Butterfield & Co.: In Two Parts. Part One

FOR nearly a hundred years “ Butterfield’s ” was as well known in the town of Slumborough as the post-office, and almost as much frequented. Before the war the firm was represented by Joseph Butterfield, a most comfortably prosperous, mild man, who had succeeded to the honors of his house as hereditary grocer there. Nominally a grocer, but if any feminine stranger had chanced to be in pressing need of, say, a hoopskirt, of the kind in vogue then, she would probably have been directed to Butterfield’s, where she would have found some of these elegant and indispensable articles of dress swinging gracefully from hooks in the doorway of the store. For “ Hang the hoops in the do’ of the sto’ ” was one of the orders of the head of the firm, given as regularly as the day came and the “ sto’ ” was opened. Had any masculine stranger wished to provide himself with a book, it was to Butterfield’s that he would have been sent by almost anybody in the town, — either there or to the chemist’s ; and he would have found, on a shelf flanked by ginger jars and all the spices of Arabia, perhaps, or above a meal-bin, very likely, his Bunyan, or his Doddridge, or his Shakespeare, or even the last elegant Book of Beauty or annual in the time of the third Joseph, who had a fondness for books, — or rather, affected one, — and wore a velvet ribbon above his queue on Christmas Day and at Michaelmas and Easter, in imitation of the local gentry. Did any child, native or foreign, need a doll, a whip, a pair of skates, a top, or a ball, it was still Butterfield who supplied it, and threw in one of the large, yellow, toothsome squares of gingerbread baked every Saturday by Mrs. Butterfield in the seclusion of the back premises.

From this it will be seen that Butterfield’s had a scope and range that made it of far more value to a country town than if it had confined itself rigidly to what Mr. Butterfield called “its prime line ; ” and it must be further recorded that the business was conducted not only “ on the fair and on the square, let angels say to the contrary,” again to quote Mr. Butterfield, but in a spirit of generosity which was uncalculating and genuine, and the best advertisement that could have been framed. It was the only one, too; for if there was a thing that Mr. Butterfield was violently opposed to, it was advertising. Ordinarily as soft and yielding as his own butter in the month of July, he became adamant the moment the question of advertising was brought up. “ It ain’t respectable, to begin with,” he said. “ We ain’t never done it. We ain’t never going to do it. And it ain’t no use, either. Everybody knows what we’ve got in the sto’ ; and if they don’t, they can find out mighty quick by asking ; and when they want anything they are going to ask for it, — they ain’t too modest for that.”

Mr. Butterfield’s family was made up of his wife — whose gingerbread has been mentioned already, and whose principal claim to his affection lay in her having borne him a son “ to carry on and hold up and be ekil to Butterfield’s,” as he put it — and that son. Kind and affectionate in his ordinary relations with his “ Jinny,” he petrified into the head of the firm, and instantly ceased to be merely the head of the family, when it came to the “ sto’.” Anything in her conduct that militated against or injuriously affected that institution was sternly rebuked. She was up long before the sun rose every day, reprinting butter, righting the “ sto’,” scrubbing, dusting, making ready for “the opening,” of which she spoke and which she regarded as a great and solemn function, although it consisted only of taking down a wooden shutter and opening a small green door, hanging the hoopskirts, and arranging a tasteful heap of tomatoes, potatoes, and the like beneath, — always excepting the window. This Mr. Butterfield would not have trusted her, would not have trusted any living person but himself, to arrange.

It is not too much to say that all his life long he had seen everything around and about him through the medium of that window’s dozen green panes. What would look well in it, what would never do for it, what might be adapted for it, what disfigured and spoiled it, — these were the questions into which most other questions resolved themselves in the alembic of the Butterfield mind ; and the only time in all his life that his wife ever saw him “ terrible ” was when he marched into her kitchen, one morning, and passionately flung down a loaf of her baking, saying, “I found this here thing in Butterfield’s winder! Do you call it fit to set there ? G ive it to the pigs, and never do you put the like there agin, the longest day you live.” She had profaned a hallowed spot with her bad bread, and it was not until she had invented and popularized a bun that Judge Barton (the gourmand of the little community) declared to be the best he had ever put into his mouth that she was quite forgiven.

A flourishing institution, too, was Butterfield’s ; that is, for Slumborough. “ We 've ordered from Baltimore as often as twict in one week,” said the head of the house. “ We’ve sold imported pickles over that counter, and sugar by the barrel, without a grain of sand in it from head to bottom. Before I would let a pound of sugar leave Butterfield’s mixed with anything, if it was gold-dust, Jinny, I’d starve, and let the boy starve, which is more.”

The business methods of the firm, however, were not those generally adopted at present throughout the country. They would be considered remarkable, nowadays, I am afraid, not to say eccentric. Mr. Butterfield knew every creature in Slumborough, black and white, to begin with. He was full of the milk of human kindness. He did not So much buy and sell as sit in his gates, like a Spanish alcalde, and adjudicate upon the claims and demands presented to him. Did Miss Sally Brown, who was sixteen, and kept house, after a fashion, for an invalid mother, come in and want to buy five pounds of candles, Mr. Butterfield would say, “ Why, Miss Sally, what kind of a housekeeper are you, anyway ? Your ma’s got a whole box of candles down from Baltimore. I saw them in the cart in front of her do’ last Saturday. You don’t want no candles ; you go home and look in the storeroom, and I reckon you ’ll find them there,” — which would end the transaction, certainly, but was not likely to make a “ corner ” in spermaceti. Did Widow Lester come in, and, after casting a hungry, bumble look about the place, depreciatingly ask for “ rice, two pounds, and never mind about the weevil,” or the red herrings and corn meal on which she chiefly nourished her orphan brood of six, what did Mr. Butterfield do but give her four pounds of the best “ Carolina,” and perhaps a string of fresh fish, and always a parcel of something as “ a little extry.” But when the judge bought his month’s stores of “ goodies ” of all kinds, Mr. Butterfield was severe with his weights and balances, though always careful to stick to market prices in his charges. “ The rich is them that ought to pay, mother, for the poor’s victuals, and I know when and where to skimp, — well, not skimp, either, but even up. — and when and where to throw in and not see good,” he would say to his wife, his head on one side and his mouth rigidly focused over his scales.

As to children, it was preposterous, or would have been to the hard-fisted, to see Mr. Butterfield’s dealings with them in the guise of a business transaction. " Take this box of figs and go ’long, honey, go ’long home ; your ma’s done sent here twict already this morning fur yer. Take your five cents, too, Looisy; there ain’t room in the till for no more silver.” Some inveterate youthful habitué of the place falling asleep here or there, on bale or box, on warm days, Mr. Butterfield would carry the child into the back bedroom and lay him on his own bed, put a net over him to keep the flies from “ pestering ” him, and tip back to the store, leaving him to enjoy a comfortable nap. Several times in every season, when the skies were cloudy and the weather “ just right,” Mr. Butterfield, who loved a boy and loved to fish, would shut up the store, and go off with “ the youngsters ” down the valley to catch bass ; and customers, coming to the shop door to buy something much needed, would find the stout green planks adorned with no weak explanation of that gentleman’s defection. Butterfield’s belonged to Mr. Butterfield, and not to the public ; to go or to come was the inherent right of a citizen generally public-spirited enough to be a fixture behind his counter, but quite at liberty to leave it if he were so disposed.

Somehow nobody ever dreamed of taking offense, much less of resenting these commercial eccentricities. Mrs. Perkins, one of the first ladies of the place, would cheerfully wait two weeks for something that Mr. Butterfield was “out of” rather than buy elsewhere : and all the “ regulars,” to a woman, showed the most delicate consideration for Mr. Butterfield’s feelings. When his jars and boxes began to run low, they would apologetically ask for “ barely enough to get along with ” until his supplies should be replenished, and would actually blush if, by some thoughtless order, the very last fig was torn from the drum, and the bareness of Butterfield’s stood revealed to the scoffer of the opposition, a patron of Lecky’s.

Little Miss Bradley, whose grandmother had “ bought everything at Butterfield’s,” always got near-sighted when anything went wrong there, and turned her back on empty barrels as if they had been so many parvenues, and “ would not lower herself so far ” as to try in tea the molasses bought there, as her friend Miss Mastin (of the opposition) strongly advised. Both these ladies lived at the other end of the town, and usually came down together in the car, a lumbering ex-omnibus, that crawled down the main street at somewhere about the same time every day. There were people who complained that it did not run oftener and faster, but they were strangers, and mostly from the North. Slumborough folks were quite content with it. Its pace was the pace of Slumborough, indeed, and suited them perfectly; for it would certainly have been most disconcerting to go rushing along on general and absurd principles, simply in order to get over so much ground in a given time. It was altogether more convenient for Miss Bradley to doze comfortably on through the outskirts, and when the principal thoroughfare was reached to call out to the driver, “ Are those sweet potatoes at Finlay’s ? Get off, will you not, if you please, Hobson, and let me know the price?” When he returned she would quietly make up her mind about the potatoes, and either get off with Cynthia (a small maid with a big basket, and a very long and very white pinafore buttoned up the back, the sole attendant of Miss Bradley) and make her purchases (the car waiting the while), or decline to do so, saying, “ Hobson, they look frost-bitten ; you can go on, thank you.” It often happened that Cynthia would waylay the car, as it were, later in the day, on a return trip, and would shake her kinky locks at Hobson threateningly if he showed symptoms of moving on after fifteen minutes’ or so vain attendance on Miss Bradley, protesting, “ You ain’t goin’ widout Miss Ellen, is you ? Don’t you know she takes dis here car always ? She ’s just gone round home a minute to see her ma, and den to see ’bout gittin’ my shoes and to buy some sponge cake for supper; she ’ll be along presently.” And sure enough, presently Miss Bradley would come in sight, and advancing at her usual pace would climb up the step with Hobson’s assistance, saying, “ I 'm afraid I have kept you waiting, Hobson. I am obliged to you.” To this he would reply, “ Lor’, no, ma’am, you ain’t ! I give Bill and Bob [the horses] a bite, and I ain’t pressed for time; ” while the passengers would all hasten with one accord to assure the dear little lady that they also had not minded in the least, and were not pressed for time either. It was one of the beauties of Slumborough that everybody had as much time as the patriarchs, and had nothing to do that interfered with everybody’s being always perfectly courteous to everybody else.

There were occasions when Mr. Butterfield’s views as to times and seasons were fully as placid, and opposed to anything like slavish observance of routine or unseemly haste. In the spring, for instance, when he was deeply interested in a small garden at the back of his lot. which he cultivated himself, nothingmade him so angry as to be summoned by his wife to wait on a customer; and if it turned out to be a man, he would say, “ What kind of a sort of a feller air you, anyway, to come asking for herrings, with my peas waiting to be stuck ? ” or (after ascertaining his sex) would keep him waiting for half an hour, while he transplanted his tomatoes in a leisurely fashion, and shaded them from the sun. Everything planted in “ Uncle Jo’s ” garden throve and flourished. (It was as “ Uncle Jo ” that he was known to half of Slumborough.) Everything that he touched succeeded, during these years of plenty, and trouble or want of any kind seemed only the shadow, seen in other lives, of a brilliant prosperity attending everybody connected with Butterlield’s.

Yet trouble there was, and to spare, ahead of them all ; though on the surface it would have appeared that hearts and lives like theirs, so innocent, so kindly, so useful, would present no target for the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. It came with the war, that fruitful source of all manner of woes for all manner of people. Mr. Butterfield had no more military spirit or fire in him, to begin with, than one of his own firkins. The whole political situation, indeed, with him, resolved itself into saving Butterfield’s, not the country. For six months the milky sweetness of Uncle Jo’s thoughts was curdled by a grave and painful doubt. Ought he to go into the army, or ought he to stick to the “ sto’ ” ? That was the question. But when man after man of his acquaintance, friend after friend, neighbor after neighbor, caught the fever ; when people took to hinting that he was “ able-bodied,” and talked scornfully of “ stay-at-homes,” and wanted to know what he gave his substitute " to get killed for him ; ” when his minister asked him earnestly if he was doing his duty by his home and his country, this doubt became a sad burden, and assumed every shape that a question could. Was he letting other men give their lives for Jinny and little Jo and Butterfield’s, while he stayed at home and made money ? Was he a coward ? Was he doing his duty ? At last this mildest and least bloodthirsty of men could stand it no longer. He shut up the store for a day, and gave out that he bad gone fishing. He went out into the country, and lay down behind a haystack flat on his back, looking up into the sky for more hours than he ever realized ; and when he arose and dusted himself off, that afternoon, and removed telltale straws lest they should show which way the wind had blown, he had come to a conclusion. He announced it that evening to his wife, in tones not in the least like those of Boanerges, Son of Thunder.

“ Mother,” said he, “ don’t you say a word. It won’t be no use. I’m settled, and bent, and determinated. I 'm going to this here war, though I ain’t no soldier, and you’ve got to carry on Butterfield’s.”

“ My sakes alive ! have you gone plum crazy, Jo ? Me carry on Butterfield’s ! ” she shrieked, feeling as if the universe had suddenly been handed over to her to “ carry on.”

But that was just what he had meant, and he declined to discuss the subject of his plans with her. That very night he drew up a sort of Code Butterfield for the regulation and continuation of the business, and two days later volunteered to go with the Slumborough Guards to the front, before his wife had sufficiently recovered from her amazement to combat vigorously such an extraordinary resolution. His last words to her were not much like those accredited to the world’s heroes, but they would have done no discredit to any of them, for they were the words of an honest man.

“ Mother,” said he, with his arms around his boy, while his comrades waited at the door, " do you always give ’em the worth of their money every time. Good goods at fair prices is what it’s always been at Butterfield’s ; and ef I was to die, I could n’t rest in my grave if I thought there was a mite of sand in a single pound of sugar sold over this counter, or a bar’l of flour wheeled over that there doorsill that warn’t sugarhouse Looisiany. And don’t you never go distressing of the poor,—remember; nor troubling them that ain’t got it to pay, — that ain’t Butterfield’s ; nor keeping open on Sundays, — that ain’t Butterfield’s ; nor falling low in qualities, nor skimping in quantities, — that ain’t Butterfield’s. And if I never come back, bring up Jo, here, to know what Butterfield’s has been, and always was, and always has got to be. . . . Good-by, now, Jinny. I’ve got my orders, and you’ve got yours. Go ’long with your ma, now, Jo.”

To this his wife made copious answers, weeping the while, and vowing fidelity and obedience as solemnly as she did on the day of her marriage.

With Mr. Butterfield’s career as a soldier we have nothing whatever to do, except to say that he did his duty in a way scarcely to have been expected of a man of his peaceful character, training, and occupation. And his wife did hers. She bought, and sold, and baked, and cooked, and cleaned, like the faithful, industrious creature that she was, and would have held it a shameful thing not to keep in spirit and letter to the instructions left by her husband. It was not so much the business as the religion of her life to carry them out. She showed tact and skill in her management of things and people, judgment and shrewdness in her purchases, — a whole host of qualities that had lain dormant in her character, overshadowed by the authority of her spouse. If anybody could have “ carried on,” made, saved, extended, and perfected Butterfield’s, it would have been Jane Eliza, the devoted and indefatigable. But alas ! and alas again ! Eighty-seven times was Slumborough captured and recaptured during the next four years ! Five times was Butterfield’s raided by friend and foe. The sixth time, Jane, cowardly woman creature that she was, stood in the door with an axe and successfully warded off ruin. Three times was the store set on fire, with other houses in that part of the town, and it was Jane who got help and put out the flames. Over and over again she bolted and barricaded herself and little Joseph in for ten days at a time, until it was safe to take down the shutters.

But luck and pluck, — though they do a great deal and wear through many a rough day, — and even experience hardly learned, cannot do everything, and so it happened that a soldier succeeded in putting the torch to Butterfield’s, one bitter winter’s night, and utterly consuming it. Jane, seizing her son by the hand, had barely time to escape before the house fell with a crash that to her was more awful than the fall of an empire. Butterfield’s was no more ! Half distraught with grief and rage, the poor soul haunted the spot for weeks afterwards, staring at the charred beams and timbers and bricks, poking in the ashes in a vain hope of recovering some of the money that she had left in the till, — something, anything, that might have escaped the flames. The neighbors, many of them oppressed by woes of their own, took pains to draw her from the spot, gave her and her son a shelter, and did what in them lay to soothe and comfort her. But trouble was to be the worthy woman’s portion for many a day, for Joseph (now grown a tall lad) was given employment in a cloth - mill, and shortly after was caught in the machinery and killed. His mother never held up her head after this, but was always pitifully repeating, " He left the business and the boy to me, and they are both gone ! gone ! gone ! ” Three months later she sickened and died.

So it came about that a battered and tattered veteran, returning with other veterans in no better case to Slumborough after Appomattox, was to find how much harder it is to have a bleeding heart than feet that “track” the snow. He had hopefully, if painfully, hobbled for many a weary mile with blood oozing from the strips of old carpet that served him for shoes, without uttering such a groan of despair as burst from him when he again stood upon the spot that had once been home. Communication between himself and his wife had been interrupted, and he had no knowledge of what had happened. Good husband though he was, and good father, I am bound to say that the thing which brought a sickening sense of collapse, that made his head reel and the world seem as unreal as the smoke of a battlefield, was the fact that Butterfield’s was no more. For domestic bereavements his simple mind had perhaps been prepared, but this was Night, Chaos, Anguish!

Honest tears did Mr. Butterfield shed over his wife and son in the Slumborough churchyard, but the bitterest came one day when he stumbled upon u blackened tomato-can among the débris of what had once been the “sto’.” Habit, affection. regret, the hopes, pride, illusions, honorable ambitions, and hereditary prejudices of his whole life and the lives of his father and grandfather before him, were all in that can, and his hands shook as he picked it up and looked at it with tragic intentness, then flung it from him, and fell upon the earth, with his face in the ashes of what had constituted his world. He was still lying there, when old Mrs. Nicodemus, leaning on her stick, came slowly by, and stopped to see what such a sight might mean.

“ Get up, Joseph, get up from there, and come along home with me ; I ’m feeble and need help,” she said, with her woman’s wit in such matters not in the least dulled by age. “ I don’t know what’s come to me ; I’ve very near fell twice this week, and three times last. People are always telling me to give over going about; but how ’d they like it, is what I say. Give me your arm ; no, not this side, the other side, man ! ” And pretending to make of him a prop, this artful, kindly old granny bore off the defeated and despairing one to her tiny cottage, and forthwith announced one thing: “You’re to live here with me, Joseph, and take care of me, till my son that you was brought up with, and has been friends with you all your life, comes home. And I don’t mean to keep you long : mercy, I ain’t a fool! You ’ll get the money somehow, and build the sto’ up again before long, and have to mind it, of course ; but not too soon, if I am asked to give my say, for I won’t be left alone, and I tell you that flat, with no pardons asked. Why don’t you get me a chair ? Don’t you see me standing here ? When I was young, old people did n’t have to beg and pray for chairs to be given them ; they was offered. Hang up your hat on that nail, Joseph, and make up the fire, and we ’ll have a bite of something together ; and that little place next ain’t much more than a cupboard, but I reckon you’ve slept in worse in the army, now ain’t you ? And I ’ll make you comfortable.”

Thus taken possession of, and comforted, and bullied, and encouraged, as a man never is or can be except by a woman of the right sort, poor Uncle Jo gave a meek sigh and did as he was bid ; and presently he was drinking some coffee, — yes, and enjoying it, too, — and the despairing mood of the morning was gone, and life had again become — possible. Anew motive power had been put into him : Butterfield’s should be rebuilt. All was not lost, and he had still something to live for ; consideration of ways and means he left to the future.

After this came a short season of healing quiet and comfort, in which it often seemed to the old soldier as if he were again a child, and Mother Nicodemus, peremptory, benevolent, full of all kindly care and thought for him, the mother whom he dimly remembered. He called her “ Mother Nicodemus,” and for her he never was or could be more than six years old, — the age at which she had first made his acquaintance. But all the same he had no better friend, and kinder treatment of a different sort would not have been half as good for him ; her bark was indeed just the tonic that he most needed, mixed as it was with a real tenderness for him. Her bright old eyes were not long in discovering that he would relapse into his melancholy if he long remained dependent upon her bounty. So after much thought she concluded, one day, to consult her lifelong patron, Miss Bradley. The very next time that Miss Bradley came to see her, therefore, she essayed to speak, although it was not an easy task. Fluent and even aggressive with her equals, she had a respect so great for her " betters ” that, beyond rising and curtsying repeatedly and receiving their orders, she generally preserved a silence that made them consider her " a most respectful and self-respecting quiet creature.” She was just tying on her plain poke bonnet (guiltless of plumes and flowers) to go to Wednesday afternoon service, when Miss Bradley came to the door.

It was while they were discussing a new set of caps for Miss Bradley, which were to have rosettes in front, but “ not too high, for that would look positively fast, I fear,” that Mrs. Nicodemus introduced the matter of Butterfield’s ; for she had it in mind to resurrect that commercial Phoenix somehow through Miss Bradley’s influence. That lady was now in an enviable position, for Slumborough ; that is, a few thousand dollars had been invested for her before the war, in Baltimore, and she was consequently enjoying a small but fixed and fairly comfortable income.

“ Something must be done, I quite agree with you, Mrs. Nicodemus ; it will never do to let Butterfield’s be wiped out by the Federals,” she answered, as if “ the late unnatural and fratricidal ” had been inaugurated and pursued solely with a view to the annihilation of that establishment. “ Yes, something shall be done. It shall indeed, I assure you. I have no control of my money ; my nephew in Baltimore manages everything for me. But there must be something that I can do, and I shall most certainly take the matter up, and see if I cannot put it before our leading families in a way that will insure action. Make the frills full at the back, if you please, Mrs. Nicodemus. Cynthia does not mind the trouble of getting them up, and is quite vexed if they are so plain as to be unbecoming. And she thought two lilac ribbons of different shades for the morning-caps would look well.”

The little old lady pattered away home, her mind full of her new mission ; and for many a day afterward she found pretty employment in it. But just then the leading families were having very hard work of it to restore their own waste places and altars. After much correspondence with the hard-headed nephew in Baltimore, who would not let her give any of her own money, she one day bethought herself of a certain Colonel Jackson. Miss Bradley was a good Southerner and a loyal one, but she was a better Christian, and this had led her to take into her house and nurse a wounded Federal officer, of whom she was wont to say, “ Of course it is very sad, his being a Federal, but we should remember that our place of birth, our youthful associations, and the prejudices of a whole community will affect any man’s nature, however just and upright, and warp it from the truth. I have no doubt that Illinois is a highly respectable State ; it was once a part of Virginia. And I will say that he has, under trying circumstances, ever comported himself like the true gentleman. And so he has become my valued Friend.” Miss Bradley seemed always to talk in capitals, like one of Bulwer’s essays.

To the misguided colonel, then, with whom she had preserved an affectionate relation, Miss Bradley poured out her plaint, in spite of Cynthia, grown the real ruler of the house, a benevolent despot, who interested herself in all that her soidisant mistress did.

“ He ain’t gwine give you nothin’ for no white man, Miss Ellen,” said Cynthia. “ He ’s one er dem Bobolitionists. You tell him it ’s to edgercate me, and den you 'll git some sure ; and den you kin spend it to suit yerself. You ain’t smart, Miss Ria! ”

“ I, a Bradley, tell a deliberate falsehood ! I get money under false pretenses ! ” exclaimed Miss Bradley, aghast at this result of all her efforts to make Cynthia “respectable” and “high-principled.” “Leave my presence, Cynthia! Go!”

“ If she had set her heart on restoring Kenilworth, the dear old lady could not write in a more historical, poetical, plaintive vein,” thought the colonel, when he got Miss Bradley’s lengthy appeal. “ But since she has asked a kindness of me — for the first time ” —

Well, Miss Bradley got her checque ; and upstairs, in a secret compartment of an ancient chest of drawers, though no one knew it, Miss Bradley had some gold that helped matters on. In a month, a little building, half house and half shanty, fitted for a store and having a sort of shed attachment at the back, was put up. It is hard to say whether Miss Bradley, or Mrs. Nicodemus, or Uncle Jo was the happiest for seeing it there ! Butterfield’s redivivus ! It was a great, a delicious moment for them all. Miss Bradley was so afraid of being thanked that she scuttled off home as soon as she had given up the key. Cynthia was not so precipitate. She stayed behind and filched a basket of eatables from the counter.

Mrs. Nicodemus talked over the great possibilities of the place, seated on an inverted lime-bucket left by the workmen, and Uncle Jo laughed out for the first time since Appomattox. They sang Miss Bradley’s praises, antiphonally, with all their hearts, to Cynthia’s Selah, “ Dat’s so ! ”

Frances Courtenay Baylor.