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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Story Of Waitstill Baxter - Autumn - Chapter 22. Harvest-Time
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The Story Of Waitstill Baxter - Autumn - Chapter 22. Harvest-Time Post by :harryhermit Category :Long Stories Author :Kate Douglas Wiggin Date :May 2012 Read :1439

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The Story Of Waitstill Baxter - Autumn - Chapter 22. Harvest-Time


NEW ENGLAND'S annual pageant of autumn was being unfolded day by day in all its accustomed splendor, and the feast and riot of color, the almost unimaginable glory, was the common property of the whole countryside, rich and poor, to be shared alike if perchance all eyes were equally alive to the wonder and the beauty.

Scarlet days and days of gold followed fast one upon the other; Saco Water flowing between quiet woodlands that were turning red and russet and brown, and now plunging through rocky banks all blazing with crimson.

Waitstill Baxter went as often as she could to the Boynton farm, though never when Ivory was at home, and the affection between the younger and the older woman grew closer and closer, so that it almost broke Waitstill's heart to leave the fragile creature, when her presence seemed to bring such complete peace and joy.

"No one ever clung to me so before," she often thought as she was hurrying across the fields after one of her half-hour visits. "But the end must come before long. Ivory does not realize it yet, nor Rodman, but it seems as if she could never survive the long winter. Thanksgiving Day is drawing nearer and nearer, and how little I am able to do for a single creature, to prove to God that I am grateful for my existence! I could, if only I were free, make such a merry day for Patty and Mark and their young friends. Oh! what joy if father were a man who would let me set a bountiful table in our great kitchen; would sit at the head and say grace, and we could bow our heads over the cloth, a united family! Or, if I had done my duty in my home and could go to that other where I am so needed--go with my father's blessing! If only I could live in that sad little house and brighten it! I would trim the rooms with evergreen and creeping-Jenny; I would put scarlet alder berries and white ever-lastings and blue fringed gentians in the vases! I would put the last bright autumn leaves near Mrs. Boynton's bed and set out a tray with a damask napkin and the best of my cooking; then I would go out to the back door where the woodbine hangs like a red waterfall and blow the dinner-horn for my men down in the harvest-field! All the woman in me is wasting, wasting! Oh! my dear, dear man, how I long for him! Oh! my own dear man, my helpmate, shall I ever live by his side? I love him, I want him, I need him! And my dear little unmothered, unfathered boy, how happy I could make him! How I should love to cook and sew for them all and wrap them in comfort! How I should love to smooth my dear mother's last days,--for she is my mother, in spirit, in affection, in desire, and in being Ivory's!"

Waitstill's longing, her discouragement, her helplessness, overcame her wholly, and she flung herself down under a tree in the pasture in a very passion of sobbing, a luxury in which she could seldom afford to indulge herself. The luxury was short-lived, for in five minutes she heard Rodman's voice, and heard him running to meet her as he often did when she came to their house or went away from it, dogging her footsteps or Patty's whenever or wherever he could waylay them.

"Why, my dear, dear Waity, did you tumble and hurt yourself?" the boy cried.

"Yes, dreadfully, but I'm better now, so walk along with me and tell me the news, Rod."

"There isn't much news. Ivory told you I'd left school and am studying at home? He helps me evenings and I'm 'way ahead of the class."

"No, Ivory didn't tell me. I haven't seen him lately."

"I said if the big brother kept school, the little brother ought to keep house," laughed the boy.

"He says I can hire out as a cook pretty soon! Aunt Boynton's 'most always up to get dinner and supper, but I can make lots of things now,-- things that Aunt Boynton can eat, too."

"Oh, I cannot bear to have you and Ivory cooking for yourselves!" exclaimed Waitstill, the tears starting again from her eyes. "I must come over the next time when you are at home, Rod, and I can help you make something nice for supper.

"We get along pretty well," said Rodman contentedly. "I love book-learning like Ivory and I'm going to be a schoolmaster or a preacher when Ivory's a lawyer. Do you think Patty'd like a schoolmaster or a preacher best, and do you think I'd be too young to marry her by and by, if she would wait for me?"

"I didn't think you had any idea of marrying Patty," laughed Waitstill through her tears. "Is this something new?"

"It's not exactly new," said Rod, jumping along like a squirrel in the path. "Nobody could look at Patty and not think about marrying her. I'd love to marry you, too, but you re too big and grand for a boy. Of course, I'm not going to ask Patty yet. Ivory said once you should never ask a girl until you can keep her like a queen; then after a minute he said: 'Well, maybe not quite like a queen, Rod, for that would mean longer than a man could wait. Shall we say until he could keep her like the dearest lady in the land?' That 's the way he said it.--You do cry dreadfully easy to-day, Waity; I'm sure you barked your leg or skinned your knee when you fell down.--Don't you think the 'dearest lady in the land' is a nice-sounding sentence?"

"I do, indeed!" cried Waitstill to herself as she turned the words over and over trying to feed her hungry heart with them.

"I love to hear Ivory talk; it's like the stories in the books. We have our best times in the barn, for I'm helping with the milking, now. Our yellow cow's name is Molly and the red cow used to be Dolly, but we changed her to Golly, 'cause she's so troublesome. Molly's an easy cow to milk and I can get almost all there is, though Ivory comes after me and takes the strippings. Golly swishes her tail and kicks the minute she hears us coming; then she stands stiff-legged and grits her teeth and holds on to her milk HARD, and Ivory has to pat and smooth and coax her every single time. Ivory says she's got a kind of an attachment inside of her that she shuts down when he begins to milk."

"We had a cross old cow like that, once," said Waitstill absently, loving to hear the boy's chatter and the eternal quotations from his beloved hero.

"We have great fun cooking, too," continued Rod. "When Aunt Boynton was first sick she stayed in bed more, and Ivory and I hadn't got used to things. One morning we bound up each other's burns. Ivory had three fingers and I two, done up in buttery rags to take the fire out. Ivory called us 'Soldiers dressing their Wounds after the Battle.' Sausages spatter dreadfully, don't they? And when you turn a pancake it flops on top of the stove. Can you flop one straight, Waity?"

"Yes, I can, straight as a die; that's what girls are made for. Now run along home to your big brother, and do put on some warmer clothes under your coat; the weather's getting colder."

"Aunt Boynton hasn't patched our thick ones yet, but she will soon, and if she doesn't, Ivory'll take this Saturday evening and do them himself; he said so."

"He shall not!" cried Waitstill passionately. "It is not seemly for Ivory to sew and mend, and I will not allow it. You shall bring me those things that need patching without telling any one, do you hear, and I will meet you on the edge of the pasture Saturday afternoon and give them back to you. You are not to speak of it to any one, you understand, or perhaps I shall pound you to a jelly. You'd make a sweet rosy jelly to eat with turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, you dear, comforting little boy!"

Rodman ran towards home and Waitstill hurried along, scarcely noticing the beauties of the woods and fields and waysides, all glowing masses of goldenrod and purple frost flowers. The stone walls were covered with wild-grape and feathery clematis vines. Everywhere in sight the cornfields lay yellow in the afternoon sun and ox carts heavily loaded with full golden ears were going home to the barns to be ready for husking.

A sudden breeze among the orchard boughs as she neared the house was followed by a shower of russets, and everywhere the red Baldwins gleamed on the apple-tree boughs, while the wind-falls were being gathered and taken to the cider mills. There was a grove of maples on the top of Town-House Hill and the Baxters' dooryard was a blaze of brilliant color. To see Patty standing under a little rock maple, her brown linsey-woolsey in I one with the landscape, and the hood of her brown cape pulled over her bright head, was a welcome for anybody. She looked flushed and excited as she ran up to her sister and said, "Waity, darling, you've been crying! Has father been scolding you?"

"No, dear, but my heart is aching to-day so that I can scarcely bear it. A wave of discouragement came over me as I was walking through the woods, and I gave up to it a bit. I remembered how soon it will be Thanksgiving Day, and I'll so like to make it happier for you and a few others that I love."

Patty could have given a shrewd guess as to the chief cause of the heartache, but she forebore to ask any questions. "Cheer up, Waity," she cried. "You never can tell; we may have a thankful Thanksgiving, after all! Who knows what may happen? I'm 'strung up' this afternoon and in a fighting mood. I've felt like a new piece of snappy white elastic all day; it's the air, just like wine, so cool and stinging and full of courage! Oh, yes, we won't give up hope yet awhile, Waity, not until we're snowed in!"

"Put your arms round me and give me a good hug, Patty! Love me hard, HARD, for, oh! I need it badly just now!"

And the two girls clung together for a moment and then went into the house with hands close-locked and a kind of sad, desperate courage in their young hearts. What would either of them have done, each of them thought, had she been forced to endure alone the life that went on day after day in Deacon Baxter's dreary house?

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