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Way the Women Fixed the Tale-Bearer by Jonathan F. Kelley


“I dunno where I heer'd it, but I know it's true. I expected it long ago. I told Jones it'd come out so.”

“Why, Uncle Josh, you don't pretend to say that Miller's wife has run off with Bob Tape, Yardstick's clark, do you?”

“Yes, I do, too; hain't it been the talk of the neighborhood for a year past, that Miller's wife and that feller—Bob Tape, were a leetle too thick?”

“Well, Uncle Josh,” says his neighbor Brown, “I don't recollect anybody saying anything about it, but you, and for my part, I don't believe a word of it.”

“Why, hain't Miller's wife gone?” says Uncle Josh.

“I don't know—is she?” says Brown.

“Be sure she is; I went over to the store this morning, the fust thing, to see if Bob Tape was about—he wasn't there—they said he'd gone to Boston on business for old Yardstick. O, ho! says I, and then I started for Heeltap's shop; we had allers said how things would turn out. He was out, but seein' me go to his shop, he came a runnin', and says he:

“'Uncle Josh, theer gone, sure enough!—I've been over to old Mammy Gabbles, and she sent her Suke over to Miller's, on purtence of borrowin' some lard, but told Suke to look around and see ef Miller's wife wur about; by Nebbyknezer, Miller's wife wur gone! Marm Gabbles couldn't rest, so she sent back Suke, and told her to ax the children whare their marm wus; Miller hearing Suke, ordered her to scoot, so Suke left without hearing the facts in the case, as 'Squire Black says.'

“But Heeltap swears, and I know Miller's wife and Bob Tape have sloped, as they say in the papers.”

“Well,” says Brown, “I'm sorry if it's true—I don't believe a word of it tho', and as it's none of my business, I shall have nothing to say about it.”

Uncle Josh was one of those inordinate pests which almost every village, town and hamlet in the country is more or less accursed with. He was a great, tall, bony, sharp-nosed, grinning genius, who, being in possession of a small farm, with plenty of boys and girls to work it, did not do anything but eat, sleep and lounge around; a gatherer of scan, mag., a news and scandal-monger, a great guesser, and a stronger suspicioner, of everybody's motives and intentions, and, of course, never imputed a good motive or movement to anybody.

You've seen those wretches, male and female, haven't you, reader? Such people are great nuisances—half the discomforts of life are bred by them; they contaminate and poison the air they breathe, with their noisome breath, like the odor of the Upas tree.

Uncle Josh had annoyed many—he was the dread and disgust of seven-eighths of the town he lived in. He had caused more quarrels, smutted more characters, and created more ill-feeling between friends, neighbors and acquaintances, than all else beside in the community of Frogtown. Uncle Josh was voted a great bore by the men, and a sneaking, meddling old granny by the women. So, at last, the young women of the town did agree, that the very next time Uncle Josh carried, concocted, or circulated any slanderous or otherwise mischievous stories, they would duck him in the mill-race.

Now, Brown—old Mister Brown—was the very antipode of Uncle Josh; he was for always taking matters and things by the smoothest handle. Mister Brown never told tales, backbited or slandered anybody; everybody had a good word to say about Mister Brown, and Mister Brown had a good word to say about everybody. The gals thought it prudent to give old Mister Brown an inkling of their plans in regard to the disposition they intended to make of Uncle Josh; the old man laughed, and told them to go ahead, and to duck old Josh, and perhaps they would reform him.

“Now, gals,” says old Mister Brown, “Uncle Josh has just this very day been at his dirty work; by this time he has spread the news all over the town, that Miller's wife has gone off with Yardstick's clark. I don't believe a word of his tale, and if Miller's wife ain't really gone off, Uncle Josh ought to be soused in the mill-race.”

Next morning Miller's wife came home; she had been down to her sister's, a few miles off, to see a sick child; her husband had been away at a law-suit, in a neighboring town, and so Miller nor his wife knew nothing of the report of her elopement with Bob Tape, until their return.

Miller was in a rage, but couldn't find out the author of the report. Miller's wife was deeply mortified that such a suspicion should arise of her; she had been making Bob Tape some new clothes to go to Boston in, and here was the gist of Bob and Miller's wife's intimacy! There was a great time about it—Miller swore like a trooper, and his wife nearly cried her eyes out.

A few evenings afterwards, it being cool, clear weather in October, Polly Higgins and Sally Smith called in to see Miller's wife, and asked her to join them in a little party that some of the neighboring women had got up that evening, for a particular purpose. Miller's wife not having much to do that evening, her husband said she might go out a spell if she chose, and she went, and soon learned the purport of the call—old Uncle Josh was to be ducked in the mill-race! and Miller's wife, disguised as the rest, was to help do it. When she heard that old Josh had circulated the report of her elopement, Miller's wife did not require much coaxing to join the watering committee.

It was so planned that all the women, some ten or twelve in number, were to put on men's clothes and lay in wait for Uncle Josh at his lane gate, about a quarter of a mile from the mill-race. Old Josh always hung around the tavern, Heeltap's shoe-shop, or the grocery, until 9 P. M., before he started for home, and the girls determined to rush out of a small thicket that stood close by old Josh's lane gate, and throwing a large, stout sheet over him, wind him up, and then seizing him head, neck and heels, hurry him off to the mill-race, and duck him well.

Mind you, your country gals and women are not paint and powder, corset-laced and fragile creatures, like your delicate, more ornamental than useful young ladies of the city; no, no, the gals of Frogtown were real flesh and blood; Venuses and Dianas of solidity and substance; and it would have taken several better men than Uncle Josh to have got away from them. It was a cool, moon-shiny night, but to better favor the women, just as old Josh got near his gate, a large, black cloud obscured the moon, and all was as dark as a stack of black cats in a coal cellar. Miller's wife acted as captain; dressed in Bob Tape's old clothes he had left at her house to be repaired, she gave the word, and out they rushed.

“Seize him, boys!” said she, in a very loud whisper. Over went the sheet, down came old Josh, co-blim! Before he could say “lor' a massy,” he was dragged to the mill-race, tied hand and foot, blindfolded, his coat taken off, and he was ca-soused into the cold water! Fury! how the old fellow begged for his life!

“O, lor' a massy, don't drown me boys! I—a, I—“ ca-souse he went again.

“Give him another duck,” says one—and in he'd go again.

“Now, we'll learn you to carry tales,” says another.

“And tell lies on me and Miller's wife,” says Bob Tape—ca-souse he went.

“O, lor' a mas—mas—e, do—do—don't drown me, Bob; I'll—I'll promise never to—” in they put him again; the water was as cold as ice.

“Will you promise never to take or carry a story again?”

“I d—d—d—do promise, if—yo—yo—yo—you—don't—duc—” and in he went again.

“Do you promise to mind your own business and let others alone, Uncle Josh?”

“Ye—ye—yes, I d—do, I—I—I'll promise anything—bo—boys, only let me go,” says Uncle Josh.

“Well, boys,” says Polly Higgins, rousing, jolly critter she was, too, “I owe Uncle Josh one more dip: he lied about my gal, Polly Higgins, and—”

“O, ho, Seth Jones, that's you, ain't it?—Well—we—well, I said nothing about Polly; it was Heeltap said it, 'deed it was.”

Then they let old Josh off, vowing they'd give Heeltap his gruel next night, and the moment Josh got clear of his sousers, he cut for home. Next day Heeltap cleared himself.—Uncle Josh soon found out that he had been ducked by the women, and, for his own peace, moved to Iowa, and Frogtown has been a happy place ever since.


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