"I RECKON I had orter git married an' settle down, Maria," Sam Stebbins said suddenly, but with an air of great conviction.

Maria looked up from the peas she was shelling, while a merry twinkle lit her big blue eyes.

" Be yew so wild an' flighty, Sam, that yew need tew be tied tew a woman's apron strings?" she asked, mischievously.

Sam looked a trifle offended, but he soon recovered his even temper. He had lived on the little homestead some thirty-five years, was a stalwart pillar of the church, and had led the village "singin' school" for nearly a dozen years. It was no wonder Maria smiled at his expressed intention of settling down.

The idea of his marrying was not so strange to her. for the simple reason that she had often thought about it and wondered, in a sort of disconsolate.way, how it would affect her own position in the family if Sam were to bring a wife into the home.

And she had always ended these reflections with a few salt tears, for some way Sam was very dear to her—as an adopted brother, of course; but now—

Sam interrupted her meditations by saying, loftily:

"The woman I'd marry wouldn't wear no apron strings nor aprons neither, Maria! She'd have tew be a lady, an' learn the pianner, an' there'd be servants tew dew the work. That's the way tew dew when yew git married," he finished, with a, flourish.

Maria dropped a handful of pods into the wrong pan and gazed earnestly into her adopted brother's face.

Was it possible that Sam intended to hurt her feelings, or had he suddenly taken leave of his senses? There was not a married woman in Joshuatown that played the piano and had servants to do her work. Sam must be raving mad. She twirled the corner of her own gingham apron and waited anxiously for the next developments.

"Yes, Maria: them's my ideas of matrimony. I don't want no wife of mine soilin' her pretty fingers a tryin' out lard or—or a shellin' peas," he ended, sternly.

Maria felt the earth slipping from beneath her feet at this last explosion, but in another moment Sam had stalked away, and now she had time to think it over.

She had worn aprons and shelled peas in the Stebbins kitchen for many years, but Sam had never objected to her labors in any way, or even noticed that she was the possessor of fingers, so far as she knew.

And yet it seemed that he really was observant even to the extent of objecting to these things, and then a flash of anger ended her reflections.

She had it now; it was Delia Brown who had put these notions into Sam's cranium.

Delia was a stranger in the village, with money enough to pay her board at Widow Jones' and not have to worry her head or lift her finger in the bitter struggle for existence.

The tears that were running now were, perhaps. the bitterest that Maria had ever shed. for with this first touch of a woman's jealousy there had come the first realization of a. woman's love.

Oh, how she loved him! The. kind, considerate brother she had found in the days of her earliest orphanhood!

Sam said nothing when he entered the. kitchen again. Maria had nearly finished the peas, and when he looked at her she blushed furiously. She wondered if he noticed that she had been crying.

That night Delia Brown came over to see her—at least, that was the ostensible object of the visit. Of course, Sam had to "see her home," and Maria had to take herself severely to task to keep from thinking that this was the real object of the visit.

It was late when Sam returned, but Maria was still sitting by the kitchen fire. Mrs. Stebbins worked hard all day, and had retired early, so Maria was alone when Sam came in.

"Did yew see her safe home, Sam?" she asked, and in spite of herself, there was a shade of anger in her voice.

Sam glanced at her sharply, and the roguish twinkle shone in his eyes now for nearly a moment before he answered.

"Of course," he .replied finally, and then, with a movement that was bashful and yet determined, he took his chair from the opposite side of the fireplace and carried it around to where Maria was sitting.

"Don't yew really think that a woman looks better without an apron, Maria?" lie questioned. rather sheepishly. "They're more togged up, more—more genteel an' ladylike."

Maria felt instinctively what was coming, but at last she had gotten control of her wicked heart, so she smiled bravely as she answered him.

"Yes. Sam. A woman does look better without an apron, but if she has work to do she must wear one, I suppose."

"That's jest it," Sam said, gently. "Wimmin' have tew work tew much—at least, the wimmin in Joshuatown do, anyway; but Delia Brown says"—

" What does Delia Brown say, Sam?" Maria asked the question almost in desperation, for the tears were coming nearer and nearer, and it did not seem as if she could keep them back much longer.

"She says," Sam answered, slowly, "that if a man really loves a woman he won't let her work so hard, 'an' wear aprons an' soil her fingers, an' I—1 agree with Delia Brown," he added, with astonishing emphasis.

Maria glanced down at her fingers involuntarily. They were soft and tapering naturally, but the nails were stained and the skin roughened by hard work; they did not look at all like Delia's. She closed one hand quickly and tried to hold it in a fold of her dress, but with a sudden movement Sam bent forward and covered it completely with his own.

"Yew have such pretty hands, Maria," he said. softly. ''It's a pity yew have tew work so hard an' stain your soft little fingers."

Maria did not look up for the tears had reached her lashes now, and she was feeling a little bit bewildered.

''Dew yew know how much money I've got, Maria?" said Sam, suddenly. "Waal, I'll tell yew'" he went on, without allowing her to answer.

"When father died he left everything tew ma except that old pastur' down by the river; that was mine—an' now that the railroad wants my property I've agreed tew let 'em have it fer ten thousand dollars!"

His eyes twinkled brighter than ever as he put one arm boldly around her.

"That'll be enough tew pay servants an' buy manicures or whatever them things be

that Delia Brown uses on her fingers; won't it, Maria? An' yew know yew always did want to learn the pianner."

The tears fell like rain just now, but it was only an April shower, through which the sun of Maria's happiness was shining brightly.

"When—when will all this be, Sam?" she whispered, bashfully.

"Just as soon as you will marry me, little sister—an' yew will marry me, won't yew, Maria?"

For a moment Maria hesitated, but the hand Sam was holding only grasped his own a little tighter.

"Yes, Sam," she whispered, softly. "That is. if yew think yew really orter marry an' settle down," she added, slyly.

--Penny Magazine, June 1897

Penny Magazine material appears courtesy of Edward T. LeBlanc.

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