Now, Miss Avilda Cummins was unmarried by every implication of her being, as Henry James would say: but Samantha Ann Ripley was a spinster purely by accident. She had seldom been exposed to the witcheries of children, or she would have known long before this that, so far as she was personally concerned, they would always prove irresistible.
He lifted the latch noiselessly and entered. Oh horror! Miss Avilda herself was sprinkling clothes at the great table on one side of the room. There was a moment of silence. "He wouldn't have me," said Timothy simply, "he said I wasn't big enough yet. I offered him Gay, too, but he didn't want her either, and if you please, I would rather sleep on the sofa so as not to be any more trouble."
As she picked up the heap of clothes to lay them neatly on a chair, a bit of folded paper fell from the bosom of the little dress. She glanced at it, turned it over and over, read it quite through. Then, after retiring behind her apron a moment, she went swiftly downstairs to the dining-room where Miss Avilda and Jabe were sitting.
Miss Avilda had been born at the White Farm; father and mother had been taken from there to the old country churchyard, and "Martha, aged 17," poor, pretty, willful Martha, the greatest pride and greatest sorrow of the family, was lying under the apple trees in the garden.
Now, I'll go in 'n' talk to Miss Vildy. She may keep you over night, 'n' she may not; I ain't noways sure. You started in wrong foot foremost." The White Farm. Evening. Samantha went into the sitting-room and told the whole story to Miss Avilda; told it simply and plainly, for she was not given to arabesques in language, and then waited for a response.
When Miss Avilda opened her eyes, the morning after the arrival of the children, she tried to remember whether anything had happened to give her such a strange feeling of altered conditions. It was Saturday, baking day, that couldn't be it; and she gazed at the little dimity-curtained window and at the picture of the Death-bed of Calvin, and wondered what was the matter.
But Miss Avilda Cummins was blessed with a larger income than most of the inhabitants of Pleasant River, and all her buildings, the great house, the sheds, the carriage and dairy houses, the fences and the barn, were always kept in a state of dazzling purity; "as if," the neighbors declared, "S'manthy Ann Ripley went over 'em every morning with a dust-cloth."
She had "kept company" with David Milliken for a little matter of twenty years, off and on, and Miss Avilda had expected at various times to lose her friend and helpmate; but fear of this calamity had at length been quite put to rest by the fourth and final rupture of the bond, five years before.
Nobody in Pleasant River would have dared to think of her as anybody's "hired help," though she did receive bed and board, and a certain sum yearly for her services; but she lived with Miss Cummins on equal terms, as was the custom in the good old New England villages, doing the lion's share of the work, and marking her sense of the situation by washing the dishes while Miss Avilda wiped them, and by never suffering her to feed the pig or go down cellar.
"I tell you what, at five o'clock I was dreadful sorry I hadn't took Dave Milliken, but now I'm plaguey glad I didn't! "Some of 'em's considerable more like wild cats," said Miss Avilda briefly.