The Road To Providence
Maria Thompson Daviess
I THE DOCTORS MAYBERRY, MOTHER AND SON II THE SINGER LADY AND THE BREAD-BOWL III THE PEONY GIRL AND THE BUMPKIN IV LOVE, THE CURE-ALL V THE LITTLE RAVEN AND HER COVERED DISH VI THE PROVIDENCE TAG-GANG VII PRETTY BETTIE'S WEDDING DAY VIII THE NEST ON PROVIDENCE NOB IX THE LITTLE HARPETH WOMAN OF MANY SORROWS X THE SONG OF THE MASTER'S GRAIL
THE DOCTORS MAYBERRY, MOTHER AND SON
"Now, child, be sure and don't mix 'em with a heavy hand! Lightness is expected of riz biscuits and had oughter be dealt out to 'em by the mixer from the start. Just this way—"
"Mother, oh, Mother," came a perturbed hail in Doctor Mayberry's voice from the barn door, "Spangles is off the nest again—better come quick!"
"Can't you persuade her some, Tom?" Mother called back from the kitchen door as she peered anxiously across the garden fence and over to the gray barn where the Doctor stood holding the door half open, but ready for a quick close-up in case of an unexpected sally. "My hands is in the biscuits and I don't want to come now. Just try, Tom!"
"I have tried and I can't do it! She's getting the whole convention agitated. You'd better come on, Mother!"
"Dearie me," said Mrs. Mayberry, as she rinsed her hands in the wash-pan on the shelf under tin cedar bucket, "Tom is just as helpless with the chickens at setting time as a presiding elder is at a sewing circle; can't use a needle, too stiff to jine the talk and only good when it comes to the eating, from broilers to frying size. Just go on and mix the biscuits with faith, honey-bird, for I mistrust I won't be back for quite a spell."
"Now let me see what all these conniptions is about," she said in a commanding voice, as she walked boldly in through her son's cautiously widened door gap.
And a scene of confusion that was truly feminine met her capable glance. Fuss-and-Feathers, a stylish young spangled Wyandotte, was waltzing up and down the floor and shrieking an appeal in the direction of a whole row of half-barrel nests that stretched along the dark and sequestered side of the feed-room floor, upon which was established what had a few minutes before been a placid row of setting hens. Now over the rim of each nest was stretched a black, white, yellow or gray head, pop-eyed with alarm and reproach. They were emitting a chorus of indignant squawks, all save a large, motherly old dominick in the middle barrel who was craning her scaly old neck far over toward the perturbed young sister and giving forth a series of reassuring and commanding clucks.
"I didn't do a thing in the world to them, Mother," said Doctor Tom in a deprecatory tone of voice, as if he were in a way to be blamed for the whole excitement. "I was across the barn at the corn-crib when she hopped off her nest and went on the rampage. Just a case of the modern feminine rebellion, I wager."
"No such thing, sir! They ain't nothing in the world the matter with her 'cept as bad a case of young-mother skeer as I have ever had before amongst all my hens. Don't you see, Tom, two of her setting have pipped they shells and the cheepings of the little things have skeered the poor young thing 'most to death. Old Dominick have took in the case and is trying her chicken-sister best to comfort her. These here pullet spasms over the hatching of the first brood ain't in no way unusual. The way you have forgot chicken habits since you have growed up is most astonishing to me, after all the helping with them I taught you." As she spoke, Mother Mayberry had been rearranging the deserted nest with practised hand and had tenderly lifted two feeble, moist little new-borns on her broad palm to show to the Doctor.
"What are you going to do with them, Mother?" he asked, for though his education in chicken lore seemed to have been in vain he was none the less sympathetically interested in his mothers practice of the hen-craft.
"I'm just going to give 'em to Old Dominick to dry out and warm up for her while I persuade her back on the nest. As she gets used to hearing the cheepings from under another hen she'll take the next ones that come with less mistrust." And suiting her actions to her words Mother Mayberry slipped the two forlorn little mites under a warm old wing that stretched itself out with gentleness to receive and comfort them. Some budding instinct had sent the foolish fluff of stylish feathers clucking at her skirts, so she bent down and with a gentle and sympathetic hand lifted the young inadequate back on the nest.
"I really oughter put on a cover and make her set on the next," she said doubtfully, "but it do seem kinder to teach her hovering a little at a time. Course all women things has got mothering borned into 'em, but it comes easier to some than to others. I always feel like giving 'em a helping hand at the start off."
"You have a great deal of faith if you feel sure of that universally maternal instinct in these days, Mother," said the Doctor with a teasing smile as he handed her a quart cup of oats from the bin. "Oh, I know what you're talking about," answered Mother, as she scattered a little grain in front of each nest and prepared to leave in peace and quiet the brooding mothers. "It's this woman's rights and wrongs question. I've been so busy doctoring Providence Road pains and trying to make a good, proper husband outen you for some nice girl, what some other woman have been putting licks on to get ready for you, that I've been too pushed to think about the wrongs being did to me. But not knowing any more about it than I do, I think this woman's rumpus all sounds kinder like a hen scratching around in unlikely and contrary corners for the bread of life, when she knows they is plenty of crumbs at the kitchen door to be et up. But if you're going to ride over to Flat Rock this evening you'd better go on and get back in time for some riz biscuits as Elinory is a-making for you this blessed minute."
"She's not making them for me," answered the young Doctor with the color rising under his clear, tanned skin up to his very forelock. As he spoke he busied himself with bridling his restless young mare.
"Of course she is," answered his mother serenely. "Women don't take no interest in cooking unless they's a man to eat the fixings. Left to herself she'd eat store bread and cheese with her head outen the window for the birds to clean up the crumbs. Stop by and ask after Mis' Bostick and the Deacon. And if you bring me a little candy from the store with the letters, maybe I'll eat it to please you. Now be a-going so as to be a-coming the sooner." With which admonition Mother took her departure down the garden path.
She was tall and broad, was Mother Mayberry, and in her walk was left much of the lissome strength of her girlhood to lighten the matronly dignity of her carriage. Her stiffly starched, gray-print skirts swept against a budding border of jonquils and the spring breezes floated an end of her white lawn tie as a sort of challenge to a young cherry tree, that was trying to snow out under the influence of the warm sun. Her son smiled as he saw her stoop to lift a feeble, over-early hop toad back under the safety of the jonquil leaves, out of sight of a possible savage rooster. He knew what expression lay in her soft gray eyes that brooded under her Wide, placid brow, upon which fell abundant and often riotous silver water-waves. His own eyes were very like them and softened as he looked at her, a masculine version of one of her quick dimples quirked at the corner of his clean-cut mouth.
"The bread of life—she's found it," he said to himself musingly as he slipped the last buckle in his bridle tight.
"Elinory," called Mother Mayberry from the kitchen steps, "come out here and sense the spring. Everywhere you look they is some young thing a-peeping up or a-reaching out or a-running over or wobbling or bleating or calling. Looks like the whole world have done broke out in blooms and babies."
"I can't—I wish I could," came an answer in a low, beautiful voice with a queer, husky note. "It's all sticking to my hands, flour and everything, and I don't know what to do!"
"Dearie me, you've put in the milk a little too liberal! Wait until I sift on a mite more flour. Now rub it in light! See, it's all right, and most beautiful dough. Don't be discouraged, for riz biscuits is most the top test of cooking. Keep remembering back to those cup custards you made yesterday, what Tom Mayberry ate three of for supper and then tried to sneak one outen the milk-house to eat before he went to bed."
"Oh, did he?" asked Miss Wingate with delight shining in her dark eyes and a beautiful pink rising up in her pale cheeks. "I wish I COULD do something to please him and make him feel how—how—grateful I am—for the hope he's given me. I was so hopeless and unhappy—and desperate when I came. But I believe my voice is coming back! Every day it's stronger and you are so good to me and make me so happy that I'm not afraid any more. You give me faith to hope—as well as to mix biscuits." And a pearly tear splashed on the rolling-pin.
"Yes, put your trust in the Heavenly Father, child, and some in Tom Mayberry. Before you know it you'll be singing like the birds out in the trees; but I can't let myself think about the time's a-coming for you to fly away to the other people's trees to sing. When Tom told me about Doctor Stein's wanting to send a great big singer lady, what had lost her voice, down here to see if he couldn't cure her like he did that preacher man and the politics speaker, I was skeered for both him and me, for I knew things was kinder simple with us here and I was afraid I couldn't make you happy and comfortable. But then I remembered Doctor Stein had stayed 'most two weeks when he came South with Tom for a visit and said he had tacked ten years on to the end of his life by just them few days of Providence junketings and company feedings, so I made up my mind not to be proud none and to say for you to come on. I've got faith in my boy's doctoring same as them New York folks has, and I wanted him to try to cure you. Then I knew you didn't have no mother to pet up the sick throat none. A little consoling comfort is a good dose to start healing any kind of trouble with. I knew I had plenty of that in my heart to prescribe out to help along with your case; so here you are not three weeks with us, a-mixing riz biscuits for Tom's supper and like to coax the heart outen both of us. I told him—Dearie me, somebody's calling at the front gate!"
"Mis' Mayberry! Oh, Mis' Mayberry!" came a high, quavering old voice from around the corner of the house, and Squire Tutt hove in sight. He was panting for breath and trembling with rage as he ascended the steps and stood in the kitchen door.
Mother hastened to bring him a chair into which he wheezingly subsided.
"Why, Squire," she questioned anxiously, "have anything happened? Is Mis' Tutt tooken with lumbago again?"
"No!" exploded the Squire, "she's well—always is! I'm the only really sick folks in Providence, though I don't git no respect for it. In pain all the time and no respect—no respect!"
"Now, Squire, everybody in Providence have got sympathy for your tisic, and just yesterday Mis' Pike was a-asking me—"
"Tisic! I ain't talking about tisic now! It's this pain in my stomick that that young limb of satan of your'n insulted me about not a hour ago. Me a-writhing in tormint with nothing less'n a cancer—insulted me!" As the Squire projected his remark toward Mother Mayberry he bent double and peered expectantly up into her sympathetic face.
"Why, what did he do, Squire?" demanded Mother, with a glance at Miss Wingate, who still stood at the biscuit block cutting out her dough. She regarded the old man with alarmed wonder.
"Told me to drink two cups of hot water and lie down a hour—me in tormint!" The Squire fairly spit his complaint into the air.
"Dearie me, Tom had oughter known better than that about one of your spells," said Mother. "Why, I've been a-curing them for years for you myself with nothing more'n a little drop of spirits, red pepper and mint. He had oughter told you to take that instead of hot water. I'm sorry—"
"Oughter told me to take spirits—told me to TAKE spirits! Don't you know, Mis' Mayberry, a man with a sanctified wife can't TAKE no spirits; they must be GAVE to him by somebody not a member of the family. Me a-suffering tormints—two cups of hot water—tormints, tormints!"
The old man's voice rose to a perfect wail, but came down a note or two as Mother hastily reached in the press and drew out a tall, old demijohn and poured a liberal dose of the desired medicine into a glass. She added a dash of red pepper and a few drops of peppermint. This treatment of the Squire's dram in Mother's estimation turned a sinful beverage into a useful medicine and served to soothe her conscience while it disturbed the Squire's appreciation of her treatment not at all. He swallowed the fiery dose without as much as the blink of an eyelid and on the instant subsided into comfortable complacency.
"Please forgive Tom for not having more gumption, Squire, and next time you're took come right over to me same as usual. Course I know all the neighbors feel as how Tom is young and have just hung out his shingle here, and I ain't expectin' of 'em to have no confidence in him. I think it my duty to just go on with my usual doctoring of my friends. I hope you won't hold this mistake against Tom."
"Well," said the Squire in a mollified tone of voice, "I won't say no more, but you must tell him to stop fooling with these here Providence people. Stopped Ezra Pike's wife feeding her baby on pot-liquor and give it biled milk watered with lime juice. It'll die—it'll die!"
"Oh no, Squire, it's a-getting well—jest as peart as can be," Mother said in a mollifying tone of voice.
"It'll die—it'll die! Cut one er the lights outen Sam Mosbey's side—called it a new fangled impendix name—but he'll die—he'll die!"
"Sam's a-working out there on the barn roof right this minute, Squire, good and alive," said Mother Mayberry with a good-humored smile, while Miss Wingate cast a restrained though indignant glance at the doubting old magistrate.
"And old Deacon Bostick drinking cow-hot milk and sucking raw eggs! He looks like a mixed calf and shanghai rooster! So old he'd oughter die—and he'll do it! Hot water and me in tormint! Hot water on his middle in a rubber bag and nothing inside er him! He'll die-he'll die!"
"Oh no, Squire, the good Lord have gave Deacon Bostick back to us from the edge of the grave; Tom a-working day and night but under His guidance. He have gained ten pounds and walks everywhere. It were low typhus, six weeks running, too! I'm glad it were gave to me to see my son bring back a saint to earth from the gates themselves. Have you been by to see him?"
"Yes," answered the Squire as he rose much more briskly than he had seated himself, and prepared to take his departure. "Yes, and it was you a-nussing of him that did it—muster slipped him calimile—but I ain't a-disputing! Play actor, ain't you, girl?" he demanded as he paused on his way out of the door and peered over at Miss Wingate with his beetling, suspicious eyes.
"Yes," answered the singer lady as she went on putting her biscuit into the pan. If her culinary manoeuvers were slow they were at least sure and the "riz" biscuits looked promising.
"Dearie me," said Mother as she returned from guiding her guest down the front walk and into the shaded Road, "it do seem that Squire Tutt gets more rantankerous every day. Poor Mis' Tutt is just wore out with contriving with him. It's a wonder she feels like she have got any ease at all, much less a second blessing. Now I must turn to and make a dish of baked chicken hash for supper to be et with them feather biscuits of your'n. I want to compliment them by the company of a extra nice dish. If they come out the oven in time I want to ask Sam Mosbey to stop in and get some, with a little quince preserves. He brought his dinner in a bucket, which troubled me, for who's got foot on my land, two or four, I likes to feed myself. I expected he was some mortified at your being here. He's kinder shy like in the noticing of girls."
"That seems to be a failing with the Providence young—with Providence people," ventured Miss Wingate with ambiguity.
"Oh, country boys is all alike," answered Mother comfortingly, only in a measure taking in the tentative observation. "They're all kinder co'ting tongue-tied. They have to be eased along attentive, all 'cept Buck Peavey, who'd like to eat Pattie up same as a cannibal, I'm thinking, and don't mind who knows it. Now the supper is all on the simmer and can be got ready in no time. Let's me and you walk down to the front gate and watch for Tom to come around the Nob from Flat Rock and then we can run in the biscuits. Maybe we'll hear some news; I haven't hardly seen any folks to-day and I mistrust some mischief are a-brewing somewhere."
And Mother Mayberry's well trained intuitions must have been in unusually good working order, for she met her expected complications at the very front gate. She was just turning to point out a promise of an unusually large crop of snowballs on the old shrub by the gate-post when a subdued sniffling made itself heard and caused her to concentrate her attention on the house opposite across the Road. And a sympathy stirring scene met her eyes. Perched along the fence were all five of the little Pikes clinging to the top board in forlorn despondency. On the edge of the porch sat Mr. Pike in his shirt sleeves with his pipe in one hand and the Teether Pike balanced on his knee. His expression matched that of the children in the matter of gloom, and like them he glanced apprehensively toward the door as if expecting Calamity to issue from his very hearthstone.
"Why, what's the matter?" demanded Mother as she hurried to the edge of the sidewalk followed by the singer lady, whose acquaintance with the young Pikes had long before ripened to the stage of intimate friendship. At the sight of her sympathetic face, Eliza, the first Pike, slipped to the ground and buried her head in her new but valued friend's dainty muslin skirt. Bud, the next rung of the stair steps licked out his tongue to dispose of a mortifying tear and little Susie sobbed outright. At this juncture, just as Mother was about to demand again an explanation of such united woe, Mrs. Pike came to the door, and a large spoon and a bottle full of amber, liquid grease made further inquiry unnecessary.
"Sakes, Mis' Mayberry, I certainly am glad you have came over to back me up in getting down these doses of oil. Ez," with an indignant and contemptuous glance at her sullen husband, "don't want me to give it to 'em. He'd rather they'd up and die than to stand the ruckus, but I ain't a-going to let my own children perish for a few cherry seeds with a bottle of oil in the house and Doctor Tom Mayberry's prescription to give 'em a spoonful all around." Mrs. Pike was short and stout, but with a martial and determined eye, and as she spoke she began to measure out a first dose with her glance fixed on young Bud, who turned white around his little mouth and clung to the fence. Susie's sobs rose to a wail and Eliza shuddered in Miss Wingate's skirt.
"Wait a minute, Mis' Pike," said Mother hurriedly, "are you sure they have et cherry seeds? Cherries ain't ripe yet, and—"
"We didn't—we didn't!" came in a perfect chorus of wails from the little fence birds.
"Of course they did, Mis' Mayberry!" exclaimed their mother relentlessly. "It was two jars of cherry preserves that Prissy put up and clean forgot to seed 'fore she biled 'em, and the children done took and et 'em on the sly. Now they're going to suffer for it."
"We all spitted the seeds out, and we was so hungry, too!" Eliza took courage to sob from Miss Wingate's skirt. Bud managed to echo her statement, while Susie and the two little boys gave confirmation from their wide-open, terror-stricken eyes.
"Well, now, maybe they did, Mis' Pike," said Mother, coming near to argue the question. Her hand rested sustainingly on one of the brave young Bud's knees which jutted out from the fence.
"Can't trust 'em, Mis' Mayberry, fer if they'll steal they'll lie," said Mrs. Pike in a voice tinged with the deepest melancholy for the fallen estate of her family. "They'll have to suffer for both sins whether they did or didn't," and again the bottle was poised.
"Now hold on, Mis' Pike," again exclaimed Mother Mayberry as her face illumined with a bright smile. "If they throwed away the cherry pits they must be where they throwed 'em and they can go find 'em to prove they character. They ain't nothing fairer than that. Where did you eat the preserves, children?" she asked, but there was a wild rush around the corner of the house before her question was answered.
"Now," exclaimed the astonished mother, "I never thought of that and if they thought to spit out one stone they did the balance. But Doctor Tom was so kind to tell me about the oil and I paid fifteen cents down at the store for it, that I'm a mind to give it to 'em anyway."
"I'll be blamed if you do," ejaculated her indignant husband as he shouldered Teether and strode into the house, unable longer to restrain his rage.
"Ain't that just like him!" said his wife in a resigned voice. "And I was just going to try to make him take this spoonful I've poured out. It won't hurt him none and it's a pity to pour it back, it wastes so. Do either of you all need it?" she asked hospitably.
Miss Wingate was dissenting with an echo of Eliza's shudder and Mother Mayberry with a laugh, when the reprieved criminals raced back around the house, each dirty little fist inclosing a reasonable number of grubby cherry stones.
"Well," assented their mother reluctantly, "I'll let you off this time, but don't any of you never take nothing to eat again without asking, and I'm a-going to punish you by making you every one wash your feet in cold water and go to bed. Now mind me and all stand to once in the tub by the pump and tell your Paw I say not to touch that kettle of hot water. I don't want you to have a drop. Go right on and do as I say."
The threatened punishment had been too great for the youngsters to mind this lesser and accustomed penalty, so they retired with cheerfulness and spirits and in a few seconds a chorus of squeals and splashes came from the back yard.
After an exchange of friendly good-bys Mrs. Pike entered her front door and Mother and the singer lady returned to their own front gate.
"Dearie me," said Mother in a tone of positive discouragement, "I don't know what I will do if I have to undo another one of Tom Mayberry's prescriptions to-day. But you couldn't expect a man to untangle a children quirk like that; and oil woulder been the thing for the cherry stones in children's stomachs, but not for ones throwed on the back walk. I hope the Squire won't hear about it," she added with a laugh.
"I think," said Miss Wingate with her dark eyes fixed on Mother's face with positive awe, "I think you are wonderful with everybody. You know just what to do for them, and what to say to them and—"
"Well," interrupted Mother with a laugh, "it are gave to some women to be called on the Lord's ease mission, and I reckon I'm of that band. Don't you know I'm the daughter of a doctor, and the wife of a doctor and the mother of one as good as either of the other two? I can't remember the time when I didn't project with the healing of ailments. When I married Doctor Mayberry and come down over the Ridge from Warren County with him, he had his joke with me about my herb-basket and a-setting up opposition to him. It's in our blood. My own cousin Seliny Lue Lovell down at the Bluff follows the calling just the same as I do. I say the Lord were good to me to give me the love of it and a father and a husband and now a son to practise with."
"The Doctors Mayberry, Mother and Son, how interesting that sounds, Mrs. Mayberry," exclaimed Miss Wingate with a delightful laugh, "And no wonder Doctor Mayberry is so gifted that he gets National commissions to study Pellagra and—and has a troublesome singer lady sent all the way from New York to patch up."
"Yes, it do look like that Tom Mayberry gets in a good chanct everywhere he goes. Some folks picks a friend offen every bush they passes and Tom's one. He was honored considerable in New York and then sent over to Berlin, Europe, and beyont to study up about people's skins. And then here he comes back, sent by the Government right down to Flat Rock, on the other side of Providence Nob, to study out about that curious corn disease they calls Pellagra, what I don't think is a thing in the world but itch and can be cured by a little sulphur and hog lard. But I'm blessing the chanct that brought him back to me, even if I know it are just for a spell. And, too, he oughter be happy to have brung his mother such a song bird as you. I'm so used to you and your helping me with Cindy away to Springfield, that I don't see how I ever got along without you or ever will." As she spoke, Mother Mayberry smiled delightedly at the singer girl and drew her closer. Mother's voice at most times was a delicious mixture of banter and caress.
"Perhaps I'll stay always," said the singer lady as she drew close against the gray print shoulder. "When I look around me I feel as if I had awakened in a beautiful world with no more dirty, smoky cities that hurt my throat, no more hot, lighted theaters, no noises, and everything is just a great big bouquet of soft smells and colors."
As she spoke, Elinor Wingate, who was just a tired girl in the circle of Mother Mayberry's strong arm, let her great dark eyes wander off across the meadow to where a dim rim of Harpeth Hills seemed to close in the valley. Her glance returned to the low, wing-spreading, brick farm-house, which, vine-covered, lilac-hedged and maple-shaded, seemed to nestle against the breast of Providence Nob, at whose foot clustered the little settlement of Providence and around whose side ran the old wilderness trail called Providence Road. And her face was soft with a light of utter contentment, for under that low-gabled roof she was finding strength to hope for the recovery of her lost treasure, without which life would seem a void. Then for a moment she looked down the village Road, across which the trees were casting long afternoon shadows and along which was flowing the tide of late afternoon social life. Women hung over the front gates to greet men in from the fields or from down the Road, girls laughed and chaffed one another or the blushing country boys, and the children played tag and hop-scotch back and forth along the way.
"It's all lovely," she said again with a contented little sigh. When she spoke softly there was not a trace of the burr in her voice and it was as sweet as a dove note.
"Days like these we had oughter take the world as a new gift from God," said Mother musingly. "It were a day like this I come with Doctor Mayberry along the Road to Providence to live, and stopped right at this gate under this very maple tree, thirty-five years ago; and thirty of 'em have I lived lonesome without him. I had a baby at my breast and Tom by my knee when he went away from us, and I know now it was the call laid on me to take up his work that saved me. When I got back from the funeral and had laid the baby on the bed Mis' Jim Petway come a-running up the road crying that Ellen, her youngest child, were a-choking to death with croup. I never had a thought but to take his saddle-bags and follow her, and somehow the good Lord guided my hand amongst his medicines, and with what I had learned from him and Pa I fought a good fight and saved the little thing's life, though it took the night to do it. And in one of them dark hours a sister-to-woman sense was born in me what I ain't never lost. A neighbor took Tom and they brought my baby to me and I stayed by Mis' Petway until they weren't no more danger. Next day it were Squire Tutt's first wife tooken down with the fever and not the week passed before that very Sam Mosbey were borned. We was too poor to have a doctor come and live here and they was a doctor over to Springfield took up my husband's county practice, so I jest naturally had to do the healing myself, only a-sending for him in the worst cases. They was a heap of teethers that summer and it kept me busy looking after 'em. I expect I made mistakes but I kept up me and the patients' courage by sympathizing and heartening. It didn't cost nobody nothing and we wasn't so prosperous then that it wasn't a help for me to do the doctoring when I could, and I mostly were able. I were glad of the work and did it with a thankful mind; not as they wasn't times when I felt sick at heart, and in danger of questioning why, but I tried to steady myself with prayer until I could find the Everlasting Arm to lean on that is always held out to the widow and the fatherless. And so a-leaning I have got me and Tom Mayberry along until now."
"And the whole rest of the world leaning on you," said the lovely lady as she drew nearer and caught Mother Mayberry's strong hand in her own slender fingers.
"Well," answered Mother, as she shaded her eyes with her other hand to look far up the Road toward the Ridge over which they were waiting for the Doctor's horse to appear, "looks like often hands a-reaching out for help gives strength before they takes any, and a little hope planted in another body's garden is apt to fly a seed and sprout in your own patch. There he is—let's hurry in the biscuits!"
THE SINGER LADY AND THE BREAD-BOWL
"Well, I don't know as I'd like to have her messing around my kitchen and house, a stranger and a curious one at that. But you always was kinder soft, Mis' Mayberry," said Mrs. Peavey as she glanced with provoked remonstrance at Mother Mayberry, who went calmly on attending to the needs of a fresh hatching of young chickens. Mrs. Peavey lived next door to the Doctor's house and the stone wall that separated the two families was not in any way a barrier to her frequent neighborly and critical visitations. She was meager of stature and soul, and the victim of a devouring fire of curiosity which literally licked up the fagots of human events that came in her way. She was the fly that kicked perpetually in Mother Mayberry's cruse of placid ointment, but received as full a mead of that balm of friendship as any woman on the Road.
"Why, she ain't a mite of trouble, but just a pleasure, Hettie Ann," answered Mother with mild remonstrance in her tone. "I expected to have a good bit of worry with her, having no cook in my kitchen, 'count of waiting for Cindy to get well and come back to me and nobody easy to pick up to do the work, but she hadn't been here a week before she was reaching out and learning house jobs. I think it takes her mind offen her troubles and I can't say her no if it do help her, not that I want to, for she's a real comfort."
"Well, if it was me I couldn't take no comfort in a play-acting girl. I'd feel like locking up what teaspoons I had and a-counting over everything in my house every day. It's just like you, Mis' Mayberry, to take her in. And I can't sense the why of you're being so close-mouthed about her. Near neighbors oughter know all about one another's doings and not have to ask, I say." Mrs. Peavey sniffed and assumed an air of injured patience.
"Why, Hettie Ann," Mother hastened to answer, "you know as I always did hold that the give and take of advice from friends is the greatest comfort in the world, though at times most confusing, and I thought I told you all about Elinory."
"Well, you didn't. Muster been Bettie Pratt or Mis' Pike you was a-talking to when you thought it was me," answered her friend with the injured note in her voice becoming with every word more noticeable. "Are she rich or poor? Do you know that much?"
"Well now, come to think of it, I don't," answered Mother promptly. "Connecting up folks and they money always looks like sticking a price tag on you to them and them to you. I'd rather charge my friends to a Heaven-account and settle the bill with friendly feelings as we go along. This poor child ain't got no mother or father, that I know. All her young life when most girls ain't got a thought above a beau or a bonnet, she have been a-training of her voice to sing great 'cause it were in her to do it. And she done it, too. Then all to onct when she had got done singing in a great big town hall they call Convent Garden or something up in New York, she made the mistake to drink a glass of ice water and it friz up her throat chords. She haven't been able to sing one single tune since. She have been a-roaming over the earth a-hunting for some sort of help and ain't found none. Now she have lit at my door and I've got her in trying to warm and comfort her to enough strength for Tom to put her voice back into her."
"Well, you don't expect no such thing of Tom Mayberry as that, do you?" asked Mrs. Peavey with uncompromising and combative frankness.
"That I do," answered the Doctor's mother, and this time there was a note of dignity in her voice, as she looked her friend straight in the face. "You know, because I told you about it, Hettie Ann, how Tom Mayberry cured that big preacher of a lost voice who was a friend to this Doctor Stein, while the boy wasn't nothing but serving his term in the hospital. He wrote a paper about it that made all the doctors take notice of him and he have done it twice since, though throats are just a side issue from skins with him. Yes, I'm expecting of him to cure this child and give her back more'n just her voice, her work in life. I'm one that believes that the Lord borns all folks with a work to do and you've got to march on to it, whether it's singing in public places, carrying saddle-bags to suffering or jest playing your tune on the wash-board at home. It's a part of his hallelujah chorus in which we've all got to join."
"Well, I shorely drawed the wash-board fer my instrumint," answered Mrs. Peavey with a vindictive look across the wall at a line of clothes fluttering in the breeze.
"And they ain't nobody in Providence that turns out as white a shirt-song as you do, Hettie Ann. Buck and Mr. Peavey are just looked at in church Sundays fer the color of they collars," Mother hastened to say with pride in the glance that followed Mrs. Peavey's across the wall. "Ain't Tom always a-contriving with you to sneak one of his shirts into your wash, so as not to hurt me and Cindy's feelings? I don't see how you get 'em so white."
"Elbow grease and nothing else," answered Mrs. Peavey in a tone of voice that refused to be mollified. "I've got to be a-going."
"Just wait and look at these chickens; ain't they pretty? Tom sent all the way to Indiany fer the settin' of eggs fer me and I've just been a-watching the day for 'em to hatch. I feel they are a-going to be a credit to me and I'm glad I gave 'em to Ruffle Neck to set on. She's such a good hoverer and can be depended on to run from the rain. Now ain't they pretty?" and Mother even looked at Mrs. Peavey with hope for a word of sympathy in her pleasure—after a thirty years' experience with her neighbor.
"No," answered her friend, "I don't hold with no fancy chickens. Just good dominicks is all I've got any faith in and not much in them. With strange chickens and girls around your house something misfortunate is a-going to happen to you, Mis' Mayberry, and I see it a-coming. Don't say I didn't tell you."
"No, I'll give you credit for your warning," answered Mother propitiatingly. "How's that pain in your side?" she hastened to ask, to change the subject from a disagreeable one to what she knew by experience would prove at least interesting.
"It's a heap better," answered Mrs. Peavey promptly.
"Oh, I'm so glad," exclaimed Mother, immediately beginning to beam with pride. "I told you Tom could help it with that new kind of dry plaster he made for you. Ain't it wonderful?"
"Shoo! I never put that on! It didn't have smell enough to do any good. I knew that as soon as I unrolled it. I just rubbed myself heavy with that mixture of kerosine, vinegar and gum camfire you've been making me for twenty years, and I slept uncommon well."
"Oh," answered Mother Mayberry, "I wish you had tried Tom's plaster. I feel sure—"
"Well, I don't—of anything that a boy like Tom Mayberry knows. If he lives here a spell and learns from you maybe he'll get some doctoring sense, but I wouldn't trust him for ten years at the shortest. But have you heard the news?" A flame of positive joy flared up in Mrs. Peavey's eyes and flushed her sallow cheeks.
"Why, what is it?" asked Mother with a guarded interest and no small amount of anxiety, for she was accustomed to the kind of news that Mrs. Peavey usually took the trouble to spread.
"Well, I knowed what was a-going to happen when I seen Bettie Pratt setting the chairs straight and marshaling in the orphants at poor Mis' Hoover's funeral, not but eleven months ago. It'll be a scandal to this town and had oughter be took notice of by Deacon Bostick and the Elder. She's got four Turner children and six Pratts and he have got seven of his own, so Turner, Pratt and Hoover they'll be seventeen children in the house, all about the same size. Then maybe more—I call it a disgrace, I do!"
"I don't know," answered Mother, though her eyes did twinkle at the thought of this allied force of seventeen, "there never was a better child-raiser than Bettie Pratt and I'll be mighty glad to see them poor, forlorn little Hoovers turned over to her. They've been on my mind night and day since they mother died and they ain't a single one of 'em as peart as it had oughter be. Who told you about it?"
"They didn't nobody tell me—I've got eyes of my own! Just yesterday I seen her hand a pan of biscuits over the fence to Pattie Hoover and he had a Turner and two Pratts in the wagon with him coming in from the field last night. But you can't do nothing about it—she have got the marrying habit. They are other widows in this town that have mourned respectable to say nothing of Miss Prissy Pike, that have never had no husband at all and had oughter be gave a chanct. Mr. Hoover are a nice man and I don't want to see him made noticeable in no such third-husband way."
"Course it do look a little sudden," said Mother, "and seventeen is a good lot of children for one family, but if they love each other—"
"Love! Shoo! I declare, Mis' Mayberry, looks to me like you swallow what folks give you in this world whole, pit and all, and never bat a eye. I've got to go home and put on Buck's and Mr. Peavey's supper and sprinkle down some of my wash." And without further parley Mrs. Peavey marched home through a little swinging gate in the wall that had been for years a gap through which a turbid stream had flowed to trouble Mother's peaceful waters.
"It do seem Mis' Peavey are a victim of a most pitiful unrest," said Mother to herself as she watched with satisfaction Ruffle Neck tuck the last despised little Hoosier under her soft gray breast. "Some folks act like they had dyspepsy of the mind. Dearie me, I must go and take a glass of cream to my honey-bird, for that between-meal snack that Tom Mayberry are so perticular about." And she started down toward the spring-house under the hill.
And returning a half hour later with the cool glass in her hand, she was guided by the sound of happy voices to the front porch, where, under the purple wistaria vine, she found the singer lady absorbed in the construction of a most worldly garment for the doll daughter of Eliza Pike, who was watching its evolution with absorbed interest.
"Pleas'm, Miss Elinory, make it a little bit longer, 'cause I want her to have a beau," besought the small mother, as she anxiously watched the measuring of the skirt.
"Want her to have a beau?" asked Miss Wingate with the scissors suspended over the bit of pink muslin which matched exactly her own ruffled skirts.
"Yes'm! Pattie Hoover wored shoe-tops all winter and now she's got foot-dresses and Buck Peavey for a beau."
"Oh, I see," said the singer lady as she smiled down into the eager little face. "Do you think—er, beaux are—are desirable, Eliza?"
"Yes'm, I do," answered the bud of a woman, as she drew nearer and said with an expression of one bestowing a confidence, "When I'm let down to my feet I'm going to have Doctor Tom for my beau, if you don't get him first."
"I'm sure you needn't worry about that, Eliza," Miss Wingate hastened to exclaim with a rising color. "I wouldn't interfere with your plans for the world—if I could."
"Well, you take him if you can get him," answered Eliza generously; "somebody'll grow up by that time for me. But he couldn't make you take oil, could he?" she asked doubtfully, the memory of yesterday's escape lurking in her mind and explaining her most unfeminine generosity.
Miss Wingate eyed her for a moment with mirth fairly dancing over her face, "Yes," she said with a laugh, "I believe he could!"
"Elinory, child," said Mother as she came out from the front hall, "here we are a half hour late with this cream, and both of us under promise solemn to Tom to have it down by four o'clock. 'Liza, honey, how's the baby?"
"He have got a new top-tooth and throwed up onct this morning," answered Eliza in a practical tone of voice.
"Dearie me," said Mother anxiously, for the Pike teether had up to this time been the Doctor's prize patient. "I wonder if your Maw remembered the lime water faithful?"
"I expect she forgot it, for she was whipping Susie for sassing Aunt Prissy, and Bud for saying fool," answered Eliza, not at all hesitating to lay bare the iniquities of her family circle.
"I'm sorry they did like that," said Mother with real concern at the news of such delinquencies.
"Yes'm, Susie told Aunt Prissy Mis' Peavey said she were a-setting her cap fer Mr. Hoover and it made Bud mad 'cause he fights 'Lias Hoover and he called her a fool. He hadn't oughter done it, but he's touchy 'bout Aunt Prissy and so's Paw. There comes Deacon and a little boy with him."
As she spoke, Mother rose to greet Deacon Bostick who had turned in the front gate and got as far up the front walk as the second snowball bush. The Deacon was tall, lean, bent and snow-crowned, with bright old eyes that rested in a benediction on the group on the porch that his fine old smile confirmed. By the hand he led a tiny boy who was clad in a long nondescript garment and topped off by a queer red fez, pulled down over a crop of yellow curls, a strange little exotic against the homely background of Mother Mayberry's lilac bushes.
"Sister Mayberry," said the deacon as he paused at the foot of the steps, "this is Martin Luther Hathaway who was left at my house this morning by the Circuit Rider, as he came through from Springfield on his way to Flat Rock, to be delivered to you, along with his letter. I trust his arrival is not unexpected to you."
"No, indeed, Deacon, I was hoping for him though not exactly expecting him. A month ago while you was sick, our missionary society had news of a missionary and his wife down at Springfield who wanted to go up to Chicagy to study some more about some heathen matter, and couldn't quite make it with two children. My cousin Seliny Lue down to the Bluff have took the little girl and we sent five dollars and a letter saying to send the boy to me for the summer. Come to Mother Mayberry, sonny," and Mother sat down on the lowest step and stretched out her arms to the little ward of the church militant.
Martin Luther's big blue eyes, which were set in his head like those of a Raphael cherub, looked out from under a huge yellow curl that fell over his forehead, straight into Mother's gray ones for a moment, and sticking his pink thumb into his mouth, he sidled into her embrace with a little sigh of evident relief.
"Eat some, thank ma'am, please," he whispered into her ear by way of a return of the introduction. His little mother tongue had evidently suffered a slight twist by his birth and sojourn in a foreign country, but it served to express the normal condition of all inhabitants of boy-land.
"Of course he's hungry, bless his little heart," answered Mother as she removed the fez and ruffled up the damp curls. "Run fetch the tea-cake bucket from the kitchen safe, 'Liza, and won't you come sit down, Deacon?"
"No, thank you, Sister," answered the Deacon with a glance of real regret at the comfortable rocker Miss Wingate had hastened to draw forward into a sunny but sheltered corner of the porch, "I'm on my way to take tea with Sister Pratt. I'm to meet Mrs. Bostick there. How's the throat, child?" And his smile up at the singer lady was one of the most sympathetic interest.
"Better, thank you, I think," said Miss Wingate, answering both question and smile. "How well you are looking to-day, Deacon!"
"Why, I'm made over new by that boy of a Doctor," said the Deacon, fairly beaming with enthusiasm. "Your cure will be only a matter of time, a matter of time, my dear—Squire Tutt to the contrary," he added with a chuckle.
"There, bless my heart, if my ears ain't heard two testimonies to Tom Mayberry all in one minute!" exclaimed Mother with a delighted laugh. "Have a cake, won't you, Deacon?" she asked, offering the bucket.
She then established Eliza and the small stranger on the edge of the steps, with an admonition as to the disposal of the crumbs over on to the grass, and filled both pairs of hands with the crisp discs. Eliza spread the end of her short blue calico skirt over Martin Luther's chubby knees, and they both proceeded to eat into the improvised napkin with the utmost comradeship. Miss Wingate had strolled down to the gate with the Deacon and had paused on the way to decorate the buttonhole of his shiny old coat with a bit of the white lilac nodding over the wall.
"'Liza, child," said Mother as she glanced at Martin Luther with a contemplative eye, "when you're done eating run over and ask your Maw to send me a pair of Billy's britches and a shirt. No, maybe young Ez's 'll be better, and bring 'em and Martin Luther on back to the kitchen to me." With which she disappeared into the house, leaving the munchers to finish their feast alone.
And in an incredibly short time the last crumb, even those rescued from the skirt, had disappeared and Eliza had led Martin Luther down the walk, across the Road and around the corner of the Pike cottage, while the Deacon still lingered talking to Miss Wingate at the gate. Eliza had taken upon herself, with her usual generalship, the development of Mother Mayberry's plan for the arraying of the young stranger in what Providence would consider a civilized garb.
And for some minutes Miss Wingate stood leaning over the top rail of the low gate idly watching a group of Pratts, Turners, Mosbeys, Hoovers and Pikes playing a mysterious game, which necessitated wild dashes across a line drawn down the middle of the Road in the white dust, shrill cries of capture and frequent change of base. The day had been a long sunshiny one, full of absorbing interests, and as she stood drinking in the perfume from a spray of lilac she had broken to choose the bit for the Deacon, she suddenly realized that not one minute had she found in which to let the horrible dread creep close and clutch at her throat. Helping along in the construction of a bucket of tea-cakes, the printing of four cakes of butter, the simmering of a large pan of horehound syrup and the excitement of pouring it into the family bottles that Mother was filling against a sudden night call from some crouper down or across the Road, to say nothing of a most exciting pie, that had been concocted entirely by herself from a jar of peaches and frilled around with the utmost regard for its artistic appearance, to which could be added the triumph of the long-tailed pink gown for the daughter of young Eliza, had kept her busy and—with a quick smile she had to admit to herself, happy. Indeed the remembrance of the rapid disappearance of the pie and Doctor Mayberry's blush when, after he had eaten two-thirds of it, his mother had informed him of the authorship, brought a positive glow of pleasure to her cheeks. Such a serious, gentle, skilful young Doctor as he was—and "a perfect dear" she went as far as admitting to herself, this time with a low laugh.
And as if her pondering on his virtues had had power to bring a materialization, suddenly Doctor Tom stood in front of her on the other side of the gate. He had come from up the Road while she had been looking down in the other direction, and in his hand he held a spray of purple lilacs which he had broken from a large bush that hung over the fence from the Pratt yard into the Road and also spread itself a yard or two into Hoover territory.
"Aren't they lovely and plumy?" she asked, as she took the bunch he offered and laid the purple flowers against the white ones she held in her hand. "These are so much darker than Mrs. Mayberry's purple ones. I wonder why."
"Some years they bloom lighter than Mother's and other years still darker—just another one of the mysteries," he answered as he leaned against the gate-post and looked down at her with a smile. He was tall, and strong, and forceful, with a clean-cut young face which was lit by Mother Mayberry's very own black-lashed, serene gray eyes, and his very evident air of a man of affairs had much of the charm of Mother Mayberry's rustic dignity. His serge coat, blue shirt and soft gray tie had a decided cut of sophistication and were worn with a most worldly grace that was yet strangely harmonious with his surroundings. For with all of his distinctions in appearance and attainments, as a man he struck no discord when contrasted with Mr. Pike's shirt-sleeved, butternut-trousers personality and he seemed but the flowering of Buck Peavey's store-clothes ambitions. The accord of it all struck Miss Wingate so forcibly that unconsciously she gave voice to the feeling.
"How at home you are in all this—this?" she paused and raised her eyes to his with a hint of helplessness to express herself within them.
"Simple life," he supplied with a smile that held a bit of banter.
"It's not so simple as one would think to balance a pie plate on one hand and cut around it with a knife so the edges aren't jagged—to be all consumed within the hour," she answered with spirit, rising to the slight challenge in his voice and smile. "And there are other most complicated things I have discovered that—"
But just here she was interrupted by a sally from around the corner of the Pike house which streamed out across the Road, headed precisely in their direction. Eliza was in the lead and held little Teether swung perilously across one slender hip, while she clasped Martin Luther's chubby fingers in her other hand. And behold, the transformation of the young stranger was complete beyond belief! His yellow thatch was crowned by a straw hat, which was circled by a brand new shoestring, though it gaped across the crown to let out a peeping curl. Young Ez's garments even had proved a size too large and the faded blue jeans "britches" were rolled up over his round little knees and hitched up high under his arms by an improvised pair of calico "galluses" which were stretched tight over a clean but much patched gingham shirt. His feet and legs had been stripped in accordance with the time-ordered custom in Providence that bare feet could greet May Day, and his little, bare, pink toes curled up with protest against the roughness of even the dust-softened pike. Susie May, Billy and young Ez beamed with pride at their share in the rehabiting of the recent acquisition and waited breathlessly for words of praise from Miss Wingate and the Doctor.
"Why, who is this?" asked the Doctor quickly with a most gratifying interest in his big voice, while Miss Wingate came out of the gate on to the pavement.
"It's the little missionary boy that the Deacon brought Mother Mayberry. I guess the Lord sent him, for he's too big to come outen a cabbage," answered Eliza, and as she spoke she settled the hat an inch farther down over the curls with a motherly gesture. She had failed to grasp with exactness the situation concerning the advent of Martin Luther, but was supplying a version of her own that seemed entirely satisfactory to the youngster's newly acquired friends.
"Spit through teeth," ventured the young stranger, anxious to display an accomplishment that had been bestowed upon him by Billy while the "galluses" were in process of construction a few minutes ago. "Thank ma'am, please," he hastened to add with pathetic loyalty to some injunction that had been impressed upon his young mind before his embarkation upon strange seas.
"Let me see you do it," demanded the Doctor, in instant sympathy with his pride in this newly acquired national accomplishment.
"He hasn't got time to do it now," answered Eliza importantly, as she hitched Teether a notch higher up on her arm. "I've got to take him and the baby in to Mother Mayberry to see if his other top-tooth have come up enough for Maw to rub it through with her thimble." Though she did not designate Teether as the subject of the operation the audience understood that it was he and not Martin Luther so fated.
"Oh, no, no!" exclaimed Miss Wingate in horror, and she reached out and took Teether into protective arms. The day had been a long and weary one for Teether Pike and he dropped his tired little head over on the cool pink muslin shoulder and nestled his aching jaw against the smooth white neck.
"Hold him still just a second as he is," said Doctor Tom quickly, and in an instant he had whipped a case from his pocket, selected an instrument and, inserting his finger between the pink lips, he rendered unnecessary the agony of the maternal thimble. It had been done so quickly that Teether himself only nestled a bit closer with a faint moan, and Miss Wingate looked up at the operator with grateful eyes. She hugged the limp baby closer and started to speak, but was interrupted by an anxious question from Eliza.
"Did you cut it?" she demanded.
"Yes," answered the Doctor non-committally.
"Well, Maw'll be mighty mad at you, for Mother Mayberry asked her last night to let you cut it and she said she'd thimbled the rest of us and she reckoned he could stand it too. If it was me, I'd let you cut me wide open and sew me up again if you wanted to," and Eliza beamed upon the Doctor with an affection that was the acme of idealization. She had forgotten that only a few hours ago she had renounced her loyalty at the memory of the oil, but Miss Wingate smiled in appreciation of this display of further feminine inconsistency.
"Shucks," said Billy, "you'd holler 'fore he could cut onct. I'm a-going to let him fix my next stump toe and 'Lias Hoover have got two warts he can cut off, if he gives him a piece of catgut string to tie on fish hooks." And Billy looked as if he expected to see the Doctor entirely overwhelmed at the prospect of so much practice so easily obtained.
"Go take Martin Luther to show Mrs. Mayberry, Eliza," said Miss Wingate with a laughing smile over the baby's head at the Doctor and his practice. "I'll come on with the baby." And with Teether still embraced she strolled up the walk with Doctor Mayberry at her side. When they reached the front steps she seated herself on the top one and slowly lowered the drowsy little chap, until his head rested on her breast and her arms held him cradlewise. She began a low husky humming as she rocked herself to and fro, watching breathlessly the fringed lashes sink over his wearied eyes, until they lay like shadows on the purple circles beneath. She was utterly absorbed in getting Teether into a comatose condition, and had neither eyes nor ears for the Doctor; not that he claimed either.
He sat for some moments watching her and listening breathlessly to the low music that came out through the wonderful throat, as if from some master instrument with strings uncouthly muted. And as he looked, the horrible thought clutched at his own heart. Suppose he should not be able to free her voice for her! Many others had tried—the greatest—and they had all been baffled by the strange stiffness of the chords. He knew himself to be, in a way, her last resort. A world of music lovers awaited the result. He had been obliged to send out two Press bulletins as to her condition within the week—and she sat on the steps in the twilight humming Teether Pike to sleep, shut in by the Harpeth Hills with only him to fight her fight for her. He almost groaned aloud with the pain of it, when into his consciousness came Mother Mayberry's placid voice shooing the Pike children home with promises and admonitions. A line from Doctor Stein's letter flashed into his mind: "And first and above all I want your mother to put heart and hope into the girl." The fight was not his alone, thank God, and he knew just how much he could trust to his mother's heart-building. Why not? Over the land men were learning to strengthen the man within before attempting to cure the man without. Hadn't that always been his mother's unconscious policy out on Harpeth Hills? A deep calm fell into his troubled spirit and, as the singer lady and Mother escorted the escort down the walk, he slipped away into his office for an hour before supper with his reports and microscope.
A half hour later Mother Mayberry came into his office for the little chat she often took the time for just before the summons to supper. She seated herself by the open window, through which the twilight was creeping, and he threw down his pen and came and stood leaning against the casement.
"Well," she said with a long breath of contentment, "well, I do feel about ready to get ready to rest. The Pikeses is all in, I heard Bettie Pratt calling in the Turners and Pratts and Hoovers, Buck have come home to supper on time, as I know will relieve Hettie Ann's mind, Squire Tutt just went in the front gate as I come up the walk and I seen Mis' Bostick light the lamp in the Deacon's study from my kitchen window a minute ago. They ain't nothing in the world that makes me so contented as to know that all Providence is a-setting down to meals at the same time and a-feeding together as one family, though in different houses. The good Lord will get all the rendered thanks at the same time and I feel it will please Him—ours is late on account of Elinory deciding at the last minute to beat up some clabber cheese with fresh cream for your supper, like she says they fix it up over in Europe somewhere she lived while she was a-studying to sing. I come on out so she could have a swing to herself and not think anybody was a-hurrying of her. It's a riled woman as generally answers the call of hurry and I never gives it, lessen it's life or death or a chicken-hawk."
"But, Mother," remonstrated the Doctor with a very real distress in his voice, "ought you to let her—Miss Wingate—do such things—so many things? Are you sure she enjoys it and is not just doing it to help or because she thinks she ought? Or do you—?"
"Well," interrupted Mother decidedly, "it's my opinion they ain't nothing in the world so heavy as empty hands. She have had to lay down a music book and I don't know nothing better to offer than a butter-paddle and a bread-bowl. It's the feeding of folks that counts in a woman's life, whether it be songs or just bread and butter. If Elinory's tunes was as much of a success as her riz biscuits have come to be, I wisht I could have heard her just onct."
"I did, Mother, the first night she sang in America—and it was very wonderful. When I think of the great opera house, the lights and the flowers, the audience mad with joy and the applause and—I—I—wonder how she stands it!"
"Yes," answered Mother, "I reckon wondering how Eve stood things muster took Adam's mind offen hisself to a very comforting degree. Courage was the ingredient the good Lord took to start making a woman with and it's been a-witnessing his spirit in her ever since. I oughtn't to have to tell you that."
"You don't," Doctor Tom hastened to answer as he smiled down on Mother. "I only spoke as I did about Miss Wingate because you see she is—well, what we would call a very great lady and I wouldn't have her think that I did not realize that-?"
"Well, you can do as you choose," answered Mother placidly as she prepared to take her departure to see to the finishing up of the supper, "but I ain't a-letting no foolish pride hold my heart back from my honey-bird. Love's my bread of life and I offers it free, high or low. Come on and see how you like that cheese fixing she's done made for you."
THE PEONY-GIRL AND THE BUMPKIN
"There's just no doubt about it, if Tom Mayberry weren't my own son and I had occasion to know better I'd think he had teeth in his heels, from the looks of his socks. Every week Cindy darns them a spell and then I take a hand at it. Just look, Elinory, did you ever see a worser hole than this?" As Mother Mayberry spoke she held up for Miss Wingate's interested inspection a fine, dark blue sock. They were sitting on the porch in the late afternoon and the singer lady was again at work on a bit of wardrobe for the doll daughter of her friend Eliza.
"How does he manage such—such awful ones?" asked Miss Wingate with a laugh.
"That you can't never prove by me," answered his mother as she slipped a small gourd into the top of the sock and drew a thread through her needle.
"Sometimes I wish the time when I could turn him barefooted from May to November had never gone by. But a-wishing they children back in years is a habit most mothers have got in common, I reckon. When he's away from me I dream him often at all ages, but it's mostly from six to eleven I seem to want him. When he were six, with Doctor Mayberry gone, I took to steadying myself by Tom and at eleven I made up my mind to give him up."
"Give him up?" asked Miss Wingate as she raised her eyes from her work. "I don't think you seem to have given him up to any serious extent." And she smiled as she turned her head in the direction of the office wing, from which came a low whistled tune, jerkily and absorbedly rendered.
"Oh, he don't belong to me no more," answered his mother in a placid tone of voice as she rocked to and fro with her work. "I fought out all that fight when I took my resolve. I just figured something like this, Pa Lovell had been a-doctoring on Harpeth Hills for a lifetime and Doctor Mayberry had gave all his young-man life to answering the call, a-carrying the grace of God as his main remedy, so now I felt like the time had come for a Lovell and a Mayberry to go out and be something to the rest of the world, and Tom were the one to carry the flag. I seen that the call were on him since he helped me through a spell of May pips with over two hundred little chickens before he were five years old, and he cut a knot out of the Deacon's roan horse by the direction of a book when he weren't but eleven, as saved its life. That kinder settled it with me and the Deacon both, though we talked it back and forth for two more years. Then Deacon took to teaching of him regular and I set in to save all I could from the thin peeling of potatoes to worser darnings and patches than this. Would you think they could be any worser?" And she smiled up over her glasses at the girl opposite her.
"Tell me about it," demanded the singer lady interestedly. "Where did you send him to school first?"
"Right down here to the City. You see Doctor Mayberry left me this home, fifty acres and a small life insurance, so they was a little something to inch and pinch on. You can't save by trying to peel nothing, but the smallest potatoes have got a skin, and I peeled close them days. Tom did his part too and he run the plow deep and straight when he wasn't much taller than the handles. I had done talked it over with him and asked him would he, and he looked right in my eyes in his dependable way and said yes he would. That finished it and he wasn't but eleven; but I don't want to brag on him to you. If you listen to mothers' talk the world are full of heroes and none-suches." Again Miss Wingate received the smile from over Mother Mayberry's glasses and this time it was tinged with a whimsical pride.
"Please, Mrs. Mayberry, tell me about it; you know I want to hear," begged the girl, and she moved her chair nearer to Mother's and picked up the mate of the blue sock off her knee. "How old was he when he went to college?"
"Just sixteen, big and hearty and with enough in his head to get through the examinations. I packed him up, and him and the Deacon started down Providence Road at sun-up in the Deacon's old buggy. He looked both man and baby to me as he turned around to smile back; but I stood it out at the gate until they turned the bend, then I come on back to the house quick like some kind of hurted animal. But, dearie me, I never got a single tear shed, for there were Mis' Peavey with Buck in her arms, shaking him upside down to get out a brass button he hadn't swallowed. By the time we poured him full of hot mustard water and the button fell outen his little apron pocket, I had done got my grip on myself."
"I just can't stand it that you had to let him go," Miss Wingate both laughed and sobbed.
"Yes, but I ain't told you about the commencement, honey-bird. There's that tear I didn't get to drop a-splashing outen your eyes on the doll's hat! That day was the most grandest thing that ever happened to anybody's mother, anywhere in this world. I didn't think I could go to see him get the diplomy, for with all his saving ways and working hard in the summer, it had been a pull to make buckle and tongue meet and there just wasn't nothing left for me to buy no stylish clothes to wear. I set here a-worrying over it, not that I minded, but it was hard on the boy to have to make his step-off in life and his mother not be there to see. And somehow I felt as if it would hurt Pa Lovell and Doctor Mayberry for me not to be with him. Then with thinking of Pa Lovell a sudden idea popped into my head. There was Seliny Lue Lovell right down to the Bluff, on the road to town, and with Aunt Lovell's fine black silk dress packed away in the trunk, as good as new, and me and Seliny Lue of almost the same figger as her mother. That just settled the question and I got up and washed out my water-waves in a little bluing water to make 'em extra white, dabbed buttermilk on my face to get off some of the tan and called over Mis' Peavey and Mis' Pike to let 'em know. The next morning I started off gay with everybody there to see and sending messages to Tom."
"Wasn't it fortunate you thought of the dress and lovely for you to be able to go right by and get it!" exclaimed Miss Wingate, her eyes as bright as Mother Mayberry's and her cheeks pink with excitement as the tale began to unfold its dramatic length.
"Yes, and Seliny Lue was glad enough to see me! We laughed and talked half the night, was up early, and she took a time to rig me out. It is a stiff black silk, as anybody would be proud of, cut liberal with real lace collar and cuffs. Seliny Lue said I looked fine in it. I wisht she could have gone with me, but they wasn't room for both of us inside the dress." And Mother laughed merrily at the memory of her borrowing escapade.
"Did Doctor Mayberry know you were coming?" asked the singer lady, hurrying on the climax of the recital.
"Not a word! He'd gone off the week before taking it sensible, but I could see hurt mightily about it. I got to the University Hall late, and 'most everybody in the world looked like they was there. I stood at the back and didn't hope to see or hear, just thankful to be near him, but I seen one of them young usher men a-looking hard at me and he came up and asked me if I wasn't Mr. Thomas Mayberry's mother. He had knew me by the favor. I told him yes and he took me up to the very front just as the singing begun. I soon got me and the silk dress settled, with the bokay all Providence had sent Tom on my knee, and looked around me. There next to me was the sweetest young-lady girl I have 'most ever saw, and she smiled at me real friendly. I was just about to speak when the music stopped and the addressing began by a tall thin kinder man. Elinory, child, did you ever hear one of them young men's life-commencement speeches made?" This time Mother Mayberry peered over the top of her glasses seriously and her needle paused suspended over the fast narrowing hole in the sock.
"Yes, but I don't think I ever listened very carefully," admitted Miss Wingate with a smile.
"Well, I felt that if the Lord had gave it to me to stand up there and say a word of start-off to all them boys setting solemn and listening, it wouldn't have been about no combination of things done by men dead and gone, that didn't seem to prove nothing in particular on nobody. I woulder read 'em a line of scripture and then talked honest dealing by one another, the measuring out of work according to the pay and always a little over, the putting of a shoulder under another man's pressing burden, the respect of women folks, the respect of theyselves and the looking to the Lord to see 'em through it all. That speech made me so mad I 'most forgot it was time for Tom's valediction. Honey-bird, I wisht you coulder seen him and heard him."
"I wish I could," answered Miss Wingate with a flush.
"Dearie me, but he was handsome and he spoke words of sense that the other gray-haired man seemed to have forgot! And they was a farewell sadness in it too, what got some of them boys' faces to working, and I felt a big tear roll down and splash right on the lace collar. Then he sat down and they was a to-do of hollering and clapping, but I just sat there too happy to take in the rest of what was did. Sometimes they is a kinder pride swell in a mother's heart that rises right up and talks to her soul in psalm words, and I heard mine that day." Mother's eyes softened and looked far away across to the blue hills.
"What did he do when he saw you?" asked Miss Wingate gently.
"Oh, I didn't pay much attention to him when he come up to me, or let on how I felt. That sweet child next to me had done found out I was his mother, I couldn't help telling her. And then she had sent for her father, who was the head Dean man, and about the time Tom came up, he was there shaking hands with me and telling me how proud the whole University was of Tom and about the great scholarship for him to go to New York to study he had got, and that he must go. It didn't take me hardly two seconds to think a mortgage on the house and fifty acres, the cows and all, so I answered right up on time that go he should. While I was a-talking Tom had gave the bokay from Providence to the girl, what he had been knowing all the time at her father's house. And she had her nose buried in one of Mis' Peavey's pink peonys, a-blushing as pretty as you please over it at that country bumpkin of mine with all his fine manners. That Miss Alford is one of the most sweet girls you ever have saw. She and me have been friends ever since. She comes out to see me in her ottermobile sometimes. She ain't down to the City now, for I had a picture card from some place out West from her, but when she comes back I'm a-going to ask her to come up and have a stay-a-week-in-the-house party for you; and she can bring her brother. You might like him. The four of you can have some nice junketings together. Won't that be fine?"
"Y-e-s," answered the singer lady slowly, "but I'm afraid I'm not able now to interest anybody, and my voice, when I speak—I—I—Will it be soon?" Her question had a trace of positive anxiety in it and her joy was most evidently forced.
"Oh, not till June rose time! And your voice now sounds like a angel's with a bad cold. I'll tell Tom about it, he'll be so pleased. Her father was such a friend to him and as proud of him now as can be."
"Did Doctor Mayberry stay in the City—after his graduation?" asked Miss Wingate, a trace of anxiety in her voice.
"That he didn't! He come on home with me that night, got into his overalls and begun to plow for winter wheat by sun-up the next morning. We made a good crop that year and the mortgage wasn't but a few hundred dollars, what we soon paid. We've been going up ever since. Tom reminds me of a kite, and I must make out to play tail for him until I can pick him out a wife."
"Have you thought of anybody in particular?" asked the lovely lady without raising her eyes from her work. She had commenced operations on the blue sock unnoticed by Mother, who was taken up in the unfolding of her tale.
"Not yet," answered she cheerfully. "I mustn't hurry. Marrying ain't no one-day summer junket, but a year round march and the woman to raise the hymn tune. I take it that after a mother have builded up a man, she oughter see to it that he's capped off fine with a wife, and then she can forget all about him. I've got my eyes open about Tom and I'm going to begin to hunt around soon."
"I wonder just what kind of a wife you—you will select for him," murmured Miss Wingate with her eyes still on the sock, which she was industriously sewing up into a tight knot on the left side of the heel.
"Well, a man oughter marry mostly for good looks and gumption; the looks to keep him from knowing when the gumption is being used on him. Tom's so say-nothing and shy with women folks that he won't be no hard proposition for nobody. But with that way of his'n I'm afraid of his being spoiled some. I have to be real stern with myself to keep from being foolish over him."
"But you want his wife to—to love him, don't you?" asked Miss Wingate, as she raised very large and frankly questioning eyes to Mother Mayberry, who was snipping loose threads from her completed task.
"Oh she'll do that and no trouble! But a man oughter be allowed to sense his wife have got plenty of love and affection preserved, only he don't know where she keeps the jar at. As I say, I don't want Tom Mayberry spoiled. What did I do with that other sock?" And Mother began to hunt in her darning bag, in her lap and on the floor.
"Here it is," answered Miss Wingate as she blushed guiltily. "I—darned it." And she handed her handiwork over to Mother Mayberry with trepidation in voice and expression.
"Well, now," said Mother, as she inspected the tight little wad on the blue heel. "It was right down kind of you to turn to and help me like this, but, honey-bird, Tom Mayberry would walk like a hop toad after he'd done got it on. You have drawn it bad. I don't know no better time to learn you how to darn your husband's socks than right now on this one of Tom's. You see you must begin with long cross stitches in the—Now what's all this a-coming!" And Mother Mayberry rose, looked down the Road and hurried to the sidewalk with the darning bag under her arm and her thimble still on her finger.
Up the middle of the Road came, in a body, the entire juvenile population of Providence at a break-neck speed and farther down the street they were followed by Deacon Bostick, coming as fast as his feeble old legs would bring him. Eliza Pike headed the party with Teether hitched high up en her arm and Martin Luther clinging to her short blue calico skirt. They all drew up in a semicircle in front of Mother Mayberry and Miss Wingate and looked at Eliza expectantly. On all occasions of excitement Eliza was both self-constituted and unanimously appointed spokesman. On this occasion she began in the dramatic part of the news without any sort of preamble.
"It's a circus," she said breathlessly, "a-moving over from Bolivar to Springfield and nelephants and camels and roar-lions and tigers and Mis' Pratt and Deacon and Mr. Hoover and everybody is a-going over to watch it pass—and we can't—we can't!" Her voice broke into a wail, which was echoed by a sob and a howl from across the street just inside the Pike gate, where Bud and Susie pressed their forlorn little bodies against the palings and looked out on the world with the despair of the incarcerated in their eyes.
"Why can't you?" demanded Mother.
"Oh, Maw have gone across the Nob to Aunt Elviry's and left Susie May and Bud being punished. They can't go outen the gate and I ain't a-going to no circus with my little brother and sister being punished, and I won't let Billy and Ez go either." By this time the whole group was in different stages of grief, for the viewing of a circus without the company of Eliza Pike had the flavor of dead sea fruit in all their small mouths. From the heart in Eliza's small bosom radiated the force that vivified the lives of the whole small-fry congregation, and a circus not seen through her eyes would be but a dreary vision.
"Now ain't that too bad!" said Mother Mayberry with compassion and irritation striving in her voice. "What did they do and just what did she say?"
"Susie hurted Aunt Prissy's feelings, by taking the last biscuit when they wasn't one left for her, and Maw said she would have to stay in the yard until she learned to be kind and respectful to Paw's sister, She didn't mean to be bad." And Eliza presented the case of her small sister with hopelessness in every tone.
"Well, Susie," said Mother Mayberry, "don't you feel kind to her yet?" There was a note of hope in Mother's voice that silenced all the wails, and they all fixed large and expectant eyes upon this friend who never failed them. By this time the Deacon had joined the group and his gentle old eyes were also fixed on Mother Mayberry's face, with the same confident hope that the children's expressed.
"I've done been kind to her," sniffed the culprit. "I let her cut all my finger-nails and wash my ears and never said a word. She have been working on me all afternoon and it hurt."
"Susie," said Mother Mayberry, "you can go over to the cross-roads and see that circus with the Deacon. They can't no little girl do better than that, and your Maw just told you to stay until you learned that lesson. You are let out! Now, what did you do, Bud?"
"I slid on the lean-to and tored all the back of my britches out. She couldn't stop to mend 'em and she said I could just stay front ways to folks until she come home, and they shouldn't nobody mend 'em for me." Bud choked with grief and mortification and edged back as little Bettie Pratt started in his direction on an investigating tour.
"Well course, Bud," said Mother with judicial eye, "you can't take them britches off." She paused and looked at him thoughtfully.
"I ain't a-going a step without him," reiterated the loyal Eliza, and the rest of the children's faces fell.
"Too bad," murmured the Deacon, and Miss Wingate could see that his distress at the plight of young Bud was as genuine as that of any of the rest.
"But," began Mother Mayberry slowly, having in the last second weighed the matter and made a decision, "your mother ain't said you couldn't go outen the yard and she ain't said I couldn't wrap you up in one of my kitchen aprons. That wouldn't be the same as changing the britches. She didn't know about this circus and if she was here you all know she woulder done as I asked her to do about Bud, so he ain't a-disobeying her and I ain't neither, Run get the apron hanging behind the door, Susie, and I'll fix him."
"Sister Mayberry," said the Deacon with a delighted smile in his kind eyes, but a twinkle in their corners, "your decision involves the interpretation of both the letter and the spirit of the law. I am glad it, in this case, rested with you."
"Well," answered Mother Mayberry, as she took the apron from Susie and started across the Road on her rescue mission, "a woman have got to cut her conscience kinder bias in the dealing with children. If they're stuffed full of food and kindness they will mostly forget to be bad, and oughtent to be made to remember they CAN be by being punished too long. Now, sonny, I'll get you fixed up so stylish with these pins and this apron that the circus will want to carry you off. Start on, Deacon, he's a-coming."
"I've got to get the baby's bonnet," said Eliza as the whole party started away in a trail after the Deacon, who led Martin Luther by one hand and little Bettie by the other. Over by the store they could see Mrs. Pratt waiting to marshal the forces on down the Road and Mr. Hoover stood ready as outstanding escort. He had brought the news of the passing of the circus train and she had promptly consented to taking the children and the Deacon over for a view.
"Please, Eliza, please don't take the baby! Leave him with me," said Miss Wingate and as she spoke she stretched out her arms to Teether. Teether was looking worn with the excitement of the day and his sympathetic friend felt the journey would be too much for him. He smiled and fell over on her shoulder with a sigh of contentment.
"Don't you think he oughter see them nelephants and things?" asked Eliza doubtfully, her loyalty to Teether warring with the relief of having him out of her thin little arms for the journey.
"He won't mind. Let me keep him here on the front porch until you come back. Now run along and have a good time," and Miss Wingate started up the front walk, as Eliza darted away to join the others.
"I do declare," said Mother Mayberry, as she watched the expedition wend its way down the white Road in the direction of the Bolivar pike, "the way the Deacon do love the children is plumb beautiful, and sad some too. I don't know what he would do without Jem or they without him. Seeing 'em together reminds me of that scraggy, old snowball bush in full bloom, leaning down to the little Stars of Bethlehem reaching up to it. What that good man have been to me only my Heavenly Father can know and Tom Mayberry suspicion. I tell you what I think I'll do; I'll take one of them little pans of rolls what Cindy have baked for supper, with a jar of peach preserves, and go down and set with Mis' Bostick while the Deacon are gone. We can run the pan of rolls in to get hot for him when he comes home and I know he likes the preserves. I want to stop in to see Mis' Tutt too and give her a little advice about that taking so much blue-mass. I don't see how anybody with a bad liver can have any religion at all, much less a second blessing. I know the Squire have his faults, but others has failings too. And, too, I'll have to stop in and pacify Miss Prissy about turning the children loose, before I go down the Road."
"Miss Prissy always seems to be getting the children into trouble. I wonder why," said the singer lady with a shade of resentment in her voice. The little Pikes had established themselves firmly in the heart of this new friend, and she found herself in an attitude of critical partisanship.
"I reckon Miss Prissy is what you call a kinder crank," answered Mother Mayberry as she paused at the foot of the steps. "A married woman have got to be the hub of a family-wheel, but a old maid can be the outside crank that turns the whole contraption backwards if she has a mind to. I wish Miss Prissy had a little more understanding of the children, 'cause the rub all comes on Mis' Pike, and she's fair wore out with it. But I must be a-going so as to be the sooner a-coming. I wisht you would tell Tom Mayberry to go and let you help him put the hens and little chickens to bed. Feed 'em two quarts of millet seed, and you both know how to do it right if you have a mind to. I'm going to compliment you by a-trusting you this once, and don't let me wish I hadn't! I'll be back in the course of time."
And so it happened that as Doctor Mayberry was in the act of swinging his microscope over a particularly absorbing new plate, a very lovely vision framed itself in his office door against the background of Harpeth Hill, which was composed of the slim singer girl with the baby nodding over her shoulder. The unexpectedness of the visit sent the color up under his tan and brought him to his feet with a delighted smile.
"I don't know how you are going to feel about it, but I bring the news of an honor which we are to share. Do you suppose, do you, that we can put the chickens to bed for Mrs. Mayberry? She says we are to try, and if we don't do it the right way she is never going to compliment us with her confidence again. Help, please! I'm weighted down by the responsibility." And as she spoke Miss Wingate's eyes shone across Teether's bobbing head with delighted merriment.
"Well, let's try," answered the Doctor with the air of being ready to do or dare, an attitude which a vision such as his eyes rested upon is apt to incite in any man thus challenged. "Will you take command? I'm many times proved incompetent on such occasions, and I feel sure Mother trusted to your generalship." And together they went through the garden and over into the chicken yard.
"Now," said Miss Wingate, "I think the thing to do is not to let them know we are afraid of them. Let's just take their going under the coops as a matter of course, and then, perhaps, they will go without any remonstrance."
"Sort of a mental influence dodge," answered the Doctor enthusiastically. "Let's try it on Spangles first. I somehow feel that she will be more impressionable than Old Dominick. You influence while I spread the millet seed in front of her coop." And he bent down in front of the half barrel and carefully laid a tempting evening meal, with his eye on Fuss-and-Feathers. Spangles hesitated, stood on one foot, clucked in an affected tone of voice to her huddling babies and coquettishly turned her head from one side to the other as if enthusing over his artistic service before accepting his hospitality. Then, just as she was poising one dainty foot ready for the first step in advance, and had sounded a forward note to the cheepers around her, Old Dominick calmly stalked forward, stepped right across the Doctor's coaxing hand held out to Spangles, and, settling herself in the coop, began, with her voracious band of little plebeians, to devour the grain with stolid appreciation.
Miss Wingate laughed merrily, Teether Pike gurgled and the Doctor looked up with baffled astonishment.
"That was your fault," he accused; "you influenced Dominick while I was expending my force in beguiling Spangles. Now, you try to get her in the next coop yourself. I shan't help you further than to spread the grain in front of all the coops." And in accordance with his threat the Doctor disposed of the rest of the food and stood with the empty pan in his hand. And, like the well-trained flock of biddies that they were, all the rest of the hen mothers clucked and cajoled their fluffy little families into their accustomed shelters and began to dispose of their suppers with contented clucks and cheeps. Only Mrs. Spangles stood afar and eyed the only vacant coop with evident disdain.
"I don't know what to do," murmured Miss Wingate pleadingly. But the Doctor stood firm, and regarded her with maliciously delighted eyes. Teether bobbed his head over her shoulder and giggled with ungrateful delight The poor little chicks peeped sleepily, but still Spangles held her ground. The truth of the matter was that Dominick had really taken the coop usually occupied by her ladyship, and with worldly determination, the scion of all the Wyandottes was holding out against the exchange.
With a glance out of the side of her eyes from under her lowered lashes in the direction of Doctor Mayberry in his stern attitude, the singer lady cautiously veered around to the rear of the insulted grandee, and, grasping her fluffy skirts in her free hand, she shook them out with a pleading "Shoo!" Instantly a perfect whirlwind of spangled feathers veered around and faced the cascade of frills, and a volume of defiant hisses fairly filled the air. Teether squealed and Miss Wingate retreated to the bounds of the fence. The Doctor laughed in the most heartless manner, and still Spangles held her ground.
To make matters worse, Mother Mayberry's jovial voice, mingled with the shrill treble of the combined circus party, who were trying all at once to tell her the wonders of the adventure, could be distinctly heard in an increasing volume that told of their rapid approach. The situation was desperate, and the loss of Mother Mayberry's faith in her seemed inevitable to the nonplussed singer lady as she leaned against the fence with Teether over her shoulder. Then the instinct that is centuries old presented to her the wile that is of equal antiquity and, raising her purple eyes to the defenseless Doctor, she murmured in a voice of utter helplessness, into which was judiciously mingled a tone of perfect confidence:
"Please, sir, get her in for me."
The response to which, being foreordained from the beginning of time, took Doctor Mayberry just one exciting half-minute grab and shove to accomplish, at the end of which a ruffled but chastened Spangles was forced to assemble her family and content herself behind the bars of the despised coop.
"Well," said Mother Mayberry as she hurried around the corner of the house with the depleted and milk-hungry Martin Luther trailing at her skirts, "did you make out to manage 'em? Why, ain't that fine; every one in and settled and Fuss-and-Feathers in that end coop where I have been wanting her to be for a week, seeing Dominick have got so many more chickens and needs that larger barrel. I didn't depend on Tom Mayberry, but I did on you, Elinory. This just goes to show that if you put a little trust in people they are mighty apt to rise in the pan to a occasion. You all look like you've been having a real good time!"
LOVE, THE CURE-ALL
"Eat milk, thank ma'am, please, Mother Lady," demanded Martin Luther as he stood on the top step in front of Mother Mayberry, who, with Miss Wingate beside her, sat sewing away the early hours of the morning. A tiny blue-check shirt was taking shape under Mother's skilful fingers, and the singer lady was deep in the mysteries of the fore and aft of a minute pair of jeans trousers. The limitations of young Ez's wardrobe had necessitated the speedy construction of one for the little adopt, and Miss Wingate's education along the lines of needle control was progressing at what she considered a remarkable rate.
"Why, Martin Luther!" She looked down at him over a carefully poised needle. "How can you be hungry when you ate your breakfast not two hours ago?" she added with the intent to beguile him from his demand.
"All gone, thank ma'am, please," he answered, looking out from under his curl with a pathetic cast of his blue eyes, and at the same time spreading both hands over his entire vital region.
"I reckon maybe we'd better fill him up again," said Mother. "Them legs still look 'most too much like knitting-needles to suit me, and I kinder want to feel him to be sure his stomick haven't growed to his backbone. Anyway, you can't never measure a boy's food by his size. Please run and get him a glass of buttermilk and a biscuit, child, while I finish setting in this sleeve. Let me see them britches legs 'fore you put 'em down. Dearie me, if you ain't gone and made 'em both for the same leg! Too bad, with all them pretty baste-stitches!"
"Oh!" gasped Miss Wingate in dismay; "have I ruined them?"
"No, indeed, just turn the left leg inside out and hem it up again—or you might make two more right legs to sew on to these. It would be a good thing to double one failing mistake up into two successes, wouldn't it? Often bad luck turned inside out makes a cap that fits plumb easy. While you fill the boy up, I'll cut out his other legs for you to baste right this time. Take a peep around the garden before you come back to see if Spangles have got her chickens in the wet weeds. I hadn't oughter let her pretty feathers make me distrust her, but it do." And Mother went placidly on with her sewing as she watched the girl and the tot go hand-in-hand down the path to the spring-house under the hill. She had just placed in her sleeve and was regarding it with entire satisfaction, when the front gate clicked and she looked up with interest.
"Well, good morning, Mis' Mayberry," came in Bettie Pratt's hearty voice as she swung up the walk at a brisk pace. On one arm she held a bobbing baby in a white sunbonnet, a toddler clung to her skirts and a small boy trailed behind her with a puppy in his arms. She was buxom and rosy, was the Widow Pratt, with a dangerous dimple over the corner of her mouth, a decided come-hither in her blue eyes, and a smile that compelled a response.
"Why, Bettie child, how glad I am to see you!" exclaimed Mother, rendering the smile from out over her glasses. "I didn't see you all day yesterday and not the day before, neither. But I put it down to a work-hold on us both, and didn't worry none. And now here you are, with some of the little folks! Here's a empty spool for little Bettie," and she held out the treasure to the toddler, who sidled up to her knee with confidence to grasp the gift.
"I told Pattie Hoover if she would stay at home this morning and clean up some like her Pa wants her to that I'd let my Clara May help her and would bring the baby on up here to get him outen the way. 'Lias come along to get you to look at his puppy's foot, and I want you to see if you don't think the baby have fatted some since I've took holt and helped Pattie with the feeding of him."
"He have that," answered Mother heartily. "I can tell it without even feeling of his legs. You've got the growing hand with babies, Bettie, and I'm glad you don't hold it back from this little half-orphant. I don't know what the poor little Hoovers would do without you!"
"That's what poor Mr. Hoover says," answered Bettie with the utmost unconsciousness. "Show Mis' Mayberry the puppy's foot, 'Lias."
"Why, the pitiful little thing!" exclaimed Mother when a small, brown, crushed paw was presented to her inspection. "What happened to it?"
"Mr. Petway's horse stepped on it—he didn't care. He just got in the buggy and went on. I'm a-going to kill him with a gun when I get one." Tears of rage and grief welled up in 'Lias' eyes, but he choked them back with a resolution that boded ill for Mr. Petway when the time of reckoning came.
"You mustn't talk that way, 'Lias, though it are a shame," said Mother as she looked closely at the injured paw. "The bone's all crushed. I'll tell you what to do; just take him around to Doctor Tom's office and he'll fix it in no time for you, in a way I couldn't never do. He won't even limp, maybe." And Mother Mayberry made the offer of a piece of skilled surgery with the utmost generosity.
'Lias clasped the puppy closer, looked down and drew one of his bare toes along a crack in the floor. "I'd rather you'd do it," he said.
"Now, don't that just beat all!" exclaimed Mother with both amusement and exasperation in her face. "Looks like I can't even get Tom a puppy practice."
"Why, 'Lias Hoover, I'm ashamed of you not to want Doctor Tom to fix his foot, and thank you, too! Didn't Bud Pike tell you last night how he cut his little brother's mouth and didn't hurt him a bit, neither? Bud is going to get him to fix his next stubbed toe hisself. Bud ain't no bigger boy than you, but he knows a good doctor same as Mis' Mayberry and me does when he sees one." There are ways and ways of controverting masculine obstinancy, and evidently life had taught Mrs. Pratt the efficacy of beguilement. Without more reluctance 'Lias disappeared around the house in the direction of the office wing.
"I'm mighty glad you come along this morning, Bettie," said Mother Mayberry, as she threaded a new needle with a long thread. Little Bettie had seated herself on the floor and begun operations with the spool and a piece of string that vastly amused little Hoover, whom Mrs. Pratt deposited opposite her within reach of her own balancing foot, for the baby's age and backbone were both at a tender period. "I've got a kinder worry on my mind that I'd like to get a little help from you as to know what to do about. Have you noticed that both the Deacon and Mis' Bostick look mighty peaky? Course Deacon have been sick, and she have had a spell of nursing, but they don't neither of them pick up like they oughter. Mis' Bostick puts me in mind of a little, withered-up, gray seed pod when all the down have blowed away, and the Deacon's britches fair flap around his poor thin shanks. Something or other just makes me sense what is the matter."