ROSE OF OLD HARPETH
BY MARIA THOMPSON DAVIESS
Author of "Miss Selina Lue," "The Road to Providence," "The Melting of Molly," etc.
By W.B. KING
A.L. BURT COMPANY
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
TO MY MOTHER
LEONORA HAMILTON DAVIESS
AND THE WHOLE BOOK
TO MY GRANDMOTHER
MARIA THOMPSON DAVIESS
ROSE OF OLD HARPETH
ROSE MARY OF SWEETBRIAR
"Why, don't you know nothing in the world compliments a loaf of bread like the asking for a fourth slice," laughed Rose Mary as she reached up on the stone shelf above her head and took down a large crusty loaf and a long knife. "Thick or thin?" she asked as she raised her lashes from her blue eyes for a second of hospitable inquiry.
"Thin," answered Everett promptly, "but two with the butter sticking 'em together. Please be careful with that weapon! It's as good as a juggler's show to watch you, but it makes me slightly—solicitous." As he spoke he seated himself on the corner of the wide stone table as near to Rose Mary and the long knife as seemed advisable. A ray of sunlight fell through the door of the milk-house and cut across his red head to lose itself in Rose Mary's close black braids.
"Make it four," he further demanded over the table.
"Indeed and I will," answered Rose Mary delightedly. And as she spoke she held the loaf against her breast and drew the knife through the slices in a fascinatingly dangerous manner. At the intentness of his regard the color rose up under the lashes that veiled her eyes, and she hugged the loaf closer with her left hand. "Would you like six?" she asked innocently, as the fourth stroke severed the last piece.
"Just go on and slice it all up," he answered with a laugh. "I'd rather watch you than eat."
"Wait till I butter these for you and then you can eat—and watch me—me finish working the butter. Won't that do as well? Think what an encouragement your interest will be to me! Really, nothing in the world paces a woman's work like a man looking on, and if he doesn't stop her she'll drop under the line. Now, you have your bread and butter and you can sit over there by the door and help me turn off this ten pounds in no time."
As she had been speaking, Rose Mary had spread two of the slices with the yellow butter from a huge bowl in front of her, clapped on the tops of the sandwiches and then, with a smile, handed them in a blue plate to the man who lounged across the corner of her table. She made a very gracious and lovely picture, did Rose Mary, in her light-blue homespun gown against the cool gray depths of the milk-house, which was fern-lined along the cracks of the old stones and mysterious with the trickling gurgle of the spring that flowed into the long stone troughs, around the milk crocks and out under the stone door-sill. From his post by the door Everett watched her as she drove her paddle deep into the hard golden mound in the blue bowl in front of her, and, with a quick turn of her strong, slender wrist slapped and patted chunk after chunk of the butter into a more compressed form. The sleeves of her dress were rolled almost to her shoulders and under the white, moist flesh of her arms the fine muscles showed plainly. The strong curves of her back and shoulders bent and sprung under the graceful sweep of her arms and her round breasts rose and fell with quickened breath from her energetic movements.
"Now, you're making me work too hard," she laughed; and she panted as she rested her hand for a second against the edge of the bowl and looked up at Everett from under a black tendril curl that had fallen down across her forehead.
"Miss Rose Mary Alloway, you are one large, husky—witch," calmly remarked the hungry man as he finished disposing of the last half of one of the thin bread and butters. "Here I sit enchanted by—by a butter-paddle, when you and I both know that not two miles across the meadows there runs a train that ought to put me into New York in a little over forty-eight hours. Won't you, won't you let me go—back to my frantic and imploring employers?"
"Why no, I can't," answered Rose Mary as she pressed a yellow cake of butter on to a blue plate and deftly curled it up with her paddle into a huge yellow sunflower. "Uncle Tucker captured you roaming loose out in his fields and he trusts you to me while he is at work and I must keep you safe. He's fond of you and so are the Aunties and Stonewall Jackson and Shoofly and Sniffer and—"
"And anybody else?" demanded Everett, preparing to dispose of the last bite.
"Oh, everybody most along Providence Road," answered Rose Mary enthusiastically, though not raising her eyes from the manipulation of the third butter flower. "Can't you go out and dig up some more rocks and things? I feel sure you haven't got a sample of all of them. And there may be gold and silver and precious jewels just one inch deeper than you have dug. Are you certain you can't squeeze up some oil somewhere in the meadow? You told a whole lot of reasons to Uncle Tucker why you knew you would find some, and now you'll have to stay to prove yourself."
"No," answered Mark Everett quietly, and, as he spoke, he raised his eyes and looked at Rose Mary keenly; "no, there is no oil that I can discover, though the formation, as I explained to your uncle, is just as I expected to find it. I've spent three weeks going over every inch of the Valley and I can't find a trace of grease. I'm sorry."
"Well, I don't know that I care, except for your sake," answered Rose Mary unconcernedly, with her eyes still on her task. "We don't any of us like the smell of coal-oil, and it gives Aunt Viney asthma. It would be awfully disagreeable to have wells of it right here on the place. They'd be so ugly and smelly."
"But oil-wells mean—mean a great deal of wealth," ventured Everett.
"I know, but just think of the money Uncle Tucker gets for this butter I make from the cows that graze on the meadows. Wouldn't it be awful if they should happen to drink some of the coal-oil and make the butter we send down to the city taste wrong and spoil the Sweetbriar reputation? I like money though, most awfully, and I want some right now. I want to—"
"Mary of the Rose, stop right there!" said Everett as he came over from his post by the door and again seated himself on the corner of the table. "I will not listen to you give vent to the national craving. I will hold on to the illusion of having found one unmercenary human being, even if she had to be buried in the depths of Harpeth Valley to keep her so." There was banter in Everett's voice and a smile on his lips, but a bitterness lay in the depths of his keen dark eyes and an ugly trace of cynicism filtered through the tones of his voice.
"And wasn't it funny for me to count the little well-chickens before they were even hatched?" laughed Rose Mary. "That's the way of it, get together even a little flock of dollars in prospect and they go right to work hatching out a brood of wants and needs; but it's not wrong of me to want those false teeth so bad, because it's such a trial to have your mouth all sink in and not be able to talk plain and—"
"Help, woman! What are you talking about? I never saw such teeth as you have in all my life. One flash of them would put a beauty show out of business and—"
"Oh, no, not for myself!" Rose Mary hastened to exclaim, and she turned the whole artillery of the pearl treasures upon him in mirth at his mistake. "It's Aunt Viney I want them for. She only has five left. She says she didn't mind so long as she had any two that hit, but the hitters to all five are gone now and she is so distressed. I'm saving up to take her down to the city to get a brand new set. I have eleven dollars now and two little bull calves to sell, though it breaks my heart to let them go, even if they are of the wrong persuasion. I always love them better than I do the little heifers, because I have to give them up. I don't like to have things I love go away. You see you mustn't think of going to New York until the spring is all over and summer comes for good," she continued, with the most delightful ingenuousness, as she shaped the last of the ten flowers and glanced from her task at him with the most solicitous concern. "Of course, you feel as if the smash your lung got in that awful rock slide has healed all up, and I know it has, but you'll have to do as the doctor tells you about not running any risks with New York spring gales, won't you?"
"Oh, yes, I suppose I will," answered Everett, with a trace of restlessness in his voice. "I'm just as sound as a dollar now and I'm wild to go with that gang the firm is sending up into British Columbia to thrash out that copper question. I know they counted on me for the final tests. Some other fellow will find it and get the fortune and the credit, while I—I—"
He stared moodily out the door of the milk-house and down Providence Road that wound its calm, even way from across the ridge down through the green valley. Rose Mary's milk-house was nestled between the breasts of a low hill, upon which was perched the wide-winged, old country house which had brooded the fortunes of the Alloways since the wilderness days. The spring which gushed from the back wall of the milk-house poured itself into a stone trough on the side of the Road, which had been placed there generations agone for the refreshment of beast, while man had been entertained within the hospitable stone walls. And at the foot of the Briars, as the Alloway home, hill, spring and meadows had been called from time immemorial, clustered the little village of Sweetbriar.
The store, which also sheltered the post-office, was almost opposite the spring-house door across the wide Road, the blacksmith shop farther down and the farm-houses stretched fraternally along either side in both directions. Far up the Road, as it wound its way around Providence Nob, could be seen the chimneys and the roofs of Providence, while Springfield and Boliver also lay like smoke-wreathed visions in the distance. Something of the peace and plenty of it all had begun to smooth the irritated wrinkle from between Mark Everett's brows, when Rose Mary's hand rested for a second over his on the table and her rich voice, with its softest brooding note, came from across her bowl.
"Ah, I know it's hard for you, Mr. Mark," she said, "and I wish—I wish—The lilacs will be in bloom next week, won't that help some?" And the wooing tone in her voice was exactly what she used in coaxing young Stonewall Jackson to bed or Uncle Tucker to tie up his throat in a flannel muffler.
"It's not lilacs I'm needing with a rose in bloom right—" But Everett's gallant response to the coaxing was cut short by a sally from an unexpected quarter.
Down Providence Road at full tilt came Stonewall Jackson, with the Swarm in a cloud of dust at his heels. He jumped across the spring branch and darted in under the milk-house eaves, while the Swarm drew up on the other bank in evident impatience. Swung bundle-wise under his arm he held a small, tow-headed bunch, and as he landed on the stone door-sill he hastily deposited it on the floor at Rose Mary's feet.
"Say, Rose Mamie," he panted, "you just keep Shoofly for us a little while, won't you? Mis' Poteet have done left her with Tobe to take care of and he put her on a stump while he chased a polecat that he fell on while it was going under a fence, and now Uncle Tuck is a-burying of him up in the woods lot. Jest joggle her with your foot this way if she goes to cry." And in demonstration of his directions the General put one bare foot in the middle of the mite's back and administered a short series of rotary motions, which immediately brought a response of ecstatic gurgles. "We'll come back for her as soon as we dig him up," he added, as he prepared for another flying leap across the spring stream.
"But, Stonie, wait and tell me what you mean!" exclaimed Rose Mary, while Everett regarded Stonewall Jackson and his cohorts with delighted amusement.
"I told you once, Rose Mamie, that Tobe fell on a polecat under a fence he was a-chasing, and he smells so awful Uncle Tuck have burned his britches and shirt on the end of a stick and have got him buried in dirt up to jest his nose. Burying in dirt is the onliest thing that'll take off the smell. We comed to ask you to watch Shoofly while he's buried, cause Mis' Poteet will be mad at him when she comes home if Shoofly smells. We're all a-going to stay right by him until he's dug up, 'cause we all sicked him on that polecat and we ought in honor!"
Stonie looked at the Swarm for confirmation of this worthy sentiment, and it arose in a murmur. The Swarm was a choice congregation of small fry that trailed perpetually at the heels of Stonewall Jackson, and at the moment was in a state of seething excitement. Jennie Rucker's little freckled face was pale under its usual sunburn, as a result of being too near the disastrous encounter, and her little nose, turned up by nature in the outset, looked as if it were in danger of never again assuming its normal tilt. She held small Pete by one chubby hand, and with a wry face he was licking out an absurd little red tongue at least twice each moment, as if uncertain as to whether his olfactory or gustatory nerves had been offended. Billy was standing with the nonchalant unconcern of one strong of stomach, and the four other little Poteets, ranging in size from Shoofly, on the floor, to Tobe, the buried, were shuffling their bare feet in the dust with evident impatience to be off to gloat over the prostrated but important member of the family. They rolled their wide eyes at almost impossible angles, and small Peggy sniffed audibly into a corner of her patched gingham apron.
"Yes, Stonie," answered Rose Mary judicially, while Everett's shoulders shook with mirth that he felt it best not to give way to in the face of the sympathetic Swarm, "you all must stay with Tobe, if he has to be buried, and go right back as fast as you can. Troubles must make us stay close by our friends."
"If I get much closer to him I'll throw up," sniffed Jennie, and her protest was echoed by a groan from Peggy into the apron, while the area which showed above its folds turned white at the prospect of being obliged to draw near to this brother in affliction.
"Yes, but you sicked Tobe, with the rest of us, and in this girls don't count. You've got to go back, smell or no smell, sick or no sick," announced the General firmly, in the decisive tones of one accustomed to be obeyed.
"Yes, Stonie," came in a meek and muffled tone from the apron, "we'll go back with you."
"Can't we just set on the fence of the lot—it ain't so far?" pleaded Jennie in almost a wail. "I'm afraid Pete will cry from the smell if we go any closter. He's most doing it now."
"Yes, General, let the girls sit on the fence," pleaded Everett, with his eyes dancing, but a bit of mockery in his voice, "after all they are—girls, you know."
"Oh, well, yes, they can," answered Stonewall Jackson in a magnanimously disgusted tone of voice. "They always get girls when they don't want to do anything. Come on, Tobe'll be crying if we don't hurry. Billy, you help Jennie drag Pete, so he can go fast!"
But during the conference the disgusted toddler had been pondering the situation, and at this mention of his being dragged back to the scene of offense he had made a quick sally across the plank that spanned the spring branch and with masculine intuition as to the safe place in time of danger, he had plunged head foremost into Rose Mary's skirts, so that only his small fat back showed to the enemy.
"Please go on, Stonie, and leave him with me—he's just a baby," pleaded Rose Mary.
"All right," answered the General, "Tobe don't care about him; he'd just make us go slow," and thus dropping young Peter into the category of impedimenta, the General departed at top speed, surrounded, as he came, by the loyal Swarm. On the day of his birth Aunt Viney's choice for a name for the General had balanced for some hours between that of the redoubtable Abner the Valiant, of old Testament fame, and her favorite modern hero, Jackson of the stonewall nature. And in her final choice she had seemed so to impress the infant that he had developed more than a little of the nature of his patron commander. At all times Stonie commanded the Swarm, and also at all times was strictly obeyed.
Then seeing herself thus deserted by her companions, Shoofly began a low, musical hum of a wail and walled large eyes up at Everett, at whose feet she was seated. In instant sympathetic response he applied the toe of his shoe to the small of the whimpering tot's back and proceeded awkwardly, though with the best intentions in the world, to follow the General's directions as to pacification. Rose Mary laughed as she took a tin-cup from a nail in the wall, and filling it with milk from one of the crocks, she knelt at the side of the deserted one and held the brim to the red lips of Shoofly's generous mouth. With a series of gurgles and laps the consoling draft was quickly consumed and the whimperer left by this double ministration in a state of placid contentment.
Peter the wise had stood viewing these attentions to the other baby with stolid imperturbability, but as Rose Mary turned away to her table he licked out his pink tongue and bobbed his head toward the milk crocks, while his solemn eyes conveyed his desire without words. Peter's vocabulary was both new and limited, and he was at all times extremely careful against any wastefulness of it. His lips quivered as if in uncertainty as to whether he was to be left out of this lactic deal, and his eyes grew reproachful.
"Why, man alive, did you think I had forgotten you!" exclaimed Rose Mary as she turned with the cup to one of the crocks standing in the water, at the sight of which motion relief dawned in the serious eyes of the young petitioner. Filling the cup swiftly, she lifted the youngster in her arms and came over to sit in the door beside Shoofly at Everett's feet. With dignified deliberation Peter began to consume his draft in slow gulps, and after each one he lifted his eyes to Rose Mary's face as if rendering courteous appreciation for the consumed portion. His chubby fingers were clasped around her wrist as she held the cup for him, and her other hand cuddled one of his bare, briar-scratched knees. The picture had its instituted effect on Everett, and he bent toward the little group in the doorway and rested his elbows on his knees as his world-restless eyes softened and the lines around his mouth melted into a smile.
"Rose Mary," he said with an almost abashed note in his deep voice, "we'll dispense with the lilacs—they're not needed as retainers, and I don't deserve them."
"But being good will bring you the lilacs of life; whether you think you deserve them or not, I'm afraid it's inevitable," answered Rose Mary, as she smiled up at him with instant appreciation of his change of mood.
"Well, I'll try it this once and see what happens," answered Everett with a laugh. "Indeed, I'm ashamed of having shown you any impatience at all—to think of impatience in this heaven country of hospitality amounts to positive sacrilege. Shrive me—and then bring on your lilacs!"
"Then you'll stay with us until it's safe for you to go North and I won't have to worry about you any more?" exclaimed Rose Mary, delighted, as she beamed up over Pete's tow-head that had dropped with repletion on her breast. Shoofly, who, true to her appellation, had been making funny little dabs of delight at a fly or two which had buzzed in her direction, had crawled nearer and burrowed her head under Rose Mary's knee, rolled over on her little stomach and gone instantaneously and exhaustedly to sleep. Rose Mary adjusted a smothering fold of her dress and continued in her rejoicing over Everett's surrender to circumstance inevitable.
"And do you think you can dig some more in the fields? Don't happiness and hoe mean the same thing to most men?" she questioned with a laugh.
"Yes, hoe to the death and the devil take the last man at the end of the row, fortune to the first!" answered Everett with a return of his cynical look and tone.
"Oh, but in the world some men just go along and chop down ugly weeds, stir up the good, smelly earth for things to grow in, reach over to help the man in the next furrow if he needs it, and all come home at sundown together—and the women have the supper ready. That's the kind of hoeing I want you to do—please dig me up those teeth for Aunt Viney and I'll have johnny-cake and fried chicken waiting for you every night. Please, sir, promise!" And Rose Mary's voice sounded its coaxing, comforting note, while her deep eyes brooded over him.
"I promise," answered Everett with a laugh. "I tell you what I think I will do. As I understand it, the Briars has about three hundred acres, all told. I have been all over it for the oil and there is none in any paying quantities. But in this kind of formation any number of other things may crop up or out. I am going to go over every acre of it carefully and find exactly what can be expected of it. There may be nothing of any value in a mineral way, but as I go I am going to make soil tests, and then put it all down on a complete map and figure out just what your Uncle Tucker ought to plant in each place for years to come. It will kill a lot of time, and then it might be doing something for you dear people, who have taken a miserable, cross invalid of a stranger man in out of the wet and made a well chap of him again.
"Do you know what you have done for me? That day when I had tramped over from Boliver just to get away from the Citizens' Hotel and myself and perched upon Mr. Alloway's north lot fence like a miserable funeral crow, I had reached my limit, and my spirit had turned its face to the wall. I had been down South six weeks and couldn't see that I felt one bit stronger. I had just heard of this copper expedition from one of the chaps, who had written me a heedlessly exultant letter about it, and I was down and out and no strength left to fight. I was too weak to take it like a man, and couldn't make up my mind to cry like a woman, though I wanted to. Just as it was at its worst your Uncle Tucker appeared on the other side of the fence, and when he looked at me with those great, heaven-big eyes of his I fell over into his arms with a funny, help-has-come dying gasp. As you know, when I woke I was anchored in the middle of that puffy old four-poster in my room under the blessed roof of the Briars and you were pouring something glorious and hot down my throat, while the wonderful old angel-man in the big gray hat, who had got me out in the field, was flapping his wings around on the other side of the pillows. I went to sleep under your very hands—and I haven't waked up yet—except in ugly, impatient ways. I never want to."
"I wonder what you would be like—awake?" said Rose Mary softly, as she gently lowered the head of young Peter down into the hollow of her arm, where, in close proximity to Shoofly's, he nodded off into the depths. "I think I'm afraid to try waking you. I'm always so happy when Aunt Viney has snuffed away her asthma with jimson weed and got down on her pillow, and I have rubbed all her joints; when the General has said his prayers without stopping to argue in the middle, and Uncle Tucker has finished his chapter and pipe in bed without setting us all on fire, that I regard people asleep as in a most blessed condition. Won't you please try and stay happy, tucked away fast here at the Briars, without wanting to wake up and go all over New York, when I won't know whether you are getting cold or hungry or wet or a pain in your lungs?"
"Again I promise! Just wake me enough to go out and hoe for you is all I ask—your row and your kind of hoeing."
"Maybe hoeing in my row will make you finish your own in fine style," laughed Rose Mary. "And I think it's wonderful of you to study up our land so Uncle Tucker can do better with it. We never seem to be able to make any more than just the mortgage interest, and what we'll wear when the trunks in the garret are empty I don't see. We'll have to grow feathers. Things like false teeth just seem to be impossible."
"Do you mean to tell me that the Briars is seriously encumbered?" demanded Everett, with a quick frown showing between his brows and a business-keen look coming into his eyes.
"The mortgage on the Briars covers it as completely as the vines on the wall," answered Rose Mary quickly, with a humorous quirk at her mouth that relieved the note of pain in her voice. "I know we can never pay it, but if something could be done to keep it for the old folks always, I think Stonie and I could stand it. They were born here and their roots strike deep and twine with the roots of every tree and bush at the Briars. Their graves are over there behind the stone wall, and all their joys and sorrows have come to them along Providence Road. I am not unhappy over it, because I know that their Master isn't going to let anything happen to take them away. Every night before I go to sleep I just leave them to Him until I can wake up in the morning to begin to keep care of them for Him again. It was all about—"
"Wait a minute, let me ask you some questions before you tell me any more," said Everett, quickly covering the sympathy that showed in his eyes with his business tone of voice. "Is it Gideon Newsome who holds this mortgage?"
"Why, yes, how did you know?" asked Rose Mary with a mild surprise in her eyes as she raised them to his, bent intently on her. "Uncle Tucker had to get the money from him six years ago. It—it was a debt of honor—he—we had to pay." A rich crimson spread itself over Rose Mary's brow and cheeks and flooded down her white neck under the folds of her blue dress across her breast. Tears rose to her eyes, but she lifted her head proudly and looked him straight in the face. "There is a reason why I would give my life—why I do and must give my life to protecting them from the consequences of the disaster. No sacrifice is too great for me to make to save their home for them."
"Do you mind telling me how much the mortgage is for?" asked Everett, still in his cool, thoughtful voice.
"For ten thousand dollars," answered Rose Mary. "The land is worth really less than fifteen. Nobody but such a—such a friend as Mr. Newsome would have loaned Uncle Tucker so much. He—he has been very kind to us. I—I am very grateful to him and I—" Rose Mary faltered and dropped her eyes. A tear trembled on the edge of her black lashes and then splashed on to the chubby cheek of Peter the reposer.
"I see," said Everett coolly, and a flint tone made his usually rich voice harsh and tight. For a few minutes he sat quietly looking Rose Mary over with an inscrutable look in his eyes that finally faded again into the utter world weariness. "I see—and so the bargain and sale goes on even on Providence Road under Old Harpeth. But the old people will never have to give up the Briars while you are here to pay the price of their protection, Rose Mary. Never!"
"I don't believe they will—my faith in Him makes me sure," answered Rose Mary with lovely unconsciousness as she raised large, comforted eyes to Everett's. "I don't know how I'm going to manage, but somehow my cup of faith seems to get filled each day with the wine of courage and the result is mighty apt to be a—song." And Rose Mary's face blushed out again into a flowering of smiles.
"A sort of cup of heavenly nectar," answered Everett with an answering smile, but the keen look still in his eyes. "See here, I want you to promise me something—don't ever, under any circumstances, tell anybody that I know about this mortgage. Will you?"
"Of course, I won't if you tell me not to," answered Rose Mary immediately. "I don't like to think or talk about it. I only told you because you wanted to help us. Help offers are the silver linings to trouble clouds, and you brought this one down on yourself, didn't you? Of course, it's selfish and wrong to tell people about your anxieties, but there is just no other way to get so close to a friend. Don't you think perhaps sometimes the Lord doesn't bother to 'temper the winds,' but just leads you up on the sheltered side of somebody who is stronger than you are and leaves you there until your storm is over?"
"Well," said Uncle Tucker meditatively, "I reckon a festibul on a birthday can be taken as a kind of compliment to the Lord and no special glorification to yourself. He instuted your first one Himself, and I see no harm in jest a-marking of the years He sends you. What are Sister Viney's special reasons against the junket?"
"Oh, I don't know what makes Aunt Viney feel this way!" exclaimed Rose Mary with distress in her blue eyes that she raised to Uncle Tucker's, that were bent benignly upon her as she stood in the barn door beside him. "She says that as the Lord has granted her her fourscore years by reason of great strength, she oughtn't to remind Him that He has forgotten her by having an eighty-second birthday. Everybody in Sweetbriar has been looking forward to it for a week, and it was going to be such a lovely party. What shall we do? She says she just won't have it, and Aunt Amandy is crying when Aunt Viney don't see it. She's made up her mind, and I don't know what more to say to her."
"Rose Mary," said Uncle Tucker, with a quizzical smile quirking at the corners of his mouth, "mighty often the ingredient of permanency is left out in the making up of a woman's mind, one way or another. Can't you kinder pervail with your Aunt Viney some? I've got a real hanker after this little birthday to-do. Jest back her around to another view of the question with a slack plow-line. Looks like it's too bad to—"
"Rose Mary, oh, Rose Mary, where are ye, child?" came a call in a high, sweet old quaver of a voice from down the garden path, and Miss Amanda hove in sight, hurrying along on eager but tottering little feet. Her short, skimpy, gray skirts fluttered in the spring breezes and her bright, old eyes peered out from the gray shawl she held over her head with tremulous excitement. She was both laughing and panting as Rose Mary threw her arm around her and drew her into the door of the barn. "Sister Viney has consented in her mind about the party, all along of a verse I was just now a-reading to her in our morning lesson. Saint Luke says: 'It is meet that we should make merry and be glad, for this thy brother was dead and is alive again,' and at the same minute the recollection of how sick Mr. Mark has been hit us both. 'There now,' she says, 'you folks can jest go on with that party to-day for the benefit of our young brother Everett's coming to so good after all his sufferings. This time I will consider it as instituted of the Lord, but don't nobody say birthday next April, if I'm here, on no account whatever.' I take it as a special leading to me to have read that verse this morning to Sister Viney, and won't you please go over and tell Sally Rucker to go on with the cake, Rose Mary? Sister Viney called Jennie over by sun-up, when she took this notion, and told her to tell her mother not to make it, even if she had already broke all the sixteen eggs."
"Yes, Aunt Amandy, I'll run over and tell Mrs. Rucker, and then we will begin right away to get things ready. I am so glad Aunt Viney is—"
"Rose Mamie, Rose Mamie," came another loud hail from up the path toward the house and down came the General at top speed, with a plumy setter frisking in his wake. "Aunt Viney says for you to come there to her this minute. They is a-going to be the party and it's right by the Bible to have it, some for Mr. Mark, too. Tobe Poteet said 'shoo' when I told him he couldn't come, 'cause they wasn't a-going to be no party on account of worrying the Lord about forgetting Aunt Viney, and I was jest a-going to knock him into stuffings, 'cause they can't nobody say 'shoo' at the Bible or Aunt Viney neither, to me, when there Aunt Viney called for us to go tell everybody that the party was a-going off and be sure and come. I believe God let her call me before I hit Tobe, 'cause I ain't never hit him yet, and maybe now I never will have to." The General paused, and an expression of devout thankfulness came into his small face at thus being saved the necessity of administering chastisement to his henchman, Tobe the adventurous.
"I believe he did, Stonie, and how thankful I am," exclaimed little Miss Amanda, with real relief at this deliverance of young Tobe, who was her especial, both self-elected and chosen, knight from the General's cohorts.
"Yes'm," answered Stonie. "Come on now, Rose Mamie! Put your hand on me, Aunt Amandy, and I'll go slow with you," and presenting his sturdy little shoulder to Miss Amanda on one side and drawing Rose Mary along with him on the other, Stonewall Jackson hurried them both away to the house.
"Well," remarked Uncle Tucker to himself as he took up a measure of grain from a bin in the corner of the feed-room and scattered some in front of a row of half-barrel nests upon which brooded a dozen complacent setting hens, "well, if the Lord has to pester with the affairs of Sweetbriar to the extent Stonie and the sisters, Rose Mary, too, are a-giving Him the credit of doing looks like we might be a-getting more'n our share of His attentions. I reckon by the time He gets all the women and children doings settled up for the day He finds some of the men have slipped the bridle and gone. That would account for some of these here wild covortings around in the world we hear about by the newspapers. But He'll git 'em some day sure as—"
"Am I interrupting any confidence between you and the Mrs. Biddies, Mr. Alloway?" asked Everett, as he stood in the barn door with a pan in one hand and a bucket in the other.
"No, oh, no," answered Uncle Tucker with a laugh. "I was jest remarking how the Almighty had the lasso of His love around the neck of all the wild young asses a-galloping over the world and would throw 'em in His own time. Well, I hear you're a-going to get a sochul baptism into Sweetbriar along about a hour before sundown. Better part your hair in the middle and get some taller for your shoes."
"I will, most assuredly, if that's what's expected of me for the ceremony," answered Everett with a delightful laugh. "Here's a pan of delicacies for the hens, and this bucket is for you to bring some shelled corn for Miss Rose Mary to parch for them, when you come to the house."
"I'm not a-counting on going any time soon," answered Uncle Tucker with a shrewd glance up at Everett as he came and stood in the doorway beside the tall young man, who lounged against one of the door posts. Uncle Tucker was himself tall, but slightly bent, lean and brown, with great, gray, mystic eyes that peered out from under bushy white brows. Long gray locks curled around his ears and a rampant forelock stood up defiantly upon his wide, high brow. At all times his firm old mouth was on the eve of breaking into a quizzical smile, and he bestowed one upon Everett as he remarked further:
"The barn is man's instituted refuge in the time of mop and broom cyclones in the house. I reckon you can't get on to your rock-picking in the fields now, but you really hadn't oughter dig up an oil-well to-day anyway; it might kinder overshadow the excitement of the party."
"Mr. Alloway, has any other survey of this river bend been made before?" asked Everett as he looked keenly at Uncle Tucker, while he lit his cigar from the cob pipe the old gentleman accommodatingly handed him.
"Well, yes, there was a young fellow came poking around here not so long ago with a little hammer pecking at the rocks. I didn't pay much attention to him, though. He never stayed but one day, and I was a-cutting clover hay, and too busy to notice him much 'cept to ask him in to dinner. He couldn't seem to manage his chicken dumplings for feeding his eyes with Rose Mary, and he didn't have time to give up much information about sech little things as oil-wells and phosphate beds. You know, they has to be a good touch of frost over a man's ears before he can tend to business, with good-looking dimity passing around him." And Uncle Tucker laughed as he resumed the puffing of his pipe.
"And after the frost they are not at all immune—to such dimity," answered Everett with an echo of Uncle Tucker's laugh, as a slight color rose up under the tan of his thin face. As he spoke he ruffled his own dark red mop of hair, which was slightly sprinkled with gray, over his temples. Everett was tall, broad and muscular, but thin almost to gauntness, and his face habitually wore the expression of deep weariness. His eyes were red-brown and disillusioned, except when they joined with his well-cut mouth in a smile that brought an almost boyish beauty back over his whole expression. There was decided youth in the glance he bestowed upon Uncle Tucker, whose attention was riveted on the manoeuvers of the General and Tobe, who were busy with a pair of old kitchen knives in an attack upon the grass growing between the cracks of the front walk.
"So you have had no report as to what that survey was?" Everett asked Uncle Tucker, again bringing him back to the subject in hand. "Do you know who sent the man you speak of to prospect on your land?"
"Never thought to ask him," answered Uncle Tucker, still with the utmost unconcern. "Maybe Rose Mary knows. Women generally carry a reticule around with 'em jest to poke facts into that they gather together from nothing put pure wantin'-to-know. Ask her."
And as he spoke Uncle Tucker began to busy himself getting out the grease cans, with the evident intention of putting in a morning lubricating the farm implements in general.
"Your friend, Mr. Gideon Newsome, said something about a rumor of paying phosphate here in the Harpeth bend when I met him over in Boliver before I came to Sweetbriar. In fact, I had tried to come to look over the fields just to kill time when I nearly killed myself and fell down upon you. Do you suppose he could have sent the prospector?" Again Everett brought Uncle Tucker back to the uninteresting topic of what might lay under the fields, the top of which he was so interested in cultivating.
"Oh, I reckon not," answered Uncle Tucker, puffing away as he laid out his monkey-wrenches. "The Honorable Gid is up to his neck in this here no-dram wave what is a-sweeping around over the state and pretty nigh rising up as high as the necks of even private liquor bottles. Gid's not to say a teetotaler, but he had to climb into the bandwagon skiff or sink outen sight. He's got to tie down his seat in the state house with a white ribbon, and he's got no mind for fooling with phosphate dirt. He's a mighty fine man, and all of Sweetbriar thinks a heap of him. Do you want to help me lift this wagon wheel on to this jack, so I can sorter grease her up against the next time I use her?"
"Say, Uncle Tuck, Aunt Viney says for you to come right there now and bring Mr. Mark and a spade and a long string with you," came just at the critical moment of balancing the notched plank under the revolving wagon wheel, in Stonewall Jackson's young voice, which held in it quite a trace of Miss Lavinia's decisive tone of command. Stonie stood in the barn door, poised for instant return along the path of duty to the front walk, only waiting to be sure his summons would be obeyed. Stonie was sturdy, freckled, and in possession of Uncle Tucker's big gray eyes, Rose Mary's curled mouth and more than a tinge of Aunt Viney's austerity of manner.
"Better come on," he further admonished. "Rose Mary can't hold that vine up much longer, and if she lets go they'll all fall down." And as he raced up the path Everett followed almost as rapidly, urged on by the vision of Rose Mary drooping under some sort of unsupportable burden. Uncle Tucker brought up the rear with the spade and a long piece of twine.
"Oh, I thought you would never come," laughed Rose Mary from half way up the step-ladder as she lowered herself and a great bunch of budding honeysuckle down into Everett's upstretched arms. "I held it up as long as I could, but I almost let it tear the whole vine down."
"That's what comes from letting that shoot run catawumpas three years ago. I told you about it at the time, Tucker," said Miss Lavinia with a stern glance at Uncle Tucker, who stood with spade and twine at the corner of the porch.
Miss Lavinia sat in a large, calico-cushioned rocking-chair at the end of the porch, and had been issuing orders to Rose Mary and little Miss Amanda about the readjustment of the fragrant vine that trailed across the end of the porch over her window and on out to a trellis in the side yard. Her high mob cap sat on her head in an angle of aggression always, and her keen black eyes enforced all commands issuing from her stern old mouth.
"Now, Amandy, train that shoot straight while you're about it," she continued. "It comes plumb from the roots, and I don't want to have to look at a wild-growing vine right here under my window for all my eighty-second and maybe last year."
"I've gone and misplaced my glasses and I can't hardly see," answered Miss Amanda in her sweet little quaver that sounded like a silver bell with a crack in it. "Lend me your'n, Tucker!"
"You are a-going to misplace your eyes some day, Sister Amandy. Then you'll be a-wanting mine, and I'll have to cut 'em out and give 'em to you, I suppose," said Uncle Tucker as he handed over his huge, steel-rimmed glasses.
"The Bible says 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' Tucker, but not in a borrowing sense of the word, as I remember," remarked Miss Lavinia in a meditative tone of voice. "And that would be the thing about my getting the new teeth. Don't either of you need 'em, and it would be selfish of me to spend on something they couldn't anybody borrow from me. Amandy, dig a little deeper around that shoot, I don't want no puny vine under my window!"
"I'm a-trying, Sister Viney," answered Miss Amanda propitiatingly. "I've been a-bending over so long my knees are in a kinder tremble."
"Let me finish digging and put in the new dirt for you, Aunt Amandy," begged Rose Mary, who had given the armful of vine to Everett to hold while Uncle Tucker tied the strings in the exact angle indicated by Miss Lavinia. "I can do it in no time."
"No, child, I reckon I'd better do it myself," answered Miss Amanda as she sat back on the grass for a moment's rest. "I have dug around and trained this vine the last week in April for almost sixty years now. Mr. Lovell brought it by to Ma one spring as he hauled his summer groceries over the Ridge to Warren County. By such care it's never died down yet, and I have made it my custom to give sprouts away to all that would take 'em. I'm not a-doubting that there is some of this vine a-budding out all over Harpeth Valley from Providence Nob to the River bend."
"No, Amandy," interrupted Aunt Viney, "it wasn't sixty years ago, it was jest fifty-seven. Mr. Lovell brought the switch of it with him the first year Mr. Roberts rode this circuit, and he was a-holding that big revival over to Providence Chapel. Mr. Lovell came into the fold with that very first night's preaching, and we all were rejoiced. Don't you remember he brought you that Maiden Blush rose-bush over there at the same time he brought this vine to Ma? And one bloom came out on the rose the next year jest in time to put it in his coffin before we buried him when he was taken down with the fever on the Road and died here with us. Fifty-six years ago come June, and him so young to die while so full of the spirit of the Lord!"
Feebly Miss Amanda rose to her knees and went on with the digging around the roots of the vine, but Rose Mary knelt beside her and laid her strong, young arm around the bent and shaking little shoulders. Uncle Tucker rested on his spade and looked away across the garden wall, where the little yard of graves was hid in the shadow of tall pine trees, and his big eyes grew very tender. Miss Lavinia fingered a shoot of the vine that had fallen across her thin old knees with a softened expression in her prophet-woman face, while something new and sweet stirred in Everett's breast and woke in his tired eyes, as across half a century was wafted the perfume of a shattered romance.
And then by the time the vine had been trained Miss Lavinia had thought of a number of other spring jobs that must be attended to along the front walk and around all the clumps of budding shrubs, so with one desperate glance toward the barn, his deserted haven, Uncle Tucker fell to with his spade, while Everett obtained a fork from the tool house and put himself under command. Rose Mary was sharply recalled and sent into the house to complete the arrangements for the festivities, when she had followed the forker down by the lilac hedge, rake in hand, with evident intention of being of great assistance in the gardening of the amateur.
"Pull the dirt up closter around those bleeding-hearts, Tucker," commanded Miss Lavinia from her rocker. "They are Rose Mary's I planted the identical day she was born, and I don't want anything to happen to 'em in the way of cutworms or such this summer."
"Well, I don't know," answered Uncle Tucker with a little chuckle in Everett's direction, who was turning over the dirt near a rose-bush in his close vicinity, "it don't do to pay too much attention to women's bleeding-hearts; let alone, they'll tie 'em up in their own courage and go on dusting around the place, while if you notice 'em too much they take to squeezing out more bleed drops for your sympathy. Now, I think it's best—"
"Mister Tucker, say, Mister Tucker," came in a giggle from over the front gate as Jennie Rucker's little freckled nose appeared just above the top plank, only slightly in advance of that of small Peggy's. "Mis' Poteet's got a new baby, just earned, and she says she is sorry she can't come to Mis' Viney's party; but she can't."
"Now, fly-away, ain't that too bad!" exclaimed Uncle Tucker. "That baby oughter be sent back until it has got manners to wait until it's wanted. Didn't neither one of you all get here on anybody's birthday but your own." Uncle Tucker's sally was greeted by a duet of giggles, and the announcement committee hurried on across the street with its news.
"Tucker, you Tucker, don't you touch that snowball bush with the spade!" came in a fresh and alarmed command from the rocker post of observation. "You know Ma didn't ever let that bush be touched after it had budded. You spaded around it onct when you was young and upty and you remember it didn't bloom."
"Muster been a hundred years ago if I was ever upty about this here flower job," he answered in an undertone to Everett as he turned his attention to the rose-bushes at which his apprentice had been pegging away. "At weddings and bornings and flower tending man is just a worm under woman's feet and he might as well not even hope to turn. All he can do is to—"
But it was just at this juncture when Uncle Tucker's patience was about to be exhausted, that a summons from Rose Mary came for a general getting ready for the birthday celebration.
And in a very few hours the festivities were in full swing. Miss Lavinia sat in state in her rocker and received the offerings and congratulations of Sweetbriar as they were presented in various original and characteristic forms. Young Peter Rucker, still a bit unsteady on his pink and chubby underpinning, was steered forward to present his glossy buckeye, hung on a plaited horse-hair string that had been constructed by small Jennie with long and infinite patience. Miss Lavinia's commendations threw both donor and constructor into an agony of bashfulness from which Pete took refuge in Rose Mary's skirts and Jennie behind her mother's chair. But at this juncture the arrival on the scene of action of young Bob Nickols with a whole two-horse wagon-load of pine cones, which the old lady doted on for the freshing up of the tiny fires always kept smoldering in her andironed fireplace the summer through, distracted the attention of the company and was greeted with great applause. Bob had been from early morning over on Providence Nob collecting the treasures, and, seated beside him on the front of the wagon, was Louisa Helen Plunkett, blushing furiously and most obviously avoiding her mother's stern eye of inquiry as to where she had spent the valuable morning hours.
The sensation of young Bob's offering was only offset at the unpacking of the complacent Mr. Crabtree's gift, which he bore over from the store in his own arms. With dramatic effect he placed it on the floor at Miss Lavinia's feet and called for a hatchet for its opening. And as from their wrappings of paper and excelsior he drew two large gilt and glass bottles, one containing bay rum and the other camphor, that precious lotion for fast stiffening joints, little Miss Amanda heaved a sigh of positive rapture. Mr. Crabtree was small and wiry, with a hickory-nut countenance and a luscious peach of a heart, and, though of bachelor condition, he at all times displayed sympathetic and intuitive domestic inclinations. He kept the Sweetbriar store and was thus in position to know of the small economies practised by the two old ladies in the matter of personal necessities. For the months past they had not bought the quantity of lubricating remedies that he considered sufficient and this had been his tactful way of supplying enough to last for some time to come. And from over the pile of gifts heaped around her, Miss Lavinia beamed upon him to such an extent that he felt like following young Pete's example, committing the awful impropriety of hiding his embarrassment in any petticoat handy, but just at this juncture up the front walk came the birthday cake navigating itself by the long legs of Mr. Caleb Rucker and attended by a riot of Sweetbriar youth, mad with excitement over its safe landing and the treat in prospect. In its wake followed Mrs. Rucker, complacent and beaming over the sensation caused by this her high triumph in the culinary line.
"Fly-away, if that's not Providence Nob gone and turned to a cake for Sister Viney's birthday," exclaimed Uncle Tucker, as amid generous applause the offering was landed on a table set near the rocker.
And again at this auspicious moment a huge waiter covered with little mountains of white ice-cream made its appearance through the front door, impelled by the motive power of Mr. Mark Everett's elegantly white-flannel-trousered legs, and guided to a landing beside the cake by Rose Mary, who was a pink flower of smiles and blushes.
Then it followed that in less time than one would think possible the company at large was busy with a spoon attached to the refreshments which to Sweetbriar represented the height of elegance. Out in the world beyond Old Harpeth ice-cream and cake may have lost caste as a fashionable afternoon refreshment, having been succeeded by the imported custom of tea and scones or an elaborate menu of reception indigestibles, but in the Valley nothing had ever threatened the supremacy of the frozen cream and white-frosted confection. The men all sat on the end of the long porch and accepted second saucers and slices and even when urged by Rose Mary, beaming with hospitality, third relays, while the Swarm in camp on the front steps, under the General's management, seconded by Everett, succeeded in obtaining supplies in a practically unlimited quantity.
"Looks like Miss Rose Mary's freezer ain't got no bottom at all," said Mr. Rucker in his long drawl as he began on a fourth white mound. "It reminds me of 'the snow, the snow what falls from Heaven to earth below,' and keeps a-falling." Mr. Rucker was a poet at heart and a husband to Mrs. Rucker by profession, and his flights were regarded by Sweetbriar at large with a mixture of pride and derision.
"Cal," said Mrs. Rucker sternly, "don't you eat more'n half that saucer. I've got no mind to top off this here good time with mustard plasters all around. Even rejoicings can get overfed and peter out into ginger tea. Jennie, you and Sammie and Pete stop eating right now. Lands alive, the sun has set and we all know Miss Viney oughter be in the house. Shoo, everybody go home to save your manners!" And with hearty laughs and further good-by congratulations the happy little company of farmer folk scattered to their own roof trees across and along Providence Road. The twilight had come, but a very young moon was casting soft shadows from the trees rustling in the night breezes and the stars were lighting up in competition to the rays that shot out from window after window in the little village.
Uncle Tucker had hurried away to his belated barn duties and little Miss Amanda into the house to stir up Miss Lavinia's fire in preparation for their retirement, which was a ceremony of long duration and begun with the mounting of the chickens to their roosts. Miss Lavinia sat with her hands folded in her lap over a collection of the smaller gifts of the afternoon and her eyes looked far away cross the Ridge, dim in the failing light, while her stern old face took on softened and very lovely lines. Rose Mary stood near to help her into the house and Everett leaned against a post close on the other side of the rocker.
"Children," she said with a little break in her usual austere voice, "I'm kinder ashamed of accusing the Lord of forgetting me this morning when I look at all these remembers of me here that my neighbors have given me. I found friends when I came here eighty-two years ago to-day and as they have died off He has raised up a new crop outen their seed for me. This rheumatism buckeye here is the present of the great grandson of my first beau, and this afternoon I have looked into the kind eyes of some of my friends dead and gone many a day, and have seen smiles come to life that have been buried fifty years. I'm a-feeling thankful to be here another summer to see my friends and flowers a-blooming onct more, and come next April I am a-going to want just such another infair as this one. Now help me into bed! Young man, you can lift me up some, I'm stiff with so long setting, and I'm a-going to want a power of rubbing this night, Rose Mary."
So, thus held by her duties of ministration, it was quite an hour later that Rose Mary came out of the house, which was dark and sleep-quiet, and found Everett still sitting on the front steps smoking and—waiting.
"Tired?" he asked as she sank down on to the step beside him and leaned her dark head back against one of the posts that supported the mass of honeysuckle vine.
"Not much—and a heap happy," she answered, looking up at him with reflected stars in her long-lashed blue eyes. "Wasn't it a lovely party?"
"Yes," answered Everett slowly as he watched the smoke curl up from his cigar and blow in the soft little night wind across toward Rose Mary; "yes, it was a nice party. I seriously doubt if anywhere on any of the known continents there could have been one just like it pulled off by any people of any nation. It was unique—in sentiment and execution; I'm duly grateful for having been a guest—even part honoree."
"I always think of old people as being the soft shadows that sturdy little children cast on the wall. They are a part of the day and sunshine, but just protected by the young folks that come between them and the direct rays. They are strangely like flowers, too, with their quaint fragrance. Aunt Viney is my tall purple flag, but Aunt Amandy is my bed of white cinnamon pinks. I—I want to keep them in bloom for always. I can't let myself think—that I can't." Rose Mary's voice trembled into a laugh as she caught a trailing wisp of honeysuckle and pressed a bunch of its buds to her lips.
"You'll keep them, Rose Mary. You could keep anything you—you really wanted," said Everett in a guardedly comforting voice. "And what are Mr. Alloway and Stonie in your flower garden?" he asked in a bantering tone.
"Oh, Uncle Tucker is the briar rose hedge all around the place, and Stonie is all the young shoots that I'm trying to prune and train up just like him," answered Rose Mary with a quick laugh. "You're my new-fashioned crimson-rambler from out over the Ridge that I'm trying to make grow in my garden," she added, with a little hint of both audacity and tenderness in her voice.
"I'm rooted all right," answered Everett quickly, as he blew a puff of smoke at her. "And you, Rose Mary, are the bloom of every rose-bush that I ever saw anywhere. You are, I verily believe, the only and original Rose of the World."
"Oh, no," answered Rose Mary lifting her long lashes for a second's glance at him; "I'm just the Rose of these Briars. Don't you know all over the world women are blooming on lovely tall stems, where they have planted themselves deep in home places and are drinking the Master's love and courage from both sun and rain. But if we don't go to rest some you'll wilt, Rambler, and I'll shatter. Be sure and take the glass of cream I put by your bed. Good night and good dreams!"
AT THE COURT OF DAME NATURE
"Well, Rose Mary," said Uncle Tucker as he appeared in the doorway of the milk-house and framed himself against an entrancing, mist-wreathed, sun-up aspect of Sweetbriar with a stretch of Providence Road winding away to the Nob and bending caressingly around red-roofed Providence as it passed over the Ridge, "there are forty-seven new babies out in the barn for you this morning. Better come on over and see 'em!" Uncle Tucker's big eyes were bright with excitement, his gray lavender muffler, which always formed a part of his early morning costume, flew at loose ends, and a rampant, grizzly lock stuck out through the slit in the old gray hat.
"Gracious me, Uncle Tuck, who now?" demanded Rose Mary over a crock of milk she was expertly skimming with a thin, old, silver ladle.
"Old White has hatched out a brood of sixteen, assorted black and white, that foolish bronze turkey hen just come out from under the woodpile with thirteen little pesters, Sniffer has got five pups—three spots and two solids—and Mrs. Butter has twin calves, assorted sex this time. They are spry and hungry and you'd better come on over!"
"Lovely," laughed Rose Mary with the delight in her blue eyes matching that in Uncle Tucker's pair of mystic gray. "I'll come just as soon as I get the skimming done. We'll want some corn meal and millet seed for the chirp-babies, but the others we can leave to the maternal ministrations. I'm so full of welcome I don't see how I'm going to keep it from bubbling over."
"That's jest like you, Rose Mary, a-welcoming a whole passel of pesters that have deluged down on you at one time," said Uncle Tucker with a dubiously appreciative smile at Rose Mary's hospitable enthusiasm. "Looks to me like a girl tending three old folks, one rampage of a boy, a mollycuddle of a strange man, and a whole petting spoiled village has got enough on her shoulders without this four-foot, two-foot landslide."
"But it's in my heart I carry you all, old Sweetie," answered Rose Mary with a flirt of her long lashes up at Uncle Tucker. "A woman can carry things as a blessing in her heart that might be an awful burden on her shoulders. Don't you know I don't allow you out before the sun is up good without your muffler tied up tight? There; please go on back to the barn and take this crock of skimmed milk to Mrs. Sniffie—wait, I'll pour back some of the cream! And in just a few minutes I'll be ready to—"
"Rose Mary, Rose Mary," came a wild, enthusiastic shout from up the path toward the Briars and in a moment the General appeared around the row of lilac bushes through which the milk-house trail led down under the hill to Rose Mary's sanctum of the golden treasure. Stonie had taken time before leaving the seclusion of his apartment to plunge into his short blue jeans trousers, but he was holding them up with one hand and struggling with his gingham shirt, the tail of which bellowed out like a sail in the morning breeze as he sped along. And in his wake came Tobe with a pan in one hand and a cup in the other. "It's two calves, Tobe says, with just Mrs. Butter for the mother and Sniffie beat her with three more puppies than two calves. It's sixteen chickens and a passel of turkeys and we waked up Mr. Mark to tell him and he said—" Stonie paused in the rapid fire of his announcement of the morning news and then added in judicial tone of voice, as if giving the aroused sleeper his modicum of fair play: "Well, he didn't quite say it before he swallowed, but he throwed a pillow at Tobe and pulled the sheet over his head and groaned awful. Aunt Viney was saying her prayers when I went to tell her, and Aunt Mandy was taking down her frizzles, but she stopped and gave Tobe some corn-bread for the chickens and some pot-licker with meat in it for Sniffie. Can't you come with me to see 'em now, Rose Mary? It won't be any fun until you see em!" The General had by this time lined up in the doorway with Uncle Tucker, and Tobe's black head and keen face peered over his shoulder. The expression in all three pairs of eyes fixed on hers was the same—the wild desire to make her presentation at the interesting court Dame Nature was holding in the barn. A most natural masculine instinct for feminine interpretive companionship when face to face with the miracle of maternity.
"Just one more crock of milk to skim and I can go," answered Rose Mary as she poised the skimmer over the last yellow surface down the line of huge, brown, earthen bowls that in Harpeth Valley were known as crocks. The milk-house was cool and clean and smelled of the fresh cream lifted from the milk into the stone jars to be clabbered for the to-morrow churning. And Rose Mary herself was a fresh, fragrant incarnation of the spirit of a spring sun-dawn that had come over the Ridge from Old Harpeth. Her merry voice floated out over the hillside as she followed in the wake of Uncle Tucker, Stonie and Tobe, with the provender for the new arrivals, and it made its way as a faint echo of a dream through one of the vine-covered, gable windows of the Briars and the effect thereof was well-nigh instantaneous.
Everett, after a hasty and almost as incomplete toilet as the one made by the General in his excitement, arrived on the scene of action just in time to witness the congratulatory interview between Mrs. Sniffie and the mistress of her undying affections. The long-eared, plumy, young setter-mother stood licking the back of Rose Mary's neck as she sat on the barn floor with all five of the young tumblers in her lap, with Tobe and Stonie hanging rapturously over her and them, while Uncle Tucker was expatiating on some points that had made themselves evident even at this very early stage of the existence of the little dog babies.
"They ain't not a single stub nose in the bunch, Uncle Tuck, not a one and everybody's of thems toes stick way apart," exclaimed the General, his cheeks red with joyous pride.
"Watch 'em, Miss Ro' Mary; watch 'em smell Sniffie when I call her over here," exclaimed Tobe as he held out the pan to Mrs. Sniffer and thus coaxed her from the side of Rose Mary and the small family. And, sure enough, around squirmed every little white and yellow bunch and up went every little new-born nose as it sniffed at the recession of the maternal fount. One little precocious even went so far as to attempt to set his wee fore paddies against Rose Mary's knee and to stiffen a tiny plume of a tail, with a plain instinct to point the direction of the shifting base of supplies. Rose Mary gave a cry of delight and hugged the whole talented family to her breast, while Stonie and Tobe yelled and danced as Uncle Tucker turned with evident emotion to Everett to claim his congratulations.
"Never saw anything like it in my life," Everett assured him with the greatest enthusiasm, and, as he spoke, he laughed down into Rose Mary's lifted blue eyes that were positively tender with pride over the puppies in her arms. "It's a sight worth losing the tale of a dream for—taken all together."
"And all the others—I'll show you," and, gathering her skirts basketwise, Rose Mary rose to her feet and led the way across the barn, with Sniffer snuffing along at the squirming bundle in her skirts, that swung against the white petticoat ruffling around her slim ankles. With the utmost care she deposited the puppies in an overturned barrel, nicely lined with hay, that Stonie and Tobe had been preparing. "They are lovely, Sniffie," she said softly to the young mother, who jumped in and huddled down beside the babies as her mistress turned to leave them with the greatest reluctance.
And it was well that the strata of Everett's enthusiasm lay near the surface and was easily workable, for in the next half-hour there was a great demand of continuous output. Mrs. Butter stood switching her tail and chewing at a wisp of hay with an air of triumphant pride tinged with mild surprise as she turned occasionally to glance at the offspring huddled against her side and found eight wobbly legs instead of the four her former experiences had led her to expect, and felt two little nuzzling noses instead of one.
"Which one do you guess was the surprise calf to her, Rose Mamie?" demanded the General.
"Shoo!" said Tobe in answer to the General's question. "Old Butter have had them two calfs to purpose, boy and girl, one to keep and one to kill. She got mixed about whether Mr. Tuck keeps heifers or bulls and jest had both kinds so as to keep one sure."
"Well, Aunt Viney read in her book of a place they kills girls and keeps boys. At this place they jest gits it mixed up with the cows and it's no use to tell 'em," answered the General in a disgusted tone of voice, and with a stem glance at Uncle Tucker, as he and Tobe passed on over to the feed-room door, to lead the way to the display of the little turks and cheeps for Everett's further edification.
And just as the introductions were all completed two deep notes of the mellow old farm bell sounded over the hill in a hospitable and reverent summons to prayers and breakfast ensuing. On the instant two pairs of pink heels were shown to the company as Stonie and Tobe raced up the walk, which were quickly followed by Uncle Tucker, intent on being on hand promptly for the assembling of his household. More slowly Rose Mary and Everett followed, walking side by side along the narrow path.
"Rose Mary, have you let me sleep through such exciting scenes as this every morning for a month?" demanded Everett quizzically. "What time do you get up—or is it that the sun waits for your summons or—"
"No, not my summons—old lame Shanghi's. I believe he is of French extraction from his elaborate manner with the hens," answered Rose Mary, quickly applying his plagiarized compliment. "Let's hurry or I'll be late for prayers. Would you like—will you come in to-day, as you are already up?" The color rose in Rose Mary's cheeks up under her long lashes and she gave him just one shy glance that had a tinge of roguishness in it.
"Thank you, I—I would like to. That is, if I may—if I won't be in the way or—or—or—will you hold my hand so I won't go wrong?" he finished in laughing confusion as the color came under the tan of his cheeks to match that in hers and the young look lay for a moment in his eyes. "It'll be my debut at family worship," he added quickly to cover his confusion.
"Don't worry, Uncle Tucker leads it," answered Rose Mary as they ascended the front steps and came across the front porch to the doorway of the wide hall, which was the living-room, as well as the artery of the Briars.
And a decorous and seemly scene they stepped in upon. Uncle Tucker sat back of a small table, which was placed at one side of the wide open fireplace, in which crackled a bit of fragrant, spring fire. His Bible and a couple of hymn-books rested in front of him, his gray forelock had been meekly plastered down and the jocund lavender scarf had been laid aside to display a straight white collar and clerical black bow tie. His eyes were bent on the book before him as he sought for the text for the morning lesson. Aunt Viney sat close beside him as if anxious to be as near to the source of worship as possible, though the strain of refraining from directing Uncle Tucker in the conducting thereof was very great. The tradition which forced silence upon women in places of public worship had held with Miss Lavinia only by the exercising of the sternest and most rigorous self-suppression, which at any time might have been broken except for the curbing of her iron will.
But even though silent she was still dominant, and over her glasses her eyes shot glances of stern rebuke at two offenders in a distant corner, while Uncle Tucker fluttered the leaves of his hymn-book, oblivious to the unseemly contention. The General and Tobe, who came as near to living and having his being at the Briars as was possible in consideration of the fact that he was supposed to have his bed and board under his own paternal roof, were kneeling demurely beside a small rocking-chair, but a battle royal was going on as to who would possess the low seat on which to bow the head of reverence.
Little Miss Amanda from across the room, in terror of what might befall her favorites at the hands of Miss Lavinia in a later hour of reckoning, was making beseeching gestures of alarm, warning and reproof that were entirely inadequate to the situation, which was fast becoming acute, when the two tardy members arrived on the scene of action. It took Rose Mary one second to grasp the situation, and, motioning Everett to a chair beside the rocker, she seated herself quickly in the very midst of the scuffle. In a half-second Tobe's head was bowed in triumph on the arm of her chair, while the General's was ducked with equal triumph upon her knee as Uncle Tucker's sweet old voice rose in the first words of his prayer.
But after a few minutes of most becoming reverence Stonie's eyes opened and revealed his surprise at Everett's presence as he knelt by the chair across from Tobe and almost as close to Rose Mary's protective presence as either of the two combatants. With a welcoming smile the General slipped the little brown hand of fellowship into the stranger's, thereby offering a material support to the latter's agony of embarrassment, which only very slowly receded from face and demeanor as the services proceeded.
Then as across the crackle of the fire came the confident word of David the Singer: "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein," intoned in the old man's reverent voice, something led Everett's glance out through the open door to see the bit of divine dominion that spread before him with new eyes and a newer understanding. Harpeth Valley lay like the tender palm of a huge master hand with the knuckles of rough blue hills knotted around it, and dotted over the fostering meadows were comfortable homes, each with its morning altar fire sending up opal wreaths of mist smoke from the red brick or stone chimneys. Long creek lines marked their way across the fields which were growing tender green with the upbringing of the spring grain.
"Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand," droned Uncle Tucker. "The hollow of His hand," assented Everett's conscience in artistic appreciation of the simile.
"And stretched out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in," came as another line of interpretation of the picture spread before the strangely unshackled eyes of the bowed man with the little boy kneeling beside him. Quickly he turned toward Rose Mary with almost a startled glance and found in her eyes the fact that she had been faring forth over Harpeth Valley on the wings of Uncle Tucker's supplication as had he. The wonder of it rose in his eyes, which were about to lay bare to her depths never before stirred, when a fervent "Amen! I beat you that time, Tobe!" fairly exploded at his ear as the General took the final word out of Uncle Tucker's very mouth in rival to his worshipping opponent.
"I said it first, but it got blowed into Miss Ro' Mary's sleeve," avowed Tobe with a flaunt at his competitor.
"If nobody he'r'n it, it don't count," decided the General with emphasis. And in friendly dispute he escorted his rival down the front walk, while Uncle Tucker, as was his custom, busied himself straightening hymn-book and Bible, so leaving the family altar in readiness for the beginning of a new day. And thus the primitive ceremonial, the dread of which had kept Everett late in bed every morning for a month, had resolved itself into what seemed to him but the embrace of a tender, whimsical brotherhood in which the old mystic both assumed and accounted for a stewardship in behalf of the others assembled under his roof-tree.
But in the eyes of Miss Lavinia all forms of service were the marshalling of the hosts in battle array and at all times she was enlisted in the ranks of the church militant, and upon this occasion she bore down upon Everett with banners unfurled.
"We are mighty gratified to welcome you at last in the circle of family worship, young man," she declaimed, as reproach and cordiality vied in her voice. "I have been a-laying off to ask you what church you belonged to in New York, and have a little talk with you over some of our sacred duties that young people of this generation are apt—"
"Rose Mary," came Miss Amanda's cheery little voice from the doorway just in time to save Everett from the wish, if not even a vain attempt, to sink through the floor, "bring Mr. Mark right on in to breakfast before the waffles set. Sister Viney, your coffee is a-getting cold." Little Miss Amanda had seen and guessed at his plight and the coffee threat to Miss Lavinia had been one of the nimble manoeuvers that she daily, almost hourly, employed in the management of her sister's ponderosity. Thus she had saved this day, but Everett knew that there were others to come, and in the dim distance he discerned his Waterloo.
And as he worked carefully with his examining pick over beyond the north pasture through the soft spring-warm afternoon, he occasionally smiled to himself as the morning scene of worship, etched deep on his consciousness by its strangeness to his tenets of life, rose again and again to his mind's eye. They were a wonderful people, these Valley folk, descendants of the Huguenots and Cavaliers who had taken the wilderness trail across the mountains and settled here "in the hollow" of old Harpeth's hand. They were as interesting scientifically from a philosophical standpoint as were the geological formations which lay beneath their blue-grass and clover fields. They built altars to what seemed to him a primitive God, and yet their codes were in many cases not only ethically but economically and democratically sound. The men he had found shrewd and as a whole more interested and versed in statescraft than would seem possible, considering their shut-in location in regard to the places where the world wheels seem to revolve. But were there larger wheels revolving, silently, slowly, but just as relentlessly, out here where the heavens were stretched "as a curtain," and "as a tent to dwell in?"
"'The earth and the fullness thereof,'" he mused as he raised his eyes to the sky; "it's theirs, certainly, and they dedicate it to their God. I wonder—" Suddenly the picture of the woman in the barn rose to his mind, strong and gracious and wonderful, with the young "fullness" pressing around her, teeming with—force. What force—and what source? Suddenly he dropped his pick behind a convenient bush, shouldered his kit of rocks and sand, climbed the fence and tramped away down Providence Road to Sweetbriar, Rose Mary and her cold milk crocks, thither impelled by deep—thirsts.
And under the hospitable eaves of the milk-house he found Rose Mary and her cooling draft—also Mrs. Caleb Rucker, with small Pete in tow.
"Howdy, Mr. Mark," the visiting neighbor answered in response to his forcedly cordial greeting. If a man has walked a mile and a half with a picture of a woman handing him a glass of cool milk with a certain lift of black lashes from over deep, black blue eyes it is—disconcerting to have her do it in the presence of another.
"I just come over to get a bucket of buttermilk for Granny Satterwhite," he found Mrs. Rucker saying as he forced his attention. "She won't touch mine if there's any of Rose Mary's handy. Looks like she thinks she's drinking some of Rose Mary's petting with every gulp."
Everett had just raised the glass Rose Mary had handed him, to his lips, as Mrs. Rucker spoke, and over its edge he regarded the roses that suddenly blushed out in her cheeks, but she refused to raise her lashes the fraction of an inch and went calmly on pressing the milk from the butter she had just taken from the churn.
"Granny knows that love can be sent just as well in a glass of buttermilk as in a valentine," she finally said, and as she spoke a roguish smile coaxed at the comer of her mouth. "Don't you suppose a piece of hemp twine would turn into a gold cord if you tied it around a bundle of true love?" she ventured further in a spirit of daring, still with her eyes on the butter.
"Now that's something in meaning like my first husband, Mr. Satterwhite, said when we was married," assented Mrs. Rucker with hearty appreciation of the practicality in Rose Mary's sentiment. "He gave me two sows, each with a litter of pigs, for a wedding present and said they'd be a heap more to me than any kind of jimcracks he could er bought for half the money they'd bring. And they was, for, in due course of time, I sold all them hogs and bought the plush furniture in the front room, melojeon and all. Now Mr. Rucker, he give me a ring with a blue set and 'darling' printed inside it that cost fifty cents extra, and Jennie Rucker swallowed that ring before she was a year old. I guess she has got it growed up inside her, for all I know of it, and her Paw is a-setting on Mr. Satterwhite's furniture at present, speaking still. Sometimes it makes me feel sad to think of Mr. Satterwhite when Cal Rucker spells out, Shall we meet beyond the river with two fingers on that melojeon. But then I even up my feelings by remembering how Cal let me name Pete for Mr. Satterwhite, which is a second-husband compliment they don't many men pass; and it pleased Granny so."
"Mr. Rucker is always nice to Granny Satterwhite," said Rose Mary with the evident intention of extolling the present incumbent of the husband office to her friend. But at the mention of his name a moment earlier, young Peter, the bond between the past and present, had sidled out the door and proceeded to sit calmly down on the rippling surface of the spring branch. His rescue and retirement necessitated his mother's departure and Everett was left in command of the two-alone situation he desired.
"Hasn't this been a lovely, long day?" asked Rose Mary as she turned the butter into a large jar and pressed a white cloth close over it with a stone top. "To-night is the full April moon and I've got a surprise for you, if you don't find it out too soon. Will you walk over to Tilting Rock, beyond the barn-lot, with me after supper and let me show you?"
"Will I cross the fields of Elysium to gaze over the pearly ramparts?" demanded Everett with boyish enthusiasm, if not a wholly accurate use of mythological metaphor. "Let's cut supper and go on now! What do you say? Why wait?"
"I'm afraid," laughed Rose Mary as she prepared to close up the wide window and leave everything in shipshape for the night. "A woman oughtn't to risk feeding a hungry man cold moonbeams instead of hot hoecake. Besides, I have to see everybody safely tucked in before I can leave. Aren't they all a precious houseful of early-to-bed chickens? The old Sweeties have forgotten there is such a thing as the moon and Stonie hasn't—found it out—yet." And with a mischievous backward glance, Rose Mary led the way up the lilac path to the Briars on top of the hill just as the old bell sounded two wobbly notes, their uncertainty caused by the rivalry of the General and Tobe over the pulling of the ropes.
And it was quite two hours later that she and Everett made their way across the barn-lot over to the broad, moss-covered Tilting Rock that jutted out from a little hackberry-covered knoll at the far end of the pasture.
"Now look—and smell in deep!" exclaimed Rose Mary excitedly as she pointed back to the Briars.
"Why—why!" exclaimed Everett under his breath, "it's enchantment! It's a dream—am I awake?"
And indeed a very vision spread itself out before the wondering man. The low roof and wide wings of the Briars, with the delicate traceries of vines over the walls and gables, shone a soft, old-brick pink in the glow of moonlight, and over and around it all gushed a very shower of shimmering white blossoms, surrounding the house like a mist around an early blooming rose. And as he looked, wave on wave of fragrance beat against Everett's face and poured over his head.
"What is it?" he demanded breathlessly, as if dizzy from a too deep drinking of the perfume.
"Don't you know? It's the locust trees that have bloomed out since sunset!" exclaimed Rose Mary in as breathless a tone as his own. "For a week I have been watching and hoping they would be out in the full moon. They are so delicate that the least little cold wind sets them back days or destroys them altogether. I wanted them so very much this year for you, and I was so afraid you would notice them before we got over here where you could get the full effect. I promised you lilacs for being good, but this is just because—because—"
"Because what?" asked Everett quietly.
"Because I felt you would appreciate it," answered Rose Mary, as she sank down on the stone that still held a trace of the warmth from the sun, and made room for Everett beside her with one of her ever-ready, gracious little gestures. "And it's lovely to have you here to look at it with me," she added. "So many times I have sat here alone with the miracle, and my heart has ached for the whole world to get the vision of it at least. I've tried sending my love of it out in little locust prayers to folks over the Ridge. Did you ever happen to get one any spring?"
"Last April I turned down a commission for a false test for the biggest squeeze-out copper people in the world, fifty thousand in it to me. I thought it was moral courage, but I know now it was just on account of the locusts blooming in Harpeth Valley at Sweetbriar. Do you get any connection?" he demanded lightly, if a bit unevenly.
"To think that would be worth all the loneliness," answered Rose Mary gently. "Things were very hard for me the first year I had to come back from college. I used to sit here by the hour and watch Providence Road wind away over the Ridge and nothing ever seemed to come or go for me. But that was only for a little while, and now I never get the time to breathe between the things that happen along Providence Road for me to attend to. I came back to Sweetbriar like an empty crock, with just dregs of disappointment at the bottom, and now I'm all ready every morning to have five gallons of lovely folks-happenings poured into a two-and-a-half-gallon capacity. I wish I were twins or twice as much me."
"Why, you have never told me before, Rose Mary, that you belong to the new-woman persuasion, with a college hall-mark and suffragist leanings. I have made the mistake of putting you in the home-guard brigade and classing you fifty years behind your times. Don't tell me you have an M.A. I can't stand it to-night."
"No, I haven't got one," answered Rose Mary with both a smile and a longing in her voice. "I came home in the winter of my junior year. My father was one of the Harpeth Valley boys who went out into the world, and he came back to die under the roof where his fathers had fought off the Indians, and he brought poor little motherless me to leave with the aunts and Uncle Tucker. They loved me and cared for me just as they did Uncle Tucker's son, who was motherless, too, and a few years after he went out into the world to seek the fortune he felt so sure of, I was given my chance at college. In my senior year his tragedy came and I hurried back to find Uncle Tucker broken and old with the horror of it, and with the place practically sold to avoid open disgrace. His son died that year and left—left—some day I will tell you the rest of it. I might have gone back into the world and made a success of things and helped them in that way, from a distance—but what they needed was—was me. And so I sat here many sunset hours of loneliness and looked along Providence Road until—until I think the Master must have passed this way and left me His peace, though my mortal eyes didn't see Him. And now there lies my home nest swung in a bower of blossoms full of the old sweetie birds, the boy, the calf, puppy babies, pester chickens and—and I'm going to take a large, gray, prowling night-bird back and tuck him away for fear his cheeks will look hollow in the morning. I'm the mother bird, and while I know He watches with me all through the night, sometimes I sing in the dark because I and my nesties are close to Him and I'm not the least bit afraid."
MOONLIGHT AND APPLE-BLOW
"I hope you feel easy in your mind, child, now you've put this whole garden to bed and tucked 'em under cover, heads and all," said Uncle Tucker, as he spread the last bit of old sacking down over the end of the row of little sprouting bean vines. "When I look at the garden I'm half skeered to go in the house to bed for fear I haven't got a quilt to my joints."
"Now, honey sweet, you know better than that," answered Rose Mary as she rose from weighting down the end of a frilled white petticoat with a huge clod of earth and stretched it so as to cover quite two yards of the green shoots. "I haven't taken a thing of yours but two shirts and one of your last summer seersucker coats. I'm going to mend the split up the back in it for the wash Monday. Aunt Amandy lent me two aprons and a sack and a petticoat for the peony bushes, and Aunt Viney gave me this shawl and three chemises that cover all the pinks. I've taken all the tablecloths for the early peas, and Stonie's shirts, each one of them, have covered a whole lot of the poet's narcissus. All the rest of the things are my own clothes, and I've still got a clean dress for to-morrow. If I can just cover everything to-night, I won't be afraid of the frost any more. You don't want all the lovely little green things to die, do you, and not have any snaps or peas or peonies at all?"
"Oh, fly-away!" answered Uncle Tucker as he tucked in the last end of a nondescript frill over a group of tiny cabbage plants, "there's not even a smack of frost in the air! It's all in your mind."
"Well, a mind ought to be sensitive about covering up its friends from frost hurts," answered Rose Mary propitiatingly as she took a satisfied survey of the bedded garden, which looked like the scene of a disorganized washday. "Thank you, Uncle Tucker, for helping me—keep off the frost from my dreams, anyway. Don't you think—"
"Well, howdy, folks!" came a cheerfully interruptive hail from across the brick wall that separated the garden from the cinder walk that lay along Providence Road, which ran as the only street through Sweetbriar, and Caleb Rucker's long face presented itself framed in a wreath of budding rose briars that topped the wall in their spring growth. "Tenting up the garden sass ag'in, Miss Rose Mary?"
"No, we're jest giving all the household duds a mooning instead of a sunning, Cal," answered Uncle Tucker with a chuckle as he came over to the wall beside the visitor. "What's the word along the Road?"
"Gid Newsome have sent the news as he'll be here Sad'ay night to lay off and plow up this here dram or no-dram question for Sweetbriar voters, so as to tote our will up to the state house for us next election. As a state senator, we can depend on Gid to expend some and have notice taken of this district, if for nothing but his corn-silk voice and white weskit. It must take no less'n a pound of taller a week to keep them shoes and top hat of his'n so slick. I should jedge his courting to be kinder like soft soap and molasses, Miss Rose Mary." And Mr. Rucker's smile was of the saddest as he handed this bit of gentle banter over the wall to Rose Mary, who had come over to stand beside Uncle Tucker in the end of the long path.
"It's wonderful how devoted Mr. Newsome is to all his friends," answered Rose Mary with a blush. "He sent me three copies of the Bolivar Herald with the poem of yours he had them print last week, and I was just going over to take you and Mrs. Rucker one as soon as I got the time to—"
"Johnnie-jump-ups, Miss Rose Mary, don't you never do nothing like that to me!" exclaimed Mr. Rucker with a very fire of desperation lighting his thin face. "If Mis' Rucker was to see one verse of that there poetry I would have to plow the whole creek-bottom corn-field jest to pacify her. I've done almost persuaded her to hire Bob Nickols to do it with his two teams and young Bob, on account of a sciattica in my left side that plowing don't do no kind of good to. I have took at least two bottles of her sasparilla and sorgum water and have let Granny put a plaster as big and loud-smelling as a mill swamp on my back jest to git that matter of the corn-field fixed up, and here you most go and stir up the ruckus again with that poor little Trees in the Breeze poem that Gid took and had printed unbeknownst to me. Please, mam, burn them papers!"