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Uncollected Stories

A CHANGE OF HEART

Sarah Orne Jewett

     Sally Martin sat by her favorite kitchen window sewing a little and looking off over the sunny spring fields. All winter through the bare trees she could see the next house farther down the hill, but now the budding orchard had suddenly made a thick screen. After many defeated glances neighborward she was too conscious of being cut off from companionship and social pleasures, and folded up the blue gingham apron which she had been hemming, and took her shawl from the nail behind the door. There was a look of anticipation on her face; she had evidently found herself dull company for once. She brought a deep wicker basket, brown with age, from a closet, and going down cellar filled it with russet apples, and then locked the door after her and went her way.

     The grass was green by the roadside, and she walked in the foot-path at its edge, feeling the ground under foot with much pleasure and stopping once to look at some bluebirds in a maple tree. One always feels young again with the spring, and this year the snow and mud had lingered late and kept her much indoors.

     Sally Martin had not much to look forward to except continued poverty and anxiety, but she was one of the persons who have imagination, that enchanter's wand, which would have kept her satisfied with life, except for one regret which could never be quite put behind her or be forgotten.

     It was a day for youth and pleasure, and when she was out in the open air her face grew serene and childlike; she stopped to listen to the bluebirds and watched their pretty color in the gray branches, then she walked on down the hill with her golden russets. The widespread lower country and the hills beyond it were blue with the soft spring haze. Her neighbor's house stood not far away, at a little distance from the road, and the narrow lane into which she soon turned was prettier than ever that spring, with its sheltered turf as soft as velvet, and an early dandelion or two shining against the fence. The old apple trees leaned their long boughs over it so that they almost met, and in later summer they would be hung thick with wisps of hay and straw from the high-heaped loads that went by to the barn. This was a huge building, like an unwieldy elephant in the landscape, while the house was low and small, with a tiny pointed porch and a door that had three panes of glass at top. When you stood in the entry within you could scarcely get room to shut the door behind you, and were at close quarters with an old colored wood-cut of General Washington, which greeted strangers with an impartial air of dignity. On the right another door opened into the Bascoms' living-room, which surprised one in so small a house with its size and cheerfulness. The windows looked both north and south, and there were plenty of bright braided rugs on the clean floor.

     "I saw you comin' up the lane, Sally, and I don't know whenever I was more pleased," said Mrs. Bascom, who was a lame woman and could not rise to greet her friends except in spirit. "Now bring that little rocking-chair right over here close to me, and let's have a good talk. It's so pretty looking out o' my window. I'm all alone, the folks have gone to the village, shoppin'. David he found his old plough wouldn't do him this year, and Cynthi' she's always ready an' willin', so they started right off after an early dinner. I'm braidin' up my rags as usual; I couldn't seem to do anything else just because I feet so busy. There's everything to be done this time of year, ain't there?"

     "I waked up feelin' all of a bustle, too, and I soon come down to hemmin' me a blue gingham apron that I don't need one bit," confessed Sally. "I expect it's the spring workin' in us, though there ain't no leaves to show for it. I guess the trees themselves must feel just the same."

     The two good women smiled, and Sally reached over and took a handful of the dark woolen strips and began to braid in company.

     "I brought your folks some o' my apples," she said presently. "I'm on the last barrel, but they never were nicer this time of year. They wilt right away quick as you bring 'em up from the cellar, but you shall have more as long as they last."

     "I call 'em a great treat; our apples have been gone some time and the last of 'em were very poor. There ain't such a keepin' cellar in town as yours; it seems to give everything a good taste."

     "Grandfather always used to say that it cost him most as much to dig it right out of the rock there as it did to build the house above it," said Sally. "You know 'twas for that little glimpse of the sea you only get right there, and he couldn't bear to set his house anywhere else. Three sides o' the cellar is sound rock; I don't know 's you remember, it's so many years since you was able to get down."

     "I recall all those things I used to be in the habit o' seeing as if it were yesterday," said Mrs. Bascom. "I find my thoughts such good company that I don't miss goin' about as much as everybody expects. Everybody knows just where to find me, and so they come to me; folks like to feel a certainty when they make some effort to come."

     "I don't know but what I should have been disappointed pretty bad to-day myself," said Sally. "I seemed to miss seeing the house as I sat there to my window sewing. The trees and bushes have budded out amazin' since yesterday. I kind of missed you and felt lonesome. I expect I can see the lower light for some nights yet, till the leaves really come, and Cynthi's light I can see all the year round in her window up-stairs. I can't seem to go to bed till she does," and they both laughed.

     "You and Cynthi' used to make signals when you was girls, don't you remember, wavin' things and movin' your lamps?"

     "'Twas kind o' convenient, really. We used to be havin' our plots together, and we had ways o' askin' things an' answerin' yes and no. I seem to forget a good deal of it now," explained Sally.

     "You're just as much of a girl as ever you were," said the elder woman looking up with an affectionate and an appreciative smile.

     "Well, I did feel as if I wanted to stop and make a dam by the side of the road there where the water runs out under the stone wall," and Sally led in her turn.

     "Spring is spring, ain't it? Always just as new every year." Mrs. Bascom gave a long look out across the lovely April country. Suddenly her expression changed. "Why, I can see the gable o' Isaac Bolton's new house. I knew he was raising yesterday, but I never thought to look. There over the knoll, to the right of the woods, you can just see the top of it."

     "Why, yes," said Sally, looking eagerly and then going back to her rocking-chair again. She was blushing and her eyes looked very bright. She seemed to make an effort to speak, but no words came.

     Mrs. Bascom also made an effort to look away for some time, and pretended to be busy with her work. At last she laid her hands in her lap.

     "Sally," she asked, as a mother might speak to her child, "don't you really think you are foolish? I feel as if you were most as near to me as my own Cynthia; truth is I can say things right out to you sometimes that I can't to her, much as I love her. Isaac's a good man and faithful; I don't know what he's building that house for, but I don't believe he'll ever want anybody for his wife but you."

     "I heard he was engaged to be married to somebody in Pelham," answered Sally stiffly, but with no resentment. "I haven't seen him to speak with for eight months - not since last August, when I happened to meet him here in the yard."

     "You done very wrong then, Sally, my dear," said Mrs. Bascom with dignity. "He was glad of the chance to see you and all ready to be friendly, and you passed him right by after you said, 'How do you do,' an' something about the weather. I set right here where I be now, an' I see his face work like a child's that has a real task to keep from cryin'. All these years now you've held on to that grudge, an' 'twas all foolishness. Your Gran'ther Walker's narrow stubbedness keeps you from givin' in, while he's made every effort he could. Sometimes I've thought you didn't love him, an' he was better off to let you have your way about it, but, truth is, you'd deny yourself an' go through the world without happiness, rather than feel you was the one to give in."

     "It's all true," said Sally humbly. "I've tried to beat down that hard feelin', but I can't, Mis' Bascom. I own up to you as if you was my own mother; somethin' freezes right up in me. I wish folks hadn't made such a talk about it." She covered her face with her hands and began to cry.

     "There, there, dear; 'twill all come right one of these days," said Mrs. Bascom soothingly. "I never meant to work you all up just as we was havin' such a pleasant visit together."

     "Somehow or 'nother I'm so contented livin' just as I be, if it only wa'n't for that," said Sally drying her eyes, but not changing the subject. "I never could think of anybody else as I have of Isaac. I'm glad you spoke right out, Mis' Bascom. I've wished you would a good many times."

     "You an' Isaac an' Cynthi' used to have such good times together when he was still livin' here" - Mrs. Bascom braided away intently and did not look up as she spoke - "an' since all this has happened he's often talked to me very free and said it troubled him to know you had so little means while he was well off, and you with no brother nor nobody to look after you in winter time, an' all that."

     "I've got along all right," insisted Sally with dangerous spirit, then she softened again. "You see how it is, Mia' Bascom, it's too late now and we've got to leave it as it is. I expect it's poor old grandfather's setness, as you say." Her face was pathetic and childish as she spoke. "You're always real good."

     "Well, I don't know 's I be," said the placid old friend. "I've had very hard feelings about being laid on the shelf so early, while I was full of spirit to work, and we'd just built that great barn and had all our plans about running a creamery. The farm's so good for grazin', and 'twould been easier for my husband, but Cynthia wa'n't able to continue without me. He never complains, but in a few years we should have been forehanded and paid what we owed, instead o' only adding to it." She looked out across the green yard at the barn, the building of which had proved to be such a mistake, and sighed. "I'm going to tell you, too, that we weren't married very young ourselves, Mr. Bascom and I, and 'twas partly owing to my indulgin' just such feelin's as yours, though the occasion was different."

     "Why, Mis' Bascom!" exclaimed Sally with deep sympathy.

     "Yes, dear, I give you warnin' out of my own experience," and the elder woman looked grave and kindly. "I've been tryin' ever since to make up for real injustice to the good man I loved best in the world. And you can be sure of this thing, Sally, the wrong road never leads to the right place."

     It was very still in the wide kitchen; one of the windows was open and the bluebirds were chirping in the orchard. There was a far-away sound of frogs. The old tortoise-shell cat which had been asleep on a cushioned chair came across the floor gaping, and when she saw Sally she hopped up into that friendly neighbor's lap. Sally fondled her a little and laughed at the loud purring that at once began. Her cheeks were a little flushed. "I heard ever so many robins this morning," she said, as if she were afraid of the silence, and her hostess nodded.

     "If it keeps to this weather we shall have the golden robins comin' right along. I do long to get them here in the spring. Then I really feel as if the winter's gone for good."

     Sally rose to go after a little while, in spite of kind protestations from Mrs. Bascom. They both longed to say something more, but neither ventured. Sally, who had grown prim and undemonstrative with every year, came back after her hand was on the door latch, and kissed Mrs. Bascom affectionately.

     "There, there, Sally!" said the old woman affectionately. "Don't get worked up! I only want you to think over things before it's too late. I expect you an' Isaac'll be happy yet, but don't push him away too far; he's got pride too."
 

II

     As Sally Martin went up the road she wished that she were still sitting with her old neighbor. For almost the first time there was something lonely-looking and repellent, something cold and heartless about her own little house as she unlocked the door and went in. She missed the motherliness she had just left, and the sun no longer shone into her own kitchen. She sat down without taking off her shawl.

     After all it was too late now to change her manners to Isaac Bolton or to let him know that her love had always been his. Everybody had spoken of his approaching marriage, and the new house was the surest proof. Mrs. Bascom. had treated the story lightly, but perhaps she did not know, or had not been told because she was certain not to approve. Sally knew that her old neighbor had always been her friend. A crisis seemed to have come into her quiet life. Isaac Bolton had been an orphan boy brought up by his uncle and aunt; beside the tract of fine valley land joining the Bascom farm, on which he was putting the new house, he had a good property in money. Sally knew that he would have stayed on with the Bascoms and been a great help to them, if the neighborhood to herself had not grown so difficult and unpleasant. Since then he must often have felt homeless. For herself, too, not far beyond thirty, strong and fond of hard work, it was a poor sort of life to live on year after year in her little house, pinching out a living from a bit of ledgy land and the tiniest of incomes. Isaac was large-hearted and manly, though quick-tempered enough, as she had known. She saw things differently now, the old habits of her mind, the self-pity that had clung so long to a grievance had worn themselves away and left only regret behind on that spring afternoon. It was too late now, she could not do anything, she had lost all right to the man whom she loved and who had so long loved her. She remembered, as she had so many times before, that when she saw him last his coat needed mending, and that he had grown to look older and even a little gray. She remembered now the sweet, wistful look in his eyes, and how quickly they had clouded over when she with a beating heart had treated him so coldly.
 

III

     Sally Martin still sat by her window in the late afternoon. She had taken up her sewing again, but her eyes looked as if she had been crying. Every few minutes she glanced down the long road to see Mr. Bascom and Cynthia when they came back; that seemed the only interest to which one might still look forward. At last the wagon came in sight and she wondered what the father and daughter would have to tell. To her surprise they passed their own lane's end and came on up the hill, driving fast. Cynthia would not take time just now to come past the house unless for something important - she was late already - and Sally's heart was filled with apprehension.

     They turned out of the road, and still sitting by her window she saw Cynthia get out of the wagon, after a word with her father. In both faces was a look of sorrow and shock, and she sprang to her feet as her friend came into the kitchen.

     "Oh, Sally, Sally!" said Cynthia, "Isaac got awfully hurt this afternoon. He fell from the house frame, and the doctor can't tell yet whether there is much chance for him. They stopped us as we came by, and they've got him in a little shed until he can be moved to our house he's got nowhere else to turn. He saw me, and told somebody he had got to speak to me, and when I got to him all he could whisper was that I must come and tell you, and I said I would. He didn't ask you to come, only to let you know."

     The two friends faced each other. Sally looked gray and old and stern, but Cynthia had come to an end of her self-control and began to cry. "What will poor mother say?" her voice faltered. "She thinks everything of Isaac and she'll want to get to him, and feel so bad that she can't."

     All the color rushed back to Sally's face, and a lovely self-forgetfulness shone in her eyes. She suddenly looked young again and even happy. "Go right home as fast as you can," she said. "I'm going to ask your father to take me right down to Isaac's place. Tell your mother I'll take care of him. I'm going to Isaac now just as fast as I can."

     Later still in the twilight, Sally Martin found her way among the new timbers of Isaac's house to the little tool-shed where he lay. Most of the neighbors had gone. The doctor was still there, and he spoke cheerfully as she came near.

     "No, there are no bones broken after all, 'twas only the breath knocked out of him," said the doctor. "You'll be laid up for awhile, but I believe you'll do well, Isaac. Now who is there to leave him with? I must be off and it's going to be a damp spring night, he mustn't stay here any longer. Move him carefully."

     "I'm right here, Doctor," said old Mr. Bascom, who loved Isaac like a son. "I'll take him right home with me if he's ready to go. I've got the long wagon, you know."

     As for Sally, she had gone straight to her lover's side - where he lay weak and pale on the pile of coats and shavings; she was kneeling by him with a sweet and quiet face, and Isaac's hand was fast in hers. Somehow their happiness seemed all the lovelier because it had come at last in the spring.


Notes

"A Change of Heart" first appeared in Ladies' Home Journal (13:4) in April 1896, and that text is reproduced here. The story was collected by Richard Cary in Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manger.
     The illustration that accompanied the original publication appears after these notes.
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russet apples: any of several varieties of apples that can be kept during the winter.
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General Washington: (1732-1799), commander of the American Revolutionary Army and first president of the United States (1789-1797).
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stubbedness: This word does not appear in the OED or major dictionaries of American slang. A few paragraphs later, Sally refers to her grandfather's setness in reference to this remark, confirming what the context suggests, that this word is related to being stubborn or set in one's ways.
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forehanded: habitually prepared in advance for economic troubles. It is used in a less usual sense here to refer to the results of good habits.
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golden robins: The golden robin is a Baltimore oriole.
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Opening Decoration in Ladies' Home Journal publication.


 

Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.


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Uncollected Stories