An Illustrated Story
A SPRING SUNDAY
Sarah Orne Jewett
Alonzo Hallet and his wife had just finished an excellent Sunday morning breakfast and gone into their comfortable sitting-room together. Mr. Hallett had taken up the clumsy Sunday newspaper and then laid it aside with a gesture of disinclination. Mrs. Hallett was standing at the bay window in her handsome black silk dress with a gold chain for discreet decoration; she looked as if she meant to go to church; her smooth hair was dressed with security and care, as if in anticipation of a best bonnet. One of the window sashes was open and the spring breeze was blowing in and ruffling the light locks about her calm, motherly forehead.
"Oh, what a lovely morning this is!" she exclaimed wistfully, and then they waited for each other to speak. They had arrived long ago at the complete certainty of such a thing as thought-transference; and Mr. Hallett knew that there was something on his wife's mind.
"I don't know 's I want to sit cooped up in that close church all the morning," he announced gruffly. "Seems to me I want to get out-doors and go off somewhere; I've got real spring-feelings, just like a boy. Can't you think of something else, Mary Ann?"
Mrs. Hallett looked pleased, and then unexpectedly reproachful. "We ought to think of the example to others," she answered, but she spoke half-heartedly.
"If living an honest decent life, so far 's both of us know, for sixty-two years, ain't going to carry us over just this one Sunday, why, then, there ain't no such thing as the power of example in this world," responded the man aggressively. "And what's more - you know it, Mary Ann!"
"There now, Alonzo, don't you go to arguing about nothing and getting all stirred up. I'll tell you what did come to my mind this morning when we were gettin' us dressed, and I must say I put on this silk dress to go to meeting with a real unwilling heart: I was thinking how I should like to go out to Miller Falls, where we lived when we were first married, and see how it looks. You know the trolley car runs way out there now, and we could take what we needed to eat in your coat pockets and go over on the hill where we used to go just such spring days as this an' sit an' talk about what we were goin' to do for the children, and you'd tell me all about your business freer than ever you would in the house. I could go right to the same place under those old beech trees - "
Alonzo's face was beaming like a boy's. "You'd better take a little basket or one o' your fancy hand-bags or something," he commanded. "I ain't going to lug round my great winter overcoat any such day as this, I can tell you!"
"Why don't you wear your light-colored fall one?" she suggested, still standing in the bay window, and looking pleased and young. "I think 'tis goin' to be warm. I'll tell you what we'll do; I'm glad 's I can be that I told Nora she should have the day and I'd get what dinner we wanted myself. She said her sister's baby was going to be christened. We'll let her go off quick 's she gets the kitchen cleared, and then we'll wait ourselves till folks have all got into church and we sha'n't attract notice, and we'll slip down to Blossom Street and take the car. I ain't goin' to wear this dress now, Lonzo; of course, I ain't; and you'd better take off those best pantaloons, but we ought to go looking nice and fit for Sunday. What if we chanced to meet somebody?"
"I'm goin' to wear my old gray suit of all; I want to feel free and have some comfort! Now don't you go all prepared for an extra occasion, Mary Ann!"
"Remember what day 'tis, Alonzo," the wife said firmly. "Folks knows us now wherever we go, and we've got to consider it. If you're goin' to sneak a fish-line into your pocket and toll me way over back o' Miller's Hill, same 's you did once when we were first married an', I hadn't learnt suspicion, I'll sit right down here now an' make you go to meetin' same 's usual. I expect the sexton'll make a bigger fire 'n he's had all winter too, and there won't be a single window let down at the top. An' - "
"Oh, you go along, Mary Ann; none o' those threats are goin' to move me. You scoot Nora right off quick 's you can, an' get us somethin' hearty to eat, an' don't forget to lay me out the right pair o' pantaloons. I want a pair that you won't be tellin' me all day I'm goin' to ruin - " but Mary Ann had already vanished from the room, and with a cheerful smile Mr. Alonzo Hallett betook himself to the front door. He stood there smiling, and gazing up and down the street to see and feel if the weather were really as pleasant as it looked.
An hour or two later, the church-goers of the neighborhood having gone their ways and disappeared from sight, this large, prosperous looking couple set forth together. The car station on Blossom Street was directly on the way to their usual place of worship.
"What you hurryin' so for, Mary Ann?" protested the husband. "We shall be all beat out, both of us, and have to sit down an' get our breath and come to on some o' these doorsteps. I do believe you've been thinkin' somebody's lookin' out, and you want to cheat 'em into supposin' we're belated for church. Come now; we've got safe by Miss Pecker's house anyway, but she's seen us striking out at a pace we can't neither of us maintain. The bell stopped tollin' before I locked the front door, so the mischief's done anyway."
"She's a regular spy-cat; I didn't know what talk she might make; askin' everybody, as she would, if they knew where we was goin' on a Sunday morning," answered Mrs. Hallett frankly. "Yes; do let's walk a mite slower; we ain't either of us so light on our feet as we were once. I seem to gain right along, and I don't sit still near as much as I used to when I had such a sight of sewing to set and do for the children."
"I think you look all the better for it," said Alonzo eagerly. "You keep your looks better 'n any o' your mates, say what they may,'' and Mary Ann flushed with pleasure. Her husband had always been a good-natured man, but not much versed in the language of compliment.
"You're the finest looking man that goes into our church, Alonzo," she insisted. "There ain't nobody I see - "
"Oh, come; yes, there is!" said Alonzo, joking easily. "You're far too partial; all I can say is, I'm full o' heartfelt pleasure that I ain't goin' into our church to-day. Some other man can bear off the palm for beauty just this once!" and they both laughed heartily. There was a car in sight, and a golden robin was singing on an elm branch overhead as if spring never could come without his help.
There was nobody in the trolley car whom they knew except the conductor, who was very lenient and gave no occasion for the least apology. He knew that Mr. Hallett had been settled in business at Miller Falls early in life, and appeared to think nothing wrong of his choice of a day to revisit it. "You an' Mis' Hallett ain't never seen this new route, have you?" he asked as he returned from his careful round of fare-taking. "It's a pretty piece of road, but needs a little more ballasting out by Dougherty's place where we had a washout this spring. Great convenience for the Miller Falls folks, ain't it?" he added as he went out to the platform. "They began to look kind o' mossy."
"I guess it is. 'Twas always hard to get anywhere from there," commented Mr. Hallett to his wife, settling back into his seat. "This was a very hard road for teams, and the heavy loads always went the way that was a steady drag up the hill. Best thing I ever done was when I pulled up stakes and come into the city. How scared you felt about it, thinkin' 'twas too much risk, and we ought to wait till we'd got ahead more. First year's business I done where I am now was over three times what it had ever been out there. Our expenses were heavier, of course."
"You knew all about that better 'n I did; yes, it's all turned out just as you said," agreed the wife, moving a little nearer to him as a new passenger came in. "I'd just got the house to look sort of pretty and feel comfortable out there and 'twas just like pullin' us right up by the roots. Little Addie died that winter before, you remember, and I always associated that house with her. I couldn't bear to go out there for a long while after we come away; that settin'-room window was the one she always ran to when 'twas time for you to come home from the store, or when I'd been out and hadn't taken her - I most always did. It seems to me I can see her little bright face there now!"
Alonzo's fatherly face clouded over. "I don't want to get talkin' that all over," he said kindly enough. "I want us to have a good nice time to-day, mother. Yes, she certain was the prettiest one of all our children; 'twas the hardest thing ever happened to me in all my life that we should have to lose her," and he gave a deep sigh and looked sharply at an old house that the car was passing.
"Didn't that house used to be painted white?" asked Mary Ann Hallett, without looking at him again, for the quick tears had sprung to her eyes. "I can't bear these fancy cheap colors on good old-fashioned buildings. That time, you know, when you stopped 'em painting our church - "
"I gave 'em warning in parish meeting that I should withdraw my subscription. Two shades o' olive green they wanted it, some of 'em with bright red trimmin's! White's best or a good plain light gray - none o' your makeshifts o' splendor for me, says I, and I cowed 'em right down. Taste is taste," announced Mr. Hallett with final emphasis. He was completely freed from his sad memories, but the mother could not yet see clearly by reason of her bright, unfallen tears. She was thinking that it would be best not to pass the plain little house where they used to live in their early married life, if she could possibly help it. They were rich people now, and there had been a time when this present prosperity had often been compared with their early struggles and seemed to have all the advantage. Yet little Addie had bloomed and faded there, the one perfect flower that had fallen into their dull lives, while they still lived in the tiny house at Miller Falls. She had gladdened their cheerful poverty, and now in their worldly comfort they were the poorer for her loss.
The straggling village looked very much as it used to look, as they drew near. It had never grown at all, for, soon after the Halletts had moved away, the small manufactory that had been the mainspring of activity had failed and had been abandoned. The tall chimney stood like a monument of something dead and almost forgotten. There was a short business street with a few shops, and even a tavern, a very poor looking establishment, and two or three side streets with scattered dwellings went a little way up the hill. On the other side of the deep river that had turned the factory wheels was a high hill once covered with evergreens, but these had recently been cut and the chief charm of the place was lost. There was a steep cliff that almost overhung the great chimney, and one side of the hill sloped gently toward the south in rough pastures.
The Halletts eagerly stopped the car as they came to the first houses. "Let's get out and have our walk now; I'm tired sitting still," said Alonzo; but as they strolled along they were conscious of a strange uncertainty of feeling, as if they had come in search of something not easy to find. To enter the village seemed like meeting a stranger when they had unconsciously expected the warm response of a friend. Mrs. Hallett glanced toward the little house where they used to live, then she looked across the river at the rocky pastures. "I don't see the old beeches either!" she exclaimed fretfully.
"Oh, yes; you do! there they are; you're looking too high up, Mary Ann!" declared her husband convincingly. "Why, I should think you hadn't been out here for a good deal more than twenty years!"
Twenty's long enough, " assented Mary Ann gloomily. "It doesn't look as it used to me - do you mean down there, those little trees? Do you mean that was where we used to sit and have that lovely wide view down country?"
"The leaves aren't all out yet," explained Alonzo. "You'd know those trees if the leaves were out; why, you used to go and sit right there in the afternoons and take the children."
"I don't know as I can walk so far now," said Mary Ann. She looked a little pale and tired and Alonzo began to laugh. "It's just as pretty as ever it was; perhaps you can get some May-flowers," he said. "I don't think the old place here looks as if we wanted to spend much time loungin' about; these houses look all winter-killed."
"Perhaps we'd better just catch the car and go back towards home. I saw some real pretty places under the pine trees along the road," said Mary Ann. Her voice quavered and she looked apprehensively at two women in the distance who were coming toward them down the street.
"Why, what makes you act so timid? I'll tell you what's the matter with us," said Mr. Hallett after a moment's reflection; "I guess we're both getting hungry! Come along, Mary Ann; we can't take back-tracks now, and we've come off a good ten miles for a little pleasurin' an' I'm bound to have it. Here, let's cut right down the next street towards the old footbridge. I saw somebody pass over it while we've been standin' here, so it's all safe. All the cows used to pasture t'other side of the river, and I suppose they must have to keep it in repair, even if they let everything else drop to pieces."
The crisis was passed, and Mary Ann began to smile again. When Alonzo took the lead she was always happy enough to follow. At last their feet struck a familiar path, and it seemed at once as if they had walked there together only the day before, with their young children clinging to their hands and chattering. The sober father and mother whose children were all married and settled, with children of their own, unconsciously returned to those first years that they had lived together, with all their natural hopes and cares. The pasture path again became the path of life, and all their thoughts and memories were so clear that they hardly missed the children themselves from the bit of rustic landscape. There was the old pine stump behind which Oliver used to hide, to spring out like an Indian at his younger brothers, and there, down the southerly slope, was the very place where little Addie, the dear child who had died, first saw a pretty company of wind-flowers crowded together, and toddled down in her pale pink dress to pick the frail blossoms that looked so strangely like her own delicate, wistful little face.
"She always saw flowers everywhere, when none of the others did," said Mary Ann softly. To-day was almost like having all the children young again and all walking by her side. She turned and looked back at Alonzo, who was coming steadily along in the foot-path behind her, and they smiled at each other as they used to smile a very long time ago, when life was all before them and such spring days as these were brimful of hard work and hopeful happiness.
"There now; don't the old beeches look big enough to you?" said Alonzo triumphantly, as they went straight to the place where they always used to sit on the soft bank of turf, among the twisting roots.
"Yes, but how little the village looks, from here. I used to think it was almost a city; they must have taken away a good many of the houses," his wife answered wonderingly. "There is our old house over there. I always thought it stood in a pretty place facing south. When we used to dally here too late the sun always caught the end windows, and once or twice I thought 'twas all afire and sent Oliver and Joseph hurrying ahead to see. 'Twas a nice place for them all to play over here. I used to bring my sewing and watch them and work away hard as I could. I dare say 'twas one reason why they all grew up so strong and healthy, having this good play-place."
"Yes, they did miss it a good deal when we first moved into town," acknowledged the father. "They soon got used to their new mates, though, and going to the big school, and it seems now as if they all scattered very quick. When Oliver thought he must get married, that next winter after he came into the store, do you remember how put out I was, and you recalled the fact that he was six months older than I was when you and I set up together? Come now, let's see if there's anything good to eat in these pockets! I wish we'd thought to bring something to drink out of. I'm as thirsty as when we stayed over here all afternoon huckleberrying; you most always thought to bring something then. I'll go down and see if the old spring's clear; I guess I can manage. 'Twouldn't be so convenient to lie out flat and drink as it used to be," and the big man laughed at himself and his comfortable, well-clad roundness.
"I've brought that nice foldin' cup you got when we went to the World's Fair," said Mary Ann. "You run along down to the spring, Alonzo, and get a good drink if you want to, and I'll have your luncheon all ready by the time you get back."
She sat and watched him go away with affectionate pride. The happy thoughts of their long life together fluttered and quivered in her mind. They had had many a day's hard pull; Alonzo's quick temper and her own attack of solid reluctance and unpersuadableness in the face of any new proposition had often pulled down the shadows about their heads, but, whatever the experiences of life had been, he had been the only man in the world for her; he had held the love of her heart from first to last. Yet she had never, when it came to the final issue, kept him back from taking his own way in business affairs, or the mastery of his home. They had a good deal of money now. Alonzo was looked up to by everybody, not alone by her; they even talked of his being Mayor - he was one of the first citizens in the fast-growing, wide-awake little city where they lived. All their children, too, were respected, and lived comfortably in their own homes.
"I have everything to be thankful for," said good Mary Ann to herself. Her heart began to beat fast and she felt for her handkerchief hastily; it was a moment of rare happiness. The old beeches had listened to many a lover's vows that had been kept less well than Alonzo's.
Alonzo, himself was looking back at his wife from the spring, after he had taken a long drink of the cool water with its flavor of brown earth and all the roots of herbs that grew about its tiny shores. "I never was half good enough for her," he said to himself as Mary Ann waved her hand to him like a girl. "She's kept me back from a sight of rash foolishness. I always went wrong when I went against her judgment; she looks real young and pretty up there, now that she's got that prim old bonnet off!" When this constant lover returned he brought an offering of late May-flowers and bright checkerberries held clumsily in his big hand, and gave them to the only woman he had ever loved. There were no anemones, though they were just in bloom and he had stood with a heart full of tenderness looking down at their childish little faces - they would only make her think all over again of little Addie.
Then they had their luncheon; their good hearty sandwiches and squares of spice-cake that Mary Ann always made herself because Alonzo was never satisfied with any other. She had brought food enough, though at first he did not think so, and at the end appeared a bottle of coffee, strong and bright-flavored with just enough sugar in it, the best coffee that Alonzo had ever tasted. It renewed their cheerfulness when Mary Ann divulged the secret of its possession and explained how she had concealed it all the way in the shawl she carried. They laughed and talked together like a boy and girl; the soft air blew in their faces, and it was fragrant with all the spicy fragrance of the spring, of the fields that lay below, warm in the midday sun and cool with the forest airs that drew down from the deep pine and hemlock woods, which still kept the dark secrets of winter.
At last, with one consent, they rose; by this time spring clouds thicker than any in the morning sky were hiding away the sun's warmth and brightness. The elderly man and woman stood there a moment, looking again at the village, where the plain, forsaken houses stood together like a forlorn, unshepherded flock above the river, so small, so meagre, so incapable of charm and pleasantness, for it was not yet the time when June would lend even this dull village some beauty of vines and thick leafage.
"I wonder if there's any young couple there now, starting out just as we did, without any more than we had, and just as full of ambition?" whispered Mary Ann.
Alonzo Hallett smiled cheerfully. "Well, I hope so, bless their hearts!" he said.
Then Mary Ann took his arm and they started back along the foot-path, to take the trolley car again, and go home together.
"A Spring Sunday" first appeared McClure's Magazine (23:13-19), May 1904; illustrated by Margaret Eckerson. Collected in Richard Cary, Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, 1971.
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to meeting with a real unwilling heart: See Exodus 35:5. A meeting is a Protestant Christian worship service in New England.
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can bear off the palm ... golden robin: receiving a palm leaf as a symbol of victory, as in a race. The golden robin is a Baltimore oriole.
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wind-flowers: The anemone is "a genus of plants (N.O. Ranunculaceæ) with handsome flowers, widely diffused over the temperate regions of the world, of which one (A. nemorosa), called also the Wind-flower, is common in Britain, and several brilliantly-flowered species are cultivated." (Source: Oxford English Dictionary).
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to the World's Fair: Probably this was the 1893 Columbian Exposition held in Chicago.
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checkerberries: The spicy, berry-like fruit of a wintergreen bush.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College.
If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.