I think the next month was the hardest that Kitty had to encounter in what she used afterward to call her Woful Waiting. Of course she missed Miss Johanna—I beg her pardon!—Mrs. Peters, wofully. Ever since she came back (after the first few days, that is) she had had this bright, sharp, cheery person to go to, to talk and take counsel with. I always supposed that one reason for Miss Johanna's taking to her bed was her wish to let Kitty live her own life. Indeed, she said as much one day while I was sitting with her.
"Yes!" she said, with her little brisk snap. "I see just as much of Kitty as she likes. I don't poke about in her house; I wouldn't have anybody poking about in mine. When she wants me, I am here, delighted to see her. When she doesn't—well, I am here just the same, and not downstairs under her feet. Blessings of the Bedridden, my dear. Appreciated by few, but tangible none the less."
My visit in beloved Cyrus had ended long before this, but Kitty had dropped a word now and then in her letters; and Nelly Chanter wrote me that they were all worried about her.
"She is as gay and cheery as ever, but she doesn't look right. I am perfectly sure she has lost pounds, though of course nothing would persuade her to be weighed. You see, that cat Cissy Sharpe got hold of a western paper somehow in Tinkham, with the account of the marriage of Thomas Leigh to a rich widow, millions, marble palaces, that kind of thing. She didn't show Kitty the paper, just told her about it in the street, and she said Kitty went white as milk and didn't say a word, just walked away, looking as if she were blind. Then she—Cissy—came to Lina and me, open-mouthed, as you can imagine: I tell you we gave it to her! And Lina, in her quiet way, cross-examined her and got out of her that it was Leigh and not Lee. Did you ever, Mary? Well, the next time I saw Kitty, I managed to lead up to it—talking about Bobby and Lissy (yes, we are all very fond of Lissy, and it is all right, though, of course, it was a blow at first, after all our hopes; but Bobby is so happy, of course we are too!) well, and so I spoke of the report, about Tom and the different spelling, said I didn't believe it was our Tom at all, and so forth and so on. She just listened, that little quiet way she has when she doesn't agree with you,—you know—her head a little on one side, looking down: and said yes, very likely. That was all I could get out of her; but, Mary, I think she has made up her mind that he isn't coming back; and I think her heart is breaking, and all ours are breaking for her."
This was partly true. Kitty did at this time make up her mind that Tom was not likely to come into her [pg 267] life again; she has told me that since, and that she was very unhappy for a while; but as to breaking her heart—Nelly always was sentimental. Kitty is not. She just looked the thing straight in the face—that reminds me of something she said, that puts it all in a nutshell. It was on my first visit after her marriage, and we were talking over our sewing, sitting on the old leather sofa. She spoke of the Woful Waiting.
"It wasn't really so bad!" she said. "It was—do you remember that verse in the 'Ancient Mariner' that always frightened me so?
"'Like one that on a lonesome road Doth walk in fear and dread, And having once turned round, walks on, And turns no more his head, Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread.'
"That used to come to me in the long passages upstairs, and I would run—oh, how I ran! Well, Mary, it was like that. Ever since I came back and found no word from Tom, I had felt this behind me. I had just seen it over my shoulder and I wouldn't turn round and look at it: I was afraid. But when I heard—that, you know; something definite, whether it was true or not—I turned square round and looked at it, and I found it wasn't so frightful after all. I wanted Tom to be happy, didn't I? I didn't want him back if he didn't want to come. I saw all the dear neighbors, so many of them living single—really most of them, Mary! Cyrus is the most unmarried place that ever was, I [pg 268] do believe! and all so good, and so happy and busy—why, I said, 'Goose! do try to have a little sense!' That helped me ever so much, Mary. I don't say I liked it, you know, but—well, it was easier because it was harder, if you see what I mean. And then—I began to do things, and that helped too."
I had heard of some of the things she began to do at this time. It was then that she began the Saturday picnics for the school children, taking a wagonload of them out with Old Crummles to some lovely pasture or woodpiece, and frolicking with them all the morning. Then would come the feast: always chicken pie, because Kitty thought children liked that better than anything else (except icecream, which was sloppy to take on picnics) currant buns and raspberry tartlets and lemonade in a stone jug. What times those children did have! Then, too, little by little, she found out all the "poor things" for miles around. Half-invalids, who needed carriage exercise; tired country women who had no horse and could not walk so far as the village for their errands; sad people with few "privileges," to whom a cheery call, a book or magazine or nosegay would change the hue of a whole day from drab to rose-color. Kitty found them all out, and took them "buggy-riding," or sat on their steps and told them gay little stories. Every child for ten miles round Cyrus knew her, and set up a shout of "Miskitty! Miskitty!" (the first syllable strongly accented!) "gimme a ride!" She loved them all, but John Tucker often wished there was no such a thing as young uns in the endurin' world.
She told me of a pleasant happening.
One day she brought old Mrs. Grieven in to do some shopping, and waited outside Cheeseman's while the old lady pottered in and out of the various stores. Just in front of her stood a peddler's wagon, very neat and trim, with a brown horse attached to it. A bag was attached to the horse's nose, and he was asleep. Kitty looked him over approvingly. A good horse; a bit cobby and stocky; no speed, she judged, but much steadiness, and—she added mentally, as the horse waked and turned an appraising eye on Dan—some intelligence. At this moment Mr. Cheeseman's door opened and a man came out; a tall, loose-jointed brown man, with a sea-going air about him. A new face to Kitty: she loved a new face; a good one, too. Their eyes met; the brown man made a little gesture, as friendly as it was courteous. His arms were full of glass jars, small and large, containing bright-hued candies; these he proceeded to stow away carefully on the shelves of the neat cupboard at the back of his wagon. Over the shelves were drawers, labeled "Lozenges," "Jujubes," etc., etc. These he filled with neat rolls and parcels produced from various pockets. As he worked he hummed and whistled under his breath, and presently broke into song, in a mellow baritone voice.
"'Now Renzo caught a fever, That's what Renzo caught, tiddy hi! It sot him all a-queever, So haul the bowline, haul! He took to his bed and the doctor come, And give him a dose that sure was some, For it h'isted him off to Kingdom Come, So haul the bowline, haul!'"
Kitty was reserved enough in some ways, but she never could restrain her laughter; she gave a little crow at the fate of "Renzo," the conclusion, had she but known it, of an eventful life. The brown man turned with a responsive chuckle.
"There!" he said. "I was warblin', warn't I? You must excuse me, lady; I'm a sea-farin' man, and I have to warble, 'pears though: I b'lieve I warble in my sleep."
"It was so funny, I couldn't help laughing!" said Kitty. "Poor Renzo! is there any more about him?"
"Oh, my, yes! old Renzo! There's more songs and chanteys about him than you could shake a stick at. Renzo or Ranzo—I've heard much as a dozen of 'em. This one's the only one I know clear'n through, though."
"Oh! please! won't you sing it all for me?" Kitty leaned forward, her eyes aglow.
"Why, it ain't nothin' but an old sailor song, you understand, but you're welcome to it, such as 'tis."
Leaning comfortably against the back of his wagon, his brown gaze wandering placidly up and down the street, the brown man sang as follows:
"Now Renzo was a sailor; That's what Renzo was, tiddy hi! He surely warn't a tailor, So haul the bowline, haul! He went adrift in Casco Bay, Mate to a mud-scow haulin' hay, And he come home late for his weddin' day, So haul the bowline, haul! "Now Renzo had a feedle, That's what Renzo had, tiddy hi! 'Twas humped up in the meedle, So haul the bowline, haul! He played a tune, and the old cow died, And the skipper and crew jumped over the side, And swum away on the slack of the tide, So haul the bowline, haul! "Now Renzo had a parrot, That's what Renzo had, tiddy hi! He liked a piece of carrot, So haul the bowline, haul! They gave him a turnip once instead, And he swore so loud he bust his head, And when he come to he was di-dum-dead, So haul the bowline, haul! "Now Renzo went a-clammin', That's what Renzo did, tiddy hi! His boots they kep' a-jammin', So haul the bowline, haul! They jammed so hard that he gave up beat, And went back home in his stockin' feet, And the woman she dressed him down complete, So haul the bowline, haul! "Now Renzo went a-smeltin', That's what Renzo did, tiddy hi! The ice was just a-meltin', So haul the bowline, haul! He sot clear'n through, and he froze his toes, And a foot-long ice-kittle hung to his nose, And he says, 'Gol darn these oil-skin clo'es!' So haul the bowline, haul! "Now Renzo caught a fever, That's what Renzo caught, tiddy hi! It sot him all a-queever, So haul the bowline, haul! He took to his bed and the doctor come, And give him a dose that sure was some, For it h'isted him off to Kingdom Come. So haul the bowline, haul!"
"Oh! thank you!" cried Kitty. "Thank you ever so much!"
"I thank you," replied the brown man, "for listenin'. I expect you've had the hardest job of the two, if all was known."
He stepped to the head of the brown horse, felt of the bag and shook his head; the brown horse shook his.
"Hossy," he spoke slowly, in a singularly cordial, pleasant tone, "you ain't eat your dinner!"
The horse shook his head again and sneezed.
"You no call to sneeze!" said the brown man. "It's good feed, and you've had time enough. I can't wag your jaws for you! If you expect that, Hossy, you're liable to be disappointed right away! Sam'll be in forty conniptions now because I'm late!"
He took off the nose-bag and folded it deliberately, the brown horse continuing to sneeze protest. Looking [pg 273] up, he met Kitty's interested eyes again, and his face broke into a delightful smile.
"He's a mite choosy to-day!" he said, nodding toward the animal. "Sometimes he forgets he isn't a bein'. I expect I make of him more'n I should, but you know how 'tis. That's a fine hoss you're drivin', lady. A No. 1, I should rate him, clipper-built and copper—what I would say, he's an elegant hoss. Might I take the liberty of offerin' you a pep'mint, Miss? No offense, I hope; they're just out o' the pan."
The two talked horse happily for five minutes; then the brown man climbed somewhat laboriously into his wagon, and with "Good day! Pleased to have met up with you!" drove off. Kitty sprang down and ran into the shop.
"Uncle Ivory," she cried, "who is that nice man? Isn't he a perfect duck? Do tell me who he is!"
Mr. Cheeseman had watched the interview, and his eyes were twinkling.
"As to bein' a duck," he said slowly, "I couldn't say. I never see him without his stockin's. Feet may be web, for all I know. That's Calvin Parks," he added in a different tone. "He's what I might call, if I was put to it, the best man in this world. If he wasn't a gump, he'd be an angel. He peddles candy. I supply him reg'lar, and I tell ye, Kitty, I fairly look forward to the day he comes, once a week."
"I should think you would! Where does he live? Not in any Cyrus, surely?"
"He lives over yonder!" Mr. Cheeseman nodded [pg 274] toward a point of the compass. "Drives a candy route, and looks out for the Sill boys, him and his wife. Awful nice woman she is, too. You'd like Mary Parks. Try that pineapple ribbin; I expect it's good!"
At this point Mrs. Grieven appeared, lamenting. "Wesleys" had no yellow flannel, and it was a living shame, she must say, if she was to go without a flannel petticoat at her time of life.
"But he has other colors, Mrs. Grieven!" Kitty tried to console her. "I know he has red flannel, for I bought some the other day; and white he has too, and I think gray."
"I've worn yellow flannel for seventy-seven years," Mrs. Grieven replied; "and I'm not going to change at my time of life. Yellow flannel is healin' to the bones, and keeps off rheumatism; 'tis well known, and Orison Wesley ought to be ashamed to call himself a general store, and not keep——"
"We'll talk about it as we drive!" said Kitty brightly. "I think we must start now, Mrs. Grieven. The 'ribbon' is delicious, Mr. Cheeseman; thank you so much! Let me know when you expect Mr. Parks again, won't you?"
Uncle Ivory Cheeseman watched her as she drove off.
"Now she'll sup yellow flannel all the way to North Cyrus!" he commented; "and take it as if 'twas butter scotch. Them kind of folks, you sympathize with them, and they're all over you in a minute, like a wet dog on a cold day. It's one thing to be friendly, but,—well, the Bible says to suffer fools gladly, but it don't say to encourage 'em, and so I tell Calvin!"
He turned, and gave his mind to the molasses peppermints.