Susan Clegg And a Man in the House
BY ANNE WARNER
Author of "Susan Clegg and her Friend Mrs. Lathrop," "A Woman's Will," "The Rejuvenation of Aunt Mary," "Seeing France with Uncle John," etc.
Illustrated from Drawings by ALICE BARBER STEPHENS
Boston Little, Brown, and Company 1907
Copyright, 1906, By Katharine N. Birdsall
Copyright, 1907, By The Butterick Company, Ltd.
Copyright, 1907, By Little, Brown, and Company
All rights reserved
Published October, 1907
GRIFFITH-STILLINGS PRESS, BOSTON, MASS., U.S.A.
I. Man's Proposal 1
II. Elijah Doxey and His Locked Box 20
III. The First Issue of the Newspaper 32
IV. Settling down after the Honeymoon 43
V. Susan Clegg's Full Day 64
VI. The Editor's Advice Column 85
VII. Mrs. Macy and the Convention 98
VIII. The Biennial 113
IX. The Far Eastern Tropics 128
X. The Evils of Delayed Decease 142
XI. The Democratic Party 156
XII. The Trials of Mrs. Macy 168
XIII. Monotony of Ministerial Monologues 200
XIV. Advisability of Newspaper Exposures 212
XV. The Trial of a Sick Man in the House 223
XVI. The Beginning of the End 235
XVII. An Old-fashioned Fourth 251
XVIII. Celebrating Independence Day 261
XIX. Exit the Man out of Susan Clegg's House 273
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"'He is a trouble, Mrs. Lathrop.'" Frontispiece
"'A lady come up, looked at my flag, an' asked me if I was a delegate or an alternative'" 119
"'Mrs. Macy was just about plum paralyzed at that'" 179
"'The bottom come out an' the duck flew down the car'" 188
Susan Clegg And a Man in the House
Susan Clegg had dwelt alone ever since her father's death. She had not been unhappy in dwelling alone, although she had been a good daughter as long as she had a parent to live with. When the parent departed, and indeed some few days before his going, there had arisen a kind of a question as to the possibility of a life-companion for the daughter who must inevitably be left orphaned and lonely before long. The question had arisen in a way highly characteristic of Miss Clegg and had been disposed of in the same manner.[A] The fact is that Miss Clegg had herself proposed to four men and been refused four times. Then her father had died, and, upon the discovery that he was better endowed with worldly wealth than folks had generally supposed, all four had hastened to bring a return suit at once. But Miss Clegg had also had her mind altered by the new discovery and refused them all. From that time to this period of which I am about to write there had never been any further question in her mind as to the non-advisability of having a man in the house.
[A] See "Susan Clegg and her Friend Mrs. Lathrop."
"As far as I can see," she said confidentially to her friend, Mrs. Lathrop, who lived next door, "men are not what they are cracked up to be. There ain't but one woman as looks happy in this whole community and that's Mrs. Sperrit, an' she looks so happy that at first glance she looks full as much like a fool as anythin'. The minister's wife don't look happy,—she looks a deal more like somethin' a cat finds an' lugs home for you to brush up,—an' goodness knows Mrs. Fisher don't look happy an' she ain't happy neither, for she told me herself yesterday as since Mr. Fisher had got this new idea of developin' his chest with Japanese Jimmy Jig-songs, an' takin' a cold plunge in the slop jar every mornin', that life hadn't been worth livin' for the wall paper in her room. She ain't got no sympathy with chest developin' an' Japanese jiggin' an' she says only to think how proud she was to marry the prize boy at school an' look at what's come of it. She asked me if I hear about his goin' to town the other day an' buyin' a book on how to make your hair grow by pullin' it out as fast as it comes in, an' then gettin' on the train, an' gettin' to readin' on to how to make your eyebrows grow by pullin' them out, too, an' not noticin' that they'd unhooked his car an' left it behind, until it got too dark to read any further—"
"Why, what—" cried Mrs. Lathrop, who was the best of listeners, and never interjectional except under the highest possible pressure of curiosity.
"There was n't nothin' for him to do except to put his thumb in at the place where the eyebrows was, an' get down out of the car, an' then she told me, would you believe that with her an' John Bunyan in their second hour of chasin' around like a pair of crazy cockroaches because he was n't on the city train when he said he'd come, he very calmly went up to a hotel an' took a room for the night? An' she says that ain't the worst of it whatever you may think, for he was so interested in the book that he wanted to keep right on readin', an' as the light was too high an' he had n't no way to lower it, he just highered himself by puttin' a rockin'-chair (yes, Mrs. Lathrop, a rockin'-chair!) on the center table, an' there he sit rockin' an' readin' until he felt to go to bed. She says, would n't that drive a good wife right out beside her own mind? To think of a man like Mr. Fisher rockin' away all night on top of a table an' never even gettin' a scare. Why, she says you know an' I know that if he'd been the husband of a poor widow or the only father of a deserving family, of course he'd have rocked off an' goodness knows what, but bein' as he was her husband with a nice life insurance an' John Bunyan wild to go to college, he needs must strike the one rocker in the world as is hung true, an' land safe an' sound in her sorrowin' arms the next mornin'! Oh my, but she says, the shock she got! They was so sure that somethin' had happened to him that she an' John had planned a little picnic trip to the city to leave word with the police first an' visit the Zooelogical Gardens after. Well, she says, maybe you can judge of their feelin's when they was waitin' all smiles an' sunshine for their train, with a nice lunch done up under John's arm, an' he got down from the other train without no preparation a tall. She said she done all she could under the circumstances, for she burst out cryin' in spite of herself, an' cryin' is somethin' as always fits in handy anywhere, an' then she says they had nothin' in the wide world to do but to go home an' explain away the hard-boiled eggs for dinner the best they could. She says she hopes the Lord'll forgive her for He knows better than she ever will what she ever done to have Mr. Fisher awarded to her as her just and lawful punishment these last five and twenty years; an', she says, will you only think how awful easy, as long as he got on the table of his own free will an' without her even puttin' him up to it, it would have been for him to of rocked off an' goodness knows what. She says she is a Christian, an' she don't wish even her husband any ill wind, but she did frighten me, Mrs. Lathrop, an' I wanted to speak out frank an' open to you about it because a man in the house is a man in the house, an' I want to take men into very careful consideration before I go a step further towards lettin one have the right to darken my doors whenever he comes home to bed an' board—"
Mrs. Lathrop quite jumped in her chair at this startling finale to her neighbor's talk and her little black eyes gleamed brightly.
"Bed and bo—" she cried.
"He'll have father's room, if I take him, of course," said Susan, "but I ain't sure yet that I'll take him. You know all I stood with father, Mrs. Lathrop, an' I don't really know as I can stand any more sad memories connected with that room. You know how it was with Jathrop yourself, too, an' how happy and peaceful life has been since he lit out, an' I ain't sure that—My heavens alive! I forgot to tell you that Mr. Dill thought he saw Jathrop in the city when he was up there yesterday!"
"Saw Ja—" screamed Mrs. Lathrop. Jathrop was her son who had fled from the town some years before, his departure being marked by peculiarly harrowing circumstances, and of whom or from whom she had never heard one word since.
"Mr. Dill was n't sure," said Susan; "he said the more he thought about it the more sure he was that he was n 't sure a tall. He saw the man in a seed-office where he went to buy some seed, an' he said if it was Jathrop he's took another name because another name was on the office door. He said what made him think as it was Jathrop was he jumped so when he see Mr. Dill. Mr. Dill said he was helpin' himself out of a box of cigars an' his own idea was as he jumped because they was n't his cigars. Jathrop give Mr. Dill one cigar an' when he thanked him he said, 'Don't mention it,' an' to my order of thinkin' that proves as they was n't his cigars, for if they was his cigars why under heaven should he have minded Mr. Dill's mentionin' it? Mr. Dill said another reason as made him think as it was Jathrop was as he never asked about you,—but then if he was n't Jathrop he naturally would n't have asked about you either. Mr. Dill said he was n't sure, Mr. Dill said he was n't a bit sure, Mr. Dill said it was really all a mystery to him, but two things he could swear to, an' one of those was as this man is a full head taller than Jathrop an' the other was as he's a Swede, so I guess it's pretty safe not to be him."
Mrs. Lathrop collapsed limply. Susan went on with her tale as calmly as ever.
"You see, Mrs. Lathrop, it's like this. I told Mr. Kimball I'd think it over an' consult you before I give him any answer a tall. I could see he did n't want to give me time to think it over or to consult you for fear I'd change my mind, but when you ain't made up your mind, changin' it is easy, an' I never was one to hurry myself an' I won't begin now. Hurryin' leads to swallowin' fish-bones an' tearin' yourself on nails an' a many other things as makes me mad, an' I won't hurry now an' I won't hurry never. I shall take my own time, an' take my own time about takin' it, too, an' Mr. Kimball nor no other man need n't think he can ask me things as is more likely to change my whole life than not to change it, an' suppose I'm goin' to answer him like it was n't no greater matter than a sparrow hoppin' his tail around on a fence. I ain't no sparrow nor no spring chicken neither an' I don't intend to decide my affairs jumpin' about in a hurry, no, not even if you was advisin' me the same as Mr. Kimball, Mrs. Lathrop, an' you know how much I think of your advice even if you have yet to give me the first piece as I can see my way to usin', for I will say this for your advice, Mrs. Lathrop, an' that is that advice as is easier left untook than yours is, never yet was given."
Mrs. Lathrop opened her mouth in a feeble attempt to rally her forces, but long before they were rallied Susan was off again:
"I don't know, I'm sure, whether what I said to Mr. Kimball in the end was wise or not. I did n't say right out as I would, but I said I would maybe for a little while. I thought a little while would give me the inside track of what a long while would be pretty sure to mean. I don't know as it was a good thing to do but it's done now, so help me Heaven; an' if I can't stand him I always stand by my word, so he'll get three months' board anyhow an' I'll learn a little of what it would mean to have a man in the house."
"A man in—" cried Mrs. Lathrop, recovering herself sufficiently to illustrate her mental attitude by what in her case always answered the purposes of a start.
"That's what I said," said Susan, "an' havin' said it Mr. Kimball can rely on Elijah Doxey's bein' sure to get it now."
"Eli—" cried Mrs. Lathrop, again upheaved.
"Elijah Doxey," repeated Susan. "That's his name. I ain't surprised over your bein' surprised, Mrs. Lathrop, 'cause I was all dumb did up myself at first. I never was more dumb or more did up since I was a baby, but after the way as Mr. Kimball sprung shock after shock on me last night I got so paralyzed in the end that his name cut very little figger beside our havin' a newspaper of our own, right here in our midst, an' me havin' the editor to board an' him bein' Mr. Kimball's nephew, an' Mr. Kimball havin' a nephew as was a editor, an' Mr. Kimball's never havin' seen fit to mention the fact to any of us in all these many years as we've been friends on an' off an' us always buyin' from him whenever we was n't more friends with Mr. Dill."
"I nev—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"No, nor no one else ever heard of him neither. The first of it all was when he came up last night to see would I board him, an' of course when I understood as it was me as was goin' to have to take him in I never rested till I knowed hide an' hair of who I was to take in down to the last button on Job's coat."
"And wh—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"Well, I'll tell you all I found out myself; an' I tell you I worked hard findin' it out too, for Mr. Kimball is no windmill to pump when it comes to where he gets relations from. Seems, Mrs. Lathrop, as he had a sister though as married a Doxey an' that's the why of Elijah Doxey. Seems Elijah is so smart that he'll be offered a place on one of the biggest city papers in a little while, but in the mean time he's just lost the place that he did have on one of the smallest ones an', as a consequence, his mother thought he'd better spend this summer in the country an' so sent him up to Mr. Kimball. Mr. Kimball said he really did n't sense all it meant at first when Elijah arrived at noon yesterday but he said he had n't talked with him long afore he see as this was our big chance 'cause the paper as Elijah was on paid him off with a old printin' press, an' Mr. Kimball says, if we back him up, we can begin right now to have a paper of our own an' easy get to be what they call a 'state issue.' It's easy seen as Mr. Kimball is all ready to be a state issue; he says the printin' press is a four horse-power an' he's sure as he can arrange for Hiram Mullins to work the wringer the day he goes to press. Mr. Kimball says he's positive that Hiram 'll regard it as nothin' but child's play to wring off his grocery bill that way. I don't know what Gran'ma Mullins will say to that—or Lucy either for that matter—but Mr. Kimball's so sure that he knows best that I see it was n't no time to pull Gran'ma Mullins an' Lucy in by the ears. Mr. Kimball says he's been turnin' it over in his mind's eye ever since yesterday when he first see Elijah. He says Elijah is just mad with ideas an' says he 's willin' to make us known far an' wide if we'll only give him a chance. Mr. Kimball says we all ought to feel ready to admit that it's time we was more than a quarter of a column a week in the Meadville Mixture. He says the Meadville Mixture ain't never been fair to us an' Judge Fitch says it ain't got right views as to its foreign policy. Mr. Kimball says that after Elijah went back to town yesterday afternoon he went up to Judge Fitch's office an' Judge Fitch said if we had a paper of our own he'd be more than willin' to write a editorial occasionally himself, a editorial as would open the president's eyes to the true hiddenness of things, an' set the German emperor to thinkin', an' give the czar some insight into what America knows about him.
"Mr. Kimball says this is the day of consolidation an' if we had a paper the Cherry Ponders an' all the Clightville people'd naturally join in an' take it too. He says he's figured that if he can start out with a hundred paid-up subscribers of a dollar each he can make a go of it. He says Elijah says set him up the press an' he don't ask no better fun than to live on bread an' water while he jumps from peak to peak of fame, but Mr. Kimball says Elijah's young an' limber an' he shall want the paid-up subscriptions himself afore he begins to transport a printin' press around the country.
"I told him he could count on you an' me takin' one between us before I knowed what was really the main object of his visit, an' then when he come out with what was the main object of his visit, an' when I sensed what he was after I must say I considered as he should have made that his first word an' give me my paper for nothin',—seein' as the whole of the thing is got to rest right on me, for I don't know what is the bottom of a newspaper if it ain't the woman as boards the editor. Yes, Mrs. Lathrop, that's my view in a nutshell, the more so as Mr. Kimball openly says as Elijah Doxey says he's a genius an' can't live in any house where there's other folks or any noise but his own. Mr. Kimball said it seemed as if a good angel had made me for the town to turn to in its bitter need an' that it was on me as the new newspaper would have to build its reputation in its first sore strait; an' he said too as he would in confidence remark as my influence on Elijah's ideas would be what he should be really lookin' to to make the paper a success, for he says as Elijah is very young an' will be wax in my hands an' I can mold him an' public opinion right along together. He said he really did n't look for him to be any great trouble to feed because he'd be out pickin' up items most of the time, an' then too, he says he can always give him a handful of his new brand of dried apples as is advertised to be most puffin' an' fillin'; why, do you know, Mrs. Lathrop, he told me as he'd developed the process now to where if you eat two small pieces you feel like you never wanted another Thanksgivin' dinner as long as you live."
"And so—" asked Mrs. Lathrop eagerly, Susan pausing an instant for breath just here.
"Well, in the end I said I would, for three months. I don't know as I was wise, but I thought it was maybe my duty for three months. I'm tired of seein' the Clightville folks called 'Glimpses' an' us called 'Dabs' in that Meadville Mixture, an' last week you remember how they spelt it wrong an' called us 'Dubs,' which is far from my idea of politeness. It was being mad over that as much as anythin' that made me up an' tell Mr. Kimball as I'd take Elijah an' take care of him an' look to do what I could to make the paper a success for three months. I told him as it was trustin' in the dark, for Elijah was a unknown quantity to me an' I never did like the idea of a man around my nice, clean house, but I said if he'd name the Meadville items the 'Mud Spatters' an' so get even for our feelin's last week I'd do my part by feedin' him an' makin' up his bed mornin's. Mr. Kimball said I showed as my heart an' my brains was both in the right place, an' then he got up an' shook hands an' told me as he would in confidence remark as he expected to make a very good thing all round for he was gettin' the printin' press awful cheap and Elijah likewise."
"When—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"Next Wednesday. Elijah's comin' up freight with the printin' press. Mr. Kimball says he suggested that himself. He says it cuts two birds with one knife for it makes it look as if the printin' press was extra fine instead of second-hand, an' it gets Elijah here for nothin'."
"Dear—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"I would, too," said Miss Clegg, "only you see I have n't got time. I ought not to be here now. I ought to be over gettin' his room ready an' takin' out the little comforts. As far as my order of thinkin' goes, little comforts is lost on men, Mrs. Lathrop, they always trip over them an' smash them in the dark."
ELIJAH DOXEY AND HIS LOCKED BOX
"Well," suggested Mrs. Lathrop one pleasant Saturday morning, a few days later, when she and her friend met at the fence. Miss Clegg looked slightly fretted and more than slightly warm, for she had been giving her garden an uncommonly vigorous weeding on account of an uncommonly vigorous shower which had fallen the afternoon before. The weeding had been so strenuous that Miss Clegg was quite disposed to stop and rest, and as she joined her neighbor and read the keen interest that never failed to glow in the latter's eyes, her own expression softened slightly and she took up her end of the conversation with her customary capability at giving forth.
"I don't know," she began, "an' Mr. Kimball don't know either. Elijah was tellin' me all about it last night. He is a trouble, Mrs. Lathrop, but I don't know but what it pays to have a man around when you can have them to talk to like I have him. Of course a new broom sweeps clean an' I've no intention of supposin' that Elijah will ever keep on coverin' his soap an' scrapin' his feet long, but so far so good, an' last night it was real pleasant to hear the rain an' him together tellin' how much trouble they're havin', owin' to Hiram's bein' too energetic wringin' the handle of the printin' press an' then to think as when he was all done talkin' it would be him an' not me as in common decency would have to go out in the wet to padlock the chickens. Seems, Mrs. Lathrop, as they're really havin' no end o' trouble over the new paper an' Elijah's real put out. He says Hiram had a idea as the more the speed the better the paper an' was just wringin' for dear life, an' the first thing he knew the first issue begin to slide a little cornerways an' slid off into a crank as Elijah never knowed was there, an' him an' Mr. Kimball spent the whole of yesterday runnin' around like mad an' no way to fix it. As a consequence Elijah's very much afraid as there'll be no paper this week an' it's too bad, for every one is in town spendin' the day an' waitin' to take it home with them. Young Dr. Brown is goin' to feel just awful 'cause he'd bought twenty-five papers to mail to all his college class. There was goin' to be a item about him, an' Mrs. Brown says it was goin' to be a good one for she fed Elijah mince pie while he made his notes for it an' had Amelia play on her guitar, too."
"What do you—?" began Mrs. Lathrop.
"Well, I can't say as I really know what to think of him just yet. I never see such a young man afore. He has some very curious ways, Mrs. Lathrop, ways as make me feel that I can't tell you positively what I do think. Now yesterday was the first day as I knowed he'd be gone for long, so I took it to go through all his things, an' do you know, away down at the bottom of one of his trunks I found a box as was locked an' no key anywhere. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, I hunted, an' I hunted, an' I hunted, an' I couldn't find that key a tall. I never had any thin' of that kind in my house afore an' of course I ain't goin' to give up without a good deal more lookin', but if I can't find that key it'll prove beyond a shadow of a doubt as Elijah Doxey ain't of a trustin' nature an' if that's true I don't know how I ever will be able to get along with him. A trustin' nature is one thing to have around an' a distrustin' nature is another thing, an' I can tell you that there's somethin' about feelin' as you ain't trusted as makes me take my hands right out of my bread dough an' go straight upstairs to begin lookin' for that key again. The more I hunt the wilder I get, for it's a very small box for a man to keep locked, an' it ain't his money or jewelry for it don't rattle when you shake it. It's too bad for me to feel so because in most other ways he's a very nice young man, although I will say as sunset is midnight compared to his hair."
"Do—" began Mrs. Lathrop.
"Then too, he said yesterday," Miss Clegg continued, "as he wanted it distinctly understood as his things was never to be touched by no one an' I told him as he could freely an' frankly rely on me. Now that's goin' to make it a great deal more work to hunt for that key from now on. An' I don't like to have it made any harder work to find a thing, as I have n't found yet a tall."
"Wh—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"Not me," said Miss Clegg; "I ain't got any give-up in me. I'll keep on until I find it if I have to board Elijah Doxey till he dies or till I drop dead in my huntin' tracks. But I can see that my feelin' towards him is n't goin' to be what it might of been if he'd been frank an' open with me as I am with him an' every one else. He seems so frank an' open, too—in other ways than that box. He read his editorial aloud night afore last an' I must say it showed a real good disposition for he even wished the president well although he said as he knowed he was sometimes goin' to be obliged to maybe be a little bit hard on him. He said as plain speakin' an' to the purpose 'd be the very breath an' blast of the Megaphone an' he should found it on truth, honor an' the great American people, an' carry Judge Fitch to congress on them lines. I thought as Judge Fitch would object to goin' to congress on any lines after all he's said about what he thought of congress in public, but Elijah says a new paper must have a standard, an' he asked Judge Fitch if he minded being nailed to ours, an' the judge said he did n't mind nothin' these degenerate days, so Elijah just up with him."
"Did you—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"See Mrs. Macy?—yes, I see her in the square yesterday noon. She was just back from Meadville. She says the editor of the Meadville Mixture is awful bitter over our havin' a paper of our own, an' says he'll cross tinfoils with Elijah any day. I told Elijah what she said last night, but Elijah did n't mind. I hoped tellin' him'd take his appetite away, but he ate eleven biscuits just the same. That reminds me as he's comin' home to dinner to-day, an' I ought to be goin' in."
"Goo—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
—"But I'll come over after he goes an' tell you how the paper's comin' out," Susan added, as she turned from the fence; and as she was always true to her promises she did come over to Mrs. Lathrop's kitchen after dinner, wearing a clean apron and a new expression—an expression of mixed doubt and displeasure.
Mrs. Lathrop hurried to give her a chair and make her welcome, and then took a chair herself and sat at attention.
Susan began at once.
"Well," she said, "it's a good thing as the Fishers are thinkin' some of sendin' John Bunyan to college, for he's surely a sight too smart for this town."
Mrs. Lathrop opened her eyes in wide surprise, as it was certainly not about John Bunyan that she had expected to hear tales.
"Elijah says as John Bunyan made them all feel pretty cheap down at the printin' press this mornin'," Miss Clegg went on: "seems the whole community was squeezin' into the back of Mr. Kimball's store to see what under the sun could be done to get the first paper out of the press, when all of a sudden John Bunyan spoke up an' asked why they did n't turn the handle backward an' empty the whole muss out that way. Well, every one see the sense of what he said right off, an' so they began, an' as soon as they began to turn the crank backward the paper began to come out backward, tore, of course, but as nice as pie.
"Well, Elijah says he most thought his uncle was goin' to take his job as editor away and give it to John Bunyan right off, he was so pleased. But Mr. Kimball ain't the sort of uncle as Elijah so far supposes himself to of got, an' he only give John Bunyan fifty cents' worth of soda water tickets, an' they're to work to-night (if Lucy'll let Hiram), an' have the paper ready for church to-morrow. The Jilkins an' Sperrits was a little disapp'inted 'cause they was n't comin' in to church, countin' on stayin' home an' readin' the paper all day instead, but Elijah's goin' to put in a late column of late news an' give 'em their money's worth that way. Mr. Kimball had arranged to have one whole column of Ks to draw attention to his dried apples, an' he's goin' to give it up for the occasion an' let Elijah write a Extra about the cause of the delay, for that's really all the late news there is. Then, too, Elijah's goin' to have a joke about the paper's comin' in among us like a man goes into politics, kind of slidin' an' turnin' this way an' that, an' I must say I begin to find some of Elijah's ideas pretty bright. But my mind's taken a new turn on his subjeck from what he said at dinner, an' I will admit, Mrs. Lathrop, as I see now as I misjudged him in one way, for he come an' asked me while I was washin' up if I knowed any way to open a locked box without a key, for he could n't find the key to his flute box nowhere, an' when he was a little nervous nights he always wore it off practisin' on his flute. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, you can maybe imagine as learnin' as there was a flute in that box an' the key lost, an' him in the habit of playin' that flute nights, altered my views more 'n a little, an' I can tell you that I had to think pretty fast afore answerin' him. While I was thinkin' he said he had n't played since he was here, an' he was gettin' so wild to play he thought the best way would be to maybe pry the lock open. I see then as I'd got to come out firm an' I said I'd never consent to no young man in my house, spoilin' a good box like that an' maybe a fine flute too, just because he had n't got a little patience. He said I was right about its being a fine flute, an' he was just achin' to hear it an' blow it. I told him to let me hunt an' maybe I'd find the key, an' so he went off some soothed, an' now the Lord have mercy on you an' me, for Elijah Doxey never will from this day on. Will you only think of him bein' nervous an' playin' nights! It'll be worse than a tree-toad an' you know what a tree-toad is, Mrs. Lathrop,—I declare to goodness if Elijah acts like a tree-toad he'll drive me stark, ravin' mad."
"Ca—" suggested Mrs. Lathrop.
"I don't see how I can," said Miss Clegg, dubiously. "I shall do my best, but, oh my, a young man as is a editor an' has red hair an' a flute is awful uncertain to count on. I almost wish I had n't took him."
"Why—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"I can't now," said Miss Clegg, "the arrangements of this world is dreadful hard on women. It's very easy to take a man into your house but once a woman has done it an' the man's settled, nobody but a undertaker can get him out in any way as is respectable accordin' to my order of thinkin'."
"But you—" suggested Mrs. Lathrop, comfortingly.
"I know, but even three months is a long time," said Miss Clegg, "an' he's begun to leave his soap uncovered already, an' oh my heavens alive, how am I ever goin' to stand that flute!"
THE FIRST ISSUE OF THE NEWSPAPER
"I'll tell you what, Mrs. Lathrop," said Miss Clegg the next Monday afternoon, "I ain't goin' to stay here so late but what I go home in time to make Elijah something hot an' comfortin' for supper to-night. I ain't any one to take sides, but I will say that my heart has gone out to that poor young man ever since I was down in the square this mornin'. I felt to be real glad as he'd took to-day to go up to the city, for I must say I'd of felt more'n a little sorry for him if he'd heard folks expressin' their opinion about his first paper."
"Did he—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"Yes, he went to-day," said Miss Clegg. "He went on the early train an' one of the joys of havin' a man in the house was as I had to be up bright an' early to get him his breakfast. I must say I never thought about his wantin' early breakfast when I agreed to take him, but I'm not one to refuse to feed even a editor, so I cooked him cakes just the same as I would any one else."
"Why—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"Well, I guess maybe he heard things yesterday as made him feel as it'd be just as well to let folks have time to sizzle down some afore they looked on his bright an' shinin' face again. I tell you what, Mrs. Lathrop, I can see as runnin' a newspaper ain't an easy thing an' the town is really so up in arms to-day, that I really would of made waffles for Elijah to eat instead of just plain cakes, if I'd knowed when he got up how mad every one was at him. I can see since I've been down town to-day as the square was n't likely to have been no bed of roses for him yesterday. The whole community is mad as hornets over the paper. Why, I never see folks so mad over nothin' before. Nobody likes his puttin' his own name right under the paper's, an' Dr. Brown says the editor belongs on the inside, anyhow. Dr. Brown's most awful mad 'cause Elijah's put his item right in with the advertisement of Lydia Finkham, an' he says he ain't nothin' as pretends to cure anythin' or everybody. He says he's a regular doctor as you have to take regular chances with an' he feels like suin' Elijah for slander. Gran'ma Mullins is mad, too, 'cause she was put in the personals an' Elijah went an' called her the 'Nestor of the crick,' without never so much as askin' by her leave. She says she ain't never done nothin' with the crick, an' if she ever nested anywhere it was in her own owned an' mortgaged house. Hiram says he'll punch Elijah if he ever refers to his mother's nestin' again, an' I guess Hiram feels kind of sore over Elijah's talkin' of his mother's nestin' when all the town knows how much he wishes as Lucy'd settle down and nest awhile instead of keepin' 'em all so everlastin'ly churned up. Mrs. Macy told me this mornin' as Lucy's whitewashin' the garret this week; she see the brush goin' 'round an' 'round the window on her side—she says it makes her bones ache just to live next door to Lucy's ways. She says they're so different from Gran'ma Mullins' ways. Gran'ma Mullins had n't had no whitewashin' done in twenty years—not since she rented the cottage of father. That's true an' I know it's true too because she's been askin' an' askin' me to have it done an' I said not by no means—so she's left off."
"Did—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"The Jilkinses is real mad over the paper, too," Susan continued. "Seems as Elijah went an' called 'em the 'Chirpy Cherry Ponders,' an' Mrs. Jilkins says where he got the idea as either of 'em ever chirped in their lives she cannot conceive, for Mr. Jilkins ain't so much as peeped a good part of the time since they were married an' she says as for being chirpy, she looks upon the word as city slang. But Judge Fitch is about the maddest of all! I did n't read what Elijah said about him but every one else did, an' he says he was willin' to run for congress for the good of his country, but to put him up in a editorial as says he'll be proud to come back from Washington as poor as he goes there, is a very poor way to put heart into any man's contest. He says if he's got to come back from Washington as poor as he goes he can't see no good an' sufficient reason for goin' a tall, for he won't gain nothin' an' will be out his car fare there an' back. He says he never heard of no one comin' back from Washington as poor as they went before, an' it was a thing as he supposed could n't be done till he found Elijah had booked him to do it. He says if that's what he's to up an' teach his country, he don't thank Elijah for advertisin' him as any such novelty an' he says he won't go to congress on any such terms—not while he knows himself. Mr. Kimball told me as he spoke to Elijah about it yesterday, an' Elijah said to him as it would be a strong plank for Judge Fitch to stand on in the middle of his platform, but Judge Fitch told Mr. Kimball as he could just tell his nephew frank an' open as that one plank in his platform had better be weak an' he'd take care to remember to step over it every time. He said he was just waitin' for a good chance to tell Elijah his opinion of him right to his face, an' he said as he should give him to understand as after this he must submit all other planks to him afore he printed 'em. Mr. Kimball says that Judge Fitch said good gracious him, there would n't be no knowin' what he'd have to live up to next, if Elijah was n't reined in tighter. Judge Fitch says the old way is good enough for him when he goes to Washington.
"But that ain't all the trouble there is. Mr. Fisher feels very much hurt at Elijah's writin' any editorial without consultin' him first. He says he told him as he could have give him a motto out of Shakespeare about layin' on an' dammin' as would have put life in the campaign right off at the beginnin'; an' then there's Mrs. Macy as thinks he was awful mean to call her one as carries weight anywhere; I'm sure I wish Elijah had let Mrs. Macy alone for she's worse than hornets over that remark of his. She says maybe Elijah'll go over two hundred an' fifty hisself some day, an' if he does he'll know as it's no joke. She bu'st her rocker last night when she read what he said about her, an' she says bu'stin' a rocker ought to show better than any words how mad it made her. My, she says, but she was mad! I told Elijah when he was gettin' up the paper as he'd better never say nothin' about nobody in it, but Elijah can't help being a man an' very like all men in consequence, an' he said as a paper was n't nothin' without personal items, an' he thought folks would enjoy being dished up tart an' spicy. I told him my views was altogether different. 'Elijah Doxey,' I says, 'you dish Meadville up tart an' spicy an' we'll all feel to enjoy, but you leave folks here alone.' But he didn't mind me an' now he's got a lesson as will maybe teach him to leave the armchairs of folks as is payin' for his paper unbu'sted henceforth."
"Now—?" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"Oh, we get along pretty well," said Susan; "a man's a man, an' of course any house always is pleasanter without one in it, but I guess if you have to have one around Elijah's about as little bother as you could ask. I'm teachin' him to be real orderly in a hurry just by puttin' his things where he couldn't possibly find 'em if he leaves 'em layin' around. You always can manage pleasantly if you're smart, an' I'm smart. If he don't empty his basin, I don't fill his pitcher; if he's late to meals, I eat up all as is hot;—oh! there's lots of ways of gettin' along, an' I try 'em all turn an' turn about. If one don't work another is sure to, an' if he ever does have a wife it won't be my fault—I know that.
"Mr. Kimball asked me this mornin' what I thought of him anyhow. Mr. Kimball says as Elijah says as he personally thinks this year is sent to fit him for suthin' demandin' backbone, an' so he'd ought to be resigned to anythin'. That didn't sound just polite to me to my order of thinkin' an' Gran'ma Mullins come back just then an' broke in an' said if Elijah was resigned she wasn't, an' she hoped he'd never come her way any more when he was out pickin' up items."
"Is any one—" began Mrs. Lathrop.
"I don't know," said Miss Clegg, "I don't believe so. Even the minister is mad; I met him comin' home an' I couldn't see what he had to complain of, for I didn't remember there bein' a single word about him in the whole paper. Come to find out he was all used up 'cause there wasn't nothin' about him in it. He told me in confidence as he never got such a shock in all his life. He says he read the paper over nine times afore he was able to sense it, an' he says his last sermon was on hidin' your light under a bushel basket an' he had a copy all ready if Elijah had only come for it. He says he shall preach next Sunday on cryin' out unto you to get up, an' he shall take a copy to Elijah himself. I cheered him up all I could. I told him as a sermon preached on Sunday was n't likely to be no great novelty to no one on the Saturday after, but I'd see that he got it back all safe if Elijah throwed it into his scrap-basket. That seems to be the big part of bein' a editor—the throwin' things in his scrap-basket. Elijah's scrap-basket is far from bein' the joy of my life for he tears everythin' just the same way an' it makes it a long, hard job to piece 'em together again. Some days I don't get time an' then I do get so aggravated."
"Have you ever—" asked Mrs. Lathrop with real interest.
"Not yet, but he ain't got really started yet. It's when the paper gets to Meadville an' Meadville begins to write him back what they think about what he thinks of them, that that scrap-basket will be interestin'! I guess I'll go home now an' make biscuits for supper. He was comin' back on the five-o'clock train. Poor Elijah, he'll have a hard day to-morrow but it'll do him good. Men never have to clean house, so the Lord has to discipline their souls any way he can, I suppose, an' to my order o' thinkin' this runnin' a newspaper is goin' to send Elijah a long ways upwards on his heavenly journey."
"Does—" asked Mrs. Lathrop, rising heavily to bid her friend good-bye.
"Most likely," said Susan; "at any rate if he does n't have any appetite. I like 'em myself."
SETTLING DOWN AFTER THE HONEYMOON
Miss Clegg and Mrs. Lathrop were sitting on the latter's steps about five o'clock one Sunday afternoon when Elijah Doxey came out of the former's house and walked away down town.
"I wond—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"I don't believe it," said Miss Clegg; "I know the way you look at it, Mrs. Lathrop, but I don't believe it. All the girls is after him but that ain't surprisin' for girls are made to be after somethin' at that age an' there's almost nothin' for them to run down in this community. We're very short of men to marry, Mrs. Lathrop, an' what men we have got ain't tall enough yet to do it, but still, it ain't no reason why Elijah should be in love just because 'Liza Em'ly and all the other girls is in love with him. To my order o' thinkin' two sets of people have got to love to make a marriage, an' 'Liza Em'ly ain't but one. An' I don't know as I want Elijah to be in love, anyhow—not while he lives in my house. It might lead to his eatin' less but it would surely lead to his playin' the flute more, an' that flute is all I can stand now. He won't marry if I can help it, I know that, an' I keep his eagerness down by talkin' to him about Hiram Mullins all I can, an' surely Hiram is enough to keep any man from soarin' into marriage if he can just manage to hop along single an' in peace."
"Have you—" asked Mrs. Lathrop, interestedly.
"Well, I should say I had—an' it's fresh on my mind, too. It was yesterday an' I see 'em both. Lucy come in the mornin' an' Gran'ma Mullins in the afternoon. I'd like to of had Hiram come in the evenin' an' tell his end, but Hiram don't dare say a word to no man nowadays. As far as my observation's extended a man as lives steady with two women gets very meek as to even men. Hiram's learned as his long suit is to keep still an' saw wood when he ain't choppin' it."
"What did—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"Well, Lucy come up right after market an' she said the reason she come was because she'd just got to talk or bu'st, an' she was n't anxious to bu'st yet awhile."
"What—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"Oh, just the usual tale as any one could o' foreseen if they went an' married Hiram Mullins. Any one might of easy knowed as Lucy Dill could n't no more enjoy Hiram Mullins than a cat could enjoy swimmin' lessons, but she would have him, an' she had to have him, an' now she's got him—so help her eternity to come."
"Did she—" questioned Mrs. Lathrop.
"No," said Miss Clegg, "she ain't been married quite long enough for that yet; she's only been married long enough to come out strong an' bitter as to blamin' Gran'ma Mullins. I will say this for Lucy, Mrs. Lathrop, an' that is that a fairer thing than blamin' Gran'ma Mullins for Hiram could n't be expected of whoever married Hiram, for it stands to reason as no one as had brains could marry Hiram an' not want to begin blamin' his mother five minutes after. Gran'ma Mullins never did seem able to look at Hiram with a impartial eye, an' Lucy says as it beats all kind of eyes the way she looks at him since he's got married. Why, Lucy says it's most made her lose faith in her Bible—the way she feels about Gran'ma Mullins. She says she's got a feelin' towards Gran'ma Mullins as she never knowed could be in a woman. She says she's come to where she just cannot see what Ruth ever stuck to Naomi for when the husband was dead an' Naomi disposed to leave, too. She says if anythin' was to happen to Hiram she'd never be fool enough to hang onto Gran'ma Mullins. She sat down an' told me all about their goin' to town last week. She says she nigh to went mad. They started to go to the city just for a day's shoppin' an' she says it was up by the alarm clock at four an' breakfast at six for fear of missin' the nine-o'clock train an' then if Gran'ma Mullins did n't lose her little black bead bag with her weddin' ring an' the size of Hiram's foot an' eighty-five cents in it, so they could n't get him no bargain socks after all! All they could do was to buy the safety razor, an' when they got home with that there was n't no blade in it, an' they had to go way back to town next day. Come to find out the blade was in the box all the time, done up in the directions, only Hiram never read the directions, 'cause he said as it's a well-known fact as you can't cut yourself with a safety razor whatever you do.
"Well, Lucy says it's for that sort of doin's as she left her happy home an' her razor-stroppin' father, an' she says the billin' an' cooin' of Gran'ma Mullins over Hiram is enough to make a wedded wife sick. She says she would n't say it to no one but me, an' I promised her never to breathe it along any further, but she says she's beginnin' to question as to how long she's goin' to be able to stand it all. She says will you believe that nights Gran'ma Mullins is comin' in softly at all hours to tuck up Hiram's feet, an' Lucy's forever thinkin' she's either a rat or a robber or else hittin' at her for Hiram himself. She says as it's Heaven's own truth as Gran'ma Mullins is warmin' his flannels every Saturday to this day, an' that the tears stand in her very eyes when Lucy won't help him off with his boots."
"I never—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"No, nor no one else. It's all Gran'ma Mullins' foolishness. She begun to be foolish when Hiram begun to know things. I can remember when he used to run everywhere behind her with a little whip, 'cause he liked to play horse, an' although she used to pretend that she let him 'cause it kept the moths out of her clothes, still every one knowed as it was just her spoilin' of him. Now he's growed up spoiled an' poor Lucy Dill's got the consequences to suffer.
"An' Lucy surely is sufferin'! She says she ain't exactly discouraged, but it's swimmin' up Niagara Falls to try an' break either of 'em of their bad habits. She says she has to look on at kisses until the very thought of one makes her seasick, an' she says to see Gran'ma Mullins listenin' to Hiram singin' is enough to make any one blush down to the very ground.
"I cheered her all I could. I told her as you can't make no sort of a purse out of ears like Hiram's, an' that what can't be cured has always got to be lived with unless you're a man. She cried some, poor thing, an' said her mother always used to say as Hiram was cut out to make some girl wish he was dead, but she said she always thought as her mother was prejudiced. She said Hiram had a sort of way with him before he was married as was so hopeful, an' he used to look at her an' sigh till it just went all through her how happy they'd be if they could only be together all they wanted to be together. Well, you c'n believe me or not, just as you please, Mrs. Lathrop, but she says he ain't sighed once—not once—since they was married, an' as for bein' happy—well—she says she's about give up hope. She don't want folks to know, 'cause she says she's got some pride, but she says there's no tellin' how soon it'll run out if Gran'ma Mullins keeps on huggin' Hiram, an' tellin' her how perfect he is over his own head."
"I don't—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"Well, I should say not," said Susan; "but Hiram Mullins always was his mother's white goose, an' the whole town is a witness. My idea if I was Lucy would be to shut right down solid on the whole thing. I'd put a bolt on my door an' keep Gran'ma Mullins an' her tuckin' tendencies on the other side, an' if Hiram Mullins did n't come to time I'd bolt him out, too, an' if he was n't nice about it I'd get out of the window an' go home to my father. I guess Mr. Dill would be very glad to have Lucy home again, for they say 'Liza Em'ly's no great success keepin' house for him. Some one told me as Mr. Dill was in mortal fear as he was practically feedin' the minister's whole family every time she went home, an' that would be enough to make any man, as had only his own self to feed, want his own daughter back, I should think.
"There's Mrs. Macy as would be glad to keep house for him if he 'd marry her first, of course, but to my order of thinkin' Mr. Dill don't want to marry Mrs. Macy near as much as Mrs. Macy wants to marry Mr. Dill. Mrs. Macy says he's pesterin' her to death, an' Mr. Dill says if it's pesterin' to speak when you're spoken to, he must buy a new dictionary an' learn the new meanin' of the words by heart. Between ourselves, I guess Mr. Dill is learnin' the lesson of wedded bliss from lookin' at Lucy an' rememberin' her mother. Lucy ain't very happy an' you know as well as I do what Mrs. Dill was. Her husband won't marry again in a hurry, an' he's smart if he don't, for if Lucy ain't home in less 'n a year I'll make you a tea cake."
"I—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"Well, you ain't Lucy Dill," said her friend. "If you was you'd be different. Lucy says this being waked up by havin' a hot flatiron slid in among your feet most any time for no better reason than 'cause his mother thought she heard Hiram sneeze, is a game as can be played once too often. I see her temper was on the rise so I struck in, an' give her a little advice of my own, an' as a result she says she's goin' to take a strong upper hand to 'em both an' there won't be no velvet glove on it neither. She says she can see as it's do or die for her now, an' she don't mean to be done nor to die neither. She drank some tea as I made strong on purpose, an' shook her head hard an' went home, an' God help Hiram if he hummed last night; an' as for Gran'ma Mullins, Lucy said if she come stealin' in to feel if Hiram was breathin' reg'lar, she was going to get slapped for a mosquito in a way as she'd long remember."
"Dear me—" commented Mrs. Lathrop.
"Well, I did n't blame her," said Miss Clegg. "Of course I did n't know as I was going to hear the other side afore night fell, but hearin' her side stirred me up so that I give her my advice, an' my advice was to put the bootjack under her pillow. There ain't no sense in women sufferin' any more, to my idea of thinkin'. It's a good deal easier to go to bed with a bootjack, an' I look to see Lucy really happy or Hiram smashed flat soon in consequence."
"But you—" said Mrs. Lathrop, wide-eyed.
"I know, an' that did change my ideas. Of course when I was talkin' to Lucy I was n't expectin' to see Gran'ma Mullins so soon, but I won't say but what I was glad to see Gran'ma Mullins, too. It's a most curious feelin', I d'n know as I ever feel a curiouser than to hear both sides of anythin' from the both sides themselves right one after the other in the same day. O' course I learned long ago to never take any sides myself unless one of 'em was mine; but I will say as I don't believe no one could feel for others more 'n I do when I hear folks shakin' their heads over what as a general thing a person with brains like mine knows is their own fault, an' knowed was goin' to be their own fault afore they ever even began to think of doin' it.
"Now there was Lucy Dill yesterday forenoon mournin' 'cause Hiram is Hiram an' his mother is his mother, an' then after dinner there comes Gran'ma Mullins with her bonnet strings an' her tears all streamin' together, an' wants my sympathy 'cause Lucy herself is Lucy herself. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, I can't but feel proud o' being able to hold the reins so hard on my own bit that I never up an' told either on 'em the plain truth, which is as they was all fools together to of ever looked for the weddin' service to have changed any on 'em."
"What did—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"I don't know as I'm prepared to say what I think. To hear Lucy you'd think she was surely the martyr, but to hear Gran'ma Mullins you would n't be sure after all. Gran'ma Mullins says after the honeymoon is over every one expects to settle down as a matter of course, an' she would n't say a word against it only it's Lucy is doin' all the settlin' an' poor Hiram as is doin' all the down. She says it's heartbreakin' to be a only mother an' watch the way as Hiram is being everlastin'ly downed. She says as we all remember that bright an' happy weddin' day[B] an' how she downed her own feelin's an' waved rice after 'em just like everybody else when they started off weddin'-trippin', each with their own bag in his own hand. But, oh, she says, the way they come back! She says they come back with Hiram carryin' both bags, an' her heart sunk when she see 'em for she says when she was married it was her as come home carryin' both bags an' she says it's one of the saddest straws as ever blows a bride out. She says she never expected much of her marriage 'cause she was engaged on a April Fool's Day in Leap Year, an' he give her an imitation opal for a ring, but she says Hiram give Lucy a real green emerald with a 18 an' a K inside it an' he looked to be happy even with his mother's tears mildewin' his pillow every night that whole summer. She says no one will ever know how hard she did try to get sense into Hiram that summer afore it was too late. She says she used to sit up in tears an' wait for him to come home from seein' Lucy, an' weep on his neck with her arms tight round him for two or three hours afterwards every night, but she says he never used to appreciate it. An' she says what he needed to marry for, anyway, Heaven only knows, with his whole life laid pleasantly out to suit him, an' a strong an' able-bodied mother ready an' smilin' to hand him whatever he wanted just as quick as he wanted it. An' she says she never asked him to do nothin' as she could possibly do herself an' the way Lucy orders him about!—well, she says it's beyond all belief. An' oh, but she says it goes through her like a chained-up bolt of lightnin' the voice Lucy speaks to him in, an' she said she would n't have no one know it for worlds but she says as near as she can figger she hit him over the head with a hairbrush night before last."
[B] See "Susan Clegg and her Neighbors' Affairs."
"With a—" cried Mrs. Lathrop, aghast.
"She says she ain't absolutely positive, but they was a-chasin' a June bug in their room together, an' she heard the smash an' the next mornin' when she went in to make Hiram's side of the bed after Lucy (she says Lucy is a most sing'lar bed-maker) she see the nick on the brush, an' she says when she see the nick an' remembered how hollow it rung, she knew as it could n't possibly have been nothin' in that room except Hiram's head. She says if Lucy's begun on Hiram with a hairbrush now, Heaven only knows what she'll be after him with in a year, for Gran'ma Mullins' own husband went from a cake of soap to a whole cheese in a fortnight an' she says it's a well-known fact as when a married man is once set a-goin' he lands things faster an' faster. She says she thinks about the andirons there, ready to Lucy's hand, until she's scared white, an' yet she's afraid to take 'em for fear it'd attract her to the water pitcher."
"Did Mr.—" began Mrs. Lathrop, hurriedly, after several attempts to slide a question-quoit in among Susan's game of words.
"Oh, he did n't throw 'em at her. I could n't understand what he did do with them an' so I asked, but it seems it was just as awful for he grated the whole cake o' that soap on her front teeth to teach her not to never refer to the deacon again, an' he dropped the cheese square on her head when he was up on a step-ladder an' she was in a little cupboard underneath leanin' over for a plate, an' then he tried to make out as it was an accident. She says it was n't no accident though. She says a woman as gets a cheese on the back of her head from a husband as is on a step-ladder over her, ain't to be fooled with no accident story; she says that cheese like to of hurt her for life an' was the greatest of the consolations she had when he died. She says she never will forget it as long as she's alive an' he's dead, no sir, so help her heaven she won't; she says when the cemetery committee come to her an' want her to subscribe for keepin' him trimmed with a lawn mower an' a little flag on Decoration Day, she always thinks of that cheese an' says no, thank you, they can just mow him regularly right along with the rest.
"But oh, she says it's awful bitter an' cold to see Hiram settin' out along that stony, bony, thorny road, as she's learned every pin in from first to last. She says if Lucy 'd only be a little patient with him, but no, to bed he must go feelin' as bright as a button, an' in the mornin', oh my, but she says it's heartrendin' to hear him wake up, for Lucy washes his face so sudden with cold water that he gives one howl before he remembers he's married, an' five minutes after she hangs every last one of the bedclothes square out of the window.
"I tell you, Mrs. Lathrop, it was a pretty sad tale first an' last, an' Gran'ma Mullins says Hiram is as meek as a sheep being led to its halter, but she says she can't feel as meekness pays women much. She says she was meek an' Hiram's meek, an' she did n't get no reward but soap an' that cheese, an' all Hiram's got so far is the hairbrush, an' the water pitcher loomin'.
"I told her my own feelin's was as marriage was n't enough took into consideration nowadays, an' that it was too easy at the start, an' too hard at the finish. You know yourself, Mrs. Lathrop, as there ain't a mite o' doubt but what if the honeymoon come just afore the funeral there'd be a deal more sincere mournin' than there is as it is now, an' to my order of thinkin', if the grandchildren come afore the children, folks would raise their families wiser. I told Gran'ma Mullins just that very thing but it did n't seem to give her much comfort. She give a little yell an' said oh, Heaven preserve her from havin' to sit by an' watch Lucy Dill raise Hiram's children, for she was sure as she'd never be able to give 'em enough pie on the sly to keep 'em happy an' any one with half an eye could see they'd be washed an' brushed half to death. She says Lucy won't wash a dish without rinsin' it afterwards or sweep a room without carryin' all the furniture out into the yard; oh my, she says her ways is most awful an' I expect that, to Gran'ma Mullins, they are.
"I cheered her all I could. I told her she'd better make the best o' things now, 'cause o' course as Lucy got older Hiram'd make her madder an' madder, an' they'll all soon be lookin' back to this happy first year as their one glimpse of paradise. I did n't tell her what Lucy told me o' course, 'cause she'd go an' tell Hiram, an' Hiram must love Lucy or he'd never stand being hit for a June bug or woke with a wash-cloth. But I did kind of wonder how long it would last. If I was Lucy it would n't last long, I know that. If I'd ever married a man I don't know how long he'd of stood it or how long I'd of stood him, but I know one thing, Mrs. Lathrop, an' I know that from my heels to my hairpins—an' I said it to Elijah last night, an' I'm goin' to say it to you now—an' that is that if I could n't of stood him I would n't of stood him, for this is the age when women as read the papers don't stand nothin' they don't want to—an' I would n't neither."
"I—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"Well, you ain't me," said Miss Clegg, "you ain't me an' you ain't Elijah neither. I talk very kind to Elijah, but there's no livin' in the house with any man as supposes livin' in the house with any other woman is goin' to be pleasanter than livin' in the house with the woman as he's then an' there livin' in the house with. The main thing in life is to keep men down to a low opinion of every woman's cookin' but yours an' keep yourself down to a low opinion of the man. You don't want to marry him then an' he don't want to live with any one else. An' to my order of thinkin' that's about the only way that a woman can take any comfort with a man in the house."
SUSAN CLEGG'S FULL DAY
"Well," said Miss Clegg, with strong emphasis, as she mounted Mrs. Lathrop's steps, "I don't know, I'm sure, what I've come over here for this night, for I never felt more like goin' right straight off to bed in all my life before." Then she sat down on the top step and sighed heavily.
"It's been a full day," she went on presently; "an' I can't deny as I was nothin' but glad to remember as Elijah was n't comin' home to supper, for as a consequence I sha'n't have it to get. A woman as has had a day like mine to-day don't want no supper anyhow, an' it stands to reason as if I don't feel lively in the first place, I ain't goin' to be made any more so by comin' to see you, for I will remark, Mrs. Lathrop, that seein' you always makes me wonder more'n ever why I come to see you so often when I might just as well stay home an' go to bed. If I was in my bed this blessed minute I'd be very comfortable, which I'm very far from bein' here with this mosquito aimin' just over my slap each time; an' then, too, I'd be alone, an' no matter how hard I may try to make myself look upon bein' with you as the same thing as bein' alone, it is n't the same thing an' you can't in conscience deny that, no matter how hard you may sit without movin'."
Mrs. Lathrop made no reply to this frank comment on her liveliness, and after a short pause, Miss Clegg sighed heavily a second time, and continued:
"It's been a full day, a awful full day. In the first place the rooster was woke by accident last night an' he up an' woke me. He must of woke me about three o'clock as near as I can figure it out now, but I supposed when I was woke as of course it was five so I got right up an' went in an' woke Elijah. Elijah told me last week as he did n't believe he'd ever seen the sun rise an' I was just enough out of sorts to think as to-day would be a good time for him to begin to turn over a new leaf as far as the sunrise was concerned. I must say he was n't very spry about the leaf, for all he did was to turn himself over at first, but I opened his window an' banged the blinds three or four times an' in the end he got woke up without really knowin' just what had woke him. We had breakfast with a candle, an' then Elijah was so tired lookin' out for the sunrise that he looked in at his watch an' see as it was only quarter to four then. He was real put out at that at first 'cause he wrote till half past two last night, an' in the end he went back to bed an' it certainly was a relief to see the last of him, for I may in confidence remark as I never see him look quite so stupid afore. After he was gone back to bed I washed up the breakfast dishes an' then I went out in the wood shed in the dark an' there I got another surprise, for I thought I'd look over the rags I was savin' for the next rag rug an' when I poured 'em out in my lap, what do you think, Mrs. Lathrop, what do you think poured out along with 'em?—Why, a nest of young mice an' two old ones!
"Well, Mrs. Lathrop, you can maybe imagine my feelin's at four in the mornin' with Elijah gone back to bed an' my own lap full of mice, but whatever I yelled did n't disturb him any an' I just made two jumps for the lamp in the kitchen, leavin' the mice wherever they hit to rearrange their family to suit themselves. Well, the second jump must needs land me right square on top of the cistern lid, an' it up an' went in, takin' my left leg along with it as far as it would go. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, talk of girls as can open an' shut, like scissors, in a circus—I was scissored to that degree that for a little I could n't think which would be wisest, to try an' get myself together again in the kitchen or to just give up altogether in the cistern. In the end I hauled the leg as had gone in out again, an' then I see where all the trouble come from, for the cistern lid was caught to my garter an' what I'd thought was a real injury was only it swingin' around an' around my leg. I put the lid back on the cistern an' felt to sit with my legs crossed for quite a while, thinkin' pleasant thoughts of the rooster as woke me, an' by that time it was half past four, an' I could hear all the other chickens stirrin' so I got up an' began to stir again myself. I opened the front door an' looked out an' that did n't bring me no good luck either, for as I looked out a bat flew in an' just as the bat flew in he managed to hook himself right in my hair. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, I tell you I was mad then. I don't know as I ever was madder than I was then. I was so mad that I can't tell you how mad I was. The bat held on by diggin' in like he thought I wanted to get him off, an' I pulled at him so hard that I can't in conscience be surprised much over his takin' that view of it. Well, in the end I had to take all my hairpins out first an' then sort of skin him out of my hair lengthways, which, whatever you may think about it, Mrs. Lathrop, is far from bein' funny along afore dawn on a day as you 've begun at three thinkin' as it was five."
"Susan!" ejaculated Mrs. Lathrop; "don't—"
"No, I'll have some when I get home. I like mine better than yours anyway. Now you've made me forget where I was in my story."
"You—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"Oh yes, I remember now. Well, I was too put out at first to notice what the bat did after I got him out o' my head, but when I went upstairs I found him circlin' everywhere in a way as took every bit of home feelin' out of the house an' I just saw that I'd have no peace till I could be alone with Elijah again. So I got up an' got a broom an' went a battin' for all I was worth. Well, Mrs. Lathrop, you can believe me or not just as you please, but for one solid hour I run freely an' gayly up an' down an' over an' under my own house after that bat. I never see nothin' like that bat before or behind. He just sort of sailed here an' there an' everywhere, an' wherever he sailed smoothly an' easily there was me runnin' after him with the broom, whackin' at him every chance I got. We was upstairs, we was downstairs, we was in the wood shed an' out of the wood shed, we was under the kitchen table, we was over father's picture on the mantel—we was everywhere, me an' that bat. Then all of a sudden he disappeared completely an' I sit down in the rockin'-chair to puff an' rest. Elijah slept till most eight an' I was so tired I let him sleep although I never was one to approve of any man's sleepin', but before he woke something worse than a bat come down on me, an' that was Mrs. Sweet's cousin, Jerusha Dodd. You know Jerusha Dodd, Mrs. Lathrop, an' so do I, an' so does everybody an' as far as my observation 's extended bats is wise men bringin' their gifts from afar to visit you compared to Jerusha Dodd when she arrives in the early mornin'. I would n't never have gone to the door only she stepped up on the drain-pipe first an' looked in an' saw me there in the rockin'-chair afore she knocked. I tell you I was good an' mad when I see her an' see as she see me an' I made no bones of it when I opened the door. I says to her frank an' open—I says, 'Good gracious, Jerusha, I hope you ain't lookin' to see me pleased at seein' as it's you.' But laws, you could n't smash Jerusha Dodd not if you was a elephant an' she was his sat-down-upon fly, so I had her sittin' in the kitchen an' sighin' in less'n no time. She was full of her woes an' the country's woes as usual. Congress was goin' to ruin us next year sure, an' she had a hole in her back fence anyway; she did n't approve of Mr. Rockefeller's prices on oil, an' there was a skunk in her cellar, an' she said she could n't seem to learn to enjoy livin' the simple life as she'd had to live it since her father died, a tall. She said that accordin' to her views life for single women nowadays was too simple an' she said she really only lacked bein' buried to be dead. She says as all a simple life is, is havin' no rights except them as your neighbors don't want. She says for her part she's been more took into the heart of creation than she's ever cared about. I do hate to have to listen to the way she goes on an' no one can say as I ever was one to encourage her in them views. I don't think it's right to encourage no one in their own views 'cause their views is never mine an' mine is always the right ones. This mornin' I stood it as long as I could from Jerusha an' then I just let out at her an' I says to her, I says, 'Jerusha Dodd, you really are a fool an' Heaven help them as ever makes more of a fool of you, by tellin' you as you ain't.' You know Jerusha Dodd, Mrs. Lathrop; she began to cry hard an' rock harder right off, said she knowed she was a fool, but it was nature's fault an' not hers for she was born so an' could n't seem to get the better of it. I told her my view of the matter would be for her to stay home an' patch up that hole in her fence an' pull up some o' that choice garden full of weeds as she's growin', an' brush the dust off the crown of her bonnet, an' do a few other of them wholesome little trifles as is a good deal nearer the most of us than Mr. Rockefeller] an' what congress in its infinite wisdom is goin' to see fit to deal out in the daily papers next year.
"But she only kept on cryin' an' rockin' an' finally I got so tired listenin' to her creak an' sob that I went out an' had a real bright idea. I got the little sink scratcher an' tied a wet piece of rag to the handle an' went around behind her an' hung it suddenly in her back hair. She put up her hand an' felt it, an' give a yell that woke Elijah. You know how Jerusha Dodd acts when she's upset! She spun around so the sink scratcher fell right out but she did n't have sense enough left in her to know it. She yelled, 'What was it? what was it?' an' I yelled, 'It was a bat, it was a bat;' an' at that I see the last of Jerusha Dodd, for she was out of my kitchen an' out of my sight afore Elijah could get to the top of the stairs to begin yellin', 'What was it? what was it?' on his own hook. I had to tell him all about it then an' he wanted it for a item right off. He said he'd have a dash for Jerusha an' a star for me, an' the idea took him like most of his ideas do, an' he laughed till he coughed the coffee as I'd saved for him all the wrong way, an' dropped a soft boiled egg as I'd boiled for him into the water pitcher, an', oh my, I thought misfortunes never would come to a end or even to a turnin'. But after he'd fished out the egg an' eat it, he went off down to his uncle's an' he was n't more'n gone when in come Mrs. Sweet to see if Jerusha left her breastpin, 'cause in her quick breathin' it had fallen somewhere an' Jerusha was havin' hysterics over losin' that now. While I was talkin' to Mrs. Sweet at the gate I smelt somethin' burnin' an' there my whole bakin' of bread was burnt up in the oven owin' to Jerusha Dodd's breathin' her breastpin out over a bat. I felt to be some tempered then, an' Mrs. Sweet saw it an' turned around an' left me, an' after she was gone I went into the house an' pulled down the shades an' locked the door an' went to sleep. I slept till Elijah come home to dinner an' of course there was n't no dinner ready an' that put Elijah out. Elijah's got a good deal of a temper, I find, an' the only thing in the world to do with a man in a temper, when he is in a temper, is to make him so mad that he goes right off in a huff an' leaves you to peace again. So I just made one or two remarks about my opinion of things as he feels very strong about, an' he said he guessed he'd get supper down town an' sleep at the store to-night. So he took himself off an' he was hardly out of the way when Mrs. Macy come to tell me about Judy Lupey's divorce."
"Is—" cried Mrs. Lathrop.
"Not yet, but she soon will be," said Miss Clegg. "Mrs. Macy's just back from Meadville an' she says all Meadville is churned up over it. They ain't never had a divorce there afore, an' every one is so interested to know just how to do it, an' I will say this much for Mrs. Macy, an' that is that she was nothin' but glad to tell me all about it. Seems as the Lupeys is most awful upset over it though an' Mrs. Kitts says she ain't sure as she won't change her will sooner than leave money to a woman with two husbands."
"Two—" cried Mrs. Lathrop.
"Mrs. Macy says," continued Susan, "as Mrs. Lupey ain't much better pleased than Mrs. Kitts over it all, an', although she did n't say it in so many words, she hinted pretty plain as it seemed hard as the only one of the girls to get married should be the same one as is gettin' divorced. Mrs. Macy said she see her point of view, but to her order of thinkin' the world don't begin to be where old maids need consider divorces yet awhile. She says she stayed in the house with 'em all three days an' she says she cheered Mrs. Lupey all she could; she says she told her to her best ear as no one but a mother would ever have dreamed of dreamin' of Faith or Maria's ever marryin' under any circumstances. She said Mrs. Lupey said it was the quickness of Judy's gettin' tired of Mr. Drake as had frightened her most. Why, she says as before the first baby was through teethin' in her day, Judy was all up an' through an' completely done with Mr. Drake. All done with him an' home again, an' the family not even countin' to consider.
"Mrs. Macy says as she's learned a awful lot about divorce as she did n't know before. She said she could n't help being surprised over how much a divorce is like a marriage, for Busby Bell was there every night an' Judy an' the whole family is hard at work gettin' her clothes ready. But Mrs. Macy says them as suppose the real gettin' of the divorce itself is simple had ought to go an' stay at the Lupeys awhile. Why, she says the way the Lupeys is complicated an' tied up by Judy an' Mr. Drake is somethin' beyond all belief. To begin with, Judy decided to be deserted because she thought it'd really be the simplest an' easiest in the end an' she hated to bother with bein' black an' blue for witnesses an' all that kind of business. But it seems being deserted, when you live in the same town with a husband who rides a bicycle an' don't care where he meets you, is just enough to drive a woman nigh to madness itself. Why, Mrs. Macy says that Judy Lupey actually can't go out to walk a tall, not 'nless Faith walk a block ahead of her an' Maria a block behind, an' even then Mr. Drake's liable to come coastin' down on 'em any minute. She says it's awful tryin', an' Judy gets so mad over it all that it just seems as if they could not stand it.
"But that ain't the only trouble neither, Mrs. Macy says. Seems Judy got Solomon Drake for her lawyer 'cause he knowed the whole story, through eatin' dinner at the Drakes every Sunday while they was stayin' married. She thought havin' Solomon Drake would save such a lot of explainin' 'cause Mr. Drake is so hard to explain to any one as has just seen him ridin' his bicycle an' not really been his wife. Well, seems as Judy never calculated on Solomon's keepin' right on takin' Sunday dinner with Mr. Drake, after he became her lawyer, but he does, an' none of the Lupeys think it looks well, an' Judy finds it most tryin' because all she an' Solomon talk over about the divorce he tells Mr. Drake on Sunday out of gratitude for his dinner an' because it's a subject as seems to really interest Mr. Drake. Seems Mr. Drake is a hard man to interest. Judy says he was yawnin' afore they got to the station on their honeymoon.
"But Mrs. Macy says that ain't all, neither, whatever you may think, for she says what do you think of Mr. Drake's goin' an' gettin' Busby Bell of all the men in Meadville for his lawyer, when the whole town knows as it's Busby as Judy's goin' to marry next. Mrs. Lupey says as Judy would have took Busby for her own lawyer only they was so afraid of hurtin' each other's reputations, an' now really it's terrible, 'cause Busby says as he don't well see what's to be done about their reputations if the worst comes to the worst, for he's explained as very likely Judy's goin' to need one more man than a husband to get her her divorce. Mrs. Macy says Mrs. Lupey says as Busby said as if he had n't been Mr. Drake's lawyer he'd have been more than ready to be the other man, but as Mr. Drake's lawyer he can't help Judy no more'n if he was Mr. Drake himself. Mrs. Macy says Mrs. Lupey cried, an' she told her as she knowed as there was any number of quiet elderly men as any one could depend on right here in our own community as'd be nothin' but glad to go over to Meadville an' help anyway they could, but Mrs. Lupey asked Judy about it, an' Judy asked Busby, an' Busby said men as you could depend on anywhere was n't no use in divorce suits a tall. It's quite another kind, it seems. Mrs. Macy says she's really very sorry for them all, for it really seems awful to think how the Lupeys need a man an' the only man they've got Judy's busy gettin' rid of as hard as she can.
"Mrs. Macy says it's all most upsettin'. She says she never lived through nothin' like it afore. Judy's cross 'cause she can't go out an' meet Busby without runnin' the risk of meetin' Mr. Drake an' losin' all the time she's put in so far bein' deserted. An' then there's a many things as a outsider never would know about or even guess at unless they've lived right in the house with a real live divorce. Mrs. Macy says as Martha Hack, as does the washin' for 'em all, is forever forgettin' an' sendin' Judy's wash home with Mr. Drake's just as if they was still completely married. That would n't be so bad only Mr. Drake waits for Solomon to get 'em Sunday, an' Solomon's kind-hearted an' gives 'em to Busby so as to give him a excuse to make two calls in one day. Well, Mrs. Macy says the come out of it all is as when Judy wants to take a bath just about all Meadville has to turn out to see where under heaven her clean clothes is.
"I tell you, Mrs. Lathrop, tellin' it all to you does n't matter so much, but to hear Mrs. Macy tell it makes you wonder if it's worth while to try an' leave a man as you can't live with. Seems to me it'd be easier to live with him. Mrs. Macy says as she met Mr. Drake several times herself on his bicycle an' he looked most bloomin'. No one need be sorry for him, an' not many is sorry for Judy. But Mrs. Macy says there's only one person as all Meadville's sorry for, an' that's Busby Bell."
Mrs. Lathrop started to speak.
"Yes," Susan went on hurriedly. "Elijah said just that same thing the other day when he was talkin' about the Marlboroughs. He thinks as divorces is all a mistake, but then you're a widow an' Elijah ain't married so you're both pretty safe in airin' your views."
Susan rose just here and descended the steps. "I must go," she said, "I don't seem to take no particular interest in what you might be goin' to tell me, Mrs. Lathrop, even if there was any chance of your ever gettin' around to tellin' it, an' I've told you all I know, an' I'm very tired talkin'. As I said before, it's been a full day an' I'm pretty well beat out. I forgot to tell you as after Mrs. Macy was gone I found as it was n't the bread I smelt in the oven—it was the bat. I suppose when I see Mr. Kimball he'll make one of his jokes over bread-dough an' bats an' batter, but I'll be too wore out to care. Did I say as Elijah said he'd sleep at the store to-night?"
"Will—" cried Mrs. Lathrop, all of a sudden.
"Why, of course," said Susan, "it did n't hurt either loaf a mite. I'd be as much of a fool as Jerusha Dodd if I let a little thing like a bat spoil a whole bakin' of bread for me, Mrs. Lathrop. As for Elijah, he did n't know nothin' about it an' I sha'n't tell him, you may be sure, for he's the one as eats all the bread—I never touch it myself, as you well know."
THE EDITOR'S ADVICE COLUMN
"I'm a good deal worried over Elijah," Miss Clegg said to Mrs. Lathrop, one day when the new paper was about three weeks old, and when the town had begun to take both it and its editor with reasonable calm; "he does have so many ideas. Some of his ideas are all right as far as I can see, but he has 'em so thick an' fast that it worries me more'n a little. It ain't natural to have new ideas all the time an' no one in this community ever does it. He's forever tellin' me of some new way he's thought of for branchin' out somewhere an' his branches make me more'n a little nervous. The old ways is good enough for us an' I try to hold him down to that idea, but first he wants me to get a new kind of flatirons as takes off while you heat it, an' next he wants me to fix the paper all over new.
"I brought over somethin' as he wrote last night to read you, an' show you how curious his brains do mix up things. He brought it down this mornin' an' read it to me, an' I asked him to give it to me to read to you. I was goin' to bring it to you anyway, but then he said as I could too, so it's all right either way. It's some of his new ideas an' he said he'd be nothin' but glad to have you hear 'em 'cause he says the more he lives with me the more respect he's got for your hearin' an' judgment. He asked me what I thought of it first, an' I told him frank an' open as I did n't know what under the sun to think of it. I meant that, too, for I certainly never heard nothin' like it in my life afore, so he said we could both read it to-day an' I could tell him what we thought to-night, when he come home.
"Wh—" asked Mrs. Lathrop, with real interest.
"Well, seems he's been thinkin' as it's time to begin to show us how up-to-date he looks on life, he says, an' as a consequence he's openin' up what he calls the field of the future. He says he's goin' to have a editorial this week on beginnin' from now on to make every issue of the Megaphone just twice as good as the one afore. I told him if he really meant what he said it could n't possibly be worth no dollar a year now, but he said wait an' see an' time would tell an' virtue be her own reward. He says he's goin' to make arrangements with a woman in the city for a beauty column, an' arrangements with some other woman as is a practical preserver, an' have a piece each time on how to be your own dressmaker once you get cut out; I thought that these things was about enough for one paper, but oh my! he went on with a string more, as long as your arm. He's goin' to begin to have a advice column too, right off, an' that's this I've brought over to read you; he says lots of folks want advice an' don't want to tell no one nor pay nothin' an' they can all write him an' get their answers on anythin' in the wide world when the paper comes out Saturday. I could n't but open my eyes a little at that, for I know a many as need advice as I should n't consider Elijah knew enough to give, but Elijah's a man an' in consequence don't know anythin' about how little he does know, so I did n't say nothin' more on that subject. He's full of hope an' says he's soon goin' to show big city papers what genius can do single-handed with a second-hand printin' press, an' he talked an' talked till I really had to tell him that if he did n't want his breakfast he'd have to go back to bed or else down town."
"Is the—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"Yes, this is it. He done it last night an' he give it to me this mornin' to read to you. It's to be called 'The Advice Column' an' he's goin' to head it 'Come to My Bosom' an' sign it 'Aunt Abby' 'cause of course if he signed it himself he'd be liable for breach of promise from any girl as read the headin' an' chose to think he meant her."
"But who—?" began Mrs. Lathrop.
"Why, nobody the first week, of course. He had to make 'em up himself—an' the answers too, an' that's what makes it all seem so silly to me. But he did work over it,—he says no one knows the work of gettin' people stirred up to enthusiasm in a small town like this, an' he says he'd ought to have a martyr's crown of thorns, he thinks, for even thinkin' of gettin' a advice column started when most of his energies is still got to go tryin' to get our fund for the famine big enough to make it pay to register the letter when the cheque goes. He says the trouble with the fund is no one has no relations there an' a good many thought as it was mostly Chinamen as is starvin' anyhow. Elijah says the world is most dreadful hard-hearted about Chinamen—they don't seem to consider them as of any use a tall. He says it's mighty hard to get up a interest in anythin' here anyhow, Lord knows—for he says that San Francisco fund an' what become of it has certainly been a pill an' no mistake. The nearest he come to that was gettin' a letter as Phoebe White wrote the deacon about how the government relief train run right through the town she's in, but Elijah says after all his efforts he has n't swelled the famine fund thirty-five cents this week. He says Clightville has give nine dollars an' Meadville has give fifteen dollars an' two barrels an' a mattress, if anybody wants it C. O. D., an' here we are stuck hard at six dollars an' a quarter an' two pennies as the minister's twins brought just after they choked on them licorish marbles."
"Did—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"No, I did n't. I tell you what, Mrs. Lathrop, I keep a learnin'; in regard to givin' to funds I've learned a very good trick from Rockefeller an' Carnegie in the papers; they come to me about that San Francisco one an' I said right out frank an' open that if the town would give five hundred dollars I'd give fifty. That shut up every one's mouth an' set every one to thinkin' how much I was willin' to give an' as a matter of fact I did n't give nothin' a tall."
"But about—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"Yes," said Susan, opening the paper which she had in her hand, "I was just thinkin' of it, too. I'll read it to you right off now an' you see if you don't think about as I do. I think myself as Elijah's made some pretty close cuts at people, only of course every one will guess as he must of made 'em up 'cause they don't really fit to no one. Still, it's a risky business an' I wish he'd let it alone for he lives in my house an' I know lots of folks as is mean enough to say that these things was like enough said to him by me—a view as is far from likely to make my friends any more friendly."
"Do—" said Mrs. Lathrop.
"Yes, I'm goin' to." Then Miss Clegg drew a long breath and re-began thus:
"Well, now, the first is, 'How can you put pickles up so they'll keep the year 'round?'" She paused there and looked expectantly at the placid Mrs. Lathrop as if she was asking a riddle or conducting an examination for the benefit of her friend. Mrs. Lathrop, however, had turned and was looking the other way so it was only when the length of the pause brought her to herself with a violent start, that she answered:
"My heavens ali—"
"The answer is," said Susan promptly, "'Put 'em up so high that nobody can reach them.'"
Mrs. Lathrop opened her eyes.
"I don't—" she protested.
"No, I did n't think as it was very sensible myself," responded Susan, "but do you know, Elijah laughed out loud over it. That's what's funny about Elijah to my order of thinkin'—he's so amused at himself. He thinks that's one of the best things he's done as a editor, he says, an' I'm sure I can't see nothin' funny in it any more than you can. An' you don't see nothin' funny in it, do you?"
"No," said Mrs. Lathrop, "I—"
"Nor me neither," said Susan, "an' now the next one is sillier yet, to my order of thinkin'. It's a letter an' begins, 'Dear Aunt Abby;' then it says, 'Do you think it is possible to be happy with a young man with freckles? My husband says Yes, but my mother says No. He's my husband's son by his first wife. I have twins myself. I want the boy sent to a home of some sort. What do you think? Yours affectionately—Ada.'"
"What under the—" ejaculated Mrs. Lathrop.
"Just what I said," said Susan. "I could n't make head or tail out of it myself an' I'm afraid it'll make Deacon White mad 'cause Polly's his second wife—yes, an' the minister's got two wives, too. I tried to make Elijah see that but he just said to read the answer."
"What is—" asked Mrs. Lathrop.
"Oh, the answer's just as dumbfounderin' as the question, I think. The answer says, 'Hang on to the boy. If you get the twin habit he'll prove invaluable.'"
"Well, I—" said Mrs. Lathrop, disgustedly.
"I told Elijah that myself. I said that the minister was bound to feel hurt over the second wife part, but with twins in the answer he's sure to feel it means him an' I expect he'll maybe stop takin' the paper an' join Mrs. Macy's club. Mrs. Macy got real mad at somethin' Mr. Kimball sold her last week an' as a consequence she went an' made what she calls her Newspaper Club, she rents her paper for a cent a day now an' she made four cents last week. She says if Elijah Doxey ever says anythin' in the paper about her again she'll take three papers an' rent 'em at two mills a day an' supply the whole town an' wreck him so flat he'll have to hire out to pick hops. I told Elijah what she said an' he said for the Lord's sake to tell Mrs. Macy as her toes was hereafter perfectly safe from all his treads. I told her, but she says he need n't think quotin' from poets is goin' to inspire faith in him in her very soon again. She says over in Meadville it's town talk as Elijah Doxey is havin' just a box of monkeys' fun with us."