Just where the village abruptly ended, and the green mowing fields began, stood Mrs. Bickford’s house, looking down the road with all its windows, and topped by two prim chimneys that stood up like ears. It was placed with an end to the road, and fronted southward; you could follow a straight path from the gate past the front door and find Mrs. Bickford sitting by the last window of all in the kitchen, unless she were solemnly stepping about, prolonging the stern duties of her solitary housekeeping.
One day in early summer, when almost every one else in Fairfield had put her house plants out of doors, there were still three flower pots on a kitchen window sill. Mrs. Bickford spent but little time over her rose and geranium and Jerusalem cherry-tree, although they had gained a kind of personality born of long association. They rarely undertook to bloom, but had most courageously maintained life in spite of their owner’s unsympathetic but conscientious care. Later in the season she would carry them out of doors, and leave them, until the time of frosts, under the shade of a great apple-tree, where they might make the best of what the summer had to give.
The afternoon sun was pouring in, the Jerusalem cherry-tree drooped its leaves in the heat and looked pale, when a neighbor, Miss Pendexter, came in from the next house but one to make a friendly call. As she passed the parlor with its shut blinds, and the sitting-room, also shaded carefully from the light, she wished, as she had done many times before, that somebody beside the owner might have the pleasure of living in and using so good and pleasant a house. Mrs. Bickford always complained of having so much care, even while she valued herself intelligently upon having the right to do as she pleased with one of the best houses in Fairfield. Miss Pendexter was a cheerful, even gay little person, who always brought a pleasant flurry of excitement, and usually had a genuine though small piece of news to tell, or some new aspect of already received information.
Mrs. Bickford smiled as she looked up to see this sprightly neighbor coming. She had no gift at entertaining herself, and was always glad, as one might say, to be taken off her own hands.
Miss Pendexter smiled back, as if she felt herself to be equal to the occasion.
“How be you to-day?” the guest asked kindly, as she entered the kitchen. “Why, what a sight o’ flowers, Mis’ Bickford! What be you goin’ to do with ‘em all?”
Mrs. Bickford wore a grave expression as she glanced over her spectacles. “My sister’s boy fetched ‘em over,” she answered. “You know my sister Parsons’s a great hand to raise flowers, an’ this boy takes after her. He said his mother thought the gardin never looked handsomer, and she picked me these to send over. They was sendin’ a team to Westbury for some fertilizer to put on the land, an’ he come with the men, an’ stopped to eat his dinner ‘long o’ me. He’s been growin’ fast, and looks peaked. I expect sister ‘Liza thought the ride, this pleasant day, would do him good. ‘Liza sent word for me to come over and pass some days next week, but it ain’t so that I can.”
“Why, it’s a pretty time of year to go off and make a little visit,” suggested the neighbor encouragingly.
“I ain’t got my sitting-room chamber carpet taken up yet,” sighed Mrs. Bickford. “I do feel condemned. I might have done it to-day, but ‘t was all at end when I saw Tommy coming. There, he’s a likely boy, an’ so relished his dinner; I happened to be well prepared. I don’t know but he’s my favorite o’ that family. Only I’ve been sittin’ here thinkin’, since he went, an’ I can’t remember that I ever was so belated with my spring cleaning.”