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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTimothy's Quest - Scene 11
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Timothy's Quest - Scene 11 Post by :Tom_Brownsword Category :Long Stories Author :Kate Douglas Wiggin Date :May 2012 Read :769

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Timothy's Quest - Scene 11

SCENE XI

The Honeysuckle Porch.

MISS VILDA DECIDES THAT TWO IS ONE TOO MANY, AND TIMOTHY BREAKS A HUMMINGBIRD'S EGG.


It was a drowsy afternoon. The grasshoppers chirped lazily in the warm grasses, and the toads blinked sleepily under the shadows of the steps, scarcely snapping at the flies as they danced by on silver wings. Down in the old garden the still pools, in which the laughing brook rested itself here and there, shone like glass under the strong beams of the sun, and the baby horned-pouts rustled their whiskers drowsily and scarcely stirred the water as they glided slowly through its crystal depths.

The air was fragrant with the odor of new-mown grass and the breath of wild strawberries that had fallen under the sickle, to make the sweet hay sweeter with their crimson juices. The whir of the scythes and the clatter of the mowing machine came from the distant meadows. Field mice and ground sparrows were aware that it probably was all up with their little summer residences, for haying time was at its height, and the Giant, mounted on the Avenging Chariot, would speedily make his appearance, and buttercups and daisies, tufted grasses and blossoming weeds, must all bow their heads before him, and if there was anything more valuable hidden at their roots, so much the worse!

And if a bird or a mouse had been especially far-sighted and had located his family near a stump fence on a particularly uneven bit of ground, why there was always a walking Giant going about the edges with a gleaming scythe, so that it was no wonder, when reflecting on these matters after a day's palpitation, that the little denizens of the fields thought it very natural that there should be Nihilists and Socialists in the world, plotting to overturn monopolies and other gigantic schemes for crushing the people.

Rags enjoyed the excitement of haying immensely. But then, his life was one long holiday now anyway, and the close quarters, scanty fare, and wearisome monotony of Minerva Court only visited his memory dimly when he was suffering the pangs of indigestion. For in the first few weeks of his life at the White Farm, before his appetite was satiated, he was wont to eat all the white cat's food as well as his own; and as this highway robbery took place in the retirement of the shed, where Samantha Ann always swept them for their meals, no human being was any the wiser, and only the angels saw the white cat getting whiter and whiter and thinner and thinner, while every day Rags grew more corpulent and aldermanic in his figure. But as his stomach was more favorably located than an alderman's, he could still see the surrounding country, and he had the further advantage of possessing four legs (instead of two) to carry it about.

Timothy was happy, too, for he was a dreamer, and this quiet life harmonized well with the airy fabric of his dreams. He loved every stick and stone about the old homestead already, because the place had brought him the only glimpse of freedom and joy that he could remember in these last bare and anxious years; and if there were other and brighter years, far, far back in the misty gardens of the past, they only yielded him a secret sense of "having been," a memory that could never be captured and put into words.

Each morning he woke fearing to find his present life a vision, and each morning he gazed with unspeakable gladness at the sweet reality that stretched itself before his eyes as he stood for a moment at his little window above the honeysuckle porch.

There were the cucumber frames (he had helped Jabe to make them); the old summer house in the garden (he had held the basket of nails and handed Jabe the tools when he patched the roof); the little workshop where Samantha potted her tomato plants (and he had been allowed to water them twice, with fingers trembling at the thought of too little or too much for the tender things); and the grindstone where Jabe ground the scythes and told him stories as he sat and turned the wheel, while Gay sat beside them making dandelion chains. Yes, it was all there, and he was a part of it.

Timothy had all the poet's faculty of interpreting the secrets that are hidden in every-day things, and when he lay prone on the warm earth in the cornfield, deep among the "varnished crispness of the jointed stalks," the rustling of the green things growing sent thrills of joy along the sensitive currents of his being. He was busy in his room this afternoon putting little partitions in some cigar boxes, where, very soon, two or three dozen birds' eggs were to repose in fleece-lined nooks: for Jabe Slocum's collection of three summers (every egg acquired in the most honorable manner, as he explained), had all passed into Timothy's hands that very day, in consideration of various services well and conscientiously performed. What a delight it was to handle the precious bits of things, like porcelain in their daintiness!--to sort out the tender blue of the robin, the speckled beauty of the sparrow; to put the pee-wee's and the thrush's each in its place, with a swift throb of regret that there would have been another little soft throat bursting with a song, if some one had not taken this pretty egg. And there was, over and above all, the never ending marvel of the one humming-bird's egg that lay like a pearl in Timothy's slender brown hand. Too tiny to be stroked like the others, only big enough to be stealthily kissed. So tiny that he must get out of bed two or three times in the night to see if it is safe. So tiny that he has horrible fears lest it should slip out or be stolen, and so he must take the box to the window and let the moonlight shine upon the fleecy cotton, and find that it is still there, and cover it safely over again and creep back to bed, wishing that he might see a "thumb's bigness of burnished plumage" sheltering it with her speck of a breast. Ah! to have a little humming-bird's egg to love, and to feel that it was his very own, was something to Timothy, as it is to all starved human hearts full of love that can find no outlet.

Miss Vilda was knitting, and Samantha was shelling peas, on the honeysuckle porch. It had been several days since Miss Cummins had gone to the city, and had come back no wiser than she went, save that she had made a somewhat exhaustive study of the slums, and had acquired a more intimate knowledge of the ways of the world than she had ever possessed before. She had found Minerva Court, and designated it on her return as a "sink of iniquity," to which Afric's sunny fountains, India's coral strand, and other tropical localities frequented by missionaries were virtuous in comparison.

"For you don't expect anything of black heathens," said she; "but there ain't any question in my mind about the accountability of folks livin' in a Christian country, where you can wear clothes and set up to an air-tight stove and be comfortable, to say nothin' of meetinghouses every mile or two, and Bible Societies and Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Associations, and the gospel free to all with the exception of pew rents and contribution boxes, and those omitted when it's necessary."

She affirmed that the ladies and gentlemen whose acquaintance she had made in Minerva Court were, without exception, a "mess of malefactors," whose only good point was that, lacking all human qualities, they didn't care who she was, nor where she came from, nor what she came for; so that as a matter of fact she had escaped without so much as leaving her name and place of residence. She learned that Mrs. Nancy Simmons had sought pastures new in Montana; that Miss Ethel Montmorency still resided in the metropolis, but did not choose to disclose her modest dwelling-place to the casual inquiring female from the rural districts; that a couple of children had disappeared from Minerva Court, if they remembered rightly, but that there was no disturbance made about the matter as it saved several people much trouble; that Mrs. Morrison had had no relations, though she possessed a large circle of admiring friends; that none of the admiring friends had called since her death or asked about the children; and finally that Number 3 had been turned into a saloon, and she was welcome to go in and slake her thirst for information with something more satisfactory than she could get outside.

The last straw, and one that would have broken the back of any self-respecting (unmarried) camel in the universe, was the offensive belief, on the part of the Minerva Courtiers, that the rigid Puritan maiden who was conducting the examination was the erring mother of the children, visiting (in disguise) their former dwelling-place. The conversation on this point becoming extremely pointed and jocose, Miss Cummins finally turned and fled, escaping to the railway station as fast as her trembling legs could carry her. So the trip was a fruitless one, and the mystery that enshrouded Timothy and Lady Gay was as impenetrable as ever.

"I wish I'd 'a' gone to the city with you," remarked Samantha. "Not that I could 'a' found out anything more 'n you did, for I guess there ain't anybody thereabouts that knows more 'n we do, and anybody 't wants the children won't be troubled with the relation. But I'd like to give them bold-faced jigs 'n' hussies a good piece o' my mind for once! You're too timersome, Vildy! I b'lieve I'll go some o' these days yet, and carry a good stout umbrella in my hand too. It says in a book somewhar's that there's insults that can only be wiped out in blood. Ketch 'em hintin' that I'm the mother of anybody, that's all! I declare I don' know what our Home Missionary Societies's doin' not to regenerate them places or exterminate 'em, one or t' other. Somehow our religion don't take holt as it ought to. It takes a burnin' zeal to clean out them slum places, and burnin' zeal ain't the style nowadays. As my father used to say, 'Religion's putty much like fish 'n' pertetters; if it's hot it's good, 'n' if it's cold 'tain't wuth a'--well, a short word come in there, but I won't say it. Speakin' o' religion, I never had any experience in teachin', but I didn't s'pose there was any knack 'bout teachin' religion, same as there is 'bout teachin' readin' 'n' 'rithmetic, but I hed hard work makin' Timothy understand that catechism you give him to learn the other Sunday. He was all upsot with doctrine when he come to say his lesson. Now you can't scare some children with doctrine, no matter how hot you make it, or mebbe they don't more 'n half believe it; but Timothy's an awful sensitive creeter, 'n' when he come to that answer to the question 'What are you then by nature? An enemy to God, a child of Satan, and an heir of hell,' he hid his head on my shoulder and bust right out cryin'. 'How many Gods is there?' s' e, after a spell. 'Land!' thinks I, 'I knew he was a heathen, but if he turns out to be an idolater, whatever shall I do with him!' 'Why, where've you ben fetched up?' s' I. 'There's only one God, the High and Mighty Ruler of the Univarse,' s' I. 'Well,' s' e', 'there must be more 'n one, for the God in this lesson isn't like the one in Miss Dora's book at all!' Land sakes! I don't want to teach catechism agin in a hurry, not tell I've hed a little spiritual instruction from the minister. The fact is, Vildy, that our b'liefs, when they're picked out o' the Bible and set down square and solid 'thout any softening down 'n' explainin' that they ain't so bad as they sound, is too strong meat for babes. Now I'm Orthodox to the core" (here she lowered her voice as if there might be a stray deacon in the garden), "but 'pears to me if I was makin' out lessons for young ones I wouldn't fill 'em so plumb full o' brimstun. Let 'em do a little suthin' to deserve it 'fore you scare 'em to death, say I."

"Jabe explained it all out to him after supper. It beats all how he gets on with children."

"I'd ruther hear how he explained it," answered Samantha sarcastically. "He's great on expoundin' the Scripters jest now. Well, I hope it'll last. Land sakes! you'd think nobody ever experienced religion afore, he's so set up 'bout it. You'd s'pose he kep' the latch-key o' the heavenly mansions right in his vest pocket, to hear him go on. He couldn't be no more stuck up 'bout it if he'd ben one o' the two brothers that come over in three ships!"

"There goes Elder Nichols," said Miss Vilda. "Now there's a plan we hadn't thought of. We might take the children over to Purity Village. I think likely the Shakers would take 'em. They like to get young folks and break 'em into their doctrines."

"Tim 'd make a tiptop Shaker," laughed Samantha. "He'd be an Elder afore he was twenty-one. I can seem to see him now, with his hair danglin' long in his neck, a blue coat buttoned up to his chin, and his hands see-sawin' up 'n' down, prancin' round in them solemn dances."

"Tim would do well enough, but I ain't so sure of Gay. They'd have their hands full, I guess!"

"I guess they would. Anybody that wanted to make a Shaker out o' her would 'a' had to begin with her grandmother; and that wouldn't 'a' done nuther, for they don't b'lieve in marryin', and the thing would 'a' stopped right there, and Gray wouldn't never 'a' been born int' the world."

"And been a great sight better off," interpolated Miss Vilda.

"Now don't talk that way, Vildy. Who knows what lays ahead o' that child? The Lord may be savin' her up to do some great work for Him," she added, with a wild flight of the imagination.

"She looks like it, don't she?" asked Vilda with a grim intonation; but her face softened a little as she glanced at Gay asleep on the rustic bench under the window.

The picture would have struck terror to the sad-eyed aesthete, but an artist who liked to see colors burn and glow on the canvas would have been glad to paint her: a little frock of buttercup yellow calico, bare neck and arms, full of dimples, hair that put the yellow calico to shame by reason of its tinge of copper, skin of roses and milk that dared the microscope, red smiling lips, one stocking and ankle-tie kicked off and five pink toes calling for some silly woman to say "This little pig went to market" on them, a great bunch of nasturtiums in one warm hand and the other buried in Rags, who was bursting with the white cat's dinner, and in such a state of snoring bliss that his tail wagged occasionally, even in his dreams.

"She don't look like a missionary, if that's what you mean," said Samantha hotly. "She may not be called 'n' elected to traipse over to Africy with a Test'ment in one hand 'n' a sun umbreller in the other, savin' souls by the wholesale; but 't ain't no mean service to go through the world stealin' into folks' hearts like a ray o' sunshine, 'n' lightin' up every place you step foot in!"

"I ain't sayin' anything against the child, Samanthy Ann; you said yourself she wa'n't cut out for a Shaker!"

"No more she is," laughed Samantha, when her good humor was restored. "She'd like the singin' 'n' dancin' well enough, but 't would be hard work smoothin' the kink out of her hair 'n' fixin' it under one o' their white Sunday bunnets. She wouldn't like livin' altogether with the women-folks, nuther. The only way for Gay 'll be to fetch her right up with the men-folks, 'n' hev her see they ain't no great things, anyway. Land sakes! If 't warn't for dogs 'n' dark nights, I shouldn't care if I never see a man; but Gay has 'em all on her string a'ready, from the boy that brings the cows home for Jabe to the man that takes the butter to the city. The tin peddler give her a dipper this mornin', and the fish-man brought her a live fish in a tin-pail. Well, she makes the house a great sight brighter to live in, you can't deny that, Vildy."

"I ain't denyin' anything in partic'ler. She makes a good deal of work, I know that much. And I don't want you to get your heart set on one or both of 'em, for 't won't be no use. We could make out with one of 'em, I suppose, if we had to, but two is one too many. They seem to set such store by one another that 't would be like partin' the Siamese twins; but there, they'd pine awhile, and then they 'd get over it. Anyhow, they'll have to try."

"Oh yes; you can git over the small-pox, but you'll carry the scars to your grave most likely. I think 't would be a sin to part them children. I wouldn't do it no more 'n I'd tear away that scarlit bean that's twisted itself round 'n' round that pink hollyhock there. I stuck a stick in the ground, and carried a string to the winder; but I didn't git at it soon enough, the bean vine kep' on growin' the other way, towards the hollyhock. Then the other night I got my mad up, 'n' I jest oncurled it by main force 'n' wropped it round the string, 'n,' if you'll believe me, I happened to look at it this mornin,' 'n' there it 't was, as nippant as you please, coiled round the hollyhock agin! Then says I to myself, 'Samantha Ann Ripley, you've known what 't was to be everlastin'ly hectored 'n' intefered with all your life, now s'posin' you let that bean have its hollyhock, if it wants it!'"

Miss Vilda looked at her sharply as she said, "Samantha Ann Ripley, I believe to my soul you're fussin' 'bout Dave Milliken again!

"Well, I ain't! Every time I talk 'bout hollyhocks and scarlit beans I ain't meanin' Dave Milliken 'n' me,--not by a long chalk! I was only givin' you my views 'bout partin' them children, that's all!"

"Well, all I can say is," remarked Miss Vilda obstinately, "that those that's desirous of takin' in two strange children, and boardin' and lodgin' 'em till they get able to do it for themselves, and runnin' the resk of their turnin' out heathens and malefactors like the folks they came from,--can do it if they want to. If I come to see that the baby is too young to send away anywheres I may keep her a spell, but the boy has got to go, and that's the end of it. You've been crowdin' me into a corner about him for a week, and now I've said my say!"

Alas! that tiny humming-bird's egg was crushed to atoms,--crushed by a boy's slender hand that had held it so gently for very fear of breaking it. For poor little Timothy Jessup had heard his fate for the second time, and knew that he must "move on" again, for there was no room for him at the White Farm.

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