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The Little Gray Lady
by [?]

I

Once in a while there come to me out of the long ago the fragments of a story I have not thought of for years–one that has been hidden in the dim lumber-room of my brain where I store my by-gone memories.

These fragments thrust themselves out of the past as do the cuffs of an old-fashioned coat, the flutings of a flounce, or the lacings of a bodice from out a quickly opened bureau drawer. Only when you follow the cuff along the sleeve to the broad shoulder; smooth out the crushed frill that swayed about her form, and trace the silken thread to the waist it tightened, can you determine the fashion of the day in which they were worn.

And with the rummaging of this lumber-room come the odors: dry smells from musty old trunks packed with bundles of faded letters and worthless deeds tied with red tape; musty smells from dust-covered chests, iron bound, holding mouldy books, their backs loose; pungent smells from cracked wardrobes stuffed with moth-eaten hunting-coats, riding-trousers, and high boots with rusty spurs–cross-country riders these–roisterers and gamesters–a sorry lot, no doubt.

Or perhaps it is an old bow-legged high-boy–its club-feet slippered on easy rollers–the kind with deep drawers kept awake by rattling brass handles, its outside veneer so highly polished that you are quite sure it must have been brought up in some distinguished family. The scent of old lavender and spiced rose leaves, and a stick or two of white orris root, haunt this relic: my lady’s laces must be kept fresh, and so must my lady’s long white mitts–they reach from her dainty knuckles quite to her elbow. And so must her cobwebbed silk stockings and the filmy kerchief she folds across her bosom:

It is this kind of a drawer that I am opening now–one belonging to the Little Gray Lady.

As I look through its contents my eyes resting on the finger of a glove, the end of a lace scarf, and the handle of an old fan, my mind goes back to the last time she wore them. Then I begin turning everything upside down, lifting the corner of this incident, prying under that no bit of talk, recalling what he said and who told of it (I shall have the whole drawer empty before I get through), and whose fault it was that the match was broken off, and why she, of all women in the world, should have remained single all those years. Why, too, she should have lost her identity, so to speak, and become the Little Gray Lady.

And yet no sobriquet could better express her personality: She was little–a dainty, elf-like littleness, with tiny feet and wee hands; she was gray–a soft, silver gray–too gray for her forty years (and this fragment begins when she was forty); and she was a lady in every beat of her warm heart; in every pressure of her white hand; in her voice, speech–in all her thoughts and movements.

She lived in the quaintest of old houses fronted by a brick path bordered with fragrant box, which led up to an old-fashioned porch, its door brightened by a brass knocker. This, together with the knobs, steps, and slits of windows on each side of the door, was kept scrupulously clean by old Margaret, who had lived with her for years.

But it is her personality and not her surroundings that lingers in my memory. No one ever heard anything sweeter than her voice; in and nobody ever looked into a lovelier face, even if there were little hollows in the cheeks and shy, fanlike wrinkles lurking about the corners of her lambent brown eyes. Nor did her gray hair mar her beauty. It was not old, dry, and withered–a wispy gray. (That is not the way it happened.) It was a new, all-of-a-sudden gray, and in less than a week–so Margaret once told me–bleaching its brown gold to silver. But the gloss remained, and so did the richness of the folds, and the wealth and weight of it.