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   Chapter 16 WINTER FLOWERS AND THE PARTY.

Winter Fun By William Osborn Stoddard Characters: 17230

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Squire King was one of the most liberal of men, and he had something to be liberal with. He had gradually gone more and more into the spirit of the young folks' party matter, and had even astonished his wife by the things he did and proposed.

To have had actual dancing would have offended some of the best people in the village; but every other kind of amusement that was to be tolerated he provided for, and he almost doubled the allowance of ice-cream and confectionery. He had no idea, nor had even his wife, what an amount of work and of contriving they had provided for their neighbors. Every store in Benton Village, and some over in Cobbleville, did a better business from the hour in which Mrs. King's invitations were delivered.

The family at the Farnham homestead seemed to concentrate their interest upon the kind of appearance Susie Hudson was to make. Even Pen remarked to her,-

"They all know me, and they won't care so much how I look; but you're from the city, and every one of 'em'll look at you as soon as you come in."

Susie had brought a good enough wardrobe with her; and aunt Judith herself declared it extravagant, but at the same time selected the best things in it for use at Mrs. King's party.

"I shall have no trouble at all," said Susie. "There needn't be any thing added to that dress."

"No," said Pen, "it's mine that's got to be added to." But there was one lady in the neighborhood who was of a different opinion.

The very morning of the party, Mrs. Stebbins said to her son,-

"I don't keer if you do miss a day's schoolin'. You jest hitch up the colt after breakfast."

"Going somewhere?"

"I'll tell you after we're a-going. It won't be any short drive, now. I'm going to hev my own notions for once. She's the nicest gal I know of."

"Do you mean Susie Hudson?"

"I'll show you what I mean, and if I don't open somebody's eyes!"

She evidently had some plot or other on her mind, and she grew almost red in the face over it at the breakfast-table. She finished putting away the dishes while Vosh was out getting ready the colt and cutter, but she did not seem disposed to tell even herself precisely what her plans were. It was not until she and her deeply interested driver were actually driving into Benton that she came out with it.

"Vosh," she said, "take right down the main street, and out the Cobbleville road. We're going way to cousin Jasper's."

"That's three miles beyond. Well, it isn't much of a drive in such sleighing as this is. The colt's feeling prime. But what's it for?"

"We're going all the way to cousin Jasper Harding's; and, if the frost hasn't clean killed out his hot-house, I'm going to hev somethin' for Susie Hudson that the rest on 'em can't get a hold of. The last time I seen him he said his plants was doing first-rate, and he'd put in steam-pipe enough to save 'em if the frost was a-splitting the rocks. He hasn't any use for 'em on earth, except that he had lettuce and radishes for his Christmas dinner."

There was steady work for the sorrel colt after that, and the bells jingled the merriest kind of tune right through Cobbleville without stopping. When "cousin Jasper's" was reached, it was nothing but a long-built, story-and-a-half white house, with no pretension whatever. There were young fruit-trees around it in all directions, and uncommonly extensive trellises for vines; and at one end the glass roof of a hot-house barely lifted itself above the snow-banks. One man, at least, in that region, had materially added to his other resources for winter enjoyment.

"He says it doesn't cost him any thing to speak of," said Mrs. Stebbins to Vosh. "He's got some fixings rigged to the big stove in the parlor, to send the steam around the hot-house, and the fire doesn't go out in that stove all winter long. I'd kind o' like to try it some day myself. It's the getting started that costs money."

"And then," said Vosh, "there's the knowing how to do it."

He thought so again after he got into that bit of a winter garden, and looked around him. Cousin Jasper Harding was an under-sized man, and his wife was a short woman of twice his weight. They could stand erect where Vosh had to stoop a little; but he could stand up in the middle, and see what they pointed out to him. Both were glad to see him and his mother, and to have them stay to dinner; but, for some reason or other, Mrs. Stebbins was slow about opening her errand. Vosh wondered a little, but he waited and listened. It was at the dinner-table that she began to tell about the young folks' party to be at Mrs. King's that evening. From that she went over to Deacon Farnham's, and told about Susie Hudson, and how pretty she was, and about her skating, and all the nice evenings at the deacon's, and at last somewhat suddenly inquired,-

"Didn't you use to think a good deal of Joshaway Farnham and his wife, and Judith, and"-

"Best friends I ever had in my life."

"I was thinking, Jasper. City girls are used to having a sprig of something to wear in their dresses to a party. Now, I know it would please Joshaway and Sarah and Judith if you'd send a bit of something green,-jest a leaf or so, not to rob any of your plants. There ain't many of 'em, and cutting 'em might hurt 'em; and where a man hasn't but a little"-

"Something green? Guess so. There's more in that hot-house than you think there is, Angeline."

"Well, maybe there is. It looks too nice to take out any thing of what few plants you've got."

"You just finish your pie, and come along. I'll show you something you think I can't do. I'd like to do a favor for any girl of that family. Tell her I knowed her mother 'fore she was born. I'll go right in now; be ready by the time you get there.-Betsey, you keep Angeline company, and I'll show her something."

He certainly astonished both her and Vosh. As she afterwards explained to the latter, no money could have made him part with any of his hot-house treasures as a direct sale, nor would he have given them for the asking. She had to get them the way she did; but there they were.

"That's for her throat-latch, Angeline; and she can put that on her waistband,-little fellows, you know. She can carry that in her hand; and, if she wants to send her photygraph to old Jasper Harding and his wife, she can. I'll hang it up in the hot-house."

Mrs. Stebbins had a great deal to say about those flowers and green leaves, and the skill with which they had been cultivated and now were put together, and she added,-

"Now, Betsey, Vosh and I must go. Jasper's bokay and the buds'll be worn by the nicest and prettiest gal at Mrs. King's party, and I wish you two were going to be there to see."

In a few minutes more the colt was brought from his dinner in the barn, Mrs. Stebbins was in the cutter guarding her prizes, the liberal florist was thanked again, and then the bells made lively music homeward.

Very complete was the astonishment on all the faces in the Farnham sitting-room when Mrs. Stebbins walked in, and announced the results of her morning's undertaking. The sorrel colt had trotted twenty miles and more for the sake of Susie Hudson; but it was Vosh's mother who got kissed for it, and that was probably sound justice. She also received an invitation to go and come in Deacon Farnham's sleigh, and so the sorrel colt did save an evening job in cold weather.

Vosh was particularly glad of that invitation. He was a young man of a good deal of courage, but it seemed to him that he could march into Mrs. King's front parlor more easily with a crowd than with only his mother or alone. Corry was not troubled in that way, nor Penelope; and Porter Hudson was only too well aware that he was from the city, and had been to parties before. He had no doubt whatever that he would know how to do the right things in the right place, but that was just where Vosh Stebbins found his courage called for. He made a mental chessboard of Mrs. King's premises, and the people who were to be in them, and found that he could not place the pieces to suit himself. He was the worst piece in the whole lot whenever he arranged one of those society problems. It was a game he had never played, and he was only half sure he could win at it. He was confident of being as well dressed as was necessary, except that he wondered whether or not any one would wear gloves. His mother settled that for him, and Mr. Rosenstein could have told him that only three young men in Benton had bought any. These had run the risk of it, meaning to put them on if it should be necessary. O

ne had purchased white kids, and another a black pair, while the third had heard that bright yellow was the correct thing. The pair he selected were very bright and very yellow.

Susie Hudson's dress did not trouble aunt Judith's mind after she saw it on, and she remarked of it,-

"Now, Sarah, I'm glad there isn't any thing showy about it. It's just the best thing. She isn't looking as if she was putting on. It'll be all the prettier when the flowers are there, and nobody else'll have any."

It was simple, tasteful, of very good material, and there was no question as to the good effect of the flowers. Susie was all but sorry that she was to be alone in that particular; and so, as soon as she got there, was every other girl in the room.

The deacon's hired man lived at some distance down the road, but he came up to look out for the team, and was sent first to the Stebbins house.

Vosh and his mother were ready, and he was thinking of his new white silk necktie when he came to the door with her. The man in the sleigh could not hear him think, and did not know what a burden a necktie can be; but he did hear Mrs. Stebbins remark,-

"Now, Lavawjer, the one thing you're to remember is, that you mustn't talk too much. Let other folks do the talking, and, if you keep your eyes about ye, you may learn something."

He had already begun not to talk too much, for hardly a word escaped him till they got to the Farnham gate.

"I'll go in and see if they're ready," he said, and was preparing to get out.

"I guess I'll go in too," added his mother. "I'd like to see how they're all a-looking."

At that moment, however, the front-door swung open, and a procession marched out, headed by Pen, and closed, as was the door behind it, by her father.

"We're all fixed, Vosh," said Pen. "My back hair's in two braids, and Susie's got a bracelet with a gold bug on it, and Port's got on his summer shoes, and aunt Judith"-

Just there her account of the condition of things was cut off by the general confusion of getting into the sleigh, but Pen made up for it afterwards. Vosh again showed a strong tendency to take his mother's advice, and the drive to the village was by no means a long one. They were not any too early, and had to wait for three other sleigh-loads to get out, before theirs could be drawn in front of the pathway cut through the drifts to the sidewalk. Only one of Mrs. King's guests was very late that evening, and he was a young man who was learning to play the flute, and had heard that fashionable people never went anywhere till after nine o'clock. Besides, it took him an hour or so to decide not to carry his flute with him.

It helped Vosh a great deal, that they all had to go to the dressing-rooms first, and unwrap themselves. After that, it all came easier than he had expected, for Squire King and his wife had a hearty, kindly way of welcoming people. Perhaps it helped him somewhat, that they had no opportunity to say too much to him just then, and he could go right on following his mother's advice.

There was a stir in the rooms, that Susie did not at all understand, when she and her brother passed on to mingle with the rest of the young people. Some of them had seen her before, and some had not, and all of them were taking a deeper interest in her dress and appearance than she had any idea of. It was as well for her comfort, that she was ignorant of it, and that she did not hear eleven different young ladies assure each other, "She must have sent away to the city for those flowers."

Her uncle and aunts were exceedingly proud of her, and so was Pen. In fact, the latter informed several persons whom she knew, "She's my cousin Susie, and she's the prettiest girl there is here; but I don't believe I shall look much like her when I grow up."

Squire King asked her why not, when she told him, and was at once informed,-

"Susie's never been freckled, and mine won't ever come off. They go away round to the back of my neck. Most all the girls here have got 'em, but they don't amount to any thing."

"Freckles, or girls either," laughed the squire. "But, Pen, does your cousin play the piano?"

"Of course she does, only we haven't any, and so she's learned how to spin. She can crochet, but I showed her how to heel a stocking, and so did aunt Judith."

"I'm sure she can," remarked Mrs. King. "I'll go and ask her myself."

That was not until the party had been in full operation for some time; and quite a number were wondering what it was best to do next, when Mrs. King led Susie to the piano. Several of the local musicians had already done their duty by it, and Susie had consented without a thought of hesitation. She heard a remark as she passed one young lady who had barely missed the outer line of Mrs. King's list of invitations:-

"The flowers are real, and she's pretty enough, but she's too young to play well. They're paying her too much attention, I think."

If there was one thing that Susie loved better than another, it was music, and her teachers had done their duty by her. The moment her fingers touched the keys, they felt entirely at home, and sent back word to her that they would play any thing she could remember. Then they went right on, and convinced every pair of ears within hearing that they were skilfully correct about it.

"I declare!" exclaimed Vosh Stebbins to the little knot around him, "she can play the piano better than she can skate, and that's saying a good deal."

The young folks in two of the farther rooms were playing forfeits, and missed the music, but the promenaders all stood still for a few minutes and listened. It was just like the flowers. Nobody else had brought any thing quite so nice, and there was danger that Susie would be unpopular. As it was, she had no sooner risen from the piano than Squire King announced that supper was ready. Vosh had not known that it was so near, and was compelled to see Adonijah Bunce offer Susie his arm, and lead her into the refreshment-room. He felt that he had made the first real blunder of the evening, but he was wrong about it. Adonijah was so agitated over his success, that he spilled some scalding hot coffee down his left leg, and trod on Susie's toes in consequence. He made her exclaim, "Oh, mercy!" and he made as much blood go into his own face as it could possibly hold at the moment when he said "Golly!" and bit his tongue for it.

There was promenading during all the supper-time, and some music, because the dining-room would not hold them all at once; but, as fast as the young people finished and came out, they set more vigorously at work to enjoy themselves. It was right there that the young people of Benton Valley began to forgive Susie Hudson for her skating and her flowers and her music, and for being a city girl. She went into every thing with such heartiness, that even Adonijah Bunce began to feel as happy as his left leg would let him. Still he was the only young fellow there who could say that he had poured hot coffee on himself, if that could be called distinction. Vosh Stebbins had seen him do it, and had been more at ease ever since.

Squire King and his wife were in tremendous good spirits about their party, and they had a right to be. Aunt Judith herself told them it was the nicest gathering of young folks that there had ever been in Benton; and Pen enjoyed it so much, that at last she leaned up against Mrs. Keyser on the sitting-room lounge, and went fast asleep.

It was all over at last, and the guests went home. Sleigh-load after sleigh-load was packed, and went jingling away. The nearby residents marched off as they had come, except that some young men had more to take care of, and some young ladies had other young gentlemen than their own brothers. Pen went to sleep again in the sleigh, and her father lifted her out and carried her into the house; and the moment she waked up she remarked,-

"He gave me a whole paper of candy, Susie, and it filled my muff so I couldn't get my hands in."

That had been Squire King's work, and her mother responded,-

"You're going to bed now, and so is Susie. No candy till morning."

At that very moment Mrs. Stebbins was saying to Vosh,-

"I'm glad we're home again, but we've had a good time. She did look well in them flowers, and she just can play the piano; and you got along first-rate, Lavawjer; and I'm glad you let Nijah Bunce see her in to supper, and wasn't round in the way at no time." She had more to say; but it was a very late bed-time, and she had to put off saying it.

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