The Jamesons

by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

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Chapter IV - They Take a Farm

I had wondered a little, after Mrs. Jameson's frantic appeal to me to secure another boarding-place for her, that she seemed to settle down so contentedly at Caroline Liscom's. She said nothing more about her dissatisfaction, if she felt any. However, I fancy that Mrs. Jameson is one to always conceal her distaste for the inevitable, and she must have known that she could not have secured another boarding-place in Linnville. As for Caroline Liscom, her mouth is always closed upon her own affairs until they have become matters of history. She never said a word to me about the Jamesons until they had ceased to be her boarders, which was during the first week in August. My sister-in-law, Louisa Field, came home one afternoon with the news. She had been over to Mrs. Gregg's to get her receipt for blackberry jam, and had heard it there. Mrs. Gregg always knew about the happenings in our village before they fairly gathered form on the horizon of reality.

“What do you think, Sophia?” said Louisa when she came in—she did not wait to take off her hat before she began—“the Jamesons are going to leave the Liscoms, and they have rented the old Wray place, and are going to run the farm and raise vegetables and eggs. Mr. Jameson is coming on Saturday night, and they are going to move in next Monday.”

I was very much astonished; I had never dreamed that the Jamesons had any taste for farming, and then, too, it was so late in the season.

“Old Jonas Martin is planting the garden now,” said Louisa. “I saw him as I came past.”

“The garden,” said I; “why, it is the first of August!”

“Mrs. Jameson thinks that she can raise late peas and corn, and set hens so as to have spring chickens very early in the season,” replied Louisa, laughing; “at least, that is what Mrs. Gregg says. The Jamesons are going to stay here until the last of October, and then Jonas Martin is going to take care of the hens through the winter.”

I remembered with a bewildered feeling what Mrs. Jameson had said about not wanting to board with people who kept hens, and here she was going to keep them herself.

Louisa and I wondered what kind of a man Mr. H. Boardman Jameson might be; he had never been to Linnville, being kept in the city by his duties at the custom-house.

“I don't believe that he will have much to say about the farm while Mrs. Jameson has a tongue in her head,” said Louisa; and I agreed with her.

When we saw Mr. H. Boardman Jameson at church the next Sunday we were confirmed in our opinion.

He was a small man, much smaller than his wife, with a certain air of defunct style about him. He had quite a fierce bristle of moustache, and a nervous briskness of carriage, yet there was something that was unmistakably conciliatory and subservient in his bearing toward Mrs. Jameson. He stood aside for her to enter the pew, with the attitude of vassalage; he seemed to respond with an echo of deference to every rustle of her silken skirts and every heave of her wide shoulders. Mrs. Jameson was an Episcopalian, and our church is Congregational. Mrs. Jameson did not attempt to kneel when she entered, but bent her head forward upon the back of the pew in front of her. Mr. Jameson waited until she was fairly in position, with observant and anxious eyes upon her, before he did likewise.

This was really the first Sunday on which Mrs. Jameson herself had appeared at church. Ever since she had been in our village the Sundays had been exceptionally warm, or else rainy and disagreeable, and of course Mrs. Jameson was in delicate health. The girls and Cobb had attended faithfully, and always sat in the pew with the Liscoms. To-day Harry and his father sat in the Jones pew to make room for the two elder Jamesons.

There was an unusual number at meeting that morning, partly, no doubt, because it had been reported that Mr. Jameson was to be there, and that made a little mistake of his and his wife's more conspicuous. The minister read that morning the twenty-third Psalm, and after he had finished the first verse Mrs. Jameson promptly responded with the second, as she would have done in her own church, raising her solitary voice with great emphasis. It would not have been so ludicrous had not poor Mr. Jameson, evidently seeing the mistake, and his face blazing, yet afraid to desert his wife's standard, followed her dutifully just a few words in the rear. While Mrs. Jameson was beside the still waters, Mr. Jameson was in the green pastures, and so on. I pitied the Jameson girls. Harriet looked ready to cry with mortification, and Sarah looked so alarmed that I did not know but she would run out of the church. As for Cobb, he kept staring at his mother, and opening his mouth to speak, and swallowing and never saying anything, until it seemed as if he might go into convulsions. People tried not to laugh, but a little repressed titter ran over the congregation, and the minister's voice shook. Mrs. Jameson was the only one who did not appear in the least disturbed; she did not seem to realize that she had done anything unusual.

Caroline Liscom was not at church—indeed, she had not been much since the boarders arrived; she had to stay at home to get the dinner. Louisa and I wondered whether she was relieved or disturbed at losing her boarders, and whether we should ever know which. When we passed the Wray house on our way home, and saw the blinds open, and the fresh mould in the garden, and the new shingles shining on the hen-house roof, we speculated about it.

“Caroline had them about nine weeks, and at fifteen dollars a week she will have one hundred and thirty-five dollars,” said Louisa. “That will buy her something extra.”

“I know that she has been wanting some portières for her parlor, and a new set for her spare chamber, and maybe that is what she will get,” said I. And I said furthermore that I hoped she would feel paid for her hard work and the strain it must have been on her mind.

Louisa and I are not very curious, but the next day we did watch—though rather furtively—the Jamesons moving into the old Wray house.

All day we saw loads of furniture passing, which must have been bought in Grover. So many of the things were sewed up in burlap that we could not tell much about them, which was rather unfortunate. It was partly on this account that we did not discourage Tommy Gregg—who had been hanging, presumably with his mother's connivance, around the old Wray house all day—from reporting to us as we were sitting on the front doorstep in the twilight. Mrs. Peter Jones and Amelia Powers had run over, and were sitting there with Louisa and me. Little Alice had gone to bed; we had refused to allow her to go to see what was going on, and yet listened to Tommy Gregg's report, which was not, I suppose, to our credit. I have often thought that punctilious people will use cats'-paws to gratify curiosity when they would scorn to use them for anything else. Still, neither Louisa nor I would have actually beckoned Tommy Gregg up to the door, as Mrs. Jones did, though I suppose we had as much cause to be ashamed, for we certainly listened full as greedily as she.

It seemed to me that Tommy had seen all the furniture unpacked, and much of it set up, by lurking around in the silent, shrinking, bright-eyed fashion that he has. Tommy Gregg is so single-minded in his investigations that I can easily imagine that he might seem as impersonal as an observant ray of sunlight in the window. Anyway, he had evidently seen everything, and nobody had tried to stop him.

“It ain't very handsome,” said Tommy Gregg with a kind of disappointment and wonder. “There ain't no carpets in the house except in Grandma Cobb's room, and that's jest straw mattin'; and there's some plain mats without no roses on 'em; and there ain't no stove 'cept in the kitchen; just old andirons like mother keeps up garret; and there ain't no stuffed furniture at all; and they was eatin' supper without no table-cloth.”

Amelia Powers and Mrs. Jones thought that it was very singular that the Jamesons had no stuffed furniture, but Louisa and I did not feel so. We had often wished that we could afford to change the haircloth furniture, which I had had when I was married, for some pretty rattan or plain wood chairs. Louisa and I rather fancied the Jamesons' style of house-furnishing when we call there. It was rather odd, certainly, from our village standpoint, and we were not accustomed to see bare floors if people could possibly buy a carpet; the floors were pretty rough in the old house, too. It did look as if some of the furniture was sliding down-hill, and it was quite a steep descent from the windows to the chimney in all the rooms. Of course, a carpet would have taken off something of that effect. Another thing struck us as odd, and really scandalized the village at large: the Jamesons had taken down every closet and cupboard door in the house. They had hung curtains before the clothes-closets, but the shelves of the pantry which opened out of the dining-room, and the china-closet in the parlor, were quite exposed, and furnished with, to us, a very queer assortment of dishes. The Jamesons had not one complete set, and very few pieces alike. They had simply ransacked the neighborhood for forsaken bits of crockery-ware, the remnants of old wedding-sets which had been long stored away on top shelves, or used for baking or preserving purposes.

I remember Mrs. Gregg laughing, and saying that the Jamesons were tickled to death to get some old blue cups which she had when she was married and did not pay much for then, and had used for fifteen years to put up her currant jelly in; and had paid her enough money for them to make up the amount which she had been trying to earn, by selling eggs, to buy a beautiful new tea-set of a brown-and-white ware. I don't think the Jamesons paid much for any of the dishes which they bought in our village; we are not very shrewd people, and it did not seem right to ask large prices for articles which had been put to such menial uses. I think many things were given them. I myself gave Harriet Jameson an old blue plate and another brown one which I had been using to bake extra pies in when my regular pie-plates gave out. They were very discolored and cracked, but I never saw anybody more pleased than Harriet was.

I suppose the special feature of the Jamesons' household adornments which roused the most comment in the village was the bean-pots. The Jamesons, who did not like baked beans and never cooked them, had bought, or had given them, a number of old bean-pots, and had them sitting about the floor and on the tables with wild flowers in them. People could not believe that at first; they thought they must be some strange kind of vase which they had had sent from New York. They cast sidelong glances of sharpest scrutiny at them when they called. When they discovered that they were actually bean-pots, and not only that, but were sitting on the floor, which had never been considered a proper place for bean-pots in any capacity, they were really surprised. Flora Clark said that for her part her bean-pot went into the oven with beans in it, instead of into the corner with flowers in it, as long as she had her reason. But I must say I did not quite agree with her. I have only one bean-pot, and we eat beans, therefore mine has to be kept sacred to its original mission; and I must say that I thought Mrs. Jameson's with goldenrod in it really looked better than mine with beans. I told Louisa that I could not see why the original states of inanimate things ought to be remembered against them when they were elevated to finer uses any more than those of people, and now that the bean-pot had become a vase in a parlor why its past could not be forgotten. Louisa agreed with me, but I don't doubt that many people never looked at those pots full of goldenrod without seeing beans. It was to my way of thinking more their misfortune than the Jamesons' mistake; and they made enough mistakes which were not to be questioned not to have the benefit of any doubt.

Soon the Jamesons, with their farm, were the standing joke in our village. I had never known there was such a strong sense of humor among us as their proceedings awakened. Mr. H. Boardman Jameson did not remain in Fairville long, as he had to return to his duties at the custom-house. Mrs. Jameson, who seemed to rouse herself suddenly from the languid state which she had assumed at times, managed the farm. She certainly had original ideas and the courage of her convictions.

She stopped at nothing; even Nature herself she had a try at, like some mettlesome horse which does not like to be balked by anything in the shape of a wall.

Old Jonas Martin was a talker, and he talked freely about the people for whom he worked. “Old Deacon Sears had a cow once that would jump everything. Wa'n't a wall could be built that was high enough to stop her,” he would say. “'Tain't no ways clear to my mind that she ain't the identical critter that jumped the moon;—and I swan if Mis' Jameson ain't like her. There ain't nothin' that's goin' to stop her; she ain't goin' to be hendered by any sech little things as times an' seasons an' frost from raisin' corn an' green peas an' flowers in her garden. ‘The frost'll be a-nippin' of 'em, marm,’ says I, ‘as soon as they come up, marm.’ ‘I wish you to leave that to me, my good man,’ says she. Law, she ain't a-goin' to hev any frost a-nippin' her garden unless she's ready for it. And as for the chickens, I wouldn't like to be in their shoes unless they hatch when Mis' Jameson she wants 'em to. They have to do everything else she wants 'em to, and I dunno but they'll come to time on that. They're the fust fowls I ever see that a woman could stop scratchin'.”

With that, old Jonas Martin would pause for a long cackle of mirth, and his auditor would usually join him, for Mrs. Jameson's hens were enough to awaken merriment, and no mistake. Louisa and I could never see them without laughing enough to cry; and as for little Alice, who, like most gentle, delicate children, was not often provoked to immoderate laughter, she almost went into hysterics. We rather dreaded to have her catch sight of the Jameson hens. There were twenty of them, great, fat Plymouth Rocks, and every one of them in shoes, which were made of pieces of thick cloth sewed into little bags and tied firmly around the legs of the fowls, and they were effectually prevented thereby from scratching up the garden seeds. The gingerly and hesitating way in which these hens stepped around the Jameson premises was very funny. It was quite a task for old Jonas Martin to keep the hens properly shod, for the cloth buskins had to be often renewed; and distressed squawkings amid loud volleys of aged laughter indicated to us every day what was going on.

The Jamesons kept two Jersey cows, and Mrs. Jameson caused their horns to be wound with strips of cloth terminating in large, soft balls of the same, to prevent their hooking. When the Jamesons first began farming, their difficulty in suiting themselves with cows occasioned much surprise. They had their pick of a number of fine ones, but invariably took them on trial, and promptly returned them with the message that they were not satisfactory. Old Jonas always took back the cows, and it is a question whether or not he knew what the trouble was, and was prolonging the situation for his own enjoyment.

At last it came out. Old Jonas came leading back two fine Jerseys to Sim White's, and he said, with a great chuckle: “Want to know what ails these ere critters, Sim? Well, I'll tell ye: they ain't got no upper teeth. The Jamesons ain't goin' to git took in with no cows without no teeth in their upper jaws, you bet.”

That went the rounds of the village. Mrs. White was so sorry for the Jamesons in their dilemma of ignorance of our rural wisdom that she begged Sim to go over and persuade them that cows were created without teeth in their upper jaw, and that the cheating, if cheating there were, was done by Nature, and all men alike were victimized. I suppose Mr. White must have convinced her, for they bought the cows; but it must have been a sore struggle for Mrs. Jameson at least to swallow instruction, for she had the confidence of an old farmer in all matters pertaining to a farm.

She, however, did listen readily to one singular piece of information which brought much ridicule upon them. She chanced to say to Wilson Gregg, who is something of a wag, and had just sold the Jamesons a nice little white pig, that she thought that ham was very nice in alternate streaks of fat and lean, though she never ate it herself, and only bought the pig for the sake of her mother, who had old-fashioned tastes in her eating and would have pork, and she thought that home-raised would be so much healthier.

“Why, bless you, ma'am,” said he, “if you want your ham streaky all you have to do is to feed the pig one day and starve him the next.”

The Jamesons tried this ingenious plan; then, luckily for the pig, old Jonas, who had chuckled over it for a while, revealed the fraud and put him on regular rations.

I suppose the performance of the Jamesons which amused the village the most was setting their hens on hard-boiled eggs for sanitary reasons. That seemed incredible to me at first, but we had it on good authority—that of Hannah Bell, a farmer's daughter from the West Corners, who worked for the Jamesons. She declared that she told Mrs. Jameson that hens could not set to any purpose on boiled eggs; but Mrs. Jameson had said firmly that they must set upon them or none at all; that she would not have eggs about the premises so long otherwise; she did not consider it sanitary. Finally, when the eggs would not hatch submitted to such treatment, even at her command, she was forced to abandon her position, though even then with conditions of her surrender to Nature. She caused the nests to be well soaked with disinfectants.

The Jamesons shut the house up the last of October and went back to the city, and I think most of us were sorry. I was, and Louisa said that she missed them.

Mrs. Jameson had not been what we call neighborly through the summer, when she lived in the next house. Indeed, I think she never went into any of the village houses in quite a friendly and equal way, as we visit one another. Generally she came either with a view toward improving us—on an errand of mercy as it were, which some resented—or else upon some matter of business. Still we had, after all, a kindly feeling for her, and especially for Grandma Cobb and the girls, and the little meek boy. Grandma Cobb had certainly visited us, and none of us were clever enough to find out whether it was with a patronizing spirit or not. The extreme freedom which she took with our houses, almost seeming to consider them as her own, living in them some days from dawn till late at night, might have indicated either patronage or the utmost democracy. We missed her auburn-wigged head appearing in our doorways at all hours, and there was a feeling all over the village as if company had gone home.

I missed Harriet more than any of them. During the last of the time she had stolen in to see me quite frequently when she was released from her mother's guardianship for a minute. None of our village girls were kept as close as the Jamesons. Louisa and I used to wonder whether Mrs. Jameson kept any closer ward because of Harry Liscom. He certainly never went to the Jameson house. We knew that either Mrs. Jameson had prohibited it, or his own mother. We thought it must be Mrs. Jameson, for Harry had a will of his own, as well as his mother, and was hardly the man to yield to her in a matter of this kind without a struggle.

Though Harry did not go to the Jameson house, I, for one, used to see two suspicious-looking figures steal past the house in the summer evenings; but I said nothing. There was a little grove on the north side of our house, and there was a bench under the trees. Often I used to see a white flutter out there of a moonlight evening, and I knew that Harriet Jameson had a little white cloak. Louisa saw it too, but we said nothing, though we more than suspected that Harriet must steal out of the house after her mother had gone to her room, which we knew was early. Hannah Bell must know if that were the case, but she kept their secret.

Louisa and I speculated as to what was our duty if we were witnessing clandestine meetings, but we could never bring our minds to say anything.

The night before the Jamesons left it was moonlight and there was a hard frost, and I saw those young things stealing down the road for their last stolen meeting, and I pitied them. I was afraid, too, that Harriet would take cold in the sharp air. I thought she had on a thin cloak. Then I did something which I never quite knew whether to blame myself for or not. It did seem to me that, if the girl were a daughter of mine, and would in any case have a clandestine meeting with her lover, I should prefer it to be in a warm house rather than in a grove on a frosty night. So I caught a shawl from the table, and ran out to the front door, and called.

“Harry!” said I, “is that you?” They started, and I suppose poor Harriet was horribly frightened; but I tried to speak naturally, and as if the two being there together were quite a matter of course.

“I wonder if it will be too much for me to ask of you,” said I, when Harry had responded quite boldly with a “Good-evening, Aunt Sophia”—he used to call me Aunt when he was a child, and still kept it up—“I wonder if it will be too much to ask if you two will just step in here a minute while I run down to Mrs. Jones'? I want to get a pattern to use the first thing in the morning. Louisa has gone to meeting, and I don't like to leave Alice alone.”

They said they would be glad to come in, though, of course, with not as much joy as they felt later, when they saw that I meant to leave them to themselves for a time.

I stayed at Mrs. Jones' until I knew that Louisa would be home if I waited any longer, and I thought, besides, that the young people had been alone long enough. Then I went home. I suppose that they were sorry to see me so soon, but they looked up at me very gratefully when I bade them good-night and thanked them. I said quite meaningly that it was a cold night and there would be a frost, and Harriet must be careful and not take cold. I thought that would be enough for Harry Liscom, unless being in love had altered him and made him selfish. I did not think he would keep his sweetheart out, even if it were his last chance of seeing her alone for so long, if he thought she would get any harm by it, especially after he had visited her for a reasonable length of time.

I was right in my opinion. They did not turn about directly and go home—I did not expect that, of course—but they walked only to the turn of the road the other way; then I saw them pass the house, and presently poor Harry returned alone.

I did pity Harry Liscom when I met him on the street a few days after the Jamesons had left. I guessed at once that he was missing his sweetheart sorely, and had not yet had a letter from her. He looked pale and downcast, though he smiled as he lifted his hat to me, but he colored a little as if he suspected that I might guess his secret.

I met him the next day, and his face was completely changed, all radiant and glowing with the veritable light of youthful hope upon it. He bowed to me with such a flash of joy in his smile that I felt quite warmed by it, though it was none of mine. I thought, though I said nothing, “Harry Liscom, you have had a letter.”

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