They do say thet them graduates hadn't never went so far ez total eclipses, an' teacher wouldn't 'a' had the subject mentioned to 'em for nothin'; but I don't say that's so.
Well, then, Sonny he turned around, an' looked at the company, an' he says, "Is everybody satisfied?" An' all the mothers an' fathers nodded their heads "yes."
An' then he waited thess a minute, an' he says, says he, "Well, now I'll put the next question:
"Sonny Jones," says he, "what is the difference between dew an' rain an' fog an' hail an' sleet an' snow!
"Is that a hard enough question?"
Well, from that he started in, an' he didn't stop tell he had expounded about every kind of dampness that ever descended from heaven or rose from the earth. An' after that, why, he went on a-givin' out one question after another, an' answerin 'em, tell everybody had declared theirselves entirely satisfied that he was fully equipped to gradj'ate—an', tell the truth, I don't doubt thet a heap of 'em felt their minds considerably relieved to have it safe-t over with without puttin' their grad'jates to shame, when what does he do but say, "Well, ef you're satisfied, why, I am—an' yet," says he, "I think I would like to ask myself one or two hard questions more, thess to make shore." An' befo' anybody could stop him, he had said:
"Sonny Jones, what is the reason thet a bird has feathers and a dog has hair?" An' then he turned around deliberate, an' answered: "I don't know. Teacher, please put that question to the class."
Teacher had kep' his temper purty well up to this time, but I see he was mad now, an' he riz from his chair, an' says he: "This examination has been declared finished, an' I think we have spent ez much time on it ez we can spare." An' all the mothers they nodded their heads, an' started a-whisperin'—most impolite.
An' at that, Sonny, why, he thess set down as modest an' peaceable ez anything; but ez he was settin' he remarked that he was in hopes thet some o' the reg'lars would 'a' took time to answer a few questions thet had bothered his mind f'om time to time—an' of c'ose they must know; which, to my mind, was the modes'est remark a boy ever did make.
Well, sir, that's the way this diplomy was earned—by a good, hard struggle, in open daylight, by unanymous vote of all concerned—an' unconcerned, for that matter. An' my opinion is thet if they are those who have any private opinions about it, an' they didn't express 'em that day, why they ain't got no right to do it underhanded, ez I am sorry to say has been done.
But it's his diplomy, an' it's handsomer fixed up than any in town, an' I doubt ef they ever was one anywhere thet was took more paternal pride in.
Wife she ain't got so yet thet she can look at it without sort o' cryin'—thess the look of it seems to bring back the figure o' the little feller, ez he helt his ground, single-handed, at that gradj'atin' that day.
Well, sir, we was so pleased to have him turned out a full gradj'ate thet, after it was all over, why, I riz up then and there, though I couldn't hardly speak for the lump in my th'oat, an' I said thet I wanted to announce thet Sonny was goin' to have a gradj'atin' party out at our farm that day week, an' thet the present company was all invited.
An' he did have it, too; an' they all come, every mother's son of 'em—from a to izzard—even to them that has expressed secret dissatisfactions; which they was all welcome, though it does seem to me thet, ef I 'd been in their places, I'd 'a' hardly had the face to come an' talk, too.
I'm this kind of a disposition myself: ef I was ever to go to any kind of a collation thet I expressed disapproval of, why, the supper couldn't be good enough not to choke me.
An' Sonny, why, he's constructed on the same plan. We ain't never told him of any o' the remarks thet has been passed. They might git his little feelin's hurted, an' 't wouldn't do no good, though some few has been made to his face by one or two smarty, ill-raised boys.
Well, sir, we give 'em a fine party, ef I do say it myself, an' they all had a good time. Wife she whipped up eggs an' sugar for a week befo'hand, an' we set the table out under the mulberries. It took eleven little niggers to wait on 'em, not countin' them thet worked the fly-fans. An' Sonny he ast the blessin'.
Then, after they'd all et, Sonny he had a' exhibition of his little specimens. He showed 'em his bird eggs, an' his wood samples, an' his stamp album, an' his scroll-sawed things, an' his clay-moldin's, an' all his little menagerie of animals an' things. I rather think everybody was struck when they found thet Sonny knowed the botanical names of every one of the animals he's ever tamed, an' every bird. Miss Phoebe, she didn't come to the front much. She stayed along with wife, an' helped 'tend to the company, but I could see she looked on with pride; an' I don't want nothin' said about it, but the boa'd of school directors was so took with the things she had taught Sonny thet, when the evenin' was over, they ast her to accept a situation in the academy next year, an' she's goin' to take it.
An' she says thet ef Sonny will take a private co'se of instruction in nachel sciences, an' go to a few lectures, why, th' ain't nobody on earth that she 'd ruther see come into that academy ez teacher,—that is, of co'se, in time. But I doubt ef he'd ever keer for it.
I've always thought thet school-teachin', to be a success, has to run in families, same ez anythin' else—yet, th' ain't no tellin'.
I don't keer what he settles on when he's grown; I expect to take pride in the way he'll do it—an' that's the principal thing, after all.
It's the "Well done" we're all a-hopin' to hear at the last day; an' the po' laborer thet digs a good ditch'll have thess ez good a chance to hear it ez the man that owns the farm.
SONNY "KEEPIN' COMPANY"
Hello, doc'; come in! Don't ask me to shake hands, though; 't least, not tell I can drop this 'ere piece o' ribbin.
I never reelized how much shenanigan it took to tie a bow o' ribbin tell I started experimentin' with this here buggy-whup o' Sonny's.
An' he wants it tied thess so. He's a reg'lar Miss Nancy, come to taste.
All the boys, nowadays, they seem to think thet ez soon ez they commence to keep company, they must have ribbin bows tied on their buggy-whups—an' I reckon it's in accordance, ef anything is. I thess called you in to look at his new buggy, doctor. You've had your first innin's, ez the base-ball fellers says, at all o' his various an' sundry celebrations, from his first appearance to his gradj'atin', and I'll call your attention to a thing I wouldn't mention to a' outsider.
Sence he taken a notion to take the girls out a-ridin', why, I intend for him to do it in proper style; an' I went an' selected this buggy myself.
It is sort o' fancy, maybe, for the country, but I knew he'd like it fancy—at his age. I got it good an' high, so's it could straddle stumps good. They's so many tree-stumps in our woods, an' I know Sonny ain't a-goin' to drive nowhere but in the woods so long ez they's a livin' thin' to scurry away at his approach, or a flower left in bloom, or a last year's bird's nest to gether. An' the little Sweetheart, why, she's got so thet she's ez anxious to fetch home things to study over ez he is.
Yas; I think it is, ez you say, a fus'-class little buggy.
Sonny ain't never did nothin' half-ways,—not even mischief,—an' I ain't a-goin' in, at this stage o' his raisin', to stint him.
List'n at me sayin' "raisin'" ag'in, after all Miss Phoebe has preached to me about it! She claims thet folks has to be fetched up,—or "brung up" I believe she calls it,—an' I don't doubt she knows.
She allows thet pigs is raised, an' potaters, an' even chickens; an' she said, one day, thet ef I insisted on "raisin'" child'en, she'd raise a row. She's a quick hand to turn a joke, Miss Phoebe is.
Nobody thet ever lived in Simpkinsville would claim thet rows couldn't be raised, I'm shore, after all the fuss thet's been made over puttin' daytime candles in our 'piscopal church. Funny how folks'll fuss about sech a little thing when, ef they'd stop to think, they's so many mo' important subjec's thet they could git up diffe'nces of opinion on.
I didn't see no partic'lar use in lightin' the candles myself, bein' ez we didn't need 'em to see by, an' shorely the good Lord thet can speak out a sun any time he needs a extry taper couldn't be said to take no pleasure in a Simpkinsville home-dipped candle. But the way I look at it, seem like ef some wants em, why not?
Th' ain't nothin' mo' innercent than a lighted candle,—kep' away up on the wall out o' the draft, the way they are in church,—an' so, when it come to votin' on it, why, I count peace an' good-will so far ahead o' taller thet I voted thet I was good for ez many candles ez any other man would give. An' quick ez I said them words, why, Enoch Johnson up an' doubled his number. It tickled me to see him do it, too.
Enoch hates me thess because he's got a stupid boy—like ez ef that was any o' my fault. His Sam failed to pass at the preliminar' examination, an' wasn't allowed to try for a diplomy in public; an' Enoch an' his wife, why, they seem to hold it ag'in' me thet Sonny could step in at the last moment an' take what their boy could n't git th'oo the trials an' tribulations of a whole year o' bein' teached lessons at home an' wrestled in prayer over.
I ain't got a thing ag'in' Enoch, not a thing—not even for makin' me double my number o' candles. Mo' 'n that, I'd brighten up Sam's mind for 'im in a minute, ef I could.
I never was jealous-hearted. An' neither is Sonny.
He sent Sam a special invite to his gradj'atin' party, an' give him a seat next to hisself so's he could say "Amen" to his blessin', thess because he had missed gittin' his diplomy. Everybody there knowed why he done it.
But talkin' about Sonny being "raised," I told Miss Phoebe thet we'd haf to stop sayin' it about him, right or wrong, ez a person can't raise nothin' higher 'n what he is hisself, an Sonny's taller 'n either wife or me, an' he ain't but sixteen. Ef we raised 'im partly, we must 'a' sent 'im up the rest o' the way. It's a pleasure to pass a little joke with Miss Phoebe; she's got sech a good ear to ketch their p'ints.
But, come to growin', Sonny never asked nobody no odds. He thess stayed stock-still ez long ez he found pleasure in bein' a little runt, an' then he humped hisself an' shot up same ez a sparrer-grass stalk. It gives me pleasure to look up to him the way I haf to.
Fact is, he always did require me to look up to 'im, even when I looked down at 'im.
Yas, sir; ez I said, Sonny has commenced keepin' company,—outspoke,—an' I can't say thet I'm opposed to it, though some would say he was a little young, maybe. I know when I was his age I had been in love sev'al times. Of co'se these first little puppy-dog loves, why, th' ain't no partic'lar harm in 'em—less'n they're opposed.
An' we don't lay out to oppose Sonny—not in nothin' thet he'll attemp'—after him bein' raised an' guided up to this age.
There goes that word "raisin'" agi'n.
He's been in love with his teacher, Miss Phoebe, most three years—an' 'cep'n' thet I had a sim'lar experience when I was sca'cely out o' the cradle, why, I might 'a' took it mo' serious.
That sort o' fallin' in love, why, it comes same ez the measles or the two-year-old teeth, an' th' ain't nothin' sweeter ef it's took philosophical.
It's mighty hard, though, for parents, thet knows thess how recent a child is, to reconcile the facts o' the case with sech things ez him takin' notice to the color o' ribbin on a middle-aged school-teacher's hair—an' it sprinkled with gray.
Sonny was worse plegged than most boys, because, havin' two lady teachers at that time, it took him sort o' duplicated like.
I suppose ef he'd had another, he'd 'a' been equally distributed on all three.
The way I look at it, a sensible, serious-minded woman thet starts out to teach school—which little fellers they ain't got no sense on earth, nohow—ain't got no business with ribbin-bows an' ways an' moles on their cheek-bones. An' ef they've got knuckles, they ought to be like wife's or mine, pointed outward for useful service, instid o' bein' turned inside out to attract a young child's admiration—not thet I hold it against Miss Phoebe thet her knuckles is reversed. Of co'se she can't be very strong-fingered. No finger could git much purchase on a dimple.
'T ain't none of her fault, I know. But Sonny has seen the day thet seem like he couldn't talk about another thing but her an' her dimpled knuckles—them an' that little brown mole thet sets out on the aidge of her eyebrow.
I think myself thet that mole looks right well, for a blemish, which wife says it is, worst kind. But of co'se a child couldn't be expected to know that. It did seem a redic'lous part o' speech the first time he mentioned sech a thing to his mother, but a boy o' twelve couldn't be expected to know the difference between a mountain an' a mole-hill.
I ricollec' he used to talk in his sleep consider'ble when he was a little chap, an' it always fretted wife turrible. She'd git up out o' bed thess ez soon ez he'd begin to hold fo'th, an' taller him over. Whenever she didn't seem to know what else to do, why, she'd taller him; an' I don't reckon there's anything less injurious to a child, asleep or awake, than taller.
She's tallored him for his long division, an' she's tallered him for that blemish on Miss Phoebe's cheek, an' she's tallered him for clairin' of his th'oat. His other lady teacher, Miss Alviry Sawyer, she was a single-handed maiden lady long'bout wife's age, an' she didn't have a feature on earth thet a friend would seem to have a right to mention, she not bein' to blame; but she had a way o' clairin' her th'oat, sort o' polite, befo' she'd open her mouth to speak. Sonny, he seemed to think it was mighty graceful the way she done it, an' he's often imitated it in his little sleep—nights when he'd eat hot waffles for his supper.
An' wife she'd always jump up an' git the mutton taller. I never took it serious myself, 'cause I know how a triflin' thing 'll sometimes turn a level-headed little chap into a drizzlin' ejiot. I been there myself.
But th' ain't no danger in it, not less'n he's made a laughin'-stalk of—which is cruelty to animals, an' shouldn't be allowed.
I know when I went to school up here at Sandy Cri'k, forty year ago, I was teached by a certain single lady that has subsequently died a nachel death of old age an' virtuous works, an' in them days she wo'e a knitted collar, an' long curls both sides of her face; an' I've seen many a night, after the candle was out, thet she'd appear befo' me. She'd seem to come an' hang over my bed-canopy same ez a chandelier, with them side curls all a-jinglin' like cut-glass dangles. It's true, she used mostly to appear with a long peach-switch in her hand, but that was nachel enough, that bein' the way she most gen'ally approached me in life.
But of co'se I come th'oo without taller. My mother had thirteen of us, an' ef she'd started anointin' us for all our little side-curled nightmares, she'd 'a' had to go to goose raisin'.
You see, in them days they used goose grease.
I never to say admired that side-curled lady much, though she's made some lastin' impressions on me. Why, I could set down now, an' make a drawin' of that knitted collar she used to wear, an' it over forty year ago. I ricollec' she was cross-eyed, too, in the eye todes the foot o' the class, where I'd occasionally set; an', tell the truth, it was the strongest reason for study thet I had—thess to get on to the side of her certain eye. Th' ain't anything much mo' tantalizin' to a person than uncertainty in sech matters.
She was mighty plain, an' yet some o' the boys seemed to see beauty in her. I know my brother Bob, he confided to mother once-t thet he thought she looked thess precizely like the Queen o' Sheba must'a' looked, an' I ricollec' thet he cried bitter because mother told it out on him at the dinner-table. It was turrible cruel, but she didn't reelize.
I reckon, ef the truth was known, most of us nine has seen them side curls in our sleep. An' nobody but God an' his angels will ever know how many of us passed th'oo the valley o' the shadder o' that singular-appearin' lady, or how often we notified the other eight of the fact, unbeknowinst to his audience, while they was distributed in their little trundle-beds.
I sometimes wonder ef they ain't no account took of little child'en's trials. Seems to me they ought to be a little heavenly book kep' a-purpose; an' 't wouldn't do no harm ef earthly fathers an' mothers was occasionally allowed to look over it.
My brother Bob, him thet likened Miss Alviry to the Queen o' Sheba, always was a sensitive-minded child, an' we all knowed it, too; and yet, we never called him a thing for months after that but Solomon. We ought to've been whupped good for it.
Bob ain't never married, an' for a bachelor person of singular habits, he's kep' ez warm a heart ez ever I see.
I've often deplo'ed him not marryin'. In fact, sense I see what comfort is to be took in a child, why, I deplo' all the singular numbers—though the Lord couldn't be expected to have a supply on hand thess like Sonny to distribute 'round on demand.
But I doubt ef parents knows the difference.
I've noticed thet when they can't take pleasure in extry smartness in a child, why, they make it up in tracin' resemblances. I suppose they's parental comfort to be took to in all kinds o' babies. I know I've seen some dull-eyed ones thet seemed like ez ef they wasn't nothin' for 'em to do but resemble.
But talkin' about Sonny a-fallin' in love with his teachers, why, they was a time here when he wanted to give away every thing in the house to first one an' then the other. The first we noticed of it was him tellin' us how nice Miss Alviry thought his livers and gizzards was. Now, everybody knows thet they ain't been a chicken thet has died for our nourishment sence Sonny has cut his eye-teeth but has give up its vitals to him, an' give 'em willin'ly, they bein' the parts of his choice; an' it was discouragin', after killin' a useless number o' chickens to git enough to pack his little lunch-bucket, to have her eat 'em up—an' she forty year old ef she's a day, an' he not got his growth yet. An' yet, a chicken liver is thess one o' them little things thet a person couldn't hardly th'ow up to a school-teacher 'thout seemin' small-minded.
I never did make no open objection to him givin' away anything to his teachers tell the time he taken a notion to give Miss Phoebe the plush album out o' the parlor. We was buyin' it on instalments at twenty-five cents a week, and it wasn't fully installed at the time, an' I told him it wouldn't never do to give away what wasn't ours.
When it comes to principle, why, I always take a stand. I thought likely by the time it was ours in full he'd've recovered from his attackt, an' be willin' for his ma to keep it; an' he was.
An' besides, sence his pet squir'l has done chawed the plush clean off one corner of it, he says he wouldn't part with it for nothin'. Of co'se a beast couldn't be expected to reelize the importance o' plush. An' that's what seems to tickle Sonny so.
We had bought it chiefly on his account, so ez to git 'im accustomed to seein' handsome things around, so thet when he goes out into the world he won't need to be flustered by finery.
Wife she's been layin' by egg money all spring to buy a swingin', silver-plated ice-pitcher, so he'll feel at home with sech things, an' capable of walkin' up to one an' tiltin' it unconcerned, which is more'n I can do to this day. I always feel like ez ef I ought to go home an' put on my Sunday clo'es befo' I can approach one of 'em.
Sech ez that has to be worked into a person's constitution in youth. The motions of a gourd-dipper, kep' in constant practice for years, is mighty hard to reverse.
How does that look now, doctor? Yas; I think so, too. It's tied in a right good bow for a ten-thumbed man, which I shorely am, come to fingerin' ribbin.
He chose blue because she's got blue eyes—pore little human! Sir? Who is she, you say? Why, don't you know? She's Joe Wallace's little Mary Elizabeth—a nice, well-mannered child ez ever lived.
Wife has had her over here to supper sev'al nights lately, an' Sonny he's took tea over to the Wallaces' once-t or twice-t, an' they say he shows mighty good table manners, passin' things polite, an' leavin' proper amounts on his plate. His mother has always teached him keerful. It's good practice for 'em both. Of co'se Mary Elizabeth she's a year older 'n what Sonny is, an' she's thess gittin' a little experience out o' him—though she ain't no ways conscious of it,—an' he 'll gain a good deal o' courage th'oo keepin' company with a ladylike girl like Mary Elizabeth. That's the way it goes, an' I think th' ain't nothin' mo' innercent or sweet.
How'd you say that, doctor? S'posin' it wasn't to turn out that-a-way? Well, bless yo' heart, ef it was to work out in all seriousness, what could be sweeter 'n little Mary Elizabeth? Sonny ain't got it in his power to displease us, don't keer what he was to take a notion to, less'n, of co'se, it was wrong, which it ain't in him to do—not knowin'ly.
You know, Sonny has about decided to take a trip north, doctor—to New York State. Sir? Oh, no; he ain't goin' to take the co'se o' lectures thet Miss Phoebe has urged him to take—'t least, that ain't his intention.
No; he sez thet he don't crave to fit his-self to teach. He sez he feels like ez ef it would smother him to teach school in a house all day. He taken that after me.
No; he's goin a-visitin'. Oh, no, sir; we ain't got no New York kin. He's a-goin' all the way to that strange an' distant State to call on a man thet he ain't never see, nor any of his family. He's a gentle man by the name o' Burroughs—John Burroughs. He's a book-writer. The first book thet Sonny set up nights to read was one o' his'n—all about dumb creatures an' birds. Sonny acchilly wo'e that book out a-readin' it.
Yas, sir; Sonny says thet ef he could thess take one long stroll th'oo the woods with him, he'd be willin' to walk to New York State if necessary. An' we're a-goin' to let 'im go. The purtiest part about it is thet this here great book-writer has invited him to pay him a visit. Think o' that, will you? Think of a man thet could think up a whole row o' books a-takin' sech a' int'res' in our plain little Arkansas Sonny. But he done it; an' 'mo' 'n that, he remarked in the letter thet it would give him great pleasure to meet the boy thet had so many mutual friends in common with him, or some sech remark. Of co'se, in this he referred to dumb brutes, an' even trees, so Sonny says. Oh, cert'n'y; Sonny writ him first. How would he've knew about Sonny? Miss Phoebe she encouraged him to write the letter, but it was Sonny's first idee. An' the answer, why, he's got it framed an' hung up above his bookshelves between our marriage c'tif'cate an' his diplomy.
He's done sent Sonny his picture, too. He's took a-settin' up in a' apple-tree. You can tell from a little thing like that thet a person ain't no dude, an' I like that. We 've put that picture in the front page of the plush album, an' moved the bishop back one page.
Sonny has sent him a photograph of all our family took together, an' likely enough he'll have it framed time Sonny arrives there.
When he goes, little Mary Elizabeth, why, she's offered to take keer of all his harmless live things till he comes back, an' I s'pose they'll be letters a-passin' back and fo'th. It does seem so funny, when I think about it. 'Pears like thess the other day thet Mis' Wallace fetched little Mary Elizabeth over to look at Sonny, an' he on'y three days old. I ricollec' when she seen 'im she took her little one-year-old finger an' teched 'im on the forehead, an' she says, says she, "Howdy?"—thess that-a-way. I remember we all thought it was so smart. Seemed like ez ef she reelized thet he had thess arrived—an' she had thess learned to say "Howdy," an' she up an' says it.
An' she's ap' at speech yet, so Sonny says. She don't say much when wife or I are around, which I think is showin' only right an' proper respec's.
Th' ain't nothin' purtier, to my mind, than for a young girl to set up at table with her elders, an' to 'tend strictly to business. Mary Elizabeth'll set th'oo a whole meal, an' sca'cely look up from her plate. I never did see a little girl do it mo' modest.
Of co'se, Sonny, he bein' at home, an' she bein' his company, why, he talks constant, an' she'll glance up at him sort o' sideways occasional. Wife an' me, we find it ez much ez we can do, sometimes, to hold in; we feel so tickled over their cunnin' little ways together. To see Sonny politely take her cup o' tea an' po' it out in her saucer to cool for her so nice, why, it takes all the dignity we can put on to cover our amusement over it. You see, they've only lately teethed together, them child'en.
I reckon the thing sort o' got started last summer. I know he give her a flyin' squir'l, an' she embroidered him a hat-band. I suspicioned then what was comin', an' I advised wife to make up a few white-bosomed shirts for him, an' she didn't git 'em done none too soon. 'Twasn't no time befo' he called for 'em.
A while back befo' that I taken notice thet he 'd put a few idees down on sheets o' paper for her to write her compositions by. Of co'se, he wouldn't write 'em. He's too honest. He'd thess sugges' idees promiscu'us.
She's got words, so he says, an' so she'd write out mighty nice compositions by his hints. I taken notice thet in this world it's often that-a-way; one'll have idees, an' another'll have words. They ain't always bestowed together. When they are, why, then, I reckon, them are the book-writers. Sonny he's got purty consider'ble o' both for his age, but, of co'se, he wouldn't never aspire to put nothin' he could think up into no printed book, I don't reckon; though he's got three blank books filled with the routine of "out-door housekeeping," ez he calls it, the way it's kep' by varmints an' things out o' doors under loose tree-barks an' in all sorts of outlandish places. I did only last week find a piece o' paper with a po'try verse on it in his hand-write on his little table. I suspicioned thet it was his composin', because the name "Mary Elizabeth" occurred in two places in it, though, of co'se, they's other Mary Elizabeths. He's a goin' to fetch that housekeepin' book up north with him, an' my opinion is thet he's a-projec'ing to show it to Mr. Burroughs. But likely he won't have the courage.
Yas; take it all together, I'm glad them two child'en has took the notion. It'll be a good thing for him whilst he's throwed in with all sorts o' travelin' folks goin' an' comin' to reelize thet he's got a little sweetheart at home, an' thet she's bein' loved an' cherished by his father an' mother du'in' his absence.
Even after they've gone their sep'rate ways, ez they most likely will in time, it'll be a pleasure to 'em to look back to the time when they was little sweethearts.
I know I had a number, off an' on, when I was a youngster, an' they're every one hung up—in my mind, of co'se—in little gilt frames, each one to herself. An' sometimes, when I think 'em over, I imagine thet they's sweet, bunches of wild vi'lets a-settin' under every one of 'em—all 'cep'n' one, an' I always seem to see pinks under hers.
An' she's a grandmother now. Funny to think it all over, ain't it? At this present time she's a tall, thin ol' lady thet fans with a turkey-tail, an' sets up with the sick. But the way she hangs in her little frame in my mind, she's a chunky little thing with fat ankles an' wrisses, an' her two cheeks they hang out of her pink caliker sunbonnet thess like a pair o' ripe plumgranates.
She was the pinkest little sweetheart thet a pink-lovin' school-boy ever picked out of a class of thirty-five, I reckon.
Seemed to me everything about her was fat an' chubby, thess like herself. Ricollec', one day, she dropped her satchel, an' out rolled the fattest little dictionary I ever see, an' when I see it, seem like she couldn't nachelly be expected to tote no other kind. I used to take pleasure in getherin' a pink out o' mother's garden in the mornin's when I'd be startin' to school, an' slippin' it on to her desk when she wouldn't be lookin', an' she'd always pin it on her frock when I'd have my head turned the other way. Then when she'd ketch my eye, she'd turn pinker'n the pink. But she never mentioned one o' them pinks to me in her life, nor I to her.
Yas; I always think of her little picture with a bunch o' them old-fashioned garden pinks a settin' under it, an' there they'll stay ez long ez my old mind is a fitten place for sech sweet-scented pictures to hang in.
They've been a pleasure to me all my life, an' I'm glad to see Sonny's a-startin' his little picture-gallery a'ready.
That you, doctor? Hitch up, an' come right in.
You say Sonny called by an' ast you to drop in to see me?
But I ain't sick. I'm thess settin'out here on the po'ch, upholstered with pillers this-a-way on account o' the spine o' my back feelin' sort o' porely. The way I ache—I reckon likely ez not it's a-fixin' to rain. Ef I don't seem to him quite ez chirpy I ought to be, why Sonny he gets oneasy an' goes for you, an' when I object—not thet I ain't always glad to see you, doctor—why, he th'ows up to me thet that's the way we always done about him when de was in his first childhood. An' ef you ricollec'—why, it's about true. He says he's boss now, an' turn about is fair play.
My pulse ain't no ways discordant, is it? No, I thought not. Of co'se, ez you say, I s'pose it's sort o' different to a younger person's, an' then I've been so worked up lately thet my heart's bound to be more or less frustrated, and Sonny says a person's heart reg'lates his pulse.
I reckon I ain't ez strong ez I ought to be, maybe, or I wouldn't cry so easy ez what I do. I been settin' here, pretty near boo-hoo-in' for the last half-hour, over the weddin' presents Sonny has thess been a-givin' me.
Last week it was a daughter, little Mary Elizabeth—an' now it's his book.
They was to 've come together. The book was printed and was to 've been received here on Sonny's weddin'-day, but it didn't git in on time. But I counted it in ez one o' my weddin' presents from Sonny, give to me on the occasion of his marriage, thess the same, though I didn't know about the inscription thet he's inscribed inside it tell it arrived—an' I'm glad I didn't.
Ef I'd 've knew that day, when my heart was already in my win'-pipe, thet he had give out to the world by sech a printed declaration ez that thet he had to say dedicated all his work in life, in advance, to my ol' soul, I couldn't no mo' 've kep' up my behavior 'n nothin'.
I'm glad you think I don't need no physic, doctor. I never was no hand to swaller medicine when I was young, and the obnoxion seems to grow on me ez I git older.
Not all that toddy? You'll have me in a drunkard's grave yet,—you an' Sonny together,—ef I don't watch out.
That nutmeg gives it a mighty good flavor, doc'. Ef any thing ever does make me intemp'rate, why, it'll be the nutmeg an' sugar thet you all smuggle the liquor to me in.
It does make me see clairer, I vow it does, either the nutmeg or the sperit, one.
There's Sonny's step, now. I can tell it quick ez he sets it on the back steps. Sence I'm sort o' laid up, Sonny gits into the saddle every day an' rides over the place an' gives orders for me.
Come out here, son, an' shake hands with the doctor.
Pretty warm, you say it is, son! An' th' ain't nothin' goin' astray on the place? Well, that's good. An', doc', here, he says thet his bill for this visit is a unwarranted extravagance 'cause they ain't a thing I need but to start on the downward way thet leads to ruin. He's got me all threatened with the tremens now, so thet I hardly know how to match my pronouns to suit their genders an' persons. He's give me fully a tablespoonful o' the reverend stuff in one toddy. I tell him he must write out a prescription for the gold cure an' leave it with me, so's in case he should drop off befo' I need it, I could git it, 'thout applyin' to a strange doctor an' disgracin' everybody in America by the name o' Jones.
Do you notice how strong he favors her to-day, doctor?
I don't know whether it's the toddy I've took thet calls my attention to it or not.
She always seemed to see me in him—but I never could. Far ez I can see, he never taken nothin' from me but his sect—an' yo' name, son, of co'se. 'Cep'in' for me, you couldn't 'a' been no Jones—'t least not in our branch.
Put yo' hand on my forr'd, son, an' bresh it up'ards a few times, while I shet my eyes.
Do you know when he does that, doc', I couldn't tell his hand from hers.
He taken his touch after her, exact—an' his hands, too, sech good firm fingers, not all plowed out o' shape, like mine. I never seemed to reelize it tell she'd passed away.
That'll do now, boy. I know you want to go in an' see where the little wife is, an' I've no doubt you'll find her with a wishful look in her eyes, wonderin' what keeps you out here so long.
Funny, doctor, how seein' him and little Mary Elizabeth together brings back my own youth to me—an' wife's.
From the first day we was married to the day we laid her away under the poplars, the first thing I done on enterin' the house was to wonder where she was an' go an' find her. An' quick ez I'd git her located, why, I'd feel sort o' rested, an' know things was all right.
Heap of his ma's ways I seem to see in Sonny since she's went.
An' what do you think, doc'? He's took to kissin' me nights and mornin's since she's passed away, an' I couldn't tell you how it seems to comfort me.
Maybe that sounds strange to you in a grown-up man, but it don't come no ways strange to me—not from Sonny. Now he's started it, seems like ez ef I'd 've missed it if he hadn't.
Ez I look back, they ain't no lovin' way thet a boy could have thet ain't seemed to come nachel to him—not a one. An' his little wife, Mary Elizabeth, why, they never was a sweeter daughter on earth.
An' ef I do say it ez shouldn't, their weddin' was the purtiest thet has ever took place in this county—in my ricollection, which goes back distinc' for over sixty year.
Everybody loves little Mary Elizabeth, an' th' aint a man, woman, or child in the place but doted on Sonny, even befo' he turned into a book-writer. But, of co'se, all the great honors they laid on him—the weddin' supper an' dance in the Simpkins's barn, the dec'rations o' the church that embraced so many things he's lectured about an' all that—why they was all meant to show fo'th how everybody took pride in him, ez a author o' printed books.
You see he has give' twelve lectures in the academy each term for the last three years, after studyin' them three winters in New York, each year's lectures different, but all relatin' to our own forests an' their dumb population. That's what he calls 'em. Th' ain't a boy thet has attended the academy, sence he's took the nachel history to teach, but'll tell you thess what kind o' inhabitants to look for on any particular tree. Nearly every boy in the county's got a cabinet—an' most of 'em have carpentered 'em theirselves, though I taught 'em how to do that after the pattern Sonny got me to make his by—an' you'll find all sorts o' specimens of what they designate ez "summer an' winter resorts" in pieces of bark an' cobweb an' ol' twisted tree-leaves in every one of 'em.
The boys thet dec'rated the barn for the dance say thet they ain't a tree Sonny ever lectured about but was represented in the ornaments tacked up ag'inst the wall, an' they wasn't a space big ez yo' hand, ez you know, doctor, thet wasn't covered with some sort o' evergreen or berry-branch, or somethin'.
An' have you heerd what the ol' nigger Proph' says? Of co'se he's all unhinged in the top story ez anybody would be thet lived in the woods an' e't sca'cely anything but herbs an' berries. But, anyhow, he's got a sort o' gift o' prophecy an' insight, ez we all know.
Well, Proph', he sez that while the weddin' march was bein' played in the church the night o' Sonny's weddin' thet he couldn't hear his own ears for the racket among all the live things in the woods. An' he says thet they wasn't a frog, or a cricket, or katydid, or nothin', but up an' played on its little instrument, an' thet every note they sounded fitted into the church music—even to the mockin'-bird an' the screech-owl.
Of co'se, I don't say it's so, but the ol' nigger swears to it, an' ef you dispute it with him an' ask him how it come thet nobody else didn't hear it, why he says that's because them thet live in houses an' eat flesh ain't got the love o' Grod in their hearts, an' can't expect to hear the songs of the songless an' speech of the speechless.
That's a toler'ble high-falutin figgur o' speech for a nigger, but it's thess the way he expresses it.
You know he's been seen holdin' conversation with dumb brutes, more 'n once-t—in broad daylight.
Of co'se, we can't be shore thet they was rejoicin' expressed in the underbrush an' the forests, ez he says, but I do say, ez I said before, thet Sonny an' the little girl has had the purtiest an' joyfulest weddin' I ever see in this county, an' a good time was had by everybody present. An' it has made me mighty happy—it an' its results.
They say a son is a son till he gets him a wife, but 't ain't so in this case, shore. I've gained thess ez sweet a daughter ez I could 'a' picked out ef I'd 'a' had the whole world to select from.
Little Mary Elizabeth has been mighty dear to our hearts for a long time, an' when wife passed away, although the weddin' hadn't took place yet, she bestowed a mother's partin' blessin' on her, an' give Sonny a lot o' private advice about her disposition, an' how he ought to reg'late hisself to deal with it.
You see, Mary Elizabeth stayed along with us so much durin' the seasons he was away in New York, thet we got to know all her crotchets an' quavers, an' she ain't got a mean one, neither.
But they're there. An' they have to be dealt with, lovin'. Fact is, th' ain't no other proper way to deal with nothin', in my opinion.
We was ruther glad to find out some little twists in her disposition, wife an' me was, 'cause ef we hadn't discovered none, why we'd 'a' felt shore she had some in'ard deceit or somethin'. No person can't be perfec', an' when I see people always outwardly serene, I mistrust their insides.
But little Mary Elizabeth, why, she ain't none too angelic to git a good healthy spell o' the pouts once-t in a while, but ef she's handled kind an' tender, why, she'll come thoo without havin' to humble herself with apologies.
It depends largely upon how a pout is took, whether it'll contrac' itself into a hard knot an' give trouble or thess loosen up into a good-natured smile, an' the oftener they are let out that-a-way, the seldomer they'll come.
Little Mary Elizabeth, why, she looks so purty when she pouts, now, that I've been tempted sometimes to pervoke her to it, thess to witness the new set o' dimples she'll turn out on short notice; but I ain't never done it. I know a dimple thet's called into bein' too often in youth is li'ble to lay the foundation of a wrinkle in old age.
But takin' her right along stiddy, day in an' day out, she's got a good sunny disposition an' is mighty lovin' and kind.
An' as to character and dependableness, why, she's thess ez sound ez a bell.
In a heap o' ways she nears up to us, sech, f' instance, ez when she taken wife's cook-receipt book to go by in experimentin' with Sonny's likes an' dislikes. 'T ain't every new-married wife thet's willin' to sample her husband's tastes by his ma's cook-books.
They seem to think they 're too dictatorial.
But, of co'se, wife's receipts was better 'n most, an' Mary Elizabeth, she knows that.
She ain't been married but a week, but she's served up sev'al self-made dishes a'ready—all constructed accordin' to wife's schedule.
Of co'se I could see the diff'ence in the mixin'—but it only amused me. An' Sonny seemed to think thet, ef anything, they was better 'n they ever had been—which is only right and proper.
Three days after she was married, the po' little thing whipped up a b'iled custard for dinner an', some way or other, she put salt in it 'stid o' sugar, and poor Sonny—Well, I never have knew him to lie outright, befo', but he smacked his lips over it an' said it was the most delicious custard he had ever e't in his life, an' then, when he had done finished his first saucer an' said, "No, thank you, I won't choose any more," to a second helpin', why, she tasted it an' thess bust out a-cryin'.
But I reckon that was partly because she was sort o' on edge yet from the excitement of new housekeepin' and the head o' the table.
Well, I felt mighty sorry to see her in tears, an' what does Sonny do but insist on eatin' the whole dish o' custard, an' soon ez I could git a chance, I took him aside an' give him a little dose-t o' pain-killer, an' I took a few drops myself.
I had felt obligated to swaller a few spoonfuls o' the salted custard when she'd be lookin' my way, an' I felt like ez ef I was pizened, an' so I thess took the painkiller ez a sort o' anecdote.
Another way Mary Elizabeth shows sense is the way she accepts discipline from the ol' nigger, Dicey.
She's mighty old an' strenuous now, Dicey is, an' she thinks because she was present at Sonny's birth an' before it, thet she's privileged to correct him for anything he does, and we've always indulged her in it, an' thess ez soon as she knowed what was brewin' 'twix' him an' Mary Elizabeth, why, she took her into the same custody, an' it's too cute for anything the way the little girl takes a scoldin' from her—thess winkin' at Sonny an' me while she receives it.
An' the ol' nigger'd lay down her life for her most ez quick ez she would for Sonny.
She was the first to open our eyes to the state of affairs 'twixt the two child'en, that ol' nigger was. It was the first year Sonny went North. He had writ home to his ma from New York State, and said thet Mr. Burroughs had looked over his little writings an' said they was good enough to be printed an' bound up in a book.
Wife, she read the letter out loud, ez she always done, an' we noticed thet when we come to that, Mary Elizabeth slipped out o' the room; but we didn't think nothin' of it tell direc'ly ol' Dicey, she come in tickled all but to death to tell us thet the little girl was out on the po'ch with her face hid in the honeysuckle vines, cryin' thess ez hard as we was. So then, of co'se, we knowed that ef the co'se of true love could be allowed to run smooth for once-t, she was fo'-ordained to be our little blessin'—an' his—that is, so far as she was concerned.
Of co'se we was even a little tenderer todes her, after that, than we had been befo'.
That was over five year ago, an' th' ain't been a day sca'cely sence then but we've seen her, an' in my jedgment they won't be nothin' lackin' in her thet's needful in a little wife—not a thing.
Ef they's anything in long acquaintance, they've certainly knowed one another all the time they've had.
Of co'se Mary Elizabeth, she ain't to say got Sonny's thoughts, exac'ly, where it comes to sech a thing ez book-writin', but he says she's a heap better educated 'n what he is.
She's got all her tuition repo'ts du'in' the whole time she attended school, an' mostly all her precentages was up close onto the hund'eds.
Sonny never was no hand on earth to git good reports at school.
They was always so low down in figgurs thet he calls 'em his "misconduc' slips."
But they ain't a one he's ever got, takin' 'em from the beginnin' clean up to the day o' his gradjuatin', thet ain't got some lovin' remark inscribed acrost it from his teacher—not a one.
Even them that wrastled with him most severe has writ him down friendly an' kind.
An' little Mary Elizabeth—why, she's took every last one of 'em an' she's feather-stitched 'em aroun' the edges an' sewed 'em up into a sort o' little book, an' tied a ribbin' bow acrost it. I don't know whether she done it on account o' the teacher's remarks or not—but she cert'n'y does prize that pamphlet.
She thinks so much of it thet I been advisin' her to take out a fire insu'ance on it.
In a heap o' ways she thess perzacly suits Sonny. Lookin' at it from one p'int o' view, she's a sort o' dictionary to him.
Whenever Sonny finds hisself short of a date, f' instance, or some unreasonable spellin' 'll bother 'im, why, he'll apply to her for it an' she'll hand it out to him, intac'. I ain't never knew her to fail.
You see, while Sonny's thoughts is purty far-reachin' in some ways, he's received his education so sort o' hit an' miss thet the things he knows ain't to say catalogued in his mind, an' while he'll know one fac', maybe he won't be able to recall another thet seems to belong hand in hand with it. An' that's one reason why I say thet little Mary Elizabeth is thess the wife for him.
She may not bother about the whys an' wherefores, but she's got the statistics.
It's always well, in a married couple, to have either one or the other statistical, so thet any needed fac' can be had on demand.
Wife, she was a heap more gifted that-a-way 'n what I was, but of co'se hers wasn't so much book statistics.
She could give the name an' age of every cow an' calf on the farm, an' relate any circumstance thet has took place within her recollection or mine without the loss of a single date or any gain through imagination, either.
I don't know but I think that's a greater gif' than the other, to be able to reproduce a event after a long time without sort o' thess techin' it up with a little exaggeration.
Th' ain't no finer trait, in my opinion, in man or woman, than dependableness, an' that's another reason I take sech special delight in the little daughter, Mary Elizabeth.
If she tells you a thing's black, why you may know it don't lean todes brown or gray. It's thess a dismal black.
She may hate to say it, an' show her hatred in a dozen lovin', regretful ways, but out it'll come.
An' I think thet any man thet can count on a devoted wife for exactitude is blessed beyond common.
So many exac' women is col'-breasted an' severe. An' ef I had to take one or the other, why, I'd let my wife prevaricate a little, ef need be, befo' I'd relinquish warmheartedness, an' the power to command peacefulness an' rest, an' make things comfortable an' homely, day in an' day out.
Maybe I'm unprincipled in that, but life is so short, an' ef we didn't have lovin' ways to lengthen out our days, why I don't think I'd keer to bother with it, less'n, of co'se, I might be needful to somebody else.
Yas, doc', I 'm mighty happy in the little daughter—an' the book—an' the blessed boy hisself. Maybe I'm too talkative on the subject, but the way I feel about him, I might discuss him forever, an' then they'd be thess a little sweetness left over thet I couldn't put into words about him.
Not thet he's faultless. I don't suppose they ever was a boy on earth thet had mo' faults 'n Sonny, but they ain't one he's got thet I don't seem to cherish because I know it's rooted in honest soil.
You may strike a weed now an' ag'in, but he don't grow no pizen vines in his little wilderness o' short-comin's. Th' ain't no nettles in his garden o' faults. That ain't a bad figgur o' speech for a ol' man like me, is it, doctor?
But nex' time he stops an' tells you I'm sick, you thess tell him to go about his business.
I'm failin' in stren'th ez the days go—an' I know it—an' it's all right.
I don't ask no mo' 'n thess to pass on whenever the good Lord wills.
But of co'se I ain't in no hurry, an' they's one joy I'd like to feel befo' that time comes.
I'd love to hol' Sonny's baby in my ol' arms—his an' hers—an' to see thet the good ol' name o' Jones has had safe transportation into one mo' generation of honest folks.
Sonny an' Mary Elizabeth are too sweet-hearted an' true not to be reproduced in detail, an' passed along.
This here ol' oak tree thet gran'pa planted when I was a kid, why, it'd be a fine shady place for healthy girls an' boys to play under.
When I set here by myself on this po'ch so much these days an' think,—an' remember,—why I thess wonder over the passage o' time.
I ricollec' thess ez well when gran'pa planted that oak saplin'. My pa he helt it stiddy an' I handed gran'pa the spade, an' we took off our hats whilst he repeated a Bible tex'.
Yes, that ol' oak was religiously planted, an' we've tried not to offend its first principles in no ways du'in' the years we've nurtured it.
An' when I set here an' look at it, an' consider its propensities,—it's got five limbs that seem thess constructed to hold swings,—maybe it's 'cause I was raised Presbyterian an' sort o' can't git shet o' the doctrine o' predestination, but I can't help seemin' to fo'-see them friendly family limbs all fulfillin' their promises.
An' when I imagine myself a-settin' there with one little one a-climbin' over me while the rest swings away, why, seem like a person don't no mo' 'n realize he's a descendant befo' he's a' ancestor.