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The Road to Providence By Maria Thompson Daviess Characters: 27118

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

"Why, honey-bird; troubles ain't nothing but tight, ugly little buds the Lord are a-going to flower out for us all, in His good time; maybe not until in His kingdom. I hold that fact in my heart always," said Mother Mayberry as she looked down over her glasses at the singer lady sitting on the top step at her feet.

"I know you do," answered Miss Wingate with a new huskiness rather than the burr in her voice, which made Mother look at her quickly before she drew another thread through her needle. "But I was just thinking about Mrs. Bostick and wishing-oh! I wish we could in some way bring her son back to her before it is too late. Yesterday afternoon when I started home she drew me down and asked me if when-when I went out into the world again I would look for him and help him. Is there nothing that can be done about it?"

"I reckon not, child," answered Mother Mayberry gently. "If Will was to come back now it would be just to tear up her heart some more. Last night, when I was a-settling of her for bed, I began to talk about the other five children she have buried under God's green grass, each in a different county, as they moved from place to place. I just collected them little graves together and tried to fill her heart with 'em, and when I left she was asleep with a smile on her face I ain't seen for a year. It's as I say-a buried baby are a trouble bud that's a-going to flower out in eternity for a woman. I'll find a lone blossom and she a little bunch. I'm praying in my heart that Will's a stunted plant that'll bloom late, but in time to be sheathed in with the rest. But bless your sweet feeling-heart, child, and let's keep the smile on our faces for her comfort! Woman must bend and not break under a sorrow load. Take some of them calcanthuses to her when you go down for one of them foreign junkets and ask her to tell you about them little folks of her'n. Start her on the little girl that favored the Deacon and cut off all his forelock with the scissors while he were asleep, so he 'most made the congregation over at Twin Creeks disgrace theyselves with laughing at his shorn plight the next Sunday. I've got to turn around 'fore sundown for I've got 'most a day's work to straighten out the hen house and settle the ruckus about nests. The whole sisterhood of 'em have tooken a notion to lay in the same barrel and have to be persuaded some. Now run on so as to be back as early as you can before Tom comes." And as Mother Mayberry spoke, she began to gather together her sewing, preparatory to a sally into the world of her feathered folk.

But before she had watched the singer lady out of sight down the Road, with her spray of brown blossoms in her one hand and her garden hat in the other, she espied young Eliza rapidly approaching from up the Road and there was excitement in every movement of her slim, little body and in every swish of her short calico skirts, as well as in the way her long pigtail swung out behind.

"Mother Mayberry," she exclaimed, as she sank breathless on the top step, "they is a awful thing happened! Aunt Prissy was 'most disgraced 'bout a box of soap and Bud and 'Lias and Henny might have got killed and Buck too, because he sent one to Pattie and wrote what was on the card. I've been so scared I am in the trembles now, but you said always pray to the Lord and I did it while I was a-running down to the store to beg Mr. Petway not to make her jump off from Bee Rock on the Nob like the lady Mis' Peavey read about in the paper did because the man wouldn't marry her that she was in love with. Fast as I were a-running I reckon the Lord made out what I said and beat me to him and told him-"

"'Liza, 'Liza, honey, stop this minute and tell me what you are a-talking about," demanded Mother Mayberry, with almost as much excitement in her voice as was trembling in that of the small talking machine at her feet. "Now begin at the beginning and tell me just what is the matter with your Aunt Prissy?"

"Nothing now," answered Eliza, taking a fresh breath, "she's a-going to marry Mr. Petway, only she won't know it until to-night and I've promised him not to tell her."

"What?" was all that Mother Mayberry managed to demand from the depths of her astonishment as she sank back in her rocking-chair and regarded Eliza with positive awe.

"Yes'um, and it were all about them two beautiful boxes of sweet-smelling soap that he bought in town and have had in the store window for a week. Buck bought one to send to Pattie for a birthday present and he wrote, 'When this you see, remember me,' on a card and put it in the box. I carried it over to her for him and Mr. Hoover jest laughed, and said Buck meant Pattie didn't keep her face clean. But Mis' Hoover hugged Pattie and whispered something to her and told Mr. Hoover to shut up and go see how many children he could get to come in and be washed up for dinner. Buck was a-waiting for me around the corner of the store and when I told him how pleased Mis' Hoover and Pattie were, he-"

"But wait a minute, 'Liza," interrupted Mother Mayberry with a laugh, "them love jinks twixt Buck and Pattie is most interesting, but I'm waiting to hear about your Aunt Prissy and Mr. Petway. It's liable to be serious when two folks as old as they is-but go on with your tale, honey."

"Well, Buck wrote two of them beautiful 'Remember me' verses on nice pieces of white paper, in them curlycues the Deacon taught him, before he got one to suit him and he left one on the counter, right by the cheese box. While we was gone, along come 'Lias and Bud and Henny and disgraced Aunt Prissy."

"Why, what did them scamps do?" demanded Mother Mayberry, looking over her glasses in some perturbation as the end of the involved narration began to dawn upon her.

"They tooken the other box of soap outen the window and put the verse in it and carried it down to Aunt Prissy and told her Mr. Petway sent it to her. It was a joke they said, but they was good and skeered. I got home then and I seen her and Maw laughing about it and Aunt Prissy was just as pink and pleased and loving looking as Pattie were and Maw was a-joking of her like Mis' Pratt-no, Hoover-did Pattie and all of a sudden I knewed it were them bad boys, 'cause I seen 'em laughing in a way I knows is badness. Oh, then I was so skeered I couldn't swoller something in my throat 'cause I thought maybe Aunt Prissy would jump offen Bee Rock when she found she were so disgraced with Mr. Petway. I woulder done it myself, for I got right red in my own face thinking about it." And the blush that was a dawn of the eternal feminine again rose to the little bud-woman's face.

"It were awful, Eliza child, and I don't blame you for being mortified over it," said Mother Mayberry with a quick appreciation of the wound inflicted on the delicacy of the child, and the tale began to assume serious proportions in her mind as she thought of the probable result to the incipient affair between the elderly lovers that had been a subject of prayful hope to her for some time past. "What did you do?"

"I prayed," answered Eliza in a perfectly practical tone of voice, "and as I prayed I ran to Mr. Petway as fast as I could. He was filling molasses cans at the barrel when I got there and they wasn't nobody in the store, only I seen Bud and Henny peeping from behind the blacksmith shop and they was right white, they was so skeered by that time. Then I told him all about it and begged him to let Aunt Prissy have the box of soap and think he sent it, so her feelings wouldn't get hurted. I told him I would give him my seventy-five cents from picking peas to pay for it and that Aunt Prissy cried so when her feelings was hurted, and she thought so much of him that she kept her frizzes rolled up all day when she hoped he might be coming that night to see her and got Maw to bake tea-cakes to pass him out on the front porch and he MIGHT let her have just that one little box of soap."

"What did he say, child?" asked Mother Mayberry in a voice that was positively weak from anxiety and suppressed mirth at Eliza's own account of her management of the outraged lover.

"He didn't say a thing, but he sat down on a cracker box and just hugged me and laughed until he cried all over my dress and I hugged back and laughed too, but I didn't know what at. Then he told me that he didn't ever want Aunt Prissy to know about them bad boys' foolish joke 'cause he wanted to marry Aunt Prissy and didn't want her to find out that three young scallawags had to begin his co'ting for him."

"Did he say all that to you, 'Liza honey, are you sure?" asked Mother Mayberry, beginning to beam with delight at the outcome of the horrible situation.

"Yes'm, he did, and I went out and brought Bud and 'Lias and Henny in and he talked to 'em serious until 'Lias cried and Bud got choked trying not to. Then he give them all a bottle of soda pop and they ain't never anybody a-going to tell anybody else about it. He made them boys cross they hearts and bodies not to. I didn't cross mine 'cause I knew I had to tell you, but I do it now." And Eliza stood up and solemnly made the mystic sign, thus locking the barn door of her secret chambers after having quartered the troublesome steed of confidence on the ranges of Mother Mayberry's conscience.

"Well, 'Liza, a secret oughter always be wrapped up tight and dropped down the well inside a person, and suppose you and me do it to this one. And, child, I want to tell you that you did the right thing all along this line, and it were the Heavenly Father you asked to help you out that put the right notion in your heart of what to do."

"Yes'm, I believe He did, and He got hold of Mr. Petway some too, to make him kind about wanting to marry Aunt Prissy. He are a-going to ask her to-night and I promised to keep Paw outen the way for him, 'cause Paw WILL get away from Maw and come talk crops with him sometimes on the front porch. May I go out to the kitchen and get Cindy to make a little chicken soup for Mis' Bostick now? I can't get her to eat much to-day."

"Yes, and welcome, Sister Pike," answered Mother Mayberry heartily, and she shook with laughter as the end of the blue calico skirt disappeared in the hall. "The little raven have actually begun to sprout cupid wings," she said to herself as she went around the corner of the house toward the Doctor's office. "Co'ting are a bombshell that explodes in the big Road of life and look out who it hits," she further observed to herself as she paused to train up a shoot of the rambler over the office door.

The Doctor had just come from over the Ridge, put up his horse and made his way through the kitchen and hall into his office where he found his Mother sitting in his chair by the table. He smiled in a dejected way and seated himself opposite her, leaned his elbows on the table and dropped his chin into his hands.

"Now, what's your trouble, Tom Mayberry?" demanded his Mother, as she gazed across at him with anxiety and tenderness striving in glance and tone. "You've been a-going around like a dropped-wing young rooster with a touch of malaria for a week. If it's just moon-gaps you can keep 'em and welcome, but if it's trouble, I claim my share, son."

"I meant to tell you to-day, Mother," he answered slowly. After a moment's silence he looked up and said steadily, "I've failed with Miss Wingate-and I'm too much of a coward to tell her. I feel sure now that she'll never be able to use her voice any more than she can in the speaking tones and she-she will never sing again." As he spoke he buried his face in his hands and his arms shook the table they rested upon.

For a moment Mother Mayberry sat perfectly still and from the whispered words on her lips her son knew she was praying. "The Lord's will be done," she said at last in her deep, quiet voice, and she laid one of her strong hands on her son's arm. "Tell me about it, Tom. You ain't done no operation yet."

"Yes, Mother, I have," he answered quietly. "All the different laryngeal treatments she had tried under the greatest specialists. Her one hope was to be built up to the point of standing a bloodless operation with the galvanic shock. I have tried three times in the last week to release the muscles and start life in the nerves that control the vocal chords. In the two other cases with which I have succeeded the response was immediate after the first operation. Now I dare not risk another tear of the muscles. One reason I didn't tell her is that I had to count on her losing the fear that she wouldn't gain the control. You know she thinks they have been only preliminary treatments and you have heard her laugh as I held her white throat in my hands. She believes completely in the outcome. God, to think I have failed her-HER!"

"Yes, Tom, He knows-and Mother understands," his Mother answered gently.

"And she must be told right away," said the Doctor as he rose and walked to the window. "It is only fair. Shall I or you tell her? Choose, Mother, what will be best for her! But can she stand it?"

"Son," said his Mother, as she also rose and stood facing him with the late afternoon sun falling straight into her face which, lit by the light without and a fire within, shone with a wonderful radiance. "Son, don't you know these old Harpeth Hills have looked down in they day on many a woman open her arms, take a burden to her heart and start on a long journey up to the Master's everlasting hills? Sometimes it have been dis

grace, or a lifelong loneliness, or her man hunted out into the night by the law. I have laid still-born children into my sisters' arms, and I've washed the blood from the wounds in women's murdered sons, but I ain't never seen no woman deny her Lord yet and I don't look to see this little sister of my heart refuse her cup. I'll tell her, for it's my part-but Tom Mayberry, see that you stand to her when your time comes, as it surely will."

"Don't you know, Mother, that I would lay down my life to do the least thing for her?" he asked, with the suffering drawing his young face into stern, hard lines. "But to do the one thing for her I might have done has been denied me," he added bitterly.

"No, Tom, there's one thing left to you to give her. Sympathy is God's box of precious ointment and see that you break yours over her heart this day. Now, I'm a-going down Providence Road to meet her and I know the Lord will help me to the right words when the time comes. I leave His blessing with you, boy!" And she turned and left him with his softened eyes looking up into her calm face.

Then for a long hour Mother Mayberry worked quietly among her dependent feather folk and as she worked, her gentle face had its brooding mother-look and her lips moved as she comforted and fortified herself with snatches of prayer for the journey through the deep waters, on which she was to lead this child of her affection. After the last tangle had been straightened out, each brood settled in comfortable quarters and the cause of all quarrels arbitrated, she walked to the front gate and stood looking down the Road.

And up from the Deacon's house came a little procession that made her smile with a sob clutching at her heart. The singer lady had taken Teether from the arms of his mother, who stood happily exchanging the topics of the times with the Hoover bride, who had not had thus far sufficient opportunity to expatiate on quite all the adventures of the wedding journey and kept on hand still a small store of happenings to recount to her sympathetic neighbors as they found time and opportunity. The rosy rollicking youngster she had perched on her shoulder and held him steadily thus exalted by his pair of sturdy, milk-fed legs. Martin Luther, as usual, clung to her skirts, Susie Pike danced on before her and the Deacon was walking slowly along at her side, carefully carrying the rose-garden of a hat in both his hands. He was looking up at her with his gentle face abeam with pleasure and Mother Mayberry could hear, as they came near, that she was humming to him as he lined out some quaint, early-church words to her. It was a never failing source of delight to the old patriarch to have her thus fit motives from the world's great music to the old, pioneer hymns.

"Sister Mayberry," he exclaimed with exultation in his old face, "I never thought to hear in this world these words of my brother, Charles Wesley, sung to such heavenly strains as my young sister has put them this day. Never before, I feel, have they had fit rendition. While I line the verse, sing them again to Sister Mayberry, child, that her ears may be rejoiced with mine." And Mother Mayberry caught at the top of the gate as the girl slipped the nodding baby down into her arms and in her wonderful muted voice hummed the Grail motif while the Deacon raised his thin old hands and lined out the

"Hail, holy, holy, holy Lord,

Whom one in three we know-"

on through its verses to its final invocation of the

"Supreme, essential One, adored

In co-eternal Three."

"The Lord bless you, child, and make His sun to shine upon you," he said as the last note died away, while Teether chuckled and nozzled at Mother Mayberry's shoulder. "I must go on back to sit with Mrs. Bostick and will deposit this treasure with Sister Mayberry," he added with a smile as he handed the bouquet-hat over the gate.

"Susie, can't you take Teether over to your Aunt Prissy and tell her that Mother says please give him his milk right away, for it's past time, and she will come in a few minutes?" asked the singer lady, as she handed the reluctant baby to the small girl at her side.

"Milk, thank ma'am, please," demanded Martin Luther quickly, having no intention of being left out of any lactic deal.

"Run ask Cindy," answered Mother Mayberry, as she started him up the front walk, and came on more slowly with Miss Wingate at her side. In her soul she was realizing fully the influence the lovely woman had thrown over the hearts of the simple Providence folk and the greatness of her own nature was making her understand something of the loss to those of the outer world whom the great singer would be no longer able to call within the spell of her wonderful voice.

"Honey-bird," she said gently, as she drew the girl to the end of the porch where the wistaria vine, a whispering maple and the crimson rambler shut them in from the eyes of all the world save the spirit of Providence Nob, which brooded down over them in a wisp of cloud across its sun-reddened top, "here's the place and time and heart strength to tell you that your Lord have laid the hand of affliction on you heavy and have tooken back from you the beautiful voice He gave you to use for a time. I'm a-praying for you to be able to say His will be done."

For one instant the singer woman went white to the eyes and swayed back against the vine, then she asked huskily, "Did HE say so?"

"Yes," answered the Doctor's mother gently with her deep eyes looking into the girl's very soul. "Them treatments was operations and they is all he dares to make for fear of your losing the speaking voice what you have got so beautiful. If they is any love and pity in my heart after I have stopped giving it to you I'm going to pour some out on Tom Mayberry, for when a man's got to look sorrow in the eyes he goes blind and don't know what way to turn, lessen a woman leads him. But he ain't neither here or there and-"

"Where is he?" demanded Miss Wingate in her soft dove notes as she looked the tragedy-stricken young Doctor's mother straight in the face, with her dark eyes completely unveiling her heart, woman to woman. "I-I want HIM!"

"What's left of him is in the office, and you are welcome to the pieces," answered his Mother, a comprehensive joy rising above the sorrow in her eyes. "I reckon I can trust him with you, but if you need any help, call me," she added, as the singer girl fled down the steps and around to the office wing.

And they neither one of them ever knew how it really happened, though she insisted on accusing herself and he claimed always the entire blame, but he had been sitting where his Mother had left him for an hour or more with his face in his hands when he suddenly found himself clasped in soft arms and his eyes pressed close against a bare white throat and a most wonderful dove voice was murmuring happy, comforting little words that fell down like jewels into his very heart of hearts. And his own strong arms held very close a palpitating, cajoling, flower of a woman, who was wooing for smiles and dimpling with raptures.

"I don't care, I don't, and please don't you!" she pleaded with her lips against his black forelock.

"I can't help caring! The one thing I asked of all my years of hard work was to give the music back to you-" and again he buried his face in the soft lace at her throat.

"You say, do you, that I'll never sing again?" she asked quickly, and as she spoke she lifted his head in her hands and waited an instant for the smothered groan with which he answered her.

"Now, listen," she answered him in a voice fairly a-tremble with joyous passion and as she spoke she laid his ear close over her heart and held him so an instant. "Does it matter that only you will ever hear the song, dear?" she whispered, then slipped out of his arms and across to the other side of the table before he could detain her.

"No, Tom Mayberry," she said as he reached for her, and her tone was so positive that he stopped with his arms in the air and let them sink slowly to his side. "We'll have this question out right here and if I have trouble with you I'll-call your Mother," and she laughed as she shook away a tear.

"Please!" he pleaded and his face was both so radiant and so worn that she had to harden her heart against him to be able to hold herself in hand for what she wanted to say to him.

"No," she answered determinedly, "and you must listen to every word I say, for I am getting frightened already and may have to stop."

"I want to talk some myself," he said with the very first smile coming into his grave young eyes. "I want to tell you that I can't help loving you, and have ever since I first saw you, but that it won't do at all for you to marry-marry a Providence country bumpkin with nothing but a doctoring head on his shoulders. I want you to understand that-"

"Please don't refuse me this way before I've ever asked you," she said with a trace of the grand dame hauteur in her manner and voice that he had never seen before. "I think-I think very suddenly I have come to realize, Doctor Mayberry, that-that-oh, I'm very frightened, but I must say it! I wouldn't blame you or your Mother for not wanting me at all. I-I somehow, I don't seem very great-or real to myself here in Providence. My training has been all to one end-useless now-and I'm all unlessoned and unlearned in the real things of life. I seem to feel that the hot theaters and the crowds that have looked at me and-am I what she has a right to demand in your wife?" And, with a proud little gesture, she laid her case in his hands.

And though she had not expected anything dramatic from him in the way of refutation of her speech, she was totally unprepared for the wonderful, absolute silence that met her heroics. He stood and looked her full in the eyes with a calm radiance in his face that reminded her of the dawn-light she had seen that morning come over Providence Nob and his deep smile gave a young prophet look to his austere mouth. And as she gazed at him she drew timidly nearer, even around the corner of the table.

"Your work is so wonderful-and real-and you ought to have a wife who-" By this time she had got much nearer and her voice trailed off into uncertainty. And still he stood perfectly still and looked at her.

"She loves me and I love her, so that, do you think, I might-I might learn? Cindy says I'm a wonder-and remember the custards," she finished from somewhere in the region of his collar. "Now that we've both refused each other do you suppose we can go on and be happy?" she laughed softly from under his chin.

And the young Doctor held her very close and never answered a word she said. The strain on him had been very great and he was more shaken than he wanted her to see. But from the depths of her heart she understood and pressed closer to him as she gave him a long silence in which to recover himself. Twilight was coming in the windows and a fragrant night breeze was ruffling her hair against his cheek before she stirred in his arms.

"We've got to ask-to ask Mother before-before," she was venturing to suggest in the smallest of voices in which was both mirth and tenderness, when a low laugh answered her from the doorway.

"Oh, no you don't," said Mother Mayberry, as she beamed upon them with the most manifest joy. "I had done picked you out before you had been here more'n a week, honey-bird. You can have him and welcome if you can put up with him. He's like Mis' Peavey always says of her own jam; 'Plenty of it such as it is and good enough what they is of it.' A real slow-horse love can be rid far and long at a steady gate. He ain't pretty, but middling smart." And the handsome young Doctor's mother eyed him with a well-assumed tolerance covering her positive rapture.

"Are you sure, sure you're not disappointed about-about that peony-girl?" demanded the singer lady, as she came into the circle of Mother Mayberry's arm and nozzled her little nose under the white lawn tie.

"Le'me see," answered Mother Mayberry in a puzzled tone of voice. "I seem to understand you, but not to know what you are talking about."

"The girl to whom he gave the graduating bouquet with Mrs. Peavey's peony in it," she whispered, but not so low that the Doctor, who had come over and put a long arm around them both, couldn't hear.

"Well," answered Mother Mayberry in a judicial tone of voice as she bestowed a quizzical glance on the Doctor, who blushed to the roots of his hair at this revelation of the fact of his Mother's indulgence in personal reminiscence, "I reckon Miss Alford'll be mighty disappointed to lose him, but I don't know nothing about her riz biscuits. Happiness and good cooking lie like peas in a pod in a man's life and I reckon I'll have to give Tom Mayberry, prize, to you."

"Mother!" exclaimed the Doctor.

"Thank you," murmured Miss Wingate with a wicked glance at him from his Mother's shoulder that brought a hurried embrace down upon them both.

"Children," said Mother Mayberry, as she suddenly reached put her strong arms and took them both close to her breast, "looks like the Lord sometimes hatches out two birds in far apart nests just to give 'em wing-strength to fly acrost river and hill to find each other. You both kinder wandered foreign some 'fore you sighted one another, but now you can begin to build your own nest right away, and I offers my heart as a bush on Providence Nob to put it in."

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