« PreviousContinue »
Down on Steve Webster's hand came Jabe Slocum's immense paw with a grasp that made him cringe.
"What the "— began Steve, when the man from Tennessee took up his scythe and slouched away from the group by the tree.
"Did n't yer know no better 'n that, yer thunderin' fool? Can't yer see a hole in a grindstun 'thout it's hung on yer nose?
"What hev I done?" asked Steve, as if dumfounded.
"Done? Where 've yer ben, that yer don't know Dixie's wife's left him?"
"Where've I ben? Hain't I ben workin' in Boston fer a year; 'n' since I come home last week, hain't I ben tendin' sick folks, so 't I could n't git outside the dooryard? I never seen the man in my life till yesterday, in the field, 'n' I thought he was one o' them darkskinned Frenchies from Guildford that hed come up here fer hayin'."
"Mebbe I spoke too sharp," said Jabe apologetically; "but we've ben scared to talk wives, or even women folks, fer a month o' Sundays, fer fear Dixie 'd up 'n' tumble on his scythe, or do somethin' crazy. You see it's this way (I'd ruther talk than work; 'n' we ain't workin' by time to-day, anyway, on account of the circus comin'): 'Bout a year 'n' a half ago, this tall, han'some feller turned up here in Pleasant River. He inhailed from down South somewheres, but he did n't like his work there, 'n' drifted to New York, 'n' then to Boston; 'n' then he remembered his mother was a State o' Maine woman, 'n' he come here to see how he liked. We did n't take no stock in him at first,
we never hed one o' that niggertradin', secedin' lot in amongst us, - but he was pleasant spoken 'n' a square, allround feller, 'n' did n't git off any secesh nonsense, 'n' it ended in our likin' him first-rate. Wall, he got work in the can
nin' fact'ry over on the Butterfield road, 'n' then he fell in with the Maddoxes. You've hearn tell of 'em; they're relation to Pitt here."
"I would n't own 'em if I met 'em on Judgment Bench!" exclaimed Pitt Packard hotly. "My stepfather's second wife married Mis' Maddox's first husband after he got divorced from her, 'n' that's all there is to it; they ain't no bloody-kin o' mine, 'n' I don't call 'em relation."
"Wall, Pitt's relations or not, they 're all wuss 'n the Old Driver, as yer said 'bout Dan Robinson's wife. Dixie went to board there. Mis' Maddox was all out o' husbands jest then, she'd jest disposed of her fourth, somehow or 'nother; she always hed a plenty 'n' to spare, though there's lots o' likely women folks round here that never hed one chance, let alone four. Her daughter Fidelity was a chip o' the old block. Her father hed named her Fidelity after his mother, when she was nothin' but a two-days-old baby, 'n' he did n't know how she was goin' to turn out; if he'd 'a' waited two months, I believe I could 'a' told him. Infidelity would 'a' ben a mighty sight more 'propriate; but either of 'em is too long fer a name, so they got to callin' her Fiddy. Wall, Fiddy did n't waste no time; she was nigh onto eighteen years old when Dixie went there to board, 'n' she begun honeyfuglin' him 's soon as ever she set eyes on him. Folks warned him, but 't wa'n't no use; he was kind o' bewitched with her from the first. She wa'n't so han'some, neither. Blamed 'f I know how they do it; let 'em alone, 'f yer know when yer 're well off, 's my motter. She was red-headed, but her hair become her somehow when she curled 'n' frizzed it over a karosene lamp, 'n' then wound it round 'n' round her head like ropes o' carnelian. She hed n't any particular kind of a nose nor mouth nor eyes, but gorry! when she looked at yer, yer felt kind as if yer was turnin' to putty inside."
"I know what yer mean," said Steve interestedly.
"She hed a figger jest like them fashion-paper pictures you've seen, an' the very day any new styles come to Boston Fiddy Maddox would hev 'em before sundown; the biggest bustles 'n' the highest hats 'n' the tightest skirts 'n' the longest tails to 'em; she'd git 'em somehow, anyhow! Dixie wa'n't out o' money when he come here, an' a spell afterwards there was more 'n a thousand dollars fell to him from his father's folks down South. Well, Fiddy made that fly, I tell you! Dixie bought a top buggy 'n' a sorrel hoss, 'n' they was on the road most o' the time when he wa'n't to work; 'n' when he was, she'd go with Lem Simmons, 'n' Dixie none the wiser. Mis' Maddox was lookin' up a new husband jest then, so 't she did n't interfere
so fur as to preach at him. The Apos tle Paul gin heed,' was the text. Why did he gin heed?' says he. 'Because he heerd. If he hed n't 'a' heerd, he could n't 'a' gin heed, 'n' 't would n't 'a' done him no good to 'a' heerd 'thout he gin heed!' Wall, it helped consid❜ble many in the congregation, 'specially them that was in the habit of hearin' 'n' heedin', but it rolled right off Dixie like water off a duck's back. He 'n' Fiddy was seen over to the ballin' alley to Wareham next day, 'n' they did n't come back for a week."
"He gin her his hand,
And he made her his own,'" sang little Brad Gibson.
“He hed gin her his hand, but no minister nor trial jestice nor eighteen-carat ring nor stificate could 'a' made Fiddy Maddox anybody's own 'ceptin' the "She was the same kind o' goods, any devil's, an' he would n't 'a' married her; how," interpolated Ob Tarbox.
"Yes, she was one of them women folks that air so light-minded you can't anchor 'em down with a sewin'- machine, nor a dishpan, nor a husband 'n' young ones, nor no namable kind of a thing; the least wind blows 'em here 'n' blows 'em there, like dandelion puffs. As time went on, the widder got herself a beau now 'n' then; but as fast as she hooked 'em, Fiddy up 'n' took 'em away from her. You see she'd gethered in most of her husbands afore Fiddy was old enough to hev her finger in the pie; but she cut her eye-teeth early, Fiddy did, 'n' there wa'n't no kind of a feller come to set up with the widder but she'd everlastin'ly grab him, if she hed any use fer him, 'n' then there'd be Hail Columby, I tell yer. But Dixie, he was 's blind 's a bat 'n' deef's a post. He could n't see nothin' but Fiddy, 'n' he could n't see her very plain."
"He hed warnin's enough," put in Pitt Packard, though Jabe Slocum never needed any assistance in spinning a yarn.
"Warnin's! I should think he hed. The Seventh Day Baptist minister went
she'd 'a' ben too near kin. We'd never 'spicioned she 'd git's fur's marryin' any body, 'n' she only married Dixie 'cause he told her he'd take her to the Wareham House to dinner, 'n' to the County Fair afterwards; if any other feller hed offered to take her to supper, 'n' the theatre on top o' that, she'd 'a' married him instid."
"How'd the old woman take it?" asked Steve.
"She disowned her daughter punctilio in the first place, fer runnin' away 'stid o' hevin' a church weddin'; 'n' second place, fer marryin' ond place, fer marryin' a pauper (that was what she called him; 'n' it was true, for they 'd spent every cent he hed); 'n' third place, fer alienatin' the 'fections of a travelin' baker man she hed her eye on fer herself. He was a kind of a flourfood peddler, that used to drive a cart round by Hard Scrabble, Moderation, 'n' Scratch Corner way. Mis' Maddox used to buy all her baked victuals of him, 'specially after she found out he was a widower beginnin' to take notice. His cart used to stand at her door so long everybody on the rout would complain
o' stale bread. But bime bye Fiddy begun to set at her winder when he druv up, 'n' bime bye she pinned a blue ribbon in her collar. When she done that, Mis' Maddox allers hed to take a back seat. The boys used to call it a danger signal. It kind o' drawed yer 'tention to p'ints 'bout her chin 'n' mouth 'n' neck, 'n' one thing 'n' 'nother, in a way that was cal'lated to snarl up the thoughts o' perfessors o' religion 'n' turn 'em earthways. There was a spell I hed to say, ' Remember Rhapseny! Remember Rhapseny!' over to myself whenever Fiddy put on her blue ribbons. Wall, as I say, Fiddy set at the winder, the baker man seen the blue ribbons, 'n' Mis' Maddox's cake was dough. She put on a red ribbon; but land! her neck looked 's if somebody 'd gone over it with a harrer! Then she stomped round 'n' slat the dishrag, but 't wa'n't no use. 'Gracious, mother,' says Fiddy, 'I don't do nothin' but set at the winder. The sun shines for all.' 'You're right it does,' says Mis' Maddox, 'n' that's jest what I complain of. I'd like to get a chance to shine on something myself.'
"But the baker man kep' on comin', though when he got to the Maddoxes' doorsteps he could n't make change for a quarter nor tell pie from bread; an' sure's you're born, the very day Fiddy went away to be married to Dixie, that mornin' she drawed that everlastin' numhead of a flour-food peddler out into the orchard, 'n' cut off a lock o' her hair, 'n' tied it up with a piece o' her blue ribbon, 'n' give it to him; an' old Mis' Bascom says, when he went past her house he was gazin' at it 'n' kissin' of it, 'n' his horse meanderin' one side the road 'n' the other, 'n' the door o' the cart open 'n' slammin' to 'n' fro, 'n' ginger cookies spillin' out all over the lot. He come back to the Maddoxes next mornin' ('t wa'n't his day, but his hoss could n't pull one way when Fiddy's ribbon was pullin' t'other); an' when he found out she'd gone with Dixie, he
cussed 'n' stomped 'n' took on like a loontic; an' when Mis' Maddox hinted she was ready to heal the wownds Fiddy 'd inflicted, he stomped 'n' cussed wuss 'n ever, 'n' the neighbors say he called her a hombly old trollop, an' fired the bread loaves all over the dooryard, he was so crazy at bein' cheated.
"Wall, to back to Dixie go I'll be comin' right along, boys." (This to Brad Gibson, who was taking his farewell drink of ginger tea preparatory to beginning work,)
"I pity you, Steve!" exclaimed Brad, between deep swallows. "If you'd known when you was well off, you'd 'a' stayed in Boston. If Jabe hed a story started, he'd talk three days after he was dead."
"Go 'long; leave me be! Wall, as I was sayin', Dixie brought Fiddy home ('Dell,' he called her), an' they 'peared bride 'n' groom at meetin' next Sunday. The last hundred dollars he hed in the world hed gone into the weddin' tower 'n' on to Fiddy's back. He hed a new suit, 'n' he looked like a major. You ain't got no idea what he was, 'cause his eyes is dull now, 'n' he's bowed all over, 'n' ain't shaved nor combed, hardly; but they was the han'somest couple that ever walked up the broad aisle. She hed on a green silk dress, an' a lace cape that was like a skeeter nettin' over her neck an' showed her bare skin through, an' a hat like an apple orchard in full bloom, hummin'- bird an' all. Dixie kerried himself as proud as Lucifer. He did n't look at the minister 'n' he did n't look at the congregation; his great eyes was glued on Fiddy, as if he could n't hardly keep from eatin' of her up. An' she behaved consid'able well for a few months, as long 's the novelty lasted an' the silk dresses was new. Before Christmas, though, she begun to peter out 'n' git slack-twisted. She allers hated housework as bad as a pig would a penwiper, an' Dixie hed to git his own breakfast afore he went to work, or go off on an empty stomach. Many 's the time he's got her meals for
her 'n' took 'em to her on a waiter. (Them secesh fellers 'll wait on women folks long as they can stan' up.)
"Then bime bye the baby come along; but that made things wuss 'stid o' better. She didn't pay no more 'tention to it than if it hed belonged to the town. She'd go off to dances, an' leave Dixie to home tendin' cradle; but that wa'n't no hardship to him, for he was 'bout as much wropped up in the child as he was in Fiddy. Wall, sir, 'bout a month ago she up 'n' disappeared off the face o' the airth 'thout sayin' a word or leavin' a letter. She took her clo❜'es, but she never thought o' takin' the baby; one baby more or less did n't make no odds to her s' long's she hed that skeeter-nettin' cape. Dixie sarched fer her high an' low fer a fortnight, but after that he give it up as a bad job. He found out enough, I guess, to keep him pretty busy thinkin' what he'd do next. But day before yesterday the same circus that plays here this afternoon was playin' to Wareham. A lot of us went over on the evenin' train, an' we coaxed Dixie into goin', so's to take his mind off his trouble. But land! he did n't see nothin'. He'd walk right by the lions 'n' tigers in the menagerie as if they were cats 'n' chickens, an' all the time the clown was singin' he looked like a dumb animile that's hed a bullet put in him. There was lots o' side shows, mermaids 'n' six-legged calves 'n' spotted girls, 'n' one thing 'n' 'nother, an' there was one o' them whirligig machines with a mess o' rockin'- hosses goin' round 'n' round, 'n' an organ in the middle playin' like sixty. I wish we'd 'a' kept clear o' the thing, but, as bad luck would hev it, we stopped to look, an' there, on top o' two high-steppin' white wooden hosses, set Mis' Fiddy an' that dod-gasted lightcomplected baker man! If ever she was suited to a dot, it was jest then 'n' there. She could 'a' gone prancin' round that there ring forever 'n' forever, with the whoopin' 'n' hollerin' 'n' whizzin' 'n' whirlin' soundin' in her ears, 'n' the
music playin' like mad, 'n' she with nothin' to do but stick on 'n' let some feller foot the bills. Somebody must 'a' ben thinkin' o' Fiddy Maddox when they invented them whirl-a-go-rounds. She was laughin' 'n' carryin' on like the old Scratch; her apple-blossom hat come off, 'n' the baker man put it on, 'n' took consid❜able time over it, 'n' pulled her ear 'n' pinched her cheek when he got through; an' that was jest the blamed minute we ketched sight of 'em. I pulled Dixie off, but I was too late. He give a groan I shall remember to my dyin' day, 'n' then he plunged out o' the crowd 'n' through the gate like a streak o' lightnin'. We follered, but land! we could n't find him; an' true as I set here, I never expected to see him alive agin. But I did; I forgot all about one thing, you see, 'n' that was the baby. If it wa'n't no attraction to its mother, I guess he cal'lated it needed a father all the more. Anyhow, he turned up in the field yesterday mornin', ready for work, but lookin' as if he'd hed his heart cut out 'n' a piece o' lead put in the place of it."
"It don't seem as if she'd 'a' ben brazen enough to come back so near home," said Steve.
"Wall, I don't s'pose she hed any idea o' Dixie's bein' at a circus over at Wareham jest then; an' ten to one she did n't care if the whole town seen her. She wanted to git rid of him, 'n' she did n't mind how she done it. Dixie ain't one of the shootin' kind, an' anyhow, Fiddy Maddox wa'n't one to look ahead; whatever she wanted to do, that she done, from the time she was knee high to a grasshopper. I've seen her set down by a peck basket of apples, 'n' take a couple o' bites out o' one, 'n' then heave it fur 's she could heave it 'n' start in on another, 'n' then another; 'n' 't wa'n't a good apple year, neither. She'd everlastin❜ly spile 'bout a dozen of 'em 'n' swaller 'bout two mouthfuls. Doxy Morton, now, would eat an apple clean down to the core, 'n' then count the seeds 'n' put 'em on the
window-sill to dry, 'n' get up 'n' put the core in the stove, 'n' wipe her hands on the roller towel, 'n' take up her sewin' agin; 'n' if you 've got to be cuttin' 'nitials in tree bark an' writin' of 'em in the grass with a stick, like you 've ben doin' for the last half hour, you're blamed lucky to be doin' D's, not F's, like Dixie there!"
It was three o'clock in the afternoon. The men had dropped work and gone to the circus. The hay was pronounced to be in a condition where it could be left without much danger; but, for that matter, no man would have stayed in the field to attend to another man's hay when there was a circus in the neighborhood.
Dixie was mowing on alone, listening as in a dream to that subtle something in the swish of the scythe that makes one seek to know the song it is singing to the grasses.
"Hush, ah, hush, the scythes are saying,
Over the clover, over the grass."
nothing; yet the agony of the thing he saw at last lit up all the rest as with a lightning flash, and burned the scene forever on his brain and heart. It was at Wareham, too, Wareham, where she had promised to be his wife, where she had married him only a year before. How well he remembered the night! They left the parsonage; they had ten miles to drive in the moonlight before reaching their stopping - place, miles of such joy as only a man could know, he thought, who had had the warm fruit of life hanging within full vision, but just out of reach, — just above his longing lips; and then, in an unlooked-for, gracious moment, his! He could swear she had loved him that night, if never again.
But this picture passed away, and he saw that maddening circle with the caracoling steeds. He heard the discordant music, the monotonous creak of the machinery, the strident laughter of the excited riders. At first the thing was a blur, a kaleidoscope of whirling colors, into which there presently crept form and order. A boy who had cried to get on, and was now crying to get off. Old Rube Hobson and his young wife; Rube looked white and scared, partly by the whizzing motion, and partly by the prospect of paying out ten cents for the doubtful pleasure. Pretty, modest Hetty Dunnell with that young fellow from Portland; she too timid to mount one of the mettlesome chargers, and snuggling close to him in one of the circling seats. Then, good God! Dell! sitting on a prancing white horse, with the man he knew, the man he feared, riding beside her; a man who kept holding on her hat with fingers that trembled, the very hat she "'peared bride in ; a man who brushed a grasshopper from her shoulder with an air of ownership, and, when she slapped his hand coquettishly, even dared to pinch her pink cheek, his wife's cheek, before that crowd of on-lookers! Merry-go-round, indeed!