The Lady in Black (By Eleanor H. Porter)
The house was very still. In the little room over the porch, the Lady in Black sat alone. Near her, a child's white dress lay across a chair. On the floor at her feet lay a tiny pair of shoes. A doll hung over a chair and a toy soldier occupied the little stand by the bed.
The clock stood on the shelf near the end of the bed. The Lady in Black looked at it. She remembered the wave of anger that had come over her when she had reached out her hand and silenced the clock that night three months before.
It had been silent ever since and it should remain silent, too. Of what possible use were the hours it would tick away now? As if anything mattered, with little Kathleen lying out there white and still under the black earth!
The Lady in Black moved restlessly and looked toward the closed door. Behind it, she knew, was a little boy with wide blue eyes who wanted her. But she wished he would not call her by that name. It only reminded her of those other little lips — silent now.
"Pe-eek!" It was a cry of joyful discovery, but it was followed almost immediately by silence. The unsmiling woman did not invite him to come near. The boy was unsteady at his first step. He paused, then spoke carefully, "I's — here."
With a little cry the Lady in Black sprang to her feet and hurried into her own room. Her hands shook as she pinned on her hat and covered herself with her black veil. But her step was firm as she walked downstairs and out through the hall.
"But she's alone — all alone. You don't seem to think! No one thinks — no one knows how I feel. You don't understand. If you did, you'd come with me. You wouldn't ask me to stay — here!" choked the woman.
"I have been with you, dear," said the man gently. "I've been with you today, and every day, almost, since — since she left us. But it can't do any good — this continuous mourning over her grave. It only makes more sadness for you, for me, and for Bobby. Bobby is — here, you know, dear!"
It was not a long walk to the burial place. The Lady in Black knew the way. Yet, she stumbled and reached out blindly. She fell before a little stone marked "Kathleen." Near her a gray-haired woman, with her hands full of pink and white roses, watched her sympathetically. The gray-haired woman paused and opened her lips as if she would speak. Then she turned slowly and began to arrange her flowers on a grave nearby.
"It ain't as if I didn't know how she'd feel," said the gray-haired woman. "You see, I was nurse to the boy when it happened, and for years afterward I worked in the family. So I know. I saw the whole thing from the beginning, from the very day when the little boy here met with the accident."
"Things stopped then for my mistress," continued the little gray-haired woman, "and that was the beginning of the end. She had a husband and a daughter, but they didn't seem to be important — not either of 'em. Nothin' seemed important except this little grave out here. She came and spent hours over it, bringin' flowers and talkin' to it."
"The house got sadder and sadder, but she didn't seem to mind. She seemed to want it so. She shut out the sunshine and put away many of the pictures. She sat only in the boy's room. And there, everything was just as it was when he left it. She wouldn't let a thing be touched. I wondered afterward that she didn't see where it was all leadin' to, but she didn't."
"I don't know myself really. I know the man went away. He got somethin' to do travelin' so he wasn't home much. When he did come he looked sick and bad. He come less and less, and he died. But that was after she died. He's buried over there beside her and the boy. The girl — well, nobody knows where the girl is. Girls like flowers and sunshine and laughter and young people, you know, and she didn't get any of them at home. So she went — where she did get 'em, I suppose.
"No, no. I was glad to hear it," said the Lady in Black, rising unsteadily to her feet. Her face had grown white, and her eyes showed a sudden fear. "But I must go now. Thank you." And she turned and hurried away.
The house was very still when the Lady in Black reached home. She shivered at its silence. She hurried up the stairs, almost with guilt. In her own room she pulled at the dark veil that covered her face. She was crying now, a choking little cry with broken words running through it. She was still crying as she removed her black dress.
Long minutes later, the Lady — in black no longer — moved slowly down the stairway. Her eyes showed traces of tears, but her lips were bravely curved in a smile. She wore a white dress and a single white rose in her hair. Behind her, in the little room over the porch, a tiny clock ticked loudly on its shelf near the end of the bed.