BY THE AUTHOR OF "SUSY L——'S DIARY."
"What is jolly? I'm sure——'"
"Oh! everything is jolly this morning! See how it snows!"
Enter the father, who shudders and rubs his stiff hands.
"Ha!" said he. "It's colder than forty Greenlands! My face is stiffer than a poker! Brutus' feet fairly stuck to the path; didn't they Brute? Give 'im some o' that cold meat, Mari."
"Yes, indeed! Brute, come! Come, Brute! Have some dinner, father?"
"What is it?"
"John Feversham has asked me to marry him; and guess what he said to recommend himself. Guess!"
"Oh! he said they'd got two hundred acres o' land, a hundred full-blood merinos, twenty head o' cattle, two old horses an' a colt; an' he told you how the colt kicks."
"He did, if I live! He said he sent him going against the side of the barn, one day, and, if he had been an egg, he guessed he would have left something of a grease-spot. Isn't it too bad that I said 'im nay? Isn't it, mother? Mother, why don't you laugh, as father does, and say yes, as father does? What are you doing in there? Oh! counting pies How many?"
"Twenty. Twelve mince, six apple, two custard. An' I hope they'll last. But they won't. With work-folks termorrer an' next day. What time is it, father? Here, Mari, put this in the swill-pail. What time did you say, father?"
"'Leven minutes after 'leven; jest. What's the talk for dinner?"
"Oh, I do' know. I ha'n't though much about dinner, I've had so——'"
"Oh! I'm delighted, mother! I'm delighted, mother! See how it snows!"
"Well, let the snow go, and put this in the swill-pail."
"It makes me feel bad to put all this in the swill-pail. I wish some poor family had it."
"Well, there ain't any poor family near here to give it to. Empty this in too."
"Won't you buy 'Uncle Tom's Cabin for me? Only think! I've never read it Everybody else in America, and even in Spitzbergen, has read it. I think it is too bad!"
"What does it cost?"
"Only fifty cents; the cheap edition. I want it for my own to read nights here in the rocking-chair, when the work is done. There's nothing like this."
"Mari, child, do let 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' go, and put this has on the stove."
"Yes, mother! Will you buy it for me? and for yourself, too? You'll like to hear it read; so will mother."
"I'll see what your mother says. What say, mother? Is it best to get this book for puss? She's allers be teasin' for it."
"I don't want you to get it. Mari, do be setting the table. We'll have a picked-up dinnder, there's ser much cooked. We'll have it early. here, set the coffee-pot on. The thing is, I don't want a novel, or a story in any shape, to come into this house, ever. She don't do a tenth part so much work when she has a story about; an' I can't put up with it. I burnt them two books o' yourn, 'Ivanho' an' 'Scottish Chiefs,' because she was forever gettin' 'em round an' readin' 'em, an' neglectin' her work."
"Oh! now, mother, what makes you say so? I didn't neglect anything that I ought to do. I did work enough; as much as anybody ought to do. After I had cooked and worked till my feet ached bad enough to come off, then I rested and read."
"Yes! when you ought to have been sewin' or knittin'. Have you got the cold meat on? and the pepper? and the vinegar?"
"Oh! dear, yes! and the apple-sauce, and the cheese, and the brown bread, and the white—"
"And, here; put on this pitcher of milk for the coffee; and the rest of this apple-pie. And you may put on one of the mince-pies, if you've a mind to. You and your father'll like some of it. I sh'n't want any of it. I'm too tired to want anything——'except a cup of tea. You may make some tea, if you've a mind to. You know, Mari, that you a'n't worth anything hardly about the work, when you get hold of a novel."
"I know it's just
'Work, work, work, as prisoners work for crime.'
This is all we must do, or think about. We mustn't read, or look out to see the snow or the snow-birds. We must be cooking, cooking, cooking; setting table, eating ourselves into dyspepsia, headache, feverishness, crossness——'we do! I'm often hot, and cross, and stupid as I can be, after one of our miserable dinners that it has taken us all the forenoon to get. I wish we just knew that we have brains to be filled also. I do! I laugh; but I'm in earnest! May I have the book?"
"You may put this toast on the table. I want it ate up; it'll be moulding. If you'll promise not to——'mercy on us! do see what is burning! I can smell something! The hash is burning! What has set you to teasing about that book to-day, Saturday, when there's so much of everything to do? It's time the coffee was settled. Do let me come!"
"The coffee is settled, the hash is just right; there is nothing burning."
"Well, put the chairs round. I don't see the mince-pie I told you might put on. Get that one that was scorched a little."
"It's on the table. But I wish I were married to John Feversham——'or to Moses Ambrose; that would be better; for he is good-natured; he likes me; he would be pleased with me; he would let me rock, and read 'Uncle Tom,' and 'Margaret,' and so get great and good ideas into my head. You may laugh at me, but I do wish it. I wouldn't care so much what sort of husband I had, if he would only let me do a little for my brain and soul, and not all for my stomach. I wouldn't, my father! I wouldn't, my mother!"
"Maybe you're right, Mari. Maybe she's got somewhere nigh the right of it, mother, after all she's ser much younger'n we be. I ruther guess I sh'll get her the book, if——'Mose! how d' do, Mose?"
"Well, I d' know. I don't feel well. I feel, somehow, cross as p'ison. I met Brute, out here at the door, an' give him a kick; an' for nothin', only because he was waggin' his tail off a'most, he was so glad to see me. Rascally, warn't it?"
"Ruther rascally. Cold day for the last of March."
"Confounded cold! freezing the ground all up again! Where's Mari? Oh! there she is in the pantry!"
"Yes, here I am, Moses Ambrose. A'n't you glad to see me?"
"Why should I be? You are sorry to see me, I dare say. You wish I had sense enough to stay at home and chop wood all day, and then sit down by the candle, with nobody but the old folks and the old clock to speak to——'"
"You forget Tige. He's a nice old chap. You ought to find some comfort in him."
"I 'spose I do a little. I know I do. But it's the same old, heavy sort of comfort. The dog, too, is in his last years. He's deaf and wants to keep still. He stays there on the rug by the stove; and when he turns, for the sake of his aching bones, he groans as father and mother do. And Tab is old; she grows cross. See where she scratched me, last night, when I was trying to make her look up and be a little company for me."
"Too bad!" replied Maria, bending over the bared wrist, white as a woman's compassionating his wrongs at Tab's claws. "She's a great deal too bad! See, Mose! I'm going to put on a plate for you. You are going to stay and have some of our picked-up dinner; isn't he, father? Isn't he, mother?"
Father said, "I guess he is, puss. I shouldn't wonder a bit if he stayed."
Mother gave him looks that were very friendly, which, in one of her disposition and habits, is equal to the most motherly invitation of some women, as Moses knew. Besides, she placed a cup and saucer for him. She carried away the pitcher of milk, bringing cream for the coffee; carried off the second-best mince-pie, bringing back one of the best.
Maria added her little touches at putting dishes in a more orderly array at the table; and Moses, looking on, and afterward at table, where her winsome ways so displayed themselves, felt his large heart swell, his large brain whirl; at first in regrets, mostly; at last mostly in hopes.