By the 1st of June Mrs. Thayer had the sun-bonnets done. There were four of them, for the four youngest girls—Eliza, Mary Ann, Harriet, and Mirandy. She had five daughters besides these, but two were married and gone away from home, and the other three were old enough to make their own sun-bonnets.
There were four Thayer boys; one of them came next to Mirandy, the youngest girl, the others ranked upward in age from Harriet, who was eleven, to Sarah Jane, who was sixteen. There were thirteen sons and daughters in all in Josiah Thayer’s family, and eleven were at home. It was hard work to get enough from the stony New England farm to feed them; and let Mrs. Thayer card and spin and dye and weave as she would, the clothing often ran short. And so it happened that little Mirandy Thayer, aged six, had no shoes to her feet.
One Sunday in June she cried because she had to go to meeting barefooted.
“Ain’t you ashamed of yourself, a great big girl like you, crying?” said her mother, sternly. “You go right over there, and sit down on the settle till father gets hitched up, and Daniel, you go and sit down ‘side of her, and teach her the first question in the catechism. She’d ought to find out there’s something else to be thought about on the Sabbath day besides shoes.”
So Mirandy, sniffing between the solemn words, repeated them after Daniel, who was twelve years old, and knew his catechism quite thoroughly. And when the great farm wagon, with the team of oxen, stood before the door, she climbed in with the rest without a murmur.
But sitting in the meeting-house through the two hours’ discourse, she drew up her little bare feet under her blue petticoat, and going down the aisle afterwards, she crouched, making it sweep the floor, until her mother dragged her up forcibly by one arm.
“Ain’t you ashamed of yourself?” she whispered. “A great big girl like you!”
Mirandy was in reality very small for her age, and everybody called her “little;” but she got very few privileges on account of her youth and littleness. In those days, and especially in a family like Josiah Thayer’s, where there were so many children that each had to scratch for itself at an early age or go without, six years was considered comparatively mature, and the child who had lived that long was not exempt from many duties.
So Mrs. Thayer did not think herself in the least severe when she said to Mirandy after meeting: “If you want some shoes so bad, you’ll have to work an’ earn ’em.”
Mirandy looked up inquiringly at her mother.
“You can pick berries an’ sell ’em,” replied her mother. “You’re plenty big enough to.”
Mirandy said nothing, and soon her mother set her to rocking Jonathan in his red wooden cradle; but as she sat, with her small bare foot on the rocker, ambition expanded wider and wider in her childish soul, and she resolved that she would earn some shoes.
The berries were not ripe before the middle of July. She had some five weeks to wait before she could fairly begin work. But not a day passed that she did not visit the pastures to see if the berries were ripe. She brought home so many partially ripe ones for samples that her brothers and sisters remonstrated. They, too, were vitally interested in the berry crop in behalf of shoes and many other things. “She won’t leave any berries on the bushes to get ripe if she picks so many green ones,” they complained, and her mother issued a stern decree that Mirandy should not go to the berry pasture until the berries were fairly ripe.
But at last, one hot morning in July, the squad of berry-pickers started. There were four Thayer girls and two Thayer boys, besides Jonathan, the baby, whom Eliza dragged in his little wooden wagon.
“If you go berrying this mornin’, you’ve got to take Jonathan with you,” Mrs. Thayer had said. “Dorcas is weaving, an’ Lyddy an’ I have got to dye. You’ll have to take him out in the pasture with you, an’ tend him.”
The berry pasture whither they were bound was about a half-mile from home. The two boys scurried on ahead, the four yellow sun-bonnets marched bravely on, and Jonathan’s wagon rattled behind.
“The berries are real thick,” said Harriet; “but they say the bushes are loaded with ’em over in Cap’n Moseby’s lot, an’ they’re as big as walnuts.”
“He can’t use quarter of ’em himself,” returned Mary Ann. “I call it real stingy not to let folks go in there pickin’!” She nodded her sun-bonnet indignantly.
When they reached the berry pasture, they fell to work eagerly. Jonathan’s wagon was drawn up on one side, under the shade of a pine-tree, and Mirandy was bidden to have an eye to him. Nobody had much faith in the seriousness of Mirandy’s picking, and they thought that she might as well tend Jonathan and leave them free.
But Mirandy stationed herself at a bush near Jonathan, and began with a will. They all had birch baskets fastened at their waists to pick into, and they had brought buckets to fill. Mirandy had hers as well as the rest.
The yellow sun-bonnets and the palm-leaf hats waved about among the bushes, and the berries fell fast into the birch-bark baskets. Mirandy stayed close to Jonathan, as she had been bidden, and she struggled bravely with her berry bush, but it was too tall for her; the bushes in this pasture were very tall. Mirandy tugged the branches down, and panted for breath. She was eager to fill her basket as soon as anybody. She heard Harriet and Mary Ann talking near her, although she could not see them.
“Cap’n Moseby’s pasture is right over there. You get over the stone-wall, and go across one field, and you come to it,” remarked Harriet.
“I s’pose the berries are as thick as spatters,” said Mary Ann, with a sigh.
“Dan’l says the bushes are dragging down with ’em.”
“Well,” said Mary Ann, “nobody would dare to go there, for he keeps that great black dog, and I’ve heard he watches with a gun.”
“So’ve I. No; I shouldn’t dare to go. I s’pose it would be stealing, anyway.”
“I don’t s’pose ‘twould,” rejoined Harriet, hotly. “I guess if anything is free, berry pastures are. Who planted berry bushes, I’d like to know?”
“I s’pose the Lord did,” said Mary Ann. “Mebbe it ain’t stealin’, but anyhow I shouldn’t dare to go there.”
“I shouldn’t,” agreed Harriet; “an’ I know Dan’l and Abijah wouldn’t.”
Mirandy listened; she thought both Harriet and Mary Ann very wise. She trusted to their conclusion that it would not be stealing to pick Cap’n Moseby’s berries, but she privately thought she would “dare to.”
Mirandy did not know what fear was; dogs did not alarm her in the least; and as for Cap’n Moseby and his gun, she knew he would not shoot her; once he had given her some peppermints.
She pulled her bush down painfully, and thought the berries were not very large, and how fast those in Cap’n Moseby’s pasture would fill up. Harriet’s and Mary Ann’s voices grew fainter. Mirandy let the bush fly back, and pushed softly through a tangle of blackberry vines to the stone-wall; a narrow stretch of rocky land lay between it and the other which bounded Cap’n Moseby’s land. Mirandy stood on tiptoe, and peered over; then she looked at Jonathan asleep in his little wagon, his yellow lashes on his pink cheeks, his fat fists doubled up.
Mirandy was loyal, although she was so young, and she had been bidden not to leave Jonathan. She looked at him, then at the stone-wall; it was manifestly impossible for her to lift him over that. She took hold of the little wagon, and pushed it carefully along. She remembered that she had seen some bars a little farther back.
When she reached the bars, she shook Jonathan until he woke up. He stared at her in a surprised way, but never cried; he was a good baby.
“Put your arms round sister’s neck,” ordered Mirandy; and Jonathan obeyed.
Mirandy tugged him out of his little wagon, and they both rolled over under a berry bush. Still Jonathan did not cry. He only gurgled a little, by way of laugh. He thought Mirandy was playing with him.
The bars were close together, and Mirandy could not stir one. Jonathan gurgled again when his sister rolled him, like a ball, under the lowest bar, and then rolled under herself. But it was harder for her to tug Jonathan across to the other bars which guarded Cap’n Moseby’s berry pasture; he could only toddle feebly when led by a strong hand. It was quite a puzzle for six-year-old Mirandy, but she got him across and under the other bars; then she set him down in a sweet-fern thicket, and bade him keep still; and he fell asleep again.
Mirandy picked until she had filled her bucket and rounded it up. Her heart beat faster and faster; her face was flushed and eager; she looked a year older than when she started that morning. She had seen no great black dog, and Cap’n Moseby, with his gun, had not appeared. In the distance she could see the hipped roof and squat chimney of the Moseby house; but nobody molested her.
When her bucket was full, she tugged Jonathan across the field again. This time he rebelled; a blackberry vine had scratched his little legs, and his peace was too rudely disturbed. Mirandy tugged him into his little wagon, and he lay there kicking and screaming. She flew back across the field for her bucket of berries. She had been forced to leave it while she brought Jonathan over, and the bucket was gone. She had set it close to the bars, and there could be no mistake about it.
Mirandy went back across the field; Jonathan wailed louder than ever. Her four sisters were gathered about his little wagon, and Daniel and Abijah were coming through the bushes. Then they all turned on her.
“Now, Mirandy Thayer, I’d like to know this minute where you’ve been?” demanded Eliza.
Mirandy jerked her head backward.
“You ‘ain’t been over in Cap’n Moseby’s pasture?”
“She’s been over in Cap’n Moseby’s pasture,” announced Eliza to the others.
They all stared at Mirandy, and paid no heed to Jonathan’s wails.
Suddenly Mirandy flung her little blue apron over her face and began to weep.
“Did you get scared?” asked Harriet.
“Did the dog chase you?” asked Mary Ann, very excitedly.
Mirandy shook her head, and sobbed harder.
“Did you see Cap’n Moseby with his gun?” asked Daniel.
Mirandy shook her head.
“I wouldn’t be such a baby for nothing, then,” said Daniel.
“I’ve lost my bucket!” sobbed Mirandy.
“Lost your bucket!” repeated Eliza. She was the oldest sister there.
“You’re a wicked girl!” Eliza said, severely. “I don’t know what mother’ll say. Here’s Jonathan all scratched up, too. Did you take him over there?”
“Yes,” sobbed Mirandy.
“You’re a dreadful wicked girl! Didn’t you know ’twas stealing?”
“Harriet said—it wasn’t,” returned Mirandy, in feeble defence.
“It was. I shouldn’t think you’d said such a thing, Harriet.”
“Of course it’s stealing,” said Daniel, soberly.
“Here you’ve been stealing,” scolded Eliza; “and your bucket’s gone, and Jonathan is all scratched up with blackberry vines. I don’t know what mother’ll say.”
She took Jonathan out of his wagon and hushed him, and then they had a consultation as to what was best to be done. Mirandy related, with tearful breaks, the story of her well-filled bucket and its mysterious disappearance.
“Of course Cap’n Moseby was watching out there with his gun and took it,” said Daniel.
It was finally agreed that they would all go in a body to Cap’n Moseby’s, and try to recover Mirandy’s bucket, that she might not have to face her mother without it. When they reached the Moseby house the doors were closed and the windows looked blank. They knocked as loudly as they dared, and there was not a sound in response. They looked at one another.
“S’pose he ain’t at home?” whispered Harriet.
“Dan’l, you pound on the door again,” said Eliza.
And Daniel pounded. Abijah pounded, too, and Eliza herself rattled away on one panel, with her freckled face screwed up, but nobody came.
“If he’s there, he won’t come to the door,” said Daniel.
Suddenly the silence within the house was broken. Then came a volley of quick barks, and the children all fell back in a panic, and scurried into the road.
“He’s in there,” said Daniel; “an’ he’s been keeping the dog still, but he can’t any longer.”
“Just hear him!” whispered Harriet, with a shudder.
The dog was not only barking and growling, but leaping at the door.
Mary Ann began to cry. “I’m going home,” she sobbed. “S’pose that door should break;” and she started down the road.
Eliza grasped the handle of Jonathan’s wagon. “I guess we might just as well go,” she said. “I don’t b’lieve he’ll come to the door if we stand there a week. I don’t know what mother’ll say when she finds that good bucket’s gone. I guess Mirandy’ll catch it. An’ when she finds out she’s been stealing, too, I don’t know what she will say.”
The sorry procession started. Jonathan’s wagon creaked; but Mirandy stood still, with a stubborn pout on her mouth, and her brows contracted over her blue eyes.
“Come along, Mirandy,” called Eliza, with a foreboding voice.
But Mirandy stood still.
“Why don’t you come?” Harriet said.
“I ain’t coming,” said Mirandy.
“I ain’t coming till I get my bucket.”
Then the whole procession stopped, and reasoned and argued, but Mirandy was unmoved.
“What are you going to do? You can’t get in,” said Eliza.
“I’m going to sit on the door-step till Cap’n Moseby comes out,” answered Mirandy.
“You’ll sit there all day, likely’s not,” said Eliza. “What do you s’pose mother’ll say? I’m a-going to tell her.”
“She’ll send me right back again if I don’t stay,” said Mirandy.
And there was some show of reason in what she said. It was indeed quite probable that Mrs. Josiah Thayer would send Mirandy straight back again to confess her sins and get the bucket.
“I don’t know but mother would send her back,” said Eliza; and Daniel nodded in assent.
“I’ll stay with you,” said Mary Ann, although she was still trembling with fear of the dog.
“Don’t want anybody to stay,” protested Mirandy.
Finally she sat on Cap’n Moseby’s door-step, and watched them all straggle out of sight. The creak of Jonathan’s wagon grew fainter and fainter, until she could hear it no longer. The dog was quiet now. Mirandy sat up straight in front of the panelled door.
She waited and waited; the time went on, and it was high noon. She heard a dinner-horn in the distance. She wondered vaguely if Cap’n Moseby didn’t have any dinner because he lived alone. She began to feel hungry herself. There was not a sound in the house. She wanted to cry, but she would not. She sat perfectly still. Once in a while she said over to herself the questions she had learned from the catechism, and she reflected much upon the two boys in the Pilgrim’s Progress. She had eaten a few of the Cap’n’s berries as she filled her bucket, and she wondered that they did not make her ill, as the fruit did the boys.
Nobody passed the house, the insects rasped in her ears, she thought her forlorn childish thoughts, and it was an hour after noon. She did not see a curtain trimmed with white balls in a window overhead pulled cautiously to one side, and a grizzled head thrust out; but this happened several times.
About two o’clock there was a sudden puff of cool wind on her back; she glanced around, trembling, and there stood Cap’n Moseby in the open door, with his great black dog at his heels. His old face was the color of tanned leather, and full of severe furrows; his shaggy brows frowned over sharp black eyes. He leaned upon a stout oak staff, for he had been lamed by a British musket-ball.
“Who’s this?” he asked, in a grim voice.
Mirandy arose and stood about, and courtesied. She could not find her tongue yet.
“Hey?” said Cap’n Moseby.
“Mirandy Thayer,” she answered then, in a shaking voice that had yet a touch of defiance in it.
“Mirandy Thayer, hey? Well, what do you want here, Mirandy Thayer?”
Mirandy dropped another courtesy. “My bucket.”
“Your bucket! What have I got to do with your bucket?”
“I left it out in—your berry pasture.”
“Out in my berry pasture! So you have been stealing my berries, hey? What about your bucket?”
Mirandy’s little hands clutched and opened at her sides, her face was quite pale, but she looked straight up at Cap’n Moseby. “You took it,” said she.
Cap’n Moseby looked straight back at her, frowning terribly; then, to her great astonishment, his mouth twitched as if he were going to laugh. “You think I took your bucket, and you have been waiting here all this time to get it back, hey?” said he.
“Didn’t you feel afraid that I’d set the dog on you, or shoot you out of the window with my gun?”
“No, sir,” said Mirandy.
“Well,” said Cap’n Moseby. He paused a minute, his mouth twitched again. “You have got to come into the house and settle with me if you want your bucket,” he continued, and his voice was still very grim.
Mirandy stepped up on the threshold, and the black dog growled faintly.
“Be still, Lafayette!” said Cap’n Moseby. “I’m going to settle with her. You lay down.”
She followed Cap’n Moseby into his kitchen, and he pushed a little stool towards her. “Sit down,” said he.
And Mirandy sat down. Directly opposite her, on a corner of the settle, was her berry bucket, and near it stood the gun, propped against the wall. She eyed it. There was a vague fear in her mind that settlement was in some way connected with that gun; but she never flinched. She was resolved to have that bucket.
Cap’n Moseby went to the dresser and got out a large china bowl with green sprigs on it, and a pewter spoon. He filled the bowl with berries from Mirandy’s bucket, and then poured on some milk out of a blue pitcher. Mirandy watched him.
He carried the bowl over to her, and set it in her lap. “Eat ’em all up, now, every one,” he commanded.
Mirandy looked up at him pitifully. Her courage almost failed. She thought of the boys and the stolen fruit in the Pilgrim’s Progress, and she almost felt premonitory cramps.
“Eat ’em,” ordered Cap’n Moseby.
And Mirandy ate them, thrusting the pewter spoon, laden with those stolen berries, desperately into her mouth. Never berries tasted like those to her. There was no sweetness in them. But she kept thinking how her mother could give her boneset tea if they made her sick, and she was determined to have the bucket back.
Cap’n Moseby watched her as she ate. He emptied the remaining berries out of the bucket into a large bowl. Then he sat opposite, on the settle. Lafayette lay at his feet.
Mirandy finished the berries, and sat with the empty bowl in her lap.
“Finished ’em?” asked Cap’n Moseby.
“Now, Mirandy Thayer, I’m going to ask you a question.” Cap’n Moseby’s eyes looked into hers, and she looked back into his. “If you hadn’t been a little gal, Mirandy Thayer, what would you have been?”
“Hey?” said Cap’n Moseby.
“One of my brothers,” said Mirandy, doubtfully.
“No, you wouldn’t. I’ll tell you what you would have been. You would have been a soldier, and you would have gone right up to the redcoats’ guns. Well, you must tend to your knittin’-work and your spinnin’. Now what did you steal my berries for, hey?”
“To earn my shoes,” faltered Mirandy; she felt a little bewildered.
“Earn your shoes?”
“Yes, sir; I ‘ain’t got any to wear to meetin’.”
“Have to go barefoot?”
“Well, they went barefoot at Valley Forge; that’s nothing. You wait a minute, Mirandy Thayer.”
And Mirandy waited until Cap’n Moseby had limped into another room and back again. He had a pair of little rough shoes dangling in his hand.
“Here,” said he, “these belonged to my Ezra that died. He had some grit in him; he’d have done some marchin’ in ’em if he’d lived. They’ll jest about fit you. It’s a pity you’re a little gal. Well, you must tend to your knittin’-work and your spinnin’. Now you’d better run home, an’ don’t you ever come stealin’ my berries again, or you’ll run faster than they did at Lexington.”
And so it happened that Mirandy went home, about three o’clock of that summer afternoon, carrying her new shoes in her berry bucket, and Cap’n Moseby limped along at her side. Mirandy did not know that he went to explain matters to her mother, so that she should not be dealt with too severely, but she was surprised that she received so small a chiding.
“Don’t you ever let me hear of your doing such a thing again,” said her mother; and that was all she said.
The next Sunday Mirandy went up the aisle clattering bravely in little Ezra Moseby’s shoes, and she could not help looking often at them during the sermon.