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   Chapter 6 THE DONATION-PARTY.

Winter Fun By William Osborn Stoddard Characters: 15834

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


One of the first things learned by Susie and Porter Hudson, on their arrival at the farmhouse, had been that the reason why Corry and Pen were not attending school was that the teacher was sick.

"Soon as she's well again," said Pen, "we'll have to go. It's too bad, but she always gets well right away."

Hard as it was, the very next morning after the picnic, word came to the farmhouses all over the valley that school was open.

"Vosh," said his mother, "I can't have ye miss a day, not till you know more'n that there teacher does; and you ort to ketch up with her before the winter's out."

Some little plans of Vosh's, in which his horse and cutter had a part, were upset completely by the teacher's recovery; but the consequences were even more severe at Deacon Farnham's.

Corry and Pen were compelled to leave their cousins to take care of themselves every day till after school-hours. It was not so bad for Susie, with her two aunts to care for her. There was the milk-room and the spinning-wheel and the kitchen, and a dozen kinds of knitting to learn, and there were many good books in the house. It looked a little blue to Porter at first, but he faced it manfully. He determined not to spend an hour in the house that he could find a use for out of doors. He went with the deacon to the cattle-yard and the stables, and he learned more about horses and cows and oxen than he had supposed there was to learn.

The sheep, too, were very interesting; especially one old ram that took a dislike to him, and was strongly disposed to drive him out of the sheepfold every time he came in.

Porter discovered, too, that hens, ducks, turkeys, had to live and be cared for in winter as well as in summer; and Susie took a share with him in that part of his work and learning.

All that, and a great deal more, was close around the house; and it was a positive treat to make a trip, after a couple of days, to the forest with his uncle. There was likely to be more snow, the latter said, and he wanted to do all the chopping and hauling he could before the roads should be blocked. Port wondered if it would be possible to burn, before spring, as much wood as there was already in the woodshed; but it just suited him to go for more.

The deacon could do the chopping on that and other days, and Port could be on hand to help him load the sleigh. The rest of the time, he could be helping Ponto look for game around among the trees and bushes.

Between them they bagged some more rabbits, and once Port actually fired both barrels of his gun into a covey of partridges.

"Three of 'em?" said his uncle when he brought them in. "You'll be a sportsman yet, if you keep on in this way."

That was only three days after the Mink-lake picnic, and a proud boy was Port when Corry and Vosh came home. They were not even to have Saturday to themselves, for there was lost time to make up over their books.

Aunt Judith said she had never heard of such a thing when she was young; and Vosh Stebbins went out to the barn, and sat in his cutter for two hours, while he worked at his back lessons.

That Sunday they all went to meeting at Benton Village; and it seemed to Susie Hudson that all she heard about, except while the minister was preaching, was "the donation." She was not at all sure but what some of the ladies were thinking of it during the sermon, from the way they talked about it afterwards.

"Pen," she said in the sleigh on their way home, "tell me just what it is. I've heard about a donation often enough, but I never saw one."

"Why, don't you know?" exclaimed Pen in great surprise. "Why, a donation-it's a donation: that's all. It's a kind of a picnic at the minister's house. Everybody comes, and they all bring something. Only aunt Judith says some of 'em eat more'n they bring."

"Shall we all go?"

"Of course we will. You'll see. It's the nicest kind of a time."

Susie learned a great deal more during the next two days. Mrs. Farnham and aunt Judith seemed to be cooking for that "donation" as if there were likely to be a famine there, especially in the matter of mince-pies.

"Elder Evans is a real good man," remarked aunt Judith, "but he ain't any kind of a pervider. No, nor his wife ain't either. It won't do to let things go, and have 'em eaten out of house and home."

They were not likely to be, if the rest of the good people in Benton Valley sent over such stores of "goodies" as went to the minister's house, before the day appointed, from Deacon Farnham's.

"I've done my best," said Mrs. Stebbins to Vosh while she was putting her contribution into his cutter for transportation, "but Sarah Farnham and Judith can beat me. Their oven'll hold three times what mine will."

She went over early in the afternoon, to help Mrs. Evans; and she said to Vosh, "You needn't mind about my gittin' home. I'll come with Judith Farnham."

Perhaps that was why Vosh felt free to say to Susie Hudson, as she stood at the gate, telling him how nice his horse and cutter looked,-

"You'll have to go in the deacon's big sleigh with the rest, but you and I'll have this all to ourselves coming home."

That was kind of Vosh; and, if there was any thing Susie was fast learning to like, it was sleighing.

An old-fashioned, up-country donation-party cannot be altogether an evening affair. Some of the good people have far to come and go, and some of them have heavy loads to bring: so they generally begin to assemble before the middle of the afternoon.

Susie had seen the minister's house several times. It stood in the edge of the village, with an immense barn behind it; and it looked, for all the world, like another large barn, painted very white, with ever so many windows.

"Room," she thought, "for all the company that will come." And it was a good thing for them that she was so nearly right. That crowd would have been very uncomfortable in a small house.

When the sleigh-load from Deacon Farnham's got there, there was already a long line of teams hitched at the roadside in front of the house, beside all that had found shed and stable accommodations here and there.

As for Elder Evans's own barn, hay, straw, and all that sort of thing, formed a regular part of his annual donation. Load after load had come in and been stowed away, after a fashion that spoke well for either the elder's popularity or the goodness of the hay-crop.

There was no intention of letting the good man freeze to death, either, in a country where wood was to be had almost for the chopping. His wood-pile was a sight to see, a good hour before supper, and everybody knew there was more to come.

Corry explained it all to Porter.

"Yes, but he can't eat hay and wood. You say he doesn't get much money."

That was a little after they entered the house, and while Mrs. Farnham and Susie were talking with the elder's kind-faced little wife.

"Eat!" said Corry. "You come right out here with me."

The sitting-room, back of the parlor, was a large one; but it was nearly half full of tables of all sorts and sizes, and these were covered with a feast of such liberal abundance that Porter gave it up at once.

"Even this crowd can't finish all that in one evening, Corry. Will Elder Evans's folks live on what's left, for the rest of the year?"

"Come right along. Vosh is out here. He's one of the receiving committee."

"What's that?"

Corry led his cousin into the kitchen, and a funny-looking place it was. Something like a dozen busy ladies were trying to get at the cook-stove all at the same time; and half as many more were helping Vosh Stebbins "keep track of things," as they were handed in at the side-door, and stowed around in all directions.

"That makes four bushels of onions," Port heard him say, as he and Corry entered the room. "They're a healthy feed-but then!"

"One barrel of flour!" said a tall wo

man standing near him; "but then, there's ten bushels of wheat."

"Three bags of meal, and twenty sacks of corn; fifteen bushels of turnips, twenty of potatoes; one dressed pig; a side of beef; two dozen chickens."

"Sam Jones has just driven in with another load of wood."

"And Mr. Beans, the miller at Cobbleville, has sent more buckwheat flour'n they can use if they settle down to livin' on flapjacks."

"Five muskrat-skins."

"Two kags of butter."

"Hold on," said Vosh, "till I get down the groceries. Jemimy! What'll he do with so many tallow-dips? and there's more dried apples and doughnuts."

It was indeed a remarkable collection, and Porter began to understand how a "way up country" minister gets his supplies.

"Port," said Corry a little while after that, "let's go for our supper. We want to be ready for the fun."

"What'll that be?"

"Oh, you'll see."

Susie had been making a dreadful mistake at that very moment; for she had asked old Mrs. Jordan, the minister's mother-in-law, if they ever had any dancing at donation-parties. She told Port afterwards that the old lady looked pretty nearly scared to death, and that all she said was,-

"Dancing, child! Sakes alive!"

The house was swarming with young people as well as old, and it was of no manner of use for the leader of the Benton church choir to try and get them all to singing. A hymn or two went off well enough, and then they all listened pretty attentively while a quartet sang some glees. By that time, however, Vosh Stebbins had returned from the kitchen with his list all made up, and ready for the minister; and he said something to another young man, older than himself, but no taller, about "those charades." The music went to the wall, or somewhere else, in about a minute and a half.

Susie Hudson had never heard of one-half the games that followed after the charades. Some of these had been pretty good; but they were hardly noisy enough for the country boys and girls, and in due time were set aside like the music. There were forfeits of several kinds, anagrams, "kiss in the ring," and, after several other things had been proposed and tried, the parlor was given up to a royal game of blind-man's-buff.

It was grand fun for the young people; but, while it went on, there seemed to be every bit as hungry a crowd as ever around the tables in the sitting-room. As fast as any one came out, somebody else went in.

"Deacon Farnham," said Vosh in an undertone, "I've seen that oldest Bean girl eat three suppers already."

"It's a good thing there's plenty."

"Biggest kind of a donation. Sile Hathaway's just got here with two whole deer. Killed 'em on the mountains yesterday."

The deacon brightened up a little as he responded, "Deer, eh? Well, the elder won't starve, anyway."

Susie enjoyed herself exceedingly, but Pen told her,-

"It's real good of you to laugh right out the way you do. They ain't half so much afraid of you now as they were when you got here."

"Afraid of me, Pen?"

"Why, yes: you're a city girl. They ain't a bit afraid of me."

Vosh overheard that, and he added with a broad grin,-

"Fact, Susie. Half these fellows'd rather face a wildcat, any day, than a girl like you, right from the city."

Susie blushed and laughed, but it was a sort of explanation to her of some things she had noticed during the evening.

"Port," said Corry, "let's go out and take a look at Sile Hathaway's deer. One's a buck, and one's a doe, and they're prime."

"Is he a hunter?"

"Guess he is. He'd rather hunt than earn a living, any day. But he's about the best rifle-shot there is anywhere around here."

Port felt that such a man had a great claim to public respect, but he walked on without a word more until they were outside of the kitchen-door.

There on the snow lay the fat doe and the antlered buck, and it made Porter Hudson's very fingers tingle to look on them.

"Where'd you get 'em, Sile?" asked Corry.

"Not more'n a mile up this way from Mink Lake; jest whar the split comes in from towards the old loggin'-camp."

"How'd you get 'em to the village?"

"Well, of course I had my pony along. Allers do. Made a pole-drag right thar. I had two more deer to fetch in, and they wasn't more'n jest a good load for a drag."

He was a long, lanky, grizzled sort of man, with keen gray eyes, and a stoop in his shoulders.

"What's a pole-drag?" asked Port.

"Why," replied Corry, "all he does is to cut down two saplings, and make a kind of sled of 'em. It won't last long, but it'll do to haul deer home. I'll show you one to-morrow."

Port would have stood and looked at the deer longer if the weather out there had been warmer, but he half made up his mind to be a hunter while he was feeling of that buck's antlers. There was something magnetic about them that sent a hunting-fever all over him.

At last the pleasant gathering at the minister's house began to break up. Some sleigh-loads of those who had far to go had already set out for their homes, and it was well understood that not even the village people and near neighbors would stay later than ten o'clock. Very likely Elder Evans and his family would be tired enough to be pleased at once more having their home to themselves.

There came at the end a trifle of a surprise to Susie Hudson. The country-boys grew bolder as breaking-up time drew near; and she was compelled to inform no less than three of them in succession, when they offered her a ride home in their own cutters, that she was already supplied with company.

She did not happen to see Vosh Stebbins's triumphant grin at one of these young men when he was turning away to hunt for another girl, but she better understood why her thoughtful young neighbor had spoken to her beforehand.

She learned yet one thing more before she arrived at her uncle's house. That was, that there were two roads to it, and the one selected by Vosh for the return drive was several times longer than that by which Deacon Farnham had driven his big sleigh. The snowy track was everywhere in fine condition; the sorrel colt was in the best of spirits; the bells rang out clearly in a ceaseless jingle as the gay little turnout dashed along: it was altogether a capital winding-up for an evening of genuine "winter fun" in the country.

There was a great deal of merry talk in the larger sleigh all the way home. The older people, Mrs. Stebbins included, were in a good state of mind over the success of the party, and Pen had something to say about everybody she had seen.

"Corry," said Port as he nestled down among the buffalo-robes, "is there any thing up this way that pays better than a donation?"

"I don't know. Tell you what, though: they say we're to have a big spelling-match in about two weeks."

"What's that?"

"Why, it's this way: the Benton school-district takes in all the young folks around here. The Cobbleville school-district joins ours, only it's bigger, and there's more of 'em. We're to spell against 'em. It's tip-top fun; but I'm awfully afraid they'll spell us down. They did last year, and the year before."

"Can Susie and I go?"

"Of course you can. We've a right to count in anybody that's living in our district."

"I'm in, then. I live here."

"Will Susie come? She ought to be a good speller. The day isn't set yet. They were talking it over to-night. We'll have to go to Cobbleville: they've got the biggest meeting-house."

"Meeting-house? What for?"

"Why, to hold the match in. It'll be jam full, too, galleries and all. Everybody comes out to a spelling-match. You'll see."

Port had no end of questions to ask; but he felt that he was becoming a country-boy very fast, and that he already had a strong interest in upholding the honor of the Benton school-district.

"Susie?" he said. "Why, of course she'll go. She can spell any thing."

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