How the Story Started


ARY man as tells you that him and her was tetched in the head is a-bearing false witness. They was odd as Dick’s hatband, maybe, the old man and the old woman, and that come of living so long a time alone on the upper river after the children was gone, without no near neighbors — but neither one nor t’other was really tetched.

Happen the story is known, to them as best knowed them, of how it got gossiped around that them two was a mite tetched — and of how in p’int of fact it was surely the lightning rod feller’s fault. You wouldn’t remember him? A scrawny little whiffet with a big Adam’s apple and a wispy red whisker that used for to take a man’s note against harvest time? You heerd tell of him maybe?

This here was the way of it. It was a nice morning afore thunderstorm season, and him and her, more to pass away the time than for to quarrel, — they was uncommon fond underneath,—was a-jowering and a-jawing like they meant every word of it. He taken a notion for to plague the old woman by asking her for to bake him a birthday cake for a pet speckled hen that he had. The old man he claimed it was that there speckled hen’s birthday; claimed he had the record of that hatching, three years afore, writ down on the feedbin.

The old woman she been away at the time — it was when Minnie was having a baby — so the old man he taken care of that hatching. Well, what with this and with that, and a weasel and a skunk, they wasn’t but one of them chicks left when the old woman got back, and the old man he told her, by Godfrey, that there one was his’n. At first he done it for to fret her, because the hens was all hers, but after a bit he taken a great fancy to that particular chicken. A man might admit that the old man partly meant it when he asked her for to bake a small birthday cake for Becky — but it makes no manner of difference; the old woman just p’intedly wouldn’t.

“ You tarnation old fool!” the old woman tells him. “Ain’t corn and skim milk and table scraps, like my chickens get, good enough for your’n? She’s so sinful fat now she won’t lay!” Her glasses fallen down on her nose, and she shoved ‘em back whilst she clicked her store teeth. “Get out of my kitchen with your fool notions!” she says. “Be you crazy? There’s times that a body suspects it!”

The old man, he knowed when he’d gone fur enough, and he got out like she told him, but first he rummaged around in her workbag and found him a piece of pink ribbon. He knowed that she was a-watching. And she knowed that he knowed. He wanted her for to ask him what he was a-doing. The old woman knowed that he wanted her for to ask him, so, naturally, she wouldn’t. He was pretty mad when he stomped out of the kitchen, for a fact, because the old woman had sort of outsmarted him.

She was a-trimming a gooseberry pie for the oven — that there was his favorite pie — and she was a-smiling. For a woman of her years she looked real pretty again when she smiled. She shaken her head, slow-like, and she smiled. “The old fool!” the old woman said out loud in her kitchen, gentle-like. Do you know what she done then? She put down that pie and she went and looked in the glass over the washstand. Don’t ask a man why.

It was just about then that the lightning rod feller druv into their yard, with his blacks all a-shining and stepping high, and he got down and he hitched, and he squinted at the house, and then he squinted at the barn, and he jedged the old man would still be a-doing the chores, so he went along to the barn.


Now the fact was the old man had been giving a sight of thought to lightning rods lately, on account of a couple of barns along the river had been struck and burned down the summer afore, and he was a mighty good prospect for a contract — but when the lightning rod feller stuck his red whisker through the barn door, with his Adam’s apple a-jiggling, by Godfrey, what did he see! The old man was a-sitting there on the clean straw, with that speckled hen, Becky, squatted in his lap, with her eyes closed and a-making soft hen-talk whilst the old man he finished tying a bow of pink ribbon around her neck.

The old man patted the bow, and kind of drawed back for to admire it, and then he says, “Hell’s fire, Becky, you got a birthday!” And he laughed, “Heh, heh, heh!” a-thinking how the old woman would carry on when she seen that dad-blamed hen. He was a-laughing when he looked up — and there was the lightning rod feller in the barn doorway, with them dishwater blue eyes of his’n bugged out fit to pop. He caught the old man in what seemed like a fix, for a fact.

There’s them that gets mad when they gets flustered, and the old man he was one of them kind. He thrun Becky away so hard that she squawked, and he come to his feet like a boy. “No lightning rods!” he began yelling, whilst he hopped up and down. “ Dagnab me, mister, I wouldn’t have ary one of them silly contraptions on no barn of mine! Get along up the river!” he says. He wouldn’t listen to ary word, neither, and he looked so troublesome, for a fact, that the lightning rod feller was a-backing up all the while until he turned tail and ‘most run towards the house. The old man he was glad for to get back into the barn.

When the lightning rod feller went for to untie his blacks, out come the old woman, who had been a-getting curiouser and curiouser all the while. She couldn’t abide not knowing what was a-going on — never could, but, by Godfrey, there’s others. So the lightning rod feller, with his red whisker bobbing and his Adam’s apple a-hopping, he was so downright flustered he said it seemed like the old man wouldn’t have ary lightning rod on the place, and he was a-going along up river. He said a man could take abuse about just so fur, and then a man had his self-respect for to think of. The old woman, she stood there considering, and then she made up her mind — because seemed to her like if they had them lightning rods they would always have something for to jower and to jaw about. It fair filled her with peace.

“Write out that there contract,” she says, “and I’ll put my name to it. Your crew can start soon as they like. The old fool! I guess I still got the egg ‘n’ butter money-even though he treats his own wife like a hired hand. Fill it out, I’m a-telling you!”

Well, sir, he grinned like a fox, and he flourished his pen, and he says to her, “Way I find it, somebody’s got to have good sense around the farm. M’am,” he says, “I’m right proud for to meet you. It’s a pity and a shame about him, though, ain’t it?” And he jerks his head towards the barn.

“What’s such a pity and a shame?” the old woman says quick-like. He’d of taken warning if he’d of knowed her, but he says to her, a-shaking his head mighty gloomy, “I found him a-tying a pink ribbon around a speckled hen’s neck,” he says. And he tapped the side of his head and he winked.

You seen a tabby cat fight for her kittens? It is surely surprising. It fair startles a man, way a tabby cat starts a-clawing and a-spitting. “Who’s a better right, you dad-blamed old billygoat?” she says, a-bristling. “Ain’t it the Becky hen’s birthday?”

The old woman she knocked that there contract out of his hand, her eyes a-flashing, and she snatched up a stick of stovewood — fact was, the wood box was nigh empty, but how was he for to know? He scrambled in and he druv them blacks down the lane at a gallop, a-looking back over his shoulder. And that, as a man recollects, was how the story started.