last Miss Ruthy, the black-bowed sister, disappeared for a few minutes, and when she came back she asked them to come out into the kitchen; and there was a little round table spread with a feast for Barbara. There was a China mug with a rose on it, full of milk, and a plate of gingerbread cakes cut in ever so many different shapes, - a star and a heart and a leaf and a cat; and there was a crisp turn-over with a crinkly edge.

     Barbara did not know what to say, it was such a surprise to her. She shyly sat down in the chair which Miss Ruthy had placed for her, and she wished her mother knew what a good time she was having. She was really very hungry, and everything was so good, while the old sisters smiled at each other and were so pleased, and Miss Rhody said two or three times that she thought when she was making that turn-over that it was a pity some little girl couldn't have it.

     It would have been very sad to say good-by if they had not told Barbara so many times that she must come and see them whenever she could, and that sometimes she must come and stay all day, if her mother was willing. Miss Ruthy meant to walk part way home with our friend, but just as she was getting her bonnet a man stopped at the door with a wagon, and after he had finished his business the sisters asked him if he could take a little passenger as far as he went? And presently, after Barbara had kissed both her kind friends good-by, and had patted the cat and each of her kittens, and had put one of each kind of the cookies into her pocket, she was lifted to the high wagon-seat and drove away in state. It was growing late in the afternoon, and the sunlight was growing yellow, and the birds were flying about; the shadows of the trees and of the people they met were very long on the turnpike-road. Barbara's flowers had wilted, but she had them still, and the old ladies had picked some bright red roses for her, and she kept taking a sniff of these every little while, because they were so sweet. The man was very kind; he told her that he had a little girl at home who went to ride with him in that very wagon almost every day. He stopped just before they came to the toll-gate, and he took Barbara out carefully and gave her two cents, so she could come that way again some day, which was certainly very kind.

     And it seemed as if a great deal had happened since she had seen the old toll-keeper before. He knew her at once, and looked glad to see her, and asked her if she would not like to be clerk of the toll-gate, and if she would not come to see him soon. He took the cent she gave him, but when he had done talking he took another cent out of his own pocket and gave it to her for a present. So Barbara went home both rich and happy. There was a great deal to tell her mother; and do you think that Mrs. Snow had known the two old sisters herself, years ago, before she was married, and she said she must go to see them very soon. She and Barbara had such a pleasant walk together that day, I know you would like to hear about it if I could only stop to tell you; and how Barbara had made each of the old ladies a spool-bag; a black silk one and a green silk one, like the bows on their caps. And Barbara often went to see the toll-keeper, and though now she had been through the gate, and could not make up any more stories about what was there, she could make up stories about other things. She spent so many pleasant days that summer beyond the toll-gate, and she thought everybody there tried to make her have a good time.

     "I hope you will always be a good girl," her mother said sometimes, "for then you will be happy wherever you are." But Barbara always says she thinks it is a great deal pleasanter living in the new house than it ever was in the city.

     So we will say good-by to her and give her many good wishes, dear little dreaming Barbara! for we hope all the gates she opens may be on the way to something better and happier. It costs something to go through; but never mind, for though Barbara could not tell herself stories any longer and had to pay a cent, did she not find the wild flowers and the kind old friends, the little feast spread on the round table, and the man who brought her part way home when she was tired, not to speak of the roses, the shells, and the cats?
 

NOTES:

"Beyond the Toll-gate" first appeared in Sunday Afternoon (1:265-270) in January 1878, and then was collected in Play Days.  This text is from Playdays.  If you notice errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.
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lady's delight: The Oxford English Dictionary identifies the lady's-delight as a violet.
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scarlet-runner beans: Phaseolus coccineus, a bean with showy scarlet flowers, also called Spanish bean and scarlet runner.
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