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What Might Have Been Expected By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 8719

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Aunt Matilda's Letter.

One afternoon, about the end of October, Aunt Matilda was sitting in her big straight-backed chair, on one side of her fireplace. There was a wood fire blazing on the hearth, for the days were getting cool and the old woman liked to be warm. On the other side of the fireplace sat Uncle Braddock. Sitting on the floor, between the two, were John William Webster and Dick Ford. In the doorway stood Gregory Montague. He was not on very good terms with Aunt Matilda, and was rather afraid to come in all the way. On the bed sat Aunt Judy.

It must not be supposed that Aunt Matilda was giving a party. Nothing of the kind. These colored people were not very much engrossed with business at this time of the year, and as it was not far from supper-time, and as they all happened to be near Aunt Matilda's cabin that afternoon, they thought they'd step in and see her.

"Does any of you uns know," asked Aunt Matilda, "whar Ole Miles is now? Dey tells me he don't carry de mails no more."

"No," said John William Webster, who was always quick to speak. "Dey done stop dat ar. Dey got so many letters up dar at de mica mines, dat dey send all the big ones to de pos'-office in a bag an' a buggy, and dey send de little ones ober de telegraph."

"But whar's Ole Miles?" repeated Aunt Matilda.

"He's a-doin' jobs up aroun' de mines," said Uncle Braddock. "De las' time I see him he was a-whitewashin' a fence."

"Well, I wants to see Ole Miles," said Aunt Matilda. "I wants him to carry a letter fur me."

"I'll carry yer letter, Aunt Matilda," said Dick Ford; and Gregory Montague, anxious to curry favor, as it was rapidly growing near to ash-cake time, stated in a loud voice that he'd take it "fus thing in de mornin'."

"I don' want none o' you uns," said Aunt Matilda. "Ole Miles is used to carryin' letters, and I wants him to carry my letter. Ef you'd like ter keep yerse'f out o' mischief, you Greg'ry, you kin go 'long and tell him I wants him to carry a letter fur me."

"I'll do that," said Gregory, "fus' thing in de mornin'."

"Better go 'long now," said Aunt Matilda.

"Too late now, Aunt Matilda," said Gregory, anxiously. "Couldn't git dar 'fore dark, no how, and he'd be gone away, and I 'spect I couldn't fin' him."

"Whar is yer letter?" asked Uncle Braddock.

"Oh, 'tain't writ yit," said Aunt Matilda. "I wants some o' you uns to write it fur me. Kin any o' you youngsters write writin'?"

"Yes, ma'am," said John William Webster. "Greg'ry kin write fus-rate. He's been ter school mor'n a month."

"You shet up!" cried Gregory, indignantly. "Ise been to school mor'n dat. Ise been free or four weeks. And I know'd how to write some 'fore I went. Mah'sr George teached me."

"You'd better git Miss Kate to write yer letter," said Aunt Judy. "She'd spell it out a great sight better dan Gregory Montague, I reckons."

"No, I don't want Miss Kate to write dis hyar letter. She does enough, let alone writin' letters fur me. Come 'long hyar, you Greg'ry. Reach up dar on dat shelf and git dat piece o' paper behin' de 'lasses gourd."

Gregory obeyed promptly, and pulled out a half-sheet of note-paper from behind the gourd. The paper had been there a good while, and was rather yellow-looking. There was also a drop of molasses on one corner of it, which John William said would do to seal it up with; but Gregory wiped it carefully off on the leg of his trousers.

"Now, den," said Aunt Matilda; "sot yerse'f right down dar on de floor. Git off dat ar smooth board, you Dick, an' let Greg'ry put his paper dar. I hain't got no pen, but hyar's a pencil Miss Kate lef' one day. But it ain't got no pint. Ef some of you boys has got a knife, ye kin put a pint to it."

Uncle Braddock dived into the recesses of his dressing-gown, and produced a great jack-knife, with a crooked iron blade and a hickory handle.

"Look a-dar!" cried John William Webster. "Uncle Braddock's a-gwine ter chop de pencil up fur kindlin'-wood."

"None o' yer laughin' at dis knife," said Uncle Braddock, with a frown. "I done made dis hyar knife mese'f."

A better knife, however, was produced by Dick Ford, and the pencil was sharpened. Then Gregory Montague stretched himself out on the floor, resting on his elbows, with the paper before him and the pencil in his hand.

"Is you ready?" said Au

nt Matilda.

"All right," said Gregory. "Yer can go 'long."

Aunt Matilda put her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands, and looked into the fire. Gregory and every one else waited quite a while for her to begin.

"Ye had better put de number ob de year fus," suggested Uncle Braddock.

"Well, ye kin put dat," said Aunt Matilda, "while I'm a-workin' out de letter in my mind."

There now arose a discussion as to what was the "number of the year." Aunt Judy knew that the "war" was somewhere along in "sixty," and thought it must certainly be seventy or eighty by this time; while Uncle Braddock, who was accustomed to look back a long way, was sure it was "nigh on to a hun'red."

Dick Ford, however, although he was not a writer, could read, and had quite a fancy for spelling out a newspaper, and he asserted that the year was eighteen hundred and seventy, and so it was put down "180070," much to the disgust of Uncle Braddock, who did not believe it was so much.

"Yer ought to say ef it's before Christ or after Christ," said Aunt Judy. "Old Mah'sr Truly Mathers 'splained dat to me, 'bout years."

"Well, then," said Gregory, ready with his pencil, "which is it?"

Dick Ford happened to know a little on the subject, and so he told Gregory how he should put down "B. C." for "before Christ," and "A. C." for "after Christ," and that "A. C." was right for this year.

This was set down in Gregory's most careful lettering.

"Dat dar hind letter's got the stumic-ache," said John William Webster, putting his long finger, black on top and yellow underneath, on the C, which was rather doubled up.

Nobody thought of the month or the day, and so the letter was considered dated.

"Now, den," said Gregory, "who's it to?"

"Jist never you mind who's it to," answered Aunt Matilda. "I know, an' that's enough to know."

"But you've got to put de name on de back," said Aunt Judy, anxiously.

"Dat's so," said Uncle Braddock, with equal anxiety.

"No, I hain't," remarked Aunt Matilda. "I'll tell Ole Miles who to take it to. Put down for de fus' thing:

"'Ise been thinkin' fur a long time dat I oughter to write about dis hyar matter, and I s'pose you is the right one to write to.'"

"What matter's dat?" asked Aunt Judy.

"Neber you mind," replied Aunt Matilda.

Slowly and painfully, Gregory printed this sentence, with Dick Ford close on one side of him; with John William's round, woolly head stuck almost under his chin; with Uncle Braddock leaning over him from his chair; and Aunt Judy standing, peering down upon him from behind.

"Dat's wrong," said Dick Ford, noticing that Gregory had written the last words thus: "rite 1 ter rite 2." "She don't want no figgers."

"What did she say 'em fur, den?" asked Gregory.

"Now, Greg'ry," said Aunt Matilda, "put down dis:

"'I don't want to make no trouble, and I wouldn't do nothin' to trouble dem chillen; but Ise been a-waitin' a good long while now, and I been thinkin' I'd better write an' see 'bout it.'"

"What you want to see 'bout?" asked Aunt Judy, quickly.

"Neber you min' what it is," replied Aunt Matilda. "Go on, you Greg'ry, and put down:

"'Dat money o' mine was reel money, and when I put it in, I thought I'd git it back ag'in afore dis.'"

"How much was it, Aunt Matilda?" asked Uncle Braddock, while Aunt Judy opened her eyes and her mouth, simply because she could not open her ears any wider than they were.

"Dat's none o' your business," replied Aunt Matilda. "Now put down:

"'I 'spect dem telegram fixin's cost a lot o' money, but I don't 'spect it's jist right to take all an ole woman's money to build 'em.'"

"Lor's ee!" ejaculated Uncle Braddock, "dat's so!"

"Now you Greg'ry," continued Aunt Matilda, "put down:

"'Ef you write me a letter 'bout dat ar money, you kin giv it to Ole Miles.'

Now sign my name to dat ar letter."

The next day, having been summoned by the obliging Gregory, Old Miles made his appearance in Aunt Matilda's cabin.

The old woman explained to him that the letter was so important that she could trust it to no one who was not accustomed to carry letters, and Miles was willing and proud to exercise his skill for her benefit.

"Now, den," said she; "take dis hyar letter to de man what works de telegrum in Hetertown, and fotch me back an answer."

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