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The Road to Providence By Maria Thompson Daviess Characters: 25025

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

"In all my long life it have never been gave to me to see anything like Deacon Bostick and his Providence children," said Mother Mayberry, as she stood on the end of the porch with the singer girl's hand in hers. "He are a-setting on his bench under the tree right by her window, like he always did to listen for her, and every child in the Road is a-huddled up against him like a forlorn lot of little motherless chickens. He have got little Bettie and Martin Luther on his knees and the rest are just crowded up all around him. He don't seem to notice any of the rest of us, but looks to 'Liza for everything. She got him to go to bed at nine o'clock and when Buck and Mr. Petway went to set up for the night they found she'd done made 'Lias and Henny and Bud all lie down by him, one on each side and Bud acrost the foot. He wanted 'em to stay and the men let 'em do it. Judy says she were up by daylight and gone down the Road to see about his breakfast and things. And now she are just a-standing by him waiting for the bell to toll for the funeral. The Deacon have surely followed his Master in the suffering of little children to draw close to him in this life and now he are becoming as one of 'em before entering the Kingdom."

"This soft, misty, sun-veiled day seems just made for Mrs. Bostick," said Miss Wingate with unshed tears in her voice.

"It may be just a notion of mine, honey-bird, but it looks like up here in Harpeth Hills the weather have got a sympathy with us folks. Look how Providence Nob have drawed a mist of tears 'twixt it and the faint sun. When troubles are with us I've seen clouds boil up over the Ridge and on the other hand we ain't scarcely ever had rain on a wedding or church soshul day. I like to feel that maybe the good Lord looks special after us of His children living out in the open fields and we have got His word that He tempers the winds. People in the big cities can crowd up and keep care of one another, but out here we are all just in the hollow of His hand. Here comes Mis' Peavey. I asked her to go along to the funeral with me and you. It are most time now."

"Howdy, all," said Mrs. Peavey in an utterly gray tone of voice. "Mis' Mayberry, that Circuit Rider have never come from Bolivar yet. Do you reckon his horse have throwed him or is it just he don't care for us Providence folks and don't think it worth his while to come say the words over Sister Bostick?"

"Oh, he come 'most a half-hour ago, Hettie Ann," answered Mother Mayberry quickly. "Bettie had a little snack laid out for him 'count of his having to make such a early start to get here. He was most kind to the Deacon and professed much sorrow for us all. How are your side this morning?"

"I got out that foolish dry plaster Tom made me more'n a month ago and put it on last night, 'cause I didn't want to disturb you, and to my surprise they ain't a mite of pain hit me since. But I guess it are mostly the clearing weather that have stopped it."

"Maybe a little of both," answered the Doctor's mother with a smile, "but anyway, it's good that you ain't a-suffering none. We must all take good care of each other's pains from now on, 'cause we are most valuable one to another. Friends is one kind of treasure you don't want to lay up in Heaven."

"I spend most of my time thinking about folks' accidents and hurts and pains," answered Mrs. Peavey in all truth. "Miss Elinory, did you gargle your throat with that slippery-ellum tea I thought about to make for you last week?"

"Yes, Mrs. Peavey, I did," answered Miss Wingate quickly, for she had performed that nauseous operation actuated by positive fear of Mrs. Peavey if she should discover a failure to follow her directions.

"It'll cure you, maybe," answered the gratified neighbor. "There's the bell and let's all go on slow and respectful."

And the sweet-toned old Providence Meeting-house bell was tolling its notes for the passing of the soul of the gentle little Harpeth woman of many sorrows as her friends and neighbors walked quietly down the Road, along the dim aisle and took their places in the old pews with a fitting solemnity on their serious faces. The young Circuit Rider spoke to them from a full heart in sympathetically simple words and Pattie Hoover led the congregation from behind the little cabinet organ in a few of the Deacon's favorite hymns.

Then the little procession wound its way among the graves over to a corner under an old cedar tree, where the stout young farmers laid their frail burden down for its long sleep. The Deacon stood close by and the children clung around his thin old legs, to his hands, and reached to grasp at a corner of his coat. Eliza laid her head against his shoulder and Henny and 'Lias crowded close on the other side, while Bud held the old black hat he had taken from off his white hair, in careful, shaking little hands. The singer lady, with the Doctor at her side and her hand in Mother Mayberry's, stood just opposite and the others came near.

The simple service that the Church has instituted for the committing of its dead to the grave had been read by the Circuit Rider, the last prayer offered, and as a long ray of sunlight came through the mist and fell across the little assembly, he turned expectantly to Pattie Hoover, who stood between her father and Buck at the other end of the grave. He had read the first lines of the hymn and he expected her to raise the tune for the others to follow. But when a woman's heart is very young and tender, and attuned to that of another which is throbbing emotionally close by, her own feelings are apt to rise in a tidal wave of tears, regardless of consequences; and as Buck Peavey choked off a sob, Pattie turned and buried her head on her father's arm. There was a long pause and nobody attempted to start the singing. They were accustomed to depend on Pattie or her organ and their own throats were tight with tears. The unmusical young preacher was helpless and looked from one to another, then was about to raise his hands for the benediction, when a little voice came across the grave.

"Ain't nobody going to sing for Mis' Bostick?" wailed Eliza, as her head went down on the Deacon's arm in a shudder of sobs.

Then suddenly a very wonderful and beautiful thing happened in that old churchyard of Providence Meeting-house under Harpeth Hills, for the great singer lady stepped toward the Deacon a little way, paused, looked across at the old Nob in the sunlight, and high and clear and free-winged like that of an archangel, rose her glorious voice in the

"Hail, holy, holy, holy Lord,"

which she had set for him and the gentle invalid to the wonderful motif of the Song of the Master's Grail. Love and sorrow and a flood of tears had relieved a pressure somewhere, the balance had been recovered and her muted voice freed. And on through the verses to the very end she sang it, while the little group of field people held their breath in awe and amazement. Then, while they all stood with bowed heads for the benediction, she turned and walked away through the graves, out of the churchyard and on up Providence Road, with an instinct to hide from them all for a moment of realization.

"And here I have to come and hunt the little skeered miracle out of my own feather pillows," exclaimed Mother Mayberry a little later with laughter, tears, pride and joy in her voice, as she bent over the broad expanse of her own bed and drew the singer girl up in her strong arms. "Daughter," she said, with her cheek pressed to the flushed one against her shoulder, "what the Lord hath given and taketh away we bless Him for and none the less what He giveth back, blessed be His name. That's a jumble, but He understands me. You don't feel in no ways peculiar, do you?" and as she asked the question the Doctor's mother clasped the slender throat in one of her strong hands.

"Not a bit anywhere," answered Miss Wingate, with the burr all gone from her soft voice. "Is it true?"

"Dearie me, I can't hardly stand it to hear you speak, it are so sweet!" exclaimed Mother Mayberry in positive rapture and again the tears filled her eyes, while her face crinkled up into a dimpled smile. "Don't say nothing where the mocking-birds will hear you, please, 'cause they'll begin to hatch out a dumb race from plumb discouragement. Come out on the porch where it ain't so hot, but I'm a-holding on to you to keep you from flying up into one of the trees. I'm a-going to set about building a cage for you right-"

"Now, didn't I tell you about that slippery-ellum!" came in a positively triumphant voile to greet them as they stepped out of the front door. Mrs. Peavey was ascending the steps all out of breath, her decorous hat awry, and her eyes snapping with excitement. "Course I don't think this can be no positive cure and like as not you'll wake up to-morrow with your voice all gone dry again, but it were the slippery-ellum that done it!"

"I think it must have helped some," answered the singer lady in the clear voice that still held its wonted note of meekness to her neighbor.

"Course it did! Tom Mayberry's experimenting couldn'ter done it no real good. His mother have been giving that biled bark for sore throat for thirty years and it was me that remembered it. But it were a pity you done it at the grave; that were Mis' Bostick's funeral and not your'n. Now look at everybody a-coming up the Road with no grieving left at all."

"Oh, Hettie Ann," exclaimed Mother Mayberry in quick distress, "it are a mean kind of sorrow that can't open its arms to hold joy tender. Think what it do mean to the child and-Look at Bettie!"

And indeed it was a sight to behold the pretty mother of the seventeen sailing up the front walk like a great full-rigged ship. Miss Wingate flew down the steps to meet her and in a few seconds was enveloped and involved with little Hoover in an embrace that threatened to be disastrous to all concerned. Judy Pike was close behind and, making a grab on her own part, stood holding the end of the singer lady's sash in her one hand while Teether, from her other arm, caught at the bright ribbons and squealed with delight. The abashed Pattie hung over the front gate and Buck grinned in the rear.

"Lawsy me, child," Mrs. Hoover laughed and sobbed as she patted the singer lady on the back, little Hoover anywhere he came upmost and included Teether and Judy also in the demonstration, "I feel like it would take two to hold me down! You sure sing with as much style as you dress! And to think such a thing have happened to all of us here in Providence. We won't never need that phonygraph we all are a-hankering after now. Speak up to the child, Judy Pike!"

"I don't need to," answered the more self-contained Sister Pike, "she knows how I'm a-rejoicing for her. Just look at Mr. Hoover and Ez Pike a-grinning acrost the street at her and here do come the Squire and Mis' Tutt walking along together for the first time I almost ever seed 'em."

"Wheeuh," wheezed the Squire, "I done come up here to give up on the subject of that Tom Mayberry! He don't look or talk like he have got any sense, girl, but he are the greatest doctor anywhere from Harpeth Hills to Californy or Alasky. He have got good remedies for all. I reckon you are one of the hot water kind, but he can give bitters too. You'd better keep him to the bitters though for safety."

"There now! You all have done heard the top testimony for Tom Mayberry," exclaimed Mother, fairly running over with joy.

"Glory!" was the one word that rose to the surface of Mrs. Tutt's emotions, but it expressed her state of beatitude and caused the Squire to peer at her with uneasiness as if expecting an outburst of exhortation on the next breath. Mrs. Peavey's experienced eye also caught the threatened downpour and she hastened to admonish the group of women.

"Sakes, you all!" she exclaimed, untying the strings of her bonnet energetically, "they won't be a supper cooked on the Road if we don't go get about it. A snack dinner were give the men and such always calls for the putting on of the big pot and the little kettle for supper. Miss Elinory will be here for you all to eat up to-morrow morning, 'lessen something happens to her in the night, like a wind storm. Go on everybody!"

"Oh," exclaimed Mother Mayberry, as she stood on the top step looking down at them all, "look how the sun have come out on us all, with its happiness after the sor

row we have known this day. I thank you, one and all, for your feeling with me and my daughter Elinory. The rejoicing of friends are a soft wind to folks' spirit wings and we're all flying high this night. Get the children bedded down early, for they have had a long day and need good sleep. Bettie, let Mis' Tutt walk along with you and the Squire can come on slow. Don't nobody forget that it are Sewing Circle with Mis' Mosbey to-morrow."

And, with more congratulations to the singer lady, laughs with Mother Mayberry, and the return of a shot or two with Mrs. Peavey, the happy country women dispersed to their own roof trees. The sorrow that had come they had endured for the night and now they were ready to rise up and meet joy for the morning. In the children of nature the emotions maintain their elemental balance and their sense of the proportions of life is instinctively true.

"Look, honey-bird, who's coming!" said Mother Mayberry, just as she was turning to seat herself in her rocking-chair, tired out as she was with the strain of the long day. "Run, meet 'em at the gate!" And up Providence Road came the old Deacon and Eliza hand in hand, with Martin Luther trailing wearily behind them. When she saw Miss Wingate at the gate, Eliza, for the first time during the day, loosed her hold on her old charge and darted forward to hide her head on the singer lady's breast as her thin little arms clasped around her convulsively.

"Now," she wailed, "Mis' Bostick are dead and you'll be goned away too. Can't you stay a little while, till we can stand to let you go? Poor Doctor Tom! Please, oh, please!"

"Darling, darling, I'm never going to leave you!" exclaimed Miss Wingate, as she hugged the small implorer as closely as possible and held out one hand to the Deacon as he came up beside them. "I'm going to stay and sing for you and the Deacon whenever you want me-if it will help!"

"Child," said the old patriarch, with an ineffable sweetness shining from his sad old face, "out of my affliction I come to add my blessing to what the Lord has given to you this day. And I take this mercy as a special dispensation to me and to her, as it came when you were performing one of His offices for us. No sweeter strain could come from the Choir Invisible that she hears this night, and if she knows she rejoices that it will be given at other times to me, to feed my lonely soul."

"The songs are yours when you want them, Deacon," said the singer girl in her sweet low voice as she held his hand in hers gently.

"And it are true what the Deacon says, they ain't no help like music," said Mother Mayberry who had come down the walk and stood leaning against the gate near them. "A song can tote comfort from heart to heart when words wouldn't have no meaning. It's a high calling, child, and have to be answered with a high life."

"I know Pattie and Buck and Aunt Prissy will let you always sing in the choir if Deacon asks 'em," said Eliza in a practical voice as she again took hold of the Deacon's hand, "and Mr. Petway are a-going to buy a piano for Aunt Prissy when they get married and sometimes you can sing by it if Doctor Tom can't save up enough to get you one. But I want Deacon to come home now, 'cause he are tired." And without more ado she departed with her docile charge, leaving the tired Martin Luther with his hands clasped in Mother Mayberry's.

"Mother," faltered Miss Wingate as she and Mother Mayberry were slowly ascending the steps, assisting the almost paralyzed young missionary to mount between them, "where do you suppose-HE is?" For some minutes back the singer lady had been growing pale at the realization that the Doctor had not come to her since she had left his side in the churchyard and her eyes were beginning to show a deep hurt within.

"I don't know, Elinory, and I've been a-wondering," answered Mother Mayberry as she sank down on the top step and took the tired child in her arms.

"Oh," said Miss Wingate as she stood before her on the lower step and clasped her white hands against her breast, "do you suppose he is going to-to hurt me now?"

"Child," answered the Doctor's mother quietly, with a quick sadness spreading over her usually bright face, "they ain't nothing in the world that can be as cruel as true love when it goes blind. Tom Mayberry is a good man and I borned, nursed and raised him, but I won't answer for him about no co'ting conniptions. A man lover are a shy bird and they can't nothing but a true mate keep him steady on any limb. You ain't showed a single symptom of managing Tom yet, but somehow I've got confidence in you if you just keep your head now."

"But what can the matter be?" demanded Miss Wingate in a voice that shook with positive terror.

"Well," answered Mother Mayberry slowly, "I sorter sense the trouble and I'll tell you right out and out for your good. Loving a woman are a kinder regeneration process for any man, and a good one like as not comes outen it humbler than a bad most times. Tom have wrapped you around with some sorter pink cloud of sentiments, tagged you with all them bokays the world have give you for singing so grand, turned all them lights on you he first seen you acrost and now he's afraid to come nigh you. I suspect him of a bad case of chicken-heart and I'm a-pitying of him most deep. He's just lying down at your feet waiting to be picked up."

"I wonder where he is!" exclaimed Miss Wingate as a light flashed into her eyes and a trace of color came back to her cheeks.

"You'll find him," answered the Doctor's mother comfortably, "and when you do I want you to promise me to put him through a good course of sprouts. A wife oughtn't to stand on no pedestal for a man, but she have got no call to make squaw tracks behind him neither. Go on and find him! A woman have got to come out of the pink cloud to her husband some time, but she'd better keep a bit to flirt behind the rest of her life. Look in the office!"

"Well; Martin Luther," remarked Mother a few minutes later, as she lifted the absolutely dead youngster in her arms and rose to take him into the house, "life are all alike from Harpeth Hills to Galilee. A woman can shape up her dough any fancy way she wants and it's likely to come outen the oven a husband. All Elinory's fine songs are about to end in little chorus cheeps with Tom under Mother Mayberry's wings, the Lord be praised!"

And over in the office wing the situation was about as Mother Mayberry's experienced intuitions had predicted. Miss Wingate found the young Doctor sitting in the deep window and looking out at Providence Nob, which the last rays of the sun were dying blood red, with his strong young face set and white. The battle was still on and his soul was up in arms.

"Where have you been?" she asked quietly as she came and stood against the other side of the casement. The pain in his gray eyes set her heart to throbbing, but she had herself well in hand.

"When I came up the Road the others were all here and I waited to see you until they were gone," he answered her, just as quietly and in just as controlled a voice and with possibly just as wild a throb in his heart "I have been writing to Doctor Stein and there are the Press bulletins, subject to your approval," He pointed to some letters on the table which she never deigned to notice. She had drawn herself to her slim young height and looked him full in the face with a beautiful stateliness in her manner and glance. Her dark eyes never left his and she seemed waiting for him to say something further to her.

"You know without my telling you how very glad I am for you," he said gently and his hand trembled on the window ledge.

"Are you?" she asked in a low tone, still with her eyes fixed on his face, but her lips pressed close with a sharp intake of breath.

"Yes," he answered quickly, and this time the note of pain would sound clearly in his voice. "Yes, no matter what it means to me!"

The pain of it, the haggard gray eyes, the firm young mouth and the droop of the broad shoulders were too much for the singer girl and she smiled shakily as she held out her arms.

"Tom Mayberry," she pleaded with a little laugh, "please, please don't treat me this way. I promised your mother to be stern with you but-I can't! Don't you see that it can only mean to me what it means to your happiness-if-do you, could you possibly think it would make any difference to me? Do you suppose for all the wide world I would throw away what I have found here in Providence under Harpeth Hills-my Mother and you? Ah, Tom, I'll be good, I'll go to Italy and India with you! I'll-I'll 'do for' you just the best I can!"

"But, dear, it isn't right at all," whispered the young Doctor to the back of the singer lady's head, as he laid his cheek against the dark braids. "Your voice belongs to the world-there must be no giving it up. I can't let you-I-"

"Listen," said the singer girl as she raised her head and looked up into his face. "For all your life you will have to go where pain and grief call you, won't you? Can't you take my voice with you and use it-as one of your-remedies? Your Mother says songs can comfort where words fail; let me go with you! Your father brought her and her herb basket to Providence, won't you take me and my songs out into the world with you? Don't send me back to sing in the dreadful crowded theaters to people who pay to hear me. Let me give it all my lifelong, as she has given herself here in Providence. Please, Tom, please!" And again she buried her head against his coat.

And as was his wont, the silent young doctor failed to answer a single word but just held her close and comforted. And how long he would have held her, there is no way to know, because the strain had been too great on Mother Mayberry and in a few minutes she stood calmly in the door and looked at the pair of children with happy but quizzical eyes.

"It's just as well you got Tom Mayberry straightened out quick, Elinory," she remarked in her most jovial tone. "I've been getting madder and madder as I put Martin Luther to bed and though I ain't never had to whip him yet, I'd just about made up my mind to ask him out in the barn and dress him down for onct. Now are you well over your tantrum, sir?" she demanded as she eyed the shamefaced young Doctor delightedly.

"Mother!" he exclaimed as he turned his head away and the color rose under his tan.

"Have you done made up your mind to travel from town to town with Elinory and take in the tickets at the door and make yourself useful to her the rest of your life? Are you a-going to follow her peaceable all over Europe, Asia and Africa?" And her eyes fairly over-danced themselves with delight.

"Mother!" and this time the exclamation came from Miss Wingate as she came over to rest her cheek against Mother Mayberry's arm. She also blushed, but her eyes danced with an echo of the young Doctor's mother's laugh as she beheld his embarrassment.

"Yes," answered the Doctor, rallying at last, "yes, I'm ready to go with her. Will you go too, Mother, as retained physician?"

"Well, I don't know about that," answered his Mother with a laugh; "not till 'Liza Pike have growed up to take my place here. But I'm mighty glad to see you take your dose of humble pie so nice, Tom, and I reckon I'll have to tell you how happy I am about my child here. It was kinder smart of you to cure her and then claim her sweet self as a fee, wasn't it?"

"I do feel that way, Mother, and I don't see how I can let her make the sacrifice. Her future is so brilliant and I-I-"

"Son," said Mother Mayberry with the banter all gone from her rich voice and the love fairly radiating from her face as she laid a tender hand on the singer lady's dark head on her shoulder, "I don't have to ask my honey-bird the choice she have made. A woman don't want to wear her life-work like no jewelry harness nor yet no sacrificial garment, but she loves to clothe herself in it like it were a soft-colored, homespun dress to cover the pillow of her breast and the cradle of her arms to hold the tired folks against. Take her to India's coral strand if you must, for it's gave a wife to follow the husband-star. Long ago I vowed you to the Master's high call and now with these words I dedicates my daughter the same. She have waded through much pain and sorrow, but do it matter along how hard a Road folks travels if at last they come to they Providence?"

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