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SISTER PEACHAM'S TURN
Sarah Orne Jewett
The wind had gone down suddenly after blowing hard until the middle of the afternoon, and Mrs. Pamela Fellows went to the sitting-room closet, where she kept her every-day bonnet and black woollen shawl, and then stood before the little mirror in the clock front to put them straight. The glass was so small that she had to inspect her broad shoulders by sections, but by ducking to see the top of her head, and standing on tiptoe and dodging from side to side, she reassured herself of proper adjustment and equipment, and stepped out to the sidewalk, after locking the door carefully and putting the key deep into her accessible pocket. Then she struck a steady rolling gait and went away down the street with fine energy.
Once she stopped and turned about to look at the western sky. There was a heavy bank of clouds just lifting, and below it all the west was clear, but the cold greenish-blue of its color gave no promise of warmth. "Winter's come," grumbled Mrs. Fellows, half aloud, as she resumed her eastward course. "Looks like the sky at sea this time o' year, crossin' from English ports; goin' to be cold and clear for a day or two, and then look out for snow! I for one like to have some snow for Thanksgivin' time; I ain't like Lyddy Ann; she sets right down an' weeps when the first flakes come."
Half-way down the long street of the straggling town Mrs. Fellows met a familiar friend, Mrs. Peters, who stopped with a frank smile of interest.
"Where be you goin' this cold afternoon? Ain't you settin' forth rather late?"
Mrs. Peters asked the question, with an air of expecting to hear all about the errand.
"I thought I'd go over and see Lyddy Ann before dark," answered the adventurer. "Yes, I thought I'd make haste and get ahead of her and see if I can't make her invite me over to Thanksgivin'. She needs to make a break; I've asked her to my house six or seven years now, and I thought I should lead up to the subject gradual and ask her what she intended to do; that's the way she always catches me with my mind unprepared, and I've gone an' invited her before I stop to think."
Mrs. Peters laughed; they were very close friends; there was a droll twinkle in the complaining sister's eyes.
"'Twould be a grand thing for her if she could feel that havin' company wouldn't hurt her; she needs more occupation, and not to settle right down expecting to be always done for," said Mrs. Peters, gravely.
"Oh, yes'm, you're quite right," answered Mrs. Fellows, soberly, and the twinkle in her eyes disappeared. "Here we are both of us widows, and own sisters; we're all that's left out of a large family, and she makes use of as much ceremony in asking me over to stop to tea with her as if I was the minister. She's always amiable, but she's fallin' into a way of being plaintive, and oh, so dreadful set! I lost my husband an' his ship with him, but, although bereaved, Lyddy Ann's left in the best o' circumstances. Yes'm, she's dreadful set, an' gettin' more so year by year. Well, I'm goin' to see what I can do to persuade her; if I don't beat, why she will!"
Mrs. Fellows tossed her head gallantly and waved her hand as she departed.
Mrs. Peters laughed aloud. "If I was goin' to bet on who's likely to come out ahead, I'd bet on Lyddy Ann," she exclaimed, with an air of certainty. "Mrs. Fellows is the best-natured heart o' the two; 'tis the biggest heart that always gives up easiest. I guess I'll remember to call over to-morrow and see who gets the invitation. I'm afeared it won't be Pamela, for all her boast and bravery."
Mrs. Lydia Ann Peacham was as thin and precise as her sister was round and easy-going. She inclined by nature toward the economics and excuses of life, and even sighed over being left alone, when no mortal soul could have prevailed upon her to accept permanent companionship. She was sitting alone this very afternoon, rocking gently, and worrying because she was again fearful that something would be expected of her on Thanksgiving day.
"I do hope that sister Fellows'll feel she can ask me there again, I've got such a habit now o' goin' there to keep Thanksgivin'," she said, mournfully. "I'll offer to make one o' my nice apple pies and carry over, and any little thing she may suggest. I know 'twas the custom o' our family to take turn an' turn about, but it's so much easier for her than 'tis for me. This anxiety's very tryin'. I'm all worked up an' I want things settled, but she didn't speak till 'most the last minute last year; she's so dilatory, Pamely is!"
The sun came down from the gray cloud at this moment, and shone out cheerfully over a cold world. Its startling splendor dazzled Mrs. Peacham's short-sighted eyes. The dull little room where she sat, the plain gabled houses and thick-boughed maple-trees in the street, were all transfigured with sudden glory. There was even a touch of the old reddish gold of her youth on Mrs. Peacham's faded hair. She had once been the prettiest of her family, and this pleasing fact Mrs. Fellows, the eldest and plainest, could never forget.
"I'll be sort of easy with poor Lyddy Ann," Mrs. Fellows was saying to herself at that moment as she toiled up the long hill. "She never was so strong as I be, and I ain't goin' to let no Thanksgivin' day fall a burden on her."
Mrs. Peacham started in dismay at the harsh sound of the door-latch, and looked apprehensive as her sister entered the room.
"Well, Lyddy Ann, what be you goin' to do for Thanksgivin'?" demanded sister Fellows, without forethought or preface, and then sat down quite out of breath. Her first intention had prevailed almost against her conscience; there was no leading up to the great subject; it exploded in the timid sitting-room like a Fourth-of-July cannon.
There was no answer for a moment, and Mrs. Fellows unpinned her black woollen shawl and seated herself on a common chair as if it had been a throne; having spoken, she did not mean to be a coward, but she did not fail to look kind and sisterly.
"I don't know, I'm sure," replied Mrs. Peacham, with dignity. She was provoked as well as startled by the sudden question, and even a little excited. "I may invite the minister," she proclaimed. It was no use to sit there and be brow-beaten in your own house, and Pamela Fellows had taken the advantage.
"Why, there he goes now; there's Mr. Downer now. You'd better speak if you want to; you'll lose him if you wait till Sunday!" exclaimed sister Fellows before Mrs. Peacham could get breath enough to protest. Sister Fellows was always a creature of impulse; she caught up the big thimble on the window-sill and rapped sharply on the glass, so that the minister waved his hand in instant response and turned in at the gate. Pamela Fellows loved a minister; her heart beat fast, and she opened the door to receive him. Sister Peacham looked like one in deep affliction; she half rose from her rocking-chair and sank back again; then she sprang up with fine spirit. There was a color on her cheeks such as nobody had seen in years.
"I hope you weren't in a hurry, sir; you must excuse my sister Pamela for knocking so," she said, politely, to the Reverend Mr. Downer; but the tired little man looked pleased and amiable.
"Of course, of course," he answered, looking for a proper place to lay his hat. "I felt it to be very neighborly; I had intended to call this afternoon, but I feared you might think it too late. I was just dreading the long cold stretch of road between me and the fire at home." The good man was conscious of something unusual, and looked from the round sister to the thin one and back again to Mrs. Fellows before he meekly sat down. "It has been a beautiful winter sunset. I suppose you have been enjoying it together?" he added, with some formality.
Mrs. Peacham did not speak, so somebody else must. It was Mrs. Fellows who continued the conversation, gayly; it seemed as if the very spirit of mischief possessed her. Sister Lyddy Ann could not believe her own ears.
"My sister Peacham was just sayin' that she'd thought to invite you an' Mrs. Downer to keep Thanksgivin' with us. I hope you ain't promised to nobody else?" The words were out; she did not dare to look her sister's way. After all, she could transfer the invitation to her own house if the skies really fell upon her; besides, the minister might be already engaged. Mrs. Peacham was heard to make a queer clucking noise in her throat as she turned to receive the minister's answer, but whatever her real thoughts may have been, they were not articulate.
"Why, Mrs. Peacham, how more than kind of you to think of us! My wife will be perfectly delighted; but are you sure that it will not be too much for you to undertake in your frail condition of health?" exclaimed the minister, with joyful surprise, and a perfectly beautiful considerateness. "What time shall we come - right after church? You know I am to conduct the union services this year. To tell the truth, Mrs. Downer expressed two wishes this very morning at breakfast; one was that she could get to see you oftener,and the other that we might have some pleasant invitation for Thanksgiving day from some of our own people. Having her old home broken up by her mother's death makes a great change for her. She will feel very grateful to you, as I do."
There was something so sincere and so affectionate in the good man's voice and manner that it lifted even such a sinking heart as Mrs. Peacham's, and her courage began to rise. She did not deign to look at her sister, but promptly accepted all the honors of the situation.
"It is a number of years since I have felt equal to entertaining my friends," she said, prettily, and with less than usual of her sad affectation of voice. "You and Mrs. Downer will be very welcome. I have been with Sister Pamela for several of these sad anniversaries. But this year - "
"You are planning to be together here?" suggested the minister, at a happier moment than he could guess. "I shall look forward with great pleasure to the day. We must try to forget sad changes, and I am sure we shall make a cheerful company together. I cannot express half my gratitude to you on my wife's account."
Mrs. Downer was a great favorite with both the sisters, and Mrs. Peacham, the unexpected hostess, looked more resigned than ever. The Reverend Mr. Downer made himself so entertaining and friendly that he left no looks of deprecation or dismay behind him. He little knew upon what dangerous ground he had innocently and unexpectedly trodden.
The early darkness of that late November day had quite fallen when the guest took leave. He inquired politely if he might not have the pleasure of Sister Fellows's company as far as their ways lay together, and this boon was generously granted. In fact, though Mrs. Peacham seemed to be in her most reasonable and even affectionate mood, the minister's invitation made a welcome avenue of escape. Her sister said at parting that she might be expected over again within a day or two, since they should have one or two things to talk over.
"Yes, you'd better come, Sister Pamela," rejoined Mrs. Peacham, with decision, "or else you'll have me coming after you!" There was an astonishing absence of the spirit of revenge in her tone; on the contrary, she met Pamela's timid glance with a funny little shake of the head, and they both laughed aloud right before the minister. Mr. Downer had never seen Mrs. Peacham in such a cheerful, awakened frame of mind, or thought her such a good-looking person before. She had usually worn a die-away look on the occasions of his pastoral visits, and had only given expression to laments and fears.
"I hope she won't go and lay awake all night worryin'," thought the guilty instigator of such a dark Thanksgiving plot, as she tried to keep pace with the minister's longer steps along the frozen road."She did carry it off splendid, I must say. Well, I'll help Lyddy Ann all I can, and not let the day sag too heavy. She's got everything pretty to set her table with; there ain't a richer-lookin' parlor closet in this town."
When the sisters met again it was in the presence of witnesses. Mrs. Peters and another sister of the church were calling upon Mrs. Peacham when Mrs. Pamela Fellows came in. To her great relief, she was received as anything but a culprit; Mrs. Peacham was proudly relating her plans, and taking all the glory of these unforeseen Thanksgiving hospitalities to herself.
"Yes'm," she said, with no attempt at either meekness or apology, "I don't deny that it costs me some effort. I have had little health or spirit for entertaining, these late years, but I have long desired to show our pastor and his wife some proper attention. As long as I was going to invite Sister Pamela anyway, it seemed a very good time. I never saw such a parish as this is; everybody hangs back! Mr. Downer said they had received no other invitation, and I did feel provoked even if I was the gainer. Poor man, he really did appear gratified! I have been downtown this morning - there's nobody, not even my sister Fellows, that I wanted to trust in the matter of a turkey."
"Oh no, I can't boast of my own judgment beside yours," protested Mrs. Fellows, warmly; but Mrs Peters, who had a great sense of humor, caught her eye, and they both feigned the sudden discovery of a pin on the carpet, and startled their companions by bobbing down together to pick up, not the pin, but a little plain composure.
The next day after Thanksgiving Mrs. Peters found time to leave home and a cheerful party of children and grandchildren and go over to Mrs. Fellows's for a friendly call.
"I saw the minister this morning," she said, eagerly. "He came to our house to speak with Mr. Peters about something, and I took occasion to remark that I expected he'd had a pleasant time yesterday."
"What did he say?" asked Mrs. Fellows. "He was the life of it all, I thought. Lyddy Ann laughed as I haven't seen her laugh for years, at some o' the stories he told about awkward couples coming to be married. Oh yes, he was certainly very entertainin', Mr. Downer was!"
"He told me 'twas one of the pleasantest occasions he had ever enjoyed, or Mis' Downer, either,"announced Mrs. Peters, with triumph. "He'd never tasted no such turkey since he'd been in this parish; 'twas like the best he ever saw down Rhode Island way, where he came from when he was a boy. He said you an' your sister was so cordial and made them both feel so welcome, and Mrs. Downer was all heartened up; he told me she said you couldn't be no kinder if you'd been her own sisters. She'd always admired Lyddy Ann very much, but hadn't felt so free with her before. She thought everything of her showing such sympathy, and remembering that this would be the first Thanksgiving she'd spent without any of her own folks. Those was his very words. Now do tell me, Pamely, what on earth set Lyddy Ann out? You know how we joked that day on the street, and - "
Mrs. Fellows struggled between a natural desire to give the full particulars and an obligation to maintain the dignity of her house. "Why, I went over this morning myself," she answered. "I expected to find her with her face tied up from the neuralgy, or all used up some way or 'nother with some o' her usual complaints, and instead o' that she come right to the door and stood there waitin' when she saw me coming, pleased as a child. We sat down together and talked it all over same 's we used to when we were girls. 'Now let it be a lesson not to think you can't do the things you can do, Lyddy Ann!' says I once, but she took no heed and went right on talkin'. There was one minute that day, when Mr. Downer was assurin' her they'd be delighted to come, when I was so scared I saw stars all over the room, and my heart did thump like an old-fashioned churn," continued Mrs. Fellows, in a hushed voice. "'Twas worth venturin', I must say. The minister's wife wore her best black silk, and Lyddy Ann wore hers, and her little red Injy shawl with the narrow border, as her dress felt thin about the shoulders. Why, she was in great spirits, Mis' Peters! I declare I kept looking at her as we set at the table, and she was laughin' more 'n I was, and looked as young and pretty as a girl."
"There! we all of us need a little encouragin' sometimes," confessed neighbor Peters. "Pamely, don't seem to understand yet how she came to invite the minister."
"Why, he said right off that he should be very happy to come," answered Mrs. Fellows, a little vaguely, after a moment's reflection. "I shall be very glad to have Lyddy Ann know how much he enjoyed himself," she added, for Mrs. Peters still looked so expectant. "I want them all to come and have dinner with me next year, though. The house looked kind o' lonesome when I got back, as if it sort of resented bein' left. I can't set so handsome a table as Sister can, but I love to have company. I'm the oldest o' the family that's left; but when I gave them the invitation, Lyddy Ann spoke right up and said no: we'd all three got to promise to come again next year. Oh, she's made a break now, I can tell you!"
"You and me might catch up our work and go over some afternoon to take tea with her!" suggested Mrs. Peters, with ready enthusiasm.
"I don't know as it's best to let her overdo too much!" answered sister Fellows, smiling, and so they parted.
The very next Sunday the minister was moved to preach an excellent sermon on the beauties of hospitality, and Mrs. Lydia Ann Peacham was at church and heard it in her front pew. Her thin cheeks flushed a little now and then with pleased self-consciousness. At first she hoped that her neighbors in the pew behind would derive some benefit from their appropriate lesson. Then the honesty of her own heart prevailed.
"'Twas time I made amends," she said to herself. "Pamely was in the right; I'd got way down to livin' for myself alone, an' there's nothin' makes life so dull an' wearin', let alone the shame to a Christian person!"
"Sister Peacham's Turn" first appeared in Harper's Magazine (105:902-906), November 1902. Collected in Richard Cary, Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, 1971. This text is based on Cary's.
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Thanksgiving: Thanksgiving is an annual holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth Thursday in November. It originated in three days of prayer and feasting by the Plymouth colonists in 1621, although an earlier thanksgiving was offered in prayer alone by members of the Berkeley plantation near present-day Charles City, Va., on Dec. 4, 1619. The first national Thanksgiving Day, proclaimed by President George Washington, was celebrated on Nov. 26, 1789. In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln made it an annual holiday to be commemorated on the last Thursday in November (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia).
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Fourth-of-July: United States national holiday celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776.
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union services: when several local, usually Protestant, churches meet together for a common worship service. This is a common practice at the main Christian holidays.
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neuralgy: nerve pain, usually acute.
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red Injy shawl: A shawl imported from India or made of imported Indian cloth.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
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