In the Quantick Stage
ON a brisk, sunny October morning a yellow - bodied old stage, smelling strongly of stables and well-worn harnesses, rattled off the pebble pavements of a New England capital, into the soothing silence of the heavy, sandy pike leading sixteen miles up - hill to Quantick, having inside five passengers, all women, and all, save one, more or less familiarly known to each other.
On the front seat, riding with her back to the horses, in supreme contempt of the feeble-minded notion that headache and nausea are readily engendered in that position, sat Aunt Nabby Tanner, the Sehannet tailoress, Sehannet being a post village six miles this side of Quantick, and the trading and educational centre of one of the sleepiest farming communities in New England.
Aunt Nobby’s surprisingly tall, thin figure was held erect with military precision; her hair was white as years and cares could bleach it, but in her strongnosed, keen, sensible old face there was no token that time had weakened a high spirit and strong will, or made serious ravages upon somewhat formidable powers of observation and judgment.
Her dress, unaffected by any fleeting fashion of the last dozen or fifteen years, was creaseless and spotless; even her black cotton gloves refused to grow rusty, and snuff-taking and the management of the snuff-taker’s terrible second handkerchief, the bandanna, or checked gingham one, she achieved with a certain stern dignity that defied criticism.
Nobody was more respected than Aunt Nabby in the whole Sehannet neighborhood, where for more than forty years she had wielded her shears, press-board, and goose, and sewed miles of heavy seams with “ blunts ” and “ betweens. ” Long ago she might have rested from her labors, for she had inherited one of the best farms in Sehannet; but unluckily, a little after the farm came to her there happened along a clever, plausible widower, who pictured in violent colors the troubles that befall the lone woman who has land to look after, descanted eloquently upon the ease, the sheltered lot., tiie happiness, of that woman who should be protected, served, by himself and his three or four half-grown boys, and these considerations, aided, certainly not hindered, by reported philandering of a nature almost too soft and moving for Sehannet credence, impelled Aunt Nabby to the commission of the sole great folly of her life, the installing of this smooth-tongued stranger in her father’s scarce-cold great arm-chair, master of herself and her possessions. The marriage was hardly a week old before, from the distant county that had been the bridegroom’s home, there came a Hying cloud of debts for settlement, and wellattested stories of the hardships his first wife had endured through his hopeless laziness — hardships she was well content to end, or change, by death.
The man could do almost anything; his judgment in all farming matters was excellent, he was a good surveyor, and a good wheelwright; he invented laborsaving contrivances, could repair clocks and watches, make fiddles, flutes, banjoes; he was a really admirable musician, and a self-taught naturalist, and he could talk to wile the bird off the bough; but be would do nothing that involved severe or even continuous labor.
He was an imposing figure, after an elder, huge-framed, muscular, yet massive type; his digestion accommodated itself perfectly to four mighty meals per day, and to as many collations as he could interpose between his newspapers, his naps upon the lounge, and long gossips in the barns of certain favored neighbors; and he was unable to get through the night without several repasts to support exhausted nature. He became the foremost man of the neighborhood in political and Masonic matters, represented the town for some years in the Assembly, and at election periods, whether he was or was not a candidate, bestirred himself to much purpose, devoting such vigilance, so many persuasive visits, to a despised rocky fastness of the town where dwelt a poverty-smitten population of Free Lances, amongst whom the school-master was forever abroad, that not the booziest charcoal-peddling shack amongst them, whose most comprehensive views of town-meetin’ never stretched beyond its being an occasion when a little money and limitless rum and hard cider were easily come by, — perhaps, too, a broken head, and certainly a deal of tedious zigzagging into ditches on the route homeward, and many doleful pauses exacted by a stomach seasick to utter rebellion, — failed to present himself punctually at the polls, prepared manfully to do his duty by his country.
Meantime Aunt Nabby, confessing frankly to one or two old friends how woefully she had been deceived, how hopeless the error into which she had been led, held her tongue bravely from self-lamentations and useless reproaches, rose earlier, lay down later, spent more hours at her needle, scrimped her own attire that her husband’s vast bulk might be suitably clad, paid for his books, newspapers, and costly tools and materials required for the many begun and neverlinished bits of fine work that cumbered house and shop, and carefully consulted his despotic taste in the food prepared for him, even though she were obliged to cook it, and to keep herself warm by a “ flashy ” fire of rotten chestnut rails robbed from the nearest fence, chopped into available lengths by her own busy hands, while cords of wood were crying for the ax in the forest that covered a third of her farm; she clothed, educated and started fairly in life her husband’s boys, and had the one sweet drop in her cup in the affection, great as could have been given their own mother, with which the young men regarded her. But, brave as Aunt Nabby was, it is to be hoped no sympathizing friend ever related to her how, in moments when beverages more potent than coffee and tea had rendered the senator more expansive, confidential, not to say sentimental, than his wont was, he had been heard to regret that his second matrimonial choice had been too rashly made; undoubtedly there was something severe, ha’sh, in an old maid’s manner and habit of viewing things; he could not but feel, often, that a younger, more affectionate woman would have made him a more suitable companion. Ah, if he had his life to live over again! People were too worldly in their marriages. A woman might be likely, forehanded, and stirrin’, and not make a wife a man could live easily and happily with. The disposition, that was the main thing to consider; and the younger a woman was, the less likely to he sot in her ways. And so on.
Beside Aunt Nabby, overflowing all the ample remaining space of the seat intended for three persons, sat Mrs. Jubal Hawkins, wife of a very well-todo Sehannet publican. Mrs. Hawkins had a jovial great face like a peony, and a pair of black eyes that, as she herself put it, never quailed before the face of mortial man; and her garments, of costly textures, bore a look of disarray not uncharacteristic of the attire of people who have sagged and bulged beyond all possibilities of getting other than sectional views of themselves.
Upon the middle seat, opposite Mrs. Hawkins, was the wife of a Western settler, a Sehannet woman, returning after years of absence to visit the old home and friends, Mrs. Job Burdick by name.
Upon the back seat, directly behind Mrs. Burdick, sat a lady, stranger to us all. She was a little woman, with a face more than middle-aged,—a fact that the brilliant black of her hair, and its jaunty, youthful arrangement of crimps, braids, and artfully artless ringlets escaping here and there, impressed upon the most casual gazer. She had probably been plentifully admired a good many years before, as a neat-featured, prettily-colored beauty of a popular fashion, and it was clearly difficult to forget her successes. Her toilet was a careful reproduction of the last mode, and profusely trimmed, but the materials were trashy, her ornaments only simulations. Her somewhat pinched cheeks still bore two spots of brilliant carmine, not artificial, and her faded eyes kept a sparkle that might be shrewishness or vivacity, according to circumstances. Most men would have called her a fine little woman still, and women, noting her toil-worn hands, and her resolute air of putting the best foot forward, would have been merciful to her vanity, juvenility, and make-shifts.
In the opposite corner sat the chronicler, myself, —a young woman whose fathers, grandfathers, and upward have dwelt or been known in Sehannet since the days when its worn-out pastures waved with the forest primeval.
Only greetings had been exchanged while we were on the deafening pavement, but the instant the clatter died away into the pleasant sound of crunching through reluctant sand, Mrs. Hawkins began, in a tremendously subterranean, husky voice, that was constantly losing itself in a wheeze, —
“ There! Thank goodness, that ’s the last o’ them pesky pavements! When I’m away from home I’m never fairly easy till I’m headed for our bare old hills ag’in, an’ the very minnit we jounce off the cobble-stones, I kind o’ consate that I begin to smell our pines and hemlocks ! And so you’ve got back at last, Fanny ” (to me). “ Schoolin ’s done now, an’t it? You can talk their lingo with all the furriners now, I expect. I need n’t ast if you 're well, but do tell me how yer mar is. I’ve charged Jubal this three weeks, every time he come into the city, to be sure an’ stop at yer par’s office and ast after Mis’ Latham, but law! — a man! Show Jubal a horse ’the could make a good trade for, ’n’ I tell him he’d forgit t’ order me a coffin ’f I lay in the house a month waitin’ to be buried! But how is yer mar, ’n’ how ’d she hear the voyage home? ”
“Sho, now! you don’t say so! And got to start ag’in next month! Wal, Florida an’t so fur off as where she has ben, but it’s hard for a woman with all that houseful of boys an’ girls to see to. But I ’m real glad to hear she’s better ’n she was, ’n’ I suppose yer aunt Mariar can make the young folks gee pretty well? Yer aunt don’t like Sehannet ’s well !s the rest o’ your folks. She’s hed the children off down the bay the two summers you’ve ben gone, ’n’ it looked lonesome to see your house most all shot up, ’n’ noueon ye drivin’ through the village, but I knew you’d come and take a look at the old place ’s soon ’s you got back. We shall be a-lookin’ for you over, to - morrow or next day. My cake-pail’s full o’ seed cakes and them sugar jumbles you used to like, ’n’ I guess M’nervy ’ll hev a batch o’ pumpkin pies ready by this time. Jubal’s ben a-makin’ wine this year out o’ prettynigh everything that grows. You ’ll hev to taste all the kinds, ’n’ he ’ll expect you to say they don’t make nothin’ in furrin parts to come up to his elderberry stuff. Some’t he made two years ago is pretty good with hot water ’n' sugar of a cold night, but the critter’s so sot up about it that I won’t praise it a mite!
“ But talkin’ of eatin’ reminds me’t I ’ve got some capsheafs in my bag; I always want somethin’ t’ gnaw upon in the stage; ’t kinder gits the time over.” And the good soul had presently supplied each one in the stage with two or three of her fat, smooth, brown-skinned, butter-fleshed pears, and no one would have disputed that gnawing upon them did while away the time agreeably. The little woman, my neighbor, as she threw back her veil and smiled her thanks for her portion, disclosed a feature that held me as did the eye of the Ancient Mariner his auditor; so ample, so fully exposed an array of false teeth, squarecut, blue-white, glittering, glaring, that the menacing prophecy, “ There shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth,” took instantly a new and grim realism to me. They were dreadful to look upon, and I could not look away! Who ever beheld such a color? And what broad grooves they cut in the firm pears! I gazed and gazed, forgetting quite where we were, and whom we were, and was somehow back in the beginning of things, filling a chief rôle in the terrible tragedy. “ Oh, grandma! what great teeth you’ve got!” and “The better to eat you with, my dear ! ” fell on my inner ear so clearly that I jumped to avoid wolfish spring and clutch, and woke up to wrench away my fascinated eyes and turn my back upon my neighbor until her fruit was disposed of, and the teeth, as she did not speak at all, quiet and hidden.
By this time the three other occupants of the stage had embarked upon a swift stream of talk, Mrs. Burdick questioning concerning the places, the people she remembered, who was married, who was dead, how so-and-so had given his property, what so-and-so was worth. Suddenly she leaned from her window to look at a farmer who had passed us, seated on his wagon-load of vegetables.
“ Wal, I declare for ’t,” she exclaimed, drawing back her head, “ if that wa’n’t Deacon ’Lish’ Manchester! I thought he could n’t grow no homelier, but he has, though he don’t look as if he’d given up to be an old man, yet. You’d think, to look at his team and his whole rig, that he wa’ n’t worth ten dollars in the world, but I know whoever ’s lost money’t a’n’t Deacon ’Lish’ Manchester! Is poor Mis’ Manchester a-livin’ yet? ”
“ Not the one you knowed,” replied Aunt Nabby. “ The Lord must ha’ thought she ’d suffered enough, even for a woman, to be let out of this world. She died last March — very onexpected at the last. Her darters can’t seem to git reconciled to it, no way. They say they can’t but be thankful she’s gone, but they can’t forgit how she suffered, how hard her life was, and that she never had, since they can any of them remember, a single well or happy day. The gals all sot everything by their mother, and their father carried sail so when she died, and has done ever since, sayin’ an’ doin’ the cuttin’est things, that they think it an’t no use to be closemouthed over their feelin’s an’ troubles. They 're determined the neighbors shall know what their mother had to endure.”
“ Everybody always knew that Deacon Manchester was a hard man, near as the bark to a tree, and dreadful pompous,” returned Mrs. Burdick, “ and they pitied Mis’ Manchester because she was always sick; but she never went anywhere, or invited any company to her own house, and in my time folks used to think she was rather stand-offish, and odd.”
“ Why, bless you, ’Senath Burdick,” burst out Aunt Nabby, with unusual heat, “ the poor woman could n’t go nowhere! A great deal of the time, for years, she wa’ n’t fit to be out of her bed, and would n’t ha’ ben, only there was all that farm work to be done, and nobody else to do it while she could crawl. An’ she had to crawl to do it, sometimes. One of the neighbors, a man, told me himself that he went in there one day and found Mis’ Manchester a-creepin’ up the cellar-stairs with a great piece o’ pork in her hand. She said she felt too weak to stand, the deacon was off to the city as usual with his garden stuff, and somebody ’d got to git the dinner for a dozen haymakers. The man asked her why the deacon did n’t find somebody to help her, but she said Mr. Manchester did n’t know much what it was to be sick, and she guessed she should feel stronger after a while. The man said the tears come into his eyes as he looked at her, he pitied her so. The darters say now that their father had always grumbled at their mother for feeling weak and miserable; said sick folks were a nuisance, and talked as if they had n’t no right, to be left in the world the minute they wa’ n’t able to work like plowmen. When two or three of his children, that were always kind o’ sickly, died, he said he was glad on’t; it was better for them and for everybody else. When ’Lisha Manchester married Faithful Wheelock, she was as rugged a gal as you could find: solid-built, and with cheeks like red apples. But there an’t many women that can do, alone, all the work that belongs to women-folks on a great farm, — mend and make, scrub, wash, ’tend to the dairy-work, cook for gangs of hired men, — and have nine children in eleven years, and a husband with no more feelin’ than a stone, and come out young, strong, and well at the end on’t! ”
“ Yes,” broke in Mrs. Hawkins, “ and them above only knows what she suffered on her children’s account! You remember the oldest gal, don’t you, Mis’ Burdick— Almiry Manchester? She married Hubbard Kimball’s son Cyrus. Wal, her an’ me was a-talkin’ about it the other day, an’ she says she never gits over bein’ amazed at the way her children follow their father round, wish an’ watch for him when he’s away, an’ at the frolics they hev with him when he gits back, hangin’ all over him, an’ divin’ into his pockets an’ bundles to see what he ’s brought for everybody. When she an’ her brothers an’ sisters was little, at home, she said their only happy time was when their father was off somewhere, an’ if ever they asked when he’d git back ’t was only to know how much longer their good time would last. When he was to home they’d curl up together in some corner, whist as mice, an’ if one of ’em snickered out at anything, the old man ’d snarl, ‘ There, brats, none o’ that! Be off to bed! ’ An’ she ’d never forgot how one day in winter her father’d come in from outdoors and was sweepin’ the snow off his boots, when a little brother that died when he was six years old — he was about four, then, an’ a wonderful tender-hearted, affectionate little fellow — run behind his father and clasped his arms round one of his father’s legs. ‘ Out o’ the way, brat! ’ his father called out. The child let go, but watched his chance, and in a minute caught his father by the other leg, and this time his father raised the broom he was usin’, struck the child square in the face with it, an’ knocked him flat upon the floor. The little thing scrambled up, looked at his father as if he could n’t understand it, then said pitifully, ‘ Father, you hurt me! ’ an’ begun to cry as if his heart was broke.
‘ ‘ ‘ Hurt ye ? I meant to hurt ye! ’ snarled the old tiger, ' an’ if that roarin’ an’t shet up in one minute you ’ll be hurt ag’in! ’
“ And that was about the way ’twas all along. They never hed a plaything, they never dast to hev a school-mate at the house, an’ when they went to school, or anywhere amongst other children, they went hangin’ their heads down because their clothes wa’ n’t sech as anybody else had. As soon as they got big enough to earn anything, their father made ’em go to work an’ take care of themselves. He said he should come on the town with such a family as his stayin’ round to home, an’ except for their mother they was all glad enough to git away.
“ The old deacon’s always ben cornin’ on the town! Almiry said her mother dreaded to hev a neighbor come into the house at meal-time worse ’n a whippin’, for it mortified her to death not to ast ’em to sit up to the table an’ eat, an’ if she ast ’em the old man would scold half the night at her for bringin’ him to the poorhouse! He bought everything that was got, and Mis’ Manchester never hed a cent unless she could sell some eggs or butter on the sly. When ’Lish’ Manchester married, he was a poor man, with mebbe a hundred or two dollars he’d laid up keepin’ school; an’ the twenty-five hundred dollars that old Mr. Wheelock gin Faithful was what started him on the farm where he lives now, but she never hed a cent on ’t, principal nor int’rest, an’ would no more ’a’ dast to hev gone to his purse than to the greatest stranger’s. Deacon Manchester pays taxes now on thirty thousand dollars, and he owns more woodland than any two farmers in Sehannet, but in his wife’s last sickness, if he could ketch her alone in her room, he’d complain of the wood that was burnt in her fire, pick off every brand but one, an’ set ’em up endways in the corners of the fire-place, an’ then, mebbe, go out, pious old critter, and lead in fam’ly prayers! ”
“But his onfeelin’ness was the worst of all,” went on Aunt Nabby. “Mis’ Manchester knew well enough that she’d owed her hard life to a cruel master; if ever she said anything about married life, you could see ’t she felt as bitter as gall about it; an’ yet she could n’t help carin’ for her husband, worryin’ about him when he was out in a storm, and that he should have everything to his mind in the house; and when he’d come into her room and snap at her, or stay out on ’t for days, it cut her dreadfully. He never come a-nigh her for three days afore she died, and each mornin’ she’d ask one o’ the gals, ‘ Has your father gone to the city another day without comin’ in to see me?’ and then sigh, turn away her face, and keep very still a good while. The gals got so beat out with his doin’s at last that they spoke out about them to whoever was by, and one. day, when we thought Mis’ Manchester was asleep, Sophrony was a-tellin’ me how’t when her mother was took worse, two or three weeks before, it was at night. She coughed terribly, and at last got up after some medicine, and before she could git back she found herself all to oncet quite helpless, and fell on her face across the foot of the bed. Then the deacon got up, and says he, ' If you’re a-goin’ to keep up sech a barkin’ and racket I must clear out; I can’t stand bein’ broke o’ my rest ! ’ and off he went, leavin’ her lyin’ there, and Sophrony thought she might ha’ smothered, only she heerd her moanin’ and jumped up and ran in to her. Sophrony was scoldin’ about this to me, when Mis’ Manchester heerd her. ‘ Oh, Sophrony, don’t! ’ she called out; ' he’s your father!’ He was off on the market wagon when she died. He come home, and was fussin’ round as usual with his bags and baskets, and gittin’ his exes greased, and at last one of his darters went to the door. ‘ Father,’ says she, ‘did you know mother is gone?’ He only nodded, went on with his work, and when he come in, eat his supper and sot down to his account books as if there wa’ n’t nothin’ more ’n common the matter.”
“ And a chirker widower than he was, the very day o’ the funeral, you never see!” struck in Mrs. Jubal—Strophe in this raven duet. “ Before that he’d been frettin’ at the gals because they would hev their mother buried with her false teeth in. The teeth wa’ n’t none o’ his gettin’, but he said they could be made over for him, or they’d fetch somethin’ to sell, and it was a dretful waste to bury ’em, and he kept on so about ’em that they hed to watch him pretty close for fear he’d take ’em out, say what they would! But he hed to give ’em up at last, and then at the supper, arter they’d got back from carryin' her over to the old Wheelock place, he was as chipper, jokin’ about marryin’ ag’in, boastin’ how young he felt, what a day’s work he could do, — the critter was sickenin’ !
“Widowers in gineral ha’n’t much sense nor decency to boast on, but Deacon Manchester beat all! ”
“ You say she died in March,” said Mrs. Burdick; “has he begun to look for another wife yet? ”
Begun ! ” returned Mrs. Jubal, her deep voice at its huskiest from concentrated emotions, “ the man’s ben married nigh two months! ”
And Mrs. Burdick, “You don’t say so! Married a’ready! Who on airth’d he find to have him? ”
“Nobody round here, you may be sure and sartin,” replied Mrs. Jubal. “ Women are great fools, but there an’t many so fur gone as to marry Deacon ’Lish’ Manchester with their eyes open! He tried hard enough, though, here. He begun in May, and there wa’n’t hardly an old maid or widder in the town, ’specially if they’d got a little proputty, that he did n’t write to or go to see. It got so that if a single woman see him a-comin’ toward her house she locked the door, and run and hid. But you know what a pompous critter he is, and he never seemed to think there was nobody ’t he couldn’t hev.”
“ Pooh! ” chanted Anti-Strophe, Aunt Nabby, contemptuously, “ he was only like all men in that. Don’t you suppose that Tom Pope, a-drivin’ this stage, thinks it ’d be only to ask and have, if he wanted to marry Fanny, here? He might say’t her folks was pretty grand, but he’d think money made ’em so, and he would n’t know that eddication, or anything else, made a difference, or was a hindrance. A man’s a man, and a woman’s a woman, and all women are bent on marryin’ — men never git much beyond that.”
“ Things happen sometimes so kind o’ cur’us that they do ’most justify some of the men, don’t they, Aunt Nabby ? ” returned Strophe, gazing innocently into Anti-Strophe’s face.
“Don’t you be a-stabbin’ me, and lookin’ as if butter would n’t melt in your mouth! ” replied Aunt Nabby, goodnaturedly. “ I never sot up for any great wisdom, and if a body’s got a hard row to hoe, it don’t make it any easier to know it’s their own fault. And folks that have made a mistake have the best right to speak, though all the speakin’ in the world won’t vally, neither. We ’ve all got our lesson to larn, and some ’ll git it by only havin’ it p’inted out, and there ’ll always be some that ’ll have to have it knocked into ’em! ”
Silence for a little, and we all look discreetly out at the asters and gentians that border our way along a reach of springy hill-side.
Presently Mrs. Burdick resumes, —
“ Wal, who did Deacon ’Lisha find at last for a wife? ”
“ A Widder Scranton, that lived to Fall River,” answered Mrs. Hawkins. “ Somebody must ha’ recommended her to him, for she don’t belong anywhere in these parts. Mis’ Dr. Nuttin’ visits in Fall River, and she’s heerd her spoken on a good deal. She ’s called a very likely woman, smart as a steel-trap, and with a great notion o’ pushin’ forrard in the world. She was left a widder with four or five little children, and hardly any money, but she put the oldest ones into the factory, took in sewin’, did anything that come handy, and got along very well. She kept everything lookin’ wonderful slick, and was very airy and dressy herself, Mis’ Nuttin’ said. The widder come up to the deacon’s about a month before she married him, to kind o’ see how the land lay, of course. Beulah Williams has ben a keepin’ house for the deacon sence Mis’ Manchester died, and she hed to entertain the widder. She said the woman never ast nothin’ about the deacon’s temper, nor about how he got along with his first wife, nor if he was a good Christian man. But she wanted to know jest what he was said to be wuth, and what the money was in, and if he’d made a will, and how much of the proputty come by the first Mis’ Manchester; and then she had Beulah go all over the house with her, and she ast who the beddin’ belonged to, and the different pieces o’ furnitoor, and then told how she should hev things there: the house all furbished and finnified, water brought into’t, an’ a hired maid to do the heavy work. She should hev the deacon git a new kerrige, too, an’ robes. She could n’t hev clothes all covered with hairs from them old horse blankets that the deacon hes on his horses, and over his vegetables, and then tucked over your lap! And then she ast about the meetin’ folks; said slic’d always took an active part wherever she went to meetin’, and that she would want the society to meet often at her house, and she should see ’t was lively in the evenin’ so’s to dror the young folks in; that she liked to hev a neighborhood kind o’ gay and sociable: picnics and festivals and mite societies and oyster suppers. Beulah said she wanted to laugh, and she wanted to cry, all to oncet, when she heerd the critter a-runnin’ on so; she could n’t help pityin’ on her, and she tried to hint that the deacon was a close man with his money, and hed brought up his own family in the barest kind o’ way, jest clothes enough to cover ’em, and no store groceries but the cheapest flour and tea, brown sugar, black molasses, and stacks o’ codfish; but law! the widder would n’t hear nothin’ to that. She said the deacon hed told her that his first wife was a shiftless, peevish kind o’ woman, not much force, and with no idees about gittin’ along, that he reely hed n’t hed a wife, to call one, for twenty year, and that she sp’ilt her children so’t he never got much good out of ’em, out doors or in; but she guessed things would go ruther diff’runt now. She’d resk managin’ any man’t ever she see!
“ Almiry was so mad when she heerd what her father ’d told the widder, that she says if the widder only will manage him, rule him with a rod of iron, she shan’t care if the proputty’s every cent spent; she shall say ’t the Lord’s hand is in it, avengin’ her mother 't was murdered by inches! ”
“I don't see how any woman could stomach to marry him,” said Mrs. Burdick, “ even if she did n’t know what a tyrannical, little-souled — and worse — creature he was. A disagreeable, ontidy, stubbly old man; to look at him’s enough, I should think! ”
“Oh, she says, plain out, that it’s the money she thinks about. Times has ben awful bad at the factories for more ’n a year, and it was hard to git along any way, and she thought here was a home and livin’ offered her ’n’ her children, and an eddication for them, and she must n’t refuse it: she marries for proputty, he for convenience; and he ’s Deacon ’Lish’ Manchester! Mebbe ’t will turn out well!” Strophe, thus.
“ The Lord help her! ” fairly groaned Anti-Strophe. “ I ha’n’t no gret opinion of a woman’t’s lived long enough to know better, marryin’ an old man within six months of his wife’s death, and won 't be told nothin’ about him, and comes swellin’ into the house thatt’ other woman has hardly left, and finds fault with everything, and boasts of the changes she shall make, and the way things has got to go now, and hints that all the trouble was the first woman’s fault; but I know that what Mis’ Manchester had to bear—things that can’t be spoken on — an’t for any woman to bear, and I hope, whoever hes the wust on’t now, ’t won’t be the Widder Scranton! ”
By this time we had paused to water the horses at the toll-gate-house. Two roads led from this house to the village. We swept, when the stage started, into the old, circuitous, infrequently - used one.
“ Why, I wonder what we ’re a cornin’ round here for ? ” queried Mrs. Hawkins. “ Must be somebody on top that ’s got to git off at the Burnt Hill Fork.”
We drove on, up a gentle ascent, and then, with a grand flourish that sent a flock of hens scurrying wildly amongst the scaffolds of shining milk pans and drying apples, made a huge, glossybreasted gobbler forget his dignity so far as to run a few paces, then stop and gobble himself apoplectic at his and our indecorum, and brought a brindled mastiff angrily upon the scene, we drove upon the uninclosed, sloping greensward in front of a large, yellow, gambrelroofed farm-house, and stopped.
“Why, if ’tan’t Deacon Manchester’s! ” broke out Mrs. Jubal, in her surprise. “ Who on airth ” — she stopped, for the driver flung down the steps with a clang, and the little woman, my neighbor of the teeth, lifted up the back belt of the middle seat and stepped to the door. One moment she paused there, looking Aunt Nabby full in the face.
“ Perhaps it is a pity I did n’t ride in this stage three months ago! ” she said. “ But good morning, ladies. I am the ‘ Widder Scranton!’ ” And before we knew that our heads were all cut off, Mis’ Manchester No. 2 had gained the shelter of her doorway, and Beulah Williams had come forward to see to the putting off of parcels and boxes.
Aunt Nabby found her voice, first.
“ Wal, of all things! — of all things! Who 'd ha’ thought o’ the critter’s bein’ here? We heerd she wa’ n’t a-goin’ to break up in Fall River and come here before spring. Of all the cur’us things! Wal, I’m glad on’t! I hate tale-bearin’ and stirrin’ up strife, and I would n’t ha’ said it if I ’d knowed; but as ’t was, she’s heerd a little truth, and I’m glad on’t! Mis’Hawkins, why don’t you say somethin’ ? ’ ’
“Mis’ Hawkins” couldn’t, simply. Her face was as purple as the gobbler’s head had been.
She struggled to speak, gasped, and waved her hand impatiently at us to signify her inability.
By and by, “ Oh, I can’t,” she got out. “ It’s like the swearin’ man with the ashes; I can’t do it justice. But I’d give, — yes, willin’ly, — I’d give a hundred dollars ruther ’n to hev Jubal, and all that ruck o’ men ’at set round in the post-office and store year in, year out, a-cacklin’ at nothin’, git hold on’t! ’
S. F. Hopkins.