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On the Nine Mile by Katherine Sherwood Bonner McDowell

 

I.—JANEY.

WHAT I said when I first come as a boarder ter Mr. Jed Burridge's house on the Nine-mile Perarer wuz that his daughter Janey would be snapped up before she wuz twenty, an' Mr. B. would hev ter look out fur another wife. But his sister, Mis' Stackley—commonly called Little Mary Jane, owin' to her short height, an' to her havin' been left a widder at the age of eighteen—she says ter me, “I tell you, brother Jed don't want no more wives.”

“Land!” says I, “how many has he had?”

“One,” says she, very severe, “an' that one a handful. Sister Lucilly wuz a good woman, but ther' wuzn't such a driver on the perarer, an' she kep' Jed on the jump. If he come in to set down a minnit, it 'ud be 'Jed, you peel them pertaters,' or, 'Jed, tear me off some carpet rags—change o' work will rest ye.' An' somehow, sence Lucilly wuz called, I've seen a kind of expression of peace steal inter Jed's face that wuzn't there o' former years.”

Amos Burridge's wife spoke up, an' says she, with a laugh,


                        “ 'Beneath this stone my wife cloth lie:
                        She is at rest, and so am I.' “

“Ther' ain't nothin' o' that sort on Lucilly's tombstone,” says another sister o' Jed's—sister Charity Hackleton, who wuz a tall lady, shaped like a camel, an' powerful religious—“but a nice, hullsome epitaff settin' forth the virtues of the deceased, an' a text of Scripture appropriate.”

“That's neither here nor there,” says Nancy Jones as wuz, who married the youngest o' the Burridge boys; “but as to Janey Burridge bein' married afore she's twenty, I don't believe she will be married at all. What with her mother a-dyin' an' leavin' so much orthority in Janey's hands, the girl is plum spoiled. Ther' ain't a Sunday but the house is filled with beaux, an' she won't say yes, an' she won't say no. I don't believe in no such doin's. It's flyin' in the face o' Providence. When a girl has a good offer, she had ought ter take it.”

“No doubt o' that bein' your opinion, Nancy,” said Mis' Amos, a-smilin' quite amiable; but, fur all that, Nancy colored up like a turkey-cock, fur folks do say that she snapped at her good offer afore ever it wuz made. But la! this is a slanderous world.

“Eben will scatter the boys when he gits home,” says Little Mary Jane; “he ain't a-goin' ter stand the entertainin' of such a crowd.”

“Janey feeds her beaux high,” says I, parenthetical.

“Maybe that's the attraction,” sniffs Nancy Jones as wuz.

“Don't you believe it,” cries Amos B.'s wife, very prompt. “It's Janey herself they are after. An' no wonder. She's as smart as a steel-trap, an' as pretty as a young pullet. She can pick an' choose.”

“Some folks' incinerations,” says Nancy, very furious, “is about as nasty as this here wool we are a-pickin' out.”

It wuz at a wool-pickin' we wuz conversin', an' about this time I had to leave, though very reluctant, as I did enjoy a reg'lar set-to between Janey Burridge's aunts. Git 'em together, an' they use' ter make me think of a line of poetry in my readin'-book at school:


                        “An Austrian army awfully arrayed!”

They were free an' loud of voice as a pack of hounds, an' when they didn't agree the din wuz tremenjus. Ther' wuz four of 'em, two bein' Burridges by birth, an' two havin' married inter the family. Certainly ther' wuz no porcity of aunts to look after Janey, but as if enough wuzn't as good as a feast, she always called me aunt too. I wuz no blood-kin to the child, but my husband wuz connected in a roundabout way with some o' the Burridges, so I wuz Aunt Fonie to most o' the young folks, an' I wuz that fussless in my natur' that I got on peaceable with the hull lot, though the aunts wuz as tryin' as seven years' aguy, an' Janey would make a sassy speech occasional. Fur instance, the day o' the wool-pickin', when I got home she wuz leanin' on the gate a-chattin' ter Roland Selph, who had been cock o' the walk on the perarer sence he got religion in the spring. Janey's sleeves wuz rolled up ter the shoulders, an' her arms wuz all dough, a- showin' she had jest left her bread in the pan to rise or fall as the Lord willed. “Bread an' beaux,” says I to her, speakin' mild but impressive, “has both to be treated with attention; but the Queen of England,” says I— “no, nor the Sar of Russia—couldn't 'tend to the two simultaneous.”

“Well, Aunt Fonie,” cries Janey, “if a person can't do two things at onct, what makes you think you can manage your business an' mine too?”

I won't deny that my feelin's wuz hurt. People ought ter be mighty careful what they say ter an isolate female whose partner is a-restin' with the worms.

But somehow I never could stay mad with Janey. She wuz such a cheerful person to have around: somethin' eternally goin' on wher' she wuz. She wuz as good as a breeze among leaves to set things a-goin'; an' she could turn out more work in a day than most of us in a week. She wuz powerful good-lookin' too, Janey wuz, with crisp black hair, cheeks like apples, an' a big, laughin' mouth full o' white teeth, that she akchilly thought as much of as if they wuz diamonds.

II.—EBEN BURRIDGE COMES HOME.

Nobody don't consider a boy of much account. And I don't say but that little Elick Farley had a hard time of it at the farm. He wuz a child that Mr. Burridge had took out of charity—a son of a distant niece of his, who had married a young man by the name of Alexander Farley, from St. Louis.

It wuz the sort of marriage that the song of “Dixie” tells about:


                        “Ole mis' she acted a foolish part—
                        She married a man dat broke her heart.”

Not that Lex Farley meant ter be a bad man. He wuz kind, and could make money hand over hand in the photographin' line when he wanted to. But drink seemed ter have a lien on him, an' he would spree in the awfullest way, always insistin', when the fit wuz on him, that he should be called General Harrison. What the p'int of this idea was nobody ever could exactly see, except that it seemed a sort o' pride o' natur' comin' out even when he wuz at the lowest pitch. But he carrid on so ridickerlous in his spells that his wife's spirits seemed to wear out. She wuz always weakly, an' she up an' died. The only spark o' fun that wuz ever in the poor girl showed itself on her dyin' bed.

“I think,” says she, smilin' very pitiful—“I do think I might git up agen, if it wuzn't fur—“Then she stopped a long while.

“If it wuzn't for what, Effie?” asks a neighbor.

“Fur General Harrison,” she whispers, very gentle.

After her death, Jed Burridge took her boy to bring him up on the farm, out o' the reach o' temptation. Elick wuz a wild flitter-gibbet, always a-needin' to be kept down, but a real worker fur his age.

One of his chores wuz to go to the post-office. Most o' the folks on the perarer wuz mighty neglectful as to mail matter, trustin' usually to the chance of some neighbor inquirin' fur 'em, or lettin' it run on indefinite; but Jed Burridge always would keep up with things, bein' a man very advanced in his notions. Once every week reg'lar, rain or shine, Elick was sent in to the office; most ginerally Saturday evenin's, so as Jed could git his paper, the Toledo Blade, fur Sunday readin'. He didn't git to church frequent, but set up an' chuckled an' swore alternate over that paper; fur it wuz as hot as ginger, an' Jed, though a powerful peaceful man, agreed with it all, an' rolled out politics like smoke if a Democrat dropped in fur an argeyment.

On a special Saturday Elick fetched home a letter from Eben Burridge to his pa, sayin' we might expect him by the 15th which wuz the following Sunday. Eben had been out in Kansas fur a couple o' years, seekin' a place to locate. It seemed he hadn't found one, however, fur the next day he arrove at home, like Duffey after the third round, confident an' smilin', as pompous an' self-satisfied a little man as ever I see. After dinner the boys came a-droppin' in as usual, an' what does he do but take the'r visits to hisself! When Janey come to the sittin'-room door to bid 'em to supper, ther' wuz as many as a dozen, lookin' at each other like gawks, but all very perlite to Eben, wantin' to curry favor with Janey.

“Now, I take this as kind, boys,” says Eben, quite affable, as we set round the table, “that you should all come so soon to see me. It takes the old perarer fur good fellows. I tell you, out yonder in Kansas it's scramble, scramble, an' everybody a-suspicionin' of everybody. If ther' wuz a conflaggeration of a neighbor's house, every man would be a-crowdin' in ter see what he could git fur hisself in the way o' pelf, instead o' helpin' to save a sufferin' fellow-creetur's goods.”

“Sho,” says Amos Burridge, “we ain't that bad, though neither air we what we use' ter be. Fifty years ago, when I settled here, you might talk. There wuzn't a merkenary man among us. No pullin' an' haulin' an' cat-scratchin' ter git ahead. Pervide enough ter eat fur yourself an' your stock, an' you could ride aroun' the balance o' the time.”

“I'm sure ther's a-plenty of visitin' nowadays,” says I, likin' always to hear my bob in conversation.

“ 'Tain't the same kind. Folks drop in, ter be sure; but then they went fur a stayin' spell. The doors wuz made of split boards two or three inches too short, an' when you left home all you hed to do wuz ter throw a quilt over the top, an' then folks would know you wuz out, an' wouldn't holler.”

“Mighty funny way ter make a door!” says Elick Farley.

“Ther' wuz no winders, don't you see. Not a pane o' glass on the Nine-mile. I remember the first man that hed any made half his front door of glass; an' it wuz a sort o' guide: so many miles east or west o' the cabin with the glass door, folks would say.

“Wonder what they say about our house?” says Elick, stuffin' a laugh inter his throat with a piece of bread. “Reckon they talk about t'other side o' wher' Janey Black-Eyes lives.”

“Hold your jaw!” says Eben, fetchin' Elick a awful tweak o' the ear.

Elick squeals out: “Ho! you stuck-up Kansas grasshopper! Think the fellows come ter see you, do you? Ain't got sense enough to know they're after Janey! They didn't know you wuz looked fur. They comes every Sunday o' the world. Ho! ho! and you thought you wuz so pretty that you drawed the whole squad! Ef that ain't a joke I never!”

Them young men turned every color, from a pea-green to a grizzly gray. An' Eben looked red and furious from one ter another.

“Is this so?” says he, glarin' round. “Is it Janey you've come ter set up with?”

As luck would have it, he looked straight at Roland Selph, an' Roland sence he got religion had swore off from tellin' lies, though the boys wuz always tryin' to git him in a tight place where he couldn't speak the truth without a-hurtin' somebody's feelin's.

Howsomever, Roland laughed, good-humored, an' says he, “Wher' ther's honey you must look for flies, Eben.”

“Yes,” says Eben, very significant, an' lookin' as if he would like to bite somethin', “and wher' ther's flies you can look out fur fly-pizen. What have you to say fur yourself, Charley Winn?”

“I have ter say that I come a-courtin' Janey,” says Mr. Winn, as bold as brass; “an' she can take me or leave me any day she says the word.”

“Brother Eben,” cries Janey, her face afire, “I wish you wuz back in Kansas, that I do.”

“Very well,” says Eben, quite majestic, “I relieve you of my company fur the present. “An' out he stalks, puffin' like a mad gobbler.

“Boys, we'd better git our hats,” says Albert Thing.

They got up, and every last one of 'em slips away like a whip-tailed hound.

Janey burst out a-cryin', without waitin' to wash up the supper things.

“Of all the mean sneaks that ever wuz born, Ebenezer Burridge, you are the worst,” she said.

“Do you want your par eat out of house an' home?”

“Well, on my word! to count company's eatin'!”

“I should say so! A supper spread out fit fur a preacher! Two dishes of fresh, an' apple butter, an' a stack o' pies, an' dear knows what! I'll stand nothin' of the sort in my house.”

“Easy, my boy, easy,” says his par. “This property belongs to old Jed Burridge yet a while.”

“Well, it's a-goin' to be mine by the law of primogenicy,” says Eben, very grand; “an' all I have to say is, that if Jane wants ter marry, she's got to pick one outen the crowd, an' turn the rest off. My foot is down.”

“La, Eben!” says I, “it's so hard for Janey to choose. She's the most popperler girl on the perarer.”

“Popperler!” yells Eben. “An' what business has a decent woman to be popperler? Let her be popperler with her husband, an' that's enough. I've saw your popperler women—I haven't travelled with my eyes shut— an' I tell you they've got no more character than stale eggs.”

The words wuzn't well spoke afore up jumped Janey an' give him such a slap as might have been heard to the wheat field. Then she tore off like a cyclone to her room.

Eben wuz in a blazin' rage; but his par he on'y laughed a little, and “Ain't she got sperrit?” says he. “Ain't she, though?” Then a sort of shade came over his face, and “She do put me so much in mind of her mother,” he said, a-knockin' the ashes out of his pipe.

III.—JANEY MAKES A CHOICE.

It didn't surprise any of us, a few weeks later, when Janey told her par that she meant to marry Charley Winn; fur he had been comin' alone quite frequent, an' he an' Janey had set up in the parlor, not findin' much ter say.

“I ain't no objection to Charley,” says Jed, “an' I shall give Janey fifty geese an' ten sheep an' a cow.”

“Charley's goin' ter build, par,” says Janey—“three rooms an' a ell. It will be real nice beginnin' all fresh.”

Everybody seemed to think Janey had done well, and most had a warm word fur her. The aunts would try to fault Charley occasional, but they couldn't git the best o' Janey; an' neither could Eben when he fussed with her about wantin' to take so much o' the furniture out o' the house.

“It wuz my mother's furniture,” says she, “an' I mean ter have it.”

“Well, wozn't she my mother too?” snarls Eben. “D'ye think you have got a patent on her? Ther' won't be a thing left in the house for me and my girl to set up with.”

Neither one of 'em appeared to consider the old father as they wrangled over his things. I made up my mind, if Janey did make a clean sweep, I should unpack some of my own goods that I had stored in Peppertown, an' bring 'em over; for though a boarder I wuz human, an' my feelin's went out to Jed settin' there so peaceful, with his pipe an' his white head.

Charley Winn lost no time in gettin' his house put up, an' a good job it wuz—neat an' nice as a palace, with a bay-window an' plenty o' closets. Every evenin' Janey would go over to see how it wuz gittin' along, an' Charley would walk home with her, both of 'em lookin' as proud an' as pleased as if the whole o' the comin' wheat crop belonged to 'em. The weddin' wuz to be just after harvestin', that bein' a time when everybody took a restin' spell. Janey's weddin' frock wuz bein' made in Peppertown, an' Jed had made her a present of a whole bolt of domestic that we wuz makin' up as fast as possible. He wuz a mighty liberal man, Jed wuz, an' Janey's aunts said that her outfittin' would be the ruin of every girl on the perarer.

The wheat crop this year wuz a very stavin' one, and the farmers had considerable difficulty in gittin' help.

“I reckon you'll have to ride the reaper to-morrow, Janey,” says Eben, one night at supper, “if you can spare the time.”

“All right,” she said. “My work can wait, an' the wheat can't. It's already overripe.”

“I don't see how you can be so venturesome as to ride on the reaper,” says I.

“Janey is an old hand at helpin' in the crop,” says her pa. “When she wuzn't more'n half the size o' Elick here she rid the leadin' horse when we wuz a-thrashin' out the wheat.”

“Why, uncle, didn't you have a thrashin'-machine?” cries Elick, stickin' his knife between his teeth, an' proddin' a piece o' pork with his fork, simultaneous with stretchin' out his other hand for a biscuit.

“Machines wuz locked up then in some man's brain,” says Jed; “an' sometimes I wish they had never got out, fur it gives a poor man's pocket-book the swinney to buy one. The way we thrashed wuz to set the bundles in a ring about forty feet in diameter, I cal'late, an' ride around it, the horses' feet a-trampin' out the grain. An' when it wuz pretty well out we would sweep it up in a cloth.”

“I should think it would 'a been awful unclean.”

“Well, our biscuits wuz gritty sometimes,” says Jed, with a smile.

Long before sun-up the next mornin' Ebenezer gave us a call, for at harvest-time the sooner you could git things to goin' the better. In fact, durin' a very dry season, when the sun shone down hot an' fierce, an' the wheat wuz as brittle as broom straws, an' it wuz a sheer impossibility to bundle it without breakin', then the men would often have to work all night, so's ter take advantage o' the dew. 'Twan't no great hardship, however, with the big yellow harvest-moon a-shinin' in the sky, an' the air so cool an' pleasant. But it wuz powerful apt to bring on the chills.

When Janey jumped out o' bed at Eben's call she said she had a pain in her left eye, and wuz afeared she wuz goin' ter have a sty, to which she wuz subject occasional. We had a piece o' broken lookin'-glass in our room, an' takin' it in her hand, Janey went to the winder to examine her eye where she could ketch the first beam o' light. While she stood there, as evil doom would have it, Elick Farley passed by on his way ter feed the turkeys.

“Hi, Janey!” he calls, “you'd better come down-stairs an' git the breakfast, instid of a-primpin' an' a-fixin' an' a-lookin' in the glass as if you wuz goin' to a party.”

“You go about your business an' let me alone,” says Janey firin' up a little.

Then what does he do but commence a-dancin' up an' down, an' a-singin':


                        “Janey's mad, an' I am glad,
                        An' I know what'll please her—
                        A bottle o' wine ter make her shine,
                        An' Charley Winn to squeeze her.”

At this Janey turned real ugly. “See if I can't make you change your tune,” she cries. And without a moment's thought, I am sure, she flung the piece o' lookin'-glass square at Elick's head. It struck him on the forehead, an' he began to bleed and howl simultaneous. We ran down, considerably skeered; but the cut didn't turn out to be much, an' wuz soon salved and bound up. Elick's feelin's, however, wuz all agog. Many a black look he cast at Janey.

“I'll be even with you yet,” says he, “an' you mark my words.” But Janey on'y humped up her shoulders at him, an' went along to the wheat field.

Reapin' is hungry work, an' our harvesters could put away four meals a day quite comfortable. So along about eleven o'clock I fixed up a lunch of cold biscuit an' pork an' hoecake, an' a jug of cool buttermilk, an' went ter the field with it. Fur though I wuz a boarder, I wuz never above doin' any little chores to help the work along.

I got to the field just as the reaper wuz comin' up. Janey wuz sittin' up high under the awnin' drivin', an' Charley Winn stood beside her, a-tyin' up the bundles very swift. Eben wuz stackin' up in a distant part o' the field, an' his par had stopped to rest under a big walnut-tree which wuz a sort o' landmark to people in those parts, it bein' the tallest tree on the Nine-mile, an' wuz ginerally known as “Burridge's walnut.” Here they gethered ter eat their lunch.

“Phew! but it's a hot day!” says Jed, takin' a long pull at the buttermilk, an' passin' the jug to Charley Winn.

“The wheat field is a mighty purty sight,” says I; for it wuz, with the yellow sun shinin' on the yellow waves o' grain, an' the path that the reaper had made lookin' as smooth an' clean an' hare as the dry line through the Red Sea.

“I don't know about purty,” says Jed, “but it's as fine a stand of wheat as I ever had. Not a spear of cheat in it. An' this one good year the Hessian fly an' the chinch-bug has let us alone.”

“Ther' ain't a farmer in the country as can compare with you, Mr. Burridge,” says Charley Winn. “I only hope to have half as good-luck when I am tryin' it single-hand.”

“Sho! you'll have Janey ter help you. She's as good a farmer as I am. I allays said Janey ought ter 'a bin the boy an' Eben the girl in our family. Eben has a picayunish, meachin' sort o' way with him as is nateral to women. His mother hed it,” went on the old man, quite thoughtful, an' chewin' a wheat straw. “But Janey is another sort, active an' strong, an' muscles like steel.”

“Oh, I love ter work out-doors,” cries Janey. “I can do a'most anything that a man can. I don't know what I should do if I had to stay shut up in the house.”

“I believe you could throw me in a rassel,” says Charley. “What a muscle, ter be sure!” an' he give her arm a squeeze.

Janey tossed her head, an' colored up, an' laughed—a big, saucy laugh. Gracious! if any one had told me that I would never again hear that laugh, never see her standin', strong an' vigorous as a young oak, an' red as a poppy bloom, in the golden grain, with her sweetheart by her side! Well, well! a body may jest as well give up soon as late a-tryin' ter understand the ways of Providence!

They set off again, Janey still a-drivin', an' I started fur home. As I reached the bars I turned an' looked back. The reaper wuz cuttin' against the wind. Janey's bonnet wuz off, an' her black hair wuz blowin' over her face. Suddenly I saw a little sunbeam dancin' about the head of old Pete, the right-hand horse. He shook his head, annoyed like; but the little patch of light went bobbin', bobbin', here an' there, glancin' in eyes, ears, an' nose, quick as a hummin'-bird, an' finally flashin' full in the eyes of Nelly Grey, the little mare, that wuz a-drivin' with old Pete. The skittish thing give an awful jump. The next minnit both frightened animals had started off on a run, an' Janey, poor Janey, wuz thrown forward in front of the sickle bar! Great Heaven! what a time it seemed before the horses could be overtook an' halted! How I got to the spot I never could tell. When I did, ther' wuz Ebenezer holdin' to the pantin', tremblin' horses, that wuz rollin' the'r eyes as if in a mortal fright. An' Charley an' Jed wuz tryin' to lift somethin' from the knives, red with blood, an' the pointed guards clogged with mangled flesh. They got her out, and laid her down on the ground. Charley went over to the house, an' came back with a door that he had wrenched off, an' we managed to git her on this, knowin' only by a faint moanin' that the breath wuz still in the poor torn body.

Eben an' Jed crept across the field with the'r burden, while Charley jumped on Nelly Grey an' rid like mad fur the doctor.

I walked a little behind, feelin' stunned an' dazed; an' as I passed under “Burridge's walnut” I heard a voice callin', “Aunt Fonie!”

I looked up. A pair of wild eyes peered at me through the branches.

“Aunt Fonie,” called Elick, “is she dead?”

“Come down outen that tree, Elick Farley!” says I, very solemn.

Down he slid, the most miserable, God-forsakened little wretch. He had cried white streaks down his cheeks, an' he wuz a-shakin' all over. In his hand be held a bit of broken looking-glass.

“What does this mean?” says I.

“I did it,” he says, very pitiful. “I wanted to tease her because I wuz mad, an' wanted to pay her off a little. I knew she never could guess that I wuz hid up in the tree catchin' the sunbeam with the same piece of glass that she struck me with. But I didn't mean to hurt her. I never dreamed o' her bein' thrown on them—them knives.”

“Elick Farley,” says I, takin' him hard by the hand, “come here;" and I followed the men that wuz a-carryin' poor Janey.

“Look!” says I—“look!” and along the path wuz a line o' drippin' blood.

“Pray,” says I, burstin' inter tears—“pray to the good God that that stain shell not rest forever on your soul.”

The child give a wild cry that seemed as if it had fairly burst from his heart; then tearin' away from me, he ran like a dart across the perarer, in the direction of Peppertown.

IV.—JANEY'S COMFORTERS.

Fur many a draggin' week poor Janey lay betwixt life an' death. The child wuz cut an' bruised over every part of her body. Two of her ribs wuz broke, an' one limb had been impaled on the guards of the sickle, an' wuz nearly sawed in two. That she should so much as survive the shock an' horrid wounds seemed a miracle; but the doctor brought her round at last, though he told her quite frank she would never be able ter walk again.

“Never ter walk again!” said Janey, flingin' her arms over her head, with a long, long groan—“never ter walk again! Oh, Lord! oh, Lord!”

The aunts wuz all a-settin' round very solemn, an' they sithed an' rocked themselves back an' forth like trees in a wind.

“It's the Lords will,” says sister Charity Hackleton; “an' mebbe it's sent es a punishment fur your sins.”

“That's all nonsense,” says Janey, very dogged like. “What sins have I committed, I want ter know? I've worked hard, an' done my best; an' beyond a sharp word now an' then, I've nothin' on my conscience. I don't deserve this.”

“We all deserve damnation,” says Charity, severe as a Hard-shell preacher. “Let this turn your soul to God, an' it will prove a blessin' in disguise.”

“Sho!” says Mis' Amos Burridge; “ther' ain't no use tryin' ter bolster the poor child up with such talk es that. It's a terrible misfortin—terrible. It's jest es if she had jumped from twenty years to eighty—from bein' a strong young girl to a helpless old woman, needin' es much care es a baby, an' sufferin' perhaps fur a drink o' water even; because a family do git so wore out waitin' on a invaleed.”

“In my family,” says I, “ther' would a' bin no thought o' trouble. We wuzn't the kind ter count our steps fur the afflicted. Consequently, when my husband's mother wuz down with the rheumatism fur years an' years, her room wuz about the cheerfulest in the house—fur everybody wuz a-runnin' to her with some lovin' service—an' the Visitation o' the Sick read quite frequent to enliven us.”

“Never mind all that,” says Little Mary Jane, with a wave of her little fat hand. “Let us be practical. The thing is ter find somethin' fur Janey ter do. I cal'late she don't mean ter lie round all her days a burden on folks, so I've bin a-studyin' an' a-studyin' what she could do. Now, I take it she couldn't do nothin' better than ter buy a knittin'-machine. She could pervide mittens an' socks fur the whole country, fur everybody would buy of her on account of her affliction; an' thusly she could have ockerapation an' a stiddy income.”

“Knittin'-machines cost a sight o' money,” says Amos Burridge's wife, very dry. “Who's goin' ter pay fur it?”

“She might sell her geese fur a start.”

“An' her relations might all throw in an' help,” says I.

At this there wuz a sort o' silence. Never a Burridge by name or by birth wuz ever willin' to put his hand in his pocket.

“Well,” says Nancy Jones as wuz, “some has to be burdens, an' some to bear 'em. I'm one o' the last, an' I don't know but what I'm the worse off o' the two of us. Twins the first year o' my marriage, an' a baby ten months after! I am fairly dragged out with nursin', an' I suppose I shell have a baby in my arms es long es I am able to move.”

“That's somethin' Janey will never be troubled with, anyhow,” says Mis' Amos, with a laugh, as if she wuz sayin' somethin' of a soothin' an' agreeable natur'. So far from that bein' the case, however, it seemed as if that speech wuz the last straw. I had noticed fur some time a sort of convulsive movement under the bedclothes, as if Janey's breast wuz a-heavin' with silent sobs, an' now ther' came a storm o' tears an' cries, as if natur' had bore an' bore until a flood came fur relief.

I jest riz up then, an' says I: “Clear out from here, you onfeelin' set o' human critters! If I didn't have no more decency than you've got, I'd go an' hold my head under Big Muddy Creek.”

They wuz skeered at the state they see they'd throwed Janey inter, so they filed out pretty meek. I took the poor child, an' worked with her, an' made her drink some hot tea an' take a good strengthenin' dose of quineen; an' after a while she grew quiet, an' the big moans stopped comin' from the poor breast where a child's head would never rest, an' she fell inter a sweet sleep.

Afore I thought her nap wuz over Eben's head wuz poked in the door. Says he, “Charley Winn's here, an' would like ter see Janey.”

“Well, he can't,” says I, very short, “fur she is asleep.”

“I am awake now, Aunt Fonie,” says a voice from the bed. “An' Charley may come in as soon as you've tidied me up a bit.”

Pretty soon we heard his step on the stair. Janey wuz tremblin', but she shook hands with him quite calm when he came in, an' she says, “You go out, Aunt Fonie; I want to talk to Charley by himself.”

But, dear sakes! I had no notion of effacin' myself, so I stepped outside o' the door, leavin' it ajee, an' a-settin' myself where I could look an' listen quite comfortable.

Janey day there, her big eyes fixed on Charley's face. He stood up, twirlin' his hat, first on one foot, then on the other, an' lookin' powerful meachin', fur a fact.

“Charley,” begun poor Janey, “it's hard to come to this.”

“I'd like to kill that little devil!” cried Charley.

“Oh no, don't say that. Poor child! you know he ran away to his pa: you remember Lex Farley? Lex wrote a letter ter my father, expressin' a great deal o' concern. He said it seemed as if Elick's heart wuz fairly broke. Maybe he'll make a good man yet.”

“If he gits ter be the President, I don't see how that's ter make up ter me fur losin' you.”

“A-losin' me?” repeats Janey, very slow. “But I ain't dead, Charley, nor like ter die, the doctor says.”

That hat went round in Charley's fingers as if it wuz possessed. “But you know, Janey,” he stammered—“you know, a man hes to marry a woman ter do her shear o' the work. And you can't do anything.”

“True,” says Janey, speakin' very loud an' harsh, “I'm laid on the shelf. An' of course a man marries a woman ter have his meals cooked reg'lar, an' the harvestin' 'tended to, an' the lard tried out, an' the apple-butter made, an' the geese plucked, an' the house cleaned, an' the washin' done on Monday, an' the mendin' Saturday, an' the odd jobs on Sunday.”

“Exactly,” says he, noddin' his head, an' never mistrustin'—the gawk!—that any woman with feelin's above a dumb beast's would 'a liked fur her beau to add a little tenderness to that bill of pertikelers.

Janey swallered a few times, an' then said, quite nateral, “Of course, Charley, you will be marryin' some one else before a great while?”

“Oh yes,” he says. “My house is built, you know, an' I've already got my seed in that fifty-acre lot. I shell have to git me a wife by next harvest-time, you know.”

“An' have you made up your mind,” says Janey, very polite, “where you'll go a-courtin' next time?”

Don't talk to me about a man havin' any gumption! Charley Winn seemed quite pleased that Janey wuz takin' intrust in his marryin', an' says he, in a sociable kind o' way, as if he had been talkin' to his grandmother, “I have been thinkin' of Mahaly Thing.”

“She's powerful untidy,” says Janey. “They say she washes her hands an' makes up her bread in the same bowl. An' I know her kitchen is the sloppiest on the Nine-mile.”

“What do you think of Hatty Holman?”

“Oh, she would do,” says Janey, speakin' quite dry, “if you could keep two hired girls—one to do the work, an' one to wait on her. She's as lazy as a snail.”

“Well, ther's Evy Wait; she appears to be of a brisk, active natur'.”

“So much so that they say she can drink more hard cider than any girl on the perarer.”

Charley knit up his brows, ant looked as if the subject wuz gittin' very knotty.

“Suppose I wuz to ask one o' the Whiteside girls?” he suggested; “they are purty, and smart too.”

“Oh yes; and they'll give a kiss for the askin' to you or the next one that comes along.”

“I don't like that,” says Charley, very stern. “None o' your fast flirts fur me! That's what I use' ter like about you, Janey. Every fellow hed to keep his distance. Now, the Biscoe girls are of a very proper kind. Wonder how it would do fur me to apply there?”

“Jenny is engaged to Roland Selph; an' as fur Leila, she wouldn't wipe her shoes on a Western wheat farmer.

“An' es to Polly Ann Carpenter?”

“She is a waster. She can throw out with a teaspoon faster than a man can bring in with a shovel.”

“I declare, Janey,” said Charley, seemin' quite injured, “it looks es if you don't want me ter git a wife. You try to set me agen every girl on the perarer. 'Pears like you can't bear to give me up to anybody else.”

“You are quite mistaken, Mr. Winn,” cries poor Janey, her voice risin' higher with every word—“quite mistaken, I do assure you. I've no objection to your havin' forty wives. You might go to Utah an' join the Mormons; then you could try all kinds, you know—ha! ha! ha! ha!”

When I heard this wild laughin' I knew it wuz time to walk in with the camphor bottle in hand.

“I think you hed better make yourself scarce,” says I to Charley Winn, with a very viperish look. Pickin' up his hat, he sneaked out o' the room, an' out o' Janey Burridge's life. An' I may jest as well mention that it wuzn't six months afore he wuz married to Mahaly Thing.

V.—UNEXPECTED THINGS HAPPEN TO JANEY.

Janey didn't seem ter git any better as the days passed on. She took no intrust in anything in the heavens above nor in the earth beneath. The doctor said he couldn't do no more fur her, en' except to make her pretty deef, all the quineen she took didn't have a mite of effect. Seein' her so dwindlin' an' pinin', I set my wits ter work. The child ought ter have somethin' to engage her time an' her mind. An' Little Mary Jane's idea as to the knittin'-machine wuz fur from bein' a injudishus one. How to git the purchase-money wuz the trouble. The thought come to me that Lex Farley might jest as well as not help in the matter; so I wrote him a letter on my own hook, as the sayin' is, an' presented the case. By the next Saturday came an answer sayin' he would be proud ter git the machine out an' out for Janey, but fur me to say nothin' about it till it had arrove. In the same mail wuz a letter ter me from poor little Elick, a-sayin' thusly:

“DEAR AUNT FONIE,—Pa has swore off till he gits Janey's machine. I am a-helpin' him, an' learnin' the photographin' business very fast. Give my respex ter Janey. I am very sorry that she got hurt. Yours truely, E. FARLEY.”

“Seems ter me you're gittin' a lot o' letters,” says Eben when he handed 'em to me; but I only smiled mysterious, an' said not a word.

I never had seen Janey so low as she wuz the day before Thanksgivin'. I wuz bustlin' round preparin' fur nex' day's dinner, but she barely raised her eyelids from her cheeks. “What hev I ter be thankful fur?” she would say when I would try to hearten her up somewhat.

Before night, however, Janey took back them words o' hens; fur old Mr. Thing, passin' by on his way from town, stopped with a box outen the express office directed to “Miss Janey Burridge.”

“Fur me!” cries Janey, very incredulous, but her eyes sparklin' as I hadn't seen 'em since her accident.

We all assembled while Jed knocked off the wooden slats an' untied the strings; fur, be the hurry what it may, the man wuz that careful that cut a string he would not.

An' lo an' behold! there wuz the prettiest knittin'-machine ever made, with a card:

“Compliments and Resects
of
Alexander Farley
to
Miss Janey Burrirdge.”

Janey wuz pleased enough ter cry, an' I don't believe she slept a wink that night fur longin' ter try her hand on the little beauty. The aunts didn't lose no time in comin' over to the house as soon as they got wind o' Janey's present. An' sister Charity, who understood how to work machines, offered to stay a week, if need be, to put Janey in the way o' runnin' hers; which showed she wuzn't a bad kind o' woman, in spite o' bein' so aggressive in the way o' religion.

From that time Janey's health an' spirits improved considerable. She turned out mittens an' socks very fast; an' the very first pair wuz sent as a present to Lex Farley. As fur me, seein' how well my idea had worked, an' though not as a rule approvin' of ridin' a willin' horse to death, still I thought, while his hand was in, Lex might as well as not lay up more treasures in heaven. So I up an' wrote another letter, sayin' that if Janey had a wheel-cheer, it would be the greatest thing in the world fur her to ease her pain, an' enable her ter git about. No answer came to this; but I waited patient, thinkin' somethin' might come of it. An' ther' did.

Christmas had come, an' we all had bundled up in the big wagon, an' gone over ter Amos Burridge's to dinner—except, of course, poor Janey, who wuz left in the charge of one o' the neighbors' children, little Sally Wysnicker, with a nice dinner ready cooked for 'em, and set out in the dresser.

The day wore along as them family spreads usually do, an' about four o'clock we started fur home. Now, it's a very curious thing, but as we reached the corner o' Mr. Burridge's wheat field, I had the most flutterin' sensation erbout the heart, es if somethin' wuz a-goin' ter happen. It wouldn't hev surprised me a mite ter hev found the house burnt up, fur I felt the same way twice previous in my life—once precedin' to our Jersey cow bein' gored, an' agin before my partner wuz taken with the dropsy that carrid him off. Howsomever, ther' wuz the house safe an' sound; an' es we neared the gate the wind bore the sound of laughin' to our ears. Very cur'ous, we hurried on; but afore we got to the door out broke a boy, all dressed up, clean as clean, an' a-shoutin' at the top of his voice, “Howdy, Aunt Fonie! howdy, Uncle Jed! howdy, Eben! Christmas-gift! Christmas-gift!”

Of course it wuz Elick. An' of course the slim, long-bearded man we see through the winder a-talkin' so kindly ter Janey wuz Elick's par, Lex Farley. But the wonder of all wuz ter see Janey. There she wuz, bright an' smilin', an' a-sittin' up in the finest kind o' wheeled cheer, es proud es if she wuz on a throne.

Well, we wuz all a-talkin' together fur quite a spell; an' Jed he welcomed Lex real hearty, an' told him he must make himself at home fur es long es he would like ter stay. An' you never see a boy so changed as Elick Farley. From bein' a wild, cantankerous limb that nobody hardly could abide, he wuz a quiet, nice little chap, modest an' obligin' in his ways, an' a-hangin' on every word that Janey spoke.

“It wuz all I could do ter git him ter come,” said his par, when he got a chance fur a word with me. “You see he thought Janey would be so set agen him that she would want ter hev him arrested or somethin'; but I told him ter be a man, an' face the music. When we got inside the hall door here, an' see Janey lookin' so white an' quiet, as if she might be dead, the child hung back as if he darsn't go a step farther. But I pushed him inside the room, an' he begun ter cry. Janey turned her head quick, an' seen him a-standin' ther'. Somehow she didn't seem a bit surprised. 'Elick,' says she, very gentle—'Elick, come here;' an' when he wuz in reach she put her arms around him an' kissed him.”

“No!” I cried, “Janey Burridge didn't ever do that!”

“Yes,” he said, strokin' his beard, kind o' meditative, “she kissed him. An' I suppose it's the first time anybody hes kissed him sence his mother died. An' that she should do it who lay there a wreck through his mischief! I tell you, Aunt Fonie, she is a angel.”

It hed never occurred ter me ter look on Janey Burridge in that light, as you ain't apt to think of a angel bein' strong as a heifer, an' built for labor rusher than a-flyin' roun' an' singin'; but I wuz glad ter hev Lex Farley appreshiate her, even though he stretched the blanket a little in doin' so.

After supper Mr. Burridge examined the cheer most admirin'. It wuz made of cherry-wood, an' stuffed with hair, an' set on springs, an' covered with rep, an' it wuz es fine es a coffin.

“It must 'a cost a sight o' money,” says Jed.

“A matter o' fifty dollars,” says Lex Farley; “but you know, Uncle Jed, I don't ever find it difficult to make money.”

“True, Lex,” says the old man, very kind; “you are smart enough ter do anything when you give the enemy the go-by.”

I wuz a little skeert at this plain-speakin', fearin' Lex might take offence; but he spoke out quite manful: “Uncle Jed, I haven't teched a drop of anything stronger than tea sence my boy come in an' told me what hed happened to Janey. I made up my mind that instant that ef the poor girl wuz gone, I would pay all the funeral expenses, an' put her up a handsome monument; an' ef she lived, that I would come to see her, an' try to make such poor reparation es I could.”

“I'm sure,” says Jed, “that Janey will set more value on your lettin' the drink alone than on either the knittin'-machine or the wheel-cheer. You see, it runs in our blood ter be gret on temperance. Forty year ago, when the Burridges first settled here, one of our first performances wuz ter git up a temperance meetin' at Peppertown. The Yahoos came in an' tried ter put a stop to it.”

“The Yahoos? An' who were they?”

“That wuz the name we give the early settlers. They wuz mostly riffraff o' the hardest sort, who hed drifted here from Tennessee an' Kentucky. They wuz dead-set agin temperance. They came a-whoopin' an' a-ridin' an' a-yellin' inter Peppertown on the occasion of our meetin'; an' they hed caught a wild wolf, which they turned loose among the folks, an' nearly skeered the women ter death.

“In them days even the preachers hated ter give up the'r whiskey. Well, it wuz a heap purer article than you git now; you could buy it by the barrel at a bit a gallon. Everybody drunk it. It wuz handed around ter women an' children. At the races once old Mrs. Wysnicker had a barrel that she peddled out by the drink, an' they said she made enough ter buy a handsome family Bible.”

“I wish they would give us a purer article of whiskey in these days,” said Mr. Farley.

“Lex—Lex Farley, don't say that!” cried Janey, leanin' for'ard, en' speakin' with such entreaty as I never heerd from mortal lips.

“You have gone without it,” she says, “from sorrow an' pity fur me, an' you can keep on in the good course fur love—fur love of God. Listen to me, Lex. You wuz pleased with my thanks when I told you how the knittin'-machine had comforted me an' give me a new start in life; an' you smiled an' almost cried too when I told you ter-day of the rest your beautiful cheer give to my poor tired body. Think, think what it will be when you can bring the gifts of a good an' manly life ter the Lord, an' receive his thanks, an' know his joy over the one sinner that repents! Oh, Lex, don't give me more than you give to your Maker!”

It came like a thunder-clap. I never would 'a believed Janey Burridge could have spoke so beautiful. We wuz all moved beyond speech. But, after a-little, Lex Farley says: “I won't forgit your words, Janey. God bless you fur 'em!”

Jed passed his hand across his eyes. “My friends,” said he, “it is Christmas night. Let us unite in prayer.”

An' kneelin' round Janey's cheer, we prayed in silence, an' somethin' seemed ter whisper that a good new year wuz a-dawnin' fur us all.

Well, well, Lex Farley wuz in no hurry to git away. An' one day he asked our Janey to marry him.

“He says, Aunt Fonie,” said Janey to me, “that I can help him —I, a poor lame creature, that never expected to be of use or pleasure ter any livin' soul.”

“He loves you, dear,” I said, pattin' her dark head.

“I can hardly believe it,” she said, in a falterin' way. “He says so many strange things, Aunt Fonie: that to be with me helps an' heartens him; that he wants nothin' better than to work for me all his days; that he wants me only to give him my heart—not my labor an' service, but my heart.”


                        “ 'Ther's nothin' half so sweet in life
                        As love's young dream,' “

says I, quotin' out of a poetry book.

“Don't you think,” says she, very timid, “that folks will say he wanted me from pity, an' that I took him from pride?”

“Fools may,” says I, very decisive.

The end of it all wuz that she put him off six months, durin' which time he wuz as sober as a horse, an' then she married him. They went ter St. Louis ter live, an' he got a run o' fashionable customers, an' soon we heard of 'em as surprisin' prosperous. A couple o' years later her par an' me went ter visit 'em; fur I hed got rusher tired o' bein' a boarder an' hed married Jed Burridge. That wuz a visit! They hed three rooms leadin' out o' the photograph gallery—an apartment, they called it—an' a servant to do the work, an' a little maid to 'tend the door. Lex Farley was the proudest, happiest man in the State. For Janey—bless her!—with a long trailed gown on, her face pale and pretty, her hair curlin' on her forehead, walked to meet us, with a snow-white baby cuddlin' in her arms.

 
 
 

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