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A Cluster Of Ripe Fruit
by [?]

CHARACTER STUDY

They were five sisters, all unmarried; they lived in the old Dutch town that was made memorable by Barbara Frietchie’s exploits. They never hoisted a Union flag, or did any grand thing; but they deserve a place in story just the same. Their name was Peyre, and the young people called them “The Pears”, not in derision, for the regard they inspired was little short of veneration. Their ages ranged from sixty-five to eighty years when I first knew them. Unlike the Hannah More quintette, they were not literary. But no hive of busy bees was ever more industrious than they in the line of purely feminine accomplishments.

“The Pears” were not poor, but they were frugal. They owned a comfortable two-story brick house on a quiet street, and let their ground floor to a small tradesman. The way to the sisters led along a smoothly-paved side alley, all fenced in, through a little kitchen with spotless floor and shining tins, up a narrow, crooked, snow-white stairway, and finally through funny little chambers, up two steps, or down three, till the workshop was reached. There they sat, clean and fresh and busy, each in her own nook; and just there they might have been found every day these sixty years.

The workshop had the appearance of tidy fullness. An everlasting quilt was stretched across the end window, and here Miss Becky had laid her chalk-lines and pricked her fingers through several generations. The faithful fingers were brown and crooked, she said, from rheumatism; but how could they be straight when eternally bent over the patchwork? Surely the quilt was not always the same; yet the frames were never empty, and the chair was never vacant.

Miss Polly was housekeeper and cook, with Miss Phoebe to run errands, do the marketing, visit the needy, and supervise generally. Some one must have done the mending and darning and laundry work, but I never saw any of that.

Miss Sophie (the sisters said Suffy) was the knitter and her needles were never still. Always a gray yarn stocking, and never any appearance of the finished pair. Go when you would,–and the dear ladies were not alone many hours,–the knitting was on and going on.

Miss Chrissy was the beauty. Ages ago there had been a tradition of a lover, but nothing came of it. Perhaps they had all five lived out their little romances–who could tell? A certain homage was paid to the beauty. Her once brilliant auburn hair had paled to grayish sandy bands that lay smooth under a cap which was always a little pretentious. Her dark eyes and smiling lips made the soft white old face passing fair. Miss Chrissy was the embroiderer and needle-work artist. Her treasures of scallops and points and eyelets and wheels, all traced in ink upon bits of letter-paper, were kept in a big square yellow box that was bristling and bursting at all points.

This box was marvellous. There could never have been but one other in the world; and that I had seen under my great-grandmother’s bed, the bed that had its dainty white frill, and its glazed calico curtains of gay paradise birds. They were all of a piece and not easily forgotten. The box had seen hard service among the “Pears.” It was cross-stitched up and down the corner’s along the bottom and the top, and all around. It never occurred to them to get a new one. Like their old Bible, its places could be found.

I went, one frosty autumn day, to get a pattern for silk embroidery. Stamping-blocks and tracing-wheels were unknown quantities to Miss Chrissy. Her stumpy little pencil–and that, too, seemed always the same–had to do the transfering. She liked a bit of harmless gossip, dear soul; and the young girls of the town made a point of supplying the lack of a newspaper with their busy tongues. So she knew at once who I was.