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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesTimothy's Quest - Scene 7
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Timothy's Quest - Scene 7 Post by :DerekGehl Category :Long Stories Author :Kate Douglas Wiggin Date :May 2012 Read :1859

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Timothy's Quest - Scene 7

SCENE VII

The Old Homestead.

MISTRESS AND MAID FIND TO THEIR AMAZEMENT THAT A CHILD, MORE THAN ALL OTHER GIFTS, BRINGS HOPE WITH IT AND FORWARD LOOKING THOUGHTS.


It was called the White Farm, not because that was an unusual color in Pleasant River. Nineteen out of every twenty houses in the village were painted white, for it had not then entered the casual mind that any other course was desirable or possible. Occasionally, a man of riotous imagination would substitute two shades of buff, or make the back of his barn red, but the spirit of invention stopped there, and the majority of sane people went on painting white. But Miss Avilda Cummins was blessed with a larger income than most of the inhabitants of Pleasant River, and all her buildings, the great house, the sheds, the carriage and dairy houses, the fences and the barn, were always kept in a state of dazzling purity; "as if," the neighbors declared, "S'manthy Ann Ripley went over 'em every morning with a dust-cloth."

It was merely an accident that the carriage and work horses chanced to be white, and that the original white cats of the family kept on having white kittens to decorate the front doorsteps. It was not accident, however, but design, that caused Jabe Slocum to scour the country for a good white cow and persuade Miss Cummins to swap off the old red one, so that the "critters" in the barn should match.

Miss Avilda had been born at the White Farm; father and mother had been taken from there to the old country churchyard, and "Martha, aged 17," poor, pretty, willful Martha, the greatest pride and greatest sorrow of the family, was lying under the apple trees in the garden.

Here also the little Samantha Ann Ripley had come as a child years ago, to be playmate, nurse, and companion to Martha, and here she had stayed ever since, as friend, adviser, and "company-keeper" to the lonely Miss Cummins. Nobody in Pleasant River would have dared to think of her as anybody's "hired help," though she did receive bed and board, and a certain sum yearly for her services; but she lived with Miss Cummins on equal terms, as was the custom in the good old New England villages, doing the lion's share of the work, and marking her sense of the situation by washing the dishes while Miss Avilda wiped them, and by never suffering her to feed the pig or go down cellar.

Theirs had been a dull sort of life, in which little had happened to make them grow into sympathy with the outside world. All the sweetness of Miss Avilda's nature had turned to bitterness and gall after Martha's disgrace, sad home-coming, and death. There had been much to forgive, and she had not had the grace nor the strength to forgive it until it was too late. The mystery of death had unsealed her eyes, and there had been a moment when the sad and bitter woman might have been drawn closer to the great Father-heart, there to feel the throb of a Divine compassion that would have sweetened the trial and made the burden lighter. But the minister of the parish proved a sorry comforter and adviser in these hours of trial. The Reverend Joshua Beckwith, whose view of God's universe was about as broad as if he had lived on the inside of his own pork-barrel, had cherished certain strong and unrelenting opinions concerning Martha's final destination, which were not shared by Miss Cummins. Martha, therefore, was not laid with the elect, but was put to rest in the orchard, under the kindly, untheological shade of the apple trees; and they scattered their tinted blossoms over her little white headstone, shed their fragrance about her quiet grave, and dropped their ruddy fruit in the high grass that covered it, just as tenderly and respectfully as if they had been regulation willows. The Reverend Joshua thus succeeded in drying up the springs of human sympathy in Miss Avilda's heart when most she needed comfort and gentle teaching; and, distrusting God for the moment, as well as his inexorable priest, she left her place in the old meeting-house where she had "worshiped" ever since she had acquired adhesiveness enough to stick to a pew, and was not seen there again for many years. The Reverend Joshua had died, as all men must and as most men should; and a mild-voiced successor reigned in his place; so the Cummins pew was occupied once more.

Samantha Ann Ripley had had her heart history too,--one of a different kind. She had "kept company" with David Milliken for a little matter of twenty years, off and on, and Miss Avilda had expected at various times to lose her friend and helpmate; but fear of this calamity had at length been quite put to rest by the fourth and final rupture of the bond, five years before.

There had always been a family feud between the Ripleys and the Millikens; and when the young people took it into their heads to fall in love with each other in spite of precedent or prejudice, they found that the course of true love ran in anything but a smooth channel. It was, in fact, a sort of village Montague and Capulet affair; but David and Samantha were no Romeo and Juliet. The climate and general conditions of life at Pleasant River were not favorable to the development of such exotics. The old people interposed barriers between the young ones as long as they lived; and when they died, Dave Milliken's spirit was broken, and he began to annoy the valiant Samantha by what she called his "meechin'" ways. In one of his moments of weakness he took a widowed sister to live with him, a certain Mrs. Pettigrove, of Edgewood, who inherited the Milliken objection to Ripleys, and who widened the breach and brought Samantha to the point of final and decisive rupture. The last straw was the statement, sown broadcast by Mrs. Pettigrove, that "Samanthy Ann Ripley's father never would 'a' died if he'd ever had any doctorin'; but 't was the gospel truth that they never had nobody to 'tend him but a hom'pathy man from Scratch Corner, who, of course, bein' a hom'path, didn't know no more about doctorin' 'n Cooper's cow."

Samantha told David after this that she didn't want to hear him open his mouth again, nor none of his folks; that she was through with the whole lot of 'em forever and ever, 'n' she wished to the Lord she'd had sense enough to put her foot down fifteen years ago, 'n' she hoped he'd enjoy bein' tread underfoot for the rest of his natural life, 'n' she wouldn't speak to him again if she met him in her porridge dish. She then slammed the door and went upstairs to cry as if she were sixteen, as she watched him out of sight. Poor Dave Milliken! just sweet and earnest and strong enough to suffer at being worsted by circumstances, but never quite strong enough to conquer them.

And it was to this household that Timothy had brought his child for adoption.


When Miss Avilda opened her eyes, the morning after the arrival of the children, she tried to remember whether anything had happened to give her such a strange feeling of altered conditions. It was Saturday,--baking day,--that couldn't be it; and she gazed at the little dimity-curtained window and at the picture of the Death-bed of Calvin, and wondered what was the matter.

Just then a child's laugh, bright, merry, tuneful, infectious, rang out from some distant room, and it all came back to her as Samantha Ann opened the door and peered in.

"I've got breakfast 'bout ready," she said; "but I wish, soon 's you're dressed, you'd step down 'n' see to it, 'n' let me wash the baby. I guess water was skerse where she come from!"

"They're awake, are they?"

"Awake? Land o' liberty! As soon as 't was light, and before the boy had opened his eyes, Gay was up 'n' poundin' on all the doors, 'n' hollorin' 'S'manfy' (beats all how she got holt o' my name so quick!), so 't I thought sure she'd disturb your sleep. See here, Vildy, we want those children should look respectable the few days they're here. I don't see how we can rig out the boy, but there's those old things of Marthy's in the attic; seems like it might be a blessin' on 'em if we used 'em this way."

"I thought of it myself in the night," answered Vilda briefly. "You'll find the key of the trunk in the light stand drawer. You see to the children, and I'll get breakfast on the table. Has Jabe come?"

"No; he sent a boy to milk, 'n' said he'd be right along. You know what that means!"

Miss Vilda moved about the immaculate kitchen, frying potatoes and making tea, setting on extra portions of bread and doughnuts and a huge pitcher of milk; while various noises, strange enough in that quiet house, floated down from above.

"This is dreadful hard on Samanthy," she reflected. "I don't know 's I'd ought to have put it on her, knowing how she hates confusion and company, and all that; but she seemed to think we'd got to tough it out for a spell, any way; though I don't expect her temper 'll stand the strain very long."

The fact was, Samantha was banging doors and slatting tin pails about furiously to keep up an ostentatious show of ill humor. She tried her best to grunt with displeasure when Gay, seated in a wash-tub, crowed and beat the water with her dimpled hands, so that it splashed all over the carpet; but all the time there was such a joy tugging at her heart-strings as they had not felt for years.

When the bath was over, clean petticoats and ankle-ties were chosen out of the old leather trunk, and finally a little blue and white lawn dress. It was too long in the skirt, and pending the moment when Samantha should "take a tack in it," it anticipated the present fashion, and made Lady Gay look more like a disguised princess than ever. The gown was low-necked and short-sleeved, in the old style; and Samantha was in despair till she found some little embroidered muslin capes and full undersleeves, with which she covered Gay's pink neck and arms. These things of beauty so wrought upon the child's excitable nature that she could hardly keep still long enough to have her hair curled; and Samantha, as the shining rings dropped off her horny forefinger, was wrestling with the Evil One, in the shape of a little box of jewelry that she had found with the clothing. She knew that the wish was a vicious one, and that such gewgaws were out of place on a little pauper just taken in for the night; but her fingers trembled with a desire to fasten the little gold ears of corn on the shoulders, or tie the strings of coral beads round the child's pretty throat.

When the toilet was completed, and Samantha was emptying the tub, Gay climbed on the bureau and imprinted sloppy kisses of sincere admiration on the radiant reflection of herself in the little looking-glass; then, getting down again, she seized her heap of Minerva Court clothes, and, before the astonished Samantha could interpose, flung them out of the second-story window, where they fell on the top of the lilac bushes.

"Me doesn't like nasty old dress," she explained, with a dazzling smile that was a justification in itself; "me likes pretty new dress!" and then, with one hand reaching up to the door-knob, and the other throwing disarming kisses to Samantha,--"By-by! Lady Gay go circus now! Timfy, come, take Lady Gay to circus!"

There was no time for discipline then, and she was borne to the breakfast-table, where Timothy was already making acquaintance with Miss Vilda.

Samantha entered, and Vilda, glancing at her nervously, perceived with relief that she was "taking things easy." Ah! but it was lucky for poor David Milliken that he couldn't see her at that moment. Her whole face had relaxed; her mouth was no longer a thin, hard line, but had a certain curve and fullness, borrowed perhaps from the warmth of innocent baby-kisses. Embarrassment and stifled joy had brought a rosier color to her cheek; Gay's vandal hand had ruffled the smoothness of her sandy locks, so that a few stray hairs were absolutely curling with amazement that they had escaped from their sleek bondage; in a word, Samantha Ann Ripley was lovely and lovable!

Timothy had no eyes for any one save his beloved Gay, at whom he gazed with unspeakable admiration, thinking it impossible that any human being, with a single eye in its head, could refuse to take such an angel when it was in the market.

Gay, not being used to a regular morning toilet, had fought against it valiantly at first; but the tonic of the bath itself and the exercise of war had brought the color to her cheeks and the brightness to her eyes. She had forgiven Samantha, she was ready to be on good terms with Miss Vilda, she was at peace with all the world. That she was eating the bread of dependence did not trouble her in the least! No royal visitor, conveying honor by her mere presence, could have carried off a delicate situation with more distinguished grace and ease. She was perched on a Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, and immediately began blowing bubbles in her mug of milk in the most reprehensible fashion; and glancing up after each naughty effort with an irrepressible gurgle of laughter, in which she looked so bewitching, even with a milky crescent over her red mouth, that she would have melted the heart of the most predestinate old misogynist in Christendom.

Timothy was not so entirely at his ease. His eyes had looked into life only a few more summers, but their "radiant morning visions" had been dispelled; experience had tempered joy. Gay, however, had not arrived at an age where people's motives can be suspected for an instant. If there had been any possible plummet with which to sound the depths of her unconscious philosophy, she apparently looked upon herself as a guest out of heaven, flung down upon this hospitable planet with the single responsibility of enjoying its treasures.

O happy heart of childhood! Your simple creed is rich in faith, and trust, and hope. You have not learned that the children of a common Father can do aught but love and help each other.

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