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The Road to Providence By Maria Thompson Daviess Characters: 29359

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

And even old Dame Nature of Harpeth Hills aroused herself for the occasion and took in hand the wedding day of pretty Bettie Pratt on Providence Road. In the dark hours before dawn she spread a light film of clouds over the stars, from which she first puffed a stiff dust-cleansing breeze and then proceeded to sprinkle a good washing shower which took away the last trace of wear and tear of the past hot days, so by the time she brought the sun out for a final shine up, the village looked like it had been having a most professional laundering. And after an hour or two of his warm encouragement, the roses lifted their buds and began to blow out with joyous exuberance. Mother Mayberry's red-musks tumbled over the wall almost on to the head of Mrs. Peavey's yellow-cluster, and Judy Pike's pink-cabbage fairly flung blossoms and buds over into the Road. The widow's own moss-damask nodded and beckoned hospitably to Mrs. Tutt's Maryland tea, and Pattie Hoover's Maiden's Blush mingled its sweetness with that of the dainty white-cluster that climbed around Mrs. Bostick's window. A haunting perfume from the new-mown clover fields drifted over it all and the glistening silver poplar leaves danced in the breezes.

"Was they ever such a day before!" exclaimed Mother Mayberry as she stood on the front steps with the singer lady, who was as blooming herself as any rose on the Road. "And everything is well along towards ready when it's turned twelve. The children have all been washed from skin out and just need a last polish-off. I've put 'em all on honor not to get dirty again and I think every shoe will be on by marching time."

"The baskets and the tubs of roses are in the milk house, and I will arrange them at the last minute so they won't wilt," answered Miss Wingate with enthusiasm that matched Mother Mayberry's. "Do you suppose there is anything I can do to help anybody anywhere? I never was so excited before."

"I don't believe they is a loose end to tie up on the Road, child. Even Bettie herself have finished for the day and have gone over to set a quiet hour with Mis' Bostack. Clothes is all laid out on beds, and cold lunch snacks put on kitchen tables. They ain't to be a dinner cooked on the Road this day 'cept what 'Liza and Cindy are a-stewing up for the Deacon and Mis' Bostick. Looks like everything is on greased wheels, and-but there comes the child running now! I do hope they haven't nothing flew the track."

"Mother Mayberry, please ma'am, tell me what to do about Mis' Tutt!" Eliza exclaimed with anxiety spread all over her little face, which was given a comic cast by a row of red flannel rags around her head over which were rolled prospective curls, due to float out for the festivities. "She says she won't go to the wedding 'cause it's prayer meeting night, and it were a sin to put off the Lord's meeting 'till to-morrow night. I didn't know she were a-going to do this way! I got out her dress for her yesterday. The Squire is so mad he says tell Doctor Tom to come do something for him quick and not to bring no hot water kettle neither."

"Dearie me," said Mother Mayberry with mild exasperation in her voice. "You run along, 'Liza, and don't you worry with Mis' Tutt. I'll come down there tereckly and see if I can't kinder persuade her some. Go around there and give that message to Doctor Tom yourself. I don't take no stock in such doctoring as he does to the Squire these days."

"Isn't it too bad for Mrs. Tutt to feel that way and miss the wedding?" asked Miss Wingate with a trace of the same exasperation in her voice that had sounded in Mother Mayberry's tones.

"It are that," answered Mother regretfully. "Looks like religion oughter be tooken as a cooling draft to the soul and not stuck on life like a fly blister. But I think we can kinder fix Mis' Tutt some. And that reminds me, I want you to undertake a job of using a little persuading on Tom Mayberry for me. He have got the most lovely long tail coat, gray britches, gray vest and high silk hat up in his press, and he says he are a-going to wear his blue Sunday clothes same as usual, when I asked him careless like about it this morning. I'm fair dying to behold him just onct in them good clothes he wears out in the big world and thinks Providence people will make fun of him to see, but I wouldn't ask him outright to put 'em on for me, not for nothing."

"Do you know, Mrs. Mayberry, you really-really flirt with the Doctor?" laughed Miss Wingate as she rubbed her delicate little nose against Mother Mayberry's shoulder with Teether Pike's exact nozzling gesture.

"Well, it's a affair that have been a-going on since the first time I laid eyes on Ugly, and they ain't nothing ever a-going to stop it 'lessen his wife objects," answered Mother Mayberry as she glanced down quizzically at the face against her shoulder.

"She's sure to-to adore it," answered the singer lady as she buried her head in Mother's tie so only the rosy back of her neck showed.

"Yes, I think she will understand," answered the Doctor's mother with a sweet note in her rich voice as she bestowed a little hug on the slender body pressed close to hers. "You see, child, the tie twixt a woman and her own man-child ain't like anything on earth, and I feel it must hold between Mary and her Son in Heaven. I felt it pull close like steel when mine weren't fifteen minutes old, and it won't die when I do neither. And that Tom Mayberry are so serious that a-flirting with him gets him sorter on his blind side and works to a finish. Can't you try to help me out about that coat and the silk hat?"

"Yes," answered Miss Wingate with a dimpling smile, "I'll try. I'll ask him what I shall wear and then maybe-maybe-"

"That's the very idea, honey-bird!" exclaimed Mother Mayberry delightedly. "Tell him you are a-going to put on your best bib and tucker and it'll start the notion in him to keep you company. If a woman can just make a man believe his vanity are proper pride, he will prance along like the trick horse in a circus. Now s'pose you kinder saunter round careless like to-"

"Mis' Mayberry," came in a doleful voice over the wall near the porch, and Mrs. Peavey's mournful face appeared, framed in the lilac bushes. "I've just been reading the Tuesday Bolivar Herald, and Bettie Pratt's own first husband's sister-in-law's child died last week out in Californy, where she moved when she married the second time. I hate to tell Bettie and have the wedding stopped, but I feel it are my duty not to let her pay no disrespect to her Turner children by having a wedding with some of they law-kin in trouble."

"Well, Hettie Ann, I don't believe I'd tell her, for as bad as that would be on the Turner children, think how much the Pratts and Hoovers would lose in pleasure, so as they are the majority, it's only fair they should rule." Mother Mayberry had for a moment stood aghast at the idea of the misanthrope's descent upon happy Bettie with even this long distance shadow to cast across her joy, but dealing with her neighbor for years had sharpened her wits and she knew that a sense of fair play was one of Mrs. Peavey's redeeming traits that could always be counted upon.

"Yes, I reckon that are so," she answered grudgingly. "Then we'll have to keep the bad news to tell her when she gets back from the trip. Did you know that spangled Wyandotte hen have deserted all them little chickens and is a-laying again out in the weeds behind the barn? Told you them foreign poultry wasn't no good," with which she disappeared behind the top stone of the wall.

"Poor Spangles! she carried them chickens a week longer than could be expected and now don't get no credit for it," said Mother Mayberry, as the singer lady gave vent to the giggle she had been suppressing for a good many minutes. "Now run on, sweet child, and use them beguilements on Tom for me, while I go try to rub some liniment on Mis' Tutt's conscience. Fill up Martin Luther sometime soon, will you?"

And in accordance with directions, after a few minutes spent before Mother Mayberry's old-fashioned mirror in tucking three very perfect red-musk buds in the belt of her white linen gown, the singer lady descended upon the unwitting victim, in the north wing and began the machinations according to promise. Doctor Mayberry, unfortunately for him, showed extravagant signs of delight at the very sight of the enemy, for it was almost the first voluntary visit she had ever paid him, and thus he gave her the advantage to start with.

"You aren't busy, are you?" she asked as she glanced around the book-lined room and into the laboratory beyond. "This is only a semi-professional consultation. Could I stay just a few minutes?" and the lift of her dark lashes from her eyes was most effectively unfair. As she spoke she settled herself in his chair, while he leaned against the table looking down upon her with a very shy delight in his gray eyes and a very decided color in his tan cheeks.

"As long as you will," he answered. "I never can prescribe from a hurried consultation. It always takes several hours for me to locate anything. I'm very slow, you know."

"Why, I rather thought you treated your patients with-with very little time spent in consultation," a remark which she, herself, knew to be a dastardly manoeuver. "You attended to Squire Tutt's trouble in a very few minutes, it seems," she hastened to add, as she glanced at a flask that lay on the corner of the table.

"The Squire's trouble is chronic, and simply calls for refilled prescriptions," he laughed, his generosity giving over the retort that was his due. "I somehow think this matter of yours will prove obscure and will call for time."

"It's a wedding dress I want you to prescribe for me," she hazarded a bit too hurriedly, for before she could catch up with her own words he had flashed her an answer.

"That depends!" was the victim's most skilful parry.

"Would you wear a white embroidery and lace or a rose batiste? A rose hat and parasol go with the batiste, but the white is perfectly delicious. You haven't seen either one, so I want you to choose by guess." Only the slightest rose signal in her cheeks showed that she had been pricked by his quick thrust. She had taken one of the damask buds from her belt and was daintily nibbling at the folded leaves. Over it, her eyes dared him to follow up his advantage.

"I don't know-I'll have to think about it," he answered her, weakly capitulating, but still on guard. "If I choose one for to-day, when will you wear the other? Soon?" he bargained for his forbearance.

"Whenever you want me to if you'd like to see it," she answered with what he ought to have known was dangerous meekness. "What are you going to wear?" she asked, putting the direct question with disarming boldness.

"Blue serge Sunday-go-to-meetings," he answered carelessly, as if it were a matter to be dismissed with the statement. "Let's see-say them over again-white dress, pink parasol, rose hat, how did they go?"

"Once, not long ago, I was in your room with Mrs. Mayberry hunting for the kittens the yellow cat had hidden in the house, and I caught a glimpse of a most beautiful frock coat-it made me feel partyfied then, and I thought of the rose gown I have never worn and-and-" she paused to let that much sink in well. "I thought I would ask you," she ended in a pensive tone, as she kept her eyes fixed on the rose determinedly.

"You don't have to ask me things-just tell me!" he answered with an exquisite hint of something in his voice which he quickly controlled. "The frock coat let it be-and shall we say the rose gown? Then the high gods protect Providence when it beholds!" he added with a laugh.

"Oh, will you really?" she asked, overwhelmed with the ease with which the battle had been won.

"I will," he answered, "only don't let Mother tease me, please!"

At which pathetically ingenuous demand the conquering singer lady tossed him the rose and laughed long and merrily.

"You and your Mother are perfect-" she was observing with delighted dimples, when Mother Mayberry herself stood in the doorway with well-concealed eagerness as to the outcome of the mission, in her face.

"Well," she observed with a laugh, "I'm glad to see somebody that has time to stand-around, set-around, passing the news of the day. Did you all know that Bettie Pratt were a-going to get married in about two hours and a half?"

"We did," answered her son as he drew her a chair close to that of Miss Wingate. "We were just discussing in what garb we could best grace the occasion. Did you succeed in getting Mrs. Tutt to change her mind about honoring the festivities?"

"Oh, yes, she just wanted to be persuaded some. It's a mighty dried-up mind that can't leaf out in a change onct in a while, and it's mostly men folks that take a notion, then petrify to stone in it. But you all oughter see what is a-going on down the Road."

"What?" they both demanded of her at the same second.

"It's that 'Liza Pike again. Just as soon as that child hatches a idea, the whole town takes to helping her feather it out. She got Mis' Bostick's bed moved to the front window, and then found that Nath Mosbey's fence kept her from seeing the Road where the procession are a-going into the Meeting-house yard. But that didn't down her none at all, for when I left she had Nath and Buck and Mr. Petway a-knocking down the two panels of fence, and leaving Mis' Bostick a clean sweep of view, Did you ever?" and mother Mayberry chuckled over the small sister's triumph over what to the rest of Providence would have seemed an insurmountable obstacle.

"It's just like her, the darling!" exclaimed the singer lady appreciatively.

"And she have got the Deacon all tucked out until he is a sight to behold. She have made Mis' Peavey starch his white tie until it sets out on both sides like cat whiskers, and have pinned a bokay on his coat 'most as big as the bride's. Then she have reached his forelock up on his head so he looks like Martin Luther, and she have got him a-settin' down, so as not to get out of gear none. Mis' Bostick is a-wearing a little white rose pinned on her night-gown, and they is honeysuckle trailed all over the bed. But here am I a-chavering with you all, with time a-flying and no chance of putting salt on her tail this day. Please, Tom Mayberry, go down to the store and buy a nickel's worth of starch, and it's none of your business how I want to use it. I'm going to look a surprise for you myself, before sundown."

"Well, how did you get along with him, honeybird?" she asked eage

rly, as they ascended the front steps together, while the Doctor strode down the Road on his errand.

"Beautifully!" exclaimed the singer lady with enthusiasm and the very faintest of blushes.

"I thought so from his looks," answered the beguiled young Doctor's wily mother. "A man always do have that satisfied martyr-smile when he thinks he are doing something just to please a woman. Now, honey-child, you ain't got nothing to do but frill out your own sweet self; and make a job of it while you are about it." With which command Mother Mayberry dismissed Miss Wingate up the stairs to her dormer-window room.

And it is safe to say that no two such teeming hours ever fleeted their seconds away on Providence Road as did those ensuing. The whole village buzzed and bumbled and swarmed in and out from house to house like a colony of clover-drunken bees on an August afternoon. Laughter floated on the air and mingled with banter and song, while the aroma of flesh pots and fine spices drifted from huge waiters being hurriedly carried from down and up the Road and into the Pratt gate. The wedding supper was being laid on improvised tables in Bettie's side yard, with Judy Pike in command, seconded by Mrs. Peavey with her skirts tucked up out of possible harm and her mind on the outlook for any possible disaster, from the wilting of the jelly mold to a sad streak in the bride's cake, baked by the bride herself with perfectly happy confidence.

Then on the heels of the excitement came a quiet half-hour devoted to the completing of all toilets behind closed family doors. A shrill squeal issuing now and then from an open window told its tale of tortures being undergone, and a smothered masculine ejaculation added a like testimony.

At exactly a quarter to five, Miss Wingate issued from her room after a completely satisfactory seance with her mirror, and from the front steps looked down in dismay upon a scene of rebellion, that threatened at any moment to become one of riot.

On the grass beside the porch stood a group of little girls all starched, frilled, curled and beribboned until they resembled a large bouquet of cabbage roses themselves. Each one clasped carefully a gaily decorated basket filled with roses, and from each and every pair of eyes there danced sparks of rage, aimed at a huddled company of small boys who were returning their indignation by sullen scorn mixed with determination in their polished, freckled faces. Half way between each group stood Eliza Pike, a glorified Eliza, from a halo of curls to brand new small shoes. She had evidently been carrying on a losing series of negotiations, for her usually sanguine face had an expression of utter hopelessness, tinged with some of the others' feminine indignation.

"Miss Elinory," she exclaimed as the singer lady came to the edge of the porch, "I don't know what to make of the boys, they never did this way before!"

"Why, what is the matter?" asked Miss Wingate, something of Eliza's panic communicating itself to her own face and voice.

The boys all suddenly found interest in their own feet or the cracks in the pavement, so Eliza as usual became the spokesman for the occasion.

"They say they just won't carry baskets of flowers, because it makes them look silly like girls. They will march with us if you make 'em do it, but they won't carry no baskets for nobody. I don't want Mis' Pratt to find out how they is a-acting, for three of 'em are hers and five Hoovers, and it is they own wedding." Eliza's voice almost became a wail in which Miss Wingate felt inclined to join.

At this juncture, Martin Luther took it upon himself to create a further diversion and to add fuel to the flame. By a mistake, and through a determination to follow instructions, he had clung to little Bettie's hand, and when she picked up one of the tiny baskets provided for the two tots, so had he, and thus he found himself humiliatingly equipped and on the wrong side of the yard and question. Disengaging himself from the wide-eyed Bettie, he marched to the center of the middle ground and cast the despised basket upon the grass.

"No girl-BOY, thank ma'am, please!" he announced with a defiant glance at the singer lady up from under the rampant curl, and that he did not fail in his usual shibboleth of courtesy was due to his habitual use of it, rather than a desire to soften the effect of his announcement.

Miss Wingate sank down upon the steps in helpless dismay, and tears began to drop from Eliza's eyes, when Mother Mayberry appeared upon the scene of action, stiff and rustling as to black silk gown, capped with a cobweb of lace over the water-waves and most imposing as to mien.

"Now what's all these conniptions about?" she demanded, and eyed the boys with an expression of reserving judgment that did her credit, for a forlorn and surly sight they presented.

And again Eliza stated the case of the culprits in brief and not uncertain terms.

"Well, well," said Mother Mayberry, and a most delicious laugh fell on the overcharged air and in itself began to clear the atmosphere, "so you empty-handed, cross-faced boys think you look more stylisher for the wedding than the girls look, do you?"

"No'm, we never said that," answered young Bud with a grin coaxing at his wide mouth. "We just don't want to carry no baskets. Buck said he wouldn't, and Sam Mosbey said they had oughter tie a sash around the middle of all of us for a show. We think the girls look fine," and he cast an uneasy glance at his sister.

"Well, seeing as you came down as far as to pass a compliment on 'em, I reckon the girls will have to forgive you for talking about them that way. I am willing to ask Miss Elinory here to give you each a little bunch of roses to carry in your hand instead of a basket, and to let you walk along beside the girls, though nobody will look at you anyway or know you are there. Is that a bargain and is everybody ready to step into line?"

And almost instantly there was a relieved and amicable settling of the difficulties, a sorting of bunches from the despised baskets, and a quick line-up.

"Now start on down! Don't you hear Miss Prissy playing the organ for you?" exclaimed Mother Mayberry from the steps. "Billy, lift up your feet, and Henny, you throw the first rose just where Miss Elinory told you to. Everybody watch Henny and throw a flower whenever he does. Aim them at the ground and not at each other or the company. We'll be just behind you. Now, Martin Luther, take Bettie by the hand and don't go too fast!"

"A little fun poked at the right time will settle most man conniptions," she added, in an aside to the relieved and admiring singer lady, as they prepared to follow in the wake of the bridal train.

And among all the weddings over all the land, that fill to a joyous overflowing almost every hour of the month of June, none could have been more lovely or happier than that of pretty Bettie Pratt, and the embarrassed but adoring Mr. Hoover on Providence Road. The train of solemn, wide-eyed little flower bearers was received by the wedding guests, who were assembled around the Meeting-house door, with a positive wave of rapture and no hint of the previous hurricane of rebellion showed in their rosy, cherubic countenances. They separated at the designated point and according to instructions took their stand along the side of the walk from the gate to the steps. Billy stepped high, roly-poly little Bettie steered Martin Luther into place and Eliza had the joy of catching a glimpse of the pale face across the store-yard, peering out of the window with the greatest interest.

Then from the Pratt home, directly across the Road, came the Deacon and Bettie, and the enthusiasm at this point boiled up and ran over in a perfect foam of joy. And, indeed, the pair made a picture deserving of every thrill, Bettie in her dove gray muslin and the Deacon bedight according to Eliza's expert opinion of good form. He beamed like a gentle old cherub himself, while she giggled and blushed and nodded to the children as she stepped over the rain of roses, on up to the very door itself. Immediately following the children, the congregation filed in and settled itself for the long prayer, that the Deacon always used to open such solemn occasions.

The singer lady found herself seated between Mother Mayberry and the Doctor on the end of the pew, and out of the corner of her eye she essayed a view of his magnificence, but caught him in the act of making the same pass in her direction. They both blushed, and her smile was wickedly tantalizing, though she kept her eyes fixed on the Deacon's face as he began to read the words of the service in his sweet old voice, with its note of tender affection for the pair of friends for whom he read them. And she never knew why she didn't realize it or why she thought of permitting it, but as the impressive words enfolded the pair at the altar, one of her own small hands was gently possessed in a warm, strong one, and tightly clasped. For moments the pair of hands rested on the bench between them, hid by a filmy fold of the rose gown. There was just nothing to be done about it that the singer lady could see, so she let matters rest as they were and gave her attention to trying to keep the riot in her own heart in reasonable bounds. However, it might have been a comfort to her to know that across the church, Buck had captured five of Pattie's sunburned fingers, and Mr. Petway was sitting so close to Miss Prissy that Mr. Pike came very near being irreverent enough to nudge the devout Judy. Then what a glorious time followed the solemn minutes in the church! The very twilight fell upon the entire wedding party still feasting and rejoicing, and it was under the light of the early stars that the guests had to wend their way home. Mother Mayberry was surrounded by a court of small boys, each one eager for her words of commendation on their more than exemplary conduct and she smiled and joked them as they escorted her to her door-step. Cindy had gone on ahead and a light shone from the kitchen window, which was answered by flashes all along and across the Road as the various households settled down to the business of recovering sufficient equilibrium to begin the conduct of the ordinary affairs of daily life at the morrow sun-up.

"Sit down here on the steps just a minute," pleaded the Doctor with trepidation in his voice, for the rose lady had found the strength of mind to reprove him for their conduct in church by ignoring him utterly at the wedding feast, even going to the point of partaking of her supper in the overwhelmed company of Sam Mosbey, who not for the life of him could have told from whence came the courage to ask for such a compliment, and the result of which had been to send him back later to the table in a half-famished condition; he not having been able to feast the eyes and the inner man at the same time.

"Can I trust you?" she demanded of the Doctor in a very small and reproving voice.

"If that is a condition-yes," he reluctantly consented, as he looked up at her in the starlight.

"Thank you-you were very grand," she said after she had settled herself in what she decided to be an uncompromising distance from him. "You really graced the occasion."

"Miss Wingate," he said slowly, and he turned his head so that only his profile showed against the dusk of the wistaria vine, "you wouldn't really be cruel to a country boy with his heart on his sleeve and only his pride to protect it, would you?"

"I suppose it was unkind, for he was so hungry and couldn't seem to eat at all; but I saw Mrs. Pike giving him a glorious supper later, so please don't worry over him." Which answer was delivered in a meek tone of voice that it was difficult to hold to its ingenuous note.

The Doctor ignored this feint and went on with the most exquisite gentleness in his lovely voice that somehow brought her heart into her throat, and without knowing it she edged an inch or two closer to him and her hand made an involuntary movement toward his that rested on the step near her, but which she managed to stop in time. "You realize, do you not, dear lady, that your friendliness to-to us all, commands my intensest loyalty? You'll just promise to remember always that I do understand and go on being happy with us, won't you-us country folks of Providence Road?" The note of pride in his voice was struck with no uncertain sound.

"Oh, but it's you that don't-don't-" the singer lady was about to commit herself most dreadfully by her exclamation in the low dove notes that alone had no trace of the disastrous burr, when Mother Mayberry stepped out of the hall door and came and seated herself beside them.

"Well, of course, I know the Bible do say that they won't be no marriage or giving in marriage in the hereafter, but I do declare we all might miss such infairs as these, even in Heaven," she observed jovially. "Didn't everybody look nice and act nice? Course it was just country doings to you, honey-bird, but I know you enjoyed it some even if it were." Like all sympathetic natures Mother Mayberry fell with ease into the current of any thought, and the young Doctor reached out and took her hand into his with quick appreciation of the fact.

"It was so very lovely that it made me-made me want-" the daring with which the singer lady had begun her defiant remark gave out in the middle and she had to let it trail weakly.

"Well, I hope it made Mr. Petway want Prissy bad enough to ask her, along about moon-up," said Mother Mayberry in a practical tone of voice. "Seems like I hear they voices; and if he IS over there I don't see how he can get out of co'ting some. It's just in the air to-night-and WE'D better all be a-going to bed so as to get up early to start off. Tom Mayberry, seems to me as I remember it, you looked much less plain favored to-day than common. Did you have on some new clothes? And ain't you a-going to pass a compliment on Elinory and me, both with new frocks wored to please you?"

The Doctor laughed and as they all rose together he still held his mother's hand in his and instead of an answer he bent and kissed it with a most distinctly foreign-acquired grace.

"That's honey-fuzzle again, Tom Mayberry, if not in words, in acts," she exclaimed with a delighted laugh. "But pass it along to Elinory if only to keep her from feeling lonesome. Let him kiss your hand, child, he ain't nothing but a country bumpkin that can't talk complimentary to save his life. Now, go get your bucket of water, sonny, and don't let in the cat!"

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