MoboReader> Literature > Winter Fun

   Chapter 1 ALL AROUND A FIREPLACE.

Winter Fun By William Osborn Stoddard Characters: 21114

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The gate that opened from the yard into the lane leading back to the barn was directly opposite the side-door of the house. The door was shut, but the gate was open; and in it stood a gray-haired dame with a sharp nose and silver-rimmed spectacles. The house behind her was a small one, white-painted, without blinds to its windows, but with an air of snug comfort all over it. Just beyond the gate and the woman stood a tall, vigorous-looking young fellow of not more than eighteen; and his left hand was on the nose of a nice-looking horse; and behind the horse was a neat, bright, very red cutter. The boy's face was also somewhat rosy; and so, for that frosty moment, was the tip of his mother's nose.

"Now, Lavawjer, that there cutter's all you've got to show for about as hard a month's work as ever you put in; but I won't say that the deacon drew a hard bargain with ye."

"Well, mother, just look at it."

"I'm a-lookin' at it, and it isn't the cutter it was. You've had it painted red, and varnished, and you've put on a new goose-neck in place of the broken one, and there's room in it for two if neither one on 'em was too heavy."

"That's so, mother; and all you've got to do is just to try it. I'll take you to meeting in it next Sunday. You ought to see how the colt gets over the snow with only that cutter behind him."

"I ain't a bit sorry you've got somethin' for him to do. You've been a-raisin' on him since before he was a yearlin', and he hasn't earned his keep."

Mrs. Stebbins had made her first look at her son's new cutter a severe and searching one, and she told him very fully all her thoughts about it and about the sorrel colt. She was a faithful mother; but there was pride in her eye, and more red on the tip of her nose, when she turned to go into the house. He did not hear her say to herself,-

"He's the smartest boy in all Benton Valley, and now he's got the nicest horse and cutter,-that is, for his age, considerin',-and I ain't one bit afraid it'll spile him."

He was now leading his sorrel pet, with the jaunty cutter following, out through the lane to the barn. It was a grand thing, and out of the common range of human events, for a country-boy of his age to have such an outfit all his own. Such things can always be accounted for, when you find them happening. If he were not just a little "spiled," it was no fault of his mother. She was a widow, and he was her only son; and she had talked to him and about him pretty steadily from the day he was born. He looked older than he really was now, and she often said so; but she sometimes added that he knew enough for a man of forty. She had named him "Le Voyageur," after a great French traveller whose name she had seen in a book when she was a girl; but the Valley boys had massacred all the beauty of it, and shortened it into "Vosh." No other fellow in all that country had so very remarkable a nickname.

"Now, Jeff," he said, as he cast the sorrel loose from the cutter, "maybe there's a chance a-coming that you'll have a better-looking load to haul next time you're hitched in. I'll want ye to show your oats if you do."

That remark could hardly have referred to Mrs. Stebbins and her next Sunday's ride to the meeting-house; but Jeff whinnied gently in reply, as if to express his willingness for any improvement, and Vosh led him into the stable.

"City folks know some things," he remarked to Jeff, while he poured some oats in the manger; "but they don't know what good sleighing is. We'll show 'em, soon as we get some bells; and the deacon's got more buffaloes than he knows what to do with."

That was a good half-hour before supper, and he seemed in no hurry to get into the house; but it was odd that his mother, at the very same time, should have been talking to herself, in default of any other hearer, about "city folks" and their ways and by-ways and shortcomings. She seemed to know a great deal about them, and particularly about their general ignorance concerning snow, ice, cold weather, and all the really good things of genuine winter. Both she and her son evidently had kindly and liberal feelings towards the hardest kind of frost, and were free to say as much, but were in doubt as to whether city people could live and be comfortable in such weather as had already come. Beyond a doubt, they were waiting for somebody. There is nothing else in the wide world that will keep people talking as that will; and Mrs. Stebbins said some things that sounded as if she were asking questions of the teakettle.

Down the road a little distance, and on the other side of it, a very different pair of people were even more interested in city folk, and not in their shortcomings so much as in the fact that certain of them seemed to be too long a-coming. They were away back in the great old-fashioned kitchen of a farmhouse, as large as three of the one in which Mrs. Stebbins was getting supper for Vosh.

"Aunt Judith, I hear 'em!"

"Now, Pen, my child!"

The response came from the milk-room, and was followed by the clatter of an empty tin milk-pan falling on the floor.

"It sounded like bells."

"It's the wind, Pen. Sakes alive! but they ought to be here by this time."

"There, aunt Judith!"

Pen suddenly darted out of the kitchen, leaving the long hind-legs of a big pair of waffle-irons sticking helplessly out from the open door of the stove.

"Pen! Penelope!-I declare, she's gone. There, I've dropped another pan. What's got into me to-night? I just do want to see those children. Poor things, how froze they will be!"

Penelope was pressing her eager, excited little face close to the frost-flowers on the sitting-room window. It was of no use, cold as it made the tip of her nose, to strain her blue eyes across the snowy fields, or up the white, glistening reaches of the road. There was nothing like a sleigh in sight, nor did her sharpest listening bring her any sound of coming sleigh-bells.

"Pen! Penelope Farnham! What's that a-burnin'? Sakes alive! if she hasn't gone and stuck them waffle-irons in the fire! She's put a waffle in 'em too."

Yes, and the smoke of the lost waffle was carrying tales into the milk-room.

"O aunt Judith! I forgot. I just wanted to try one."

"Jest like you, Penelope Farnham. You're always a-tryin' somethin'. If you ain't a trial to me, I wouldn't say so. Now, don't you tetch them waffles once again, on no account."

"It's all burned as black"-

"Course it is,-black as a coal. I'd ha' thought you'd ha' known better'n that. Why, when I was ten years old I could ha' cooked for a fam'ly."

"Guess I could do that," said Pen resolutely; but aunt Judith was shaking out the smoking remains of the spoiled waffle into the "pig-pail," and curtly responded,-

"That looks like it. You'll burn up the irons yet."

Half a minute of silence followed, and then she again spoke from the milk-room:-

"Penelope, look at the sittin'-room fire, and see if it wants any more wood on it. They'll be chilled clean through when they git here."

Pen obeyed; but it only needed one glance into the great roaring fireplace to make sure that no kind of chill could keep its hold on anybody in the vicinity of that blaze.

A stove was handier to cook by, and therefore Mr. Farnham had put aside his old-fashioned notions, to the extent of having one set up in the kitchen. The parlor too, he said, belonged to his wife more than it did to him, and therefore he had yielded again, and there was a stove there also. It was hard at work now. He had insisted, however, that the wide, low-ceilinged, comfortable sitting-room should remain a good deal as his father had left it to him; and there the fireplace held its wood-devouring own. That was one reason why it was the pleasantest room in the house, especially on a winter evening.

Penelope had known that fireplace a long while. She had even played "hide-and-coop" in it in warm weather, when it was bright and clean. But she thought she had never before seen it so full. "Such a big back-log!" she exclaimed aloud. But aunt Judith had followed her in to make sure of the condition of things, and it was her voice that added,-

"Yes, and the fore-stick's a foot through. Your father heaped it up just before he set out for the village. He might a'most as well have piled the whole tree in."

"Father likes fire: so do I."

"He's an awful wasteful man with his wood, though. Pen, just you put down that poker. Do you want to have them there top logs a-rollin' across the floor?"

"That one lies crooked."

"My child! let it be. I daresn't leave you alone one minute. You'll burn the house down over our heads, one of these days."

Pen obeyed. She slowly lowered the long, heavy iron rod, and laid it down on the hearth; but such a fire as that was a terrible temptation. Almost any man in the world might have been glad to have a good poke at it, if only to see the showers of sparks go up from the glowing hickory logs.

"There they come!"

Pen turned away from the fire very suddenly; and aunt Judith put her hand to her ear, and took off her spectacles, so she could listen better.

"I shouldn't wonder."

"That's the sleigh-bells! It's our sleigh, I know it is. Shall I begin to make the waffles?"

"Don't you tetch 'em. Pen, get out that chiny thing your mother got to put the maple-sirup in."

"Oh, I forgot that."

She brought it out like a flash now; and it must have been the only thing she had forgotten when she set the table, for she had walked anxiously around it twenty times, at least, since she put the last plate in its place.

Faint and far, from away down the road, beyond the turn, the winter wind brought up the merry jingle of bells. By the time Pen had brought the china pitcher for the sirup from its shelf in the closet, and once more darted to the window, she could see her father's black team-blacker than ever against the snow-trotting towards the house magnificently.

"Don't I wish I'd gone with 'em! But it was Corry's turn. I guess Susie isn't used to waffles, but she can't help liking 'em."

That was quite possible, but it might also be of some importance whether Penelope or aunt Judith should have the care of the waffle-irons.

Jingle-jangle-jingle, louder and louder, came the merry bells, till they stopped at the great gate, and a tall boy sprang out of the sleigh to open it. The front-door of the house swung open quicker than did the gate, and Pen was on the stoop, shouting anxiously,-

"Did they come

, Corry? Did you get 'em?"

A deep voice from the sleigh responded with a chuckle,-

"Yes, Pen, we caught 'em both. They're right here, and they can't get away now."

"I see 'em! There's cousin Susie!"

At that moment she remembered to turn and shout back into the house,-

"Aunt Judith, here they are! They've got 'em both!"

But there was her aunt already in the doorway, with the steaming waffle-irons in one hand.

"Sakes alive, child! You'll freeze the whole house. Poor things! and they ain't used to cold weather."

Aunt Judith must have had an idea that it was generally summer in the city.

The sleigh jangled right up to the bottom step of the stoop now. Mr. Farnham got out first, and was followed by his wife. They were followed by a very much wrapped-up young lady, into whose arms Pen fairly jumped, exclaiming,-

"Susie! Susie Hudson!"

There were no signs of frost-bite on Susie's rosy cheeks, and she hugged Penelope vigorously. Just behind her, a little more dignifiedly, there descended from the sleigh a boy who may have been two years younger, say fourteen or fifteen, who evidently felt that the occasion called upon him for his self-possession.

"Pen," said her mother, "don't you mean to kiss cousin Porter?"

Pen was ready. Her little hands went out, and her bright, welcoming face was lifted for the kiss; but, if Porter Hudson had been a waffle, he would not have been burned by it at all. It was not altogether because he was a boy, and a big one, but that he was more a stranger. Susie had paid her country-cousins a long summer visit only the year before, while Porter had not been seen by any of them since he was four years old. Both he and they had forgotten that he had ever been so small as that.

Mr. Farnham started for the barn, to put away his team, bidding Corry go on into the house with his cousins. Aunt Judith was at last able to close the door behind them, and keep any more of the winter from coming in.

It took but half a minute to help Susie and Porter Hudson get their things off, and then aunt Judith all but forced them into the chairs she had set for them in front of the great fireplace.

"What a splendid fire!"

It was Susie said that, with the glow of it making her very pretty face look brighter and prettier, and very happy. She had already won aunt Judith's heart over again by being so glad to see her, and she kept right on winning it, needlessly; for every thing about that room had to be looked at twice, and admired, and told how nice it was.

"It is indeed a remarkably fine fire," said Porter with emphasis, at the end of a full minute.

"And we're going to have waffles and maple-sugar for supper," said Pen. "Don't you like waffles?"

"Yes," said Porter: "they're very nice, no doubt."

"And after such a sleigh-ride," chimed in Susie. "The sleighing is splendid, beautiful!"

"More snow here than you have in the city?" suggested Corry to Porter.

"Yes, a little; but then, we have to have ours removed as fast as it comes down,-get it out of the way, you know."

"It isn't in the way here. We'd have a high time of it if we tried to get rid of our snow."

"I should say you would. And then it does very well where the people make use of sleighs."

"Don't you have 'em in the city?"

Pen was looking at her cousins with eyes that were full of pity, but at that moment aunt Judith called to her from the kitchen,-

"Penelope, come and watch the waffle-irons while I make the tea."

"Waffles!" exclaimed Susie. "I never saw any made."

"Come with me, then. I'll show you; that is, if you're warm enough."

"Warm! Why, I wasn't cold one bit. I'm warm as toast."

Out they went; and there were so many errands on the hands of aunt Judith and Mrs. Farnham just then, that the girls had the kitchen stove to themselves for a few moments. Pen may have been six years younger, but she was conscious of a feeling of immense superiority in her capacity of cook. She kept it until, as she was going over, for Susie's benefit, a list of her neighbors, and telling what had become of them since the summer visit, Mr. Farnham came in at the kitchen-door, and almost instantly exclaimed,-

"Mind your waffles, Pen. You're burning 'em."

"Why, so I did,-that one, just a little. I was telling Susie"-

"A little, my child!" interrupted aunt Judith. "I'd as lief eat burnt leather. Oh, dear! give me those irons."

"Now, aunt Judith, please fill 'em up for Susie to try. I want to show her how."

The look on Susie's face was quite enough to keep aunt Judith from making a breath of objection, and the rich creamy batter was poured into the smoking moulds.

"Don't you let it burn, Susie," said Pen. "They want to come out when they're just a good brown. I'll show you."

Susie set out to watch the fate of that waffle most diligently; but she had not at all counted on what might come in the mean time,-a visitor, for instance.

Susie had already asked about the Stebbinses, and Pen had answered,-

"They know you're coming. Vosh was here this very morning, and I told him; and he said he'd be glad to have you call and see him."

"Call and see him? Well."

No more remarks had room to be made in just then; for, only a few minutes before aunt Judith poured out that waffle, Mrs. Stebbins had said to her son,-

"I heered the deacon's sleigh come up the road, Lavawjer. Jest you take a teacup, and go over and borry a drawin' of tea of Miss Farnham. Don't you miss nothin'. City ways'll spile most anybody; and that there Hudson gal-Susie, her name was-is likely gettin' stuck up enough by this time."

She told him a great deal more than that before he got out of the door with his teacup, and it looked as if he were likely to have questions to answer when he should come back.

He escaped a little unceremoniously, right in the middle of a long sentence. And so, just when Susie was most deeply absorbed in her experiment, there came a loud rap at the kitchen-door; then, without waiting for any one to come and open it, the door swung back, and in walked Vosh, as large as life, with the teacup in his hand.

He did look large; but no amount of frost or fire could have made him color so red as he did when Susie Hudson let go of the irons, and stepped right forward to shake hands with him.

"How d'ye do, Vosh? How is your mother?"

"Pretty well, thank you. How do you do? Mother's first-rate, but she's wrong this time. I don't see as you're stuck up a bit. You're just like you was last summer, only prettier."

The one great weakness in the character of Vosh Stebbins was that he could not help telling the truth, to save his life. It was very bad for him sometimes; and now, before Susie could smother her laugh, and make up her mind what to answer him, he held out his teacup to aunt Judith.

"Miss Farnham, mother told me to borrow a drawing of tea. We ain't out of tea, by a long ways; but she heard the deacon's sleigh a-coming, and she wanted to know if the folks from the city'd got here."

"They've come," said aunt Judith shortly, "Susie and her brother. You tell your mother I wish she'd send me over a dozen of eggs. The skunks have stolen ours as fast as the hens have laid 'em."

"We've got some," said Vosh. "I'll fetch 'em over.-Susie, where's your brother?"

"He's in the sitting-room."

"Yes, Vosh," said Pen, "he's there. Walk right in. Corry's there too, and mother, and-O Susie! Dear me! our waffle's burned again."

"Why! so it is."

"Never mind, Susie," said aunt Judith with the most hospitable recklessness, as she shook out the proceeds of that careless cookery upon a plate. "It's only spiled on one side. There's always some of 'em get burned. Some folks like 'em better when they're kind o' crisp. I'll fill ye up another."

Vosh looked as if he would willingly stay and see how the next trial succeeded; but politeness required him to walk on into the sitting-room, and be introduced to Porter Hudson.

"Vosh," said Corry, "he's never been in the country in winter before in all his life, and he's come to stay ever so long. So's Susie."

"That's good," began Vosh; but he was interrupted by an invitation from Mrs. Farnham to stay to supper, and eat some waffles, and he very promptly replied,-

"Thank you, I don't care if I do. I threw our waffle-irons at Bill Hinks's dog one day last fall. It most killed him, but it busted the irons, and we've been 'tending to have 'em mended ever sence. We haven't done it yet, though, and so we haven't had any waffles."

Aunt Judith had now taken hold of the business at the kitchen stove; for Susie had made one triumphant success, and she might not do as well next time. All the rest were summoned to the supper-table.

The room was all one glow of light and warmth. The maple-sugar had been melted to the exact degree of richness required. The waffles were coming in rapidly and in perfect condition. Everybody had been hungry, and felt more so now; and even Porter Hudson was compelled to confess that the first supper of his winter visit in the country was at least equal to any he could remember eating anywhere.

"City folks," remarked Penelope, "don't know how to cook waffles, but I'll teach Susie. Then she can make 'em for you when you go back, only you can't do it without milk and eggs."

"We can buy 'em."

"Of course you can; but we lay our own eggs, only they get stole. You'll have to send up here for your maple-sugar."

"We can buy that too, I guess."

"But we get it right out of the woods. You just ought to be here in sugar-time."

"Pen," said her father, "we're going to keep 'em both till then, and make them ever so sweet before we let 'em go home."

He was at that moment glancing rapidly from one to another of those four fresh young faces. He did not tell them so, but he was tracing that very curious and shadowy thing which we call "a family resemblance." It was there, widely as the faces varied otherwise; and all their years had not taken it out of the older faces. Perhaps the city cousins, with especial help from Susie rather than Porter, had somewhat the advantage in good looks. They had it in dress also; but when it came to names-well, aunt Judith herself had had the naming of her brother's children, and she had done her best by them. Penelope and Coriolanus were every way larger names than Porter and Susan; and Vosh could have told them that there is a great deal in a name, if you can get it well boiled down for every-day use.

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