Saturday, November 10, 2007


The Village Watch-Tower by Kate Douglas Wiggin

The Village Watch-Tower
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
These days the name of Kate Douglas Wiggin is virtually unknown.
But if one mentions the title "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," recognition
(at least in America) is instant. Everyone has heard of Rebecca;
her story has been in print continuously since it was first
published in 1903. It is certainly Mrs. Wiggin's most famous book,
and the only one of her many books that is still in print.
Everything else she wrote has slipped into complete obscurity.
Occasionally in an antique shop, one may still find a copy of her
immensely popular seasonal book, "The Birds' Christmas Carol", but that
is about the extent of what is readily available, even second-hand.
The Birds' Christas Carol is available as our Etext #721, Nov. 1996.
In 1904, Jack London wrote (from Manchuria!) to say that
Rebecca had won his heart. ("She is real," he wrote, "she lives;
she has given me many regrets, but I love her.") Some eighty years
later I happened to pick up and read "Rebecca" for the first time.
The book was so thoroughly enjoyable that when I had finished it,
I began at once a search for other works by the same author--
especially for a sequel to "Rebecca", which seemed practically to demand one.
There was never a sequel written, but "The New Chronicles of Rebecca"
was published in 1907, and contained some further chapters in the life
of its heroine. I had to be satisfied with that, for the time being.
Then, well over a year after jotting down Mrs. Wiggin's name on my list
of authors to "purchase on sight", I finally ran across a copy of "The
Village Watch-Tower"; and it was not even a book of which I had heard.
It was first published in 1895 by Houghton, who published much of her
other work at the time, and apparently was never published again.
Shortly thereafter I found a copy of her autobiography.
Kate Douglas Wiggin (nee Smith) was born in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, on September 28, 1856. She was raised for the most-part
in Maine, which forms a backdrop to much of her fiction.
She moved to California in the 1870s, and became involved
in the "free kindergarten" movement. She opened the Silver
Street Free Kindergarten in San Francisco, the first free
kindergarten in California, and there she worked until
the late 1880s (meantime opening her own training school
for teachers). Her first husband, Samuel Wiggin, died in 1889.
By then famous, she returned to New York and Maine.
She moved in international social circles, lecturing and giving
readings from her work. In 1895 she married for the second time
(to George Riggs).
At her home in San Francisco, overlooking the Golden
Gate and Marin County, she wrote her first book, "The Birds'
Christmas Carol", to raise money for her school.
The book also proved to be her means of entrance into publishing,
translation, and travel in elite circles throughout Europe.
The book was republished many times thereafter, and translated into
several languages. In addition to factual and educational works
(undertaken together with her sister, Nora Archibald Smith)
she also wrote a number of other popular novels in the early
years of the 20th century, including "Rebecca", and "The Story
of Waitstill Baxter" (1913). She died in 1923, on August 23,
at Harrow-on-Hill, England.
Beverly Seaton observed, in "American Women Writers",
that Mrs. Wiggin was "a popular writer who expressed what
her contemporaries themselves thought of as 'real life'"
(p. 413). "The Village Watch-Tower" I think is a perfect example
of that observation; it captures vividly a few frozen moments
of rural America, right at the twilight of the 19th century.
Most of it was written in the village of Quillcote, Maine,
her childhood home--and certainly the model for the village
of these stories.
No attempt has been made to edit this book for consistency
or to update or "correct" the spelling. Mrs. Wiggin's spelling is
somewhat transitional between modern American and British spellings.
The only liberty taken is that of removing extra spaces in contractions.
E.g., I have used "wouldn't" where the original has consistently "would n't";
this is true for all such contractions with "n't" which appeared
inordinately distracting to the modern reader.
R. McGowan, San Jose, March 1997
Dear old apple-tree, under whose gnarled branches these
stories were written, to you I dedicate the book. My head was
so close to you, who can tell from whence the thoughts came?
I only know that when all the other trees in the orchard were barren,
there were always stories to be found under your branches, and so it
is our joint book, dear apple-tree. Your pink blossoms have fallen
on the page as I wrote; your ruddy fruit has dropped into my lap;
the sunshine streamed through your leaves and tipped my pencil with gold.
The birds singing in your boughs may have lent a sweet note here
and there; and do you remember the day when the gentle shower came?
We just curled the closer, and you and I and the sky all cried
together while we wrote "The Fore-Room Rug."
It should be a lovely book, dear apple-tree, but alas!
it is not altogether that, because I am not so simple as you,
and because I have strayed farther away from the heart
of Mother Nature.
"Quillcote," Hollis, Maine,
August 12, 1895.
The Village Watch-Tower 1
Tom o' the Blueb'ry Plains 31
The Nooning Tree 55
The Fore-Room Rug 95
A Village Stradivarius 123
The Eventful Trip of the Midnight Cry 195
It stood on the gentle slope of a hill, the old gray house,
with its weather-beaten clapboards and its roof of ragged shingles.
It was in the very lap of the road, so that the stage-driver could almost
knock on the window pane without getting down from his seat, on those rare
occasions when he brought "old Mis' Bascom" a parcel from Saco.
Humble and dilapidated as it was, it was almost beautiful
in the springtime, when the dandelion-dotted turf grew close
to the great stone steps; or in the summer, when the famous
Bascom elm cast its graceful shadow over the front door.
The elm, indeed, was the only object that ever did cast its
shadow there. Lucinda Bascom said her "front door 'n' entry
never hed ben used except for fun'rals, 'n' she was goin'
to keep it nice for that purpose, 'n' not get it all tracked up."
She was sitting now where she had sat for thirty years.
Her high-backed rocker, with its cushion of copperplate patch
and its crocheted tidy, stood always by a southern window that
looked out on the river. The river was a sheet of crystal, as it
poured over the dam; a rushing, roaring torrent of foaming white,
as it swept under the bridge and fought its way between the rocky
cliffs beyond, sweeping swirling, eddying, in its narrow channel,
pulsing restlessly into the ragged fissures of its shores,
and leaping with a tempestuous roar into the Witches' Eel-pot, a deep
wooded gorge cleft in the very heart of the granite bank.
But Lucinda Bascom could see more than the river from her
favorite window. It was a much-traveled road, the road that ran
past the house on its way from Liberty Village to Milliken's Mills.
A tottering old sign-board, on a verdant triangle of turf, directed you
over Deacon Chute's hill to the "Flag Medder Road," and from thence
to Liberty Centre; the little post-office and store, where the stage
stopped twice a day, was quite within eyeshot; so were the public
watering-trough, Brigadier Hill, and, behind the ruins of an old mill,
the wooded path that led to the Witches' Eel-pot, a favorite
walk for village lovers. This was all on her side of the river.
As for the bridge which knit together the two tiny villages,
nobody could pass over that without being seen from the Bascoms'. The
rumble of wheels generally brought a family party to the window,--
Jot Bascom's wife (she that was Diadema Dennett), Jot himself,
if he were in the house, little Jot, and grandpa Bascom, who looked
at the passers-by with a vacant smile parting his thin lips.
Old Mrs. Bascom herself did not need the rumble of wheels to tell
her that a vehicle was coming, for she could see it fully ten minutes
before it reached the bridge,--at the very moment it appeared at the crest
of Saco Hill, where strangers pulled up their horses, on a clear day,
and paused to look at Mount Washington, miles away in the distance.
Tory Hill and Saco Hill met at the bridge, and just there, too, the river
road began its shady course along the east side of the stream:
in view of all which "old Mis' Bascom's settin'-room winder"
might well be called the "Village Watch-Tower," when you consider
further that she had moved only from her high-backed rocker to
her bed, and from her bed to her rocker, for more than thirty years,--
ever since that july day when her husband had had a sun-stroke
while painting the meeting-house steeple, and her baby Jonathan
had been thereby hastened into a world not in the least ready
to receive him.
She could not have lived without that window, she would have told you,
nor without the river, which had lulled her to sleep ever since she
could remember. It was in the south chamber upstairs that she had been born.
Her mother had lain there and listened to the swirl of the water, in that year
when the river was higher than the oldest inhabitant had ever seen it,--
the year when the covered bridge at the Mills had been carried away,
and when the one at the Falls was in hourly danger of succumbing to the force
of the freshet.
All the men in both villages were working on the river,
strengthening the dam, bracing the bridge, and breaking the jams of logs;
and with the parting of the boom, the snapping of the bridge timbers,
the crashing of the logs against the rocks, and the shouts of
the river-drivers, the little Lucinda had come into the world.
Some one had gone for the father, and had found him on the river,
where he had been since day-break, drenched with the storm,
blown fro his dangerous footing time after time, but still battling
with the great heaped-up masses of logs, wrenching them from one
another's grasp, and sending them down the swollen stream.
Finally the jam broke; and a cheer of triumph burst
from the excited men, as the logs, freed from their bondage,
swept down the raging flood, on and ever on in joyous liberty,
faster and faster, till they encountered some new obstacle,
when they heaped themselves together again, like puppets of Fate,
and were beaten by the waves into another helpless surrender.
With the breaking of the jam, one dead monarch of the forest
leaped into the air as if it had been shot from a cannon's mouth,
and lodged between two jutting peaks of rock high on the river bank.
Presently another log was dashed against it, but rolled off and hurried
down the stream; then another, and still another; but no force seemed
enough to drive the giant from its intrenched position.
"Hurry on down to the next jam, Raish, and let it alone,"
cried the men. "Mebbe it'll git washed off in the night, and anyhow
you can't budge it with no kind of a tool we've got here."
Then from the shore came a boy's voice calling, "There's a baby
up to your house!" And the men repeated in stentorian tones,
"Baby up to your house, Raish! Leggo the log; you're wanted!"
"Boy or girl?" shouted the young father.
"Girl!" came back the answer above the roar of the river.
Whereupon Raish Dunnell steadied himself with his pick
and taking a hatchet from his belt, cut a rude letter "L"
on the side of the stranded log.
"L's for Lucindy," he laughed. "Now you log if you git's fur as Saco,
drop in to my wife's folks and tell 'em the baby's name."
There had not been such a freshet for years before, and there had
never been one since; so, as the quiet seasons went by, "Lucindy's log"
was left in peace, the columbines blooming all about it, the harebells
hanging their heads of delicate blue among the rocks that held it in place,
the birds building their nests in the knot-holes of its withered side.
Seventy years had passed, and on each birthday,
from the time when she was only "Raish Dunnell's little Lou,"
to the years when she was Lucinda Bascom, wife and mother,
she had wandered down by the river side, and gazed,
a little superstitiously perhaps, on the log that had
been marked with an "L" on the morning she was born.
It had stood the wear and tear of the elements bravely,
but now it was beginning, like Lucinda, to show its age.
Its back was bent, like hers; its face was seamed and wrinkled,
like her own; and the village lovers who looked at it from
the opposite bank wondered if, after all, it would hold out
as long as "old Mis' Bascom."
She held out bravely, old Mrs. Bascom, though she was
"all skin, bones, and tongue," as the neighbors said; for nobody
needed to go into the Bascoms' to brighten up aunt Lucinda a bit,
or take her the news; one went in to get a bit of brightness,
and to hear the news.
"I should get lonesome, I s'pose," she was wont to say, "if it wa'n't
for the way this house is set, and this chair, and this winder, 'n' all.
Men folks used to build some o' the houses up in a lane, or turn 'em back
or side to the road, so the women folks couldn't see anythin' to keep their
minds off their churnin' or dish-washin'; but Aaron Dunnell hed somethin'
else to think about, 'n' that was himself, first, last, and all the time.
His store was down to bottom of the hill, 'n' when he come up to his meals,
he used to set where he could see the door; 'n' if any cust'mer come,
he could call to 'em to wait a spell till he got through eatin'. Land!
I can hear him now, yellin' to 'em, with his mouth full of victuals!
They hed to wait till he got good 'n' ready, too. There wa'n't so much
comp'tition in business then as there is now, or he'd 'a' hed to give up
eatin' or hire a clerk. . . . I've always felt to be thankful that the house
was on this rise o' ground. The teams hev to slow up on 'count o'
the hill, 'n' it gives me consid'ble chance to see folks 'n' what they've
got in the back of the wagon, 'n' one thing 'n' other. . . . The
neighbors is continually comin' in here to talk about things that's goin'
on in the village. I like to hear 'em, but land! they can't tell me
nothing'! They often say, `For massy sakes, Lucindy Bascom, how d'
you know that?' `Why,' says I to them, `I don't ask no questions,
'n' folks don't tell me no lies; I just set in my winder, 'n' put two
'n' two together,--that's all I do.' I ain't never ben in a playhouse,
but I don't suppose the play-actors git down off the platform on t'
the main floor to explain to the folks what they've ben doin', do they?
I expect, if folks can't understand their draymas when the're actin'
of 'em out, they have to go ignorant, don't they? Well, what do I want
with explainin', when everythin' is acted out right in the road?"
There was quite a gathering of neighbors at the Bascoms'
on this particular July afternoon. No invitations had been sent out,
and none were needed. A common excitement had made it vital
that people should drop in somewhere, and speculate about certain
interesting matters well known to be going on in the community,
but going on in such an underhand and secretive fashion that it
well-nigh destroyed one's faith in human nature.
The sitting-room door was open into the entry, so that
whatever breeze there was might come in, and an unusual
glimpse of the new foreroom rug was afforded the spectators.
Everything was as neat as wax, for Diadema was a housekeeper
of the type fast passing away. The great coal stove was enveloped
in its usual summer wrapper of purple calico, which, tied neatly
about its ebony neck and portly waist, gave it the appearance
of a buxom colored lady presiding over the assembly.
The kerosene lamps stood in a row on the high, narrow mantelpiece,
each chimney protected from the flies by a brown paper bag
inverted over its head. Two plaster Samuels praying under
the pink mosquito netting adorned the ends of the shelf.
There were screens at all the windows, and Diadema fidgeted
nervously when a visitor came in the mosquito netting door,
for fear a fly should sneak in with her.
On the wall were certificates of membership in the Missionary Society;
a picture of Maidens welcoming Washington in the Streets of Alexandria,
in a frame of cucumber seeds; and an interesting document setting forth
the claims of the Dunnell family as old settlers long before the separation
of Maine from Massachusetts,--the fact bein' established by an obituary
notice reading, "In Saco, December 1791, Dorcas, daughter of Abiathar Dunnell,
two months old of Fits unbaptized."
"He may be goin' to marry Eunice, and he may not," observed Almira Berry;
"though what she wants of Reuben Hobson is more 'n I can make out.
I never see a widower straighten up as he has this last year.
I guess he's been lookin' round pretty lively, but couldn't find anybody
that was fool enough to give him any encouragement."
"Mebbe she wants to get married," said Hannah Sophia,
in a tone that spoke volumes. "When Parson Perkins come
to this parish, one of his first calls was on Eunice Emery.
He always talked like the book o' Revelation; so says he,
`have you got your weddin' garment on, Miss Emery?' says he.
`No,' says she, `but I ben tryin' to these twenty years.'
She was always full of her jokes, Eunice was!"
"The Emerys was always a humorous family,"
remarked Diadema, as she annihilated a fly with a newspaper.
"Old Silas Emery was an awful humorous man. He used to live
up on the island; and there come a freshet one year,
and he said he got his sofy 'n' chairs off, anyhow!" That was
just his jokin'. He hadn't a sign of a sofy in the house;
't was his wife Sophy he meant, she that was Sophy Swett.
Then another time, when I was a little mite of a thin runnin'
in 'n' out o' his yard, he caught holt o' me, and says he,
`You'd better take care, sissy; when I kill you and two more,
thet'll be three children I've killed!' Land! you couldn't
drag me inside that yard for years afterwards.
. . . There! she's got a fire in the cook-stove; there's a stream o'
smoke comin' out o' the kitchen chimbley. I'm willin'
to bet my new rug she's goin' to be married tonight!"
"Mebbe she's makin' jell'," suggested Hannah Sophia.
"Jell'!" ejaculated Mrs. Jot scornfully. "Do you
s'pose Eunice Emery would build up a fire in the middle o'
the afternoon 'n' go to makin' a jell', this hot day?
Besides, there ain't a currant gone into her house this week,
as I happen to know."
"It's a dretful thick year for fol'age," mumbled grandpa Bascom,
appearing in the door with his vacant smile. "I declare some o'
the maples looks like balls in the air."
"That's the twentieth time he's hed that over since mornin',"
said Diadema. "Here, father, take your hat off 'n' set in the
kitchen door 'n' shell me this mess o' peas. Now think smart,
'n' put the pods in the basket 'n' the peas in the pan;
don't you mix 'em."
The old man hung his hat on the back of the chair, took the pan
in his trembling hands, and began aimlessly to open the pods,
while he chuckled at the hens that gathered round the doorstep
when they heard the peas rattling in the pan.
"Reuben needs a wife bad enough, if that's all," remarked the
Widow Buzzell, as one who had given the matter some consideration.
"I should think he did," rejoined old Mrs. Bascom.
"Those children 'bout git their livin' off the road in summer,
from the time the dand'lion greens is ready for diggin'
till the blackb'ries 'n' choke-cherries is gone.
Diademy calls 'em in 'n' gives 'em a cooky every time
they go past, 'n' they eat as if they was famished.
Rube Hobson never was any kind of a pervider, 'n' he's
consid'able snug besides."
"He ain't goin' to better himself much," said Almira.
"Eunice Emery ain't fit to housekeep for a cat.
The pie she took to the pie supper at the church was so tough
that even Deacon Dyer couldn't eat it; and the boys got holt
of her doughnuts, and declared they was goin' fishin' next day
'n' use 'em for sinkers. She lives from hand to mouth Eunice
Emery does. She's about as much of a doshy as Rube is.
She'll make tea that's strong enough to bear up an egg, most,
and eat her doughnuts with it three times a day rather than
take the trouble to walk out to the meat or the fish cart.
I know for a fact she don't make riz bread once a year."
"Mebbe her folks likes buttermilk bread best; some do,"
said the Widow Buzzell. "My husband always said, give him
buttermilk bread to work on. He used to say my riz bread
was so light he'd hev to tread on it to keep it anywheres;
but when you'd eat buttermilk bread he said you'd got somethin'
that stayed by you; you knew where it was every time.
. . . For massy sake! there's the stage stoppin' at the Hobson's door.
I wonder if Rube's first wife's mother has come from Moderation?
If 't is, they must 'a' made up their quarrel, for there was a time
she wouldn't step foot over that doorsill. She must be goin'
to stay some time, for there's a trunk on the back o' the stage.
. . . No, there ain't nobody gettin' out. Land, Hannah Sophia,
don't push me clean through the glass! It beats me why they make winders
so small that three people can't look out of 'em without crowdin'.
Ain't that a wash-boiler he's handin' down? Well, it's a mercy;
he's ben borrowin' long enough!"
"What goes on after dark I ain't responsible for,"
commented old Mrs. Bascom, "but no new wash-boiler has gone
into Rube Hobson's door in the daytime for many a year,
and I'll be bound it means somethin'. There goes a broom, too.
Much sweepin' he'll get out o' Eunice; it's a slick 'n'
a promise with her!"
"When did you begin to suspicion this, Diademy?" asked Almira Berry.
"I've got as much faculty as the next one, but anybody that lives on the river
road has just got to give up knowin' anything. You can't keep runnin'
to the store every day, and if you could you don't find out much nowadays.
Bill Peters don't take no more interest in his neighbors than a cow
does in election."
"I can't get mother Bascom to see it as I do," said Diadema,
"but for one thing she's ben carryin' home bundles 'bout every
other night for a month, though she's ben too smart to buy anythin'
here at this store. She had Packard's horse to go to Saco last week.
When she got home, jest at dusk, she drove int' the barn,
'n' bimeby Pitt Packard come to git his horse,--'t was her own
buggy she went with. She looked over here when she went int'
the house, 'n' she ketched my eye, though 't was half a mile away,
so she never took a thing in with her, but soon as't was dark she made
three trips out to the barn with a lantern, 'n' any fool could tell
't her arms was full o' pa'cels by the way she carried the lantern.
The Hobsons and the Emerys have married one another more 'n once,
as fur as that goes. I declare if I was goin' to get married I
should want to be relation to somebody besides my own folks."
"The reason I can hardly credit it," said Hannah Sophia,
"is because Eunice never had a beau in her life, that I can
remember of. Cyse Higgins set up with her for a spell,
but it never amounted to nothin'. It seems queer, too, for she
was always so fond o' seein' men folks round that when Pitt
Packard was shinglin' her barn she used to go out nights
'n' rip some o' the shingles off, so 't he'd hev more days'
work on it."
"I always said 't was she that begun on Rube Hobson,
not him on her," remarked the Widow Buzzell.
"Their land joinin' made courtin' come dretful handy.
His critters used to git in her field 'bout every other day
(I always suspicioned she broke the fence down herself),
and then she'd hev to go over and git him to drive 'em out.
She's wed his onion bed for him two summers, as I happen to know,
for I've been ou' doors more 'n common this summer, tryin'
to fetch my constitution up. Diademy, don't you want to look
out the back way 'n' see if Rube's come home yet?"
"He ain't," said old Mrs. Bascom, "so you needn't look;
can't you see the curtains is all down? He's gone up to the Mills,
'n' it's my opinion he's gone to speak to the minister."
"He hed somethin' in the back o' the wagon covered up with an old
linen lap robe; 't ain't at all likely he 'd 'a' hed that if he'd ben goin'
to the minister's," objected Mrs. Jot.
"Anybody'd think you was born yesterday, to hear you talk, Diademy,"
retorted her mother-in-law. "When you 've set in one spot's long's
I hev, p'raps you'll hev the use o' your faculties! Men folks has more
'n one way o' gettin' married, 'specially when they 're ashamed of it.
. . . Well, I vow, there's the little Hobson girls comin' out o'
the door this minute, 'n' they 're all dressed up, and Mote don't seem
to be with 'em."
Every woman in the room rose to her feet, and Diadema removed
her murderous eye from a fly which she had been endeavoring to locate
for some moments.
"I guess they 're goin' up to the church to meet their father 'n' Eunice,
poor little things," ventured the Widow Buzzell.
"P'raps they be," said old Mrs. Bascom sarcastically;
"p'raps they be goin' to church, takin' a three-quart
tin pail 'n' a brown paper bundle along with 'em.
. . . They 're comin' over the bridge, just as I s'posed.
. . . Now, if they come past this house, you head 'em off,
Almiry, 'n' see if you can git some satisfaction out of 'em.
. . . They ain't hardly old enough to hold their tongues."
An exciting interview soon took place in the middle of the road,
and Almira reentered the room with the expression of one who had
penetrated the inscrutable and solved the riddle of the Sphinx.
She had been vouch-safed one of those gleams of light in darkness
which almost dazzle the beholder.
"That's about the confirmingest thing I've heern yet!"
she ejaculated, as she took off her shaker bonnet.
"They say they're goin' up to their aunt Hitty's to stay two days.
They're dressed in their best, clean to the skin, for I looked;
'n' it's their night gownds they've got in the bundle.
They say little Mote has gone to Union to stop all night
with his uncle Abijah, 'n' that leaves Rube all alone,
for the smith girl that does his chores is home sick
with the hives. And what do you s'pose is in the pail?
_Fruit_ _cake_,--that's what 't is, no more 'n' no less!
I knowed that Smith girl didn't bake it, 'n' so I asked 'em,
'n' they said Miss Emery give it to 'em. There was two little
round try-cakes, baked in muffin-rings. Eunice hed took some o'
the batter out of a big loaf 'n' baked it to se how it was goin'
to turn out. That means wedding-cake, or I'm mistaken!"
"There ain't no gittin' round that," agreed the assembled company,
"now is there, Mis' Bascom?"
Old Mrs. Bascom wet her finger, smoothed the parting
of her false front, and looked inscrutable.
"I don't see why you're so secret," objected Diadema.
"I've got my opinions, and I've had 'em some time,"
observed the good lady. "I don't know 's I'm bound to tell 'em
and have 'em held up to ridicule. Let the veal hang, I say.
If any one of us is right, we'll all know to-morrow."
"Well, all any of us has got to judge from is appearances," said Diadema,
"and how you can twist 'em one way, and us another, stumps me!"
"Perhaps I see more appearances than you do,"
retorted her mother-in-law. "Some folks mistakes all they see
for all there is. I was reading a detective story last week.
It seems there was an awful murder in Schenectady, and a mother
and her two children was found dead in one bed, with bullet
holes in their heads. The husband was away on business,
and there wasn't any near neighbors to hear her screech.
Well, the detectives come from far and from near, and begun
to work up the case. One of 'em thought 't was the husband,--
though he set such store by his wife he went ravin'
crazy when he heard she was dead,--one of 'em laid it
on the children,--though they was both under six years old;
and one decided it was suicide,--though the woman was a church
member and didn't know how to fire a gun off, besides.
And then there come along a detective younger and smarter than
all the rest, and says he, `If all you bats have seen everything
you can see, I guess I'll take a look around,' says he.
Sure enough, there was a rug with `Welcome' on it layin' in front
of the washstand, and when he turned it up he found an elegant
diamond stud with a man's full name and address on the gold part.
He took a train and went right to the man's house.
He was so taken by surprise (he hadn't missed the stud,
for he had a full set of 'em) that he owned right up and
confessed the murder."
"I don't see as that's got anything to do with this case," said Diadema.
"It's got this much to do with it," replied old Mrs. Bascom,
"that perhaps you've looked all round the room and seen everything
you had eyes to see, and perhaps I've had wit enough to turn up
the rug in front o' the washstand."
"Whoever he marries now, Mis' Bascom'll have to say 't
was the one she meant," laughed the Widow Buzzell.
"I never was caught cheatin' yet, and if I live till Saturday I shall
be seventy-one years old," said the old lady with some heat. "Hand me
Jot's lead pencil, Diademy, and that old envelope on the winder sill.
I'll write the name I think of, and shut it up in the old Bible.
My hand's so stiff to-day I can't hardly move it, but I guess I can make
it plain enough to satisfy you."
"That's fair 'n' square," said Hannah Sophia, "and for
my pat I hope it ain't Eunice, for I like her too well.
What they're goin' to live on is more 'n I can see. Add nothin'
to nothin' 'n' you git nothin',--that's arethmetic! He ain't hed
a cent o' ready money sence he failed up four years ago, 'thout it
was that hundred dollars that fell to him from his wife's aunt.
Eunice'll hev her hands full this winter, I guess, with them
three hearty children 'n' him all wheezed up with phthisic
from October to April! . . . Who's that coming' down Tory Hill?
It's Rube's horse 'n' Rube's wagon, but it don't look like Rube."
"Yes, it's Rube; but he's got a new Panama hat, 'n' he 's hed his
linen duster washed," said old Mrs. Bascom. . . . "Now, do you
mean to tell me that that woman with a stuck-up hat on is Eunice Emery?
It ain't, 'n' that green parasol don't belong to this village. He's drivin'
her into his yard! . . . Just as I s'posed, it's that little, smirkin'
worthless school-teacher up to the Mills.--Don't break my neck, Diademy;
can't you see out the other winder?--Yes, he's helpin' her out, 'n' showin'
her in. He can't 'a' ben married more'n ten minutes, for he's goin'
clear up the steps to open the door for her!"
"Wait 'n' see if he takes his horse out," said Hannah Sophia.
"Mebbe he'll drive her back in a few minutes. . . . No, he's onhitched!
. . . There, he's hangin' up the head-stall!"
"I've ben up in the attic chamber," called the Widow Buzzell,
as she descended the stairs; "she's pulled up the curtains, and took
off her hat right in front o' the winder, 's bold as a brass kettle!
She's come to stay! Ain't that Rube Hobson all over,--to bring another
woman int' this village 'stid o' weedin' one of 'em out as he'd oughter.
He ain't got any more public sperit than a--hedgehog, 'n' never had!"
Almira drew on her mitts excitedly, tied on her shaker,
and started for the door.
"I'm goin' over to Eunice's," she said, "and I'm goin'
to take my bottle of camphire. I shouldn't wonder a mite
if I found her in a dead faint on the kitchen floor.
Nobody need tell me she wa'n't buildin' hopes."
"I'll go with you," said the Widow Buzzell.
"I'd like to see with my own eyes how she takes it,
'n' it'll be too late to tell if I wait till after supper.
If she'd ben more open with me 'n' ever asked for my advice,
I could 'a' told her it wa'n't the first time Rube Hobson has
played that trick."
"I'd come too if 't wa'n't milkin' but Jot ain't home
from the Centre, and I've got to do his chores; come in as you
go along back, will you?" asked Diadema.
Hannah Sophia remained behind, promising to meet them at the post-office
and hear the news. As the two women walked down the hill she drew the old
envelope from the Bible and read the wavering words scrawled upon it in old
Mrs. Bascom's rheumatic and uncertain hand,--
_the_ _milikins_ _Mills_ _Teecher._
"Well Lucindy, you do make good use o' your winder,"
she exclaimed, "but how you pitched on anything so onlikely
as her is more'n I can see."
"Just because 't was onlikely. A man's a great sight likelier
to do an onlikely thing than he is a likely one, when it comes
to marryin'. In the first place, Rube sent his children to school
up to the Mills 'stid of to the brick schoolhouse, though he had
to pay a little something to get 'em taken in to another deestrick.
They used to come down at night with their hands full o'
'ward o' merit cards. Do you s'pose I thought they got 'em
for good behavior, or for knowin' their lessons? Then aunt Hitty
told me some question or other Rube had asked examination day.
Since when has Rube Hobson 'tended examinations, thinks I. And
when I see the girl, a red-and-white paper doll that wouldn't know
whether to move the churn-dasher up 'n' down or round 'n' round,
I made up my mind that bein' a man he'd take her for certain,
and not his next-door neighbor of a sensible age and a house 'n'
farm 'n' cow 'n' buggy!"
"Sure enough," agreed Hannah Sophia, "though that don't
account for Eunice's queer actions, 'n' the pa'cels 'n'
the fruit cake."
"When I make out a case," observed Mrs. Bascom modestly,
"I ain't one to leave weak spots in it. If I guess at all,
I go all over the ground 'n' stop when I git through.
Now, sisters or no sisters, Maryabby Emery ain't spoke to Eunice sence
she moved to Salem. But if Eunice has ben bringin' pa'cels home,
Maryabby must 'a' paid for what was in 'em; and if she's ben bakin'
fruit cake this hot day, why Maryabby used to be so font o'
fruit cake her folks were afraid she'd have fits 'n' die.
I shall be watchin' here as usual to-morrow morning', 'n'
if Maryabby don't drive int' Eunice's yard before noon I won't
brag any more for a year to come."
Hannah Sophia gazed at old Mrs. Bascom with unstinted admiration.
"You do beat all," she said; "and I wish I could stay all night 'n' see
how it turns out, but Almiry is just comin' over the bridge, 'n' I must
start 'n' meet her. Good-by. I'm glad to see you so smart; you always
look slim, but I guess you'll tough it out's long 's the rest of us.
I see your log was all right, last time I was down side o' the river."
"They say it 's jest goin' to break in two in the middle,
and fall into the river," cheerfully responded Lucinda.
"They say it's just hanging' on by a thread. Well, that's what
they 've ben sayin' about me these ten years, 'n' here I be
still hanging! It don't make no odds, I guess, whether it's
a thread or a rope you 're hangin' by, so long as you hang."
* * *
The next morning, little Mote Hobson, who had stayed all night
with his uncle in Union, was walking home by the side of the river.
He strolled along, the happy, tousle-headed, barefooted youngster,
eyes one moment on the trees in the hope of squirrels and birds'-nests,
the next on the ground in search of the first blueberries.
As he stooped to pick up a bit of shining quartz to add to the collection
in his ragged trousers' pockets he glanced across the river,
and at that very instant Lucinda's log broke gently in twain,
rolled down the bank, crumbling as it went, and, dropping in like a
tired child, was carried peacefully along on the river's breast.
Mote walked more quickly after that. It was quite a feather
in his cap to see, with his own eyes, the old landmark
slip from its accustomed place and float down the stream.
The other boys would miss it and say, "It's gone!"
He would say, "I saw it go!"
Grandpa Bascom was standing at the top of the hill. His white locks
were uncovered, and he was in his shirt-sleeves. Baby Jot, as usual,
held fast by his shaking hand, for they loved each other, these two.
The cruel stroke of the sun that had blurred the old man's brain had spared
a blessed something in him that won the healing love of children.
"How d' ye, Mote?" he piped in his feeble voice. "They say
Lucindy's dead. . . . Jot says she is, 'n' Diademy says she is,
'n' I guess she is. . . . It 's a dretful thick year for fol'age;
. . . some o' the maples looks like balls in the air."
Mote looked in at the window. The neighbors were hurrying to and fro.
Diadema sat with her calico apron up to her face, sobbing; and for the first
morning in thirty years, old Mrs. Bascom's high-backed rocker was empty,
and there was no one sitting in the village watch-tower.
The sky is a shadowless blue; the noon-day sun glows fiercely;
a cloud of dust rises from the burning road whenever the hot
breeze stirs the air, or whenever a farm wagon creaks along,
its wheels sinking into the deep sand.
In the distance, where the green of the earth joins the blue of the sky,
gleams the silver line of a river.
As far as the eye an reach, the ground is covered
with blueberry bushes; red leaves peeping among green ones;
bloom of blue fruit hanging in full warm clusters,--spheres of
velvet mellowed by summer sun, moistened with crystal dew,
spiced with fragrance of woods.
In among the blueberry bushes grow huckleberries,
"choky pears," and black-snaps.
Gnarled oaks and stunted pines lift themselves out
of the wilderness of shrubs. They look dwarfed and gloomy,
as if Nature had been an untender mother, and denied
them proper nourishment.
The road is a little-traveled one, and furrows of feathery grasses
grow between the long, hot, sandy stretches of the wheel-ruts.
The first goldenrod gleams among the loose stones at the foot
of the alder bushes. Whole families of pale butterflies,
just out of their long sleep, perch on the brilliant stalks
and tilter up and down in the sunshine.
Straggling processions of wooly brown caterpillars wend their way
in the short grass by the wayside, where the wild carrot and the purple
bull-thistle are coming into bloom.
The song of birds is seldom heard, and the blueberry plains
are given over to silence save for the buzzing of gorged flies,
the humming of bees, and the chirping of crickets that stir
the drowsy air when the summer begins to wane.
It is so still that the shuffle-shuffle of a footstep can be heard
in the distance, the tinkle of a tin pail swinging musically to and fro,
the swish of an alder switch cropping the heads of the roadside weeds.
All at once a voice breaks the stillness. Is it a child's, a woman's,
or a man's? Neither yet all three.
"I'd much d'ruth-er walk in the bloom-in' gy-ar-ding,
An' hear the whis-sle of the jol-ly
Everybody knows the song, and everybody knows the cracked voice.
The master of this bit of silent wilderness is coming home:
it is Tom o' the blueb'ry plains.
He is more than common tall, with a sandy beard,
and a mop of tangled hair straggling beneath his torn straw hat.
A square of wet calico drips from under the back of the hat.
His gingham shirt is open at the throat, showing his tanned neck
and chest. Warm as it is, he wears portions of at least three coats
on his back. His high boots, split in foot and leg, are mended
and spliced and laced and tied on with bits of shingle rope.
He carries a small tin pail of molasses. It has a bail of rope,
and a battered cover with a knob of sticky newspaper.
Over one shoulder, suspended on a crooked branch, hangs a
bundle of basket stuff,--split willow withes and the like;
over the other swings a decrepit, bottomless, three-legged chair.
I call him the master of the plains, but in faith he had no legal
claim to the title. If he owned a habitation or had established a home
on any spot in the universe, it was because no man envied him what he took;
for Tom was one of God's fools, a foot-loose pilgrim in this world
of ours, a poor addle-pated, simple-minded, harmless creature,--
in village parlance, a "softy."
Mother or father, sister or brother, he had none, nor ever had,
so far as any one knew; but how should people who had to work from sun-up
to candlelight to get the better of the climate have leisure to discover
whether or no Blueb'ry Tom had any kin?
At some period in an almost forgotten past there
had been a house on Tom's particular patch of the plains.
It had long since tumbled into ruins and served for fire-wood
and even the chimney bricks had disappeared one by one,
as the monotonous seasons came and went.
Tom had settled himself in an old tool-shop, corn-house, or rude
out-building of some sort that had belonged to the ruined cottage.
Here he had set up his house-hold gods; and since no one else
had ever wanted a home in this dreary tangle of berry bushes,
where the only shade came from stunted pines that flung shriveled
arms to the sky and dropped dead cones to the sterile earth,
here he remained unmolested.
In the lower part of the hut he kept his basket stuff
and his collection of two-legged and three-legged chairs.
In the course of evolution they never sprouted another leg,
those chairs; as they were given to him, so they remained.
The upper floor served for his living-room, and was reached
by a ladder from the ground, for there was no stairway inside.
No one had ever been in the little upper chamber.
When a passer-by chanced to be-think him that Tom's
hermitage was close at hand, he sometimes turned in his
team by a certain clump of white birches and drove nearer
to the house, intending to remind Tom that there was a chair
to willow-bottom the next time he came to the village.
But at the noise of the wheels Tom drew in his ladder;
and when the visitor alighted and came within sight,
it was to find the inhospitable host standing in the opening
of the second-story window, a quaint figure framed
in green branches, the ladder behind him, and on his face
a kind of impenetrable dignity, as he shook his head and said,
"Tom ain't ter hum; Tom's gone to Bonny Eagle."
There was something impressive about his way of repelling callers;
it was as effectual as a door slammed in the face, and yet there
was a sort of mendacious courtesy about it. No one ever cared
to go further; and indeed there was no mystery to tempt the curious,
and no spoil to attract the mischievous or the malicious.
Any one could see, without entering, the straw bed in the far corner,
the beams piled deep with red and white oak acorns, the strings
of dried apples and bunches of everlastings hanging from the rafters,
and the half-finished baskets filled with blown bird's-eggs,
pine cones, and pebbles.
No home in the village was better loved than Tom's
retreat in the blueberry plains. Whenever he approached it,
after a long day's tramp, when he caught the first sight
of the white birches that marked the gateway to his estate
and showed him where to turn off the public road into his own
private grounds, he smiled a broader smile than usual,
and broke into his well-known song:
"I'd much d'ruth-er walk in the bloom-in' gy-ar-ding,
An' hear the whis-sle of the jol-ly
Poor Tom could never catch the last note. He had sung
the song for more than forty years, but the memory of this
tone was so blurred, and his cherished ideal of it so high
(or so low, rather), that he never managed to reach it.
Oh, if only summer were eternal! Who could wish a better
supper than ripe berries and molasses? Nor was there need
of sleeping under roof nor of lighting candles to grope his way
to pallet of straw, when he might have the blue vault of heaven
arching over him, and all God's stars for lamps, and for a bed
a horse blanket stretched over an elastic couch of pine needles.
There were two gaunt pines that had been dropping their polished
spills for centuries, perhaps silently adding, year by year,
another layer of aromatic springiness to poor Tom's bed.
Flinging his tired body on this grateful couch, burying his head
in the crushed sweet fern of his pillow with one deep-drawn
sigh of pleasure,--there, haunted by no past and harassed
by no future, slept God's fool as sweetly as a child.
Yes, if only summer were eternal, and youth as well!
But when the blueberries had ripened summer after summer,
and the gaunt pine-trees had gone on for many years weaving poor
Tom's mattress, there came a change in the aspect of things.
He still made his way to the village, seeking chairs to mend;
but he was even more unkempt than of old, his tall figure was bent,
and his fingers trembled as he wove the willow strands in and out,
and over and under.
There was little work to do, moreover, for the village had altogether
retired from business, and was no longer in competition with its neighbors:
the dam was torn away, the sawmills were pulled down; husbands and fathers
were laid in the churchyard, sons and brothers and lovers had gone West, and
mothers and widows and spinsters stayed on, each in her quiet house alone.
"'T ain't no hardship when you get used to it," said the Widow Buzzell.
"Land sakes! a lantern 's 's good 's a man any time, if you only think so,
'n' 't ain't half so much trouble to keep it filled up!"
But Tom still sold a basket occasionally, and the children
always gathered about him for the sake of hearing him repeat
his well-worn formula,--Tom allers puts two handles on baskets:
one to take 'em up by, one to set 'em down by."
This was said with a beaming smile and a wise shake of the head,
as if he were announcing a great discovery to an expectant world.
And then he would lay down his burden of basket stuff,
and, sitting under an apple-tree in somebody's side yard,
begin his task of willow-bottoming an old chair. It was a pretty
sight enough, if one could keep back the tears,--the kindly,
simple fellow with the circle of children about his knees.
Never a village fool without a troop of babies at his heels.
They love him, too, till we teach them to mock.
When he was younger, he would sing,
"Rock-a-by, baby, on the treetop,"
and dance the while, swinging his unfinished basket to and fro for a cradle.
He was too stiff in the joints for dancing nowadays, but he still sang
the "bloomin' gy-ar-ding" when ever they asked him, particularly if
some apple-cheeked little maid would say, "Please, Tom!"
He always laughed then, and, patting the child's hand, said, "Pooty gal,--
got eyes!" The youngsters dance with glee at this meaningless phrase,
just as their mothers had danced years before when it was said to them.
Summer waned. In the moist places the gentian uncurled
its blue fringes; purple asters and gay Joe Pye waved their
colors by the roadside; tall primroses put their yellow
bonnets on, and peeped over the brooks to see themselves;
and the dusty pods of the milkweed were bursting with
their silky fluffs, the spinning of the long summer.
Autumn began to paint the maples red and the elms yellow,
for the early days of September brought a frost.
Some one remarked at the village store that old Blueb'ry Tom
must not be suffered to stay on the plains another winter,
now that he was getting so feeble,--not if the "_se_leckmen" had
to root him out and take him to the poor-farm. He would surely
starve or freeze, and his death would be laid at their door.
Tom was interviewed. Persuasion, logic, sharp words, all failed
to move him one jot or tittle. He stood in his castle door,
with the ladder behind him, smiling, always smiling
(none but the fool smiles always, nor always weeps), and saying
to all visitors, "Tom ain't ter hum; Tom's gone to Bonny Eagle;
Tom don' want to go to the poor-farm."
November came in surly.
The cheerful stir and bustle of the harvest were over, the corn
was shocked, the apples and pumpkins were gathered into barns.
The problem of Tom's future was finally laid before the selectmen;
and since the poor fellow's mild obstinancy had defeated all attempts
to conquer it, the sheriff took the matter in hand.
The blueberry plains looked bleak and bare enough now. It had rained
incessantly for days, growing ever colder and colder as it rained.
The sun came out at last, but it shone in a wintry sort of way,--
like a duty smile,--as if light, not heat, were its object.
A keen wind blew the dead leaves hither and thither in a wild dance
that had no merriment in it. A blackbird flew under an old barrel
by the wayside, and, ruffling himself into a ball, remarked despondently
that feathers were no sort of protection in this kind of climate.
A snowbird, flying by, glanced in at the barrel, and observed that
anybody who minded a little breeze like that had better join the woodcocks,
who were leaving for the South by the night express.
The blueberry bushes were stripped bare of green. The stunted
pines and sombre hemlocks looked in tone with the landscape now;
where all was dreary they did not seem amiss.
"Je-whilikins!" exclaimed the sheriff as he drew up his coat collar.
"A madhouse is the place for the man who wants to live ou'doors in
the winter time; the poor-farm is too good for him."
But Tom was used to privation, and even to suffering.
"Ou'doors" was the only home he knew, and with all its rigors he loved it.
He looked over the barren plains, knowing, in a dull sort of way,
that they would shortly be covered with snow; but he had three coats,
two of them with sleeves, and the crunch-crunch of the snow
under his tread was music to his ears. Then, too, there were
a few hospitable firesides where he could always warm himself;
and the winter would soon be over, the birds would come again,--
new birds, singing the old songs,--the sap would mount in the trees,
the buds swell on the blueberry bushes, and the young ivory
leaves push their ruddy tips through the softening ground.
The plains were fatherland and mother-country, home and kindred, to Tom.
He loved the earth that nourished him, and he saw through all
the seeming death in nature the eternal miracle of the resurrection.
To him winter was never cruel. He looked underneath her white mantle,
saw the infant spring hidden in her warm bosom, and was content to wait.
Content to wait? Content to starve, content to freeze, if only
he need not be carried into captivity.
The poor-farm was not a bad place, either, if only Tom
had been a reasonable being. To be sure, when Hannah Sophia
Palmer asked old Mrs. Pinkham how she liked it, she answered,
with a patient sigh, that "her 'n' Mr. Pinkham hed lived
there goin' on nine year, workin' their fingers to the bone
'most, 'n' yet they hadn't been able to lay up a cent!"
If this peculiarity of administration was its worst feature,
it was certainly one that would have had no terrors for Tom o'
the blueb'ry plains. Terrors of some sort, nevertheless,
the poor-farm had for him; and when the sheriff's party
turned in by the clump of white birches and approached
the cabin, they found that fear had made the simple wise.
Tom had provished the little upper chamber, and, in place
of the piece of sacking that usually served him for a door
in winter, he had woven a defense of willow. In fine,
he had taken all his basket stuff, and, treating the opening
through which he entered and left his home precisely as
if it were a bottomless chair, he had filled it in solidly,
weaving to and fro, by night as well as by day, till he felt,
poor fool, as safely intrenched as if he were in the heart
of a fortress.
The sheriff tied his horse to a tree, and Rube Hobson and Pitt Packard
got out of the double wagon. Two men laughed when they saw the pathetic
defense, but the other shut his lips together and caught his breath.
(He had been born on a poor-farm, but no one knew it at Pleasant River.)
They called Tom's name repeatedly, but no other sound broke the silence
of the plains save the rustling of the wind among the dead leaves.
"Numb-head!" muttered the sheriff, pounding on the side
of the cabin with his whip-stock. "Come out and show yourself!
We know you're in there, and it's no use hiding!"
At last in response to a deafening blow from Rube Hobson's hard fist,
there came the answering note of a weak despairing voice.
"Tom ain't ter hum," it said; "Tom's gone to Bonny Eagle."
"That's all right!" guffawed the men; "but you've got to go some more,
and go a diff'rent way. It ain't no use fer you to hold back; we've got
a ladder, and by Jiminy! you go with us this time!"
The ladder was put against the side of the hut, and Pitt Packard
climbed up, took his jack-knife, slit the woven door from top to bottom,
and turned back the flap.
The men could see the inside of the chamber now. They were humorous
persons who could strain a joke to the snapping point, but they felt,
at last, that there was nothing especially amusing in the situation.
Tom was huddled in a heap on the straw bed in the far corner.
The vacant smile had fled from his face, and he looked, for the first
time in his life, quite distraught.
"Come along, Tom," said the sheriff kindly;
"we 're going to take you where you can sleep in a bed,
and have three meals a day."
"I'd much d'ruth-er walk in the bloom-in' gy-ar-ding,"
sang Tom quaveringly, as he hid his head in a paroxysm of fear.
"Well, there ain't no bloomin' gardings to walk in jest now,
so come along and be peaceable."
"Tom don' want to go to the poor-farm," he wailed piteously.
But there was no alternative. They dragged him off the bed
and down the ladder as gently as possible; then Rube Hobson held him
on the back seat of the wagon, while the sheriff unhitched the horse.
As they were on the point of starting, the captive began to wail
and struggle more than ever, the burden of his plaint being a wild
and tremulous plea for his pail of molasses.
"Dry up, old softy, or I'll put the buggy robe over your head!"
muttered Rube Hobson, who had not had much patience when he started
on the trip, and had lost it all by this time.
"By thunder! he shall hev his molasses, if he thinks he wants it!"
said Pitt Packard, and he ran up the ladder and brought it down,
comforting the shivering creature thus, for he lapsed into a submissive
silence that lasted until the unwelcome journey was over.
Tom remained at the poorhouse precisely twelve hours.
It did not enter the minds of the authorities that any one so fortunate
as to be admitted into that happy haven would decline to stay there.
The unwilling guest disappeared early on the morrow of his arrival, and,
after some search, they followed him to the old spot. He had climbed
into his beloved retreat, and, having learned nothing from experience,
had mended the willow door as best he could, and laid him down in peace.
They dragged him out again, and this time more impatiently;
for it was exasperating to see a man (even if he were a fool)
fight against a bed and three meals a day.
The second attempt was little more successful than the first.
As a place of residence, the poor-farm did not seem any more desirable
or attractive on near acquaintance than it did at long range.
Tom remained a week, because he was kept in close confinement;
but when they judged that he was weaned from his old home,
they loosed his bonds, and--back to the plains he sped, like an arrow
shot from the bow, or like a bit of iron leaping to the magnet.
What should be done with him?
Public opinion was divided. Some people declared that
the village had done its duty, and if the "dog-goned lunk-head"
wanted to starve and freeze, it was his funeral, not theirs.
Others thought that the community had no resource but to
bear the responsibility of its irresponsible children,
however troublesome they might be. There was entire
unanimity of view so far as the main issues were concerned.
It was agreed that nobody at the poor-farm had leisure to stand
guard over Tom night and day, and that the sheriff could
not be expected to spend his time forcing him out of his hut
on the blueberry plains.
There was but one more expedient to be tried, a very simple
and ingenious but radical and comprehensive one, which, in Rube
Hobson's opinion, would strike at the root of the matter.
Tom had fled from captivity for the third time.
He had stolen out at daybreak, and, by an unexpected stroke
of fortune, the molasses pail was hanging on a nail by the shed door.
The remains of a battered old bushel basket lay on the wood-pile: bottom
it had none, nor handles; rotundity of side had long since disappeared,
and none but its maker would have known it for a basket. Tom caught it
up in his flight, and, seizing the first crooked stick that offered,
he slung the dear familiar burden over his shoulder and started off
on a jog-trot.
Heaven, how happy he was! It was the rosy dawn of an Indian summer day,--
a warm jewel of a day, dropped into the bleak world of yesterday without
a hint of beneficent intention; one of those enchanting weather surprises
with which Dame Nature reconciles us to her stern New England rule.
The joy that comes of freedom, and the freedom
that comes of joy, unbent the old man's stiffened joints.
He renewed his youth at every mile. He ran like a lapwing.
When his feet first struck the sandy soil of the plains, he broke
into old song of the "bloom-in' gy-ar-ding" and the "jolly swain,"
and in the marvelous mental and spiritual exhilaration
born of the supreme moment he almost grasped that impossible
last note. His heard could hardly hold its burden of rapture
when he caught the well-known gleam of the white birches.
He turned into the familiar path, boy's blood thumping in old
man's veins. The past week had been a dreadful dream.
A few steps more and he would be within sight,
within touch of home,--home at last! No--what was wrong?
He must have gone beyond it, in his reckless haste!
Strange that he could have forgotten the beloved spot!
Can lover mistake the way to sweetheart's window?
Can child lose the path to mother's knee?
He turned,--ran hither and thither, like one distraught.
A nameless dread flitted through his dull mind, chilling his
warm blood, paralyzing the activity of the moment before.
At last, with a sob like that of a frightened child
who flies from some imagined evil lurking in darkness,
he darted back to the white birches and started anew.
This time he trusted to blind instinct; his feet knew the path,
and, left to themselves, they took him through the tangle
of dry bushes straight to his--
It had vanished!
Nothing but ashes remained to mark the spot,--nothing but ashes!
And these, ere many days, the autumn winds would scatter,
and the leafless branches on which they fell would shake them
off lightly, never dreaming that they hid the soul of a home.
Nothing but ashes!
Poor Tom o' the blueb'ry plains!
The giant elm stood in the centre of the squire's fair green meadows,
and was known to all the country round about as the "Bean ellum."
The other trees had seemingly retired to a respectful distance,
as if they were not worthy of closer intimacy; and so it stood alone,
king of the meadow, monarch of the village.
It shot from the ground for a space, straight, strong, and superb,
and then bust into nine splendid branches, each a tree in itself,
all growing symmetrically from the parent trunk, and casting
a grateful shadow under which all the inhabitants of the tiny
village might have gathered.
It was not alone its size, its beauty, its symmetry, its density
of foliage, that made it the glory of the neighborhood, but the low
grown of its branches and the extra-ordinary breadth of its shade.
Passers-by from the adjacent towns were wont to hitch their teams
by the wayside, crawl through the stump fence and walk
across the fields, for a nearer view of its magnificence.
One man, indeed, was known to drive by the tree every day during
the summer, and lift his hat to it, respectfully, each time he passed;
but he was a poet and his intellect was not greatly esteemed
in the village.
The elm was almost as beautiful in one season as in another.
In the spring it rose from moist fields and mellow ploughed ground,
its tiny brown leaf buds bursting with pride at the thought
of the loveliness coiled up inside. In summer it stood
in the midst of a waving garden of buttercups and whiteweed,
a towering mass of verdant leafage, a shelter from the sun
and a refuge from the storm; a cool, splendid, hospitable dome,
under which the weary farmer might fling himself, and gaze
upward as into the heights and depths of an emerald heaven.
As for the birds, they made it a fashionable summer resort,
the most commodious and attractive in the whole country; with no
limit to the accommodations for those of a gregarious turn of mind,
liking the advantages of select society combined with country air.
In the autumn it held its own; for when the other elms changed
their green to duller tints, the nooning tree put on
a gown of yellow, and stood out against the far background
of sombre pine woods a brilliant mass of gold and brown.
In winter, when there was no longer dun of upturned sod,
nor waving daisy gardens, nor ruddy autumn grasses,
it rose above the dazzling snow crust, lifting its bare,
shapely branches in sober elegance and dignity, and seeming
to say, "Do not pity me; I have been, and, please God,
I shall be!"
Whenever the weather was sufficiently mild, it was used as a "nooning"
tree by all the men at work in the surrounding fields; but it was in haying
time that it became the favorite lunching and "bangeing" place for Squire
Bean's hands and those of Miss Vilda Cummins, who owned the adjoining farm.
The men congregated under the spreading branches at twelve o' the clock,
and spent the noon hour there, eating and "swapping" stories, as they
were doing to-day.
Each had a tin pail, and each consumed a quantity of "flour food"
that kept the housewives busy at the cook stove from morning till night.
A glance at Pitt Packard's luncheon, for instance, might suffice
as an illustration, for, as Jabe Slocum said, "Pitt took after
both his parents; one et a good deal, 'n' the other a good while."
His pail contained four doughnuts, a quarter section of pie,
six buttermilk biscuits, six ginger cookies, a baked cup custard,
and a quart of cold coffee. This quantity was a trifle unusual,
but every man in the group was lined throughout with pie,
cemented with buttermilk bread, and riveted with doughnuts.
Jabe Slocum and Brad Gibson lay extended slouchingly,
their cowhide boots turned up to the sky; Dave Milliken,
Steve Webster, and the others leaned back against the tree-trunk,
smoking clay pipes, or hugging their knees and chewing blades
of grass reflectively.
One man sat apart from the rest, gloomily puffing rings of smoke
into the air. After a while he lay down in the grass with his head
buried in his hat, sleeping to all appearances, while the others talked
and laughed; for he had no stories, though he put in an absent-minded word
or two when he was directly addressed. This was the man from Tennessee,
Matt Henderson, dubbed "Dixie" for short. He was a giant fellow,--
a "great gormin' critter," Samantha Ann Milliken called him;
but if he had held up his head and straightened his broad shoulders,
he would have been thought a man of splendid presence.
He seemed a being from another sphere instead of from another
section of the country. It was not alone the olive tint of the skin,
the mass of wavy dark hair tossed back from a high forehead,
the sombre eyes, and the sad mouth,--a mouth that had never grown
into laughing curves through telling Yankee jokes,--it was not these
that gave him what the boys called a "kind of a downcasted look."
The man from Tennessee had something more than a melancholy temperament;
he had, or physiognomy was a lie, a sorrow tugging at his heart.
"I'm goin' to doze a spell," drawled Jabe Slocum, pulling his
straw hat over his eyes. "I've got to renew my strength like
the eagle's, 'f I'm goin' to walk to the circus this afternoon.
Wake me up, boys, when you think I'd ought to sling that scythe
some more, for if I hev it on my mind I can't git a wink o' sleep."
This was apparently a witticism; at any rate, it elicited
roars of laughter.
"It's one of Jabe's useless days; he takes 'em from his
great-aunt Lyddy," said David Milliken.
"You jest dry up, Dave. Ef it took me as long to git
to workin' as it did you to git a wife, I bate this hay wouldn't
git mowed down to crack o' doom. Gorry! ain't this a tree!
I tell you, the sun 'n' the airth, the dew 'n' the showers,
'n' the Lord God o' creation jest took holt 'n' worked together
on this tree, 'n' no mistake!"
"You're right, Jabe." (This from Steve Webster, who was absently
cutting a _D_ in the bark. He was always cutting _D_'s these days.)
"This ellum can't be beat in the State o' Maine, nor no other state.
My brother that lives in California says that the big redwoods,
big as they air, don't throw no sech shade, nor ain't so han'some,
'specially in the fall o' the year, as our State o' Maine trees;
'assiduous trees,' he called 'em."
"_Assidyus_ trees? Why don't you talk United States while
you're about it, 'n' not fire yer long-range words round here?
_Assidyus!_ What does it mean, anyhow?"
"Can't prove it by me. That's what he called 'em, 'n'
I never forgot it."
"Assidyus--assidyus--it don't sound as if it meant nothing', to me."
"Assiduous means 'busy,'" said the man from Tennessee,
who had suddenly waked from a brown study, and dropped
off into another as soon as he had given the definition.
"Busy, does it? Wall, I guess we ain't no better off
now 'n we ever was. One tree's 'bout 's busy as another,
as fur 's I can see."
"Wall, there is kind of a meanin' in it to me, but it'sturrible far
fetched," remarked Jabe Slocum, rather sleepily.
"You see, our ellums and maples 'n' all them trees spends part o'
the year in buddin' 'n' gittin' out their leaves 'n' hangin'
em all over the branches; 'n' then, no sooner air they full grown
than they hev to begin colorin' of 'em red or yeller or brown,
'n' then shakin' 'em off; 'n' this is all extry, you might say,
to their every-day chores o' growin' 'n' cirkerlatin' sap, 'n' spreadin'
'n' thickenin' 'n' shovin' out limbs, 'n' one thing 'n' 'nother;
'n' it stan's to reason that the first 'n' hemlocks 'n' them
California redwoods, that keeps their clo'es on right through the year,
can't be so busy as them that keeps a-dressin' 'n' ondressin'
all the time."
"I guess you're 'bout right," allowed Steve,
"but I shouldn't never 'a' thought of it in the world.
What yer takin' out o' that bottle, Jabe? I thought you
was a temperance man."
"I guess he 's like the feller over to Shandagee schoolhouse,
that said he was in favor o' the law, but agin its enforcement!"
laughed Pitt Packard.
"I ain't breakin' no law; this is yarb bitters," Jabe answered,
with a pull at the bottle.
"It's to cirkerlate his blood," said Ob Tarbox;
"he's too dog-goned lazy to cirkerlate it himself."
"I'm takin' it fer what ails me," said Jabe oracularly;
"the heart knoweth its own bitterness, 'n' it 's a wise child
that knows its own complaints 'thout goin' to a doctor."
"Ain't yer scared fer fear it'll start yer growth, Laigs?" asked little
Brad Gibson, looking at Jabe's tremendous length of limb and foot.
"Say, how do yer git them feet o' yourn uphill? Do yer start one ahead,
'n' side-track the other?"
The tree rang with the laughter evoked by this sally,
but the man from Tennessee never smiled.
Jabe Slocum's imperturbable good humor was not shaken in the very least
by these personal remarks. "If I thought 't was a good growin'
medicine, I'd recommend it to your folks, Brad," he replied cheerfully.
"Your mother says you boys air all so short that when you're diggin'
potatoes, yer can't see her shake the dinner rag 'thout gittin'
up 'n' standing on the potato hills! If I was a sinikitin feller like you,
I wouldn't hector folks that had made out to grow some."
"Speakin' o' growin'," said Steve Webster, "who do you guess
I seen in Boston, when I was workin' there? That tall Swatkins
girl from the Duck Pond, the one that married Dan Robinson.
It was one Sunday, in the Catholic meetin'-house. I'd allers wanted
to go to a Catholic meetin', an' I declare it's about the solemnest
one there is. I mistrusted I was goin' to everlastin'ly giggle,
but I tell yer I was the awedest cutter yer ever see.
But anyway, the Swatkins girl--or Mis' Robinson, she is now--
was there as large as life in the next pew to me, jabberin'
Latin, pawin' beads, gettin' up 'n' kneelin' down, 'n' crossin'
herself north, south, east, 'n' west, with the best of 'em. Poor Dan!
'Grinnin' Dan,' we used to call him. Well, he don't grin nowadays.
He never was good for much, but he 's hed more 'n his comeuppance!"
"Why, what 's the matter with him? Can't he git work in Boston?"
"Matter? Why, his wife, that I see makin' believe be so
dreadful pious in the Catholic meetin', she 's carried on wuss 'n
the Old Driver for two years, 'n' now she 's up 'n' left him,--
gone with a han'somer man."
Down on Steve Webster's hand came Jabe Slocum's immense
paw with a grasp that made him cringe.
"What the"--began Steve, when the man from Tennessee took up
his scythe and slouched away from the group by the tree.
"Didn't yer know no better 'n that, yer thunderin' fool? Can't yer
see a hole in a grindstun 'thout it's hung on yer nose?"
"What hev I done?" asked Steve, as if dumfounded.
"Done? Where 've yer ben, that yer don't know Dixie's wife
's left him?"
"Where 've I ben? Hain't I ben workin' in Boston fer
a year; 'n' since I come home last week, hain't I ben tendin'
sick folks, so 't I couldn't git outside the dooryard?
I never seen the man in my life till yesterday, in the field,
'n' I thought he was one o' them dark-skinned Frenchies from
Guildford that hed come up here fer hayin'."
"Mebbe I spoke too sharp," said Jabe apologetically;
"but we 've ben scared to talk wives, or even women folks,
fer a month o' Sundays, fer fear Dixie 'd up 'n' tumble on his scythe,
or do somethin' crazy. You see it's this way (I'd ruther
talk than work; 'n' we ain't workin' by time to-day, anyway,
on account of the circus comin'): 'Bout a year 'n' a half ago,
this tall, han'some feller turned up here in Pleasant River.
He inhailed from down South somewheres, but he didn't
like his work there, 'n' drifted to New York, 'n' then
to Boston; 'n' then he remembered his mother was a State o'
Maine woman, 'n' he come here to see how he liked.
We didn't take no stock in him at first,--we never hed one o'
that nigger-tradin' secedin' lot in amongst us,--but he was
pleasant spoken 'n' a square, all-round feller, 'n' didn't
git off any secesh nonsense, 'n' it ended in our likin'
him first-rate. Wall, he got work in the cannin' fact'ry over on
the Butterfield road, 'n' then he fell in with the Maddoxes.
You 've hearn tell of 'em; they're relation to Pitt here."
"I wouldn't own 'em if I met 'em on Judgement Bench!"
exclaimed Pitt Packard hotly. "My stepfather's second wife married Mis'
Maddox's first husband after he got divorced from her, 'n' that's
all there is to it; they ain't no bloody-kin o' mine, 'n' I don't
call 'em relation."
"Wall, Pitt's relations or not, they're all wuss 'n the Old Driver,
as yer said 'bout Dan Robinson's wife. Dixie went to board there.
Mis Maddox was all out o' husbands jest then,--she 'd jest
disposed of her fourth, somehow or 'nother; she always hed
a plenty 'n' to spare, though there's lots o' likely women
folks round here that never hed one chance, let alone four.
Her daughter Fidelity was a chip o' the old block. Her father
hed named her Fidelity after his mother, when she wa'n't nothin'
but a two-days-old baby, 'n' he didn't know how she was goin' to turn out;
if he 'd 'a' waited two months, I believe I could 'a' told him.
_In_fidelity would 'a' ben a mighty sight more 'propriate; but either
of 'em is too long fer a name, so they got to callin' her Fiddy.
Wall, Fiddy didn't waste no time; she was nigh onto eighteen years
old when Dixie went there to board, 'n' she begun huneyfuglin'
him's soon as ever she set eyes on him. Folks warned him,
but 't wa'n't no use; he was kind o' bewitched with her from the first.
She wa'n't so han'some, neither. Blamed 'f I know how they do it;
let 'em alone, 'f yer know when yer 're well off, 's my motter.
She was red-headed, but her hair become her somehow when she curled
'n' frizzed it over a karosene lamp, 'n' then wound it round 'n'
round her head like ropes o' carnelian. She hedn't any particular
kind of a nose nor mouth nor eyes, but gorry! when she looked at yer,
yer felt kind as if yer was turnin' to putty inside."
"I know what yer mean," said Steve interestedly.
"She hed a figger jest like them fashion-paper pictures you
've seen, an' the very day any new styles come to Boston Fiddy
Maddox would hev 'em before sundown; the biggest bustles 'n'
the highest hats 'n' the tightest skirts 'n' the longest tails
to 'em; she'd git 'em somehow, anyhow! Dixie wa'n't out o'
money when he come here, an' a spell afterwards there was
more 'n a thousand dollars fell to him from his father's
folks down South. Well, Fiddy made that fly, I tell you!
Dixie bought a top buggy 'n' a sorrel hoss, 'n' they was on the road
most o' the time when he wa'n't to work; 'n' when he was,
she 'd go with Lem Simmons, 'n' Dixie none the wiser.
Mis Maddox was lookin' up a new husband jest then, so 't she
didn't interfere"--
"She was the same kind o' goods, anyhow," interpolated Ob Tarbox.
"Yes, she was one of them women folks that air so light-minded
you can't anchor 'em down with a sewin'-machine, nor a dishpan,
nor a husband 'n' young ones, nor no namable kind of a thing;
the least wind blows 'em here 'n' blows 'em there, like dandelion puffs.
As time went on, the widder got herself a beau now 'n' then;
but as fast as she hooked 'em, Fiddy up 'n' took 'em away from her.
You see she 'd gethered in most of her husbands afore Fiddy was old
enough to hev her finger in the pie; but she cut her eye-teeth early,
Fiddy did, 'n' there wa'n't no kind of a feller come to set up
with the widder but she 'd everlastin'ly grab him, if she hed
any use fer him, 'n' then there 'd be Hail Columby, I tell yer.
But Dixie, he was 's blind 's a bat 'n' deef 's a post. He could
n't see nothin' but Fiddy, 'n' he couldn't see her very plain."
"He hed warnin's enough," put in Pitt Packard, though Jabe Slocum
never needed any assistance in spinning a yarn.
"Warnin's! I should think he hed. The Seventh Day Baptist
minister went so fur as to preach at him. 'The Apostle Paul gin heed,'
was the text. 'Why did he gin heed?' says he. 'Because he heerd.
If he hadn't 'a' heerd, he couldn't 'a' gin heed, 'n' 't wouldn't 'a' done
him no good to 'a' heerd 'thout he gin heed!' Wall, it helped consid'ble
many in the congregation, 'specially them that was in the habit of hearin'
'n' heedin', but it rolled right off Dixie like water off a duck's back.
He 'n' Fiddy was seen over to the ballin' alley to Wareham next day,
'n' they didn't come back for a week."
"'He gin her his hand,
And he made her his own,'"
sang little Brad Gibson.
"He hed gin her his hand, but no minister nor
trial-jestice nor eighteen-carat ring nor stificate could 'a'
made Fiddy Maddox anybody's own 'ceptin' the devil's, an'
he wouldn't 'a' married her; she'd 'a' ben too near kin.
We'd never 'spicioned she 'd git 's fur 's marryin' anybody, 'n' she
only married Dixie 'cause he told her he 'd take her to the
Wareham House to dinner, 'n' to the County Fair afterwards;
if any other feller hed offered to take her to supper,
'n' the theatre on top o' that, she 'd 'a' married him instid."
"How 'd the old woman take it?" asked Steve.
"She disowned her daughter _punctilio:_ in the first place,
fer runnin' away 'stid o' hevin' a church weddin'; 'n' second place,
fer marryin' a pauper (that was what she called him; 'n' it was true,
for they 'd spent every cent he hed); 'n' third place, fer alienatin'
the 'fections of a travelin' baker-man she hed her eye on fer herself.
He was a kind of a flour-food peddler, that used to drive a cart round
by Hard Scrabble, Moderation, 'n' Scratch Corner way. Mis' Maddox used
to buy all her baked victuals of him, 'specially after she found
out he was a widower beginnin' to take notice. His cart used
to stand at her door so long everybody on the rout would complain o'
stale bread. But bime bye Fiddy begun to set at her winder when
he druv up, 'n' bime bye she pinned a blue ribbon in her collar.
When she done that, Mis' Maddox alles hed to take a back seat.
The boys used to call it a danger signal. It kind o' drawed yer
'tention to p'ints 'bout her chin 'n' mouth 'n' neck, 'n' one thing
'n' 'nother, in a way that was cal'lated to snarl up the thoughts o'
perfessors o' religion 'n' turn 'em earthways. There was a spell
I hed to say, '_Remember_ _Rhapseny!_ _Remember_ _Rhapseny!_'
over to myself whenever Fiddy put on her blue ribbons. Wall, as I say,
Fiddy set at the winder, the baker-man seen the blue ribbons,
'n' Mis' Maddox's cake was dough. She put on a red ribbon;
but land! her neck looked 's if somebody 'd gone over it with a harrer!
Then she stomped round 'n' slat the dish-rag, but 't wa'n't no use.
'Gracious, mother,' says Fiddy, 'I don't do nothin' but set at
the winder. The sun shines for all.' 'You're right it does,'
says Mis' Maddox, ''n' that's jest what I complain of.
I'd like to get a change to shine on something myself.'
"But the baker-man kep' on comin', though when he got
to the Maddoxes' doorsteps he couldn't make change for a
quarter nor tell pie from bread; an' sure 's you're born,
the very day Fiddy went away to be married to Dixie, that mornin'
she drawed that everlastin' numhead of a flour-food peddler
out into the orchard, 'n' cut off a lock o' her hair,
'n' tied it up with a piece o' her blue ribbon, 'n' give it
to him; an' old Mis' Bascom says, when he went past her house
he was gazin' at it 'n' kissin' of it, 'n' his horse meanderin'
on one side the road 'n' the other, 'n' the door o' the cart
open 'n' slammin' to 'n' fro, 'n' ginger cookies spillin'
out all over the lot. He come back to the Maddoxes next morning'
('t wa'n't his day, but his hoss couldn't pull one way
when Fiddy's ribbon was pullin' t'other); an' when he found
out she 'd gone with Dixie, he cussed 'n' stomped 'n' took
on like a loontic; an' when Mis' Maddox hinted she was ready
to heal the wownds Fiddy 'd inflicted, he stomped 'n' cussed
wuss 'n' ever, 'n' the neighbors say he called her a hombly
old trollop, an' fired the bread loaves all over the dooryard,
he was so crazy at bein' cheated.
"Wall, to go back to Dixie--I'll be comin' right along, boys."
(This to Brad Gibson, who was taking his farewell drink of ginger tea
preparatory to beginning work.)
"I pity you, Steve!" exclaimed Brad, between deep swallows.
"If you 'd known when you was well off, you 'd 'a' stayed in Boston.
If Jabe hed a story started, he 'd talk three days after he was dead."
"Go 'long; leave me be! Wall, as I was sayin', Dixie brought Fiddy home
('Dell,' he called her), an' they 'peared bride 'n' groom at meetin'
next Sunday. The last hundred dollars he hed in the world hed gone into
the weddin' tower 'n' on to Fiddy's back. He hed a new suit, 'n' he looked
like a major. You ain't got no idea what he was, 'cause his eyes is dull now,
'n' he 's bowed all over, 'n' ain't shaved nor combed, hardly; but they was
the han'somest couple that ever walked up the broad aisle. She hed on a green
silk dress, an' a lace cape that was like a skeeter nettin' over her neck an'
showed her bare skin through, an' a hat like an apple orchard in full bloom,
hummin'-bird an' all. Dixie kerried himself as proud as Lucifer.
He didn't look at the minister 'n' he didn't look at the congregation;
his great eyes was glued on Fiddy, as if he couldn't hardly keep from eatin'
of her up. An' she behaved consid'able well for a few months, as long
's the novelty lasted an' the silk dresses was new. Before Christmas,
though, she began to peter out 'n' git slack-twisted. She allers hated
housework as bad as a pig would a penwiper, an' Dixie hed to git
his own breakfast afore he went to work, or go off on an empty stomach.
Many 's the time he 's got her meals for her 'n' took 'em to her on a waiter.
Them secesh fellers'll wait on women folks long as they can stan' up.
"Then bime bye the baby come along; but that made
things wuss 'stid o' better. She didn't pay no more
'tention to it than if it hed belonged to the town.
She 'd go off to dances, an' leave Dixie to home tendin'
cradle; but that wa'n't no hardship to him for he was 'bout
as much wropped up in the child as he was in Fiddy.
Wall, sir, 'bout a month ago she up 'n' disappeared off the face o'
the airth 'thout sayin' a word or leavin' a letter.
She took her clo'es, but she never thought o' takin' the baby;
one baby more or less didn't make no odds to her s' long 's she
hed that skeeter-nettin' cape. Dixie sarched fer her high an'
low fer a fortnight, but after that he give it up as a bad job.
He found out enough, I guess, to keep him pretty busy thinkin'
what he 'd do next. But day before yesterday the same circus
that plays here this afternoon was playin' to Wareham.
A lot of us went over on the evenin' train, an' we coaxed
Dixie into goin', so 's to take his mind off his trouble.
But land! he didn't see nothin'. He 'd walk right up
the lions 'n' tigers in the menagerie as if they was cats
'n' chickens, an' all the time the clown was singin'
he looked like a dumb animile that 's hed a bullet put in him.
There was lots o' side shows, mermaids 'n' six-legged calves 'n'
spotted girls, 'n' one thing 'n' 'nother, an' there was one o'
them whirligig machines with a mess o' rocking'-hosses goin'
round 'n' round, 'n' an organ in the middle playin' like sixty.
I wish we 'd 'a' kept clear o' the thing, but as bad luck would
hev it, we stopped to look, an' there on top o' two high-steppin'
white wooden hosses, set Mis' Fiddy an' that dod-gasted
light-complected baker-man! If ever she was suited to a dot,
it was jest then 'n' there. She could 'a' gone prancin'
round that there ring forever 'n' forever, with the whoopin'
'n' hollerin' 'n' whizzin' 'n' whirlin' soundin' in her ears,
'n' the music playin' like mad, 'n' she with nothin'
to do but stick on 'n' let some feller foot the bills.
Somebody must 'a' ben thinkin' o' Fiddy Maddox when the invented
them whirl-a-go-rounds. She was laughin' 'n' carryin'
on like the old Scratch; her apple-blossom hat dome off,
'n' the baker-man put it on, 'n' took consid'able time over it,
'n' pulled her ear 'n' pinched her cheek when he got through;
an' that was jest the blamed minute we ketched sight of 'em.
I pulled Dixie off, but I was too late. He give a groan I shall
remember to my dyin' day, 'n' then he plunged out o' the crowd
'n' through the gate like a streak o' lightnin'. We follered,
but land! we couldn't find him, an' true as I set here,
I never expected to see him alive agin. But I did;
I forgot all about one thing, you see, 'n' that was the baby.
If it wa'n't no attraction to its mother, I guess he cal'lated
it needed a father all the more. Anyhow, he turned up
in the field yesterday mornin', ready for work, but lookin'
as if he 'd hed his heart cut out 'n' a piece o' lead put
in the place of it."
"I don't seem as if she 'd 'a' ben brazen enough to come back
so near him," said Steve.
"Wall, I don't s'pose she hed any idea o' Dixie's bein'
at a circus over Wareham jest then; an' ten to one she
didn't care if the whole town seen her. She wanted
to get rid of him, 'n' she didn't mind how she did it.
Dixie ain't one of the shootin' kinds, an' anyhow, Fiddy Maddox
wa'n't one to look ahead; whatever she wanted to do,
that she done, from the time she was knee high to a grasshopper.
I've seen her set down by a peck basket of apples, 'n' take
a couple o' bites out o' one, 'n' then heave it fur 's she
could heave it 'n' start in on another, 'n' then another;
'n' 't wa'n't a good apple year, neither. She'd everlastin'ly
spile 'bout a dozen of 'em 'n' smaller 'bout two mouthfuls.
Doxy Morton, now, would eat an apple clean down to the core,
'n' then count the seeds 'n' put 'em on the window-sill to dry,
'n' get up 'n' put the core in the stove, 'n' wipe her hands
on the roller towel, 'n' take up her sewin' agin; 'n' if you
've got to be cuttin' 'nitials in tree bark an' writin'
of 'em in the grass with a stick like you 've ben doin'
for the last half-hour, you 're blamed lucky to be doin'
_D_'s not _F_'s, like Dixie there!"
* * *
It was three o'clock in the afternoon. The men had dropped work
and gone to the circus. The hay was pronounced to be in a condition
where it could be left without much danger; but, for that matter,
no man would have stayed in the field to attend to another man's hay
when there was a circus in the neighborhood.
Dixie was mowing on alone, listening as in a dream to that subtle
something in the swish of the scythe that makes one seek to know the song
it is singing to the grasses.
"Hush, ah, hush, the scythes are saying,
Hush, and heed not, and fall asleep;
Hush, they say to the grasses swaying,
Hush, they sing to the clover deep;
Hush,--'t is the lullaby Time is singing,--
Hush, and heed not, for all things pass.
Hush, ah, hush! and the scythes are swinging
Over the clover, over the grass."
And now, spent with fatigue and watching and care and grief,--
heart sick, mind sick, body sick, sick with past suspense
and present certainty and future dread,--he sat under the cool
shade of the nooning tree, and buried his face in his hands.
He was glad to be left alone with his miseries,--
glad that the other men, friendly as he felt them to be,
had gone to the circus, where he would not see or hear them
for hours to come.
How clearly he could conjure up the scene
that they were enjoying with such keen relish!
Only two days before, he had walked among the same tents,
staring at horses and gay trappings and painted Amazons
as one who noted nothing; yet the agony of the thing he now
saw at last lit up all the rest as with a lightning flash,
and burned the scene forever on his brain and heart.
It was at Wareham, too,--Wareham, where she had promised
to be his wife, where she had married him only a year before.
How well he remembered the night! They left the parsonage;
they had ten miles to drive in the moonlight before reaching
their stopping-place,--ten miles of such joy as only a man could know,
he thought, who had had the warm fruit of life hanging within
full vision, but just out of reach,--just above his longing lips;
and then, in an unlooked-for, gracious moment, his!
He could swear she had loved him that night, if never again.
But this picture passed away, and he saw that maddening circle
with the caracoling steeds. He head the discordant music, the monotonous
creak of the machinery, the strident laughter of the excited riders.
As first the thing was a blur, a kaleidoscope of whirling colors,
into which there presently crept form and order.
. . . A boy who had cried to get on, and was now crying to get off.
. . . Old Rube Hobson and his young wife; Rube looking white
and scared, partly by the whizzing motion, and partly by the
prospect of paying out ten cents for the doubtful pleasure.
. . . Pretty Hetty Dunnell with that young fellow from Portland;
she too timid to mount one of the mettle-some chargers, and snuggling
close to him in one of the circling seats. The, good Got!--
Dell! sitting on a prancing white horse, with the man he knew,
the man he feared, riding beside her; a man who kept holding on her
hat with fingers that trembled,--the very hat she "'peared bride in"
a man who brushed a grasshopper from her shoulder with an air
of ownership, and, when she slapped his hand coquettishly,
even dared to pinch her pink cheek,--his wife's cheek,--
before that crowd of on-lookers! Merry-go-round, indeed!
The horrible thing was well named; and life was just like it,--
a whirl of happiness and misery, in which the music cannot play
loud enough to drown the creak of the machinery, in which one
soul cries out in pain, another in terror, and the rest laugh;
but the prancing steeds gallop on, gallop on, and once mounted,
there is no getting off, unless . . .
There were some things it was not possible for a mean to bear!
The river! The river! He could hear it rippling over the sunny sands,
swirling among the logs, dashing and roaring under the bridge,
rushing to the sea's embrace. Could it tell whither it
was hurrying? NO; but it was escaping from its present bonds;
it would never have to pass over these same jagged rocks again.
"On, on to the unknown!" called the river. "I come! I come!"
he roused himself to respond, when a faint, faint, helpless voice broke
in upon the mad clatter in his brain, cleaving his torn heart in twain;
not a real voice,--the half-forgotten memory of one; a tender wail
that had added fresh misery to his night's vigil,--the baby!
But the feeble pipe was borne down by the swirl of the water
as it dashed between the rocky banks, still calling to him.
If he could only close his ears to it! But it still called--
called still--the river! And still the child's voice
pierced the rush of sound with its pitiful flute note,
until the two resolved themselves into contesting strains,
answering each other antiphonally. The river --the baby--
the river--the baby; and in and through, and betwixt and between,
there spun the whirling merry-go-round, with its curveting
wooden horses, its discordant organ, and its creaking machinery.
But gradually the child's voice gained in strength,
and as he heard it more plainly the other sounds grew fainter,
till at last, thank God! they were hushed. The din, the whirlwind,
and the tempest in his brain were lulled into silence,
as under a "Peace, be still!" and, worn out with the contest,
the man from Tennessee fell asleep under the grateful shade
of the nooning tree. So deep was the slumber that settled over
exhausted body and troubled spirit that the gathering clouds,
the sudden darkness, the distant muttering of thunder,
the frightened twitter of the birds, passed unnoticed.
A heavy drop of rain pierced the thick foliage and fell on
his face, but the storm within had been too fierce for him
to heed the storm without. He slept on.
* * *
Almost every man, woman, and child in the vicinity of Pleasant
River was on the way to the circus,--Boomer's Grand Six-in-One
Universal Consolidated Show; Brilliant Constellations of Fixed
Stars shining in the same Vast Firmament; Glittering Galaxies
of World-Famous Equestrian Artists; the biggest elephants,
the funniest clowns, the pluckiest riders, the stubbornest mules,
the most amazing acrobats, the tallest man and the shortest man,
the thinnest woman and the thickest woman, on the habitable globe;
and no connection with any other show on earth, especially Sypher's
Two-in-One Show now devastating the same State.
If the advertisements setting forth these attractions were
couched in language somewhat rosier than the facts would warrant,
there were few persons calm enough to perceive it, when once
the glamour of the village parade and the smell of the menagerie
had intoxicated the senses.
The circus had been the sole topic of conversation for a fortnight.
Jot Bascom could always be relied on for the latest and most authentic
news of its triumphant progress from one town to another. Jot was a sort
of town crier; and whenever the approach of a caravan was announced,
he would go over on the Liberty road to find out just where it was and what
were its immediate plans, for the thrilling pleasure of calling at every
one of the neighbors' on his way home, and delivering his budget of news.
He was an attendant at every funeral, and as far as possible at every wedding,
in the village; at every flag-raising and husking, and town and county fair.
When more pressing duties did not hinder, he endeavored to meet the two
daily trains that passed through Milliken's Mills, a mile or two from
Pleasant River. He accompanied the sheriff on all journeys entailing
serving of papers and other embarrassing duties common to the law.
On one occasion, when the two lawyers of the village held an investigation
before Trial Justice Simeon Porter, they waited an hour because Jot
Bascom did not come. They knew that something was amiss, but it was
only on reflection that they remembered that Jot was not indispensable.
He went with all paupers to the Poor Farm, and never missed a town meeting.
He knew all the conditions attending any swapping of horses that
occurred within a radius of twenty miles,--the terms of the trade
and the amount paid to boot. He knew who owed the fish-man and who owed
the meat-man, and who could not get trusted by either of them.
In fact, so far as the divine attributes of omniscience and omnipresence
could be vested in a faulty human creature, they were present in Jot Bascom.
That he was quite unable to attend conscientiously to home duties,
when overborne by press of public service, was true. When Diadema Bascom
wanted kindling split, wood brought in, the cows milked, or the pigs fed,
she commonly found her spouse serving humanity in bulk.
All the details of the approach of the Grand Six-in-One
Show had, therefore, been heralded to those work-sodden
and unambitious persons who tied themselves to their own
wood-piles or haying-fields.
These were the bulletins issues:--
The men were making a circle in the Widow Buzzell's field,
in the same place where the old one had been,--the old one,
viewed with awe for five years by all the village small boys.
The forerunners, outriders, proprietors, whatever they might be,
had arrived and gone to the tavern.
An elephant was quartered in the tavern shed!
The elephant had stepped through the floor!!
The advance guard of performers and part of the show itself had come!
And the "Cheriot"!!
This far-famed vehicle had paused on top of Deacon Chute's hill,
to prepare for the street parade. Little Jim Chute had been gloating
over the fact that it must pass by his house, and when it stopped
short under the elms in the dooryard his heart almost broke for joy.
He pinched the twenty-five-cent piece in his pocket to assure
himself that he was alive and in his right mind. The precious coin
had been the result of careful saving, and his hot, excited hands
had almost worn it thin. But alas for the vanity of human hopes!
When the magnificent red-and-gold "Cheriot" was uncovered,
that its glories might shine upon the waiting world, the door opened,
and a huddle of painted Indians tumbled out, ready to lead
the procession, or, if so disposed, to scalp the neighborhood.
Little Jim gave one panic-stricken look as they leaped over
the chariot steps, and then fled to the barn chamber, whence he had
to be dragged by his mother, and cuffed into willingness to attend
the spectacle that had once so dazzled his imagination.
On the eventful afternoon of the performance the road
was gay with teams. David and Samantha Milliken drove by in
Miss Cummin's neat carryall, two children on the back seat,
a will-o'-the-wisp baby girl held down by a serious boy.
Steve Webster was driving Doxy Morton in his mother's buggy.
Jabe Slocum, Pitt Packard, Brad Gibson, Cyse Higgins,
and scores of others were riding "shank's mare," as they
would have said.
It had been a close, warm day, and as the afternoon wore away it grew
hotter and closer. There was a dead calm in the air, a threatening blackness
in the west that made the farmers think anxiously of their hay. Presently the
thunderheads ran together into big black clouds, which melted in turn into
molten masses of smoky orange, so that the heavens were like burnished brass.
Drivers whipped up their horses, and pedestrians hastened their steps.
Steve Webster decided not to run even the smallest risk of injuring so
precious a commodity as Doxy Morton by a shower of rain, so he drove into
a friend's yard, put up his horse, and waited till the storm should pass by.
Brad Gibson stooped to drink at a wayside brook, and as he bent over
the water he heard a low, murmuring, muttering sound that seemed to make
the earth tremble.
Then from hill to hill "leapt the live thunder."
Even the distant mountains seemed to have "found a tongue."
A zigzag chain of lightning flashed in the lurid sky,
and after an appreciable interval another peal, louder than
the first, and nearer.
The rain began to fall, the forked flashes of flame darted hither
and thither in the clouds, and the boom of heaven's artillery grew heavier
and heavier. The blinding sheets of light and the tumultuous roar of sound
now followed each other so quickly that they seemed almost simultaneous.
Flash--crash--flash--crash--flash--crash; blinding and deafening eye and ear
at once. Everybody who could find a shelter of any sort hastened to it.
The women at home set their children in the midst of feather beds,
and some of them even huddled there themselves, their babies clinging
to them in sympathetic fear, as the livid shafts of light illuminated
the dark rooms with more than noonday glare.
The air was full of gloom; a nameless terror lurked
within it; the elements seemed at war with each other.
Horses whinnied in the stables, and colts dashed about the pastures.
The cattle sought sheltered places; the cows ambling clumsily towards
some refuge, their full bags dripping milk as they swung heavily
to and fro. The birds flew towards the orchards and the deep woods;
the swallows swooped restlessly round the barns, and hid themselves
under the eaves or in the shadow of deserted nests.
The rain now fell in sheets.
"Hurry up 'n' git under cover, Jabe," said Brad Gibson;
"you're jest the kind of a pole to draw lightnin'!"
"You hain't, then!" retorted Jabe. "There ain't enough o'
you fer lightnin' to ketch holt of!"
Suddenly a ghastly streak of light leaped out of a cloud,
and then another, till the sky seemed lit up by cataracts
of flame. A breath of wind sprang into the still air.
Then a deafening crash, clap, crack, roar, peal! and as Jabe
Slocum looked out of a protecting shed door, he saw a fiery
ball burst from the clouds, shooting brazen arrows as it fell.
Within the instant the meeting-house steeple broke into a tongue
of flame, and then, looking towards home, he fancied
that the fireball dropped to earth in Squire Bean's meadow.
The wind blew more fiercely now. There was a sudden
crackling of wood, falling of old timers, and breaking of glass.
The deadly fluid ran in a winding course down a great maple
by the shed, leaving a narrow charred channel through the bark
to tell how it passed to earth. A sombre pine stood up,
black and burned, its heart gaping through a ghastly wound
in the split trunk.
The rain now subsided; there was only an occasional faint
rumbling of thunder, as if it were murmuring over the distant sea;
the clouds broke away in the west; the sun peeped out, as if to see
what had been going on in the world since he hid himself an hour before.
A delicate rainbow bridge stretched from the blackened church
steeple to the glittering weathercock on the squire's barn;
and there, in the centre of the fair green meadows from which it
had risen in glorious strength and beauty for a century or more,
lay the nooning tree.
The fireball, if ball of fire indeed there were, had struck
in the very centre of its splendid dome, and ploughed its way
from feather tip to sturdy root, riving the tree in twain,
cleaving its great boughs left and right, laying one
majestic half level with the earth, and bending the other till
the proud head almost touched the grass.
The rainbow was reflected in the million drops glittering
upon the bowed branches, turning each into a tear of liquid opal.
The birds hopped on the prone magnificence, and eyed timorously
a strange object underneath.
There had been one swift, pitiless, merciful stroke!
The monarch of the meadow would never again feel the magic
thrill of the sap in its veins, nor the bursting of brown bud
into green leaf.
The birds would build their nests and sing their idyls in other boughs.
The "time of pleasure and love" was over with the nooning tree; over too,
with him who slept beneath; for under its fallen branches, with the light
of a great peace in his upturned face, lay the man from Tennessee.
Diadema, wife of Jot Bascom, was sitting at the window
of the village watch-tower, so called because it commanded
a view of nearly everything that happened in Pleasant River;
those details escaping the physical eye being supplied by faith
and imagination working in the light of past experience.
She sat in the chair of honor, the chair of choice, the high-backed
rocker by the southern window, in which her husband's mother,
old Mrs. Bascom, had sat for thirty years, applying a still more
powerful intellectual telescope to the doings of her neighbors.
Diadema's seat had formerly been on the less desirable side of
the little light-stand, where Priscilla Hollis was now installed.
Mrs. Bascom was at work on a new fore-room rug, the former one having
been transferred to Miss Hollis's chamber; for, as the teacher at the brick
schoolhouse, a graduate of a Massachusetts normal school, and the daughter
of a deceased judge, she was a boarder of considerable consequence.
It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, and the two women were alone.
It was a pleasant, peaceful sitting-room, as neat as wax in every part.
The floor was covered by a cheerful patriotic rag carpet woven entirely
of red, white, and blue rags, and protected in various exposed localities
by button rugs,--red, white, and blue disks superimposed one on the other.
Diadema Bascom was a person of some sentiment. When her old father,
Captain Dennett, was dying, he drew a wallet from under his pillow,
and handed her a twenty-dollar bill to get something to remember him by.
This unwonted occurrence burned itself into the daughter's imagination,
and when she came as a bride to the Bascom house she refurnished
the sitting-room as a kind of monument to the departed soldier,
whose sword and musket were now tied to the wall with neatly hemmed bows
of bright red cotton.
The chair cushions were of red-and-white glazed patch,
the turkey wings that served as hearth brushes were hung against
the white-painted chimney-piece with blue skirt braid, and the white
shades were finished with home-made scarlet "tossels."
A little whatnot in one corner was laden with the trophies of battle.
The warrior's brass buttons were strung on a red picture cord and hung
over his daguerreotype on the upper shelf; there was a tarnished
shoulder strap, and a flattened bullet that the captain's jealous
contemporaries swore _he_ never stopped, unless he got it in the rear
when he was flying from the foe. There was also a little tin
canister in which a charge of powder had been sacredly preserved.
The scoffers, again, said that "the cap'n put it in his musket
when he went into the war, and kep' it there till he come out."
These objects were tastefully decorated with the national colors.
In fact, no modern aesthete could have arranged a symbolic symphony
of grief and glory with any more fidelity to an ideal than Diadema Bascom,
in working out her scheme of red, white, and blue.
Rows of ripening tomatoes lay along the ledges of the windows,
and a tortoise-shell cat snoozed on one of the broad sills.
The tall clock in the corner ticked peacefully. Priscilla Hollis
never tired of looking at the jolly red-cheeked moon, the group
of stars on a blue ground, the trig little ship, the old house,
and the jolly moon again, creeping one after another across the open
space at the top.
Jot Bascom was out, as usual, gathering statistics of
the last horse trade; little Jot was building "stickin'" houses
in the barn; Priscilla was sewing long strips for braiding;
while Diadema sat at the drawing-in frame, hook in hand,
and a large basket of cut rags by her side.
Not many weeks before she had paid one of her periodical
visits to the attic. No housekeeper in Pleasant River save
Mrs. Jonathan Bascom would have thought of dusting a garret,
washing the window and sweeping down the cobwebs once a month,
and renewing the camphor bags in the chests twice a year;
but notwithstanding this zealous care the moths had made their
way into one of her treasure-houses, the most precious of all,--
the old hair trunk that had belonged to her sister Lovice.
Once ensconced there, they had eaten through its hoarded relics,
and reduced the faded finery to a state best described by Diadema
as "reg'lar riddlin' sieves." She had brought the tattered
pile down in to the kitchen, and had spent a tearful afternoon
in cutting the good pieces from the perforated garments.
Three heaped-up baskets and a full dish-pan were the result;
and as she had snipped and cut and sorted, one of her sentimental
projects had entered her mind and taken complete possession there.
"I declare," she said, as she drew her hooking-needle
in and out, "I wouldn't set in the room with some folks and work
on these pieces; for every time I draw in a scrap of cloth
Lovice comes up to me for all the world as if she was settin'
on the sofy there. I ain't told you my plan, Miss Hollis,
and there ain't many I shall tell; but this rug is going to be
a kind of a hist'ry of my life and Lovey's wrought in together,
just as we was bound up in one another when she was alive.
Her things and mine was laid in one trunk, and the moths sha'n't
cheat me out of 'em altogether. If I can't look at 'em wet Sundays,
and shake 'em out, and have a good cry over 'em, I'll make 'em
up into a kind of dumb show that will mean something to me,
if it don't to anybody else.
"We was the youngest of thirteen, Lovey and I,
and we was twins. There 's never been more 'n half o'
me left sence she died. We was born together, played and
went to school together, got engaged and married together,
and we all but died together, yet we wa'n't a mite alike.
There was an old lady come to our house once that used to say,
'There's sister Nabby, now: she 'n' I ain't no more alike
'n if we wa'n't two; she 's jest as diff'rent as I am t'
other way.' Well, I know what I want to put into my rag story,
Miss Hollis, but I don't hardly know how to begin."
Priscilla dropped her needle, and bent over the frame with interest.
"A spray of two roses in the centre,--there 's the beginning;
why, don't you see, dear Mrs. Bascom?"
"Course I do," said Diadema, diving to the bottom of
the dish-pan. "I've got my start now, and don't you say a word
for a minute. The two roses grow out of one stalk; they'll be
Lovey and me, though I'm consid'able more like a potato blossom.
The stalk 's got to be green, and here is the very green silk mother
walked bride in, and Lovey and I had roundabouts of it afterwards.
She had the chicken-pox when we was about four years old,
and one of the first things I can remember is climbing up and
looking over mother's footboard at Lovey, all speckled.
Mother had let her slip on her new green roundabout
over her nightgown, just to pacify her, and there she set
playing with the kitten Reuben Granger had brought her.
He was only ten years old then, but he 'd begun courting Lovice.
"The Grangers' farm joined ours. They had eleven children,
and mother and father had thirteen, and we was always playing together.
Mother used to tell a funny story about that. We were all little young
ones and looked pretty much alike, so she didn't take much notice
of us in the daytime when we was running out 'n' in; but at night when
the turn-up bedstead in the kitchen was taken down and the trundle-beds
were full, she used to count us over, to see if we were all there.
One night, when she 'd counted thirteen and set down to her sewing,
father come in and asked if Moses was all right, for one of the neighbors
had seen him playing side of the river about supper-time. Mother knew she
'd counted us straight, but she went round with a candle to make sure.
Now, Mr. Granger had a head as red as a shumac bush; and when she
carried the candle close to the beds to take another tally,
there was thirteen children, sure enough, but if there wa'n't a
red-headed Granger right in amongst our boys in the turn-up bedstead!
While father set out on a hunt for our Moses, mother yanked the sleepy
little red-headed Granger out o' the middle and took him home, and father
found Moses asleep on a pile of shavings under the joiner's bench.
"They don't have such families nowadays. One time when measles
went all over the village, they never came to us, and Jabe Slocum said
there wa'n't enough measles to go through the Dennett family, so they
didn't start in on 'em. There, I ain't going to finish the stalk;
I'm going to draw in a little here and there all over the rug,
while I'm in the sperit of plannin' it, and then it will be plain
work of matching colors and filling out.
"You see the stalk is mother's dress, and the outside green
of the moss roses is the same goods, only it 's our roundabouts.
I meant to make 'em red, when I marked the pattern,
and then fill out round 'em with a light color; but now I
ain't satisfied with anything but white, for nothing will do
in the middle of the rug but our white wedding dresses.
I shall have to fill in dark, then, or mixed. Well, that won't
be out of the way, if it 's going to be a true rag story;
for Lovey's life went out altogether, and mine hasn't been
any too gay.
"I'll begin on Lovey's rose first. She was the prettiest and
the liveliest girl in the village, and she had more beaux than you
could shake a stick at. I generally had to take what she left over.
Reuben Granger was crazy about her from the time she was knee-high;
but when he went away to Bangor to study for the ministry,
the others had it all their own way. She was only seventeen;
she hadn't ever experienced religion, and she was mischeevous
as a kitten.
"You remember you laughed, this morning, when Mr. Bascom told
about Hogshead Jowett? Well, he used to want to keep company
with Lovey; but she couldn't abide him, and whenever he come to court
her she clim' into a hogshead, and hid till after he 'd gone.
The boys found it out, and used to call him 'Hogshead Jowett."
He was the biggest fool in Foxboro' Four Corners; and that 's
saying consid'able, for Foxboro' is famous for its fools,
and always has been. There was thirteen of 'em there one year.
They say a man come out from Portland, and when he got as fur
as Foxboro' he kep' inquiring the way to Dunstan; and I declare
if he didn't meet them thirteen fools, one after another,
standing in their front dooryards ready to answer questions.
When he got to Dunstan, says he, 'For the Lord's sake,
what kind of a village is that I've just went through?
Be they _all_ fools there?'
"Hogshead was scairt to death whenever he come to see Lovice.
One night, when he 'd been there once, and she 'd hid, as she
always done, he come back a second time, and she went to the door,
not mistrusting it was him. 'Did you forget anything?'
says she, sparkling out at him through a little crack.
He was all taken aback by seeing her, and he stammered out,
'Yes, I forgot my han'k'chief; but it don't make no odds,
for I didn't pay out but fifteen cents for it two year ago,
and I don't make no use of it 'ceptins to wipe my nose on.'
How we did laugh over that! Well, he had a conviction of sin
pretty soon afterwards, and p'r'aps it helped his head some;
at any rate he quit farming, and become a Bullockite preacher.
"It seems odd, when Lovice wa'n't a perfessor herself,
she should have drawed the most pious young men in the village,
but she did: she had good Orthodox beaux, Free and Close Baptists,
Millerites and Adventists, all on her string together;
she even had one Cochranite, though the sect had mostly died out.
But when Reuben Granger come home, a full-feathered-out minister,
he seemed to strike her fancy as he never had before, though they
were always good friends from children. He had light hair
and blue eyes and fair skin (his business being under cover kep'
him bleached out), and he and Lovey made the prettiest couple
you ever see; for she was dark complected, and her cheeks no
otherways than scarlit the whole durin' time. She had a change
of heart that winter; in fact she had two of 'em, for she
changed hers for Reuben's, and found a hope at the same time.
'T was a good honest conversion, too, though she did say to me
she was afraid that if Reuben hadn't taught her what love
was or might be, she 'd never have found out enough about it
to love God as she 'd ought to.
"There, I've begun both roses, and hers is 'bout finished.
I sha'n't have more 'n enough white alapaca. It's lucky
the moths spared one breadth of the wedding dresses;
we was married on the same day, you know, and dressed just alike.
Jot wa'n't quite ready to be married, for he wa'n't any
more forehanded 'bout that than he was 'bout other things;
but I told him Lovey and I had kept up with each other from
the start, and he 'd got to fall into line or drop out o'
the percession.--Now what next?"
"Wasn't there anybody at the wedding but you and Lovice?"
asked Priscilla, with an amused smile.
"Land, yes! The meeting-house was cram jam full. Oh, to be sure!
I know what you 're driving at! Well, I have to laugh to think
I should have forgot the husbands! They'll have to be worked
into the story, certain; but it'll be consid'able of a chore,
for I can't make flowers out of coat and pants stuff, and there
ain't any more flowers on this branch anyway."
Diadema sat for a few minutes in rapt thought,
and then made a sudden inspired dash upstairs, where Miss
Hollis presently heard her rummaging in an old chest.
She soon came down, triumphant.
"Wa'n't it a providence I saved Jot's and Reuben's wedding ties!
And here they are,--one yellow and green mixed, and one brown.
Do you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to draw in a butterfly
hovering over them two roses, and make it out of the neckties,--
green with brown spots. That'll bring in the husbands; and land!
I wouldn't have either of 'em know it for the world. I'll take
a pattern of that lunar moth you pinned on the curtain yesterday."
Miss Hollis smiled in spite of herself. "You have some
very ingenious ideas and some very pretty thoughts, Mrs. Bascom,
do you know it?"
"It's the first time I ever heard tell of it,"
said Diadema cheerfully. "Lovey was the pretty-spoken,
pretty-appearing one; I was always plain and practical. While I think
of it, I'll draw in a little mite of this red into my carnation pink.
It was a red scarf Reuben brought Lovey from Portland.
It was the first thing he ever give her, and aunt Hitty said
if one of the Abel Grangers give away anything that cost money,
it meant business. That was all fol-de-rol, for there never
was a more liberal husband, though he was a poor minister;
but then they always _are_ poor, without they're rich;
there don't seem to be any halfway in ministers.
"We was both lucky that way. There ain't a stingy bone in Jot
Bascom's body. He don't make much money, but what he does make goes
into the bureau drawer, and the one that needs it most takes it out.
He never asks me what I done with the last five cents he give me.
You 've never been married Miss Hollis, and you ain't engaged,
so you don't know much about it; but I tell you there 's a heap o'
foolishness talked about husbands. If you get the one you like yourself,
I don't know as it matters if all the other women folks in town don't
happen to like him as well as you do; they ain't called on to do that.
They see the face he turns to them, not the one he turns to you.
Jot ain't a very good provider, nor he ain't a man that 's much
use round a farm, but he 's such a fav'rite I can't blame him.
There 's one thing: when he does come home he 's got something to say,
and he 's always as lively as a cricket, and smiling as a basket of chips.
I like a man that 's good comp'ny, even if he ain't so forehanded.
There ain't anything specially lovable about forehandedness, when you
come to that. I shouldn't ever feel drawed to a man because
he was on time with his work. He 's got such pleasant ways, Jot has!
The other afternoon he didn't get home early enough to milk;
and after I done the two cows, I split the kindling and brought
in the wood, for I knew he 'd want to go to the tavern and tell
the boys 'bout the robbery up to Boylston. There ain't anybody
but Jot in this village that has wit enough to find out what 's
going on, and tell it in an int'resting way round the tavern fire.
And he can do it without being full of cider, too; he don't need
any apple juice to limber _his_ tongue!
"Well, when he come in, he see the pails of milk,
and the full wood-box, and the supper laid out under the screen
cloth on the kitchen table, and he come up to me at the sink,
and says he, 'Diademy, you 're the best wife in this county,
and the brightest jewel in my crown,--that 's what _you_ are!'
(He got that idea out of a duet he sings with Almiry Berry.)
Now I'd like to know whether that ain't pleasanter than 't
is to have a man do all the shed 'n' barn work up smart,
and then set round the stove looking as doleful as a last
year's bird's nest? Take my advice, Miss Hollis:
get a good provider if you can, but anyhow try to find you
a husband that'll keep on courting a little now and then,
when he ain't too busy; it smooths things consid'able
round the house.
"There, I got so int'rested in what I was saying, I've went
on and finished the carnation, and some of the stem, too.
Now what comes next? Why, the thing that happened next,
of course, and that was little Jot.
"I'll work in a bud on my rose and one on Lovey's,
and my bud'll be made of Jot's first trousers. The goods
ain't very appropriate for a rosebud, but it'll have to do,
for the idee is the most important thing in this rug.
When I put him into pants, I hadn't any cloth in the house,
and it was such bad going Jot couldn't get to Wareham to buy
me anything; so I made 'em out of an old gray cashmere skirt,
and lined 'em with flannel."
"Buds are generally the same color as the roses,
aren't they?" ventured Priscilla.
"I don't care if they be," said Diadema obstinately.
"What's to hender this bud's bein' grafted on? Mrs. Granger
was as black as an Injun, but the little Granger children
were all red-headed, for they took after their father.
But I don't know; you've kind o' got me out o' conceit with it.
I s'pose I could have taken a piece of his baby blanket;
but the moths never et a mite o' that, and it's too good to cut up.
There's one thing I can do: I can make the bud up with a long stem,
and have it growing right up alongside of mine,--would you?"
"No, it must be stalk of your stalk, bone of your bone,
flesh of your flesh, so to speak. I agree with you, the idea
is the first thing. Besides, the gray is a very light shade,
and I dare say it will look like a bluish white."
"I'll try it and see, but I wish to the land the moths
_had_ eat the pinning-blanket, and then I could have used it.
Lovey worked the scallops on the aidge for me.
My grief! what int'rest she took in my baby clothes!
Little Jot was born at Thanksgiving time, and she come over
from Skowhegan, where Reuben was settled pastor of his first church.
I shall never forget them two weeks to the last day of my life.
There was deep snow on the ground. I had that chamber there,
with the door opening into the setting-room. Mother and father
Bascom kep' out in the dining-room and kitchen, where the work
was going on, and Lovey and the baby and me had the front
part of the house to ourselves, with Jot coming in on tiptoe,
heaping up wood in the fireplace so 't he 'most roasted us out.
He don't forget his chores in time o' sickness.
"I never took so much comfort in all my days.
Jot got one of the Billings girls to come over and help
in the housework, so 't I could lay easy 's long as I
wanted to; and I never had such a rest before nor since.
There ain't any heaven in the book o' Revelations that 's any
better than them two weeks was. I used to lay quiet in my good
feather bed, fingering the pattern of my best crochet quilt,
and looking at the fire-light shining on Lovey and the baby.
She 'd hardly leave him in the cradle a minute. When I did
n't want him in bed with me, she 'd have him in her lap.
Babies are common enough to most folks, but Lovey was diff'rent.
She 'd never had any experience with children, either, for we
was the youngest in our family; and it wa'n't long before we
come near being the oldest, too, for mother buried
seven of us before she went herself. Anyway, I never saw
nobody else look as she done when she held my baby.
I don't mean nothing blasphemious when I say 't was for all
the world like your photograph of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
"The nights come in early, so it was 'most dark
at four o'clock. The little chamber was so peaceful!
I could hear Jot rattling the milk-pails, but I'd draw a deep
breath o' comfort, for I knew the milk would be strained
and set away without my stepping foot to the floor.
Lovey used to set by the fire, with a tall candle on the light-stand
behind her, and a little white knit cape over her shoulders.
She had the pinkest cheeks, and the longest eyelashes, and a mouth
like a little red buttonhole; and when she bent over the baby,
and sung to him,--though his ears wa'n't open, I guess for his
eyes wa'n't,--the tears o' joy used to rain down my cheeks.
It was pennyrial hymns she used to sing mostly, and the one I
remember best was
"'Daniel's wisdom may I know,
Stephen's faith and spirit show;
John's divine communion feel,
Moses' meekness, Joshua's zeal,
Run like the unwearied Paul,
Win the day and conquer all.
"'Mary's love may I possess,
Lydia's tender-heartedness,
Peter's fervent spirit feel,
James's faith by works reveal,
Like young Timothy may I
Every sinful passion fly.'
"'Oh Diademy,' she 'd say, 'you was always the best,
and it 's nothing more 'n right the baby should have come to you.
P'r'aps God will think I'm good enough some time; and if he does,
Diademy, I'll offer up a sacrifice every morning and every evening.
But I'm afraid,' says she, 'he thinks I can't stand any more happiness,
and be a faithful follower of the cross. The Bible says we 've
got to wade through fiery floods before we can enter the kingdom.
I don't hardly know how Reuben and I are going to find any way
to wade through; we're both so happy, they 'd have to be consid'able
hot before we took notice,' says she, with the dimples all breaking
out in her cheeks.
"And that was true as gospel. She thought everything Reuben done
was just right, and he thought everything she done was just right.
There wa'n't nobody else; the world was all Reuben 'n' all Lovey to them.
If you could have seen her when she was looking for him to come
from Skowhegan! She used to watch at the attic window; and when she
seen him at the foot of the hill she 'd up like a squirrel, and run down
the road without stopping for anything but to throw a shawl over her head.
And Reuben would ketch her up as if she was a child, and scold her for
not putting a hat on, and take her under his coat coming up the hill.
They was a sight for the neighbors, I must confess, but it wa'n't one you
could hardly disapprove of, neither. Aunt Hitty said it was tempting
Providence and couldn't last, and God would visit his wrath on 'em
for making idols of sinful human flesh.
"She was right one way,--it didn't last; but nobody
can tell me God was punishing of 'em for being too happy.
I guess he 'ain't got no objection to folks being happy here below,
if they don't forget it ain't the whole story.
"Well, I must mark in a bud on Lovey's stalk now,
and I'm going to make it of her baby's long white cloak.
I earned the money for it myself, making coats, and put four
yards of the finest cashmere into it; for three years after
little Jot was born I went over to Skowhegan to help
Lovey through her time o' trial. Time o' trial! I thought I
was happy, but I didn't know how to be as happy as Lovey did;
I wa'n't made on that pattern.
"When I first showed her the baby (it was a boy,
same as mine), her eyes shone like two evening stars.
She held up her weak arms, and gathered the little bundle o'
warm flannen into 'em; and when she got it close she shut
her eyes and moved her lips, and I knew she was taking
her lamb to the altar and offering it up as a sacrifice.
Then Reuben come in. I seen him give one look at the two
dark heads laying close together on the white piller,
and then go down on his knees by the side of the bed.
'T wa'n't no place for me; I went off, and left 'em together.
We didn't mistrust it then, but they only had three days
more of happiness, and I'm glad I give 'em every minute."
The room grew dusky as twilight stole gently over
the hills of Pleasant River. Priscilla's lip trembled;
Diadema's tears fell thick and fast on the white rosebud,
and she had to keep wiping her eyes as she followed the pattern.
"I ain't said as much as this about it for five years," she went on,
with a tell-tale quiver in her voice, "but now I've got going I can't stop.
I'll have to get the weight out o' my heart somehow.
"Three days after I put Lovey's baby into her arms the Lord
called her home. 'When I prayed so hard for this little
new life, Reuben,' says she holding the baby as if she could never let
it go, 'I didn't think I'd got to give up my own in place of it;
but it's the first fiery flood we've had, dear, and though it burns
to my feet I'll tread it as brave as I know how.'
"She didn't speak a word after that; she just faded
away like a snowdrop, hour by hour. And Reuben and I stared
at one another in the face as if we was dead instead of her,
and we went about that house o' mourning like sleep-walkers
for days and says, not knowing whether we et or slept,
or what we done.
"As for the baby, the poor little mite didn't live
many hours after its mother, and we buried 'em together.
Reuben and I knew what Lovey would have liked. She gave her life
for the baby's, and it was a useless sacrifice, after all.
No, it wa'n't neither; it _could_n't have been!
You needn't tell me God'll let such sacrifices as that come
out useless! But anyhow, we had one coffin for 'em both,
and I opened Lovey's arms and laid the baby in 'em.
When Reuben and I took our last look, we thought she
seemed more 'n ever like Mary, the mother of Jesus.
There never was another like her, and there never will be.
'Nonesuch,' Reuben used to call her."
There was silence in the room, broken only by the ticking
of the old clock and the tinkle of a distant cowbell.
Priscilla made an impetuous movement, flung herself down by the
basket of rags, and buried her head in Diadema's gingham apron.
"Dear Mrs. Bascom, don't cry. I'm sorry, as the children say."
"No, I won't more 'n a minute. Jot can't stand it to see
me give way. You go and touch a match to the kitchen fire,
so 't the kettle will be boiling, and I'll have a minute to myself.
I don't know what the neighbors would think to ketch me crying over my
drawing-in frame; but the spell's over now, or 'bout over, and when I
can muster up courage I'll take the rest of the baby's cloak and put
a border of white everlastings round the outside of the rug.
I'll always mean the baby's birth and Lovey's death to me;
but the flowers will remind me it 's life everlasting for both
of 'em, and so it's the most comforting end I can think of."
It was indeed a beautiful rug when it was finished and laid
in front of the sofa in the fore-room. Diadema was very choice of it.
When company was expected she removed it from its accustomed place,
and spread it in a corner of the room where no profane foot could possibly
tread on it. Unexpected callers were managed by a different method.
If they seated themselves on the sofa, she would fear they did not "set easy"
or "rest comfortable" there, and suggest their moving to the stuffed
chair by the window. The neighbors thought this solicitude merely
another sign of Diadema's "p'ison neatness," excusable in this case
as there was so much white in the new rug.
The fore-room blinds were ordinarily closed, and the chillness
of death pervaded the sacred apartment; but on great occasions,
when the sun was allowed to penetrate the thirty-two tiny panes
of glass in each window, and a blaze was lighted in the fire-place,
Miss Hollis would look in as she went upstairs, and muse
a moment over the pathetic little romance of rags, the story
of two lives worked into a bouquet of old-fashioned posies,
whose gay tints were brought out by a setting of sombre threads.
Existence had gone so quietly in this remote corner of the world that
all its important events, babyhood, childhood, betrothal, marriage,
motherhood, with all their mysteries of love and life and death,
were chronicled in this narrow space not two yards square.
Diadema came in behind the little school-teacher one afternoon.
"I cal'late," she said, "that being kep' in a dark room, and never
being tread on, it will last longer 'n I do. If it does, Priscilla,
you know that white crepe shawl of mine I wear to meeting hot Sundays:
that would make a second row of everlastings round the border.
You could piece out the linings good and smooth on the under side,
draw in the white flowers, and fill 'em round with black to set 'em off.
The rug would be han'somer than ever then, and the story--
would be finished."
"Goodfellow, Puck and goblins,
Know more than any book.
Down with your doleful problems,
And court the sunny brook.
The south-winds are quick-witted,
The schools are sad and slow,
The masters quite omitted
The lore we care to know."
Emerson's _April._
"Find the 317th page, Davy, and begin at the top of
the right-hand column."
The boy turned the leaves of the old instruction book obediently, and
then began to read in a sing-song, monotonous tone:--
"'One of Pag-pag'"--
"'One of Paggernyner's' (I wish all the fellers in your stories
didn't have such tough old names!) 'most dis-as-ter-ous triumphs
he had when playing at Lord Holland's.' (Who was Lord Holland,
uncle Tony?) 'Some one asked him to im-pro-vise on the violin
the story of a son who kills his father, runs a-way, becomes
a highway-man, falls in love with a girl who will not listen to him;
so he leads her to a wild country site, suddenly jumping with her
from a rock into an a-b-y-double-s'"--
"'--a-- rock--into--an--abyss, were they disappear forever.
Paggernyner listened quietly, and when the story was at an end
he asked that all the lights should be distinguished.'"
"Look closer, Davy."
"'Should be extinguished. He then began playing, and so terrible was the
musical in-ter-pre-ta-tion of the idea which had been given him that several
of the ladies fainted, and the sal-salon-s_a_lon, when relighted, looked like
a battle-field.' Cracky! Wouldn't you like to have been there, uncle Tony?
But I don't believe anybody ever played that way, do you?"
"Yes," said the listener, dreamily raising his sightless eyes
to the elm-tree that grew by the kitchen door. "I believe it,
and I can hear it myself when you read the story to me.
I feel that the secret of everything in the world that is beautiful,
or true, or terrible, is hidden in the strings of my violin,
Davy, but only a master can draw it from captivity."
"You make stories on your violin, too, uncle Tony,
even if the ladies don't faint away in heaps, and if the kitchen
doesn't look like a battle-field when you 've finished.
I'm glad it doesn't, for my part, for I should have more
housework to do than ever."
"Poor Davy! you couldn't hate housework any worse if you were a woman;
but it is all done for to-day. Now paint me one of your pictures, laddie;
make me see with your eyes."
The boy put down the book and leaped out of the open door,
barely touching the old millstone that served for a step.
Taking a stand in the well-worn path, he rested his hands
on his hips, swept the landscape with the glance of an eagle,
and began like a young improvisator:--
"The sun is just dropping behind Brigadier Hill."
"What color is it?"
"Red as fire, and there isn't anything near it,--it 's almost alone
in the sky; there 's only teenty little white feather clouds here and there.
The bridge looks as if it was a silver string tying the two sides
of the river together. The water is pink where the sun shines into it.
All the leaves of the trees are kind of swimming in the red light,--
I tell you, nunky, just as if I was looking through red glass.
The weather vane on Squire Bean's barn dazzles so the rooster seems
to be shooting gold arrows into the river. I can see the tip top of
Mount Washington where the peak of its snow-cap touches the pink sky.
The hen-house door is open. The chickens are all on their roost,
with their heads cuddled under their wings."
"Did you feed them?"
The boy clapped his hand over his mouth with a comical gesture
of penitence, and dashed into the shed for a panful of corn, which he
scattered over the ground, enticing the sleepy fowls by insinuating calls
of "Chick, chick, chick, chick!" _Come,_ biddy, biddy, biddy, biddy!
_Come,_ chick, chick, chick, chick, chick!"
The man in the doorway smiled as over the misdemeanor of somebody very
dear and lovable, and rising from his chair felt his way to a corner shelf,
took down a box, and drew from it a violin swathed in a silk bag.
He removed the covering with reverential hands. The tenderness of
the face was like that of a young mother dressing or undressing her child.
As he fingered the instrument his hands seemed to have become all eyes.
They wandered caressingly over the polished surface as if enamored
of the perfect thing that they had created, lingering here and there
with rapturous tenderness on some special beauty,--the graceful arch
of the neck, the melting curves of the cheeks, the delicious swell
of the breasts.
When he had satisfied himself for the moment, he took the bow,
and lifting the violin under his chin, inclined his head fondly
toward it and began to play.
The tune at first seemed muffled, but had a curious bite,
that began in distant echoes, but after a few minutes' the playing
grew firmer and clearer, ringing out at last with velvety richness
and strength until the atmosphere was satiated with harmony.
No more ethereal note ever flew out of a bird's throat than Anthony
Croft set free from this violin, his _liebling_, his "swan song,"
made in the year he had lost his eyesight.
Anthony Croft had been the only son of his mother, and she a widow.
His boyhood had been exactly like that of all the other boys
in Edgewood, save that he hated school a trifle more, if possible,
than any of the others; though there was a unanimity of aversion in this
matter that surprised and wounded teachers and parents.
The school was the ordinary "deestrick" school of that time; there were
not enough scholars for what Cyse Higgins called a "degraded" school.
The difference between Anthony and the other boys lay in the reason as well
as the degree of his abhorrence.
He had come into the world a naked, starving human soul; he longed
to clothe himself, and he was hungry and ever hungrier for knowledge;
but never within the four walls of the village schoolhouse could he get
hold of one fact that would yield him its secret sense, one glimpse
of clear light that would shine in upon the "darkness which may be felt"
in his mind, one thought or word that would feed his soul.
The only place where his longings were ever stilled,
where he seemed at peace with himself, where he understood
what he was made for, was out of doors in the woods.
When he should have been poring over the sweet,
palpitating mysteries of the multiplication table,
his vagrant gaze was always on the open window near which he sat.
He could never study when a fly buzzed on the window-pane;
he was always standing on the toes of his bare feet,
trying to locate and understand the buzz that puzzled him.
The book was a mute, soulless thing that had no relation
to his inner world of thought and feeling. He turned ever
from the dead seven-times-six to the mystery of life about him.
He was never a special favorite with his teachers; that was scarcely
to be expected. In his very early years, his pockets were gone through
with every morning when he entered the school door, and the contents,
when confiscated, would comprise a jew's-harp, a bit of catgut,
screws whittled out of wood, tacks, spools, pins, and the like.
But when robbed of all these he could generally secrete a piece of elastic,
which, when put between his teeth and stretched to its utmost capacity,
would yield a delightful twang when played upon with the forefinger.
He could also fashion an interesting musical instrument in his desk by means
of spools and catgut and bits of broken glass. The chief joy of his life
was an old tuning-fork that the teacher of the singing school had
given him, but, owing to the degrading and arbitrary censorship of pockets
that prevailed, he never dared bring it into the schoolroom. There were ways,
however, of evading inexorable law and circumventing base injustice.
He hid the precious thing under a thistle just outside the window.
The teacher had sometimes a brief season of apathy on hot afternoons,
when she was hearing the primer class read, "_I see a pig. The pig is big.
The big pig can dig;_" which stirring in phrases were always punctuated
by the snores of the Hanks baby, who kept sinking down on his fat
little legs in the line and giving way to slumber during the lesson.
At such a moment Anthony slipped out of the window and snapped
the tuning-fork several times,--just enough to save his soul from death,--
and then slipped in again. He was caught occasionally, but not often;
and even when he was, there were mitigating circumstances,
for he was generally put under the teacher's desk for punishment.
It was a dark, close, sultry spot, but when he was well seated, and had grown
tied of looking at the triangle of elastic in the teacher's congress boot,
and tired of wishing it was his instead of hers, he would tie one end
of a bit of thread to the button of his gingham shirt, and, carrying it
round his left ear several times, make believe he was Paganini languishing
in prison and playing on a violin with a single string.
As he grew older there was no marked improvement, and Tony
Croft was by general assent counted the laziest boy in the village.
That he was lazy in certain matters merely because he was in
a frenzy of industry to pursue certain others had nothing to do
with the case, of course.
If any one had ever given him a task in which he could
have seen cause working to effect, in which he could have found
by personal experiment a single fact that belonged to him,
his own by divine right of discovery, he would have counted
labor or study all joy.
He was one incarnate Why and How, one brooding wonder and
interrogation point. "Why does the sun drive away the stars?
Why do the leaves turn red and gold? What makes the seed swell in the earth?
>From whence comes the life hidden in the egg under the bird's breast?
What holds the moon in the sky? Who regulates her shining?
Who moves the wind? Who made me, and what am I? Who, why, how whither?
If I came from God but only lately, teach me his lessons first,
put me into vital relation with life and law, and then give me your dead
signs and equivalents for real things, that I may learn more and more,
and ever more and ever more."
There was no spirit in Edgewood bold enough to conceive
that Tony learned anything in the woods, but as there was never
sufficient school money to keep the village seat of learning
open more than half the year the boy educated himself at
the fountain head of wisdom, and knowledge of the other half.
His mother, who owned him for a duckling hatched from a hen's egg,
and was never quite sure he would not turn out a black sheep
and a crooked stick to boot, was obliged to confess that Tony
had more useless information than any boy in the village.
He knew just where to find the first Mayflowers, and would bring
home the waxen beauties when other people had scarcely begun to
think about the spring. He could tell where to look for the rare
fringed gentian, the yellow violet, the Indian pipe.
There were clefts in the rocks of the Indian Cellar where,
when every one else failed, he could find harebells and columbines.
When his tasks were done, and the other boys were amusing
themselves each in his own way, you would find Tony lying
flat on the pine needles in the woods, listening to the notes
of the wild birds, and imitating them patiently, til you could
scarcely tell which was boy and which was bird; and if you could,
the birds couldn't, for many a time he coaxed the bobolinks
and thrushes to perch on the low boughs above his head and chirp
to him as if he were a feathered brother. There was nothing
about the building of nests with which he was not familiar.
He could have taken hold and helped if the birds had not been so shy,
and if he had had beak and claw instead of clumsy fingers.
He would sit near a beehive for hours without moving,
or lie prone in the sandy road, under the full glare of
the sun, watching the ants acting out their human comedy;
sometimes surrounding a favorite hill with stones, that the comedy
might not be turned into a tragedy by a careless footfall.
The cottage on the river road grew more and more
to resemble a museum and herbarium as the years went by,
and the Widow Croft's weekly house-cleaning was a matter
that called for the exercise of Christian grace.
Still, Tony was a good son, affectionate, considerate, and obedient.
His mother had no idea that he would ever be able, or indeed willing,
to make a living; but there was a forest of young timber growing up,
a small hay farm to depend upon, and a little hoard that would keep him
out of the poorhouse when she died and left him to his own devices.
It never occurred to her that he was in any way remarkable.
If he were difficult to understand, it reflected more upon his eccentricity
than upon her density. What was a woman to do with a boy of twelve who,
when she urged him to drop the old guitar he was taking apart and hurry off
to school, cried, "Oh, mother! when there is so much to learn in this world,
it is wicked, wicked to waste time in school."
About this period Tony spent hours in the attic
arranging bottles and tumblers into a musical scale.
He also invented an instrument made of small and great,
long and short pins, driven into soft board to different depths,
and when the widow passed his door on the way to bed she
invariable saw this barbaric thing locked up to the boy's breast,
for he often played himself to sleep with it.
At fifteen he had taken to pieces and put together again,
strengthened, soldered, tinkered, mended, and braced
every accordion, guitar, melodeon, dulcimer, and fiddle
in Edgewood, Pleasant River, and the neighboring villages.
There was a little money to be earned in this way, but very little,
as people in general regarded this "tinkering" as a pleasing diversion
in which they could indulge him without danger. As an example
of this attitude, Dr. Berry's wife's melodeon had lost two stops,
the pedals had severed connection with the rest of the works,
it wheezed like an asthmatic, and two black keys were missing.
Anthony worked more than a week on its rehabilitation,
and received in return Mrs. Berry's promise that the doctor
would pull a tooth for him some time! This, of course,
was a guerdon for the future, but it seemed pathetically distant
to the lad who had never had a toothache in his life.
He had to plead with Cyse Higgins for a week before that prudent
young farmer would allow him to touch his five-dollar fiddle.
He obtained permission at last only because by offering to give
Cyse his calf in case he spoiled the violin. "That seems square,"
said Cyse doubtfully, "but after all, you can't play on a calf!"
"Neither will your fiddle give milk, if you keep it long enough,"
retorted Tony; and this argument was convincing.
So great was his confidence in Tony's skill
that Squire Bean trusted his father's violin to him,
one that had been bought in Berlin seventy years before.
It had been hanging on the attic wall for a half century,
so that the back was split in twain, the sound-post lost,
the neck and the tailpiece cracked. The lad took it home,
and studied it for two whole evenings before the open fire.
The problem of restoring it was quite beyond his abilities.
He finally took the savings of two summers' "blueberry money"
and walked sixteen miles to Portland, where he bought a book
called The Practical Violinist. The Supplement proved
to be a mine of wealth. Even the headings appealed to his
imagination and intoxicated him with their suggestions,--
On Scraping, Splitting, and Repairing Violins, Violin Players,
Great Violinists, Solo Playing, etc.; and at the very end
a Treatise on the Construction, Preservation, Repair,
and Improvement of the Violin, by Jacob Augustus Friedheim,
Instrument Maker to the Court of the Archduke of Weimar.
There was a good deal of moral advice in the preface that
sadly puzzled the boy, who was always in a condition of chronic
amazement at the village disapprobation of his favorite fiddle.
That the violin did not in some way receive the confidence
enjoyed by other musical instruments, he perceived from various
paragraphs written by the worthy author of The Practical Violinist,
as for example:--
"Some very excellent Christian people hold a strong
prejudice against the violin because they have always
known it associated with dancing and dissipation.
Let it be understood that your violin is 'converted,'
and such an obligation will no longer lie against it.
. . . Many delightful hours may be enjoyed by a young man,
if he has obtained a respectable knowledge of his instrument,
who otherwise would find the time hang heavy on his hands;
or, for want of some better amusement, would frequent the
dangerous and destructive paths of vice and be ruined forever.
. . . I am in hopes, therefore, my dear young pupil,
that your violin will occupy your attention at just those
very times when, if you were immoral or dissipated, you would
be at the grogshop, gaming-table, or among vicious females.
Such a use of the violin, notwithstanding the prejudices
many hold against it, must contribute to virtue, and furnish
abundance of innocent and entirely unobjectionable amusement.
These are the views with which I hope you have adopted it,
and will continue to cherish and cultivate it."
"There is no bard in all the choir,
. . . . . . .
Not one of all can put in verse,
Or to this presence could rehearse
The sights and voices ravishing
The boy knew on the hills in spring,
When pacing through the oaks he heard
Sharp queries of the sentry-bird,
The heavy grouse's sudden whir,
The rattle of the kingfisher."
Emerson's _Harp._
Now began an era of infinite happiness, of days that were never
long enough, of evenings when bedtime came all too soon.
Oh that there had been some good angel who would have taken in hand
Anthony Croft the boy, and, training the powers that pointed so
unmistakably in certain directions, given to the world the genius of
Anthony Croft, potential instrument maker to the court of St. Cecilia;
for it was not only that he had the fingers of a wizard; his ear
caught the faintest breath of harmony or hint of discord, as
"Fairy folk a-listening
Hear the seed sprout in the spring,
And for music to their dance
Hear the hedge-rows wake from trance;
Sap that trembles into buds
Sending little rhythmic floods
Of fairy sound in fairy ears.
Thus all beauty that appears
Has birth as sound to finer sense
And lighter-clad intelligence."
As the universe is all mechanism to one man, all form and
color to another, so to Anthony Croft the world was all melody.
Notwithstanding all these gifts and possibilities,
the doctor's wife advised the Widow Croft to make a plumber
of him, intimating delicately that these freaks of nature,
while playing no apparent part in the divine economy,
could sometimes be made self-supporting.
The seventeenth year of his life marked a definite epoch
in his development. He studied Jacob Friedheim's treatise until
he knew the characteristics of all the great violin models,
from the Amatis, Hieronymus, Antonius, and Nicolas, to those
of Stradivarius, Guarnerius, and Steiner.
It was in this year, also, that he made a very precious discovery.
While browsing in the rubbish in Squire Bean's garret to see
if he could find the missing sound-post of the old violin,
he came upon a billet of wood wrapped in cloth and paper.
When unwrapped, it was plainly labeled "Wood from the Bean
Maple at Pleasant Point; the biggest maple in York County,
and believed to be one of the biggest in the State of Maine."
Anthony found that the oldest inhabitant of Pleasant River remembered
the stump of the tree, and that the boys used to jump over it
and admire its proportions whenever they went fishing at the Point.
The wood, therefore, was perhaps eighty or ninety years old.
The squire agreed willingly that it should be used to mend the old violin,
and told Tony he should have what was left for himself.
When, by careful calculation, he found that the remainder would make
a whole violin, he laid it reverently away for another twenty years,
so that he should be sure it had completed its century of patient
waiting for service, and falling on his knees by his bedside said,
"I thank Thee, Heavenly Father, for this precious gift, and I promise
from this moment to gather the most beautiful wood I can find,
and lay it by where it can be used some time to make perfect violins,
so that if any creature as poor and helpless as I am needs the wherewithal
to do good work, I shall have helped him as Thou hast helped me."
And according to his promise so he did, and the pieces of richly
curled maple, of sycamore, and of spruce began to accumulate.
They were cut from the sunny side of the trees, in just the right
season of the year, split so as to have a full inch thickness
towards the bark, and a quarter inch towards the heart.
They were then laid for weeks under one of the falls in Wine Brook,
where the musical tinkle, tinkle of the stream fell on the wood already
wrought upon by years of sunshine and choruses of singing birds.
This boy, toiling not alone for himself, but with full
and conscious purpose for posterity also, was he not worthy
to wear the mantle of Antonius Stradivarius?
"That plain white-aproned man who stood at work
Patient and accurate full fourscore years,
Cherished his sight and touch by temperance,
And since keen sense is love of perfectness,
Made perfect violins, the needed paths
For inspiration and high mastery."
And as if the year were not full enough of glory, the school-teacher
sent him a book with a wonderful poem in it.
That summer's teaching had been the freak of a college student, who had
gone back to his senior year strengthened by his experience of village life.
Anthony Croft, who was only three or four years his junior, had been his
favorite pupil and companion.
"How does Tony get along?" asked the Widow Croft when the teacher
came to call.
"Tony? Oh, I can't teach him anything."
Tears sprang to the mother's eyes.
"I know he ain't much on book learning," she said apologetically,
"but I'm bound he don't make you no trouble in deportment."
"I mean," said the school-teacher gravely, "that I can show
him how to read a little Latin and do a little geometry,
but he knows as much in one day as I shall ever know in a year."
Tony crouched by the old fireplace in the winter evenings,
dropping his knife or his compasses a moment to read aloud to his mother,
who sat in the opposite corner knitting:--
"Of old Antonio Stradivari,--him
Who a good quarter century and a half ago
Put his true work in the brown instrument,
And by the nice adjustment of its frame
Gave it responsive life, continuous
With the master's finger-tips, and perfected
Like them by delicate rectitude of use."
The mother listened with painful intentness. "I like the sound of it,"
she said, "but I can't hardly say I take in the full sense."
"Why mother," said the lad, in a rare moment of self-expression,
"you know the poetry says he cherished his sight and touch by temperance;
that an idiot might see a straggling line and be content,
but he had an eye that winced at false work, and loved the true.
When it says his finger-tips were perfected by delicate rectitude
of use, I think it means doing everything as it is done in heaven,
and that anybody who wants to make a perfect violin must
keep his eye open to all the beautiful things God has made,
and his ear open to all the music he has put into the world,
and then never let his hands touch a piece of work that is crooked
or straggling or false, till, after years and years of rightness,
they are fit to make a violin like the squire's, a violin that can
say everything, a violin that an angel wouldn't be ashamed
to play on."
Do these words seem likely ones to fall from the lips
of a lad who had been at the tail of his class ever since his
primer days? Well, Anthony was seventeen now, and he was
"educated," in spite of sorry recitations,--educated, the Lord
knows how! Yes, in point of fact the Lord does know how!
He knows how the drill and pressure of the daily task,
still more the presence of the high ideal, the inspiration
working from within, how these educate us.
The blind Anthony Croft sitting in the kitchen doorway had
seemingly missed the heights of life he might have trod, and had walked
his close on fifty years through level meadows of mediocrity, a witch
in every finger-tip waiting to be set to work, head among the clouds,
feet stumbling, eyes and ears open to hear God's secret thought;
seeing and hearing it, too, but lacking force to speak it forth again;
for while imperious genius surmounts all obstacles, brushes laws and
formulas from its horizon, and with its own free soul sees its "path
and the outlets of the sky," potential genius forever needs an angel
of deliverance to set it free.
Poor Anthony Croft, or blessed Anthony Croft, I know not which,--
God knows! Poor he certainly was, yet blessed after all.
"One thing I do," said Paul. "One thing I do," said Anthony.
He was not able to realize his ideals, but he had the "angel aim"
by which he idealized his reals.
O waiting heart of God! how soon would thy kingdom
come if we all did our allotted tasks, humble or splendid,
in this consecrated fashion!
"Therein I hear the Parcae reel
The threads of man at their humming wheel,
The threads of life and power and pain,
So sweet and mournful falls the strain."
Emerson's _Harp._
Old Mrs. Butterfield had had her third stroke of paralysis,
and died of a Sunday night. She was all alone in her little
cottage on the river bank, with no neighbor nearer
than Croft's, and nobody there but a blind man and a small boy.
Everybody had told her it was foolish to live alone in a house
on the river road, and everybody was pleased in a discreet
and chastened fashion of course, that it had turned out exactly
as they had predicted.
Aunt Mehitable Tarbox was walking up to Milliken's Mills,
with her little black reticule hanging over her arm,
and noticing that there was no smoke coming out of the chimney,
and that the hens were gathered about the kitchen door clamoring
for their breakfast, she thought it best to stop and knock.
No response followed the repeated blows from her hard knuckles.
She then tapped smartly on Mrs. Butterfield's bedroom window
with her thimble finger. This proving of no avail, she was
obliged to pry open the kitchen shutter, split open a mosquito
netting with her shears, and crawl into the house over the sink.
This was a considerable feat for a somewhat rheumatic elderly lady,
but this one never grudged trouble when she wanted to find
out anything.
When she discovered that her premonitions were correct,
and that old Mrs. Butterfield was indeed dead, her grief
at losing a pleasant acquaintance was largely mitigated
by her sense of importance at being first on the spot,
and chosen by Providence to take command of the situation.
There were no relations in the village; there was no woman
neighbor within a mile: it was therefore her obvious Christian
duty not only to take charge of the remains, but to conduct
such a funeral as the remains would have wished for herself.
The fortunate Vice-President suddenly called upon by destiny
to guide the ship of state, the general who sees a possible
Victoria Cross in a hazardous engagement, can have a faint
conception of aunt Hitty's feeling on this momentous occasion.
Funerals were the very breath of her life. There was no ceremony,
either of public or private import, that, to her mind,
approached a funeral in real satisfying interest.
Yet, with distinct talent in this direction, she had always
been "cabined, cribbed, confined" within hopeless limitations.
She had assisted in a secondary capacity at funerals in the families
of other people, but she would have reveled in personally
conducted ones. The members of her own family stubbornly
refused to die, however, even the distant connections living
on and on to a ridiculous old age; and if they ever did die,
by reason of a falling roof, shipwreck, or conflagration,
they generally died in Texas or Iowa, or some remote State where
aunt Hitty could not follow the hearse in the first carriage.
This blighted ambition was a heart sorrow of so deep and sacred
a character that she did not even confess it to "Si," as her
appendage of a husband was called.
Now at last her chance for planning a funeral had come.
Mrs. Butterfield had no kith or kin save her niece, Lyddy Ann,
who lived in Andover, or Lawrence, or Haverhill Massachusetts,--
aunt Hitty couldn't remember which, and hoped nobody else could.
The niece would be sent for when they found out where she lived;
meanwhile the funeral could not be put off.
She glanced round the house preparatory to locking it
up and starting to notify Anthony Croft. She would just run
over and talk to him about ordering the coffin; then she could
attend to all other necessary preliminaries herself.
The remains had been well-to-do, and there was no occasion for
sordid economy, so aunt Hitty determined in her own mind to have
the latest fashion in everything, including a silver coffin plate.
The Butterfield coffin plates were a thing to be proud of.
They had been sacredly preserved for years and years, and the
entire collection--numbering nineteen in all had been framed,
and adorned the walls of the deceased lady's best room.
They were not of solid silver, it is true, but even so it was a
matter of distinction to have belonged to a family that could
afford to have nineteen coffin plates of any sort.
Aunt Hitty planned certain dramatic details as she
walked town the road to Croft's. It came to her in a burst
of inspiration that she would have two ministers: one for
the long prayer, and one for the short prayer and the remarks.
She hoped that Elder Weeks would be adequate in the latter
direction. She knew she couldn't for the life of her think
of anything interesting about Mrs. Butterfield, save that she
possessed nineteen coffin plates, and brought her hens to
Edgewood every summer for their health; but she had heard Elder
Weeks make a moving discourse out of less than that.
To be sure, he needed priming, but she was equal to that.
There was Ivory Brown's funeral: how would that have gone on
if it hadn't been for her? Wasn't the elder ten minutes late,
and what would his remarks have amounted to without her suggestions?
You might almost say she was the author of the discourse,
for she gave him all the appropriate ideas. As she had helped him
out of the wagon she had said: "Are you prepared? I thought not;
but there's no time to lose. Remember there are aged parents;
two brothers living, one railroading in Spokane Falls,
the other clerking in Washington, D. C. Don't mention
the Universalists,--there's ben two in the fam'ly; nor insanity,--
there 's ben one o' them. The girl in the corner by the clock
is the one that the remains has been keeping comp'ny with.
If you can make some genteel allusions to her, it'll be much
appreciated by his folks."
As to the long prayer, she knew that the Rev. Mr. Ford could be relied
on to pray until aunt Becky Burnham should twitch him by the coat tails.
She had done it more than once. She had also, on one occasion,
got up and straightened his ministerial neckerchief, which he had gradually
"prayed" around his saintly neck until it was behind the right ear.
These plans proved so fascinating to aunt Hitty that she walked
quite half a mile beyond Croft's, and was obliged to retrace her steps.
She conceived bands of black alpaca for the sleeves and hats
of the pallbearers, and a festoon of the same over the front gate,
if there should be any left over. She planned the singing by the choir.
There had been no real choir-singing at any funeral in Edgewood since
the Rev. Joshua Beckwith had died. She would ask them to open with--
Rebel mourner, cease your weepin'.
You too must die.
This was a favorite funeral hymn. The only difficulty
would be in keeping aunt Becky Burnham from pitching it
in a key where nobody but a soprano skylark, accustomed to
warble at a great height, could possibly sing it.
It was generally given at the grave, when Elder Weeks officiated;
but it never satisfied aunt Hitty, because the good elder always
looked so unpicturesque when he threw a red bandanna handkerchief
over his head before beginning the twenty-seven verses.
After the long prayer, she would have Almira Berry give
for a solo--
This gro-o-oanin' world 's too dark and
dre-e-ar for the saints' e - ter - nal rest,
This hymn, if it did not wholly reconcile one to death,
enabled one to look upon life with sufficient solemnity.
It was a thousand pities, she thought, that the old hearse was
so shabby and rickety, and that Gooly Eldridge, who drove it,
would insist on wearing a faded peach-blow overcoat.
It was exasperating to think of the public spirit at Egypt,
and contrast it with the state of things at Pleasant River.
In Egypt they had sold the old hearse house for a sausage shop,
and now they were having hearse sociables every month
to raise money for a new one.
All these details flew through aunt Hitty's mind in
fascinating procession. There shouldn't be "a hitch" anywhere.
There had been a hitch at her last funeral, but she had been
only an assistant there. Matt Henderson had been struck
by lightning at the foot of Squire Bean's old nooning tree,
and certain circumstances combined to make the funeral one
of unusual interest, so much so that fat old Mrs. Potter
from Deerwander created a sensation at the cemetery.
She was so anxious to get where she could see everything
to the best advantage that she crowded too near the bier,
stepped on the sliding earth, and pitched into the grave.
As she weighed over two hundred pounds, and was in a position
of some disadvantage, it took five men to extricate her from
the dilemma, and the operation made a long and somewhat
awkward break in the religious services. Aunt Hitty always
said of this catastrophe, "If I'd 'a' ben Mis' Potter, I'd 'a'
ben so mortified I believe I'd 'a' said, 'I wa'n't plannin'
to be buried, but now I'm in here I declare I'll stop!'"
Old Mrs. Butterfield's funeral was not only voted
an entire success by the villagers, but the seal of professional
approval was set upon it by an undertaker from Saco,
who declared that Mrs. Tarbox could make a handsome living
in the funeral line anywhere. Providence, who always assists
those who assist themselves, decreed that the niece Lyddy Ann
should not arrive until the aunt was safely buried; so, there being
none to resist her right or grudge her the privilege aunt Hitty,
for the first time in her life, rode in the next buggy to
the hearse. Si, in his best suit, a broad weed and weepers,
drove Cyse Higgins's black colt, and aunt Hitty was dressed in
deep mourning, with the Widow Buzzell's crape veil over her face,
and in her hand a palmleaf fan tied with a black ribbon.
Her comment to Si, as she went to her virtuous couch that night, was:
"It was an awful dry funeral, but that was the only flaw in it.
It would 'a' ben perfect if there' ben anybody to shed tears.
I come pretty nigh it myself, though I ain't no relation,
when Elder Weeks said, 'You'll go round the house, my sisters,
and Mis' Butterfield won't be there; you'll go int' the orchard,
and Mis' Butterfield won't be there; you'll go int'
the barn and Mis' Butterfield won't be there; you'll go int'
the shed, and Mis' Butterfield won't be there; you'll go int'
the hencoop, and Mis' Butterfield won't be there!'
That would 'a' drawed tears from a stone most, 'specially sence Mis'
Butterfield set such store by her hens."
And this is the way that Lyddy Butterfield came into
her kingdom, a little lone brown house on the river's brim.
She had seen it only once before when she had driven out from Portland,
years ago, with her aunt. Mrs. Butterfield lived in Portland,
but spent her summers in Edgewood on account of her chickens.
She always explained that the country was dreadful dull for her,
but good for the hens; they always laid so much better in
the winter time.
Lyddy liked the place all the better for its loneliness.
She had never had enough of solitude, and this quiet home,
with the song of the river for company, if one needed more
company than chickens and a cat, satisfied all her desires,
particularly as it was accompanied by a snug little income
of two hundred dollars a year, a meagre sum that seemed to open
up mysterious avenues of joy to her starved, impatient heart.
When she was a mere infant, her brother was holding
her on his knee before the great old-fashioned fireplace
heaped with burning logs. A sudden noise startled him,
and the crowing, restless baby gave an unexpected lurch, and slipped,
face downward, into the glowing embers. It was a full minute
before the horror-stricken boy could extricate the little creature
from the cruel flame that had already done its fatal work.
The baby escaped with her life, but was disfigured forever.
As she grew older, the gentle hand of time could not entirely
efface the terrible scars. One cheek was wrinkled and crimson,
while one eye and the mouth were drawn down pathetically.
The accident might have changed the disposition of any child,
but Lyddy chanced to be a sensitive, introspective bit of feminine
humanity, in whose memory the burning flame was never quenched.
Her mother, partly to conceal her own wounded vanity, and partly
to shield the timid, morbid child, kept her out of sight as much
as possible; so that at sixteen, when she was left an orphan,
she had lived almost entirely in solitude.
She became, in course of time, a kind of general nursery
governess in a large family of motherless children.
The father was almost always away from home; his sister kept the house,
and Lyddy stayed in the nursery, bathing the brood and putting
them to bed, dressing them in the morning, and playing with them
in the safe privacy of the back garden or the open attic.
They loved her, disfigured as she was, for the child despises
mere externals, and explores the heart of things to see whether it
be good or evil,--but they could never induce her to see strangers,
nor to join any gathering of people.
The children were grown and married now, and Lyddy was nearly
forty when she came into possession of house and lands and fortune;
forty, with twenty years of unexpended feeling pent within her.
Forty, that is rather old to be interesting, but age is a relative matter.
Haven't you seen girls of four-and-twenty who have nibbled and been
nibbled at ever since they were sixteen, but who have neither caught
anything nor been caught? They are old, if you like, but Lyddy was
forty and still young, with her susceptibilities cherished, not dulled,
and with all the "language of passion fresh and rooted as the lovely
leafage about a spring."
"He shall daily joy dispense
Hid in song's sweet influence."
Emerson's _Merlin._
Lyddy had very few callers during her first month
as a property owner in Edgewood. Her appearance would
have been against her winning friends easily in any case,
even if she had not acquired the habits of a recluse.
It took a certain amount of time, too, for the community
to get used to the fact that old Mrs. Butterfield was dead,
and her niece Lyddy Ann living in the cottage on the river road.
There were numbers of people who had not yet heard that old
Mrs. Butterfield had bought the house from the Thatcher boys,
and that was fifteen years ago; but this was not strange, for,
notwithstanding aunt Hitty's valuable services in disseminating
general information, there was a man living on the Bonny Eagle
road who was surprised to hear that Daniel Webster was dead,
and complained that folks were not so long-lived as they
used to be.
Aunt Hitty thought Lyddy a Goth and a Vandal because she took down
the twenty silver coffin plates and laid them reverently away.
"Mis' Butterfield would turn in her grave," she said, "if she knew it.
She ain't much of a housekeeper, I guess," she went on, as she cut
over Dr. Berry's old trousers into briefer ones for Tommy Berry.
"She gives considerable stuff to her hens that she'd a sight better heat
over and eat herself, in these hard times when the missionary societies can't
hardly keep the heathen fed and clothed and warmed--no, I don't mean warmed,
for most o' the heathens live in hot climates, somehow or 'nother.
My back door's jest opposite hers; it's across the river, to be sure,
but it's the narrer part, and I can see everything she does as plain
as daylight. She washed a Monday, and she ain't taken her clothes in yet,
and it's Thursday. She may be bleachin' of 'em out, but it looks slack.
I said to Si last night I should stand it till 'bout Friday,--seein' 'em lay
on the grass there, but if she didn't take 'em in then, I should go
over and offer to help her. She has a fire in the settin'-room 'most
every night, though we ain't had a frost yet; and as near's I can
make out, she's got full red curtains hangin' up to her windows.
I ain't sure, for she don't open the blinds in that room till I
get away in the morning, and she shuts 'em before I get back at night.
Si don't know red from green, so he's useless in such matters.
I'm going home late to-night, and walk down on that side o' the river,
so't I can call in after dark and see what makes her house light up
as if the sun was settin' inside of it."
As a matter of fact, Lyddy was reveling in house-furnishing
of a humble sort. She had a passion for color. There was
a red-and-white straw matting on the sitting-room floor.
Reckless in the certain possession of twenty dollars a month,
she purchased yards upon yards of turkey red cotton;
enough to cover a mattress for the high-backed settle, for long
curtains at the windows, and for cushions to the rockers.
She knotted white fringes for the table covers and curtains,
painted the inside of the fireplace red, put some pots,
of scarlet geraniums on the window-sills, filled newspaper
rack with ferns and tacked it over an ugly spot in the wall,
edged her work-basket with a tufted trimming of scarlet worsted,
and made an elaborate photograph case of white crash and red
cotton that stretched the entire length of the old-fashioned
mantelshelf, and held pictures of Mr. Reynolds, Miss
Elvira Reynolds, George, Susy, Anna, John, Hazel, Ella,
and Rufus Reynolds, her former charges. When all this was done,
she lighted a little blaze on the hearth, took the red curtains
from their hands, let them fall gracefully to the floor,
and sat down in her rocking-chair, reconciled to her existence
for absolutely the first time in her forty years.
I hope Mrs. Butterfield was happy enough in Paradise to appreciate
and feel Lyddy's joy. I can even believe she was glad to have died,
since her dying could bring such content to any wretched living human soul.
As Lydia sat in the firelight, the left side of her poor face
in shadow, you saw that she was distinctly harmonious. Her figure,
clad in plain black-and-white calico dress, was a graceful, womanly one.
She had beautifully sloping shoulders and a sweet wrist. Her hair was
soft and plentiful, and her hands were fine, strong, and sensitive.
This possibility of rare beauty made her scars and burns more pitiful,
for if a cheap chrome has smirch across its face, we think it a matter
of no moment, but we deplore the smallest scratch or blur on any
work of real art.
Lydia felt a little less bitter and hopeless about life when she
sat in front of her own open fire, after her usual twilight walk.
It was her habit to wander down the wooded road after her simple
five-o'clock supper, gatherings ferns or goldenrod or frost flowers
for her vases; and one night she heard, above the rippling of the river,
the strange, sweet, piercing sound of Anthony Croft's violin.
She drew nearer, and saw a, middle-aged man sitting in the kitchen
doorway, with a lad of ten or twelve years leaning against his knees.
She could tell little of his appearance, save that he had a high forehead,
and hair that waved well back from it in rather an unusual fashion.
He was in his shirt-sleeves, but the gingham was scrupulously clean,
and he had the uncommon refinement of a collar and necktie.
Out of sight herself, Lyddy drew near enough to hear; and this she
did every night without recognizing that the musician was blind.
The music had a curious effect upon her. It was a hitherto unknown influence
in her life, and it interpreted her, so to speak, to herself.
As she sat on the bed of brown pine needles, under a friendly tree,
her head resting against its trunk, her eyes half closed, the tone of
Anthony's violin came like a heavenly message to a tired, despairing soul.
Remember that in her secluded life she had heard only such harmony as Elvira
Reynolds evoked from her piano or George Reynolds from his flute,
and the Reynolds temperament was distinctly inartistic.
Lyddy lived through a lifetime of emotion in these twilight concerts.
Sometimes she was filled with an exquisite melancholy from which there was
no escape; at others, the ethereal purity of the strain stirred her heart with
a strange, sweet vision of mysterious joy; joy that she had never possessed,
would never possess; joy whose bare existence she never before realized.
When the low notes sank lower and lower with their soft wail of delicious woe,
she bent forward into the dark, dreading that something would be lost
in the very struggle of listening; then, after a, pause, a pure human tone
would break the stillness, and soaring, bird-like, higher and higher,
seem to mount to heaven itself, and, "piercing its starry floors,"
lift poor scarred Lydia's soul to the very grates of infinite bliss.
In the gentle moods that stole upon her in those summer twilights she
became a different woman, softer in her prosperity than she had ever
been in her adversity; for some plants only blossom in sunshine.
What wonder if to her the music and the musician became one?
It is sometimes a dangerous thing to fuse the man and his talents
in this way; but it did no harm here, for Anthony Croft was his music,
and the music was Anthony Croft. When he played on his violin, it was
as if the miracle of its fashioning were again enacted; as if the bird
on the quivering bough, the mellow sunshine streaming through the lattice
of green leaves, the tinkle of the woodland stream, spoke in every tone;
and more than this, the hearth-glow in whose light the patient hands
had worked, the breath of the soul bending itself in passionate prayer
for perfection, these, too, seemed to have wrought their blessed influence
on the willing strings until the tone was laden with spiritual harmony.
One might indeed have sung of this little red violin--that looked to Lyddy,
in the sunset glow, as if it were veneered with rubies--all that
Shelley sang of another perfect instrument:--
"The artist who this viol wrought
To echo all harmonious thought,
Fell'd a tree, while on the steep
The woods were in their winter sleep,
Rock'd in that repose divine
Of the wind-swept Apennine;
And dreaming, some of Autumn past,
And some of Spring approaching fast,
And some of April buds and showers,
And some of songs in July bowers,
And all of love; and so this tree--
O that such our death may be!--
Died in sleep, and felt no pain,
To live in happier form again."
The viol "whispers in enamoured tone:"--
"Sweet oracles of woods and dells,
And summer windy ill sylvan cells; . .
The clearest echoes of the hills,
The softest notes of falling rills,
The melodies of birds and bees,
The murmuring of summer seas,
And pattering rain, and breathing dew,
And airs of evening; all it knew....
--All this it knows, but will not tell
To those who cannot question well
The spirit that inhabits it; ...
But, sweetly as its answers will
Flatter hands of perfect skill,
It keeps its highest, holiest tone
For one beloved Friend alone."
Lyddy heard the violin and the man's voice as he talked to the child,--
heard them night after night; and when she went home to the little
brown house to light the fire on the hearth and let down the warm
red curtains, she fell into sweet, sad reveries; and when she blew
out her candle for the night, she fell asleep and dreamed new dreams,
and her heart was stirred with the rustling of new-born hopes that rose
and took wing like birds startled from their nests.
"Nor scour the seas, nor sift mankind,
A poet or a friend to find:
Behold, he watches at the door!
Behold his shadow on the floor!"
Emerson's _Saadi._
Lyddy Butterfield's hen turkey was of a roving disposition.
She had never appreciated her luxurious country quarters in Edgewood, and was
seemingly anxious to return to the modest back yard in her native city.
At any rate, she was in the habit of straying far from home, and the habit
was growing upon her to such an extent that she would even lead her docile
little gobblers down to visit Anthony Croft's hens and share their corn.
Lyddy had caught her at it once, and was now pursuing her to that
end for the second time. She paused in front of the house,
but there were no turkeys to be seen. Could they have wandered up
the hill road,--the discontented, "traipsing," exasperating things?
She started in that direction, when she heard a crash in the Croft kitchen,
and then the sound of a boy's voice coming from an inner room,--
a weak and querulous voice, as if the child were ill.
She drew nearer, in spite of her dread of meeting people,
or above all of intruding, and saw Anthony Croft standing over the stove,
with an expression of utter helplessness on his usually placid face.
She had never really seen him before in the daylight,
and there was something about his appearance that startled her.
The teakettle was on the floor, and a sea of water was flooding
the man's feet, yet he seemed to be gazing into vacancy.
Presently he stooped, and fumbled gropingly for the kettle.
It was too hot to be touched with impunity, and he finally left it
in a despairing sort of way, and walked in the direction of a shelf,
from under which a row of coats was hanging. The boy called again in a
louder and more insistent tone, ending in a whimper of restless pain.
This seemed to make the man more nervous than ever.
His hands went patiently over and over the shelf, then paused
at each separate nail.
"Bless the poor dear!" thought Lyddy. "Is he trying to find
his hat, or what is he trying to do? I wonder if he is music mad?"
and she drew still nearer the steps.
At this moment he turned and came rapidly toward the door.
She looked straight in his face. There was no mistaking it:
he was blind. The magician who had told her through his violin
secrets that she had scarcely dreamed of, the wizard who had set
her heart to throbbing and aching and longing as it had never
throbbed and ached and longed before, the being who had worn a halo
of romance and genius to her simple mind, was stone-blind! A wave
of impetuous anguish, as sharp and passionate as any she had ever
felt for her own misfortunes, swept over her soul at the spectacle
of the man's helplessness. His sightless eyes struck her like a blow.
But there was no time to lose. She was directly in his path:
if she stood still he would certainly walk over her, and if she
moved he would hear her, so, on the spur of the moment, she gave
a nervous cough and said, "Good-morning, Mr. Croft."
He stopped short. "Who is it?" he asked.
"I am--it is--I am--your new neighbor," said Lyddy,
with a trembling attempt at cheerfulness.
"Oh, Miss Butterfield! I should have called up to see
you before this if it hadn't been for the boy's sickness.
But I am a good-for-nothing neighbor, as you have doubtless heard.
Nobody expects anything of me."
("Nobody expects anything of me." Her own plaint,
uttered in her own tone!)
"I don't know about that," she answered swiftly.
"You've given me, for one, a great deal of pleasure with your
wonderful music. I often hear you as you play after supper,
and it has kept me from being lonesome. That isn't very much,
to be sure."
"You are fond of music, then?"
"I didn't know I was; I never heard any before," said Lyddy simply;
"but it seems to help people to say things they couldn't say for themselves,
don't you think so? It comforts me even to hear it, and I think it must
be still more beautiful to make it."
Now, Lyddy Ann Butterfield had no sooner uttered this
commonplace speech than the reflection darted through
her mind like a lightning flash that she had never spoken
a bit of her heart out like this in all her life before.
The reason came to her in the same flash: she was not being
looked at; her disfigured face was hidden. This man, at least,
could not shrink, turn away, shiver, affect indifference,
fix his eyes on hers with a fascinated horror, as others had done.
Her heart was divided between a great throb of pity and sympathy
for him and an irresistible sense of gratitude for herself.
Sure of protection and comprehension, her lovely soul
came out of her poor eyes and sat in the sunshine.
She spoke her mind at ease, as we utter sacred things sometimes
under cover of darkness.
"You seem to have had an accident; what can I do to help you?" she asked.
"Nothing, thank you. The boy has been sick for some days,
but he seems worse since last night. Nothing is in its right
place in the house, so I have given up trying to find anything,
and am just going to Edgewood to see if somebody will help me
for a few days."
"Uncle Tony! Uncle To-ny! where are you? Do give me another drink,
I'm so hot!" came the boy's voice from within.
"Coming, laddie! I don't believe he ought to drink so much water,
but what can I do? He is burning up with fever."
"Now look here, Mr. Croft," and Lydia's tone was cheerfully decisive.
"You sit down in that rocker, please, and let me command the ship
for a while. This is one of the cases where a woman is necessary.
First and foremost, what were you hunting for?"
"My hat and the butter," said Anthony meekly,
and at this unique combination they both laughed.
Lyddy's laugh was particularly fresh, childlike, and pleased;
one that would have astonished the Reynolds children.
She had seldom laughed heartily since little Rufus had cried
and told her she frightened him when she twisted her face so.
"Your hat is in the wood-box, and I'll find the butter in the twinkling
of an eye, though why you want it now is more than--My patience, Mr. Croft,
your hand is burned to a blister!"
"Don't mind me. Be good enough to look at the boy and tell
me what ails him; nothing else matters much."
"I will with pleasure, but let me ease you a little first.
Here's a rag that will be just the thing," and Lyddy,
suiting the pretty action to the mendacious worn, took a
good handkerchief from her pocket and tore it in three strips,
after spreading it with tallow from a candle heated over the stove.
This done, she hound up the burned hand skillfully, and, crossing the
dining-room, disappeared within the little chamber door beyond.
She came out presently, and said half hesitatingly,
"Would you--mind going out in the orchard for an hour or so?
You seem to be rather in the way here, and I should like
the place to myself, if you'll excuse me for saying so.
I'm ever so much more capable than Mrs. Buck; won't you
give me a trial, sir? Here's your violin and your hat.
I'll call you if you can help or advise me."
"But I can't let a stranger come in and do my housework," he objected.
"I can't, you know, though I appreciate your kindness all the same."
"I am your nearest neighbor, and your only one, for that matter,"
said Lyddy firmly; "its nothing more than right that I should look after that
sick child, and I must do it. I haven't got a thing to do in my own house.
I am nothing but a poor lonely old maid, who's been used to children
all her life, and likes nothing better than to work over them."
A calm settled upon Anthony's perturbed spirit, as he sat under
the apple-trees and heard Lyddy going to and fro in the cottage.
"She isn't any old maid," he thought; "she doesn't step like one;
she has soft shoes and a springy walk. She must be a very
handsome woman, with a hand like that; and such a voice!
I knew the moment she spoke that she didn't belong in this village."
As a matter of fact, his keen ear had caught the melody in
Lyddy's voice, a voice full of dignity, sweetness, and reserve power.
His sense of touch, too, had captured the beauty of her hand,
and held it in remembrance,--the soft palm, the fine skin,
supple fingers, smooth nails, and firm round wrist.
These charms would never have been noted by any seeing
man in Edgewood, but they were revealed to Anthony Croft
while Lyddy, like the good Samaritan, bound up his wounds.
It is these saving stars that light the eternal darkness
of the blind.
Lyddy thought she had met her Waterloo when, with arms akimbo,
she gazed about the Croft establishment, which was a scene
of desolation for the moment. Anthony's cousin from
Bridgton was in the habit of visiting him every two months
for a solemn house-cleaning, and Mrs. Buck from Pleasant
River came every Saturday and Monday for baking and washing.
Between times Davy and his uncle did the housework together;
and although it was respectably done, there was no pink-and-white
daintiness about it, you may be sure.
Lyddy came out to the apple-trees in about an hour,
laughing a little nervously as she said, "I'm sorry to
have taken a mean advantage of you, Mr. Croft, but I know
everything you've got in your house, and exactly where it is.
I couldn't help it, you see, when I was making things tidy.
It would do you good to see the boy. His room was too light,
and the flies were devouring him. I swept him and dusted him,
put on clean sheets and pillow slips, sponged him with bay rum,
brushed his hair, drove out the flies, and tacked a green
curtain up to the window. Fifteen minutes after he was sleeping
like a kitten. He has a sore throat and considerable fever.
Could you--can you--at least, will you, go up to my house
on an errand?"
"Certainly I can. I know it inside and out as well as my own."
"Very good. On the clock shelf in the sitting-room there
is a bottle of sweet spirits of nitre; it's the only bottle there,
so you can't make any mistake. It will help until the doctor comes.
I wonder you didn't send for him yesterday?"
"Davy wouldn't have him," apologized his uncle.
"Wouldn't he ?" said Lyddy with cheerful scorn.
"He has you under pretty good control, hasn't he?
But children are unmerciful tyrants."
"Couldn't you coax him into it before you go home?" asked Anthony
in a wheedling voice.
"I can try; but it isn't likely I can
influence him, if you can't. Still, if we both fail, I really don't
see what 's to prevent our sending for the doctor in spite of him.
He is as weak as a baby, you know, and can't sit up in bed:
what could he do? I will risk the consequences, if you will! "
There was a note of such amiable and winning sarcasm in all this,
such a cheery, invincible courage, such a friendly neighborliness
and cooperation, above all such a different tone from any
he was accustomed to hear in Edgewood, that Anthony Croft felt
warmed through to the core.
As he walked quickly along the road, he conjured up a vision
of autumn beauty from the few hints nature gave even to her sightless
ones on this glorious morning,--the rustle of a few fallen leaves under
his feet, the clear wine of the air, the full rush of the swollen river,
the whisking of the squirrels in the boughs, the crunch of their teeth
on the nuts, the spicy odor of the apples lying under the trees.
He missed his mother that morning more than he had missed her for years.
How neat she was, how thrifty, how comfortable, and how comforting!
His life was so dreary and aimless; and was it the best or the right one
for Davy, with his talent and dawning ambition? Would it not be better
to have Mrs. Buck live with them altogether, instead of coming twice a week,
as heretofore ? No; he shrank from that with a hopeless aversion born
of Saturday and Monday dinners in her company. He could hear her pour
her coffee into the saucer; hear the scraping of the cup on the rim,
and know that she was setting it sloppily down on the cloth. He could
remember her noisy drinking, the weight of her elbow on the table,
the creaking of her calico dress under the pressure of superabundant flesh.
Besides, she had tried to scrub his favorite violin with sapolio.
No, anything was better than Mrs. Buck as a constancy.
He took off his hat unconsciously as he entered Lyddy's sitting-room.
A gentle breeze blew one of the full red curtains towards him till
it fluttered about his shoulders like a frolicsome, teasing hand.
There was a sweet, pungent odor of pine boughs, a canary sang in the window,
the clock was trimmed with a blackberry vine; he knew the prickles,
and they called up to his mind the glowing tints he had loved so well.
His sensitive hand, that carried a divining rod in every finger-tip,
met a vase on the shelf, and, traveling upward, touched a full branch
of alder berries tied about with a ribbon. The ribbon would be red;
the woman who arranged this room would make no mistake; for in one morning
Anthony Croft had penetrated the secret of Lyddy's true personality,
and in a measure had sounded the shallows that led to the depths
of her nature.
Lyddy went home at seven o'clock that night rather reluctantly.
The doctor had said Mr. Croft could sit up with the boy unless he grew
much worse, and there was no propriety in her staying longer unless
there was danger.
"You have been very good to me," Anthony said gravely,
as he shook her hand at parting,--"very good."
They stood together on the doorstep. A distant bell,
called to evening prayer-meeting; the restless murmur of the river
and the whisper of the wind in the pines broke the twilight stillness.
The long, quiet day together, part of it spent by the sick child's bedside,
had brought the two strangers curiously near to each other.
"The house hasn't seemed so sweet and fresh since my mother died,"
he went on, as he dropped her hand, "and I haven't had so many flowers
and green things in it since I lost my eyesight."
"Was it long ago?"
"Ten years. Is that long?"
"Long to bear a burden."
"I hope you know little of burden-bearing?"
"I know little else."
"I might have guessed it from the alacrity with which
you took up Davy's and mine. You must be very happy to have
the power to make things straight and sunny and wholesome;
to breathe your strength into helplessness such as mine.
I thank you, and I envy you. Good-night."
Lyddy turned on her heel without a word; her mind was beyond
and above words. The sky seemed to have descended upon, enveloped her,
caught her up into its heaven, as she rose into unaccustomed heights
of feeling, like Elijah in his chariot of fire. She very happy!
She with power, power to make things straight and sunny and wholesome!
She able to breathe strength into helplessness, even a consecrated,
Godsmitten helplessness like his! She not only to be thanked, but envied!
Her house seemed strange to her that night.
She went to bed in the dark, dreading even the light of a candle;
and before she turned down her counterpane she flung herself
on her knees, and poured out her soul in a prayer that had
been growing, waiting, and waited for, perhaps, for years:--
"O Lord, I thank Thee for health and strength and life.
I never could do it before, but I thank Thee to-night for life
on any terms. I thank Thee for this home; for the chance
of helping another human creature, stricken like myself;
for the privilege of ministering to a motherless child.
Make me to long only for the beauty of holiness, and to be
satisfied if I attain to it. Wash my soul pure and clean,
and let that be the only mirror in which I see my face.
I have tried to be useful. Forgive me if it always seemed
so hard and dreary a life. Forgive me if I am too happy because
for one short day I have really helped in a beautiful way,
and found a friend who saw, because he was blind, the real
me underneath; the me that never was burned by the fire;
the me that isn't disfigured, unless my wicked discontent
has done it; the me that has lived on and on and on,
starving to death for the friendship and sympathy and love
that come to other women. I have spent my forty years in
the wilderness, feeding on wrath and bitterness and tears.
Forgive me, Lord, and give me one more vision of the blessed
land of Canaan, even if I never dwell there."
"Nor less the eternal poles
Of tendency distribute souls.
There need no vows to bind
Whom not each other seek, but find."
Emerson's _Celestial Love._
Davy's sickness was a lingering one. Mrs. Buck came for two or
three hours a day, but Lyddy was the self-installed angel of the house;
and before a week had passed the boy's thin arms were around her neck,
his head on her loving shoulder, and his cheek pressed against hers.
Anthony could hear them talk, as he sat in the kitchen busy at
his work. Musical instruments were still brought him to repair,
though less frequently than of yore, and he could still make
many parts of violins far better than his seeing competitors.
A friend and pupil sat by his side in the winter evenings
and supplemented his weakness, helping and learning alternately,
while his blind master's skill filled him with wonder and despair.
The years of struggle for perfection had not been wasted;
and though the eye that once detected the deviation of a hair's
breadth could no longer tell the true from the false, yet nature
had been busy with her divine work of compensation.
The one sense stricken with death, she poured floods of new life and
vigor into the others. Touch became something more than the stupid,
empty grasp of things we seeing mortals know, and in place of the two
eyes he had lost he now had ten in every finger-tip. As for odors,
let other folks be proud of smelling musk and lavender, but let him
tell you by a quiver of the nostrils the various kinds of so-called
scentless flowers, and let him bend his ear and interpret secrets
that the universe is ever whispering to us who are pent in partial
deafness because, forsooth, we see.
He often paused to hear Lydia's low, soothing tones and the boy's
weak treble. Anthony had said to him once, "Miss Butterfield is very
beautiful, isn't she, Davy? You haven't painted me a picture of her yet.
How does she look ?"
Davy was stricken at first with silent embarrassment.
He was a truthful child, but in this he could no more have
told the whole truth than he could have cut off his hand.
He was knit to Lyddy by every tie of gratitude and affection.
He would sit for hours with his expectant face pressed against
the window-pane, and when he saw her coming down the shady
road he was filled with a sense of impending comfort and joy.
"NO," he said hesitatingly, "she isn't pretty, nunky, but she's sweet
and nice and dear, Everything on her shines, it's so clean; and when she
comes through the trees, with her white apron and her purple calico dress,
your heart jumps, because you know she's going to make everything pleasant.
Her hair has a pretty wave in it, and her hand is soft on your forehead;
and it's most worth while being sick just to have her in the house."
Meanwhile, so truly is "praise our fructifying sun," Lydia bloomed
into a hundred hitherto unsuspected graces of mind and heart and speech.
A sly sense of humor woke into life, and a positive talent for conversation,
latent hitherto because she had never known any one who cared
to drop a plummet into the crystal springs of her consciousness.
When the violin was laid away, she would sit in the twilight, by Davy's sofa,
his thin hand in hers, and talk with Anthony about books and flowers
and music, and about the meaning of life, too,--its burdens and mistakes,
and joys and sorrows; groping with him in the darkness to find
a clue to God's purposes.
Davy had long afternoons at Lyddy's house as the autumn
grew into winter. He read to her while she sewed rags
for a new sitting-room carpet, and they played dominoes
and checkers together in the twilight before supper time,--
suppers that were a feast to the boy, after Mrs. Buck's cookery.
Anthony brought his violin sometimes of an evening,
and Almira Berry, the next neighbor on the road to the Mills,
would drop in and join the little party. Almira used to sing
Auld Robin Gray, What Will You Do, Love, and Robin Adair,
to the great enjoyment of everybody; and she persuaded Lyddy
to buy the old church melodeon, and learn to sing alto in Oh,
Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast, Gently, Gently Sighs the Breeze,
and I know a Bank. Nobody sighed for the gayeties and advantages
of a great city when, these concerts being over, Lyddy would
pass crisp seedcakes and raspberry shrub, doughnuts and cider,
or hot popped corn and molasses candy.
"But there, she can afford to," said aunt Hitty Tarbox;
"she's pretty middlin' wealthy for Edgewood. And it's lucky she
is, for she 'bout feeds that boy o' Croft's. No wonder
he wants her to fill him up, after six years of the Widder
Buck's victuals. Aurelia Buck can take good flour and sugar,
sweet butter and fresh eggs, and in ten strokes of her hand she
can make 'em into something the very hogs 'll turn away from.
I declare, it brings the tears to my eyes sometimes
when I see her coming out of Croft's Saturday afternoons,
and think of the stone crocks full of nasty messes she's
left behind her for that innocent man and boy to eat up....
Anthony goes to see Miss Butterfield consid'able often.
Of course it's awstensibly to walk home with Davy,
or do an errand or something, but everybody knows better.
She went down to Croft's pretty nearly every day when his cousin
from Bridgton come to house-clean. She suspicioned something,
I guess. Anyhow, she asked me if Miss Butterfield's two hundred
a year was in gov'ment bonds. Anthony's eyesight ain't good,
but I guess he could make out to cut cowpons off.... It
would be strange if them two left-overs should take an'
marry each other; though, come to think of it, I don't
know's 't would neither. He's blind, to be sure, and can't
see her scarred face. It's a pity she ain't deef,
so't she can't hear his everlastin' fiddle. She's lucky
to get any kind of a husband; she's too humbly to choose.
I declare, she reminds me of a Jack-o'-lantern, though
if you look at the back of her, or see her in meetin'
with a thick veil on, she's about the best appearin' woman in
Edgewood.... I never see anybody stiffen up as Anthony has.
He had me make him three white shirts and three gingham ones,
with collars and cuffs on all of 'em. It seems as if six
shirts at one time must mean something out o' the common!"
Aunt Hitty was right; it did mean something out of the common.
It meant the growth of an all-engrossing, grateful,
divinely tender passion between two love-starved souls.
On the one hand, Lyddy, who though she had scarcely known
the meaning of love in all her dreary life, yet was as full
to the brim of all sweet, womanly possibilities of loving
and giving as any pretty woman; on the other, the blind
violin-maker, who had never loved any woman but his mother,
and who was in the direst need of womanly sympathy and affection.
Anthony Croft, being ministered unto by Lyddy's kind hands,
hearing her sweet voice and her soft footstep, saw her as God sees,
knowing the best; forgiving the worst, like God, and forgetting it,
still more like God, I think.
And Lyddy? There is no pen worthy to write of Lyddy.
Her joy lay deep in her heart like a jewel at the bottom of a clear pool,
so deep that no ripple or ruffle on the surface could disturb
the hidden treasure. If God had smitten these two with one hand,
he had held out the other in tender benediction.
There had been a pitiful scene of unspeakable solemnity
when Anthony first told Lyddy that he loved her, and asked her
to be his wife. He had heard all her sad history by this time,
though not from her own lips, and his heart went out to her
all the more for the heavy cross that had been laid upon her.
He had the wit and wisdom to put her affliction quite out
of the question, and allude only to her sacrifice in marrying
a blind man, hopelessly and helplessly dependent on her sweet
offices for the rest of his life, if she, in her womanly mercy,
would love him and help him bear his burdens.
When his tender words fell upon Lyddy's dazed brain
she sank beside his chair, and, clasping his knees, sobbed:
"I love you, I cannot help loving you, I cannot help
telling you I love you! But you must hear the truth;
you have heard it from others, but perhaps they softened it.
If I marry you, people will always blame me and pity you.
You would never ask me to be your wife if you could see my face;
you could not love me an instant if you were not blind."
"Then I thank God unceasingly for my infirmity," said Anthony Croft,
as he raised her to her feet.
. . . . . .
Anthony and Lyddy Croft sat in the apple orchard,
one warm day in late spring.
Anthony's work would have puzzled a casual on-looker. Ten stout
wires were stretched between two trees, fifteen or twenty feet apart,
and each group of five represented the lines of the musical staff.
Wooden bars crossed the wires at regular intervals, dividing the staff
into measures. A box with many compartments sat on a stool beside him,
and this held bits of wood that looked like pegs, but were in reality whole,
half, quarter, and eighth notes, rests, flats, sharps, and the like.
These were cleft in such a way that he could fit them on the wires
almost as rapidly as his musical theme came to him, and Lyddy had learned
to transcribe with pen and ink the music she found in wood and wire,
He could write only simple airs in this way, but when he played
them on the violin they were transported into a loftier region,
such genius lay in the harmony, the arabesque, the delicate lacework
of embroidery with which the tune was inwrought; now high, now low,
now major, now minor, now sad, now gay, with the one thrilling,
haunting cadence recurring again and again, to be watched for, longed for,
and greeted with a throb of delight.
Davy was reading at the window, his curly head buried
in a well-worn Shakespeare opened at Midsummer Night's Dream.
Lyddy was sitting under her favorite pink apple-tree, a mass
of fragrant bloom, more beautiful than Aurora's morning gown.
She was sewing; lining with snowy lawn innumerable pockets in a
square basket that she held in her lap. The pockets were small,
the needles were fine, the thread was a length of cobweb.
Everything about the basket was small except the hopes that she
was stitching into it; they were so great that her heart
could scarcely hold them. Nature was stirring everywhere.
The seeds were springing in the warm earth. The hens
were clucking to their downy chicks just out of the egg.
The birds were flying hither and thither in the apple boughs,
and there was one little home of straw so hung that Lyddy could
look into it and see the patient mother brooding her nestlings.
The sight of her bright eyes, alert for every sign of danger,
sent a rush of feeling through Lyddy's veins that made her long
to clasp the little feathered mother to her own breast.
A sweet gravity and consecration of thought possessed her,
and the pink blossoms falling into her basket were not more delicate
than the rose-colored dreams that flushed her soul.
Anthony put in the last wooden peg, and taking up his violin called,
"Davy, lad, come out and tell me what this means!"
Davy was used to this; from a wee boy he had been asked
to paint the changing landscape of each day, and to put into
words his uncle's music.
Lyddy dropped her needle, the birds stopped to listen,
and Anthony played.
"It is this apple orchard in May time," said Davy;
"it is the song of the green things growing, isn't it?"
"What do you say, dear?" asked Anthony, turning to his wife.
Love and hope had made a poet of Lyddy. "I think Davy is right,"
she said. "It is a dream of the future, the story of all new and
beautiful things growing out of the old. It is full of the sweetness
of present joy, but there is promise and hope in it besides.
It is like the Spring sitting in the lap of Winter, and holding
a baby Summer in her bosom."
Davy did not quite understand this, though he thought it pretty;
but Lyddy's husband did, and when the boy went back to his books,
he took his wife in his arms and kissed her twice,--once for herself,
and then once again.
In the little villages along the Saco River,
in the year 1850 or thereabouts, the arrival and departure
of the stage-coach was the one exciting incident of the day.
It did not run on schedule time in those days, but started
from Limington or Saco, as the case might be, at about or
somewhere near a certain hour, and arrived at the other end
of the route whenever it got there. There were no trains to meet
(the railway popularly known as the "York and Yank'em" was not built
till 1862); the roads were occasionally good and generally bad;
and thus it was often dusk, and sometimes late in the evening,
when the lumbering vehicle neared its final destination
and drew up to the little post-offices along the way.
However late it might be, the village postmaster had to be on hand
to receive and open the mailbags; after which he distributed
the newspapers and letters in a primitive set of pine
pigeon-holes on the wall, turned out the loafers, "banked up"
the fire, and went home to bed.
"Life" Lane was a jolly good fellow,--just the man to sit on the box
seat and drive the three horses through ruts and "thank-you-ma'ams,"
slush and mud and snow. There was a perennial twinkle in his eye,
his ruddy cheeks were wrinkled with laughter, and he had a good story
forever on the tip of his tongue. He stood six feet two in his stockings
(his mother used to say she had the longest Life of any woman in the
State o' Maine); his shoulders were broad in proportion, and his lungs
just the sort to fill amply his noble chest. Therefore, when he had
what was called in the vernacular "turrible bad goin'," and when any other
stage-driver in York County would have shrunk into his muffler and snapped
and snarled on the slightest provocation, Life Lane opened his great
throat when he passed over the bridges at Moderation or Bonny Eagle,
and sent forth a golden, sonorous "Yo ho! halloo!" into the still air.
The later it was and the stormier it was, the more vigor he put into
the note, and it was a drowsy postmaster indeed who did not start
from his bench by the fire at the sound of that ringing halloo.
Thus the old stage-coach, in Life Lane's time, was generally called "The
Midnight Cry," and not such a bad name either, whether the term was derisively
applied because the stage was always late; or whether Life's "Yo ho!"
had caught the popular fancy.
There was a pretty girl in Pleasant River (and, alas! another in
Bonny Eagle) who went to bed every night with the chickens, but stayed awake
till she heard first the rumble of heavy wheels on a bridge, then a faint,
bell-like tone that might have come out of the mouth of a silver horn;
whereupon she blushed as if it were an offer of marriage, and turned
over and went to sleep.
If the stage arrived in good season, Life would have a few minutes
to sit on the loafers' beach beside the big open fire; and what a
feature he was, with his tales culled from all sorts of passengers,
who were never so fluent as when sitting beside him "up in front!"
There was a tallow dip or two, and no other light save that of the fire.
Who that ever told a story could wish a more inspiring auditor than
Jacob Bean, a literal, honest old fellow who took the most
vital interest in every detail of the stories told, looking upon
their heroes and their villains as personal friends or foes.
He always sat in one corner of the fireplace, poker in hand,
and the crowd tacitly allowed him the role of Greek chorus.
Indeed, nobody could have told a story properly without Jake Bean's
parentheses and punctuation marks poked in at exciting junctures.
"That 's so every time!" he would say, with a lunge at the forestick.
"I'll bate he was glad then!" with another stick flung on in just
the right spot. "Golly! but that served 'em right!" with a thrust
at the backlog.
The New England story seemed to flourish under these conditions:
a couple of good hard benches in a store or tavern, where you could
not only smoke and chew but could keep on your hat (there was not a man
in York County in those days who could say anything worth hearing
with his hat off); the blazing logs to poke; and a cavernous fireplace
into which tobacco juice could be neatly and judiciously directed.
Those were good old times, and the stage-coach was a mighty thing
when school children were taught to take off their hats and make
a bow as the United States mail passed the old stage tavern.
Life Lane's coaching days were over long before this story begins,
but the Midnight Cry was still in pretty fair condition, and was driven
ostensibly by Jeremiah Todd, who lived on the "back-nippin'" road from
Bonny Eagle to Limington.
When I say ostensibly driven, I but follow the lead of
the villagers, who declared that, though Jerry held the reins,
Mrs. Todd drove the stage, as she drove everything else.
As a proof of this lady's strong individuality, she was still
generally spoken of as "the Widder Bixby," though she had been
six years wedded to Jeremiah Todd. The Widder Bixby, then,
was strong, self-reliant, valiant, indomitable. Jerry Todd was,
to use his wife's own characterization, so soft you could
stick a cat's tail into him without ruffling the fur.
He was always alluded to as "the Widder Bixby's husband;"
but that was no new or special mortification, for he had been
known successively as Mrs. Todd's youngest baby, the Widder
Todd's only son, Susan Todd's brother, and, when Susan Todd's
oldest boy fought at Chapultepec, William Peck's uncle.
The Widder Bixby's record was far different.
She was the mildest of the four Stover sisters of Scarboro,
and the quartette was supposed to have furnished more kinds
of temper than had ever before come from one household.
When Peace, the eldest, was mad, she frequently kicked the churn
out of the kitchen door, cream and all,--and that lost
her a husband.
Love, the second, married, and according to local tradition once
kicked her husband all the way up Foolscap Hill with a dried cod-fish.
Charity, the third, married too, -- for the Stovers of Scarboro were
handsome girls, but she got a fit mate in her spouse. She failed
to intimidate him, for he was a foeman worthy of her steel;
but she left his bed and board, and left in a manner that kept up
the credit of the Stover family of Scarboro.
They had had a stormy breakfast one morning before he started
to Portland with a load of hay. "Good-by," she called,
as she stood in the door, "you've seen the last of me!"
"No such luck!" he said, and whipped up his horse.
Charity baked a great pile of biscuits, and left them
on the kitchen table with a pitcher of skimmed milk.
(She wouldn't give him anything to complain of, not she!)
She then put a few clothes in a bundle, and, tying on her shaker,
prepared to walk to Pleasant River, twelve miles distant.
As she locked the door and put the key in its accustomed place
under the mat, a pleasant young man drove up and explained
that he was the advance agent of the Sypher's Two-in-One
Menagerie and Circus, soon to appear in that vicinity.
He added that he should be glad to give her five tickets
to the entertainment if she would allow him to paste a few
handsome posters on that side of her barn next the road;
that their removal was attended with trifling difficulty,
owing to the nature of a very superior paste invented by himself;
that any small boy, in fact, could tear them off in an hour,
and be well paid by the gift of a ticket.
The devil entered into Charity (not by any means for the first
time), and she told the man composedly that if he would give her
ten tickets he might paper over the cottage as well as the barn,
for they were going to tear it down shortly and build a larger one.
The advance agent was delighted, and they passed a pleasant
hour together; Charity holding the paste-pot, while the talkative
gentleman glued six lions and an elephant on the roof,
a fat lady on the front door, a tattooed man between the windows,
living skeletons on the blinds, and ladies insufficiently
clothed in all the vacant spaces and on the chimneys.
Nobody went by during the operation, and the agent remarked,
as he unhitched his horse, that he had never done a neater job.
"Why, they'll come as far to see your house as they will
to the circus!" he exclaimed.
"I calculate they will," said Charity, as she latched the gate
and started for Pleasant River.
I am not telling Charity Stover's story, so I will only add
that the bill-poster was mistaken in the nature of his paste,
and greatly undervalued its adhesive properties.
The temper of Prudence, the youngest sister, now Mrs. Todd,
paled into insignificance beside that of the others, but it was
a very pretty thing in tempers nevertheless, and would have been
thought remarkable in any other family in Scarboro.
You may have noted the fact that it is a person's virtues
as often as his vices that make him difficult to live with.
Mrs. Todd's masterfulness and even her jealousy might have
been endured, by the aid of fasting and prayer, but her neatness,
her economy, and her forehandedness made a combination that
only the grace of God could have abided with comfortably,
so that Jerry Todd's comparative success is a matter of
local tradition. Punctuality is a praiseworthy virtue enough,
but as the years went on, Mrs. Todd blew her breakfast horn
at so early an hour that the neighbors were in some doubt
as to whether it might not herald the supper of the day before.
They also predicted that she would have her funeral before she
was fairly dead, and related with great gusto that when she
heard there was to be an eclipse of the sun on Monday,
the 26th of July, she wished they could have it the 25th,
as Sunday would be so much more convenient than wash-day.
She had oilcloth on her kitchen to save the floor, and oilcloth
mats to save the oilcloth; yet Jerry's boots had to be taken off
in the shed, and he was required to walk through in his stocking feet.
She blackened her stove three times a day, washed her dishes in the woodhouse,
in order to keep her sink clean, and kept one pair of blinds open
in the sitting-room, but spread newspapers over the carpet wherever
the sun shone in.
It was the desire of Jerry's heart to give up the
fatigues and exposures of stage-driving, and "keep store,"
but Mrs. Todd deemed it much better for him to be in the open
air than dealing out rum and molasses to a roystering crew.
This being her view of the case, it is unnecessary to state
that he went on driving the stage.
"Do you wear a flannel shirt, Jerry?" asked Pel Frost once.
"I don' know," he replied, "ask Mis' Todd; she keeps the books."
"Women-folks" (he used to say to a casual passenger), "like all
other animiles, has to be trained up before they're real good comp'ny.
You have to begin with 'em early, and begin as you mean to hold out.
When they once git in the habit of takin' the bit in their teeth and
runnin', it's too late for you to hold 'em in."
It was only to strangers that he aired his convictions
on the training of "womenfolks," though for that matter
he might safely have done it even at home; for everybody
in Limington knew that it would always have been too late
to begin with the Widder Bixby, since, like all the Stovers
of Scarboro, she had been born with the bit in her teeth.
Jerry had never done anything he wanted to since he had
married her, and he hadn't really wanted to do that.
He had been rather candid with her on this point (as candid
as a tender-hearted and obliging man can be with a woman who is
determined to marry him, and has two good reasons why she should
to every one of his why he shouldn't), and this may have been
the reason for her jealousy. Although by her superior force
she had overborne his visible reluctance, she, being a woman,
or at all events of the female gender, could never quite forget
that she had done the wooing.
Certainly his charms were not of the sort to tempt women from the strict
and narrow path, yet the fact remained that the Widder Bixby was jealous,
and more than one person in Limington was aware of it.
Pelatiah, otherwise "Pel" Frost, knew more about the matter than most
other folks, because he had unlimited time to devote to general culture.
Though not yet thirty years old, he was the laziest man in York County.
(Jabe Slocum had not then established his record; and Jot Bascom had ruined
his by cutting his hay before it was dead in the summer of '49, always alluded
to afterwards in Pleasant River as the year when gold was discovered
and Jot Bascom cut his hay.)
Pel was a general favorite in half a dozen villages,
where he was the life of the loafers' bench. An energetic
loafer can attend properly to one bench, but it takes
genius as well as assiduity to do justice to six of them.
His habits were decidedly convivial, and he spent a good deal
of time at the general musters, drinking and carousing with
the other ne'er-do-weels. You may be sure he was no favorite
of Mrs. Todd's; and she represented to him all that is most
undesirable in womankind, his taste running decidedly to rosy,
smiling, easy-going ones who had no regular hours for meals,
but could have a dinner on the table any time in fifteen
minutes after you got there.
Now, a certain lady with a noticeable green frock and a white
"drawn-in" cape bonnet had graced the Midnight Cry on its journey
from Limington to Saco on three occasions during the month of July.
Report said that she was a stranger who had appeared at the post-office
in a wagon driven by a small, freckled boy.
The first trip passed without comment; the second
provoked some discussion; on the occasion of the third,
Mrs. Todd said nothing, because there seemed nothing to say,
but she felt so out-of-sorts that she cut Jerry's hair close
to his head, though he particularly fancied the thin fringe
of curls at the nape of his neck.
Pel Frost went over to Todd's one morning to borrow an axe,
and seized a favorable opportunity to ask casually, "Oh, Mis'
Todd, did Jerry find out the name o' that woman in a green dress
and white bunnit that rid to Saco with him last week?"
"Mr. Todd's got something better to do than get acquainted
with his lady passengers," snapped Mrs. Todd, "'specially as they
always ride inside."
"I know they gen'ally do," said Pel, shouldering the axe
(it was for his mother's use), but this one rides up in front part o'
the way, so I thought mebbe Jerry 'd find out something 'bout her.
She's han'some as a picture, but she must have a good strong back
to make the trip down 'n' up in one day."
Nothing could have been more effective or more
effectual than this blow dealt with consummate skill.
Having thus driven the iron into Mrs. Todd's soul,
Pel entertained his mother with an account of the interview
while she chopped the kindling-wood. He had no special end
in view when, Iago-like, he dropped his first poisoned seed
in Mrs. Todd's fertile mind, or, at most, nothing worse
than the hope that matters might reach an unendurable point,
and Jerry might strike for his altars and his fires.
Jerry was a man and a brother, and petticoat government must
be discouraged whenever and wherever possible, or the world would
soon cease to be a safe place to live in. Pel's idea grew upon
him in the night watches, and the next morning he searched his
mother's garret till he found a green dress and a white bonnet.
Putting them in a basket, he walked out on the road a little
distance till he met the stage, when, finding no passengers inside,
he asked Jerry to let him jump in and "ride a piece."
Once within, he hastily donned the green wrapper and tell-tale
headgear, and, when the Midnight Cry rattled down the stony hill
past the Todd house, Pel took good care to expose a large green
sleeve and the side of a white bonnet at the stage window.
It was easy enough to cram the things back into the basket,
jump out, and call a cordial thank you to the unsuspecting Jerry.
He was rewarded for his ingenuity and enterprise at night,
when he returned Mrs. Todd's axe, for just as he reached
the back door he distinctly heard her say that if she saw
that green woman on the stage again, she would knock her off
with a broomstick as sure as she was a Stover of Scarboro.
As a matter of fact she was equal to it. Her great-grandmother
had been born on a soil where the broomstick is a prominent
factor in settling connubial differences; and if it occurred
to her at this juncture, it is a satisfactory proof of the
theory of atavism.
Pel intended to see this domestic tragedy through to the end,
and accordingly took another brief trip in costume the very next week,
hoping to be the witness of a scene of blood and carnage.
But Mrs. Todd did not stir from her house, although he was confident
she had seen "my lady green-sleeves" from her post at the window.
Puzzled by her apathy, and much disappointed in her temper,
he took off the dress, and, climbing up in front, rode to Moderation,
where he received an urgent invitation to go over to the county fair
at Gorham. The last idea was always the most captivating to Pel,
and he departed serenely for a stay of several days without
so much luggage as a hairbrush. His mother's best clothespin basket,
to say nothing of its contents, appeared at this juncture to be
an unexpected incumbrance; so on the spur of the moment he handed
it up to Jerry just as the stage was starting, saying, "If Mis'
Todd has a brash to-night, you can clear yourself by showing
her this basket, but for massy sakes don't lay it on to me!
You can stan' it better'n I can,--you 're more used to it!"
Jerry took the basket, and when he was well out on the road
he looked inside and saw a bright green calico wrapper, a white
cape bonnet, a white "fall veil," and a pair of white cotton gloves.
He had ample time for reflection, for it was a hot day,
and though he drove slowly, the horses were sweating at every pore.
Pel Frost, then, must have overheard his wife's storm of reproaches,
perhaps even her threats of violence. It had come to this,
that he was the village laughing-stock, a butt of ridicule at
the store and tavern.
Now, two years before this, Jerry Todd had for the first
and only time in his married life "put his foot down."
Mrs. Todd had insisted on making him a suit of clothes
much against his wishes. When finished she put them
on him almost by main force, though his plaintive appeals
would have melted any but a Stover-of-Scarboro heart.
The stuff was a large plaid, the elbows and knees came
in the wrong places, the seat was lined with enameled cloth,
and the sleeves cut him in the armholes.
Mr. Todd said nothing for a moment, but the pent-up
slavery of years stirred in him, and, mounting to his brain,
gave him a momentary courage that resembled intoxication.
He retired, took off the suit, hung it over his arm, and, stalking
into the sitting-room in his undergarments, laid it on the table
before his astonished spouse, and, thumping it dramatically,
said firmly, "I--will--not--wear--them--clo'es!" whereupon
he fell into silence again and went to bed.
The joke of the matter was, that, all unknown to himself,
he had absolutely frightened Mrs. Todd. If only he could have realized
the impressiveness and the thorough success of his first rebellion!
But if he had realized it he could not have repeated it often,
for so much virtue went out of him on that occasion that he felt
hardly able to drive the stage for days afterward.
"I shall have to put down my foot agin," he said to himself
on the eventful morning when Pel presented him with the basket.
"Dern my luck, I've got to do it agin, when I ain't hardly got
over the other time." So, after an hour's plotting and planning,
he made some purchases in Biddeford and started on his return trip.
He was very low in his mind, thinking, if his wife really meditated
upon warfare, she was likely to inspect the stage that night,
but giving her credit in his inmost heart for too much common sense
to use a broomstick,--a woman with her tongue!
The Midnight Cry rattled on lumberingly. Its route had been shortened,
and Mrs. Todd wanted its name changed to something less outlandish,
such as the Rising Sun, or the Breaking Dawn, or the High Noon,
but her idea met with no votaries; it had been, was, and ever should be,
the Midnight Cry, no matter what time it set out or got back.
It had seen its best days, Jerry thought, and so had he, for that matter.
Yet he had been called "a likely feller" when he married the Widder Bixby,
or rather when she married him. Well, the mischief was done;
all that remained was to save a remnant of his self-respect,
and make an occasional dash for liberty.
He did all his errands with his usual care, dropping a blue
ribbon for Doxy Morton's Sunday hat, four cents' worth of
gum-camphor for Almira Berry, a spool of cotton for Mrs. Wentworth,
and a pair of "galluses" for Living Bean. He finally turned into
the "back-nippin'" road from Bonny Eagle to Limington, and when he was
within forty rods of his own house he stopped to water his horses.
If he feared a scene he had good reason, for as the horses climbed
the crest of the long hill the lady in green was by his side on the box.
He looked anxiously ahead, and there, in a hedge of young alder bushes,
he saw something stirring, and, unless he was greatly mistaken,
a birch broom lay on the ground near the hedge.
Notwithstanding these danger signals, Jerry's arm encircled
the plump waist of the lady in green, and, emboldened by the shades
of twilight, his lips sought the identical spot under the white
"fall veil" where her incendiary mouth might be supposed to lurk,
quite "fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils." This done,
he put on the brake and headed his horses toward the fence.
He was none too soon, for the Widder Bixby, broom in hand, darted out
from the alders and approached the stage with objurgations which,
had she rated them at their proper value, needed no supplement
in the way of blows. Jerry gave one terror-stricken look,
wound his reins round the whipstock, and, leaping from his seat,
disappeared behind a convenient tree.
At this moment of blind rage Mrs. Todd would have preferred to
chastise both her victims at once; but, being robbed of one by Jerry's
cowardly flight, her weapon descended upon the other with double force.
There was no lack of courage here at least. Whether the lady in green
was borne up by the consciousness of virtue, whether she was too
proud to retreat, or whatever may have been her animating reason,
the blow fell, yet she stood her ground and gave no answering shriek.
Enraged as much by her rival's cool resistance as by her own sense
of injury, the Widder Bixby aimed full at the bonnet beneath
which were the charms that had befuddled Jerry Todd's brain.
To blast the fatal beauty that had captivated her wedded husband
was the Widder Bixby's idea, and the broom descended.
A shower of seeds and pulp, a copious spattering of pumpkin juice,
and the lady in green fell resistlessly into her assailant's arms;
her straw body, her wooden arms and pumpkin head, decorating the earth
at her feet! Mrs. Todd stared helplessly at the wreck she had made,
not altogether comprehending the ruse that had led to her discomfiture,
but fully conscious that her empire was shaken to its foundations.
She glanced in every direction, and then hurling the hateful
green-and-white livery into the stage, she gathered up all traces
of the shameful fray, and sweeping them into her gingham apron ran
into the house in a storm of tears and baffled rage.
Jerry stayed behind the tree for some minutes, and when the coast
was clear he mounted the seat and drove to the store and the stable.
When he had put up his horses he went into the shed, took
off his boots as usual, but, despite all his philosophy, broke into
a cold sweat of terror as he crossed the kitchen threshold.
"I can't stand many more of these times when I put my foot down,"
he thought, "they're too weakening!"
But he need not have feared. There was a good supper under the
mosquito netting on the table, and, most unusual luxury, a pot of hot tea.
Mrs. Todd had gone to bed and left him a pot of tea!
Which was the more eloquent apology!
Jerry never referred to the lady in green, then or afterwards;
he was willing to let well enough alone; but whenever his spouse
passed a certain line, which, being a Stover of Scarboro,
she was likely to do about once in six months, he had only to summon
his recreant courage and glance meaningly behind the kitchen door,
where the birch broom hung on a nail. It was a simple remedy to
outward appearances, but made his declining years more comfortable.
I can hardly believe that he ever took Pel Frost into his confidence,
but Pel certainly was never more interesting to the loafers'
bench than when he told the story of the eventful trip of the Midnight
Cry and "the breaking in of the Widder Bixby."
1. On page 20, reentered is spelled with diaeresis over the second "e".
2. On pages 153 & 154 the verses beginning respectively "Rebel mourner"
and "This gro-o-oanin' world" are accompanied with staves of music in
the treble clef.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?