Judge Peters, tall and spare, in glossy frock coat and tall hat, met Kitty at the station. Miss Almeria Bygood was there, too, and Mr. Mallow. It was quite a getherin', the latter said: quite a getherin'. Gen'lly, he despised to see folks conjugating round the deepo, but this was an occasion, you see.
Mr. Very Jordano, notebook in hand, keeping a sharp lookout for the train, agreed with him.
"I expect Miss Kitty will be a distang young lady!" he said. "Traveled the world around; the world around. A select gathering is surely appropriate-tate-tate!"
It must not be supposed that Cyrus was a place of individual dialects. Most of us spoke ordinary English or good, strong, racy Yankee; it was only these two gentlemen who were peculiar in their speech. Mr. Jordano had formerly had an impediment; was, in fact, a confirmed stutterer, till he came to man's estate. The story went that one day, wishing to go to Tupham, he found himself wholly unable to ask for a ticket. He stood before the friendly station master, gasping, scarlet, but uttering no sound.
[pg 18] "Come, Very!" said Mr. Tosh. "Put a name to it! Where do you want to go? Train's due!"
"T-T-T-" stammered Mr. Very, "T-T-T-Damn it! I'll walk to Tupham!"
After this experience, he set himself, carefully and methodically, to remedy the defect: labored, suffered, finally conquered. I know not what his method was: I only know that he was apt to repeat the final syllable of a word, sometimes with singular effect. When he said, "Business is looking up-pup-pup," or "I fear I must be going now-wow-wow!" strangers were surprised. To us, it was as much a part of Mr. Jordano as his foreign idioms; foreign idiocies, Mrs. Sharpe called them. These were simply an assertion of his Italian descent. Nothing vexed him so much as to be addressed as "Jordan," a thing that happened now and then. "Names ending in O," he would say, "are invariably of Latin origin, Latin origin-gin-gin!"
He set great store by the letter "O," and seemed to think that it could not fail to impart a Latin tinge to whatever word it adorned. His favorite exclamation, "Nimporto!" (pronounced as spelled) was an example of his method, if it could be called a method. He knew little of French vowel sounds, nothing of accents; i was English i to him, long or short as might be, except when it was mysteriously a. Distingué was "distang," and so on. It is unlikely that he was acquainted with Mrs. Plornish, as he thought Dickens unrefined, and never read him; but his epithets sometimes rivaled those of that immortal lady.
Here is the train, and here is—a fine lady? a flounced [pg 19] and furbelowed Frenchwoman, as Mrs. Sharpe predicted? No! just Kitty! our own Kitty, rather pale, rather larger-eyed than usual (which was unreasonable!) sweet and simple in her dark gray dress.
"Very distang!" murmured Mr. Jordano, making a series of little bows over his note-book. "Oh, very distang, indeed!"
"Kitty! my dear child!" Miss Almeria had her in her arms, and the fair head drooped a moment on that kind black satin shoulder; but only for a moment; then Kitty was herself again.
"Dear Miss Almeria! how perfectly darling of you! Oh, Judge! Oh, Mr. Mallow, I am so glad to see you! And oh! if it isn't Mr. Jordano! How d'ye do, Mr. Jordano? Did you come to meet me, too? I do think you are the kindest people in the world! Oh, Judge, I've come home! I've come home!"
"Oh, Judge, I've come home! I've come home!"
Kitty's voice quavered, and the tears came into her gray eyes, but she winked them away resolutely. Judge Peters blew his nose with a long, sonorous note. He had had a little speech of welcome all ready in the back of his head; nothing formal, just distinctive enough to mark the occasion; but all he found to say, and that gruffly, without an atom of his beautiful Court manner, was: "How are you, Kitty? How are you? Glad to see you!"
Mr. Jordano was hardly more fortunate, even though he had written down his remarks the night before, and committed them to memory while shaving that morning. But he began bravely:
"Miss Kitty, I bid you welcome to your native [pg 20] heath! This day—a—every inhabitant of Cyrus—a—will be marked with a white letter and a red stone—I—I would say a red letter and a white stone-tone-tone. The Graces—a—the Muses——" Mr. Jordano hesitated and was lost. "Nimporto!" he said hastily. "I am glad to see you, Miss Kitty; you are looking well, my dear young lady, considering everything-ting-ting!"
Mr. Jordano retired in confusion, flourishing his note-book nervously. Mr. Mallow's turn had come. Taking both Kitty's hands, he shook them up and down solemnly, as if working a double pump.
"How are you, Kitty?" he said huskily. "Pretty well, thank ye! My bronical tubes don't conjingle, that's all. Well! well! well! how about it? Lots of water in the 'Tlantic Ocean, eh? Treat you pretty well, did they? Find anything better than the Mallow House in them foreign caravans? Bet you didn't!"
Here the Chanters swept round the corner, rosy, breathless, shouting, "Late, as usual!" and the reception was over. There could be no ceremony where the Chanters were. The three girls enveloped Kitty in exclamatory embraces: the three boys (well-grown youths, but always boys!) hovered about, as nearly embarrassed as Chanters could be, cracking their finger-joints and getting in a word when they could. It was something like this:
Trebles: "You dear, darling, delicious Thing! It is too simply heavenly to get you back! Oh, Kitty, it is so rapturous!"
Basses: "Great, Kitty! awf'lly glad!"
[pg 21] Trebles: "My dear, I can't believe it is you, though you do look so deliciously natural, you darling!"
Basses: "Corking, Kitty! looking awf'lly well!"
Trebles: "Isn't she? Only a scrap shadowy, but it makes her eyes all the bigger. Kitty! They are a mile round at least! I never saw—Oh, you precious Thing, I must kiss you again! Won't you give the boys just one—"
Basses: "Oh! I say!" Exeunt, blushing peony red.
It had been decided that Nelly Chanter should have tea that first night with Kitty. Miss Egeria Bygood had held an anxious consultation with Sarepta, the Ruler of Ross House. Miss Bygoods had hoped to have Kitty at their house this first evening; Miss Egeria advanced the proposition rather tremulously. What did Sarepta think? It would be such a pleasure to Father: Kitty had always been his favorite: there happened to be a sweetbread in the house—
Sarepta fixed her with an inscrutable pale blue eye.
"No'm! thankin' you all the same, but it can't be done. She's best off in her own home at the first of it. I've got everything provided. But it's real kind of you!" she added, relenting. "I'll tell her you asked her, and she'll be just as pleased."
"Oh!" Miss Egeria had been making little plaintive sounds, like a deprecating bird. "But do you think, Sarepta—won't it be sad for the dear child, all alone—not that you are not excellent company, Sarepta!"
"Ask Nelly Chanter!" Sarepta evidently had it all arranged in her mind. "I was goin' to send word to [pg 22] her, but if you would! She has the most sense of any of 'em. And she's young!"
Sarepta did not mean to be cruel, but the thing must be understood. It was understood: Miss Egeria bowed her head meekly.
John Tucker had waited till the first rush of Chanters was over. He now advanced quietly, and touching his hat with a twinkle of welcome, took possession of Kitty's bag.
"Glad to see you, Miss Kitty!" he said. "The checks, Miss? I'll see to your trunks. Pilot's round the corner."
"Oh, John!" Kitty's face broke into a wholly new combination of smiles. "Shake hands, John! Aren't you glad to see me? Oh, I am so glad to see you! How's Mary? And the children? Sarepta is well, of course! She wouldn't dare to be anything else, with me coming home: not that she ever was!"
Now, how exactly like John Tucker! All in a moment, with no word, with hardly a look, he had got Kitty away from the eager group of friends, each of whom was waiting for a little private word with her; had tucked her into the sleigh, given the checks to the expressman (who had rather hoped he might get a word and a glance, too), chirruped to Pilot, and whisked round the corner out of sight. Exactly like John Tucker!
"How mean of John!" cried Zephine Chanter. "Why, I hadn't time to see her dress, or anything!"
"John Tucker's movements are quick-wick-wick!" said Mr. Jordano. "We may as well be jogging, neighbors. [pg 23] Miss Almeria, may I accommodate my steps to yours as far as the corner?"
The little group dispersed, Miss Bygood and Mr. Jordano departing first, a stately pair.
"Aren't they too delicious?" demanded Zephine Chanter, looking after them. "Don't you think they might hit it off after all, Lina? Hannah Sullivan says he'll die but he'll have her!"
"Hannah Sullivan has said that of Mr. Mallow for twenty-five years, mother says!" Lina, the eldest and quietest of the Chanters, spoke reprovingly, "and—and I wouldn't, Zephine, if I were you!"
"I know you wouldn't, Sobersides dear; but I would, you see! Where's Nelly? Nell, mind you notice every stitch she has on. Disgusting of Sarepta to ask you instead of me—but perfectly right, you darling thing! Come on, girls! The boys have gone. Weren't they too craven! when, of course, they were dying to!"
Speeding along the level, jogging up the hill, John Tucker kept his eyes fixed steadily between Pilot's sharp-pricked ears, and kept up a steady stream of cheerful talk which enabled Kitty to cry quietly into her muff and no harm done. Yes, they was all well, he guessed. Mary had had one of them spells last summer, but she was rugged now, and the children similar. Sarepty was in her usual health, fur as he knew: he never knew anything to ail Sarepty. He didn't know but 'twas because she was so poor of flesh: nothin' for sickness to take holt of, or so it appeared. Bones wasn't liable to ail any, he guessed. What say?
[pg 24] "John Tucker, how you talk!" Kitty was actually laughing, a quavering little laugh, but still—"As if bones didn't ache when people have rheumatism! Dear me! how is old Mrs. Tosh, John?"
"I couldn't say, Miss Kitty; that is, not precisely. She ain't livin', Mis' Tosh ain't—at the present time!" John added gravely, with an air of guarding his words carefully. "She passed away—yes'm! 'Twas about the time we lost old Victory."
"Is Victory dead? Oh, John! the dear old horse! Why, she was the first horse I ever drove. Don't you remember Father giving me the reins, and dear Mother being so frightened?"
"I do, Miss!" John Tucker's face, which had been carefully wooden till now, broke into curiously carved wrinkles of laughter. "I'll remember that, I guess, long as I remember anything. Little tyke you was—excuse me, Miss Kitty!"
"I certainly was! go on, John!"
"Six years old, warn't you? Or not more'n seven anyhow. 'You may drive round to the stable, Daughterkin!' says Doctor, and puts the reins in your little mites of hands. 'Yes, Doctor,' says you. 'I'll drive round!' and you took them reins, and before any one could so much as wink, you was out of the yard, cuttin' down the ro'd full chisel—gee whiminy! I can see you now. Your Ma hollered right out, and I don't wonder, fraygile as she was. I know it took my breath away. Why, I never see anything go so quick. It appeared like you and Victory had got it fixed up between you, so to speak. Doctor himself was took [pg 25] aback, I could see that, the way he winked his eyes, but he wouldn't let on.
"'Don't be frightened, Mary,' he says. 'The little imp has a good grip, and Victory is as kind as kindness!' he says. All the same, I noticed he was lookin' pretty sharp up the ro'd! And when he see the old mare's nose come round the corner, gee whiminy! he slaps his leg and hollers out, 'A daughter of Jehu!' he says, quotin' Scriptur', I believe, the way he did. 'A daughter of Jehu, for behold she driveth furiously!'"
Kitty was laughing outright now.
"Dear Papa! I was a little imp, wasn't I, John?"
"Yes, Miss, you sure was. But yet—" John Tucker, cocking his head argumentatively, ventured for the first time to look at his companion, saw her face firm and cheerful, and went on with confidence—"but yet you knew what you was about well enough. You'd ben handlin' the ribbons a year or more goin' to and from the stable, 'longside o' me or your Pa: you was tough as hickory, and you was knowledgeable: there warn't nothing to be scared of. 'A daughter of Jehu!' says Doctor, 'for behold she driveth furiously. Here she comes, Mary! she's all right!' He laughed right out, and then he pulls his face straight, and looks mighty solemn, and you come lickety-split along the ro'd and turned in the gate as neat as a whistle, and pulls up front the door. I says to myself, 'Wal!' I says; 'that young one,' I says, 'is all right!' And so it has proved."
"Nice John! Thank you, John! And we've been [pg 26] friends ever since, haven't we? But Papa scolded me, didn't he?"
"He did, Miss. 'You little imp,' he says, 'I told you to drive round to the stable!' 'Yes, Papa dear,' you says: I can hear you now. 'So I did, dear Papa; round the square!' He had to laugh then, would he or wouldn't he!"
"Victory could have made just as good a turn without me!" said honest Kitty. "She was as wise as three ordinary horses; and she knew the way round that turn as well as the way into her own stall. She was pretty old even then, John, wasn't she?"
"Victory," said John Tucker, slowly, "was thirty-five years old when she died this spring. I set out to write you, but I couldn't seem to. Kind o' broke me up, losin' her. She was the first hoss ever I come to know and care for. Lemme see! I come to work for Doctor thirty years ago this winter. Victory was five years old, and she was a pictur! prettiest hoss I ever see, bar none. Well! now you might be—?"
"Twenty!" said Kitty.
"That's right! And Vict'ry was twenty that time you driv her round the square. She kep' smart right along up to the last week, old mare did: I didn't drive her any last summer, only once in a while, so's her feelin's wouldn't be hurt, seein' the other hosses go out. She'd whinny out just as askin'! 'Why ain't I goin' out?' she'd say, plain as any person need to speak. Then I'd put her in the light sulky and drive her up and down the ro'd a piece, and she'd antic [pg 27] round and toss up her head as if she was the President's wife goin' to meetin'."
"I hope she didn't suffer, John?"
"No'm! no! she died like a Christian, the old mare did. One night she wouldn't take her sugar; I allers gave her the sugar, like you told me, Miss Kitty—"
"Dear, good John! Thank you, John!"
"So I suspicioned what was comin', seein' her age and all. I told S'repty, and she brung out an extry good mash, but 'twas no use. Old mare laid down, and we set there with her. She looked at me real lovin', and put her nose in my hand, and I rubbed her, and S'repty rubbed her; and 'long about ten o'clock she just stretched out and passed away, same as if she was a person."
John Tucker cleared his throat and was silent for a few minutes; then he addressed Pilot, his present joy and pride, with some asperity:
"Git ap, you! No reason for your goin' to sleep that I know of. Miss Kitty—" he glanced sidelong at his companion—"the ro'd's first rate here on the level. I didn't know but you might like to drive a spell—"
"Oh, John!" Kitty looked down ruefully at the gray suède gloves which had seemed just the right thing for traveling. Pilot had a pretty solid mouth. "If I only had some decent gloves!" she sighed.
With a sheepish look, John Tucker fumbled in an outside pocket and pulled out a stout pair of leather gloves, fur-lined.
"S'repty wouldn't give 'em to me!" he chuckled; "but I remembered the drawer where you kep' 'em. [pg 28] You'll need 'em. I kep' him in yes'day a-puppose."
With a flashing, "Oh, John! You are a darling!" Kitty almost snatched the gloves from him. Another moment, and they were speeding along the level, a swallow-flight which brought the blood to the girl's pale cheeks and the light to her eyes.
"I tell ye!" chuckled John Tucker. "Gee whiminy! Go it, Miss Kitty, he's fresh: I kep' him in yes'day a-puppose."
Kitty chirruped; Pilot tossed his handsome head and sped on the faster.
"If I am a daughter of Jehu," said Kitty, "I might as well live up to my name, John Tucker!"
So it came to pass that when Kitty Ross came home to her father's house, it was with a rush and a swirl that brought Sarepta flying from the kitchen in a panic, dish-cloth in one hand, stove-lifter in the other.
"My land of the living!" cried Sarepta. "That John Tucker!"
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