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The Road to Providence By Maria Thompson Daviess Characters: 29151

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

"There's just no doubt about it, if Tom Mayberry weren't my own son and I had occasion to know better I'd think he had teeth in his heels, from the looks of his socks. Every week Cindy darns them a spell and then I take a hand at it. Just look, Elinory, did you ever see a worser hole than this?" As Mother Mayberry spoke she held up for Miss Wingate's interested inspection a fine, dark blue sock. They were sitting on the porch in the late afternoon and the singer lady was again at work on a bit of wardrobe for the doll daughter of her friend Eliza.

"How does he manage such-such awful ones?" asked Miss Wingate with a laugh.

"That you can't never prove by me," answered his mother as she slipped a small gourd into the top of the sock and drew a thread through her needle.

"Sometimes I wish the time when I could turn him barefooted from May to November had never gone by. But a-wishing they children back in years is a habit most mothers have got in common, I reckon. When he's away from me I dream him often at all ages, but it's mostly from six to eleven I seem to want him. When he were six, with Doctor Mayberry gone, I took to steadying myself by Tom and at eleven I made up my mind to give him up."

"Give him up?" asked Miss Wingate as she raised her eyes from her work. "I don't think you seem to have given him up to any serious extent." And she smiled as she turned her head in the direction of the office wing, from which came a low whistled tune, jerkily and absorbedly rendered.

"Oh, he don't belong to me no more," answered his mother in a placid tone of voice as she rocked to and fro with her work. "I fought out all that fight when I took my resolve. I just figured something like this, Pa Lovell had been a-doctoring on Harpeth Hills for a lifetime and Doctor Mayberry had gave all his young-man life to answering the call, a-carrying the grace of God as his main remedy, so now I felt like the time had come for a Lovell and a Mayberry to go out and be something to the rest of the world, and Tom were the one to carry the flag. I seen that the call were on him since he helped me through a spell of May pips with over two hundred little chickens before he were five years old, and he cut a knot out of the Deacon's roan horse by the direction of a book when he weren't but eleven, as saved its life. That kinder settled it with me and the Deacon both, though we talked it back and forth for two more years. Then Deacon took to teaching of him regular and I set in to save all I could from the thin peeling of potatoes to worser darnings and patches than this. Would you think they could be any worser?" And she smiled up over her glasses at the girl opposite her.

"Tell me about it," demanded the singer lady interestedly. "Where did you send him to school first?"

"Right down here to the City. You see Doctor Mayberry left me this home, fifty acres and a small life insurance, so they was a little something to inch and pinch on. You can't save by trying to peel nothing, but the smallest potatoes have got a skin, and I peeled close them days. Tom did his part too and he run the plow deep and straight when he wasn't much taller than the handles. I had done talked it over with him and asked him would he, and he looked right in my eyes in his dependable way and said yes he would. That finished it and he wasn't but eleven; but I don't want to brag on him to you. If you listen to mothers' talk the world are full of heroes and none-suches." Again Miss Wingate received the smile from over Mother Mayberry's glasses and this time it was tinged with a whimsical pride.

"Please, Mrs. Mayberry, tell me about it; you know I want to hear," begged the girl, and she moved her chair nearer to Mother's and picked up the mate of the blue sock off her knee. "How old was he when he went to college?"

"Just sixteen, big and hearty and with enough in his head to get through the examinations. I packed him up, and him and the Deacon started down Providence Road at sun-up in the Deacon's old buggy. He looked both man and baby to me as he turned around to smile back; but I stood it out at the gate until they turned the bend, then I come on back to the house quick like some kind of hurted animal. But, dearie me, I never got a single tear shed, for there were Mis' Peavey with Buck in her arms, shaking him upside down to get out a brass button he hadn't swallowed. By the time we poured him full of hot mustard water and the button fell outen his little apron pocket, I had done got my grip on myself."

"I just can't stand it that you had to let him go," Miss Wingate both laughed and sobbed.

"Yes, but I ain't told you about the commencement, honey-bird. There's that tear I didn't get to drop a-splashing outen your eyes on the doll's hat! That day was the most grandest thing that ever happened to anybody's mother, anywhere in this world. I didn't think I could go to see him get the diplomy, for with all his saving ways and working hard in the summer, it had been a pull to make buckle and tongue meet and there just wasn't nothing left for me to buy no stylish clothes to wear. I set here a-worrying over it, not that I minded, but it was hard on the boy to have to make his step-off in life and his mother not be there to see. And somehow I felt as if it would hurt Pa Lovell and Doctor Mayberry for me not to be with him. Then with thinking of Pa Lovell a sudden idea popped into my head. There was Seliny Lue Lovell right down to the Bluff, on the road to town, and with Aunt Lovell's fine black silk dress packed away in the trunk, as good as new, and me and Seliny Lue of almost the same figger as her mother. That just settled the question and I got up and washed out my water-waves in a little bluing water to make 'em extra white, dabbed buttermilk on my face to get off some of the tan and called over Mis' Peavey and Mis' Pike to let 'em know. The next morning I started off gay with everybody there to see and sending messages to Tom."

"Wasn't it fortunate you thought of the dress and lovely for you to be able to go right by and get it!" exclaimed Miss Wingate, her eyes as bright as Mother Mayberry's and her cheeks pink with excitement as the tale began to unfold its dramatic length.

"Yes, and Seliny Lue was glad enough to see me! We laughed and talked half the night, was up early, and she took a time to rig me out. It is a stiff black silk, as anybody would be proud of, cut liberal with real lace collar and cuffs. Seliny Lue said I looked fine in it. I wisht she could have gone with me, but they wasn't room for both of us inside the dress." And Mother laughed merrily at the memory of her borrowing escapade.

"Did Doctor Mayberry know you were coming?" asked the singer lady, hurrying on the climax of the recital.

"Not a word! He'd gone off the week before taking it sensible, but I could see hurt mightily about it. I got to the University Hall late, and 'most everybody in the world looked like they was there. I stood at the back and didn't hope to see or hear, just thankful to be near him, but I seen one of them young usher men a-looking hard at me and he came up and asked me if I wasn't Mr. Thomas Mayberry's mother. He had knew me by the favor. I told him yes and he took me up to the very front just as the singing begun. I soon got me and the silk dress settled, with the bokay all Providence had sent Tom on my knee, and looked around me. There next to me was the sweetest young-lady girl I have 'most ever saw, and she smiled at me real friendly. I was just about to speak when the music stopped and the addressing began by a tall thin kinder man. Elinory, child, did you ever hear one of them young men's life-commencement speeches made?" This time Mother Mayberry peered over the top of her glasses seriously and her needle paused suspended over the fast narrowing hole in the sock.

"Yes, but I don't think I ever listened very carefully," admitted Miss Wingate with a smile.

"Well, I felt that if the Lord had gave it to me to stand up there and say a word of start-off to all them boys setting solemn and listening, it wouldn't have been about no combination of things done by men dead and gone, that didn't seem to prove nothing in particular on nobody. I woulder read 'em a line of scripture and then talked honest dealing by one another, the measuring out of work according to the pay and always a little over, the putting of a shoulder under another man's pressing burden, the respect of women folks, the respect of theyselves and the looking to the Lord to see 'em through it all. That speech made me so mad I 'most forgot it was time for Tom's valediction. Honey-bird, I wisht you coulder seen him and heard him."

"I wish I could," answered Miss Wingate with a flush.

"Dearie me, but he was handsome and he spoke words of sense that the other gray-haired man seemed to have forgot! And they was a farewell sadness in it too, what got some of them boys' faces to working, and I felt a big tear roll down and splash right on the lace collar. Then he sat down and they was a to-do of hollering and clapping, but I just sat there too happy to take in the rest of what was did. Sometimes they is a kinder pride swell in a mother's heart that rises right up and talks to her soul in psalm words, and I heard mine that day." Mother's eyes softened and looked far away across to the blue hills.

"What did he do when he saw you?" asked Miss Wingate gently.

"Oh, I didn't pay much attention to him when he come up to me, or let on how I felt. That sweet child next to me had done found out I was his mother, I couldn't help telling her. And then she had sent for her father, who was the head Dean man, and about the time Tom came up, he was there shaking hands with me and telling me how proud the whole University was of Tom and about the great scholarship for him to go to New York to study he had got, and that he must go. It didn't take me hardly two seconds to think a mortgage on the house and fifty acres, the cows and all, so I answered right up on time that go he should. While I was a-talking Tom had gave the bokay from Providence to the girl, what he had been knowing all the time at her father's house. And she had her nose buried in one of Mis' Peavey's pink peonys, a-blushing as pretty as you please over it at that country bumpkin of mine with all his fine manners. That Miss Alford is one of the most sweet girls you ever have saw. She and me have been friends ever since. She comes out to see me in her ottermobile sometimes. She ain't down to the City now, for I had a picture card from some place out West from her, but when she comes back I'm a-going to ask her to come up and have a stay-a-week-in-the-house party for you; and she can bring her brother. You might like him. The four of you can have some nice junketings together. Won't that be fine?"

"Y-e-s," answered the singer lady slowly, "but I'm afraid I'm not able now to interest anybody, and my voice, when I speak-I-I-Will it be soon?" Her question had a trace of positive anxiety in it and her joy was most evidently forced.

"Oh, not till June rose time! And your voice now sounds like a angel's with a bad cold. I'll tell Tom about it, he'll be so pleased. Her father was such a friend to him and as proud of him now as can be."

"Did Doctor Mayberry stay in the City-after his graduation?" asked Miss Wingate, a trace of anxiety in her voice.

"That he didn't! He come on home with me that night, got into his overalls and begun to plow for winter wheat by sun-up the next morning. We made a good crop that year and the mortgage wasn't but a few hundred dollars, what we soon paid. We've been going up ever since. Tom reminds me of a kite, and I must make out to play tail for him until I can pick him out a wife."

"Have you thought of anybody in particular?" asked the lovely lady without raising her eyes from her work. She had commenced operations on the blue sock unnoticed by Mother, who was taken up in the unfolding of her tale.

"Not yet," answered she cheerfully. "I mustn't hurry. Marrying ain't no one-day summer junket, but a year round march and the woman to raise the hymn tune. I take it that after a mother have builded up a man, she oughter see to it that he's capped off fine with a wife, and then she can forget all about him. I've got my eyes open about Tom and I'm going to begin to hunt around soon."

"I wonder just what kind of a wife you-you will select for him," murmured Miss Wingate with her eyes still on the sock, which she was industriously sewing up into a tight knot on the left side of the heel.

"Well, a man oughter marry mostly for good looks and gumption; the looks to keep him from knowing when the gumption is being used on him. Tom's so say-nothing and shy with women folks that he won't be no hard proposition for nobody. But with that way of his'n I'm afraid of his being spoiled some. I have to be real stern with myself to keep from being foolish over him."

"But you want his wife to-to love him, don't you?" asked Miss Wingate, as she raised very large and frankly questioning eyes to Mother Mayberry, who was snipping loose threads from her completed task.

"Oh she'll do that and no trouble! But a man oughter be allowed to sense his wife have got plenty of love and affection preserved, only he don't know where she keeps the jar at. As I say, I don't want Tom Mayberry spoiled. What did I do with that other sock?" And Mother began to hunt in her darning bag, in her lap and on the floor.

"Here it is," answered Miss Wingate as she blushed guiltily. "I-darned it." And she handed her handiwork over to Mother Mayberry with trepidation in voice and expression.

"Well, now," said Mother, as she inspected the tight little wad on the blue heel. "It was right down kind of you to turn to and help me like this, but, honey-bird, Tom Mayberry would walk like a hop toad after he'd done got it on. You have drawn it bad. I don't know no better time to learn you how to darn your husband's socks than right now on this one of Tom's. You see you must begin with long cross stitches in the-Now what's all this a-coming!" And Mother Mayberry rose, looked down the Road and hurried to the sidewalk with the darning bag under her arm and her thimble still on her finger.

Up the middle of the Road came, in a body, the entire juvenile population of Providence at a break-neck speed and farther down the street they were followed by Deacon Bostick, coming as fast as his feeble old legs would

bring him. Eliza Pike headed the party with Teether hitched high up en her arm and Martin Luther clinging to her short blue calico skirt. They all drew up in a semicircle in front of Mother Mayberry and Miss Wingate and looked at Eliza expectantly. On all occasions of excitement Eliza was both self-constituted and unanimously appointed spokesman. On this occasion she began in the dramatic part of the news without any sort of preamble.

"It's a circus," she said breathlessly, "a-moving over from Bolivar to Springfield and nelephants and camels and roar-lions and tigers and Mis' Pratt and Deacon and Mr. Hoover and everybody is a-going over to watch it pass-and we can't-we can't!" Her voice broke into a wail, which was echoed by a sob and a howl from across the street just inside the Pike gate, where Bud and Susie pressed their forlorn little bodies against the palings and looked out on the world with the despair of the incarcerated in their eyes.

"Why can't you?" demanded Mother.

"Oh, Maw have gone across the Nob to Aunt Elviry's and left Susie May and Bud being punished. They can't go outen the gate and I ain't a-going to no circus with my little brother and sister being punished, and I won't let Billy and Ez go either." By this time the whole group was in different stages of grief, for the viewing of a circus without the company of Eliza Pike had the flavor of dead sea fruit in all their small mouths. From the heart in Eliza's small bosom radiated the force that vivified the lives of the whole small-fry congregation, and a circus not seen through her eyes would be but a dreary vision.

"Now ain't that too bad!" said Mother Mayberry with compassion and irritation striving in her voice. "What did they do and just what did she say?"

"Susie hurted Aunt Prissy's feelings, by taking the last biscuit when they wasn't one left for her, and Maw said she would have to stay in the yard until she learned to be kind and respectful to Paw's sister, She didn't mean to be bad." And Eliza presented the case of her small sister with hopelessness in every tone.

"Well, Susie," said Mother Mayberry, "don't you feel kind to her yet?" There was a note of hope in Mother's voice that silenced all the wails, and they all fixed large and expectant eyes upon this friend who never failed them. By this time the Deacon had joined the group and his gentle old eyes were also fixed on Mother Mayberry's face, with the same confident hope that the children's expressed.

"I've done been kind to her," sniffed the culprit. "I let her cut all my finger-nails and wash my ears and never said a word. She have been working on me all afternoon and it hurt."

"Susie," said Mother Mayberry, "you can go over to the cross-roads and see that circus with the Deacon. They can't no little girl do better than that, and your Maw just told you to stay until you learned that lesson. You are let out! Now, what did you do, Bud?"

"I slid on the lean-to and tored all the back of my britches out. She couldn't stop to mend 'em and she said I could just stay front ways to folks until she come home, and they shouldn't nobody mend 'em for me." Bud choked with grief and mortification and edged back as little Bettie Pratt started in his direction on an investigating tour.

"Well course, Bud," said Mother with judicial eye, "you can't take them britches off." She paused and looked at him thoughtfully.

"I ain't a-going a step without him," reiterated the loyal Eliza, and the rest of the children's faces fell.

"Too bad," murmured the Deacon, and Miss Wingate could see that his distress at the plight of young Bud was as genuine as that of any of the rest.

"But," began Mother Mayberry slowly, having in the last second weighed the matter and made a decision, "your mother ain't said you couldn't go outen the yard and she ain't said I couldn't wrap you up in one of my kitchen aprons. That wouldn't be the same as changing the britches. She didn't know about this circus and if she was here you all know she woulder done as I asked her to do about Bud, so he ain't a-disobeying her and I ain't neither, Run get the apron hanging behind the door, Susie, and I'll fix him."

"Sister Mayberry," said the Deacon with a delighted smile in his kind eyes, but a twinkle in their corners, "your decision involves the interpretation of both the letter and the spirit of the law. I am glad it, in this case, rested with you."

"Well," answered Mother Mayberry, as she took the apron from Susie and started across the Road on her rescue mission, "a woman have got to cut her conscience kinder bias in the dealing with children. If they're stuffed full of food and kindness they will mostly forget to be bad, and oughtent to be made to remember they CAN be by being punished too long. Now, sonny, I'll get you fixed up so stylish with these pins and this apron that the circus will want to carry you off. Start on, Deacon, he's a-coming."

"I've got to get the baby's bonnet," said Eliza as the whole party started away in a trail after the Deacon, who led Martin Luther by one hand and little Bettie by the other. Over by the store they could see Mrs. Pratt waiting to marshal the forces on down the Road and Mr. Hoover stood ready as outstanding escort. He had brought the news of the passing of the circus train and she had promptly consented to taking the children and the Deacon over for a view.

"Please, Eliza, please don't take the baby! Leave him with me," said Miss Wingate and as she spoke she stretched out her arms to Teether. Teether was looking worn with the excitement of the day and his sympathetic friend felt the journey would be too much for him. He smiled and fell over on her shoulder with a sigh of contentment.

"Don't you think he oughter see them nelephants and things?" asked Eliza doubtfully, her loyalty to Teether warring with the relief of having him out of her thin little arms for the journey.

"He won't mind. Let me keep him here on the front porch until you come back. Now run along and have a good time," and Miss Wingate started up the front walk, as Eliza darted away to join the others.

"I do declare," said Mother Mayberry, as she watched the expedition wend its way down the white Road in the direction of the Bolivar pike, "the way the Deacon do love the children is plumb beautiful, and sad some too. I don't know what he would do without Jem or they without him. Seeing 'em together reminds me of that scraggy, old snowball bush in full bloom, leaning down to the little Stars of Bethlehem reaching up to it. What that good man have been to me only my Heavenly Father can know and Tom Mayberry suspicion. I tell you what I think I'll do; I'll take one of them little pans of rolls what Cindy have baked for supper, with a jar of peach preserves, and go down and set with Mis' Bostick while the Deacon are gone. We can run the pan of rolls in to get hot for him when he comes home and I know he likes the preserves. I want to stop in to see Mis' Tutt too and give her a little advice about that taking so much blue-mass. I don't see how anybody with a bad liver can have any religion at all, much less a second blessing. I know the Squire have his faults, but others has failings too. And, too, I'll have to stop in and pacify Miss Prissy about turning the children loose, before I go down the Road."

"Miss Prissy always seems to be getting the children into trouble. I wonder why," said the singer lady with a shade of resentment in her voice. The little Pikes had established themselves firmly in the heart of this new friend, and she found herself in an attitude of critical partisanship.

"I reckon Miss Prissy is what you call a kinder crank," answered Mother Mayberry as she paused at the foot of the steps. "A married woman have got to be the hub of a family-wheel, but a old maid can be the outside crank that turns the whole contraption backwards if she has a mind to. I wish Miss Prissy had a little more understanding of the children, 'cause the rub all comes on Mis' Pike, and she's fair wore out with it. But I must be a-going so as to be the sooner a-coming. I wisht you would tell Tom Mayberry to go and let you help him put the hens and little chickens to bed. Feed 'em two quarts of millet seed, and you both know how to do it right if you have a mind to. I'm going to compliment you by a-trusting you this once, and don't let me wish I hadn't! I'll be back in the course of time."

And so it happened that as Doctor Mayberry was in the act of swinging his microscope over a particularly absorbing new plate, a very lovely vision framed itself in his office door against the background of Harpeth Hill, which was composed of the slim singer girl with the baby nodding over her shoulder. The unexpectedness of the visit sent the color up under his tan and brought him to his feet with a delighted smile.

"I don't know how you are going to feel about it, but I bring the news of an honor which we are to share. Do you suppose, do you, that we can put the chickens to bed for Mrs. Mayberry? She says we are to try, and if we don't do it the right way she is never going to compliment us with her confidence again. Help, please! I'm weighted down by the responsibility." And as she spoke Miss Wingate's eyes shone across Teether's bobbing head with delighted merriment.

"Well, let's try," answered the Doctor with the air of being ready to do or dare, an attitude which a vision such as his eyes rested upon is apt to incite in any man thus challenged. "Will you take command? I'm many times proved incompetent on such occasions, and I feel sure Mother trusted to your generalship." And together they went through the garden and over into the chicken yard.

"Now," said Miss Wingate, "I think the thing to do is not to let them know we are afraid of them. Let's just take their going under the coops as a matter of course, and then, perhaps, they will go without any remonstrance."

"Sort of a mental influence dodge," answered the Doctor enthusiastically. "Let's try it on Spangles first. I somehow feel that she will be more impressionable than Old Dominick. You influence while I spread the millet seed in front of her coop." And he bent down in front of the half barrel and carefully laid a tempting evening meal, with his eye on Fuss-and-Feathers. Spangles hesitated, stood on one foot, clucked in an affected tone of voice to her huddling babies and coquettishly turned her head from one side to the other as if enthusing over his artistic service before accepting his hospitality. Then, just as she was poising one dainty foot ready for the first step in advance, and had sounded a forward note to the cheepers around her, Old Dominick calmly stalked forward, stepped right across the Doctor's coaxing hand held out to Spangles, and, settling herself in the coop, began, with her voracious band of little plebeians, to devour the grain with stolid appreciation.

Miss Wingate laughed merrily, Teether Pike gurgled and the Doctor looked up with baffled astonishment.

"That was your fault," he accused; "you influenced Dominick while I was expending my force in beguiling Spangles. Now, you try to get her in the next coop yourself. I shan't help you further than to spread the grain in front of all the coops." And in accordance with his threat the Doctor disposed of the rest of the food and stood with the empty pan in his hand. And, like the well-trained flock of biddies that they were, all the rest of the hen mothers clucked and cajoled their fluffy little families into their accustomed shelters and began to dispose of their suppers with contented clucks and cheeps. Only Mrs. Spangles stood afar and eyed the only vacant coop with evident disdain.

"I don't know what to do," murmured Miss Wingate pleadingly. But the Doctor stood firm, and regarded her with maliciously delighted eyes. Teether bobbed his head over her shoulder and giggled with ungrateful delight The poor little chicks peeped sleepily, but still Spangles held her ground. The truth of the matter was that Dominick had really taken the coop usually occupied by her ladyship, and with worldly determination, the scion of all the Wyandottes was holding out against the exchange.

With a glance out of the side of her eyes from under her lowered lashes in the direction of Doctor Mayberry in his stern attitude, the singer lady cautiously veered around to the rear of the insulted grandee, and, grasping her fluffy skirts in her free hand, she shook them out with a pleading "Shoo!" Instantly a perfect whirlwind of spangled feathers veered around and faced the cascade of frills, and a volume of defiant hisses fairly filled the air. Teether squealed and Miss Wingate retreated to the bounds of the fence. The Doctor laughed in the most heartless manner, and still Spangles held her ground.

To make matters worse, Mother Mayberry's jovial voice, mingled with the shrill treble of the combined circus party, who were trying all at once to tell her the wonders of the adventure, could be distinctly heard in an increasing volume that told of their rapid approach. The situation was desperate, and the loss of Mother Mayberry's faith in her seemed inevitable to the nonplussed singer lady as she leaned against the fence with Teether over her shoulder. Then the instinct that is centuries old presented to her the wile that is of equal antiquity and, raising her purple eyes to the defenseless Doctor, she murmured in a voice of utter helplessness, into which was judiciously mingled a tone of perfect confidence:

"Please, sir, get her in for me."

The response to which, being foreordained from the beginning of time, took Doctor Mayberry just one exciting half-minute grab and shove to accomplish, at the end of which a ruffled but chastened Spangles was forced to assemble her family and content herself behind the bars of the despised coop.

"Well," said Mother Mayberry as she hurried around the corner of the house with the depleted and milk-hungry Martin Luther trailing at her skirts, "did you make out to manage 'em? Why, ain't that fine; every one in and settled and Fuss-and-Feathers in that end coop where I have been wanting her to be for a week, seeing Dominick have got so many more chickens and needs that larger barrel. I didn't depend on Tom Mayberry, but I did on you, Elinory. This just goes to show that if you put a little trust in people they are mighty apt to rise in the pan to a occasion. You all look like you've been having a real good time!"

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