MoboReader> Literature > The Road to Providence

   Chapter 4 LOVE, THE CURE-ALL

The Road to Providence By Maria Thompson Daviess Characters: 29251

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"Eat milk, thank ma'am, please, Mother Lady," demanded Martin Luther as he stood on the top step in front of Mother Mayberry, who, with Miss Wingate beside her, sat sewing away the early hours of the morning. A tiny blue-check shirt was taking shape under Mother's skilful fingers, and the singer lady was deep in the mysteries of the fore and aft of a minute pair of jeans trousers. The limitations of young Ez's wardrobe had necessitated the speedy construction of one for the little adopt, and Miss Wingate's education along the lines of needle control was progressing at what she considered a remarkable rate.

"Why, Martin Luther!" She looked down at him over a carefully poised needle. "How can you be hungry when you ate your breakfast not two hours ago?" she added with the intent to beguile him from his demand.

"All gone, thank ma'am, please," he answered, looking out from under his curl with a pathetic cast of his blue eyes, and at the same time spreading both hands over his entire vital region.

"I reckon maybe we'd better fill him up again," said Mother. "Them legs still look 'most too much like knitting-needles to suit me, and I kinder want to feel him to be sure his stomick haven't growed to his backbone. Anyway, you can't never measure a boy's food by his size. Please run and get him a glass of buttermilk and a biscuit, child, while I finish setting in this sleeve. Let me see them britches legs 'fore you put 'em down. Dearie me, if you ain't gone and made 'em both for the same leg! Too bad, with all them pretty baste-stitches!"

"Oh!" gasped Miss Wingate in dismay; "have I ruined them?"

"No, indeed, just turn the left leg inside out and hem it up again-or you might make two more right legs to sew on to these. It would be a good thing to double one failing mistake up into two successes, wouldn't it? Often bad luck turned inside out makes a cap that fits plumb easy. While you fill the boy up, I'll cut out his other legs for you to baste right this time. Take a peep around the garden before you come back to see if Spangles have got her chickens in the wet weeds. I hadn't oughter let her pretty feathers make me distrust her, but it do." And Mother went placidly on with her sewing as she watched the girl and the tot go hand-in-hand down the path to the spring-house under the hill. She had just placed in her sleeve and was regarding it with entire satisfaction, when the front gate clicked and she looked up with interest.

"Well, good morning, Mis' Mayberry," came in Bettie Pratt's hearty voice as she swung up the walk at a brisk pace. On one arm she held a bobbing baby in a white sunbonnet, a toddler clung to her skirts and a small boy trailed behind her with a puppy in his arms. She was buxom and rosy, was the Widow Pratt, with a dangerous dimple over the corner of her mouth, a decided come-hither in her blue eyes, and a smile that compelled a response.

"Why, Bettie child, how glad I am to see you!" exclaimed Mother, rendering the smile from out over her glasses. "I didn't see you all day yesterday and not the day before, neither. But I put it down to a work-hold on us both, and didn't worry none. And now here you are, with some of the little folks! Here's a empty spool for little Bettie," and she held out the treasure to the toddler, who sidled up to her knee with confidence to grasp the gift.

"I told Pattie Hoover if she would stay at home this morning and clean up some like her Pa wants her to that I'd let my Clara May help her and would bring the baby on up here to get him outen the way. 'Lias come along to get you to look at his puppy's foot, and I want you to see if you don't think the baby have fatted some since I've took holt and helped Pattie with the feeding of him."

"He have that," answered Mother heartily. "I can tell it without even feeling of his legs. You've got the growing hand with babies, Bettie, and I'm glad you don't hold it back from this little half-orphant. I don't know what the poor little Hoovers would do without you!"

"That's what poor Mr. Hoover says," answered Bettie with the utmost unconsciousness. "Show Mis' Mayberry the puppy's foot, 'Lias."

"Why, the pitiful little thing!" exclaimed Mother when a small, brown, crushed paw was presented to her inspection. "What happened to it?"

"Mr. Petway's horse stepped on it-he didn't care. He just got in the buggy and went on. I'm a-going to kill him with a gun when I get one." Tears of rage and grief welled up in 'Lias' eyes, but he choked them back with a resolution that boded ill for Mr. Petway when the time of reckoning came.

"You mustn't talk that way, 'Lias, though it are a shame," said Mother as she looked closely at the injured paw. "The bone's all crushed. I'll tell you what to do; just take him around to Doctor Tom's office and he'll fix it in no time for you, in a way I couldn't never do. He won't even limp, maybe." And Mother Mayberry made the offer of a piece of skilled surgery with the utmost generosity.

'Lias clasped the puppy closer, looked down and drew one of his bare toes along a crack in the floor. "I'd rather you'd do it," he said.

"Now, don't that just beat all!" exclaimed Mother with both amusement and exasperation in her face. "Looks like I can't even get Tom a puppy practice."

"Why, 'Lias Hoover, I'm ashamed of you not to want Doctor Tom to fix his foot, and thank you, too! Didn't Bud Pike tell you last night how he cut his little brother's mouth and didn't hurt him a bit, neither? Bud is going to get him to fix his next stubbed toe hisself. Bud ain't no bigger boy than you, but he knows a good doctor same as Mis' Mayberry and me does when he sees one." There are ways and ways of controverting masculine obstinancy, and evidently life had taught Mrs. Pratt the efficacy of beguilement. Without more reluctance 'Lias disappeared around the house in the direction of the office wing.

"I'm mighty glad you come along this morning, Bettie," said Mother Mayberry, as she threaded a new needle with a long thread. Little Bettie had seated herself on the floor and begun operations with the spool and a piece of string that vastly amused little Hoover, whom Mrs. Pratt deposited opposite her within reach of her own balancing foot, for the baby's age and backbone were both at a tender period. "I've got a kinder worry on my mind that I'd like to get a little help from you as to know what to do about. Have you noticed that both the Deacon and Mis' Bostick look mighty peaky? Course Deacon have been sick, and she have had a spell of nursing, but they don't neither of them pick up like they oughter. Mis' Bostick puts me in mind of a little, withered-up, gray seed pod when all the down have blowed away, and the Deacon's britches fair flap around his poor thin shanks. Something or other just makes me sense what is the matter."

"And me, too, Mis' Mayberry. I've been a-feeling of it for some time, since we all quit out with the nursing and taking 'em complimentary dishes of truck. They is-is hungry." Mrs. Pratt brought out the statement of the fact in a positively awestruck voice.

"That's what I'm afraid it is, Bettie," answered Mother, "and it hurts me hard to think how he have served the Lord and helped us all in our duty to Him and each other, she a-giving us of her bounty of sister-love, and now, when they's old and feeble, a-feeling the pinch of need. The young can reach out and help theyselves to they share of life, but it oughter be handed old folks with thoughtful respect. We've got to do something about it."

"Course we have," assented the widow heartily. "But how are we a-going to just give 'em things offen a cold collar? They're both so proud. With owning the house, the bit the church gives 'em would do the rest, but the Deacon have tooken that debt no-'count Will Bostick run off and left down in the City to pay, and it have left 'em at starvation's door. But that's neither here nor there; we've got to do something. They don't need much but food, and Mis' Bostick is most too weak now to cook it if they has the ingredients gave 'em to hand. They must be did for some way."

"And we've got to do it without a-giving them a single hurt feeling, either," said Mother. "Enough good-will jelly will hide any kind of charity pill, I say. Not as what we do for her and the Deacon can ever be anything but thanks rendered for the blessing of them. But you get to thinking, Bettie. The knees to my wits are getting old and stiff."

"Well, there's a donation party," suggested the widow thoughtfully. "Everybody could help, and it could be made real pleasant with the men asked to come in after supper. Everything could be gave from stovewood to the Deacon some new Sunday pants. We did that once before, five years ago to his birthday, and they was mighty pleased. Let's do it again."

"But that was before this disgrace of Will happened, and they didn't downright need the things then-it were all sort of complimentary. When needs are gave it's charity, but what you don't want is just a present. We've got to find a way to do up needs in a present package for 'em. I declare, I feel right put to know what to do." Mother Mayberry's voice was actually worried, and she paused with her scissors ready to snip a bit of the gingham into narrow bands.

"Well, we oughter be thankful we've got the things to give, and we'll find some sort of way to slip up on the blind side of them about the taking of them. The Deacon's britches is one pressing thing. Can't we take some of the church carpet money and get Mr. Hoover to buy him a pair when he hauls corn to town Monday?"

"Yes, indeed, we can," answered Mother Mayberry, radiant at the very thought of this relief proposition. "It's a heap more important to carpet the Deacon with britches than the church floor right now. Between them and her old bombersine, Mis' Bostick have spent the year with her patch-thimble on her finger."

"I declare, it hurts me so in church to look at her elbows and back seams that I can't hardly listen to the Deacon pray. Patching is the most worrisome job a woman has to do, according to my mind," said the widow, with an expression of distaste on her beaming face. "I've done patched two men, and I know what I'm talking about."

"It is a trial," answered Mother Mayberry, "and Mis' Bostick's life have been a patched one at the best, a-moving in the Methodist wagon from one station to another and a-trying every time to cut herself out by a new style to suit each congregation, Anyway, I reckon all women's lives have wored thin and had to be darned in some places, but patches on her garment of life ain't going to make no difference to a woman when she puts it on to meet her Lord, just so it's cut on the charity mantle pattern. And Mis' Bostick's was hung to cover the multitude. But a-talking here have made me sprout a idea: 'Liza Pike have blazed the trail for us, bless her little heart! Her mother don't never cook a single thing that 'Liza haven't got a dish handy to beg some for the Deacon and Mis' Bostick. And she don't stop at her own cook stove, but she's always here looking into what Cindy cooks with an eye to the old folk's sweet-tooths or chicken-hankers. I know, too, she gets what she wants from you for them, so there is our leading. The Deacon loves 'Liza, and she is such a entertainment to him that he'd eat ten meals a day at her dictation and no questions asked. And she do beat all with her mothering ways with them old folks. Last Wednesday night she had Deacon a-leading prayer meeting with a red flannel band around his throat for his croaks, and just yesterday she made Mis' Bostick stay in bed half the day, covered up head and ears, to sweat off a little nose-dripping cold. She's always a-consulting Tom and leaving me out. I think she's got her eye on my practice. They never was such a master-hand of a child in Providence before."

"There you are right," laughed the widow. "It's getting so that they ain't a child on the Road as will let its own mother look at a cut finger or a black bruise 'fore 'Liza have done had her say about what is to be did. I believe it is as you say, Mis' Mayberry, and 'Liza can play raven for us in fine style. I know Mis' Pike will push it on and more'n do her part in the filling of the child's covered dish."

"That she will," answered Mother Mayberry heartily. "Judy Pike spends a heap of time turning over life to find for certain which is the right and wrong of it, but once found, she sticks close to the top weave. We'll plan it all out at the Sewing Circle, and then get it down to days who's to send what regular. I'm thankful for this leading of how to take care of our old folks, and I know you are, too."

"Couldn't nobody be thankfuller," answered the rosy widow, "and the filling of that dish is a-going to give me a lot of good pride. But I'd better be going and seeing after them girls and the house cleaning. They are both master hands, but if Buck Peavey was to happen to tie hisself up to the front gate, it would be good-by dust-pan and mop for Pattie. Not that I don't feel for her in the liking of that rampaging boy of Mis' Peavey's, and it's mighty hard not to kinder saunter into a little chat when the men folks call you. How are Miss Elinory to-day? Ain't she the prettiest and most stylishest girl you have ever saw? I wonder if she would lend me that long-tailed waist she wears to get the pattern off to make me and Clara May and Pattie one?" As she spoke, Mrs. Pratt rose, picked up little Hoover and set Bettie on her little bare feet.

"I know she will be glad to, and such a head sewer as you are can copy it most exact. Here she are now! Child, Mis' Pratt have been so complimenting of your looks and clothes that I'm sorter set up with pride over you."

"Good morning, Mrs. Pratt," exclaimed the singer lady, as she appeared in the doorway with the resuscitated Martin Luther at her side. "The darling babies! You are not going, are you?" The widow and Miss Wingate had developed a decided attraction for each other, and their blossoming friendship delighted Mother Mayberry most obviously.

"I wish I didn't have to," answered Mrs. Pratt, beaming with smiles, which little Bettie echoed as she coquetted around her mother's skirts with Miss Wingate, "but it's most dinner-pot time, and I've got mouths to feed when the horn blows."

"Elinory, child, run get that pink, long-tailed waist of your'n to let Bettie make one by, please," said Mother Mayberry, with total unconsciousness of that very strong feminine predilection for exc

lusiveness of design in wearing apparel. The garment in question was a very lovely, simply-cut linen affair that bore a distinguished foreign trade-mark. "I know you feel complimented by her wanting to make one for herself by it, and maybe Clara May and Pattie, too. They ain't no worldly feeling as good as having your clothes admired, is they?"

"Indeed there isn't," answered Miss Wingate cordially, and if there was chagrin in her heart at the thought of seeing Providence in uniform with the precious pink blouse, her smile belied it. She immediately ascended to her room, and returned quickly with the treasure in her hand. "Let me come and see you fit them," she entreated. "I don't know how to sew one, but I can tell how it ought to look."

"Come spend the day next Monday. We'll all have a good time together and I'll make you some more of them fritters you liked for supper the other night." The widow fairly beamed like a headlight at the thought of the successful impromptu supper party a few nights before, when Doctor Mayberry had brought Miss Wingate down upon her unexpectedly with a demand to be invited to stay to supper for that especial dainty. As she spoke she was half-way down the walk, and looked back, smiling at them over the baby's bonnet.

"Yes, I heard Tom Mayberry disgraced himself over your maple syrup jug, Bettie Pratt," called Mother Mayberry after her. "That Hoover baby surely have growed. Good-by!"

"They ain't nothing in this world so comforting to a woman as good feeling with her sisters, one and all," Mother Mayberry said as she watched the last switch of the widow's skirt. "Mother, wife and daughter love is a institution, but real sistering is a downright covenant. Me and Bettie have held one betwixt us these many a year. But you and me have both put a slight on the kitchen since Cindy got back. Let's go see if dinner ain't most on the table."

And they found that from their neglect the dinner had suffered not at all. Cindy, a gaunt, black woman with a fire of service and devotion to Mother Mayberry in her eyes, and apparently nothing else to excuse existence, had accomplished the meal as a triumph.

She had set the table out on the side porch under the budding honeysuckle, and as Mother Mayberry and Miss Wingate, followed by Martin Luther, ever ready to do trencher duty, came out of the back hall Doctor Tom emerged from his office door.

"Why, I didn't see you come in, Tom," said Mother. "You muster used wings and lit."

"No, I came from across the fields and in the back way. I've had a patient and I'm puffed up with pride." As he spoke he smiled at Miss Wingate and his mother delightedly.

"'Lias Hoover's puppy," said Mother, stating the fact to Miss Wingate. "Was you able to fix him up, Tom?"

"Oh, yes; his puppyship will navigate normally in ten days, I think; but this was a real patient."

"Why, who, son? Don't keep me waiting to know, for I'm worried at the very thought of a Providence pain. Who's down now and what did you do for 'em?" And Mother bestowed upon the young doctor a glance of inter-professional inquiry. "Squire Tutt," answered her son promptly. "I met him up by the store and he asked me what I would do if a man had a snake bite out in the woods, ten miles from any hot-water kettle. I diagnosed the situation and prescribed with the help of Mr. Petway, and I think-I think, Mother, I've proselyted your patient."

"Now, Tom, don't make fun of the Squire. Them are real pains he has, and I don't think it is right for a doctor to have a doubting mind towards a patient. Sympathy will help worry any kinder bad dose down. You know I want you to do your doctoring in this life with love to be gave to help smooth all pain." Mother regarded him seriously over her glasses as she admonished.

"I will-I do, Mother," answered the Doctor, and his gray eyes danced before he veiled them with his black lashes as he looked down at his plate.

Miss Wingate flushed ever so slightly and busied herself with spreading butter on a large piece of bread for Martin Luther, an unnecessary attention, as she had performed that same office for him just the moment before, and even he had not been able to make an inroad thereon.

"I think you are right, Mrs. Mayberry," she said slowly after a second's rally of her forces. "The sympathy and-and regard of one's physician is very necessary at times and-and-" She paused, but not so much as a glance out of the corner of her purple black eyes did she throw in the direction of the Doctor.

"Course they ain't nothing so encouraging in the world as love, and I think the sick oughter have it gave to 'em in large and frequent doses! I'm thankful I've got so much in my heart that I can just prescribe it liberal when needed. Dearie me, could that shadow be a chicken-hawk? Just excuse me, children; finish your dinner while I go out and look after my feather babies." And Mother hurried away through the kitchen, leaving the singer lady and the Doctor sitting at the table under the fragrant vine, with the replete Martin Luther nodding his sleepy head down into his plate between them.

And thus deserted, the flush rose up under Miss Wingate's eyes and a dimple teased at the corner of her red lips, but she busied herself with removing the plate from under Martin Luther's yellow mop and making a pillow of her own bare arm, against which he nestled his chubby little cheek with a sigh of content, as he drifted off into his usual after-dinner nap.

The Doctor watched her from under his half-closed eyes, then he lit a cigarette, leaned his elbow on the table and sat silent for a few moments, while under her breath she hummed a little sleep song to the drifting baby.

"On the whole," he asked at last, the usual delightful courtesy with which he always addressed her striving with an unusual trace of gentle banter in his deep voice, "what do you think of Mother's philosophies?"

"I think," she answered as she ruffled the baby's curls with one white hand, "they are so true that no wonder they are-are more healing than-than your medicines."

She raised her eyes to his suddenly and they were filled to the brim with frank merriment.

"Don't tell me I'm going to lose my one and only star patient, Teether Pike and the puppy excepted!" he exclaimed with a laugh.

"Yes," she answered slowly, "I'm going to let you operate when the time comes-but it's your Mother that's healing me. Oh, can't you, can't you see what she's doing for me?" she turned to him and asked suddenly, the burr thrown across her voice heavily because of the passion in her tones. "I came to you a broken instrument-useless for ever, perhaps-unfit for all I knew of life unless you healed me, and now-now I can make things and do things-a pie and a good one, bread to feed and the butter thereto, and to-day two halves of a pair of trousers, no the halves of two pairs of trousers. What matter if I never sing again?" She stretched her white arm across the table and looked over the head of the sleeping baby straight into his eyes. Hers were soft with tears, and a divine shyness that seemed to question him.

He lifted the white hand, with its pink palm upward, gently into his own brown one, and placed the tip of one of his fingers on a tiny red scar on her forefinger.

"Do you know the story the drop of blood I took from this prick this morning told?" he asked with his eyes shining into hers. "A gain of over thirty percent in red corpuscles in less than a month. Yes, I admit it; Mother is building, but when she has you ready-I'm going to give it back to you, the wonderful voice. I don't know why I know, but I do."

"And I don't know why I know that you will-but I do," she answered with lowered voice and eyes. "When all the others tried I knew they would fail. The horrible thought clutched at my throat always, and there seemed no help. I don't feel it now at all. I'm too busy," she added with a catch in her laugh and a sudden mist in her eyes.

"Mother's treatment again," he laughed as he laid her hand gently back on the table.

"And yours-when directed by her-her philosophies," she ventured daringly, as she lifted Martin Luther into her arms, with a view to depositing him upon the haven of Mother's bed to finish his nap.

The Doctor looked at her a second, started to answer, thought better of it, took the heavy youngster out of her arms into his own and strode across the hall with him into Mother's room.

The singer lady walked to the edge of the porch, pulled down a spray of the fragrant vine and looked out through it to the blue hills beyond the meadows. She hummed a waltz-song this time, and her eyes were dancing as if she were meditating some further assault on the Doctor's imperturbability. He came back and stood beside her, and was just about to make a tentative remark when Mother Mayberry hurried around the side of the house.

"Children!" she exclaimed, her eyes shining, her cheeks pink with excitement, and the white curls flying in every direction; "I never did have such a time in my life! It WERE a chicken-hawk and he were right down amongst the hens and little chickens. Old Dominick was spread out like a featherbed over all hers and most of Spangles', and there Spangles was just a-contending with him over one of her little black babies. He had it in his claw, but she had him by a beak full of feathers and was a-swinging on for fare-you-well. Old Dominick was a-directing of her with squawks, and Ruffle Neck was just squatting over hers, batting her eyes with skeer, for all the world like she was a fine lady a-going into a faint. And there stood all four of the roosters, not a one of 'em a-turning of a feather to help her! They looked like they was petrified to stone, and I'm a great mind to make 'em every one up into pies and salad and such. They's a heap of men, come trouble, don't make no show, and the women folks have to lead the fight. But they might er helped her after she's took holt!"

"The brutes!" exclaimed Doctor Tom with real indignation. "When are you going to have the pie, Mother?" he added teasingly.

"Well, I've got no intentions of feeding no such coward truck to you, sir," answered his mother, still flurried with belligerency.

"But the little baby chicken-what DID become of it?" demanded Miss Wingate, and she, too, cast a glance of scorn at the Doctor.

"Why, he dropped it and flew away as soon as he caught sight of me. It ain't hurt a mite, and Spangles have hovered it and all the rest she could coax out from under Dominick. Now this do settle it! Good looks don't disqualify a woman from nothing; it's the men that can't stand extra long tail feathers and fluted combs. I'm a-going to put 'em all four in the pot before Wednesday."

"I apologize; I apologize, with emotion, for all my doubts, both expressed and unexpressed, of Mrs. Spangles!" the Doctor hastened to exclaim. "Neck under heel for the whole masculine fraternity and suffrage triumphant!"

"Well, it's not as bad as that," answered Mother in a jovially mollified tone of voice. "Meek, plain-favored men like you may be let live, with no attention paid 'em. Now go on over to Flat Rock and stop a-wasting me and my honey-bird's time with your chavering. Come back early for supper or you won't get none, for all three of us are a-going to prayer meeting."

"I'll be here, and thank you for-crumbs of attention," answered the Doctor, and, with a laughing glance at both his mother and Miss Wingate he took himself off in the direction of the barn, for the purpose of saddling his horse for his afternoon visit to his patients beyond the Nob.

"Ain't he good to look at?" asked Mother Mayberry as she watched his tall figure swing down the garden path. "Good looks in a man can be a heap of pleasure to a woman, but she mustn't let on to him."

"I believe," said Miss Wingate in an impersonally judicial tone of voice, "that Doctor Mayberry is the very handsomest man I ever saw. One would almost call him beautiful. It isn't entirely that he is so tall and grand and has such eyes, but-do you know I think it is because he is so like you that he is so lovely." And the singer lady tucked her hand into Mother Mayberry's with a shy blush.

"Liking folks kinder shines 'em up, same as furniture polish, honey-bird," laughed Mother Mayberry with delight at the compliment. "You're a-rubbing some on me and Tom Mayberry. But he were the best favored baby I 'most ever saw, if I do say it, as shouldn't."

"Oh!" said Miss Wingate delightedly, "I know he must have been lovely! What was he like?"

"Well," answered Mother reminiscently, "he were about like he are now. He come so ugly I cried when I seen him first, and Doctor Mayberry teased me about it to the day of his death. He called Tom 'Ugly' for short. But he mighty soon begun to sprout little pleasing ways, a-looking up under them black lashes and a-laughing acrost my breast. His cheeks was rosy, his back broad and his legs straight, same as now. He teethed easy, walked soon, have never learned to talk much yet, and had his measles and whooping-cough when his time come. I just thought he were something 'cause he were mine. All babies is astonishing miracles to they mothers."

"But I'm sure Doctor Mayberry was really wonderful," said Miss Wingate, instantly sympathetic. "Had he always such black hair?"

"Borned with it. Now, my little girl had beautiful yellow curls and I can show you one, by the Lord's mercy I've got it." Mother paused and an ineffable gentleness came into her lovely old face. "I want to tell you about it, honey-heart, 'cause it have got a strange sweetness to it. She wasn't but five years old when she died, tooken sudden with pneumony cruel bad. Nobody thought to cut me one of her curls before they laid her away, and when I come to myself I grieved over it more than I had oughter. But one day when the fall come on and the days was short and dark; and it looked like nothing couldn't light up the old house with that sunshine head gone, me almost a-feeling bitter and questioning why, Tom went out and picked up a robin's nest that had blowed down from a tree in the yard. And there, wound around inside it, was the little curl I had cut off in the spring, out on the porch, what had tagged into her eyes and worried her! The mother bird had used it to make the nest soft for her babies and now didn't need it no more. When I looked at it I took it as a message and a sign that my Lord hadn't forgot me, and I ain't never mistrusted Him again. Come, let me show it to you."

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