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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTimothy's Quest - Scene 10
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Timothy's Quest - Scene 10 Post by :DerekGehl Category :Long Stories Author :Kate Douglas Wiggin Date :May 2012 Read :3474

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Timothy's Quest - Scene 10

SCENE X

The Supper Table.

AUNT HITTY COMES TO "MAKE OVER," AND SUPPLIES BACK NUMBERS TO ALL THE VILLAGE HISTORIES.


Aunt Hitty, otherwise Mrs. Silas Tarbox, was as cheery and loquacious a person as you could find in a Sabbath day's journey. She was armed with a substantial amount of knowledge at almost every conceivable point; but if an unexpected emergency ever did arise, her imagination was equal to the strain put upon it and rose superior to the occasion. Yet of an evening, or on Sunday, she was no village gossip; it was only when you put a needle in her hand or a cutting-board in her lap that her memory started on its interminable journeyings through the fields of the past. She knew every biography and every "ought-to-be-ography" in the county, and could tell you the branches of every genealogical tree in the village.

It was dusk at the White Farm, and a late supper was spread upon the hospitable board. (Aunt Hitty was always sure of a bountiful repast. If one were going to economize, one would not choose for that purpose the day when the village seamstress came to sew; especially when the aforesaid lady served the community in the stead of a local newspaper.)

The children had eaten their bread and milk, and were out in the barn with Jabe, watching the milking. Aunt Hitty was in a cheerful mood as she reflected on her day's achievements. Out of Dr. Jonathan Cummins' old cape coat she had carved a pair of brief trousers and a vest for Timothy; out of Mrs. Jonathan Cummins' waterproof a serviceable jacket; and out of Deacon Abijah Cummins' linen duster an additional coat and vest for warm days. The owners of these garments had been dead many years, but nothing was ever thrown away (and, for that matter, very little given away) at the White Farm, and the ancient habiliments had finally been diverted to a useful purpose.

"I hope I shall relish my vittles to-night," said Aunt Hitty, as she poured her tea into her saucer, and set the cup in her little blue "cup-plate;" "but I've had the neuralgy so in my face that it's be'n more 'n ten days sence I've be'n able to carry a knife to my mouth.... Your meat vittles is always so tasty, Miss Cummins. I was sayin' to Mis' Sawyer last week I think she lets her beef hang too long. Its dretful tender, but I don't b'lieve its hullsome. For my part, as I've many a time said to Si, I like meat with some chaw to it.... Mis' Sawyer don't put half enough vittles on her table. She thinks it scares folks; it don't me a mite,--it makes me 's hungry as a wolf. When I set a table for comp'ny I pile on a hull lot, 'n' I find it kind o' discourages 'em.... Mis' Southwick's hevin' a reg'lar brash o' house-cleanin'. She's too p'ison neat for any earthly use, that woman is. She's fixed clam-shell borders roun' all her garding beds, an' got enough left for a pile in one corner, where she's goin' to set her oleander kag. Then she's bought a haircloth chair and got a new three-ply carpet in her parlor, 'n' put the old one in the spare-room 'n' the back-entry. Her daughter's down here from New Haven. She's married into one of the first families o' Connecticut, Lobelia has, 'n' she puts on a good many airs. She's rigged out her mother's parlor with lace curtains 'n' one thing 'n' 'other, 'n' wants it called the drawin'-room. Did ye ever hear tell such foolishness? 'Drawin'-room!' s' I to Si; 'what's it goin' to draw? Nothin' but flies, I guess likely!' ... Mis' Pennell's got a new girl to help round the house,--one o' them pindlin' light-complected Smith girls, from the Swamp,--look's if they was nussed on bonny-clabber. She's so hombly I sh'd think 't would make her back ache to carry her head round. She ain't very smart, neither. Her mother sent word she'd pick up 'n' do better when she got her growth. That made Mis' Pennell hoppin' mad. She said she didn't cal'late to pay a girl three shillin's a week for growin'. Mis' Pennell's be'n feelin' consid'able slim, or she wouldn't 'a' hired help; it's just like pullin' teeth for Deacon Pennell to pay out money for anything like that. He watches every mouthful the girl puts into her mouth, 'n' it's made him 'bout down sick to see her fleshin' up on his vittles.... They say he has her put the mornin' coffee-groun's to dry on the winder-sill, 'n' then has 'em scalt over for dinner; but, there! I don' know 's there's a mite o' truth in it, so I won't repeat it. They went to him to git a subscription for the new hearse the other day. Land sakes! we need one bad enough. I thought for sure, at the last funeral we had, that they'd never git Mis' Strout to the graveyard safe and sound. I kep' a-thinkin' all the way how she'd 'a' took on, if she'd be'n alive. She was the most timersome woman 't ever was. She was a Thomson, 'n' all the Thomsons was scairt at their own shadders. Ivory Strout rid right behind the hearse, 'n' he says his heart was in his mouth the hull durin' time for fear 't would break down. He didn't git much comfort out the occasion, I guess! Wa' n't he mad he hed to ride in the same buggy with his mother-in-law! The minister planned it all out, 'n' wrote down the order o' the mourners, 'n' passeled him out with old Mis' Thomson. I was stan'in' close by, 'n' I heard him say he s'posed he could go that way if he must, but 't would spile the hull blamed thing for him! ... Well, as I was sayin', the seleckmen went to Deacon Pennell to get a contribution towards buyin' the new hearse; an' do you know, he wouldn't give 'em a dollar? He told 'em he gave five dollars towards the other one, twenty years ago, 'n' hadn't never got a cent's worth o' use out of it. That's Deacon Pennell all over! As Si says, if the grace o' God wa'n't given to all of us without money 'n' without price, you wouldn't never hev ketched Deacon Pennell experiencin' religion! It's got to be a free gospel 't would convict him o' sin, that's certain! ... They say Seth Thatcher's married out in Iowy. His mother's tickled 'most to death. She heerd he was settin' up with a girl out there, 'n' she was scairt to death for fear he'd get served as Lemuel 'n' Cyrus was. The Thatcher boys never hed any luck gettin' married, 'n' they always took disappointments in love turrible hard. You know Cyrus set in that front winder o' Mis' Thatcher's, 'n' rocked back 'n' forth for ten year, till he wore out five cane-bottomed cheers, 'n' then rocked clean through, down cellar, all on account o' Crany Ann Sweat. Well, I hope she got her comeuppance in another world,--she never did in this; she married well 'n' lived in Boston.... Mis' Thatcher hopes Seth 'll come home to live. She's dretful lonesome in that big house, all alone. She'd oughter have somebody for a company-keeper. She can't see nothin' but trees 'n' cows from her winders.... Beats all, the places they used to put houses.... Either they'd get 'em right under foot so 't you'd most tread on 'em when you walked along the road, or else they'd set 'em clean back in a lane, where the women folks couldn't see face o' clay week in 'n' week out....

"Joel Whitten's widder's just drawed his pension along o' his bein' in the war o' 1812. ... It's took 'em all these years to fix it. ... Massy sakes! don't some folks have their luck buttered in this world?... She was his fourth wife, 'n' she never lived with him but thirteen days 'fore he up 'n' died. ... It doos seem's if the guv'ment might look after things a little mite closer.... Talk about Joel Whitten's bein' in the war o' 1812! Everybody knows Joel Whitten wouldn't have fit a skeeter! He never got any further 'n Scratch Corner, any way, 'n' there he clim a tree or hid behind a hen-coop somewheres till the regiment got out o' sight.... Yes: one, two, three, four,--Huldy was his fourth wife. His first was a Hogg, from Hoggses Mills. The second was Dorcas Doolittle, aunt to Jabe Slocum; she didn't know enough to make soap, Dorcas didn't.... Then there was Delia Weeks, from the lower corner.... She didn't live long.... There was some thin' wrong with Delia.... She was one o' the thin-blooded, white-livered kind.... You couldn't get her warm, no matter how hard you tried. ... She'd set over a roarin' fire in the cook-stove even in the prickliest o' the dog-days. ... The mill-folks used to say the Whittens burnt more cut-roun's 'n' stickens 'n any three fam'lies in the village. ... Well, after Delia died, then come Huldy's turn, 'n' it's she, after all, that's drawed the pension.... Huldy took Joel's death consid'able hard, but I guess she'll perk up, now she's come int' this money. ... She's awful leaky-minded, Huldy is, but she's got tender feelin's.... One day she happened in at noon-time, 'n' set down to the table with Si 'n' I.... All of a suddent she bust right out cryin' when Si was offerin' her a piece o' tripe, 'n' then it come out that she couldn't never bear the sight o' tripe, it reminded her so of Joel! It seems tripe was a favorite dish o' Joel's. All his wives cooked it firstrate.... Jabe Slocum seems to set consid'able store by them children, don't he?... I guess he'll never ketch up with his work, now he's got them hangin' to his heels.... He doos beat all for slowness! Slocum's a good name for him, that's certain. An' 's if that wa'n't enough, his mother was a Stillwell, 'n' her mother was a Doolittle!... The Doolittles was the slowest fam'ly in Lincoln County. (Thank you, I'm well helped, Samanthy.) Old Cyrus Doolittle was slower 'n a toad funeral. He was a carpenter by trade, 'n' he was twenty-five years buildin' his house; 'n' it warn't no great, either.... The stagin' was up ten or fifteen years, 'n' he shingled it four or five times before he got roun', for one patch o' shingles used to wear out 'fore he got the next patch on. He 'n' Mis' Doolittle lived in two rooms in the L. There was elegant banisters, but no stairs to 'em, 'n' no entry floors. There was a tip-top cellar, but there wa'n't no way o' gittin' down to it, 'n' there wa'n't no conductors to the cisterns. There was only one door panel painted in the parlor. Land sakes! the neighbors used to happen in 'bout every week for years 'n' years, hopin' he'd get another one finished up, but he never did,--not to my knowledge.... Why, it's the gospel truth that when Mis' Doolittle died he had to have her embalmed, so 't he could git the front door hung for the fun'ral! (No more tea, I thank you; my cup ain't out.) ... Speakin' o' slow folks, Elder Banks tells an awful good story 'bout Jabe Slocum.... There's another man down to Edgewood, Aaron Peek by name, that's 'bout as lazy as Jabe. An' one day, when the loafers roun' the store was talkin' 'bout 'em, all of a suddent they see the two of 'em startin' to come down Marm Berry's hill, right in plain sight of the store.... Well, one o' the Edgewood boys bate one o' the Pleasant River boys that they could tell which one of 'em was the laziest by the way they come down that hill.... So they all watched, 'n' bime by, when Jabe was most down to the bottom of the hill, they was struck all of a heap to see him break into a kind of a jog trot 'n' run down the balance o' the way. Well, then, they fell to quarrelin'; for o' course the Pleasant River folks said Aaron Peek was the laziest, 'n' the Edgewood boys declared he hedn't got no such record for laziness's Jabe Slocum hed; an' when they was explainin' of it, one way 'n' 'nother, Elder Banks come along, 'n' they asked him to be the judge. When he heerd tell how 't was, he said he agreed with the Edgewood folks that Jabe was lazier 'n Aaron. 'Well, I snum, I don't see how you make that out,' says the Pleasant River boys; 'for Aaron walked down, 'n' Jabe run a piece o' the way.' 'If Jabe Slocum run,' says the elder, as impressive as if he was preachin',--'if Jabe Slocum ever run, then 't was because he was _too doggoned lazy to hold back! 'an' that settled it!... (No, I couldn't eat another mossel, Miss Cummins; I've made out a splendid supper.) ... You can't git such pie 'n' doughnuts anywhere else in the village, 'n' what I say I mean.... Do you make your riz doughnuts with emptin's? I want to know! Si says there's more faculty in cookin' flour food than there is in meat-victuals, 'n' I guess he's 'bout right."

* * * * *

It was bedtime, and Timothy was in his little room carrying on the most elaborate and complicated plots for reading the future. It must be known that Jabe Slocum was as full of signs as a Farmer's Almanac, and he had given Timothy more than one formula for attaining his secret desires,--old, well-worn recipes for luck, which had been tried for generations in Pleasant River, and which were absolutely "certain" in their results. The favorites were:--


"Star bright, star light,
First star I've seen to-night,
Wish I may, wish I might,
Get the wish I wish to-night;"

and one still more impressive:--

"Four posts upon my bed,
Four corners overhead;
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed I _lay upon.
Matthew, John, Luke, and Mark,
Grant my wish and keep it dark."


These rhymes had been chanted with great solemnity, and Timothy sat by the open window in the sweet darkness of the summer night, wishing that he and Gay might stay forever in this sheltered spot. "I'll make a sign of my very own," he thought. "I'll get Gay's ankle-tie, and put it on the window-sill, with the toe pointing out. Then I'll wish that if we are going to stay at the White Farm, the angels will turn it around, 'toe in' to the room, for a sign to me; and if we've got to go, I'll wish they may leave it the other way; and, oh dear, but I'm glad it's so little and easy to move; and then I'll say Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, four times over, without stopping, as Jabe told me to, and then see how it turns out in the morning." ...

But the incantation was more soothing than the breath of Miss Vilda's scarlet poppies, and before the magical verse had fallen upon the drowsy air for the third time, Timothy was fast asleep, with a smile of hope on his parted lips.

There was a sweet summer shower in the night. The soft breezes, fresh from shaded dells and nooks of fern, fragrant with the odor of pine and vine and wet wood-violets, blew over the thirsty meadows and golden stubble-fields, and brought an hour of gentle rain.

It sounded a merry tintinnabulation on Samantha's milk-pans, wafted the scent of dripping honeysuckle into the farmhouse windows, and drenched the night-caps in which prudent farmers had dressed their haycocks.

Next morning, the green world stood on tiptoe to welcome the victorious sun, and every little leaf shone as a child's eyes might shine at the remembrance of a joy just past.

A meadow lark perched on a swaying apple-branch above Martha's grave, and poured out his soul in grateful melody; and Timothy, wakened by Nature's sweet good-morning, leaped from the too fond embrace of Miss Vilda's feather-bed.... And lo, a miracle!... The woodbine clung close to the wall beneath his window. It was tipped with strong young shoots reaching out their innocent hands to cling to any support that offered; and one baby tendril that seemed to have grown in a single night, so delicate it was, had somehow been blown by the sweet night wind from its drooping place on the parent vine, and, falling on the window-sill, had curled lovingly round Gay's fairy shoe, and held it fast!

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