Anne stepped off the train at Valley Road station and looked about to see if any one had come to meet her. She was to board with a certain Miss Janet Sweet, but she saw no one who answered in the least to her preconception of that lady, as formed from Esther’s letter. The only person in sight was an elderly woman, sitting in a wagon with mail bags piled around her. Two hundred would have been a charitable guess at her weight; her face was as round and red as a harvest-moon and almost as featureless. She wore a tight, black, cashmere dress, made in the fashion of ten years ago, a little dusty black straw hat trimmed with bows of yellow ribbon, and faded black lace mits.
“Here, you,” she called, waving her whip at Anne. “Are you the new Valley Road schoolma’am?”
“Well, I thought so. Valley Road is noted for its good-looking schoolma’ams, just as Millersville is noted for its humly ones. Janet Sweet asked me this morning if I could bring you out. I said, `Sartin I kin, if she don’t mind being scrunched up some. This rig of mine’s kinder small for the mail bags and I’m some heftier than Thomas!’ Just wait, miss, till I shift these bags a bit and I’ll tuck you in somehow. It’s only two miles to Janet’s. Her next-door neighbor’s hired boy is coming for your trunk tonight. My name is Skinner — Amelia Skinner.”
Anne was eventually tucked in, exchanging amused smiles with herself during the process.
“Jog along, black mare,” commanded Mrs. Skinner, gathering up the reins in her pudgy hands. “This is my first trip on the mail rowte. Thomas wanted to hoe his turnips today so he asked me to come. So I jest sot down and took a standing-up snack and started. I sorter like it. O’ course it’s rather tejus. Part of the time I sits and thinks and the rest I jest sits. Jog along, black mare. I want to git home airly. Thomas is terrible lonesome when I’m away. You see, we haven’t been married very long.”
“Oh!” said Anne politely.
“Just a month. Thomas courted me for quite a spell, though. It was real romantic.” Anne tried to picture Mrs. Skinner on speaking terms with romance and failed.
“Oh?” she said again.
“Yes. Y’see, there was another man after me. Jog along, black mare. I’d been a widder so long folks had given up expecting me to marry again. But when my darter — she’s a schoolma’am like you — went out West to teach I felt real lonesome and wasn’t nowise sot against the idea. Bime-by Thomas began to come up and so did the other feller — William Obadiah Seaman, his name was. For a long time I couldn’t make up my mind which of them to take, and they kep’ coming and coming, and I kep’ worrying. Y’see, W.O. was rich — he had a fine place and carried considerable style. He was by far the best match. Jog along, black mare.”
“Why didn’t you marry him?” asked Anne.
“Well, y’see, he didn’t love me,” answered Mrs. Skinner, solemnly.
Anne opened her eyes widely and looked at Mrs. Skinner. But there was not a glint of humor on that lady’s face. Evidently Mrs. Skinner saw nothing amusing in her own case.
“He’d been a widder-man for three yers, and his sister kept house for him. Then she got married and he just wanted some one to look after his house. It was worth looking after, too, mind you that. It’s a handsome house. Jog along, black mare. As for Thomas, he was poor, and if his house didn’t leak in dry weather it was about all that could be said for it, though it looks kind of pictureaskew. But, y’see, I loved Thomas, and I didn’t care one red cent for W.O. So I argued it out with myself. `Sarah Crowe,’ say I — my first was a Crowe — `you can marry your rich man if you like but you won’t be happy. Folks can’t get along together in this world without a little bit of love. You’d just better tie up to Thomas, for he loves you and you love him and nothing else ain’t going to do you.’ Jog along, black mare. So I told Thomas I’d take him. All the time I was getting ready I never dared drive past W.O.’s place for fear the sight of that fine house of his would put me in the swithers again. But now I never think of it at all, and I’m just that comfortable and happy with Thomas. Jog along, black mare.”
“How did William Obadiah take it?” queried Anne.
“Oh, he rumpussed a bit. But he’s going to see a skinny old maid in Millersville now, and I guess she’ll take him fast enough. She’ll make him a better wife than his first did. W.O. never wanted to marry her. He just asked her to marry him ’cause his father wanted him to, never dreaming but that she’d say `no.’ But mind you, she said ‘yes.’ There was a predicament for you. Jog along, black mare. She was a great housekeeper, but most awful mean. She wore the same bonnet for eighteen years. Then she got a new one and W.O. met her on the road and didn’t know her. Jog along, black mare. I feel that I’d a narrer escape. I might have married him and been most awful miserable, like my poor cousin, Jane Ann. Jane Ann married a rich man she didn’t care anything about, and she hasn’t the life of a dog. She come to see me last week and says, says she, `Sarah Skinner, I envy you. I’d rather live in a little hut on the side of the road with a man I was fond of than in my big house with the one I’ve got.’ Jane Ann’s man ain’t such a bad sort, nuther, though he’s so contrary that he wears his fur coat when the thermometer’s at ninety. The only way to git him to do anything is to coax him to do the opposite. But there ain’t any love to smooth things down and it’s a poor way of living. Jog along, black mare. There’s Janet’s place in the hollow — `Wayside,’ she calls it. Quite pictureaskew, ain’t it? I guess you’ll be glad to git out of this, with all them mail bags jamming round you.”
“Yes, but I have enjoyed my drive with you very much,” said Anne sincerely.
“Git away now!” said Mrs. Skinner, highly flattered. “Wait till I tell Thomas that. He always feels dretful tickled when I git a compliment. Jog along, black mare. Well, here we are. I hope you’ll git on well in the school, miss. There’s a short cut to it through the ma’sh back of Janet’s. If you take that way be awful keerful. If you once got stuck in that black mud you’d be sucked right down and never seen or heard tell of again till the day of judgment, like Adam Palmer’s cow. Jog along, black mare.”