“NASCITUH, non fit,” is an expression that has been used once or twice already, with regard to poets and other geniuses, but I claim my rights as an inventor in first applying it to saints. Small saints, of course; not the noted ones of the earth. Such a one, for instance, as our Marty, a poor little yellow girl from the South; born of a hard mother, brought up by a stern master, harrowed by a tyrannical mistress, penniless, friendless, hopeless, utterly ignorant, yet turning into gold every trouble that touched her, by her own ineffable sweetness and patience.
Marty was not born ours. She “married on ” a half-dozen years before the Proclamation, when she took our Ed for better, — one ounce, — and worse, — one pound. Ed himself was the softest, gentlest, most chicken-hearted darky that ever lolled against the south side of a barn. He was a born musician, like half the boys on the Maryland West Shore, and could sing like a lark, whistle like a throstle, play on the banjo, the violin, and the accordion; he could rattle the bones and thumb the tambourine, could entice tunes out of a hollow reed, and even compel melody from a jew’s-harp.
When he was about fifteen, cousin Mary Singleton’s grandfather, the old General, chanced to come down on a visit, and took such a fancy to the boy that he persuaded father to let him carry him back to Annapolis as his own servant; and there Ed stayed for five years or more. According to an arrangement previously made for our people, Ed was to be free when he came of age; and when that time arrived he drifted back to the old home, though Annapolis held his heart and soul. His proximity to the Naval Academy had been a most beatific circumstance to Ed; the drill and parade fired his soul with a lofty ambition to go and do likewise, and for years after his return he was indefatigable in putting the other boys through marvelous evolutions, and training them to the most rigid military salutes. The music of the band lifted him up into the seventh heaven; but pulling off the General’s boots brought him down again, for the General was of a gouty habit, and immediate of speech.
In Annapolis, Ed formed a most devoted attachment to cousin Mary and her brother Clayton, who spent much of their time with their grandfather, especially to Mary. She was a conscientious little girl, and gave up her Sunday afternoons to teaching the servants. Several of them became fair readers and somewhat cloudy writers, Ed among the others, and he never forgot her kindness.
Here, too, Ed became acquainted with Marty; her sickly, irritable mistress had come up from the Old North State to be under the care of a certain physician, and finding herself improving, made her home there for several years. She died at last, however, and with somewhat tardy gratitude, on her dying bed she set Marty free. Affairs never made a prompter connection. For Ed, having gradually become the possessor of a gun, an ax, a scoop net, a couple of eel-spears, and an insatiable thirst for liquor, as a comfortable provision for old age, patched up a small shed on the banks of Eel Creek, and brought Marty home.
Marty was a meek, patient, God-fearing little woman, full of tender care for others, and oblivious of herself. She was neat and industrious; so was Ed, when sober. She was cheerful as a sunbeam; so was Ed, both sober and drunk. She had a heavenly temper, and so had he. At least, as far as it was tested. How it would have been, had he tarried at home, borne the children, and kept the house, all in the very potsherds of poverty, while Marty genially engulfed the wages that should have furnished food and clothing, can only be conjectured.
As it was, when he took his week’s wages and rowed over to the store for molasses and bacon and a quarter of a pound of tea, and came back six hours later, delightfully loquacious, without any bacon, the jug half full of rum, and a spoonful of tea loose in his pocket, Marty only listened silently to his tipsy orations, helped him to bed when he could no longer stand, and then went down on her knees, and offered her humble prayer for help, while he slept the senseless sleep of the swine. Whatever Ed left in the jug was poured out on the grass, and the last drop carefully washed away, lest the mere breath of the tempter might Set him crazy again. Her mild remonstrance the next day was always met by a penitent confession of sin. Ed was drunk at least one week out of three, from the day Marty married him, straight on for six years, and was regularly remorseful after each fall from grace. He always said it was a mortal shame; that Marty was the best girl a man ever had, and Sammy the cutest young one; that he was going to quit drinking and join the church, as true as he lived and breathed and hoped to die the next minute; and Marty implicitly believed him with the matchless faith of a child. She forgave him until seventy times seven, and then went on forgiving as before. In Ed’s mind, the rotation of crops was rapid; one week he sowed his wild oats and reaped them; the next, he brought forth good fruits; the third, the land lay fallow, and the fourth, was in prime condition for the wild oats again.
When Marty was clever enough to gt his wages as soon as he was paid, she spent them in her own frugal way, and kept everything comfortable. HBut as time went on and the fearful bonds closed in tighter and stronger about the poor creature, he would steal away to the store on pay-night without going home; and then, through shame or through reluctance to witness Marty’s silent woe, hide somewhere for days till his supplies were exhausted, and come slinking home dim-eyed, shaken, sorrowful, and sure he should never drink again.
Marty came tapping at the mistress’s door one April morning, — that wearied mistress, whose ear was always open to the cry of her people, even when her hands were full and her heart was heavy.
“ Come in, Marty,” was the ready response to the gentle knock.
The door opened and Marty’s smiling face shone in.
“ Mornin’, mistes; reckon mistes can see through the walls.”
“ Not quite, Marty, but I know your knock.”
“Yes’m. Mis’ Calvert’s markin’ things, an’t she? Oh me, how bitiful they be, spread out here in the sunshine! Make me think of the robes of glory, they’s so blindin’ bright! ”
And Marty went down on her knees among the piles of snowy linen, and touched them here and there caressingly.
“ Marsa well, Mis’ Calvert? ”
“ Very well, Marty; how ’s the baby ? ”
“ Right smart, thank ye. Cries reel lively. Sammy’s got him, to hum.”
“ Is it safe to leave him with such a little fellow? ”
“ Oh, yas’m! Sammy’s gwine on five, and I nussed our 'Phibosheth when I was three.”
“ Where ’s Ed, to-day? ”
“ Could n’t tell, mistes,” Marty answered softly; “ hain’t seen him scare Sunday. ”
Mother looked up inquiringly.
“ Yas’m,” continued Marty, “ that’s it. Got gwine ag’in. Promised me Friday he ’d never touch another drop, and airly Sunday he was off.”
“I wonder that you can bear it as you do, Marty; Ed is drunk half the time. ”
“ Yas'm. Reckon ’t is about that. Kind o’ try in' in the long run. Sort o’ s’cumvonts a critter. Jes’ think you ’re gwine to spar’ a dollar or two fer an ap’on or a pair o’ shoes, and it’s all gone. But Ed’s a dretful pleasant boy, Mis’ Calvert knows,”she went on soothingly, as if to soften mother’s disapproval. " I’count Ed as one o’ my chiefest marcies; an’t a speck like me, with my dretful, masterful temper; he ’s mortal pleasant, Ed is. But I came up to take a little counsel with Mis’ Calvert. I ben a-plottin’ and a-plannin’ these three days and nights. I must contrive to airn a little somethin’ myself, or I dunno what we will come to.”
“ It is a perfect shame,” said mother; “ have you ever talked to him as decidedly as you ought to about this? ”
“ Dunno,” said Marty; “ I an’t much of a hand to jaw, but ef Mis’ Calvert says so. I ’ll do it. Think I ought to try to jaw him a little ? ”
The question was asked with such tremulous eagerness for a negative that mother laughed and said, “ No, I fancy words are useless. So tell me your plans, Marty.”
“ I 'm contrivin’ and conjurin' fust off, to get some shingles. Our roof’s like a sieve; rain drops through right lively. And then I want some shoes for the chillen agin winter. I an’t fer mutterin’, with all my marcies; I could n’t be so onthankful. Summer’s comin’ now, and we ’ll do fust rate. But it ’pears like I must git somethin’ ahead before frost comes. Reckoned mebbe Mis’ Calvert would let me wash and iron, this summer, or help Aunt Dolly in the kitchen. Some folks says I’m a fust fambly cooker, and I ben trained to wash and iron.”
“ What could you do with the baby ? ” “ If Mis’ Calvert did n’t mind, Ed would shoulder the cradle up in the mornin’ — Ed’s sech a pleasant boy — and fetch it home ag’in at night, and Sammy 'd rock it. It’s sech a marey I got Sammy! Allers did reckon him a gret marcy! If Mis' Calvert did n’t want the cradle in the back kitchen, it could stand in the shed.”
“ You may come, then, on Monday, and I 'll find something for you to do.”
“ Yas ’m. Thank ye, marm, thousand times. I ’spected’t would be jes’ so. Mis’ Calvert’s allers so clever to us. It’s a dretful marcy to have sech a kind mistes. But I had another plan, too. I was gwine to buy a shote, and fat it, and kill it in the fall for pork. Buy a shote now for two dollars, and ye can sell him bumbye fer twelve, if he ’s right fat. But I got to airn the money to buy him, and I was gwine to airn it by havin’ a party. Mis’ Calvert ever heerd of these new kind of parties they have over to Squaw Neck ? Pay-parties, they call ’em.”
“No, Marty, I never have.”
“ Reel smart notion. Jed’s Maria, she gin a pay-party and made enough to shingle her roof; and Both Jake, after Jake died, she fetched her’n up to five dollars over what it cost her to bury Jake. Folks pay twenty-five cents to come in, and gits their supper and dancin’ fer that. Then one o' the fambly keeps a t a table in the corner with goodies on it, candy and store-nuts and root-beer, and them that wants ’em comes and buys. Mis' Calvert don’t see no harm in it, eh, Mis’ Calvert? ”
“ None at all,” said mother, smiling in spite of herself at this novel combination of pleasure and profit.
“ Yas ’m ; glad of that, ’cause I reckoned it a reel marcy that somebody thought onto ’em. Reckon we ’ll have it in a couple of weeks, when the weather ’s warmer, and before the shotes git sea’ee. If Ed ’ll keep good and stiddy till then, we ’ll have bitiful one.” And Marty rose to go.
“ What a trial he is to you, Marty! ”
“ No, marm, not so much as ye think. He ’s a dretful pleasant boy. I want to tell Mis’ Calvert somethin’.” And Marty came a little nearer and spoke very gently. " My old mistes war n’t soft like Mis’ Calvert; but then she was ailin’. But then Mis’ Calvert’s ailin’ most of the time, too. But my old mistes had n’t got religion, and Mis’ Calvert has. My old mitty warn’t pious a mite, and I was dead sot on gwine to meetin’. I s’pose I bothered her, fer she turned round on me right sudden one day, and says she, ‘ Go to meetin’ to-night, ye hussy, and then hold yer tongue about it; if ye ask me ag’in fer a year, I ’ll have ye whipped.’ So I went, glad enough, and I crep’ right up by whar the minister stands, so as not to lose a mite, and I had n't sot thar but a little spell when he began to read out of the big gold Bible, and true as ye lives, mistes, every mortal verse was about the Lord’s marcy enduring forever. When he 'd read it two or three times, says I,
' That ’s fer ye, Marty, ye poor sinner, that ’s allers forgittin’ the Lord’s goodness; ’ and when he ’d read it two or three more times, says I, ‘ Praise the Lord now, Marty, for sendin’ ye sech comfort, fer whether ye come to church ag’in in a year, or never, ye’ve got somethin’ to stand by all yer life and on yer dyin’ bed!’ And when he 'd read it a few times more I got down on my knees, and says I, ‘ Bran’ it in, Lord, so I ’ll never lose the mark on it,’ and on my knees I stayed, prayin’ it over and over ag’in, till the minister shot the book. It ’s ben a dretful comfort to me every way, Mis’ Calvert; it makes me feel that if the Lord has seeh long patience with folks, it an’t fer sech as me to be mutterin’ and hectorin’,”
The mistress looked up into Marty’s eyes with a thoughtful smile, and they smiled back full of trust and sympathy, for divided as they were by every social distinction of birth, fortune, beauty, and culture, they were one in that fellowship which outlasts even death, bound with the sacred tie which binds those who have one Lord and one faith.
The nest Monday, and every Monday after, arrived Marty’s procession, early and always in the same order: Ed first, head erect, cradle shouldered, feet marching true to the tune he was miraculously whistling. Marty next, radiant with the prospect of a proximate party and ultimate shingles, cuddling the baby as she came. Sammy in the rear, whistling like his father, and straining every nerve to make his duckydaddles of legs march in time; a futile effort, which had to be supplemented by most unmartial leaps, every few steps.
Marty regarded Sammy as one of her chief mercies, but his life was not unclouded radiance to himself; it vibrated between bliss and woe, and swung from lustrous morn to murky night, or back again, according as that wad of a blackand-tan baby waked or slept. Baby asleep, Sammy was sovereign of the universe; he could build cob-houses in the smoke-house, dabble in the pond with the dueks, hang over the fence of the pig-pen balanced on his unsusceptible stomach, worm in and out of the delightful intricacies of the woodpile, or roll in the chips with a squad of small idlers. Baby awake, Sammy was a mule on a treadmill. He was not allowed to hold it, for owing to its being such an undefined lump, without any particular projections to seize upon, he had twice let if slip through his arms upon the floor; so it was deposited in the huge wooden cradle near Marty’s tubs or ironing table, and he was set to rock it.
Sammy always began with cheerful vigor, resolved to compel slumber to its eyes; he stood up to his work like a man, taking hold of the cradle-top with both hands, and rocking vehemently. Sammy approved of short methods with babies. After half an hour or so of this exercise, baby’s eyes growing constantly bigger and brighter, he grew less sanguine, and made preparations for a longer siege. He brought a wooden block to the side of the cradle and sat down to the business, not cheerful, but resolute; pushing the cradle with one hand, and holding in the other a piece of bread or a cold potato, out of which he took small, slow, consolatory bites. But the smallest, most infrequent nibbles will finally consume the very largest potato, and this source of comfort exhausted, and another half-hour having dragged away, and baby’s eyes still staring with superhuman vivacity, Sammy wheeled about with his side to the cradle, leaned against the leg of the ironing-table in deep depression of spirits, seeking to beguile the weary time by counting the dishes on the dresser or the flies on the ceiling; while at intervals of a few seconds he bestowed such wrathful, sidewise thwacks with his knee on the cradle, as made the whole huge structure tremble, and its gelatinous occupant quiver.
But in the last stages of the conflict, Sammy left all hope behind, and became an image of the profoundest dejection. Turning his back on the cradle in disgust too deep for words, he would lean his elbows on the table and his head in his hands; with his bare foot he loathingly kicked up the rocker behind him, while one jig-tune after another came gurgling melodiously out of his melancholy mouth to the expressive words of “ Diddledy, diddledy, diddledy, didy,” and the big tears rolled down unchecked. Sammy was too far gone to wipe them away. Meantime the complacent baby gazed wisely at its rocking dome, the flies buzzed, the clock ticked, the tears fell, the jigtunes went endlessly on, till Sammy’s head drooped, and the “ Diddledy didy ” grew faint, and fainter, and failed, and the poor little drudge was on the very verge of blessed oblivion, when an imperious wail from the baby recalled him to life and labor once more.
“ Come now, Sammy,” Marty would say encouragingly, every day, when matters came to the worst, “ rock away like a gent’lum. Sech a marcy ye got that cradle! S'pose ye had to lug him, like I lugged our ’ Phibosheth gwine on two year! Mammy’s tryin’ to airn shoes fer ye, and can’t do it nohow, if ye don’t miss the baby! And what’s more, bumbye, when we have our payparty, ye shall come to it, ye shall, and have goodies, and set up late.”
This would reanimate Sammy for a minute or two, and when sleep finally overtook the baby he darted away like a liberated hare; wild leap after leap carried him to the thither confines of the woodpile, and Elysium began.
“ Time’s a-gwine,” said Marty mildly one May morning to mother; “ shotes is gittin’ sca’cer, and that ’ere pay-party don’t ’pear to come off. Have to give out fer it a week ahead, so as to let the folks at Squaw Neck and Tuckappoos have a warnin’. I would ’a’ gin out fer it last week, but Ed got high, and now, this week, Mother Honner’s ailin’. She was gwine to do fer me, and smart up the house; things gits so muxed whar young ones is kitin’ round. Mis’ Calvert an’t got somethin’ to cure Mother Honner, eh, Mis’ Calvert? ”
“ I don't know but I have,” said mother, " if you can tell me how she feels sick. ”
Marty described the symptoms, and was furnished with a simple remedy, but Hannah did not recover in time for the invitations to be given out that week. In fact, she grew much worse. “ ’Pears to be reel racked,” said Marty, “and she’s got a desp'it pain across her; she ’spects it’s the medicine.”
“ That is impossible,” said mother; “ it was a very harmless remedy I gave her.”
“ Yas’m, so she ’spected. She never took Mis’ Calvert’s doctor-stuff; she reckoned she wanted a right smart dose of somethin’ that would strike clar through, so she took a box of stomickpills she bought of a peddler-man last fall; eighteen in the box; she took ’em all; I reckon she overdone; Mis’ Calvert reckon so too? ”
But what the mistress reckoned was too wide and deep to put into words. Hannah recovered from her corporeal earthquake in the course of a week or two, and Marty’s plans were ripe for execution, when Ed suddenly fell from grace again.
“ I dunno,” said Marty serenely, " as I ever felt so beat. Shotes is about gone. Jes’ git my mind sot for that ’ere pay-party, and somethin’ knocks the roost right out from under me. I don’t want to fret, with all the marches I have, and everythin’ gittin’ along so comfor’ble this summer, and Ed such a pleasant boy too, — not a mite like me; I allers was a stiff-necked critter, that’s why I git so sot on things,—but it makes me feel putty beat.”
“ Never mind the pig, Marty,” said mother, “I don’t believe you would have made much out of it. Why not have the party when it is convenient, and take what you make toward your roof? ”
“ Wal, I never I ” said Marty. “ Be sure I can! I was so shaller, I got it fixed in my head that ’t was no use to have the party when shotes was gone! We ’ll have it, I reckon, as soon as things gits to rights.”
Cousin Mary Singleton came down to stay with us, just about that time, and Ed hastened up to see her, as he never failed to do. When sober, Ed was the shyest and most silent of creatures, and the interview always took place with the length of the room or the piazza between them, Ed standing very erect, and making his grandest military salute with every sentence. The questions and answers did not vary a hair’s breadth once in ten times.
“ Good niornin’, Miss Ma',” Ed always began.
“ Good morning, Ed,” cousin Mary always answered.
“ Glad to see ye to de old place, Miss Ma’.”
“ Thank you, I always love to come.”
“ Miss Ma’ putty smart dese days? ”
“ Yes indeed, Ed.”
“ Mars’ Clayty smart? ”
“ He never was better.”
“Old Gin’al smart too?”
“ He is not quite as strong as he used to be.”
“ Want ter know! Miss Ma’ must ’member my ’spects to all on ’em when she goes back.”
“ I shall, with pleasure, Ed.” And with a last grand salute, more rigidly angular than any, the interview ended. Cousin Mary, however, was well aware of Ed’s especial tendencies, and when, on this occasion, instead of standing afar off and making obeisance, he advanced across the piazza and curled himself up at her feet, she was not at all surprised,
“ Lordy me! Miss Ma’,” he began, “ an’t I glad ye come, and an’t I glad they fetched ye! Jes’ the one I wanted to see ! Want to take counsel with ye ’bout a party we ’re gwine to have.”
“ Very well, Ed.”
“ It’s a pay-party. Marty’s gwine to buy shingles out the makin’s. Jed’s Maria, she gin one, and it fetched enough to kiver their roof. But as fer old Jed! Lordy, how that ’ere old darky drinks! Miss Ma’ ’d be s’prised to see him! only but jes' toddled round, the night they had it! Had a job to hold up his ugly old carkis! Rum ’s a bad thing, Miss Ma’, a dretful bad thing! ”
“It is indeed, Ed,” said cousin Mary.
“ Yes, yes! bad thing! bad enuffy! Miss Ma’ knows 't is! So do I! As fer gittin’ high, — reel drunk, — can’t say nothin’ fer it! don’t favor it nohow! It’s agin Scripter! dunno how old Jed ’pears to stan’ it! but fer gittin’ a leetle mite off the handle, Miss Ma’, jes’ a leetle mite out the way now, like I do once into a great while, can’t see no harm into it. Miss Ma’ see any harm into it? ”
“ Certainly, Ed. I think you are destroying yourself, and making Marty very unhappy. You ought not to touch a drop.”
“ Bress my soul, ef that an’t jes’ the way Mis’ Calvert talks to me! Marsa Lennie, too! Miss Ma’’s jes’ like the Calverts! favors them all! favors Mars’ Clayty, too! How is Mars’ Clayty, Miss Ma’ ? ”
“He is well. ”
“ I ’m mortal fond o’ Mars’ Clayty! He ’s alters so kind and jo’ful. When he and Colonel Barton came down last time they wanted me to go down to the inlet with ’em, and take my fiddle. Savs I,’Anythink to oblige ye, Mars’ Clayty, but I can’t go, can’t spar’ the time; I got a fambly to look arter, and I must stick to my post till I die.’ Colonel Barton, he says, ‘Ed,’ he says, ‘you spar’ de time to take a week’s spree out o’ every month,’ he says, ‘ and you can spar’ de time sure to come ’long wid us.’ Says I, ‘ Colonel,’ says I, ‘ you speared dat eel squar’ dat time,’ says I, ‘ but he can squ’m yit. Seein’ I hev’ to spar’ dat week, whedder or no, I can’t spar’ no more! ’ Ye see, Miss Ma’, I can’t help gittin’ a leetle mite out de way once into a gret while, can't help it. Gwine to stop now for a spell, I reckon, and gib Marty a chance fer to hev dat pay-party; she sets such store by her pay-party; wouldn’t ye, Miss Ma’ ? ”
“ Indeed, Ed, I’d stop now and forever; you could be so happy and comfortable.”
“ Comfor’ble, Miss Ma’? Reckon I could! Why, th’ an’t a nigger nowhar, smarter ’n I be when I ‘m stiddy! Went down Horne Neck t’ odder day, Stiddy as a jedge; cradled the hull o’ Great Lot, and one acre besides in Little Lot, and had it all done by half past ’leven. Mr. Smith, the oversee’, come down, and he was so s’prised, it like to took away his breaf! Says he, ‘ Edinburgh! ’ says he, ‘ I could n't 'a’ believed it,’ says he; ‘you’re the smartest hand I got.’ And so I be. Dunno what I couldn't do, if it warn’t fer gittin’ a leetle mite out the way now and den. It takes time, ye see. Dat’s why I could n’t go ’long with Mars’ Clayty and Colonel Barton. Mars’ Clayty must n’t feel hard on me; Miss Ma’ must ’member my ’spects to him when she goes back, and to de old Gin’ral, too. I allers thinks so much o’ my own folks; but ’bout dat ’ere payparty; I was gwine fer to hev beans and bacon; would Miss Ma’ hev beans and bacon ? ”
“ That would be a very substantial dish.”
“ So I tell Marty, and Mother Honner; my, she’s high on beans and bacon! Miss Ma’ ben to see Mother Honner, yit? ”
“ No; I only came last night, Ed.”
“ Be sure! so Miss Ma’ did! Den ye an’t seen him yit, nor ye an’t heerd him, and ye won’t hear him when ye do go! ”
“ Hear whom, Ed? ”
“ Why, de hawg, Miss Ma’! Mother Honner’s hawg! She’s got do enlightendest hawg dat ever was raised on de West Shore! Same as a watch-dog, he is. Ef he hears suffin’ comin’ by de woods or ’cross de swamp, Lor’, he’ll grunt and grunt till de fambly’s all roused up. Never grunts at de quality. When Mars’ Lonnie comes dat way, or Mis’ Calvert’s takin’ de air, he lies down quiet and ’spectable wid his nose in de straw, like a bawg oughter; but when dem Squaw Neck niggers comes round, he’ll snuff ’em half a mile off, and ’pears like he 'd grunt hisself to pieces! Never grunts at de quality. Ef he did, I’d cut him ober myself! I won’t take no disrespects for my folks! I think a heap o’ my folks, Miss Ma’; think a heap o’ Mars’ Clayty and o’ Miss Ma’, too, and Mars’ Lennie and Alis’ Calvert and Alis’ Calvert’s chillen. Ben a-tryin’ to move away summers, but don’t ’pear to make up my mind to leave ’em. Thought mebbe I 'd git higher wages; roof leaks like a riddle, too; wants shinglin’; that’s what Marty’s gwine to hev that party fer. Think the folks would like some plums, Miss Ma’? I’d kind o’ sot my mind on gwine plummin’ the day afore the party. Ef it ’s putty soon, I ’ll go plummin’ for blueberries, and ef it’s bumbye, I’ll go plummin’ for high-briers. Miss Ma’ like high-briers? ”
“ Very much.”
“ Gwine to pick her a peck some day; a peck of wild strawberries, too.”
“ Those are past, Ed; there won’t be any till another year.”
“ Want ter know! an’t that too bad! Wal, the fust kind o’ broken day I git, I ’ll go high-brierin’ for Miss Ma’. Don’t bodder Miss Ma’ a-talkin’, do I?”
“ Not at all. ”
“If I an’t bodderin’ ye, will ye gib me some ’vice ’bout that ere pay-party, Miss Ma’ ? ”
“ Wal, the way I meant to write my letter was to ’vite ’em to a sail, and then buy a sheep, and whilst they ’se a-eruisin’ round on de bay, me and Mother Honner ’ll roast the sheep and git the table sot out. Marty must go ’long, too, and fetch de chillen, Marty must; she’s a good gal, and she works smart. I married her up to ’Napolis, gwine on six year ago. She used to work to Mis’ Judge Nottingham’s when I was to de old Gin’al’s. De way we got acquainted, Miss Ma’, was dis ’ere way. I was a-gwine fer to see”—but just here a soft voice called Ed from the corner of the house nearest the kitchen, and Ed obediently uncoiled himself. “ I reckon Marty wants me to hist on dat ’ere big dinner-pot,” he said, “ but Miss Ma’ ’s so kind, I 'll come up ag’in, and git her ’vice ’bout dat pay-party.”
It was true that Ed had tried more than once to move away from the old place, and had failed. Others had tried it, too. Cæsar moved away one week, and moved back the next. Pomp had tried it. Ben, the surliest, sulkiest fellow on the whole place, had tried it, and was successful; indeed, eminently successful, for he moved away seven times, and at last gave it up as an aimless excursion and settled down in the spot where he was born.
There was something more than mere love of home in the spell that brought them all back; there was an undying power that never loses its hold on those, either high or low, who have once become its bondmen. Poets sing and orators discourse of the love which the mountaineer feels for his upland home; but it is a languid emotion compared with the passionate attachment cherished for their birthplace by those who are born on the shores of the ocean, or of its vast estuaries. Mysterious influences are welded into heart and brain, and bone and fibre. Destiny may carry them to other scenes and carve for them brilliant careers, but nothing ever seems to them so fair and desirable as the old life by the sea. Fortune may smile upon them, and Fame sing to them with her siren tongue, and they shut their eyes and ears to all, to brood over fond memories of that enchanting spot to which they will fly when the chance opens, again and again and again. The world is everywhere, but the earthly Paradise only there. In health, the hunger is great enough, but in sickness it becomes a famine, known only to the sea’s own children. They turn from every comfort and luxury that can be given, to long with a wordless, inexpressible longing that devours their very hearts, — an inexorable, unappeasable longing.—for one sight of the sapphire sea, one sound of its deep mouthed, motherly murmur, one breath of its heavenly saltness; till, lacking these, they feel in their wild homesickness that they might better turn their face to the wall and die.
The well - disciplined, churchgoing, average Marylander desires to live in peace and gentleness with all mankind! but ah me! the strain and tug on every moral fibre, when certain well-meaning persons with froward hearts and darkened eyes come down to our beatific old West Shore once in a while, and, looking about in a lofty manner, pronounce it deplorably flat! Flat, say they? We want it flat. We love it flat. We praise the Creator for having made it flat. To be flat means to be fresh, free, adorable, wide-eyed, large-lunged; it means a vast range of vision from one far-off, limitless horizon to another; it means a blue, unbroken dome of heaven, with no officious projections lifting up presumptuous heads against its serene majesty. But they are more to be pitied than blamed, poor things! they deserve tender commiseration; they have been born in strong cities, in family prisons twenty-five feet by sixty, or in far-away land-locked depressions, still more remote and slow, and they know nothing of the freedom and the fascinations of our rare, amphibious life. They have not wandered countless times in among the odorous pines, and thrown themselves on the slippery matting of discarded needles beneath them, while the wind sung its faint, unearthly song above, and the cadences came filtering down through myriad leafy wires, mere sprays, at last, of quivering intonations. They have not waded and plashed in those wonderful, limpid brooks whose crumpled crystal stream ripples on over sand and pebble and floating weed till it reaches an armlet of the sea, where the tide sends volumes of salt water up into its freshness, while the brook rolls back floods of sweet water into the brine; a mile or two up, speckled trout asleep in cool pools, or glinting among the water-cresses; a mile or two down, shoals of salt-water minnows, darting through thickets of eel-grass.
But our poor people had far more practical reasons than any of these for liking to live where they did. That which “makes the pot boil” lay in profusion, dry and brittle, on the ground of the oak and pine woods; and that which alone can give the boiling a satisfactory result was to be had in plenty by all except those who were absolutely too lazy to pick up their food. They could set their nets in deep water and catch as many fish as they chose; or paddle up the creeks and stake their eel-pots to secure a haul next morning; or, for quicker effects, spear the eels in the mud at night by torchlight. If they wanted clams, they needed only to run out upon the flats with their spade and basket when the tide was out, and if they desired oysters, the beds were prolific and the rakes in the boats. Then there were crabs to scoop and ducks to shoot, and always, besides, the enchanting possibility of catching a “torop,” for by this contumelious name do they designate that portly, aldermanic personage who presides at lord-mayor’s feasts, and other destructive pageants.
These sea-turtle, at certain seasons, come clawing clumsily up the margins of the sandy coves to lay their eggs on the shore, and go blundering back again without further parental inquietude, superbly indifferent as to whether the sun hatches them or not.
One of these rare prizes had fallen into Ed’s lucky hands a day or two before his interview with cousin Mary, and he would certainly have arrived eventually at the narration of the grand affair, if Marty’s wifely repression had not nipped him untimely. He had seized the ungainly creature as it was returning to the water, and its tortuous track led him back to the newly made hollow in the sand where it had concealed its quantity of ugly eggs. Ed put it in a crawl sunk on the edge of the creek, hoping to save it till the momentous party should take place, when it would properly figure as the prime feature of the fête ; and the eggs were carefully covered with an armful of wet seaweed, to keep all vivifying sunbeams from taking even a peep at them; for nectar and ambrosia are less delectable in some people’s eyes than the contents of those vellum sacks. Ed and Sammy made delightful diurnal excursions to the crawl; they pulled out the turtle and poked it about the head to make it snap its jaws together in rage; turned it over on its back to see its flippers work, and lifted it cautiously back again by its short, horny tail, — a happy provision of Nature for handling the crossgrained creature. Then they opened the sand and counted their treasure of eggs, and, covering them up wet and fresh, went blissfully back to Marty to tell her how beautiful it all was, and what a red-hot temper the old torop had.
It was close upon midsummer now, and the long-desired party seemed no nearer than at first, for Aunt Dolly was down with the chills, and Marty making up the deficiency by working every day at the house. But one Friday night at dusk, when the last plate was washed and put away, and Marty was slowly wiping the soap-suds from her tired hands, there came a flying scout through the twilight, dispatched from Hannah’s in hot haste, with momentous information.
But the news was too prostrating to be borne alone, even by all-enduring Marty, and she came softly tapping at mother’s door.
“Mis’ Calvert’s gwine to be surprised now, I reckon,” she said, very gently, “ fer I’m beat myself,—the beatest I ever was yit. They ’se come.”
“ Who has come? ” asked mother.
“ All on ’em; all my pay-party, that I was gwine to have along towards fall,” rejoined Marty, placidly. “ Said they heerd ’twas gwine to be to-night, and we hain’t gin out, nor nothin’.”
“ They should not have come without a definite invitation,” said mother, rather indignantly. “ They must go home again.”
“Yas’m. Mother Honner let ’em know we hadn’t no notion of havin’ it; but they said they heerd it was to be, and they could n’t come so fur fer nothin’, and we’d got to have it whedder or no. There ’s a big wagon-load chock full, from Tuekappoos, and they say they left the Squaw Neck folks walkin’ over, ’bout half a mile back.”
“ How could they possibly hear such a thing, Marty? ”
“ Wal, they knew we was gwine to have it some time or ’nother, when things got settled, and I reckon Ed must ’a’ ben talkin’ about that torop; he sets ’mazin’ by it, and Mis’ Calvert knows Ed’s such a pleasant boy to talk, ’specially when he’s a little out of the way. ”
“ Very well,” said mother in righteous wrath, “ let him exercise his gift to-night, then, and amuse his company. They have chosen to come without an invitation, now let them stay without any entertainment, and go home as soon as they choose.”
“ Yas ’m. Mis’ Calvert don’t think that ’s kind of onsociable, eh, Mis’ Calvert? ”
Mother laughed in spite of herself. “ I’m sure I don’t know, Marty. Manage it yourself. What are you going to do? ”
“ Reckoned I’d ask Cæsar to take ’em out sailin’ a couple of hours. Cæsar’s a mortal clever boy, and them Tuckappoosers is dead sot on sailin’. Think’s likely they ’ll git aground comin’ back. Tide ’ll be cl’ar down by that time. Ed can kill the torop, — I ’count it a ’mazin’ marcy we got that torop, mistes, — and then row up to the store and git the goodies to set out and sell; and me and Ann and Mother Honner ’ll git ’em a good tea agin they come back. Mis’ Calvert think that’s a good way to fix it? ”
“ Yes, as good as can be, Marty; and now, how can I help you? ”
“ If Mis’ Calvert felt willin’ to have the big oven het up, and to sell me a little butter and flour and sugar, and that big dish of beans and bacon I got ready fer to-morrow, I’d git along bitiful.”
“ Very well, Marty, I’m quite willing.”
So the materials were gathered together and weighed out; the great oven was soon roaring with internal fires; Aunt Dolly,being in the debatable land between a fever and a chill, and much revived also with the prospect of a party, rose from her bed to make Marty a big batch of her famous soda biscuit and card gingerbread, and afterward went to the feast to help eat it. The willing guests were sent out sailing, and verified Marty’s hopeful anticipations, for they ran aground on the south flat, coming into the cove, and were held fast till eleven o’clock or after, when the tide turned and set them afloat once more. What with poling round into the right position, dropping sail and heaving anchor, and leisurely landing a few at a time in the follow-boat, it was almost midnight when they reached the shore.
Here all things had gone on prosperously. The fire had promptly and dutifully begun to burn the stick, the stick had begun to heat the oven, the oven had begun to bake the cake and biscuit and beans and bacon; and all of these had come in the fullness of time to a beauteous brown, and had been carried to Mother Honner’s in the clothes-basket. There they adorned the table in company with the sumptuous turtle stew and minor comestibles, and sent savory smells into the contented nostrils of the hungry guests. Ed had returned in good season with his “store-nuts,” candies, and rootbeer, and sat behind his stand in the corner, pouring out his heart to the crowd with the most affectionate loquacity. Cæsar took the entrance-fee at the door, and the women served. After supper Ed and ’Lias furnished the music and the dancing began. The baby had been early dosed with Godfrey ’s Cordial and stowed away in a basket in the loft; but long-suffering Sammy came to the party as he had been promised, and sat up late and had goodies, till he rolled over with sleep and repletion, collapsed into a shapeless lump, and was finally hoisted into the loft with the baby and the other superfluous articles.
It is not every day that the Tuckappoos and Squaw Neck people go to a party; it is not so frequent a pleasure that they can afford to let it slip too quickly through their fingers. A bird in the hand is enjoyed only so long as he remains there. So the moon sank away in the west, and the eternal stars shone calmly on, and the rosy, innocent dawn flushed up in the east and faded, and the kingly sun came regally up over the sea, and still wassail prevailed on the face of the earth.
Marty came wearily back to the house at late breakfast time, dragging the drowsy baby in her own tired arms, for Ed and Sammy were still accepting Mother Hannah’s somewhat reluctant hospitality. Marty was exceedingly meek and silent that day, and once in a while big tears filled her patient eyes and rolled slowly down her cheeks. The day after a late party is apt to be an aching void, even for those who have the fun, and Marty’s share of the affair had been only toil and weariness. She looked so forlorn toward evening, that mother bade her go to bed and sleep off her fatigue.
“ Don’t ’pear to be sleepy, thank ye, mistes,” said Marty; “ my head’s so chock full of them accounts. What we owe Mis’ Calvert, and what we owe to the store, and what we borrowed of Mother Honner.”
“ How did the party go off, Marty? ”
“ Wal, — it went off, — yas’m,” said Marty.
“ Did you make as much as you expected?”
Marty’s lip trembled, and the tears dropped as she shook her head slowly.
“It’s a kind o' s’cumventin’ world, Mis’ Calvert, don’t Mis' Calvert think so? Ed an’t much of a hand to sell things, Ed an’t; he’s such a pleasant boy; he gin away a sight o’ goodies to the chillen, and the old folks, they hommered him down reel lively on his prices. Old Jed, he let the tongs fall right on to Mother Honner’s big yaller puddin’ dish, that sot on the hairth keeping the torop warm, and that ’ll be forty cents, I ’spect. And then countin’ what we owe to the store, and what we owe Mis’ Calvert ” —
“ Never mind that, Marty, let it go as my contribution toward the party.”
“ Wal, now, thank ye, Mis’ Calvert! that h’ists a big weight off my mind! Mis’ Calvert’s reel clever to us; she allers is; that makes things better; and now, if we don’t have to pay more ’n forty cents for the dish, and if Bruce and his wife pay us what they owe us, — did n’t have no change last night, — and if Ruth Jake ever sends along the half-price for her fambly, — she said a widder with three chillen ought to git in free, all on ’em; she reckoned it warn’t accordin’ to Scripter to take the widder’s mite, but seein’ ’t was us, she ’d try to pay half-price bumbye when she sells her baskets, — and if there an’t nothin’ more broke than I know on, I reckon now, we ’ll cl’ar one dollar and fifteen cents.”
“ Oh, Marty! poor child! I know how disappointed you are! Why, you’ve been thinking of this all summer! ”
“ I have so, mistes,” responded Marty with deep humility, “ but I ’spect it’s the Lord’s will. I allers was a uglytempered critter from when I was a baby. Mammy used to tell me I was the sassiest gal she had, and I’d got to git my sperit broke afore I died. So I ’spect it’s the Lord’s will, Mis’ Calvert, for my heart was sot on to them shingles, powerful sot, and I ’d ben a prayin’ to him so much about ’em that I kind o’ felt as if he’d noticed our roof hisself, and seen how much it wanted fixin’. Not that I want to fret, Mis’ Calvert must n’t think it — me, with so many marcies, such a clever mistes, and Ed such a pleasant boy, too. The frost and the snow are his ’n; and if it’s his will they should fall on our heads next winter the way they did last, why, I reckon we can Stan’ it, and next summer mebbe we ’ll try another pay-party and have better luck.”
This was the melancholy end of Marty’s long-projected comedy, but there followed a little epilogue of a more cheerful nature.
Cousin Mary told the story of the payparty in her witty little way, at a dinner given by the General soon after her return to Annapolis; and Colonel Barton proposed that all the guests who eared to partake of the fruit should deposit an equivalent in the fruit-basket for what they took out of it, for Marty’s benefit. Unanimous approval followed his suggestion; every one was hungry for fruit and sorry for Marty, and Cousin Mary sent down to mother the next week a little fortune for her. There was enough to shingle the roof, enough to buy the shoes, and a plump little nest-egg beside, for Marty to tie up in her handkerchief and hide under the pillow.
Marty’s face was as the face of an angel when she received the good news. Her very eyes laughed through her tears. “ It’s the Lord’s doin’,” she said softly, " the Lord’s own doin’ ! Thar he was a-contrivin’ and cunjurin’ ’bout them shingles, while I misdoubted him! If I ’d only stood fum to the faith, and not ben so uns’cumcised in heart, I might ’a’ knowed that however beat a poor critter feels, his marcy endureth forever.”
Olive A. Wadsworth.