Story type: Literature
Scene.–The shady side of a blueberry-pasture.–Sam Lawson with the boys, picking blueberries.–Sam, loq.
As, you see, boys, ’twas just here,–Parson Carryl’s wife, she died along in the forepart o’ March: my cousin Huldy, she undertook to keep house for him. The way on’t was, that Huldy, she went to take care o’ Mis’ Carryl in the fust on’t, when she fust took sick. Huldy was a tailoress by trade; but then she was one o’ these ‘ere facultised persons that has a gift for most any thing, and that was how Mis’ Carryl come to set sech store by her, that, when she was sick, nothin’ would do for her but she must have Huldy round all the time: and the minister, he said he’d make it good to her all the same, and she shouldn’t lose nothin’ by it. And so Huldy, she staid with Mis’ Carryl full three months afore she died, and got to seein’ to every thing pretty much round the place.
“Wal, arter Mis’ Carryl died, Parson Carryl, he’d got so kind o’ used to hevin’ on her ’round, takin’ care o’ things, that he wanted her to stay along a spell; and so Huldy, she staid along a spell, and poured out his tea, and mended his close, and made pies and cakes, and cooked and washed and ironed, and kep’ every thing as neat as a pin. Huldy was a drefful chipper sort o’ gal; and work sort o’ rolled off from her like water off a duck’s back. There warn’t no gal in Sherburne that could put sich a sight o’ work through as Huldy; and yet, Sunday mornin’, she always come out in the singers’ seat like one o’ these ‘ere June roses, lookin’ so fresh and smilin’, and her voice was jest as clear and sweet as a meadow lark’s–Lordy massy! I ‘member how she used to sing some o’ them ‘are places where the treble and counter used to go together: her voice kind o’ trembled a little, and it sort o’ went thro’ and thro’ a feller! tuck him right where he lived!”
Here Sam leaned contemplatively back with his head in a clump of sweet fern, and refreshed himself with a chew of young wintergreen. “This ‘ere young wintergreen, boys, is jest like a feller’s thoughts o’ things that happened when he was young: it comes up jest so fresh and tender every year, the longest time you hev to live; and you can’t help chawin’ on’t tho’ ’tis sort o’ stingin’. I don’t never get over likin’ young wintergreen.”
“But about Huldah, Sam?”
“Oh, yes! about Huldy. Lordy massy! when a feller is Indianin’ round, these ‘ere pleasant summer days, a feller’s thoughts gits like a flock o’ young partridges: they’s up and down and everywhere; ’cause one place is jest about as good as another, when they’s all so kind o’ comfortable and nice. Wal, about Huldy,–as I was a sayin’. She was jest as handsome a gal to look at as a feller could have; and I think a nice, well-behaved young gal in the singers’ seat of a Sunday is a means o’ grace: it’s sort o’ drawin’ to the unregenerate, you know. Why, boys, in them days, I’ve walked ten miles over to Sherburne of a Sunday mornin’, jest to play the bass-viol in the same singers’ seat with Huldy. She was very much respected, Huldy was; and, when she went out to tailorin’, she was allers bespoke six months ahead, and sent for in waggins up and down for ten miles round; for the young fellers was allers ‘mazin’ anxious to be sent after Huldy, and was quite free to offer to go for her. Wal, after Mis’ Carry! died, Huldy got to be sort o’ housekeeper at the minister’s, and saw to every thing, and did every thing: so that there warn’t a pin out o’ the way.
“But you know how ’tis in parishes: there allers is women that thinks the minister’s affairs belongs to them, and they ought to have the rulin’ and guidin’ of ’em; and, if a minister’s wife dies, there’s folks that allers has their eyes open on providences,–lookin’ out who’s to be the next one.
“Now, there was Mis’ Amaziah Pipperidge, a widder with snappin’ black eyes, and a hook nose,–kind o’ like a hawk; and she was one o’ them up-and-down commandin’ sort o’ women, that feel that they have a call to be seein’ to every thing that goes on in the parish, and ‘specially to the minister.
“Folks did say that Mis’ Pipperidge sort o’ sot her eye on the parson for herself: wal, now that ‘are might a been, or it might not. Some folks thought it was a very suitable connection. You see she hed a good property of her own, right nigh to the minister’s lot, and was allers kind o’ active and busy; so takin’ one thing with another, I shouldn’t wonder if Mis’ Pipperidge should a thought that Providence p’inted that way. At any rate, she went up to Deakin Blod-gett’s wife, and they two sort o’ put their heads together a mournin’ and condolin’ about the way things was likely to go on at the minister’s now Mis’ Carryl was dead. Ye see, the parson’s wife, she was one of them women who hed their eyes everywhere and on every thing. She was a little thin woman, but tough as Inger rubber, and smart as a steel trap; and there warn’t a hen laid an egg, or cackled, but Mis’ Carryl was right there to see about it; and she hed the garden made in the spring, and the medders mowed in summer, and the cider made, and the corn husked, and the apples got in the fall; and the doctor, he hedn’t nothin’ to do but jest sit stock still a meditatin’ on Jerusalem and Jericho and them things that ministers think about. But Lordy massy! he didn’t know nothin’ about where any thing he eat or drunk or wore come from or went to: his wife jest led him ’round in temporal things and took care on him like a baby.
“Wal, to be sure, Mis’ Carryl looked up to him in spirituals, and thought all the world on him; for there warn’t a smarter minister no where ’round. Why, when he preached on decrees and election, they used to come clear over from South Parish, and West Sherburne, and Old Town to hear him; and there was sich a row o’ waggins tied along by the meetin’-house that the stables was all full, and all the hitchin’-posts was full clean up to the tavern, so that folks said the doctor made the town look like a gineral trainin’-day a Sunday.
“He was gret on texts, the doctor was. When he hed a p’int to prove, he’d jest go thro’ the Bible, and drive all the texts ahead o’ him like a flock o’ sheep; and then, if there was a text that seemed agin him, why, he’d come out with his Greek and Hebrew, and kind o’ chase it ’round a spell, jest as ye see a fellar chase a contrary bell-wether, and make him jump the fence arter the rest. I tell you, there wa’n’t no text in the Bible that could stand agin the doctor when his blood was up. The year arter the doctor was app’inted to preach the ‘lection sermon in Boston, he made such a figger that the Brattle-street Church sent a committee right down to see if they couldn’t get him to Boston; and then the Sherburne folks, they up and raised his salary; ye see, there ain’t nothin’ wakes folks up like somebody else’s wantin’ what you’ve got. Wal, that fall they made him a Doctor o’ Divinity at Cambridge College, and so they sot more by him than ever. Wal, you see, the doctor, of course he felt kind o’ lonesome and afflicted when Mis’ Carryl was gone; but railly and truly, Huldy was so up to every thing about house, that the doctor didn’t miss nothin’ in a temporal way. His shirt-bosoms was pleated finer than they ever was, and them ruffles ’round his wrists was kep’ like the driven snow; and there warn’t a brack in his silk stockin’s, and his shoe buckles was kep’ polished up, and his coats brushed; and then there warn’t no bread and biscuit like Huldy’s; and her butter was like solid lumps o’ gold; and there wern’t no pies to equal hers; and so the doctor never felt the loss o’ Miss Carryl at table. Then there was Huldy allers opposite to him, with her blue eyes and her cheeks like two fresh peaches. She was kind o’ pleasant to look at; and the more the doctor looked at her the better he liked her; and so things seemed to be goin’ on quite quiet and comfortable ef it hadn’t been that Mis’ Pipperidge and Mis’ Deakin Blodgett and Mis’ Sawin got their heads together a talkin’ about things.
“‘Poor man,’ says Mis’ Pipperidge, ‘what can that child that he’s got there do towards takin’ the care of all that place? It takes a mature woman,’ she says, ‘to tread in Mis’ Carryl’s shoes.’
“‘That it does,’ said Mis’ Blodgett; and, when things once get to runnin’ down hill, there ain’t no stoppin’ on ’em,’ says she.
“Then Mis’ Sawin she took it up. (Ye see, Mis’ Sawin used to go out to dress-makin’, and was sort o’ ‘jealous, ’cause folks sot more by Huldy than they did by her). ‘Well,’ says she, ‘Huldy Peters is well enough at her trade. I never denied that, though I do say I never did believe in her way o’ makin’ button-holes; and I must say, if ’twas the dearest friend I hed, that I thought Huldy tryin’ to fit Mis’ Kit-tridge’s plumb-colored silk was a clear piece o’ presumption; the silk was jist spiled, so ‘twarn’t fit to come into the meetin’-house. I must say, Huldy’s a gal that’s always too ventersome about takin’ ‘spon-sibilities she don’t know nothin’ about.’
“‘Of course she don’t,’ said Mis’ Deakin Blodgett. ‘What does she know about all the lookin’ and see-in’ to that there ought to be in guidin’ the minister’s house. Huldy’s well meanin’, and she’s good at her work, and good in the singers’ seat; but Lordy massy! she hain’t got no experience. Parson Carryl ought to have an experienced woman to keep house for him. There’s the spring house-cleanin’ and the fall house-cleanin’ to be seen to, and the things to be put away from the moths; and then the gettin’ ready for the association and all the ministers’ meetin’s; and the makin’ the soap and the candles, and settin’ the hens and turkeys, watchin’ the calves, and seein’ after the hired men and the garden; and there that ‘are blessed man jist sets there at home as serene, and has nobody ’round but that ‘are gal, and don’t even know how things must be a runnin’ to waste!’
“Wal, the upshot on’t was, they fussed and fuzzled and wuzzled till they’d drinked up all the tea in the teapot; and then they went down and called on the parson, and wuzzled him all up talkin’ about this, that, and t’other that wanted lookin’ to, and that it was no way to leave every thing to a young chit like Huldy, and that he ought to be lookin’ about for an experienced woman. The parson he thanked ’em kindly, and said he believed their motives was good, but he didn’t go no further. He didn’t ask Mis’ Pipperidge to come and stay there and help him, nor nothin’ o’ that kind; but he said he’d attend to matters himself. The fact was, the parson had got such a likin’ for havin’ Huldy ’round, that he couldn’t think o’ such a thing as swappin’ her off for the Widder Pipperidge.
“But he thought to himself, ‘Huldy is a good girl; but I oughtn’t to be a leavin’ every thing to her,–it’s too hard on her. I ought to be instructin’ and guidin’ and helpin’ of her; ’cause ’tain’t everybody could be expected to know and do what Mis’ Carryl did;’ and so at it he went; and Lordy massy! didn’t Huldy hev a time on’t when the minister began to come out of his study, and want to tew ’round and see to things? Huldy, you see, thought all the world of the minister, and she was ‘most afraid to laugh; but she told me she couldn’t, for the life of her, help it when his back was turned, for he wuzzled things up in the most singular way. But Huldy she’d jest say ‘Yes, sir,’ and get him off into his study, and go on her own way.
“‘Huldy,’ says the minister one day, ‘you ain’t experienced out doors; and, when you want to know any thing, you must come to me.’
“‘Yes, sir,’ says Huldy.
“‘Now, Huldy,’ says the parson, ‘you must be sure to save the turkey-eggs, so that we can have a lot of turkeys for Thanksgiving.’
“‘Yes, sir,’ says Huldy; and she opened the pantry-door, and showed him a nice dishful she’d been a savin’ up. Wal, the very next day the parson’s hen-turkey was found killed up to old Jim Scroggs’s barn. Folks said Scroggs killed it; though Scroggs, he stood to it he didn’t: at any rate, the Scroggses, they made a meal on’t; and Huldy, she felt bad about it ’cause she’d set her heart on raisin’ the turkeys; and says she, ‘Oh, dear! I don’t know what I shall do. I was just ready to see [set] her.’
“‘Do, Huldy?’ says the parson: ‘why, there’s the other turkey, out there by the door; and a fine bird, too, he is.’ Sure enough, there was the old tom-turkey a struttin’ and a sidlin’ and a quitterin,’ and a floutin’ his tail-feathers in the sun, like a lively young widower, all ready to begin life over agin.
“‘But,’ says Huldy, ‘you know he can’t set on eggs.’
“‘He can’t? I’d like to know why,’ says the parson. ‘He ‘shall’ set on eggs, and hatch ’em too.’
“‘O doctor!’ says Huldy, all in a tremble; ’cause, you know, she didn’t want to contradict the minister, and she was afraid she should laugh,–‘I never heard that a tom-turkey would set on eggs.’
“‘Why, they ought to,’ said the parson, getting quite ‘arnest: ‘what else be they good for? you just bring out the eggs, now, and put ’em in the nest, and I’ll make him set on ’em.’
“So Huldy she thought there wern’t no way to convince him but to let him try: so she took the eggs out, and fixed ’em all nice in the nest; and then she come back and found old Tom a skirmishin’ with the parson pretty lively, I tell ye. Ye see, old Tom he didn’t take the idee at all; and he flopped and gobbled, and fit the parson; and the parson’s wig got ’round so that his cue stuck straight out over his ear, but he’d got his blood up. Ye see, the old doctor was used to carryin’ his p’ints o’ doctrine; and he hadn’t fit the Arminians and Socinians to be beat by a tom-turkey; so finally he made a dive, and ketched him by the neck in spite o’ his floppin’, and stroked him down, and put Huldy’s apron ’round him.
“‘There, Huldy,’ he says, quite red in the face, ‘we’ve got him now; ‘and he travelled off to the barn with him as lively as a cricket.
“Wal, Huldy she worked and worked, and finally she fished piggy out in the bucket, but he was dead as a door-nail; and she got him out o’ the way quietly, and didn’t say much; and the parson, he took to a great Hebrew book in his study; and says he, ‘Huldy, I ain’t much in temporals,’ says he. Huldy says she kind o’ felt her heart go out to him, he was so sort o’ meek and helpless and lamed; and says she, ‘Wal, Parson Carryl, don’t trouble your head no more about it; I’ll see to things;’ and sure enough, a week arter there was a nice pen, all ship-shape, and two little white pigs that Huldy bought with the money for the butter she sold at the store.
“‘Wal, Huldy,’ said the parson, ‘you are a most amazin’ child: you don’t say nothin’ but you do more than most folks.’
“Arter that the parson set sich store by Huldy that he come to her and asked her about every thing, and it was amazin’ how every thing she put her hand to prospered. Huldy planted marigolds and larkspurs, pinks and carnations, all up and down the path to the front door, and trained up mornin’ glories and scarlet-runners round the windows. And she was always a gettin’ a root here, and a sprig there, and a seed from somebody else: for Huldy was one o’ them that has the gift, so that ef you jist give ’em the leastest sprig of any thing they make a great bush out of it right away; so that in six months Huldy had roses and geraniums and lilies, sich as it would a took a gardener to raise. The parson, he took no notice at fust; but when the yard was all ablaze with flowers he used to come and stand in a kind o’ maze at the front door, and say, ‘Beautiful, beautiful: why, Huldy, I never see any thing like it.’ And then when her work was done arternoons, Huldy would sit with her sewin’ in the porch, and sing and trill away till she’d draw the meadow-larks and the bobolinks, and the orioles to answer her, and the great big elm-tree overhead would get perfectly rackety with the birds; and the parson, settin’ there in his study, would git to kind o’ dreamin’ about the angels, and golden harps, and the New Jerusalem; but he wouldn’t speak a word, ’cause Huldy she was jist like them wood-thrushes, she never could sing so well when she thought folks was hearin’. Folks noticed, about this time, that the parson’s sermons got to be like Aaron’s rod, that budded and blossomed: there was things in ’em about flowers and birds, and more ‘special about the music o’ heaven. And Huldy she noticed, that ef there was a hymn run in her head while she was ’round a workin’ the minister was sure to give it out next Sunday. You see, Huldy was jist like a bee: she always sung when she was workin’, and you could hear her trillin’, now down in the corn-patch, while she was pickin’ the corn; and now in the buttery, while she was workin’ the butter; and now she’d go singin’ down cellar, and then she’d be singin’ up over head, so that she seemed to fill a house chock full o’ music.
“Huldy was so sort o’ chipper and fair spoken, that she got the hired men all under her thumb: they come to her and took her orders jist as meek as so many calves; and she traded at the store, and kep’ the accounts, and she hed her eyes everywhere, and tied up all the ends so tight that there want no gettin’ ’round her. She wouldn’t let nobody put nothin’ off on Parson Carryl, ’cause he was a minister. Huldy was allers up to anybody that wanted to make a hard bargain; and, afore he knew jist what he was about, she’d got the best end of it, and everybody said that Huldy was the most capable gal that they’d ever traded with.
“Wal, come to the meetin’ of the Association, Mis’ Deakin Blodgett and Mis’ Pipperidge come callin’ up to the parson’s, all in a stew, and offerin’ their services to get the house ready; but the doctor, he jist thanked ’em quite quiet, and turned ’em over to Huldy; and Huldy she told ’em that she’d got every thing ready, and showed ’em her pantries, and her cakes and her pies and her puddin’s, and took ’em all over the house; and they went peekin’ and pokin’, openin’ cupboard-doors, and lookin’ into drawers; and they couldn’t find so much as a thread out o’ the way, from garret to cellar, and so they went off quite discontented. Arter that the women set a new trouble a brewin’. Then they begun to talk that it was a year now since Mis’ Carryl died; and it r’ally wasn’t proper such a young gal to be stayin’ there, who everybody could see was a settin’ her cap for the minister.
“Mis’ Pipperidge said, that, so long as she looked on Huldy as the hired gal, she hadn’t thought much about it; but Huldy was railly takin’ on airs as an equal, and appearin’ as mistress o’ the house in a way that would make talk if it went on. And Mis’ Pipperidge she driv ’round up to Deakin Abner Snow’s, and down to Mis’ ‘Lijah Perry’s, and asked them if they wasn’t afraid that the way the parson and Huldy was a goin’ on might make talk. And they said they hadn’t thought on’t before, but now, come to think on’t, they was sure it would; and they all went and talked with somebody else, and asked them if they didn’t think it would make talk. So come Sunday, between meetin’s there warn’t noth-in’ else talked about; and Huldy saw folks a noddin’ and a winkin’, and a lookin’ arter her, and she begun to feel drefful sort o’ disagreeable. Finally Mis’ Sawin she says to her, ‘My dear, didn’t you, never think folk would talk about you and the minister?’
“‘No: why should they?’ says Huldy, quite innocent.
“Wal, dear,’ says she, ‘I think it’s a shame; but they say you’re tryin’ to catch him, and that it’s so bold and improper for you to be courtin’ of him right in his own house,–you know folks will talk,–I thought I’d tell you ’cause I think so much of you,’ says she.
“Huldy was a gal of spirit, and she despised the talk, but it made her drefful uncomfortable; and when she got home at night she sat down in the mor-nin’-glory porch, quite quiet, and didn’t sing a word.
“The minister he had heard the same thing from one of his deakins that day; and, when he saw Huldy so kind o’ silent, he says to her, ‘Why don’t you sing, my child?’
“He hed a pleasant sort o’ way with him, the minister had, and Huldy had got to likin’ to be with him; and it all come over her that perhaps she ought to go away; and her throat kind o’ filled up so she couldn’t hardly speak; and, says she, ‘I can’t sing to-night.’
“Says he, ‘You don’t know how much good you’re singin’ has done me, nor how much good you have done me in all ways, Huldy. I wish I knew how to show my gratitude.’
“‘O sir!’ says Huldy, ‘is it improper for me to be here?’
“‘No, dear,’ says the minister, ‘but ill-natured folks will talk; but there is one way we can stop it, Huldy–if you will marry me. You’ll make me very happy, and I’ll do all I can to make you happy. Will you?’
“Wal, Huldy never told me jist what she said to the minister,–gals never does give you the particulars of them ‘are things jist as you’d like ’em,–only I know the upshot and the hull on’t was, that Huldy she did a consid’able lot o’ clear starchin’ and ironin’ the next two days; and the Friday o’ next week the minister and she rode over together to Dr. Lothrop’s in Old Town; and the doctor, he jist made ’em man and wife, ‘spite of envy of the Jews,’ as the hymn says. Wal, you’d better believe there was a starin’ and a wonderin’ next Sunday mornin’ when the second bell was a tollin’, and the minister walked up the broad aisle with Huldy, all in white, arm in arm with him, and he opened the minister’s pew, and handed her in as if she was a princess; for, you see, Parson Carryl come of a good family, and was a born gentleman, and had a sort o’ grand way o’ bein’ polite to women-folks. Wal, I guess there was a rus’lin’ among the bunnets. Mis’ Pipperidge gin a great bounce, like corn poppin’ on a shovel, and her eyes glared through her glasses at Huldy as if they’d a sot her afire; and everybody in the meetin’ house was a starin’, I tell yew. But they couldn’t none of ’em say nothin’ agin Huldy’s looks; for there wa’n’t a crimp nor a frill about her that wa’n’t jis’ so; and her frock was white as the driven snow, and she had her bunnet all trimmed up with white ribbins; and all the fellows said the old doctor had stole a march, and got the handsomest gal in the parish.
“Wal, arter meetin’ they all come ’round the parson and Huldy at the door, shakin’ hands and laugh-in’; for by that time they was about agreed that they’d got to let putty well alone.
“‘Why, Parson Carryl,’ says Mis’ Deakin Blod-gett, ‘how you’ve come it over us.’
“‘Yes,’ says the parson, with a kind o’ twinkle in his eye. ‘I thought,’ says he, ‘as folks wanted to talk about Huldy and me, I’d give ’em somethin’ wuth talkin’ about.’”