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   Chapter 9 THE LITTLE HARPETH WOMAN OF MANY SORROWS

The Road to Providence By Maria Thompson Daviess Characters: 26486

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


"This here are a curious spell of weather," remarked Mother Mayberry, as she paused beside the singer lady who was holding Martin Luther up on the broad window-sill, and with him was looking disconsolately down the Road. "June's gone to acting like a woman with nerves that cries just because she can. I'm glad all the chicken babies are feathered out and can shed rain. Them little Hoosier pullets have already sprouted tail feathers. They ain't a one of 'em a-going into the skillet no matter how hungry Tom Mayberry looks after 'em. If I don't hold you and Cindy back from spoiling him with chicken-fixings three times a day he'll begin to show pin feathers hisself in no time."

"He likes chicken better than anything else," murmured Miss Wingate as she buried a blush in Martin Luther's topknot.

"Well, wanting ain't always a reason for being gave to," said the Doctor's mother with a chuckle as she admired the side view of the blush. "But, seeing that he about half feeds hisself by looking at me and you at the table, I reckon I'll have to let him have two chickens a day to keep up his strength. Honey-fuzzle are a mighty satisfying diet, though light, for a growed man. Reckon we can persuade him to try a couple of slices of old ham onct in a while so as to give a few broilers time to get legs long enough to fry?"

"We can try," answered the singer lady in a doubtful tone of voice, for the Doctor's penchant for young chicken was very decided.

"Dearie me, it do beat all how some plans of life fall down in the oven," said the Doctor's mother, as she eyed Miss Wingate with her most quizzical smile quirking up the corners of her humorous mouth. "Here I put myself to all manner of troubles to go out into the big world to get a real managing wife for Tom Mayberry and I might just as well have set cross-handed and waited for Susie Pike or little Bettie to grow up to the spoiling of him. I thought seeing that you'd been raised with a silver spoon in your mouth and handed life on a fringed napkin, so to speak, you would make him stand around some, but for all I can see you're going to make another Providence wife. Ain't you got none of the suffering-women new notions at all?"

"I can't help it," answered the singer lady, ducking her head behind Martin Luther again, but smiling up out of the corners of her eyes.

"Are you just going to drop over into being a poor, down-trodden, miserable, man-bossed Harpeth Hill's wife, without trying a single new-fashioned husband remedy on him, with so many receipts for managing 'em being written down by ladies all over the world, mostly single ones?" demanded Mother Mayberry, fairly bubbling over with glee at the singer lady's abashment.

"Yes, I am," answered Miss Wingate sturdily. "I want him to have just what he wants."

"This are worse and more of it," exclaimed the Doctor's delighted Mother. "You are got a wrong notion, child! Marriage ain't no slow, plow-team business these days; it's hitched at opposite ends and pulling both ways for dear life. Don't you even hope you will be; able to think up no kind of tantrums to keep Tom Mayberry from being happy?"

"I don't want to," laughed the infatuated bride prospective.

"Then I reckon I'll have to give up and let you settle down into being one of these here regular old-fashioned, primping-for-a-man, dinner-on-the-table-at-the-horn-blow, hanging-over-the-front-gate-waiting kind of wives. I thought I'd caught a high-faluting bird of Paradise for him and you ain't a thing in the world but a meadow dove. But there comes Bettie scooting through the rain with little Hoover under her shawl. Providence folks have got duck blood, all of 'em, and the more it pours out they paddles. Come in and shake your feathers, Bettie."

"Howdy all," exclaimed the rosy Mrs. Hoover. "This here rain on the corn is money in everybody's pocket. I just stopped in to show you this pink flowered shirt-waist I have done finished for Miss Prissy Pike. Ain't it stylish?"

"It surely are, Bettie!" exclaimed Mother Mayberry. "I'm so glad you got it pink."

"And it don't run neither. I tried it," said the proud designer of the admired garment.

"That's a good sign for the wedding. You can rub happiness that's fast dyed through any kinder worry suds and it'll come out with the color left. Any news along the Road?" asked Mother Mayberry, as she handled the rosy blouse with careful hands.

"Well, Henny Turner says that Squire Tutt are in bed covered up head and ears with the quilts, but 'Lias says that it are just 'cause Mis' Tutt have got a happy spell on her and have been exorting of him. She called all three of them boys in, Bud and Henny and 'Lias, and made 'em learn a Bible verse a-piece, and I was grateful to her for her interest, but the Squire cussed so to 'em while she went to get 'em a cake that I'm afraid the lesson were spoiled for the chaps."

"I don't reckon it were, Bettie. Good salts down any day, while Evil don't ever keep long. But I do wish we could get the Squire and Mis' Tutt to be a little more peaceably with one another. It downright grieves me to have 'em so spited here in they old age." And Mother Mayberry's eyes took on a regretful look and she peered over her glasses at the happy bride. On her buoyant heart she ever carried the welfare of every soul in Providence and the crabbed old couple down the Road was a constant source of trouble to her.

"You shan't worry over 'em, Mis' Mayberry," answered pretty Bettie quickly, "You get every Providence trouble landed right on your shoulders as soon as one comes. You don't get a chance to do nothing but deal out ease to other people's bodies and souls, too."

"Well, a cup of cold water held to other folks' mouths is a mighty good way to quench your own thirst, Bettie child, and I'm glad if it are gave to me to label out the blessing of ease. But have you been in to the Deacon's this morning?"

"No'm, I'm a-going to stop as I go along home," answered Bettie. "I have seed the little raven paddling back and forth, so I guess they is all right. I must hurry on now, for I see Miss Prissy at the window looking for me. Ain't my baby a-growing?" she asked, as she picked little Hoover off of the floor and again enveloped the bobbing head under her own shawl.

"Yes, it are, and Mr. Hoover's a-smiling hisself fat by the day, child," answered Mother Mayberry with a smile. "Do you pass on the word to Elinory here that Providence husbands wear good, both warp and woof?"

"That they do, Miss Elinory, and I never seed nothing like 'em in my travels," called back the bride from the door, as she reefed in her skirts and sailed out in the downpour.

"Well, your mind oughter be satisfied, child, for Bettie muster seen a good deal of the world in that three weeks' bridal trip in the farm wagon," laughed Mother Mayberry at the singer lady by the window. "Now I'm a-going to swim out to gather eggs and I'll be back if I don't drown." With which she left the girl and the tot to resume their watch down the Road for a horse and rider due in not over two hours' time.

And indeed the last of old June's days seemed in danger of dripping away from her in tears of farewell. Rain clouds hung low over Harpeth Hills and drifted down to the very top of Providence Nob. A steady downpour had begun in the night and held on into the day and seemed to increase in volume as the hours wore away. The tall maples were standing depressed-boughed and dripping and the poplar leaves hung sodden and wet, refusing a glimpse of their silver lining. A row of bleeding-hearts down the walk were turning faint pink and drooping to the ground, while every rose in the yard was shattered and wasted away.

"Rain, rain!" wailed Martin Luther under his breath, as he pressed his cheek to the window-pane and looked without interest at a forlorn rooster huddled with a couple of hens under the snowball bush.

"Don't you want a cake and some milk?" asked the singer lady, as she gave him a comforting hug and essayed consolation by the offer of a material distraction.

"No milk, no cake; L-i-z-a, thank ma'am, please," he sobbed a disconsolate demand for what he considered a good substitute sunbeam.

"There she comes now, darling," exclaimed the singer lady, with as much pleasure coming into her face as lit the doleful cherub's at her side. And from the Pike front door there had issued a small figure, also enveloped in an old shawl, which made its way across the puddles with splashing, bare feet. She had her covered dish under her arm and a bucket dangled from one hand. She answered Martin Luther's hail with a flash of her white teeth and sped across the front porch.

And in the course of just ten minutes the experienced young pacifier had established the small boy as driver to Mother Mayberry's large rocking-chair, mounted him on the foot of the bed with snapping switch to crack and thus secured a two-hour reign of peace for his elders.

"Miss Elinory," she said, as she came and stood close to the singer lady seated in the deep window, "I'm mighty glad you got Doctor Tom; and it were fair to the other lady, too. He couldn't help loving you best, 'cause you are got a sick throat and she ain't. Do you reckon she'll be satisfied to take Sam Mosbey when she comes again? I'm sorry for her."

"So am I, Eliza," laughed Miss Wingate softly, as the rose blush stole up over her cheeks, "but I don't believe she'll need Mr. Mosbey. Don't you suppose she-that-is-there must be some one down in the City whom she likes a lot."

"Yes'm, I reckon they is. Then I'll just take Sam myself when I grow up if nobody else wants him," answered Eliza comfortably. "I'm sorry to be glad that your throat didn't get well, but Mis' Peavey says that you never in the world woulder tooken Doctor Tom if you coulder gone away and made money singing to people. I don't know what me or him or Mother Mayberry woulder done without you, but we couldn'ter paid you much to stay. You won't never go now, will you?"

"Never," answered the singer lady, as she drew the little ingenue close to her side. "And let me whisper something to you, Eliza-I never-would-have-gone-any-way. I love you too much, you and Mother Mayberry-and Doctor Tom."

"And Mis' Bostick and Deacon," exclaimed the loyal young raven. "Miss Elinory, I get so scared about Mis' Bostick right here," she added, laying her hand on her little throat. "She won't eat nothing and she can't talk to me to-day. Maw and Mis' Nath Mosbey are there now and waiting for Doctor Tom to come back. They said not to tell Mother Mayberry until the rain held up some, but they want her, too. Can't loving people do nothing for 'em, Miss Elinory?" and with big, wistful eyes the tiny woman put the question, which has agonized hearts down the ages.

"Oh, darling, the-loving itself helps," answered the singer lady quickly with the mist over her eyes.

"I believe it do," answered Eliza thoughtfully.

"I hold the Deacon's other hand when he sets by Mis' Bostick! He wants me, and she smiles at us both. I don't like to leave 'em for one single minute. I have to wait now for Cindy to get the dinner done, but then I'm a-going to run. Why, there goes Mother Mayberry outen the gate under a umbrella! And Aunt Prissy asked me to get a spool of number fifty thread from her to sew some lace on a petticoat Mis' Hoover have done finished for her. If I was to go to get married I'd make some things for my husband, too, and not so much for myself. I wouldn't want so many skirts unless I knewed he had enough shirts."

"But, Eliza," remonstrated Miss Wingate, slightly shocked at this rather original idea of providing a groom with a trousseau, "perhaps he would rather get things for himself."

"No'm, he wouldn't," answered Eliza positively. "I ain't a-going to say anything to Aunt Prissy about it 'cause you never can tell what will hurt her feelings, but I want you to get Mis' Hoover to show you how and make three nice shirts for Doctor Tom, so you can wash one while he wears the other and keep one put away for Sunday. That is the way Maw does for Paw and all the other folks on the Road does the same for they men. Mis' Peavey can show you how to iron them nice, for she does the Deacon's for me and Mother Mayberry is too busy to bother with such things 'count of always having to go to sick folks even over to the other side of the Nob. Cindy don't starch good. You'll do for Doctor Tom nice, now you've got him, won't you?"

"Yes, Eliza, I will," answered the singer lady meekly, as this prevision of the life domestic rose up and menaced her. She even had a queer little thrill of pleasure at the thought of performing such superhuman tasks for what was to be her individual responsibility among Providence men along the Road. The certainty that she would never be allowed to perform such offices at machine and tub actually depressed her, for the thought had brought a primitive sense of possession that she was loath to dismiss; the passion for service to love being an instinct that sways the great lady and her country sister alike. "Do you think he-will let me?" she asked of her admonisher.

"Just go on and do it and do

n't ask him," was the practical answer. "There he comes now leading his horse and he have been to see Mis' Bostick. I can get the dinner and run on to meet him and hear how he thinks she are," she exclaimed as she seized her dish and bucket and disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.

And a few minutes later, as Doctor Mayberry was unsaddling his horse in the barn a lithe figure enveloped as to head and shoulders in one of Cindy's kitchen aprons darted under the dripping eaves and stood breathless and laughing in the wide door.

"I saw you come up the Road," said the singer lady, as she divested herself of the gingham garment, "and I was dying to get out in the rain, much to Cindy's horror. You are late."

"Not much," answered the young Doctor, slipping out of his rain coat and coming over to stand beside her in the door. "What have you been doing all morning?"

"I've been being-being lectured," she answered, as she looked up in his face with dancing dark eyes.

"Who did it to you?" he asked, taking her fingers into his and drawing her farther back from the splash of the rain drops.

"Your Mother and then Eliza Pike," she answered with a low laugh. "Eliza is afraid I won't 'do for you' in proper Providence style and I'm very humble and-I-I want to learn. She thinks I ought to begin on some-some shirts for you right now and I'm going to. What color do you prefer?"

"Horrors!" exclaimed the Doctor, positively blushing at the thought of the very lovely lady engaged in such a clothing mission.

"I knew you wouldn't have any confidence in them," answered Miss Wingate mournfully, "and I haven't myself, but still I was willing to try."

"Oh, yes, I have!" the young Doctor hastened to exclaim. "Better make them suitable for traveling, for I've got marching orders in the noon mail. Are you ready to start to Italy on short notice and then on to India?"

"What?" demanded the singer lady with alarmed astonishment.

"Yes," answered the young Doctor coolly. "The Commission writes that my reports on Pellagra down here are complete enough now for them to send some chap down to continue them, while I go on to Southern Italy for a study of similar conditions there and then on to India for a still more exhaustive examination. The Government is determined to stamp this scourge out before it gets a hold, and it's work to put out the fire before it spreads. Better hurry the shirts and pack up your own fluff."

"But I'm not going a step or a wave," answered the singer girl defiantly. "I'm too busy here now. I don't ever intend to leave Mother as long as I live. I don't see how you can even suggest such a thing to me."

"Do you know what leaving Mother is like?" asked the young Doctor, as he looked down on her with tenderness in his gray eyes and Mother Mayberry's own quizzical smile on his lips. "It's like going to sleep at night with a last look at Providence Nob,-you wake up in the morning and find it more there than ever. She was THERE on sunny mornings over in Berlin and THERE on gray days in London and I had her on long hard hospital nights in New York. Just come with me on this trip and I promise she and Old Harpeth will be here when we get back. Please!"

"I don't know," answered Miss Wingate in a small voice as she rubbed her cheek against the arm of his coat. "I'm in love with Tom Mayberry of Providence Road. I don't know that I want to go traveling with a distinguished physician on an important Government mission and attend Legation dinners and banquets and-I don't want to leave my Mother," and there was a real catch in the laugh she smothered in his coat sleeve.

"Dearie girl," he exclaimed, looking down with delight at a small section of blush left visible against the rough blue serge of his coat, "you and Mother are-"

"Sakes, you folks, I wish you'd try to listen when you are called at!" came in a sharp voice as Mrs. Peavey looked down upon them from over the wall near the barn. "One of them foolish Indiany chickens are stretched out kicking most drowned in a puddle right by the barn door, and there you both stand doing nothing for it. Tom Mayberry, pick it up this minute and give it to me! I'm a-going to put it behind my stove until Mis' Mayberry comes home. I've got some feeling for her love of chickens, I have."

"Oh, I didn't see it!" exclaimed Miss Wingate, in an agony of regret. "The dear little thing! Give it to me and I'll take care of it."

"Fiddlesticks! Chickens ain't 'dear little things,' and I wouldn't trust neither one of you to take care of a flea of mine, with your philandering. Hand it here to me, Tom Mayberry, like I tell you!" And the Doctor hastened to pick up the little gasping bunch of drenched feathers, which Mrs. Peavey tucked in the corner of her shawl "Did you all hear that a car busted into another one down in the City day before yesterday and throwed the driver and broke a lady's arm and cut a baby's leg shameful? It was in the morning paper I saw down to the store; and a wind storm blew off a man's roof too."

"I haven't read the paper yet," answered the singer lady in the subdued voice she always used in addressing Mother Mayberry's pessimistic neighbor.

"Well, you oughter take interest in accidents if you are a-going to be a Doctor's wife. It'll be all in the family then and you can hear it all straight and maybe see some folks mended," answered Mrs. Peavey, and she failed to notice Miss Wingate's horrified expression at such a prospect. "How's Mis' Bostick, Tom? That is, how do your Mother say she are, for I couldn't trust your notion in such a case as her'n."

"I think Mother feels worried over her to-day," answered the Doctor gently, with not a trace of offense at his neighbor's outspoken question. "Her heart is very weak and it is impossible to stimulate her further. Mother is up there now and I'll come tell you what she says when she comes home to dinner."

"Well, I'm always thankful for news, bad as it mostly are," answered Mrs. Peavey in gloomy gratitude for his offer of a report from Mother Mayberry. "You all had better go on in the house now and put Miss Elinory's wet feet in the stove, for they won't be no use in her dying on Mis' Mayberry's hands with pneumony at this busy time of the year. Them slippers is too foolish to look at." With which the shawled head disappeared from the top of the wall.

"Do you know, I had a strange dream last night," said the singer lady, as the Doctor hung up his bridle and shut the feed-room door preparatory to following out Mrs. Peavey's injunction as to carrying Miss Wingate away to be dry shod. "I dreamed that I was singing to Mrs. Bostick and the Deacon, REALLY singing, and just as it rose clear and strong Mrs. Peavey called to me to 'shut up' and it stopped so suddenly that I waked up-and the strange part of it is that I heard, really heard, I thought, my own voice die away in an echo up in the eaves. For a second I seemed awake and listening-and it was lovely-lovely!"

"Dear," said the Doctor, as he took her hand in his and held it against his breast, "I would give all life has to offer me to get it back for you. I will hope against hope! I haven't written Doctor Stein yet. I can't make myself write. Perhaps we will find some one on this trip who has some theory or treatment or something to offer. I've been praying that help will come!"

"Would you-like me any better if I had it back?" she asked with a happy little laugh as she laid her cheek against their clasped hands. "Would you want L'ELEONORE more than you do just plain Elinor Wingate, care Mother Mayberry, Providence, Tennessee?"

"I'm going to carry you in the house so you can put on dry stockings," answered the Doctor with a spark in his gray eyes that scorned her question, and without any discussion he picked her up, strode through the rain with her and deposited her in the kitchen door.

And over by the long window they found Mother Mayberry standing with her hand on Cindy's shoulder, who sat with her head bowed in her apron sobbing quietly, while Martin Luther stood wide-eyed and questioning, with his little hand clutching Mother's skirts.

"Children," said Mother quietly as she came and stood beside them in the doorway, while Martin Luther nestled up to Doctor Tom, "I've come down the Road to tell you that it are all over up at the Deacon's. It were very beautiful, for Mis' Bostick just give us a smile and went to meet her Lord with the love of us all a-shining on her face. We didn't hardly sense it at first, for she had just spoke to 'Liza, and the Deacon were over by the window. I ain't got no tears to shed for her and Deacon are so stunned he don't need 'em yet."

"Mother," exclaimed the Doctor, as he took her hand in his, while the singer lady crept close and rested against her strong shoulder.

"Yes, son," answered his Mother gently, "it come so sudden I couldn't even send for you, but go on up there now and see what you can do for Deacon. He'll want you for the comfort of your presence, you and 'Liza."

"And Eliza!" exclaimed Miss Wingate with a sob, "it'll break her little heart."

"They never was such a child as 'Liza Pike in the world," said Mother Mayberry softly and for the first time a film of tears spread over her eyes. "She have never said a word, but just stands pressed up close with her arm 'round the Deacon's shoulders as he sits with his Good Book acrost his knees. She give one little moan when she understood, but she ain't made a mite of child-fuss, just shed her baby tears like a woman growed to sorrow. Her little bucket and dish of dinner is a-setting cold on the table and a little draggled rose she had brung in not a hour back is still in Mis' Bostick's fingers, and the other one pinned on the Deacon's coat. When Judy and Betty wanted to begin to fix things she understood without a word, led the Deacon out into the hall and are just a-standing there a-keeping him up in his daze by the courage in her own loving little heart. The good Lord bless and keep the child! Now, go on, Tom, and see what you can do! Yes, Cindy will run right over and tell Mis' Peavey. And stop in and see Squire Tutt, for Henny Turner says he are down to-day and a-asking for you. Come into my room, honey-bird, I've got to look for something."

"Somehow, I don't feel about dying as lot of folks do," she remarked to the singer lady, as she stood in front of the tall old chest of drawers in her own room a few minutes later. "Death ain't nothing but laying down one job of work and going to answer the Master when He calls you to come take up another. Mis' Bostick have worked in His vineyard early and late, through summer sun and winter wind, and now He have summoned her in for some other purpose. He'll find her well-tried and seasoned to go on with whatever plans He have for her in His Kingdom."

"It's wonderful to believe that," answered the singer girl through her tears. "It seems to supply a reason for what happens to us here-if we can go on with it later."

"Course we can," answered Mother Mayberry, as she began to search in her top drawer for something. "I hope He have got some good big job cut out for Tom Mayberry and me; but course it will have to be something different, for they won't be no more sickness or death or sorrowing for us doctors to tend on. But Pa Lovell and Doctor Mayberry have found something by this time and maybe it will be for me and Tom to work at it alongside of 'em. It might be you will have the beautiful voice back and come sing for us all, as have never heard you in this world. Then, too, I believe He'll give it to little Sister Pike to tend on the prophets and maybe I'll be there to see!"

"This is the first time I ever could take-take any interest in Heaven at all," confessed Miss Wingate, lifting large, comforted eyes to Mother Mayberry's face. "When I was so desperate and didn't know what to do, before I came and found out that there was a place for me in this world even if I couldn't sing any more, I used to dread the thought of Heaven, even if I might some day be good enough to go there."

"Well, a stand-around, set-around kind of Heaven may be for some people as wants it, but a come-over-and-help-us kind is what I'm hoping for. I want to have a good lot of honest acts to pack up and take into the judgment seat to prove my character by and then be honored with some kind of telling labor to do. I'm looking for something white to put at Mis' Bostick's neck, for we are a-going to lay her in her grave in the old dress with its honorable patches, but with a little piece of fine white to match her sweet soul. Here it is."

"Will you let me know if I can do anything for anybody or the Deacon later?" asked the singer lady gently.

"I know you will be a comfort to him, child, after a while. You can look after my chickens and things for me, for Cindy's a-going with me and that leaves you to feed the two boys, Tom and Martin Luther, for dinner. And don't you never forget that you are the apple-core of your Mother Mayberry's heart and she's a-going to hold you to her tender, even unto them Glory days we've been a-planning for, with Death here in the midst of Life."

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