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´╗┐Title: The Road to Providence
Author: Daviess, Maria Thompson, 1872-1924
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Road to Providence" ***

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The Road To Providence


by

Maria Thompson Daviess



CONTENTS

    I  THE DOCTORS MAYBERRY, MOTHER AND SON
   II  THE SINGER LADY AND THE BREAD-BOWL
  III  THE PEONY GIRL AND THE BUMPKIN
   IV  LOVE, THE CURE-ALL
    V  THE LITTLE RAVEN AND HER COVERED DISH
   VI  THE PROVIDENCE TAG-GANG
  VII  PRETTY BETTIE'S WEDDING DAY
 VIII  THE NEST ON PROVIDENCE NOB
   IX  THE LITTLE HARPETH WOMAN OF MANY SORROWS
    X  THE SONG OF THE MASTER'S GRAIL



CHAPTER I

THE DOCTORS MAYBERRY, MOTHER AND SON


"Now, child, be sure and don't mix 'em with a heavy hand! Lightness is
expected of riz biscuits and had oughter be dealt out to 'em by the
mixer from the start. Just this way--"

"Mother, oh, Mother," came a perturbed hail in Doctor Mayberry's voice
from the barn door, "Spangles is off the nest again--better come quick!"

"Can't you persuade her some, Tom?" Mother called back from the kitchen
door as she peered anxiously across the garden fence and over to the
gray barn where the Doctor stood holding the door half open, but ready
for a quick close-up in case of an unexpected sally. "My hands is in
the biscuits and I don't want to come now. Just try, Tom!"

"I have tried and I can't do it! She's getting the whole convention
agitated. You'd better come on, Mother!"

"Dearie me," said Mrs. Mayberry, as she rinsed her hands in the
wash-pan on the shelf under tin cedar bucket, "Tom is just as helpless
with the chickens at setting time as a presiding elder is at a sewing
circle; can't use a needle, too stiff to jine the talk and only good
when it comes to the eating, from broilers to frying size. Just go on
and mix the biscuits with faith, honey-bird, for I mistrust I won't be
back for quite a spell."

"Now let me see what all these conniptions is about," she said in a
commanding voice, as she walked boldly in through her son's cautiously
widened door gap.

And a scene of confusion that was truly feminine met her capable
glance. Fuss-and-Feathers, a stylish young spangled Wyandotte, was
waltzing up and down the floor and shrieking an appeal in the direction
of a whole row of half-barrel nests that stretched along the dark and
sequestered side of the feed-room floor, upon which was established
what had a few minutes before been a placid row of setting hens. Now
over the rim of each nest was stretched a black, white, yellow or gray
head, pop-eyed with alarm and reproach. They were emitting a chorus of
indignant squawks, all save a large, motherly old dominick in the
middle barrel who was craning her scaly old neck far over toward the
perturbed young sister and giving forth a series of reassuring and
commanding clucks.

"I didn't do a thing in the world to them, Mother," said Doctor Tom in
a deprecatory tone of voice, as if he were in a way to be blamed for
the whole excitement. "I was across the barn at the corn-crib when she
hopped off her nest and went on the rampage. Just a case of the modern
feminine rebellion, I wager."

"No such thing, sir! They ain't nothing in the world the matter with
her 'cept as bad a case of young-mother skeer as I have ever had before
amongst all my hens. Don't you see, Tom, two of her setting have pipped
they shells and the cheepings of the little things have skeered the
poor young thing 'most to death. Old Dominick have took in the case and
is trying her chicken-sister best to comfort her. These here pullet
spasms over the hatching of the first brood ain't in no way unusual.
The way you have forgot chicken habits since you have growed up is most
astonishing to me, after all the helping with them I taught you." As
she spoke, Mother Mayberry had been rearranging the deserted nest with
practised hand and had tenderly lifted two feeble, moist little
new-borns on her broad palm to show to the Doctor.

"What are you going to do with them, Mother?" he asked, for though his
education in chicken lore seemed to have been in vain he was none the
less sympathetically interested in his mothers practice of the
hen-craft.

"I'm just going to give 'em to Old Dominick to dry out and warm up for
her while I persuade her back on the nest. As she gets used to hearing
the cheepings from under another hen she'll take the next ones that
come with less mistrust." And suiting her actions to her words Mother
Mayberry slipped the two forlorn little mites under a warm old wing
that stretched itself out with gentleness to receive and comfort them.
Some budding instinct had sent the foolish fluff of stylish feathers
clucking at her skirts, so she bent down and with a gentle and
sympathetic hand lifted the young inadequate back on the nest.

"I really oughter put on a cover and make her set on the next," she
said doubtfully, "but it do seem kinder to teach her hovering a little
at a time. Course all women things has got mothering borned into 'em,
but it comes easier to some than to others. I always feel like giving
'em a helping hand at the start off."

"You have a great deal of faith if you feel sure of that universally
maternal instinct in these days, Mother," said the Doctor with a
teasing smile as he handed her a quart cup of oats from the bin. "Oh, I
know what you're talking about," answered Mother, as she scattered a
little grain in front of each nest and prepared to leave in peace and
quiet the brooding mothers. "It's this woman's rights and wrongs
question. I've been so busy doctoring Providence Road pains and trying
to make a good, proper husband outen you for some nice girl, what some
other woman have been putting licks on to get ready for you, that I've
been too pushed to think about the wrongs being did to me. But not
knowing any more about it than I do, I think this woman's rumpus all
sounds kinder like a hen scratching around in unlikely and contrary
corners for the bread of life, when she knows they is plenty of crumbs
at the kitchen door to be et up. But if you're going to ride over to
Flat Rock this evening you'd better go on and get back in time for some
riz biscuits as Elinory is a-making for you this blessed minute."

"She's not making them for me," answered the young Doctor with the
color rising under his clear, tanned skin up to his very forelock. As
he spoke he busied himself with bridling his restless young mare.

"Of course she is," answered his mother serenely. "Women don't take no
interest in cooking unless they's a man to eat the fixings. Left to
herself she'd eat store bread and cheese with her head outen the window
for the birds to clean up the crumbs. Stop by and ask after Mis'
Bostick and the Deacon. And if you bring me a little candy from the
store with the letters, maybe I'll eat it to please you. Now be a-going
so as to be a-coming the sooner." With which admonition Mother took her
departure down the garden path.

She was tall and broad, was Mother Mayberry, and in her walk was left
much of the lissome strength of her girlhood to lighten the matronly
dignity of her carriage. Her stiffly starched, gray-print skirts swept
against a budding border of jonquils and the spring breezes floated an
end of her white lawn tie as a sort of challenge to a young cherry
tree, that was trying to snow out under the influence of the warm sun.
Her son smiled as he saw her stoop to lift a feeble, over-early hop
toad back under the safety of the jonquil leaves, out of sight of a
possible savage rooster. He knew what expression lay in her soft gray
eyes that brooded under her Wide, placid brow, upon which fell abundant
and often riotous silver water-waves. His own eyes were very like them
and softened as he looked at her, a masculine version of one of her
quick dimples quirked at the corner of his clean-cut mouth.

"The bread of life--she's found it," he said to himself musingly as he
slipped the last buckle in his bridle tight.

"Elinory," called Mother Mayberry from the kitchen steps, "come out
here and sense the spring. Everywhere you look they is some young thing
a-peeping up or a-reaching out or a-running over or wobbling or
bleating or calling. Looks like the whole world have done broke out in
blooms and babies."

"I can't--I wish I could," came an answer in a low, beautiful voice
with a queer, husky note. "It's all sticking to my hands, flour and
everything, and I don't know what to do!"

"Dearie me, you've put in the milk a little too liberal! Wait until I
sift on a mite more flour. Now rub it in light! See, it's all right,
and most beautiful dough. Don't be discouraged, for riz biscuits is
most the top test of cooking. Keep remembering back to those cup
custards you made yesterday, what Tom Mayberry ate three of for supper
and then tried to sneak one outen the milk-house to eat before he went
to bed."

"Oh, did he?" asked Miss Wingate with delight shining in her dark eyes
and a beautiful pink rising up in her pale cheeks. "I wish I COULD do
something to please him and make him feel how--how--grateful I am--for
the hope he's given me. I was so hopeless and unhappy--and desperate
when I came. But I believe my voice is coming back! Every day it's
stronger and you are so good to me and make me so happy that I'm not
afraid any more. You give me faith to hope--as well as to mix
biscuits." And a pearly tear splashed on the rolling-pin.

"Yes, put your trust in the Heavenly Father, child, and some in Tom
Mayberry. Before you know it you'll be singing like the birds out in
the trees; but I can't let myself think about the time's a-coming for
you to fly away to the other people's trees to sing. When Tom told me
about Doctor Stein's wanting to send a great big singer lady, what had
lost her voice, down here to see if he couldn't cure her like he did
that preacher man and the politics speaker, I was skeered for both him
and me, for I knew things was kinder simple with us here and I was
afraid I couldn't make you happy and comfortable. But then I remembered
Doctor Stein had stayed 'most two weeks when he came South with Tom for
a visit and said he had tacked ten years on to the end of his life by
just them few days of Providence junketings and company feedings, so I
made up my mind not to be proud none and to say for you to come on.
I've got faith in my boy's doctoring same as them New York folks has,
and I wanted him to try to cure you. Then I knew you didn't have no
mother to pet up the sick throat none. A little consoling comfort is a
good dose to start healing any kind of trouble with. I knew I had
plenty of that in my heart to prescribe out to help along with your
case; so here you are not three weeks with us, a-mixing riz biscuits
for Tom's supper and like to coax the heart outen both of us. I told
him--Dearie me, somebody's calling at the front gate!"

"Mis' Mayberry! Oh, Mis' Mayberry!" came a high, quavering old voice
from around the corner of the house, and Squire Tutt hove in sight. He
was panting for breath and trembling with rage as he ascended the steps
and stood in the kitchen door.

Mother hastened to bring him a chair into which he wheezingly subsided.

"Why, Squire," she questioned anxiously, "have anything happened? Is
Mis' Tutt tooken with lumbago again?"

"No!" exploded the Squire, "she's well--always is! I'm the only really
sick folks in Providence, though I don't git no respect for it. In pain
all the time and no respect--no respect!"

"Now, Squire, everybody in Providence have got sympathy for your tisic,
and just yesterday Mis' Pike was a-asking me--"

"Tisic! I ain't talking about tisic now! It's this pain in my stomick
that that young limb of satan of your'n insulted me about not a hour
ago. Me a-writhing in tormint with nothing less'n a cancer--insulted
me!" As the Squire projected his remark toward Mother Mayberry he bent
double and peered expectantly up into her sympathetic face.

"Why, what did he do, Squire?" demanded Mother, with a glance at Miss
Wingate, who still stood at the biscuit block cutting out her dough.
She regarded the old man with alarmed wonder.

"Told me to drink two cups of hot water and lie down a hour--me in
tormint!" The Squire fairly spit his complaint into the air.

"Dearie me, Tom had oughter known better than that about one of your
spells," said Mother. "Why, I've been a-curing them for years for you
myself with nothing more'n a little drop of spirits, red pepper and
mint. He had oughter told you to take that instead of hot water. I'm
sorry--"

"Oughter told me to take spirits--told me to TAKE spirits! Don't you
know, Mis' Mayberry, a man with a sanctified wife can't TAKE no
spirits; they must be GAVE to him by somebody not a member of the
family. Me a-suffering tormints--two cups of hot water--tormints,
tormints!"

The old man's voice rose to a perfect wail, but came down a note or two
as Mother hastily reached in the press and drew out a tall, old
demijohn and poured a liberal dose of the desired medicine into a
glass. She added a dash of red pepper and a few drops of peppermint.
This treatment of the Squire's dram in Mother's estimation turned a
sinful beverage into a useful medicine and served to soothe her
conscience while it disturbed the Squire's appreciation of her
treatment not at all. He swallowed the fiery dose without as much as
the blink of an eyelid and on the instant subsided into comfortable
complacency.

"Please forgive Tom for not having more gumption, Squire, and next time
you're took come right over to me same as usual. Course I know all the
neighbors feel as how Tom is young and have just hung out his shingle
here, and I ain't expectin' of 'em to have no confidence in him. I
think it my duty to just go on with my usual doctoring of my friends. I
hope you won't hold this mistake against Tom."

"Well," said the Squire in a mollified tone of voice, "I won't say no
more, but you must tell him to stop fooling with these here Providence
people. Stopped Ezra Pike's wife feeding her baby on pot-liquor and
give it biled milk watered with lime juice. It'll die--it'll die!"

"Oh no, Squire, it's a-getting well--jest as peart as can be," Mother
said in a mollifying tone of voice.

"It'll die--it'll die! Cut one er the lights outen Sam Mosbey's
side--called it a new fangled impendix name--but he'll die--he'll die!"

"Sam's a-working out there on the barn roof right this minute, Squire,
good and alive," said Mother Mayberry with a good-humored smile, while
Miss Wingate cast a restrained though indignant glance at the doubting
old magistrate.

"And old Deacon Bostick drinking cow-hot milk and sucking raw eggs! He
looks like a mixed calf and shanghai rooster! So old he'd oughter
die--and he'll do it! Hot water and me in tormint! Hot water on his
middle in a rubber bag and nothing inside er him! He'll die-he'll die!"

"Oh no, Squire, the good Lord have gave Deacon Bostick back to us from
the edge of the grave; Tom a-working day and night but under His
guidance. He have gained ten pounds and walks everywhere. It were low
typhus, six weeks running, too! I'm glad it were gave to me to see my
son bring back a saint to earth from the gates themselves. Have you
been by to see him?"

"Yes," answered the Squire as he rose much more briskly than he had
seated himself, and prepared to take his departure. "Yes, and it was
you a-nussing of him that did it--muster slipped him calimile--but I
ain't a-disputing! Play actor, ain't you, girl?" he demanded as he
paused on his way out of the door and peered over at Miss Wingate with
his beetling, suspicious eyes.

"Yes," answered the singer lady as she went on putting her biscuit into
the pan. If her culinary manoeuvers were slow they were at least sure
and the "riz" biscuits looked promising.

"Dearie me," said Mother as she returned from guiding her guest down
the front walk and into the shaded Road, "it do seem that Squire Tutt
gets more rantankerous every day. Poor Mis' Tutt is just wore out with
contriving with him. It's a wonder she feels like she have got any ease
at all, much less a second blessing. Now I must turn to and make a dish
of baked chicken hash for supper to be et with them feather biscuits of
your'n. I want to compliment them by the company of a extra nice dish.
If they come out the oven in time I want to ask Sam Mosbey to stop in
and get some, with a little quince preserves. He brought his dinner in
a bucket, which troubled me, for who's got foot on my land, two or
four, I likes to feed myself. I expected he was some mortified at your
being here. He's kinder shy like in the noticing of girls."

"That seems to be a failing with the Providence young--with Providence
people," ventured Miss Wingate with ambiguity.

"Oh, country boys is all alike," answered Mother comfortingly, only in
a measure taking in the tentative observation. "They're all kinder
co'ting tongue-tied. They have to be eased along attentive, all 'cept
Buck Peavey, who'd like to eat Pattie up same as a cannibal, I'm
thinking, and don't mind who knows it. Now the supper is all on the
simmer and can be got ready in no time. Let's me and you walk down to
the front gate and watch for Tom to come around the Nob from Flat Rock
and then we can run in the biscuits. Maybe we'll hear some news; I
haven't hardly seen any folks to-day and I mistrust some mischief are
a-brewing somewhere."

And Mother Mayberry's well trained intuitions must have been in
unusually good working order, for she met her expected complications at
the very front gate. She was just turning to point out a promise of an
unusually large crop of snowballs on the old shrub by the gate-post
when a subdued sniffling made itself heard and caused her to
concentrate her attention on the house opposite across the Road. And a
sympathy stirring scene met her eyes. Perched along the fence were all
five of the little Pikes clinging to the top board in forlorn
despondency. On the edge of the porch sat Mr. Pike in his shirt sleeves
with his pipe in one hand and the Teether Pike balanced on his knee.
His expression matched that of the children in the matter of gloom, and
like them he glanced apprehensively toward the door as if expecting
Calamity to issue from his very hearthstone.

"Why, what's the matter?" demanded Mother as she hurried to the edge of
the sidewalk followed by the singer lady, whose acquaintance with the
young Pikes had long before ripened to the stage of intimate
friendship. At the sight of her sympathetic face, Eliza, the first
Pike, slipped to the ground and buried her head in her new but valued
friend's dainty muslin skirt. Bud, the next rung of the stair steps
licked out his tongue to dispose of a mortifying tear and little Susie
sobbed outright. At this juncture, just as Mother was about to demand
again an explanation of such united woe, Mrs. Pike came to the door,
and a large spoon and a bottle full of amber, liquid grease made
further inquiry unnecessary.

"Sakes, Mis' Mayberry, I certainly am glad you have came over to back
me up in getting down these doses of oil. Ez," with an indignant and
contemptuous glance at her sullen husband, "don't want me to give it to
'em. He'd rather they'd up and die than to stand the ruckus, but I
ain't a-going to let my own children perish for a few cherry seeds with
a bottle of oil in the house and Doctor Tom Mayberry's prescription to
give 'em a spoonful all around." Mrs. Pike was short and stout, but
with a martial and determined eye, and as she spoke she began to
measure out a first dose with her glance fixed on young Bud, who turned
white around his little mouth and clung to the fence. Susie's sobs rose
to a wail and Eliza shuddered in Miss Wingate's skirt.

"Wait a minute, Mis' Pike," said Mother hurriedly, "are you sure they
have et cherry seeds? Cherries ain't ripe yet, and--"

"We didn't--we didn't!" came in a perfect chorus of wails from the
little fence birds.

"Of course they did, Mis' Mayberry!" exclaimed their mother
relentlessly. "It was two jars of cherry preserves that Prissy put up
and clean forgot to seed 'fore she biled 'em, and the children done
took and et 'em on the sly. Now they're going to suffer for it."

"We all spitted the seeds out, and we was so hungry, too!" Eliza took
courage to sob from Miss Wingate's skirt. Bud managed to echo her
statement, while Susie and the two little boys gave confirmation from
their wide-open, terror-stricken eyes.

"Well, now, maybe they did, Mis' Pike," said Mother, coming near to
argue the question. Her hand rested sustainingly on one of the brave
young Bud's knees which jutted out from the fence.

"Can't trust 'em, Mis' Mayberry, fer if they'll steal they'll lie,"
said Mrs. Pike in a voice tinged with the deepest melancholy for the
fallen estate of her family. "They'll have to suffer for both sins
whether they did or didn't," and again the bottle was poised.

"Now hold on, Mis' Pike," again exclaimed Mother Mayberry as her face
illumined with a bright smile. "If they throwed away the cherry pits
they must be where they throwed 'em and they can go find 'em to prove
they character. They ain't nothing fairer than that. Where did you eat
the preserves, children?" she asked, but there was a wild rush around
the corner of the house before her question was answered.

"Now," exclaimed the astonished mother, "I never thought of that and if
they thought to spit out one stone they did the balance. But Doctor Tom
was so kind to tell me about the oil and I paid fifteen cents down at
the store for it, that I'm a mind to give it to 'em anyway."

"I'll be blamed if you do," ejaculated her indignant husband as he
shouldered Teether and strode into the house, unable longer to restrain
his rage.

"Ain't that just like him!" said his wife in a resigned voice. "And I
was just going to try to make him take this spoonful I've poured out.
It won't hurt him none and it's a pity to pour it back, it wastes so.
Do either of you all need it?" she asked hospitably.

Miss Wingate was dissenting with an echo of Eliza's shudder and Mother
Mayberry with a laugh, when the reprieved criminals raced back around
the house, each dirty little fist inclosing a reasonable number of
grubby cherry stones.

"Well," assented their mother reluctantly, "I'll let you off this time,
but don't any of you never take nothing to eat again without asking,
and I'm a-going to punish you by making you every one wash your feet in
cold water and go to bed. Now mind me and all stand to once in the tub
by the pump and tell your Paw I say not to touch that kettle of hot
water. I don't want you to have a drop. Go right on and do as I say."

The threatened punishment had been too great for the youngsters to mind
this lesser and accustomed penalty, so they retired with cheerfulness
and spirits and in a few seconds a chorus of squeals and splashes came
from the back yard.

After an exchange of friendly good-bys Mrs. Pike entered her front door
and Mother and the singer lady returned to their own front gate.

"Dearie me," said Mother in a tone of positive discouragement, "I don't
know what I will do if I have to undo another one of Tom Mayberry's
prescriptions to-day. But you couldn't expect a man to untangle a
children quirk like that; and oil woulder been the thing for the cherry
stones in children's stomachs, but not for ones throwed on the back
walk. I hope the Squire won't hear about it," she added with a laugh.

"I think," said Miss Wingate with her dark eyes fixed on Mother's face
with positive awe, "I think you are wonderful with everybody. You know
just what to do for them, and what to say to them and--"

"Well," interrupted Mother with a laugh, "it are gave to some women to
be called on the Lord's ease mission, and I reckon I'm of that band.
Don't you know I'm the daughter of a doctor, and the wife of a doctor
and the mother of one as good as either of the other two? I can't
remember the time when I didn't project with the healing of ailments.
When I married Doctor Mayberry and come down over the Ridge from Warren
County with him, he had his joke with me about my herb-basket and
a-setting up opposition to him. It's in our blood. My own cousin Seliny
Lue Lovell down at the Bluff follows the calling just the same as I do.
I say the Lord were good to me to give me the love of it and a father
and a husband and now a son to practise with."

"The Doctors Mayberry, Mother and Son, how interesting that sounds,
Mrs. Mayberry," exclaimed Miss Wingate with a delightful laugh, "And no
wonder Doctor Mayberry is so gifted that he gets National commissions
to study Pellagra and--and has a troublesome singer lady sent all the
way from New York to patch up."

"Yes, it do look like that Tom Mayberry gets in a good chanct
everywhere he goes. Some folks picks a friend offen every bush they
passes and Tom's one. He was honored considerable in New York and then
sent over to Berlin, Europe, and beyont to study up about people's
skins. And then here he comes back, sent by the Government right down
to Flat Rock, on the other side of Providence Nob, to study out about
that curious corn disease they calls Pellagra, what I don't think is a
thing in the world but itch and can be cured by a little sulphur and
hog lard. But I'm blessing the chanct that brought him back to me, even
if I know it are just for a spell. And, too, he oughter be happy to
have brung his mother such a song bird as you. I'm so used to you and
your helping me with Cindy away to Springfield, that I don't see how I
ever got along without you or ever will." As she spoke, Mother Mayberry
smiled delightedly at the singer girl and drew her closer. Mother's
voice at most times was a delicious mixture of banter and caress.

"Perhaps I'll stay always," said the singer lady as she drew close
against the gray print shoulder. "When I look around me I feel as if I
had awakened in a beautiful world with no more dirty, smoky cities that
hurt my throat, no more hot, lighted theaters, no noises, and
everything is just a great big bouquet of soft smells and colors."

As she spoke, Elinor Wingate, who was just a tired girl in the circle
of Mother Mayberry's strong arm, let her great dark eyes wander off
across the meadow to where a dim rim of Harpeth Hills seemed to close
in the valley. Her glance returned to the low, wing-spreading, brick
farm-house, which, vine-covered, lilac-hedged and maple-shaded, seemed
to nestle against the breast of Providence Nob, at whose foot clustered
the little settlement of Providence and around whose side ran the old
wilderness trail called Providence Road. And her face was soft with a
light of utter contentment, for under that low-gabled roof she was
finding strength to hope for the recovery of her lost treasure, without
which life would seem a void. Then for a moment she looked down the
village Road, across which the trees were casting long afternoon
shadows and along which was flowing the tide of late afternoon social
life. Women hung over the front gates to greet men in from the fields
or from down the Road, girls laughed and chaffed one another or the
blushing country boys, and the children played tag and hop-scotch back
and forth along the way.

"It's all lovely," she said again with a contented little sigh. When
she spoke softly there was not a trace of the burr in her voice and it
was as sweet as a dove note.

"Days like these we had oughter take the world as a new gift from God,"
said Mother musingly. "It were a day like this I come with Doctor
Mayberry along the Road to Providence to live, and stopped right at
this gate under this very maple tree, thirty-five years ago; and thirty
of 'em have I lived lonesome without him. I had a baby at my breast and
Tom by my knee when he went away from us, and I know now it was the
call laid on me to take up his work that saved me. When I got back from
the funeral and had laid the baby on the bed Mis' Jim Petway come
a-running up the road crying that Ellen, her youngest child, were
a-choking to death with croup. I never had a thought but to take his
saddle-bags and follow her, and somehow the good Lord guided my hand
amongst his medicines, and with what I had learned from him and Pa I
fought a good fight and saved the little thing's life, though it took
the night to do it. And in one of them dark hours a sister-to-woman
sense was born in me what I ain't never lost. A neighbor took Tom and
they brought my baby to me and I stayed by Mis' Petway until they
weren't no more danger. Next day it were Squire Tutt's first wife
tooken down with the fever and not the week passed before that very Sam
Mosbey were borned. We was too poor to have a doctor come and live here
and they was a doctor over to Springfield took up my husband's county
practice, so I jest naturally had to do the healing myself, only
a-sending for him in the worst cases. They was a heap of teethers that
summer and it kept me busy looking after 'em. I expect I made mistakes
but I kept up me and the patients' courage by sympathizing and
heartening. It didn't cost nobody nothing and we wasn't so prosperous
then that it wasn't a help for me to do the doctoring when I could, and
I mostly were able. I were glad of the work and did it with a thankful
mind; not as they wasn't times when I felt sick at heart, and in danger
of questioning why, but I tried to steady myself with prayer until I
could find the Everlasting Arm to lean on that is always held out to
the widow and the fatherless. And so a-leaning I have got me and Tom
Mayberry along until now."

"And the whole rest of the world leaning on you," said the lovely lady
as she drew nearer and caught Mother Mayberry's strong hand in her own
slender fingers.

"Well," answered Mother, as she shaded her eyes with her other hand to
look far up the Road toward the Ridge over which they were waiting for
the Doctor's horse to appear, "looks like often hands a-reaching out
for help gives strength before they takes any, and a little hope
planted in another body's garden is apt to fly a seed and sprout in
your own patch. There he is--let's hurry in the biscuits!"



CHAPTER II

THE SINGER LADY AND THE BREAD-BOWL


"Well, I don't know as I'd like to have her messing around my kitchen
and house, a stranger and a curious one at that. But you always was
kinder soft, Mis' Mayberry," said Mrs. Peavey as she glanced with
provoked remonstrance at Mother Mayberry, who went calmly on attending
to the needs of a fresh hatching of young chickens. Mrs. Peavey lived
next door to the Doctor's house and the stone wall that separated the
two families was not in any way a barrier to her frequent neighborly
and critical visitations. She was meager of stature and soul, and the
victim of a devouring fire of curiosity which literally licked up the
fagots of human events that came in her way. She was the fly that
kicked perpetually in Mother Mayberry's cruse of placid ointment, but
received as full a mead of that balm of friendship as any woman on the
Road.

"Why, she ain't a mite of trouble, but just a pleasure, Hettie Ann,"
answered Mother with mild remonstrance in her tone. "I expected to have
a good bit of worry with her, having no cook in my kitchen, 'count of
waiting for Cindy to get well and come back to me and nobody easy to
pick up to do the work, but she hadn't been here a week before she was
reaching out and learning house jobs. I think it takes her mind offen
her troubles and I can't say her no if it do help her, not that I want
to, for she's a real comfort."

"Well, if it was me I couldn't take no comfort in a play-acting girl.
I'd feel like locking up what teaspoons I had and a-counting over
everything in my house every day. It's just like you, Mis' Mayberry, to
take her in. And I can't sense the why of you're being so close-mouthed
about her. Near neighbors oughter know all about one another's doings
and not have to ask, I say." Mrs. Peavey sniffed and assumed an air of
injured patience.

"Why, Hettie Ann," Mother hastened to answer, "you know as I always did
hold that the give and take of advice from friends is the greatest
comfort in the world, though at times most confusing, and I thought I
told you all about Elinory."

"Well, you didn't. Muster been Bettie Pratt or Mis' Pike you was
a-talking to when you thought it was me," answered her friend with the
injured note in her voice becoming with every word more noticeable.
"Are she rich or poor? Do you know that much?"

"Well now, come to think of it, I don't," answered Mother promptly.
"Connecting up folks and they money always looks like sticking a price
tag on you to them and them to you. I'd rather charge my friends to a
Heaven-account and settle the bill with friendly feelings as we go
along. This poor child ain't got no mother or father, that I know. All
her young life when most girls ain't got a thought above a beau or a
bonnet, she have been a-training of her voice to sing great 'cause it
were in her to do it. And she done it, too. Then all to onct when she
had got done singing in a great big town hall they call Convent Garden
or something up in New York, she made the mistake to drink a glass of
ice water and it friz up her throat chords. She haven't been able to
sing one single tune since. She have been a-roaming over the earth
a-hunting for some sort of help and ain't found none. Now she have lit
at my door and I've got her in trying to warm and comfort her to enough
strength for Tom to put her voice back into her."

"Well, you don't expect no such thing of Tom Mayberry as that, do you?"
asked Mrs. Peavey with uncompromising and combative frankness.

"That I do," answered the Doctor's mother, and this time there was a
note of dignity in her voice, as she looked her friend straight in the
face. "You know, because I told you about it, Hettie Ann, how Tom
Mayberry cured that big preacher of a lost voice who was a friend to
this Doctor Stein, while the boy wasn't nothing but serving his term in
the hospital. He wrote a paper about it that made all the doctors take
notice of him and he have done it twice since, though throats are just
a side issue from skins with him. Yes, I'm expecting of him to cure
this child and give her back more'n just her voice, her work in life.
I'm one that believes that the Lord borns all folks with a work to do
and you've got to march on to it, whether it's singing in public
places, carrying saddle-bags to suffering or jest playing your tune on
the wash-board at home. It's a part of his hallelujah chorus in which
we've all got to join."

"Well, I shorely drawed the wash-board fer my instrumint," answered
Mrs. Peavey with a vindictive look across the wall at a line of clothes
fluttering in the breeze.

"And they ain't nobody in Providence that turns out as white a
shirt-song as you do, Hettie Ann. Buck and Mr. Peavey are just looked
at in church Sundays fer the color of they collars," Mother hastened to
say with pride in the glance that followed Mrs. Peavey's across the
wall. "Ain't Tom always a-contriving with you to sneak one of his
shirts into your wash, so as not to hurt me and Cindy's feelings? I
don't see how you get 'em so white."

"Elbow grease and nothing else," answered Mrs. Peavey in a tone of
voice that refused to be mollified. "I've got to be a-going."

"Just wait and look at these chickens; ain't they pretty? Tom sent all
the way to Indiany fer the settin' of eggs fer me and I've just been
a-watching the day for 'em to hatch. I feel they are a-going to be a
credit to me and I'm glad I gave 'em to Ruffle Neck to set on. She's
such a good hoverer and can be depended on to run from the rain. Now
ain't they pretty?" and Mother even looked at Mrs. Peavey with hope for
a word of sympathy in her pleasure--after a thirty years' experience
with her neighbor.

"No," answered her friend, "I don't hold with no fancy chickens. Just
good dominicks is all I've got any faith in and not much in them. With
strange chickens and girls around your house something misfortunate is
a-going to happen to you, Mis' Mayberry, and I see it a-coming. Don't
say I didn't tell you."

"No, I'll give you credit for your warning," answered Mother
propitiatingly. "How's that pain in your side?" she hastened to ask, to
change the subject from a disagreeable one to what she knew by
experience would prove at least interesting.

"It's a heap better," answered Mrs. Peavey promptly.

"Oh, I'm so glad," exclaimed Mother, immediately beginning to beam with
pride. "I told you Tom could help it with that new kind of dry plaster
he made for you. Ain't it wonderful?"

"Shoo! I never put that on! It didn't have smell enough to do any good.
I knew that as soon as I unrolled it. I just rubbed myself heavy with
that mixture of kerosine, vinegar and gum camfire you've been making me
for twenty years, and I slept uncommon well."

"Oh," answered Mother Mayberry, "I wish you had tried Tom's plaster. I
feel sure--"

"Well, I don't--of anything that a boy like Tom Mayberry knows. If he
lives here a spell and learns from you maybe he'll get some doctoring
sense, but I wouldn't trust him for ten years at the shortest. But have
you heard the news?" A flame of positive joy flared up in Mrs. Peavey's
eyes and flushed her sallow cheeks.

"Why, what is it?" asked Mother with a guarded interest and no small
amount of anxiety, for she was accustomed to the kind of news that Mrs.
Peavey usually took the trouble to spread.

"Well, I knowed what was a-going to happen when I seen Bettie Pratt
setting the chairs straight and marshaling in the orphants at poor Mis'
Hoover's funeral, not but eleven months ago. It'll be a scandal to this
town and had oughter be took notice of by Deacon Bostick and the Elder.
She's got four Turner children and six Pratts and he have got seven of
his own, so Turner, Pratt and Hoover they'll be seventeen children in
the house, all about the same size. Then maybe more--I call it a
disgrace, I do!"

"I don't know," answered Mother, though her eyes did twinkle at the
thought of this allied force of seventeen, "there never was a better
child-raiser than Bettie Pratt and I'll be mighty glad to see them
poor, forlorn little Hoovers turned over to her. They've been on my
mind night and day since they mother died and they ain't a single one
of 'em as peart as it had oughter be. Who told you about it?"

"They didn't nobody tell me--I've got eyes of my own! Just yesterday I
seen her hand a pan of biscuits over the fence to Pattie Hoover and he
had a Turner and two Pratts in the wagon with him coming in from the
field last night. But you can't do nothing about it--she have got the
marrying habit. They are other widows in this town that have mourned
respectable to say nothing of Miss Prissy Pike, that have never had no
husband at all and had oughter be gave a chanct. Mr. Hoover are a nice
man and I don't want to see him made noticeable in no such
third-husband way."

"Course it do look a little sudden," said Mother, "and seventeen is a
good lot of children for one family, but if they love each other--"

"Love! Shoo! I declare, Mis' Mayberry, looks to me like you swallow
what folks give you in this world whole, pit and all, and never bat a
eye. I've got to go home and put on Buck's and Mr. Peavey's supper and
sprinkle down some of my wash." And without further parley Mrs. Peavey
marched home through a little swinging gate in the wall that had been
for years a gap through which a turbid stream had flowed to trouble
Mother's peaceful waters.

"It do seem Mis' Peavey are a victim of a most pitiful unrest," said
Mother to herself as she watched with satisfaction Ruffle Neck tuck the
last despised little Hoosier under her soft gray breast. "Some folks
act like they had dyspepsy of the mind. Dearie me, I must go and take a
glass of cream to my honey-bird, for that between-meal snack that Tom
Mayberry are so perticular about." And she started down toward the
spring-house under the hill.

And returning a half hour later with the cool glass in her hand, she
was guided by the sound of happy voices to the front porch, where,
under the purple wistaria vine, she found the singer lady absorbed in
the construction of a most worldly garment for the doll daughter of
Eliza Pike, who was watching its evolution with absorbed interest.

"Pleas'm, Miss Elinory, make it a little bit longer, 'cause I want her
to have a beau," besought the small mother, as she anxiously watched
the measuring of the skirt.

"Want her to have a beau?" asked Miss Wingate with the scissors
suspended over the bit of pink muslin which matched exactly her own
ruffled skirts.

"Yes'm! Pattie Hoover wored shoe-tops all winter and now she's got
foot-dresses and Buck Peavey for a beau."

"Oh, I see," said the singer lady as she smiled down into the eager
little face. "Do you think--er, beaux are--are desirable, Eliza?"

"Yes'm, I do," answered the bud of a woman, as she drew nearer and said
with an expression of one bestowing a confidence, "When I'm let down to
my feet I'm going to have Doctor Tom for my beau, if you don't get him
first."

"I'm sure you needn't worry about that, Eliza," Miss Wingate hastened
to exclaim with a rising color. "I wouldn't interfere with your plans
for the world--if I could."

"Well, you take him if you can get him," answered Eliza generously;
"somebody'll grow up by that time for me. But he couldn't make you take
oil, could he?" she asked doubtfully, the memory of yesterday's escape
lurking in her mind and explaining her most unfeminine generosity.

Miss Wingate eyed her for a moment with mirth fairly dancing over her
face, "Yes," she said with a laugh, "I believe he could!"

"Elinory, child," said Mother as she came out from the front hall,
"here we are a half hour late with this cream, and both of us under
promise solemn to Tom to have it down by four o'clock. 'Liza, honey,
how's the baby?"

"He have got a new top-tooth and throwed up onct this morning,"
answered Eliza in a practical tone of voice.

"Dearie me," said Mother anxiously, for the Pike teether had up to this
time been the Doctor's prize patient. "I wonder if your Maw remembered
the lime water faithful?"

"I expect she forgot it, for she was whipping Susie for sassing Aunt
Prissy, and Bud for saying fool," answered Eliza, not at all hesitating
to lay bare the iniquities of her family circle.

"I'm sorry they did like that," said Mother with real concern at the
news of such delinquencies.

"Yes'm, Susie told Aunt Prissy Mis' Peavey said she were a-setting her
cap fer Mr. Hoover and it made Bud mad 'cause he fights 'Lias Hoover
and he called her a fool. He hadn't oughter done it, but he's touchy
'bout Aunt Prissy and so's Paw. There comes Deacon and a little boy
with him."

As she spoke, Mother rose to greet Deacon Bostick who had turned in the
front gate and got as far up the front walk as the second snowball
bush. The Deacon was tall, lean, bent and snow-crowned, with bright old
eyes that rested in a benediction on the group on the porch that his
fine old smile confirmed. By the hand he led a tiny boy who was clad in
a long nondescript garment and topped off by a queer red fez, pulled
down over a crop of yellow curls, a strange little exotic against the
homely background of Mother Mayberry's lilac bushes.

"Sister Mayberry," said the deacon as he paused at the foot of the
steps, "this is Martin Luther Hathaway who was left at my house this
morning by the Circuit Rider, as he came through from Springfield on
his way to Flat Rock, to be delivered to you, along with his letter. I
trust his arrival is not unexpected to you."

"No, indeed,  Deacon, I was hoping for him though not exactly expecting
him. A month ago while you was sick, our missionary society had news of
a missionary and his wife down at Springfield who wanted to go up to
Chicagy to study some more about some heathen matter, and couldn't
quite make it with two children. My cousin Seliny Lue down to the Bluff
have took the little girl and we sent five dollars and a letter saying
to send the boy to me for the summer. Come to Mother Mayberry, sonny,"
and Mother sat down on the lowest step and stretched out her arms to
the little ward of the church militant.

Martin Luther's big blue eyes, which were set in his head like those of
a Raphael cherub, looked out from under a huge yellow curl that fell
over his forehead, straight into Mother's gray ones for a moment, and
sticking his pink thumb into his mouth, he sidled into her embrace with
a little sigh of evident relief.

"Eat some, thank ma'am, please," he whispered into her ear by way of a
return of the introduction. His little mother tongue had evidently
suffered a slight twist by his birth and sojourn in a foreign country,
but it served to express the normal condition of all inhabitants of
boy-land.

"Of course he's hungry, bless his little heart," answered Mother as she
removed the fez and ruffled up the damp curls. "Run fetch the tea-cake
bucket from the kitchen safe, 'Liza, and won't you come sit down,
Deacon?"

"No, thank you, Sister," answered the Deacon with a glance of real
regret at the comfortable rocker Miss Wingate had hastened to draw
forward into a sunny but sheltered corner of the porch, "I'm on my way
to take tea with Sister Pratt. I'm to meet Mrs. Bostick there. How's
the throat, child?" And his smile up at the singer lady was one of the
most sympathetic interest.

"Better, thank you, I think," said Miss Wingate, answering both
question and smile. "How well you are looking to-day, Deacon!"

"Why, I'm made over new by that boy of a Doctor," said the Deacon,
fairly beaming with enthusiasm. "Your cure will be only a matter of
time, a matter of time, my dear--Squire Tutt to the contrary," he added
with a chuckle.

"There, bless my heart, if my ears ain't heard two testimonies to Tom
Mayberry all in one minute!" exclaimed Mother with a delighted laugh.
"Have a cake, won't you, Deacon?" she asked, offering the bucket.

She then established Eliza and the small stranger on the edge of the
steps, with an admonition as to the disposal of the crumbs over on to
the grass, and filled both pairs of hands with the crisp discs. Eliza
spread the end of her short blue calico skirt over Martin Luther's
chubby knees, and they both proceeded to eat into the improvised napkin
with the utmost comradeship. Miss Wingate had strolled down to the gate
with the Deacon and had paused on the way to decorate the buttonhole of
his shiny old coat with a bit of the white lilac nodding over the wall.

"'Liza, child," said Mother as she glanced at Martin Luther with a
contemplative eye, "when you're done eating run over and ask your Maw
to send me a pair of Billy's britches and a shirt. No, maybe young Ez's
'll be better, and bring 'em and Martin Luther on back to the kitchen
to me." With which she disappeared into the house, leaving the munchers
to finish their feast alone.

And in an incredibly short time the last crumb, even those rescued from
the skirt, had disappeared and Eliza had led Martin Luther down the
walk, across the Road and around the corner of the Pike cottage, while
the Deacon still lingered talking to Miss Wingate at the gate. Eliza
had taken upon herself, with her usual generalship, the development of
Mother Mayberry's plan for the arraying of the young stranger in what
Providence would consider a civilized garb.

And for some minutes Miss Wingate stood leaning over the top rail of
the low gate idly watching a group of Pratts, Turners, Mosbeys, Hoovers
and Pikes playing a mysterious game, which necessitated wild dashes
across a line drawn down the middle of the Road in the white dust,
shrill cries of capture and frequent change of base. The day had been a
long sunshiny one, full of absorbing interests, and as she stood
drinking in the perfume from a spray of lilac she had broken to choose
the bit for the Deacon, she suddenly realized that not one minute had
she found in which to let the horrible dread creep close and clutch at
her throat. Helping along in the construction of a bucket of tea-cakes,
the printing of four cakes of butter, the simmering of a large pan of
horehound syrup and the excitement of pouring it into the family
bottles that Mother was filling against a sudden night call from some
crouper down or across the Road, to say nothing of a most exciting pie,
that had been concocted entirely by herself from a jar of peaches and
frilled around with the utmost regard for its artistic appearance, to
which could be added the triumph of the long-tailed pink gown for the
daughter of young Eliza, had kept her busy and--with a quick smile she
had to admit to herself, happy. Indeed the remembrance of the rapid
disappearance of the pie and Doctor Mayberry's blush when, after he had
eaten two-thirds of it, his mother had informed him of the authorship,
brought a positive glow of pleasure to her cheeks. Such a serious,
gentle, skilful young Doctor as he was--and "a perfect dear" she went
as far as admitting to herself, this time with a low laugh.

And as if her pondering on his virtues had had power to bring a
materialization, suddenly Doctor Tom stood in front of her on the other
side of the gate. He had come from up the Road while she had been
looking down in the other direction, and in his hand he held a spray of
purple lilacs which he had broken from a large bush that hung over the
fence from the Pratt yard into the Road and also spread itself a yard
or two into Hoover territory.

"Aren't they lovely and plumy?" she asked, as she took the bunch he
offered and laid the purple flowers against the white ones she held in
her hand. "These are so much darker than Mrs. Mayberry's purple ones. I
wonder why."

"Some years they bloom lighter than Mother's and other years still
darker--just another one of the mysteries," he answered as he leaned
against the gate-post and looked down at her with a smile. He was tall,
and strong, and forceful, with a clean-cut young face which was lit by
Mother Mayberry's very own black-lashed, serene gray eyes, and his very
evident air of a man of affairs had much of the charm of Mother
Mayberry's rustic dignity. His serge coat, blue shirt and soft gray tie
had a decided cut of sophistication and were worn with a most worldly
grace that was yet strangely harmonious with his surroundings. For with
all of his distinctions in appearance and attainments, as a man he
struck no discord when contrasted with Mr. Pike's shirt-sleeved,
butternut-trousers personality and he seemed but the flowering of Buck
Peavey's store-clothes ambitions. The accord of it all struck Miss
Wingate so forcibly that unconsciously she gave voice to the feeling.

"How at home you are in all this--this?" she paused and raised her eyes
to his with a hint of helplessness to express herself within them.

"Simple life," he supplied with a smile that held a bit of banter.

"It's not so simple as one would think to balance a pie plate on one
hand and cut around it with a knife so the edges aren't jagged--to be
all consumed within the hour," she answered with spirit, rising to the
slight challenge in his voice and smile. "And there are other most
complicated things I have discovered that--"

But just here she was interrupted by a sally from around the corner of
the Pike house which streamed out across the Road, headed precisely in
their direction. Eliza was in the lead and held little Teether swung
perilously across one slender hip, while she clasped Martin Luther's
chubby fingers in her other hand. And behold, the transformation of the
young stranger was complete beyond belief! His yellow thatch was
crowned by a straw hat, which was circled by a brand new shoestring,
though it gaped across the crown to let out a peeping curl. Young Ez's
garments even had proved a size too large and the faded blue jeans
"britches" were rolled up over his round little knees and hitched up
high under his arms by an improvised pair of calico "galluses" which
were stretched tight over a clean but much patched gingham shirt. His
feet and legs had been stripped in accordance with the time-ordered
custom in Providence that bare feet could greet May Day, and his
little, bare, pink toes curled up with protest against the roughness of
even the dust-softened pike. Susie May, Billy and young Ez beamed with
pride at their share in the rehabiting of the recent acquisition and
waited breathlessly for words of praise from Miss Wingate and the
Doctor.

"Why, who is this?" asked the Doctor quickly with a most gratifying
interest in his big voice, while Miss Wingate came out of the gate on
to the pavement.

"It's the little missionary boy that the Deacon brought Mother
Mayberry. I guess the Lord sent him, for he's too big to come outen a
cabbage," answered Eliza, and as she spoke she settled the hat an inch
farther down over the curls with a motherly gesture. She had failed to
grasp with exactness the situation concerning the advent of Martin
Luther, but was supplying a version of her own that seemed entirely
satisfactory to the youngster's newly acquired friends.

"Spit through teeth," ventured the young stranger, anxious to display
an accomplishment that had been bestowed upon him by Billy while the
"galluses" were in process of construction a few minutes ago. "Thank
ma'am, please," he hastened to add with pathetic loyalty to some
injunction that had been impressed upon his young mind before his
embarkation upon strange seas.

"Let me see you do it," demanded the Doctor, in instant sympathy with
his pride in this newly acquired national accomplishment.

"He hasn't got time to do it now," answered Eliza importantly, as she
hitched Teether a notch higher up on her arm. "I've got to take him and
the baby in to Mother Mayberry to see if his other top-tooth have come
up enough for Maw to rub it through with her thimble." Though she did
not designate Teether as the subject of the operation the audience
understood that it was he and not Martin Luther so fated.

"Oh, no, no!" exclaimed Miss Wingate in horror, and she reached out and
took Teether into protective arms. The day had been a long and weary
one for Teether Pike and he dropped his tired little head over on the
cool pink muslin shoulder and nestled his aching jaw against the smooth
white neck.

"Hold him still just a second as he is," said Doctor Tom quickly, and
in an instant he had whipped a case from his pocket, selected an
instrument and, inserting his finger between the pink lips, he rendered
unnecessary the agony of the maternal thimble. It had been done so
quickly that Teether himself only nestled a bit closer with a faint
moan, and Miss Wingate looked up at the operator with grateful eyes.
She hugged the limp baby closer and started to speak, but was
interrupted by an anxious question from Eliza.

"Did you cut it?" she demanded.

"Yes," answered the Doctor non-committally.

"Well, Maw'll be mighty mad at you, for Mother Mayberry asked her last
night to let you cut it and she said she'd thimbled the rest of us and
she reckoned he could stand it too. If it was me, I'd let you cut me
wide open and sew me up again if you wanted to," and Eliza beamed upon
the Doctor with an affection that was the acme of idealization. She had
forgotten that only a few hours ago she had renounced her loyalty at
the memory of the oil, but Miss Wingate smiled in appreciation of this
display of further feminine inconsistency.

"Shucks," said Billy, "you'd holler 'fore he could cut onct. I'm
a-going to let him fix my next stump toe and 'Lias Hoover have got two
warts he can cut off, if he gives him a piece of catgut string to tie
on fish hooks." And Billy looked as if he expected to see the Doctor
entirely overwhelmed at the prospect of so much practice so easily
obtained.

"Go take Martin Luther to show Mrs. Mayberry, Eliza," said Miss Wingate
with a laughing smile over the baby's head at the Doctor and his
practice. "I'll come on with the baby." And with Teether still embraced
she strolled up the walk with Doctor Mayberry at her side. When they
reached the front steps she seated herself on the top one and slowly
lowered the drowsy little chap, until his head rested on her breast and
her arms held him cradlewise. She began a low husky humming as she
rocked herself to and fro, watching breathlessly the fringed lashes
sink over his wearied eyes, until they lay like shadows on the purple
circles beneath. She was utterly absorbed in getting Teether into a
comatose condition, and had neither eyes nor ears for the Doctor; not
that he claimed either.

He sat for some moments watching her and listening breathlessly to the
low music that came out through the wonderful throat, as if from some
master instrument with strings uncouthly muted. And as he looked, the
horrible thought clutched at his own heart. Suppose he should not be
able to free her voice for her! Many others had tried--the
greatest--and they had all been baffled by the strange stiffness of the
chords. He knew himself to be, in a way, her last resort. A world of
music lovers awaited the result. He had been obliged to send out two
Press bulletins as to her condition within the week--and she sat on the
steps in the twilight humming Teether Pike to sleep, shut in by the
Harpeth Hills with only him to fight her fight for her. He almost
groaned aloud with the pain of it, when into his consciousness came
Mother Mayberry's placid voice shooing the Pike children home with
promises and admonitions. A line from Doctor Stein's letter flashed
into his mind: "And first and above all I want your mother to put heart
and hope into the girl." The fight was not his alone, thank God, and he
knew just how much he could trust to his mother's heart-building. Why
not? Over the land men were learning to strengthen the man within
before attempting to cure the man without. Hadn't that always been his
mother's unconscious policy out on Harpeth Hills? A deep calm fell into
his troubled spirit and, as the singer lady and Mother escorted the
escort down the walk, he slipped away into his office for an hour
before supper with his reports and microscope.

A half hour later Mother Mayberry came into his office for the little
chat she often took the time for just before the summons to supper. She
seated herself by the open window, through which the twilight was
creeping, and he threw down his pen and came and stood leaning against
the casement.

"Well," she said with a long breath of contentment, "well, I do feel
about ready to get ready to rest. The Pikeses is all in, I heard Bettie
Pratt calling in the Turners and Pratts and Hoovers, Buck have come
home to supper on time, as I know will relieve Hettie Ann's mind,
Squire Tutt just went in the front gate as I come up the walk and I
seen Mis' Bostick light the lamp in the Deacon's study from my kitchen
window a minute ago. They ain't nothing in the world that makes me so
contented as to know that all Providence is a-setting down to meals at
the same time and a-feeding together as one family, though in different
houses. The good Lord will get all the rendered thanks at the same time
and I feel it will please Him--ours is late on account of Elinory
deciding at the last minute to beat up some clabber cheese with fresh
cream for your supper, like she says they fix it up over in Europe
somewhere she lived while she was a-studying to sing. I come on out so
she could have a swing to herself and not think anybody was a-hurrying
of her. It's a riled woman as generally answers the call of hurry and I
never gives it, lessen it's life or death or a chicken-hawk."

"But, Mother," remonstrated the Doctor with a very real distress in his
voice, "ought you to let her--Miss Wingate--do such things--so many
things? Are you sure she enjoys it and is not just doing it to help or
because she thinks she ought? Or do you--?"

"Well," interrupted Mother decidedly, "it's my opinion they ain't
nothing in the world so heavy as empty hands. She have had to lay down
a music book and I don't know nothing better to offer than a
butter-paddle and a bread-bowl. It's the feeding of folks that counts
in a woman's life, whether it be songs or just bread and butter. If
Elinory's tunes was as much of a success as her riz biscuits have come
to be, I wisht I could have heard her just onct."

"I did, Mother, the first night she sang in America--and it was very
wonderful. When I think of the great opera house, the lights and the
flowers, the audience mad with joy and the applause and--I--I--wonder
how she stands it!"

"Yes," answered Mother, "I reckon wondering how Eve stood things muster
took Adam's mind offen hisself to a very comforting degree. Courage was
the ingredient the good Lord took to start making a woman with and it's
been a-witnessing his spirit in her ever since. I oughtn't to have to
tell you that."

"You don't," Doctor Tom hastened to answer as he smiled down on Mother.
"I only spoke as I did about Miss Wingate because you see she is--well,
what we would call a very great lady and I wouldn't have her think that
I did not realize that-?"

"Well, you can do as you choose," answered Mother placidly as she
prepared to take her departure to see to the finishing up of the
supper, "but I ain't a-letting no foolish pride hold my heart back from
my honey-bird. Love's my bread of life and I offers it free, high or
low. Come on and see how you like that cheese fixing she's done made
for you."



CHAPTER III

THE  PEONY-GIRL AND THE BUMPKIN


"There's just no doubt about it, if Tom Mayberry weren't my own son and
I had occasion to know better I'd think he had teeth in his heels, from
the looks of his socks. Every week Cindy darns them a spell and then I
take a hand at it. Just look, Elinory, did you ever see a worser hole
than this?" As Mother Mayberry spoke she held up for Miss Wingate's
interested inspection a fine, dark blue sock. They were sitting on the
porch in the late afternoon and the singer lady was again at work on a
bit of wardrobe for the doll daughter of her friend Eliza.

"How does he manage such--such awful ones?" asked Miss Wingate with a
laugh.

"That you can't never prove by me," answered his mother as she slipped
a small gourd into the top of the sock and drew a thread through her
needle.

"Sometimes I wish the time when I could turn him barefooted from May to
November had never gone by. But a-wishing they children back in years
is a habit most mothers have got in common, I reckon. When he's away
from me I dream him often at all ages, but it's mostly from six to
eleven I seem to want him. When he were six, with Doctor Mayberry gone,
I took to steadying myself by Tom and at eleven I made up my mind to
give him up."

"Give him up?" asked Miss Wingate as she raised her eyes from her work.
"I don't think you seem to have given him up to any serious extent."
And she smiled as she turned her head in the direction of the office
wing, from which came a low whistled tune, jerkily and absorbedly
rendered.

"Oh, he don't belong to me no more," answered his mother in a placid
tone of voice as she rocked to and fro with her work. "I fought out all
that fight when I took my resolve. I just figured something like this,
Pa Lovell had been a-doctoring on Harpeth Hills for a lifetime and
Doctor Mayberry had gave all his young-man life to answering the call,
a-carrying the grace of God as his main remedy, so now I felt like the
time had come for a Lovell and a Mayberry to go out and be something to
the rest of the world, and Tom were the one to carry the flag. I seen
that the call were on him since he helped me through a spell of May
pips with over two hundred little chickens before he were five years
old, and he cut a knot out of the Deacon's roan horse by the direction
of a book when he weren't but eleven, as saved its life. That kinder
settled it with me and the Deacon both, though we talked it back and
forth for two more years. Then Deacon took to teaching of him regular
and I set in to save all I could from the thin peeling of potatoes to
worser darnings and patches than this. Would you think they could be
any worser?" And she smiled up over her glasses at the girl opposite
her.

"Tell me about it," demanded the singer lady interestedly. "Where did
you send him to school first?"

"Right down here to the City. You see Doctor Mayberry left me this
home, fifty acres and a small life insurance, so they was a little
something to inch and pinch on. You can't save by trying to peel
nothing, but the smallest potatoes have got a skin, and I peeled close
them days. Tom did his part too and he run the plow deep and straight
when he wasn't much taller than the handles. I had done talked it over
with him and asked him would he, and he looked right in my eyes in his
dependable way and said yes he would. That finished it and he wasn't
but eleven; but I don't want to brag on him to you. If you listen to
mothers' talk the world are full of heroes and none-suches." Again Miss
Wingate received the smile from over Mother Mayberry's glasses and this
time it was tinged with a whimsical pride.

"Please, Mrs. Mayberry, tell me about it; you know I want to hear,"
begged the girl, and she moved her chair nearer to Mother's and picked
up the mate of the blue sock off her knee. "How old was he when he went
to college?"

"Just sixteen, big and hearty and with enough in his head to get
through the examinations. I packed him up, and him and the Deacon
started down Providence Road at sun-up in the Deacon's old buggy. He
looked both man and baby to me as he turned around to smile back; but I
stood it out at the gate until they turned the bend, then I come on
back to the house quick like some kind of hurted animal. But, dearie
me, I never got a single tear shed, for there were Mis' Peavey with
Buck in her arms, shaking him upside down to get out a brass button he
hadn't swallowed. By the time we poured him full of hot mustard water
and the button fell outen his little apron pocket, I had done got my
grip on myself."

"I just can't stand it that you had to let him go," Miss Wingate both
laughed and sobbed.

"Yes, but I ain't told you about the commencement, honey-bird. There's
that tear _I_ didn't get to drop a-splashing outen your eyes on the
doll's hat! That day was the most grandest thing that ever happened to
anybody's mother, anywhere in this world. I didn't think I could go to
see him get the diplomy, for with all his saving ways and working hard
in the summer, it had been a pull to make buckle and tongue meet and
there just wasn't nothing left for me to buy no stylish clothes to
wear. I set here a-worrying over it, not that I minded, but it was hard
on the boy to have to make his step-off in life and his mother not be
there to see. And somehow I felt as if it would hurt Pa Lovell and
Doctor Mayberry for me not to be with him. Then with thinking of Pa
Lovell a sudden idea popped into my head. There was Seliny Lue Lovell
right down to the Bluff, on the road to town, and with Aunt Lovell's
fine black silk dress packed away in the trunk, as good as new, and me
and Seliny Lue of almost the same figger as her mother. That just
settled the question and I got up and washed out my water-waves in a
little bluing water to make 'em extra white, dabbed buttermilk on my
face to get off some of the tan and called over Mis' Peavey and Mis'
Pike to let 'em know. The next morning I started off gay with everybody
there to see and sending messages to Tom."

"Wasn't it fortunate you thought of the dress and lovely for you to be
able to go right by and get it!" exclaimed Miss Wingate, her eyes as
bright as Mother Mayberry's and her cheeks pink with excitement as the
tale began to unfold its dramatic length.

"Yes, and Seliny Lue was glad enough to see me! We laughed and talked
half the night, was up early, and she took a time to rig me out. It is
a stiff black silk, as anybody would be proud of, cut liberal with real
lace collar and cuffs. Seliny Lue said I looked fine in it. I wisht she
could have gone with me, but they wasn't room for both of us inside the
dress." And Mother laughed merrily at the memory of her borrowing
escapade.

"Did Doctor Mayberry know you were coming?" asked the singer lady,
hurrying on the climax of the recital.

"Not a word! He'd gone off the week before taking it sensible, but I
could see hurt mightily about it. I got to the University Hall late,
and 'most everybody in the world looked like they was there. I stood at
the back and didn't hope to see or hear, just thankful to be near him,
but I seen one of them young usher men a-looking hard at me and he came
up and asked me if I wasn't Mr. Thomas Mayberry's mother. He had knew
me by the favor. I told him yes and he took me up to the very front
just as the singing begun. I soon got me and the silk dress settled,
with the bokay all Providence had sent Tom on my knee, and looked
around me. There next to me was the sweetest young-lady girl I have
'most ever saw, and she smiled at me real friendly. I was just about to
speak when the music stopped and the addressing began by a tall thin
kinder man. Elinory, child, did you ever hear one of them young men's
life-commencement speeches made?" This time Mother Mayberry peered over
the top of her glasses seriously and her needle paused suspended over
the fast narrowing hole in the sock.

"Yes, but I don't think I ever listened very carefully," admitted Miss
Wingate with a smile.

"Well, I felt that if the Lord had gave it to me to stand up there and
say a word of start-off to all them boys setting solemn and listening,
it wouldn't have been about no combination of things done by men dead
and gone, that didn't seem to prove nothing in particular on nobody. I
woulder read 'em a line of scripture and then talked honest dealing by
one another, the measuring out of work according to the pay and always
a little over, the putting of a shoulder under another man's pressing
burden, the respect of women folks, the respect of theyselves and the
looking to the Lord to see 'em through it all. That speech made me so
mad I 'most forgot it was time for Tom's valediction. Honey-bird, I
wisht you coulder seen him and heard him."

"I wish I could," answered Miss Wingate with a flush.

"Dearie me, but he was handsome and he spoke words of sense that the
other gray-haired man seemed to have forgot! And they was a farewell
sadness in it too, what got some of them boys' faces to working, and I
felt a big tear roll down and splash right on the lace collar. Then he
sat down and they was a to-do of hollering and clapping, but I just sat
there too happy to take in the rest of what was did. Sometimes they is
a kinder pride swell in a mother's heart that rises right up and talks
to her soul in psalm words, and I heard mine that day." Mother's eyes
softened and looked far away across to the blue hills.

"What did he do when he saw you?" asked Miss Wingate gently.

"Oh, I didn't pay much attention to him when he come up to me, or let
on how I felt. That sweet child next to me had done found out I was his
mother, I couldn't help telling her. And then she had sent for her
father, who was the head Dean man, and about the time Tom came up, he
was there shaking hands with me and telling me how proud the whole
University was of Tom and about the great scholarship for him to go to
New York to study he had got, and that he must go. It didn't take me
hardly two seconds to think a mortgage on the house and fifty acres,
the cows and all, so I answered right up on time that go he should.
While I was a-talking Tom had gave the bokay from Providence to the
girl, what he had been knowing all the time at her father's house. And
she had her nose buried in one of Mis' Peavey's pink peonys, a-blushing
as pretty as you please over it at that country bumpkin of mine with
all his fine manners. That Miss Alford is one of the most sweet girls
you ever have saw. She and me have been friends ever since. She comes
out to see me in her ottermobile sometimes. She ain't down to the City
now, for I had a picture card from some place out West from her, but
when she comes back I'm a-going to ask her to come up and have a
stay-a-week-in-the-house party for you; and she can bring her brother.
You might like him. The four of you can have some nice junketings
together. Won't that be fine?"

"Y-e-s," answered the singer lady slowly, "but I'm afraid I'm not able
now to interest anybody, and my voice, when I speak--I--I--Will it be
soon?" Her question had a trace of positive anxiety in it and her joy
was most evidently forced.

"Oh, not till June rose time! And your voice now sounds like a angel's
with a bad cold. I'll tell Tom about it, he'll be so pleased. Her
father was such a friend to him and as proud of him now as can be."

"Did Doctor Mayberry stay in the City--after his graduation?" asked
Miss Wingate, a trace of anxiety in her voice.

"That he didn't! He come on home with me that night, got into his
overalls and begun to plow for winter wheat by sun-up the next morning.
We made a good crop that year and the mortgage wasn't but a few hundred
dollars, what we soon paid. We've been going up ever since. Tom reminds
me of a kite, and I must make out to play tail for him until I can pick
him out a wife."

"Have you thought of anybody in particular?" asked the lovely lady
without raising her eyes from her work. She had commenced operations on
the blue sock unnoticed by Mother, who was taken up in the unfolding of
her tale.

"Not yet," answered she cheerfully. "I mustn't hurry. Marrying ain't no
one-day summer junket, but a year round march and the woman to raise
the hymn tune. I take it that after a mother have builded up a man, she
oughter see to it that he's capped off fine with a wife, and then she
can forget all about him. I've got my eyes open about Tom and I'm going
to begin to hunt around soon."

"I wonder just what kind of a wife you--you will select for him,"
murmured Miss Wingate with her eyes still on the sock, which she was
industriously sewing up into a tight knot on the left side of the heel.

"Well, a man oughter marry mostly for good looks and gumption; the
looks to keep him from knowing when the gumption is being used on him.
Tom's so say-nothing and shy with women folks that he won't be no hard
proposition for nobody. But with that way of his'n I'm afraid of his
being spoiled some. I have to be real stern with myself to keep from
being foolish over him."

"But you want his wife to--to love him, don't you?" asked Miss Wingate,
as she raised very large and frankly questioning eyes to Mother
Mayberry, who was snipping loose threads from her completed task.

"Oh she'll do that and no trouble! But a man oughter be allowed to
sense his wife have got plenty of love and affection preserved, only he
don't know where she keeps the jar at. As I say, I don't want Tom
Mayberry spoiled. What did I do with that other sock?" And Mother began
to hunt in her darning bag, in her lap and on the floor.

"Here it is," answered Miss Wingate as she blushed guiltily. "I--darned
it." And she handed her handiwork over to Mother Mayberry with
trepidation in voice and expression.

"Well, now," said Mother, as she inspected the tight little wad on the
blue heel. "It was right down kind of you to turn to and help me like
this, but, honey-bird, Tom Mayberry would walk like a hop toad after
he'd done got it on. You have drawn it bad. I don't know no better time
to learn you how to darn your husband's socks than right now on this
one of Tom's. You see you must begin with long cross stitches in
the--Now what's all this a-coming!" And Mother Mayberry rose, looked
down the Road and hurried to the sidewalk with the darning bag under
her arm and her thimble still on her finger.

Up the middle of the Road came, in a body, the entire juvenile
population of Providence at a break-neck speed and farther down the
street they were followed by Deacon Bostick, coming as fast as his
feeble old legs would bring him. Eliza Pike headed the party with
Teether hitched high up en her arm and Martin Luther clinging to her
short blue calico skirt. They all drew up in a semicircle in front of
Mother Mayberry and Miss Wingate and looked at Eliza expectantly. On
all occasions of excitement Eliza was both self-constituted and
unanimously appointed spokesman. On this occasion she began in the
dramatic part of the news without any sort of preamble.

"It's a circus," she said breathlessly, "a-moving over from Bolivar to
Springfield and nelephants and camels and roar-lions and tigers and
Mis' Pratt and Deacon and Mr. Hoover and everybody is a-going over to
watch it pass--and we can't--we can't!" Her voice broke into a wail,
which was echoed by a sob and a howl from across the street just inside
the Pike gate, where Bud and Susie pressed their forlorn little bodies
against the palings and looked out on the world with the despair of the
incarcerated in their eyes.

"Why can't you?" demanded Mother.

"Oh, Maw have gone across the Nob to Aunt Elviry's and left Susie May
and Bud being punished. They can't go outen the gate and I ain't
a-going to no circus with my little brother and sister being punished,
and I won't let Billy and Ez go either." By this time the whole group
was in different stages of grief, for the viewing of a circus without
the company of Eliza Pike had the flavor of dead sea fruit in all their
small mouths. From the heart in Eliza's small bosom radiated the force
that vivified the lives of the whole small-fry congregation, and a
circus not seen through her eyes would be but a dreary vision.

"Now ain't that too bad!" said Mother Mayberry with compassion and
irritation striving in her voice. "What did they do and just what did
she say?"

"Susie hurted Aunt Prissy's feelings, by taking the last biscuit when
they wasn't one left for her, and Maw said she would have to stay in
the yard until she learned to be kind and respectful to Paw's sister,
She didn't mean to be bad." And Eliza presented the case of her small
sister with hopelessness in every tone.

"Well, Susie," said Mother Mayberry, "don't you feel kind to her yet?"
There was a note of hope in Mother's voice that silenced all the wails,
and they all fixed large and expectant eyes upon this friend who never
failed them. By this time the Deacon had joined the group and his
gentle old eyes were also fixed on Mother Mayberry's face, with the
same confident hope that the children's expressed.

"I've done been kind to her," sniffed the culprit. "I let her cut all
my finger-nails and wash my ears and never said a word. She have been
working on me all afternoon and it hurt."

"Susie," said Mother Mayberry, "you can go over to the cross-roads and
see that circus with the Deacon. They can't no little girl do better
than that, and your Maw just told you to stay until you learned that
lesson. You are let out! Now, what did you do, Bud?"

"I slid on the lean-to and tored all the back of my britches out. She
couldn't stop to mend 'em and she said I could just stay front ways to
folks until she come home, and they shouldn't nobody mend 'em for me."
Bud choked with grief and mortification and edged back as little Bettie
Pratt started in his direction on an investigating tour.

"Well course, Bud," said Mother with judicial eye, "you can't take them
britches off." She paused and looked at him thoughtfully.

"I ain't a-going a step without him," reiterated the loyal Eliza, and
the rest of the children's faces fell.

"Too bad," murmured the Deacon, and Miss Wingate could see that his
distress at the plight of young Bud was as genuine as that of any of
the rest.

"But," began Mother Mayberry slowly, having in the last second weighed
the matter and made a decision, "your mother ain't said you couldn't go
outen the yard and she ain't said I couldn't wrap you up in one of my
kitchen aprons. That wouldn't be the same as changing the britches. She
didn't know about this circus and if she was here you all know she
woulder done as I asked her to do about Bud, so he ain't a-disobeying
her and I ain't neither, Run get the apron hanging behind the door,
Susie, and I'll fix him."

"Sister Mayberry," said the Deacon with a delighted smile in his kind
eyes, but a twinkle in their corners, "your decision involves the
interpretation of both the letter and the spirit of the law. I am glad
it, in this case, rested with you."

"Well," answered Mother Mayberry, as she took the apron from Susie and
started across the Road on her rescue mission, "a woman have got to cut
her conscience kinder bias in the dealing with children. If they're
stuffed full of food and kindness they will  mostly forget to be bad,
and oughtent to be made to remember they CAN be by being punished too
long. Now, sonny, I'll get you fixed up so stylish with these pins and
this apron that the circus will want to carry you off. Start on,
Deacon, he's a-coming."

"I've got to get the baby's bonnet," said Eliza as the whole party
started away in a trail after the Deacon, who led Martin Luther by one
hand and little Bettie by the other. Over by the store they could see
Mrs. Pratt waiting to marshal the forces on down the Road and Mr.
Hoover stood ready as outstanding escort. He had brought the news of
the passing of the circus train and she had promptly consented to
taking the children and the Deacon over for a view.

"Please, Eliza, please don't take the baby! Leave him with me," said
Miss Wingate and as she spoke she stretched out her arms to Teether.
Teether was looking worn with the excitement of the day and his
sympathetic friend felt the journey would be too much for him. He
smiled and fell over on her shoulder with a sigh of contentment.

"Don't you think he oughter see them nelephants and things?" asked
Eliza doubtfully, her loyalty to Teether warring with the relief of
having him out of her thin little arms for the journey.

"He won't mind. Let me keep him here on the front porch until you come
back. Now run along and have a good time," and Miss Wingate started up
the front walk, as Eliza darted away to join the others.

"I do declare," said Mother Mayberry, as she watched the expedition
wend its way down the white Road in the direction of the Bolivar pike,
"the way the Deacon do love the children is plumb beautiful, and sad
some too. I don't know what he would do without Jem or they without
him. Seeing 'em together reminds me of that scraggy, old snowball bush
in full bloom, leaning down to the little Stars of Bethlehem reaching
up to it. What that good man have been to me only my Heavenly Father
can know and Tom Mayberry suspicion. I tell you what I think I'll do;
I'll take one of them little pans of rolls what Cindy have baked for
supper, with a jar of peach preserves, and go down and set with Mis'
Bostick while the Deacon are gone. We can run the pan of rolls in to
get hot for him when he comes home and I know he likes the preserves. I
want to stop in to see Mis' Tutt too and give her a little advice about
that taking so much blue-mass. I don't see how anybody with a bad liver
can have any religion at all, much less a second blessing. I know the
Squire have his faults, but others has failings too. And, too, I'll
have to stop in and pacify Miss Prissy about turning the children
loose, before I go down the Road."

"Miss Prissy always seems to be getting the children into trouble. I
wonder why," said the singer lady with a shade of resentment in her
voice. The little Pikes had established themselves firmly in the heart
of this new friend, and she found herself in an attitude of critical
partisanship.

"I reckon Miss Prissy is what you call a kinder crank," answered Mother
Mayberry as she paused at the foot of the steps. "A married woman have
got to be the hub of a family-wheel, but a old maid can be the outside
crank that turns the whole contraption backwards if she has a mind to.
I wish Miss Prissy had a little more understanding of the children,
'cause the rub all comes on Mis' Pike, and she's fair wore out with it.
But I must be a-going so as to be the sooner a-coming. I wisht you
would tell Tom Mayberry to go and let you help him put the hens and
little chickens to bed. Feed 'em two quarts of millet seed, and you
both know how to do it right if you have a mind to. I'm going to
compliment you by a-trusting you this once, and don't let me wish I
hadn't! I'll be back in the course of time."

And so it happened that as Doctor Mayberry was in the act of swinging
his microscope over a particularly absorbing new plate, a very lovely
vision framed itself in his office door against the background of
Harpeth Hill, which was composed of the slim singer girl with the baby
nodding over her shoulder. The unexpectedness of the visit sent the
color up under his tan and brought him to his feet with a delighted
smile.

"I don't know how you are going to feel about it, but I bring the news
of an honor which we are to share. Do you suppose, do you, that we can
put the chickens to bed for Mrs. Mayberry? She says we are to try, and
if we don't do it the right way she is never going to compliment us
with her confidence again. Help, please! I'm weighted down by the
responsibility." And as she spoke Miss Wingate's eyes shone across
Teether's bobbing head with delighted merriment.

"Well, let's try," answered the Doctor with the air of being ready to
do or dare, an attitude which a vision such as his eyes rested upon is
apt to incite in any man thus challenged. "Will you take command? I'm
many times proved incompetent on such occasions, and I feel sure Mother
trusted to your generalship." And together they went through the garden
and over into the chicken yard.

"Now," said Miss Wingate, "I think the thing to do is not to let them
know we are afraid of them. Let's just take their going under the coops
as a matter of course, and then, perhaps, they will go without any
remonstrance."

"Sort of a mental influence dodge," answered the Doctor
enthusiastically. "Let's try it on Spangles first. I somehow feel that
she will be more impressionable than Old Dominick. You influence while
I spread the millet seed in front of her coop." And he bent down in
front of the half barrel and carefully laid a tempting evening meal,
with his eye on Fuss-and-Feathers. Spangles hesitated, stood on one
foot, clucked in an affected tone of voice to her huddling babies and
coquettishly turned her head from one side to the other as if enthusing
over his artistic service before accepting his hospitality. Then, just
as she was poising one dainty foot ready for the first step in advance,
and had sounded a forward note to the cheepers around her, Old Dominick
calmly stalked forward, stepped right across the Doctor's coaxing hand
held out to Spangles, and, settling herself in the coop, began, with
her voracious band of little plebeians, to devour the grain with stolid
appreciation.

Miss Wingate laughed merrily, Teether Pike gurgled and the Doctor
looked up with baffled astonishment.

"That was your fault," he accused; "you influenced Dominick while I was
expending my force in beguiling Spangles. Now, you try to get her in
the next coop yourself. I shan't help you further than to spread the
grain in front of all the coops." And in accordance with his threat the
Doctor disposed of the rest of the food and stood with the empty pan in
his hand. And, like the well-trained flock of biddies that they were,
all the rest of the hen mothers clucked and cajoled their fluffy little
families into their accustomed shelters and began to dispose of their
suppers with contented clucks and cheeps. Only Mrs. Spangles stood afar
and eyed the only vacant coop with evident disdain.

"I don't know what to do," murmured Miss Wingate pleadingly. But the
Doctor stood firm, and regarded her with maliciously delighted eyes.
Teether bobbed his head over her shoulder and giggled with ungrateful
delight The poor little chicks peeped sleepily, but still Spangles held
her ground. The truth of the matter was that Dominick had really taken
the coop usually occupied by her ladyship, and with worldly
determination, the scion of all the Wyandottes was holding out against
the exchange.

With a glance out of the side of her eyes from under her lowered lashes
in the direction of Doctor Mayberry in his stern attitude, the singer
lady cautiously veered around to the rear of the insulted grandee, and,
grasping her fluffy skirts in her free hand, she shook them out with a
pleading "Shoo!" Instantly a perfect whirlwind of spangled feathers
veered around and faced the cascade of frills, and a volume of defiant
hisses fairly filled the air. Teether squealed and Miss Wingate
retreated to the bounds of the fence. The Doctor laughed in the most
heartless manner, and still Spangles held her ground.

To make matters worse, Mother Mayberry's jovial voice, mingled with the
shrill treble of the combined circus party, who were trying all at once
to tell her the wonders of the adventure, could be distinctly heard in
an increasing volume that told of their rapid approach. The situation
was desperate, and the loss of Mother Mayberry's faith in her seemed
inevitable to the nonplussed singer lady as she leaned against the
fence with Teether over her shoulder. Then the instinct that is
centuries old presented to her the wile that is of equal antiquity and,
raising her purple eyes to the defenseless Doctor, she murmured in a
voice of utter helplessness, into which was judiciously mingled a tone
of perfect confidence:

"Please, sir, get her in for me."

The response to which, being foreordained from the beginning of time,
took Doctor Mayberry just one exciting half-minute grab and shove to
accomplish, at the end of which a ruffled but chastened Spangles was
forced to assemble her family and content herself behind the bars of
the despised coop.

"Well," said Mother Mayberry as she hurried around the corner of the
house with the depleted and milk-hungry Martin Luther trailing at her
skirts, "did you make out to manage 'em? Why, ain't that fine; every
one in and settled and Fuss-and-Feathers in that end coop where I have
been wanting her to be for a week, seeing Dominick have got so many
more chickens and needs that larger barrel. I didn't depend on Tom
Mayberry, but I did on you, Elinory. This just goes to show that if you
put a little trust in people they are mighty apt to rise in the pan to
a occasion. You all look like you've been having a real good time!"



CHAPTER IV

LOVE, THE CURE-ALL


"Eat milk, thank ma'am, please, Mother Lady," demanded Martin Luther as
he stood on the top step in front of Mother Mayberry, who, with Miss
Wingate beside her, sat sewing away the early hours of the morning. A
tiny blue-check shirt was taking shape under Mother's skilful fingers,
and the singer lady was deep in the mysteries of the fore and aft of a
minute pair of jeans trousers. The limitations of young Ez's wardrobe
had necessitated the speedy construction of one for the little adopt,
and Miss Wingate's education along the lines of needle control was
progressing at what she considered a remarkable rate.

"Why, Martin Luther!" She looked down at him over a carefully poised
needle. "How can you be hungry when you ate your breakfast not two
hours ago?" she added with the intent to beguile him from his demand.

"All gone, thank ma'am, please," he answered, looking out from under
his curl with a pathetic cast of his blue eyes, and at the same time
spreading both hands over his entire vital region.

"I reckon maybe we'd better fill him up again," said Mother. "Them legs
still look 'most too much like knitting-needles to suit me, and I
kinder want to feel him to be sure his stomick haven't growed to his
backbone. Anyway, you can't never measure a boy's food by his size.
Please run and get him a glass of buttermilk and a biscuit, child,
while I finish setting in this sleeve. Let me see them britches legs
'fore you put 'em down. Dearie me, if you ain't gone and made 'em both
for the same leg! Too bad, with all them pretty baste-stitches!"

"Oh!" gasped Miss Wingate in dismay; "have I ruined them?"

"No, indeed, just turn the left leg inside out and hem it up again--or
you might make two more right legs to sew on to these. It would be a
good thing to double one failing mistake up into two successes,
wouldn't it? Often bad luck turned inside out makes a cap that fits
plumb easy. While you fill the boy up, I'll cut out his other legs for
you to baste right this time. Take a peep around the garden before you
come back to see if Spangles have got her chickens in the wet weeds. I
hadn't oughter let her pretty feathers make me distrust her, but it
do." And Mother went placidly on with her sewing as she watched the
girl and the tot go hand-in-hand down the path to the spring-house
under the hill. She had just placed in her sleeve and was regarding it
with entire satisfaction, when the front gate clicked and she looked up
with interest.

"Well, good morning, Mis' Mayberry," came in Bettie Pratt's hearty
voice as she swung up the walk at a brisk pace. On one arm she held a
bobbing baby in a white sunbonnet, a toddler clung to her skirts and a
small boy trailed behind her with a puppy in his arms. She was buxom
and rosy, was the Widow Pratt, with a dangerous dimple over the corner
of her mouth, a decided come-hither in her blue eyes, and a smile that
compelled a response.

"Why, Bettie child, how glad I am to see you!" exclaimed Mother,
rendering the smile from out over her glasses. "I didn't see you all
day yesterday and not the day before, neither. But I put it down to a
work-hold on us both, and didn't worry none. And now here you are, with
some of the little folks! Here's a empty spool for little Bettie," and
she held out the treasure to the toddler, who sidled up to her knee
with confidence to grasp the gift.

"I told Pattie Hoover if she would stay at home this morning and clean
up some like her Pa wants her to that I'd let my Clara May help her and
would bring the baby on up here to get him outen the way. 'Lias come
along to get you to look at his puppy's foot, and I want you to see if
you don't think the baby have fatted some since I've took holt and
helped Pattie with the feeding of him."

"He have that," answered Mother heartily. "I can tell it without even
feeling of his legs. You've got the growing hand with babies, Bettie,
and I'm glad you don't hold it back from this little half-orphant. I
don't know what the poor little Hoovers would do without you!"

"That's what poor Mr. Hoover says," answered Bettie with the utmost
unconsciousness. "Show Mis' Mayberry the puppy's foot, 'Lias."

"Why, the pitiful little thing!" exclaimed Mother when a small, brown,
crushed paw was presented to her inspection. "What happened to it?"

"Mr. Petway's horse stepped on it--he didn't care. He just got in the
buggy and went on. I'm a-going to kill him with a gun when I get one."
Tears of rage and grief welled up in 'Lias' eyes, but he choked them
back with a resolution that boded ill for Mr. Petway when the time of
reckoning came.

"You mustn't talk that way, 'Lias, though it are a shame," said Mother
as she looked closely at the injured paw. "The bone's all crushed. I'll
tell you what to do; just take him around to Doctor Tom's office and
he'll fix it in no time for you, in a way I couldn't never do. He won't
even limp, maybe." And Mother Mayberry made the offer of a piece of
skilled surgery with the utmost generosity.

'Lias clasped the puppy closer, looked down and drew one of his bare
toes along a crack in the floor. "I'd rather you'd do it," he said.

"Now, don't that just beat all!" exclaimed Mother with both amusement
and exasperation in her face. "Looks like I can't even get Tom a puppy
practice."

"Why, 'Lias Hoover, I'm ashamed of you not to want Doctor Tom to fix
his foot, and thank you, too! Didn't Bud Pike tell you last night how
he cut his little brother's mouth and didn't hurt him a bit, neither?
Bud is going to get him to fix his next stubbed toe hisself. Bud ain't
no bigger boy than you, but he knows a good doctor same as Mis'
Mayberry and me does when he sees one." There are ways and ways of
controverting masculine obstinancy, and evidently life had taught Mrs.
Pratt the efficacy of beguilement. Without more reluctance 'Lias
disappeared around the house in the direction of the office wing.

"I'm mighty glad you come along this morning, Bettie," said Mother
Mayberry, as she threaded a new needle with a long thread. Little
Bettie had seated herself on the floor and begun operations with the
spool and a piece of string that vastly amused little Hoover, whom Mrs.
Pratt deposited opposite her within reach of her own balancing foot,
for the baby's age and backbone were both at a tender period. "I've got
a kinder worry on my mind that I'd like to get a little help from you
as to know what to do about. Have you noticed that both the Deacon and
Mis' Bostick look mighty peaky? Course Deacon have been sick, and she
have had a spell of nursing, but they don't neither of them pick up
like they oughter. Mis' Bostick puts me in mind of a little,
withered-up, gray seed pod when all the down have blowed away, and the
Deacon's britches fair flap around his poor thin shanks. Something or
other just makes me sense what is the matter."

"And me, too, Mis' Mayberry. I've been a-feeling of it for some time,
since we all quit out with the nursing and taking 'em complimentary
dishes of truck. They is--is hungry." Mrs. Pratt brought out the
statement of the fact in a positively awestruck voice.

"That's what I'm afraid it is, Bettie," answered Mother, "and it hurts
me hard to think how he have served the Lord and helped us all in our
duty to Him and each other, she a-giving us of her bounty of
sister-love, and now, when they's old and feeble, a-feeling the pinch
of need. The young can reach out and help theyselves to they share of
life, but it oughter be handed old folks with thoughtful respect. We've
got to do something about it."

"Course we have," assented the widow heartily. "But how are we a-going
to just give 'em things offen a cold collar? They're both so proud.
With owning the house, the bit the church gives 'em would do the rest,
but the Deacon have tooken that debt no-'count Will Bostick run off and
left down in the City to pay, and it have left 'em at starvation's
door. But that's neither here nor there; we've got to do something.
They don't need much but food, and Mis' Bostick is most too weak now to
cook it if they has the ingredients gave 'em to hand. They must be did
for some way."

"And we've got to do it without a-giving them a single hurt feeling,
either," said Mother. "Enough good-will jelly will hide any kind of
charity pill, I say. Not as what we do for her and the Deacon can ever
be anything but thanks rendered for the blessing of them. But you get
to thinking, Bettie. The knees to my wits are getting old and stiff."

"Well, there's a donation party," suggested the widow thoughtfully.
"Everybody could help, and it could be made real pleasant with the men
asked to come in after supper. Everything could be gave from stovewood
to the Deacon some new Sunday pants. We did that once before, five
years ago to his birthday, and they was mighty pleased. Let's do it
again."

"But that was before this disgrace of Will happened, and they didn't
downright need the things then--it were all sort of complimentary. When
needs are gave it's charity, but what you don't want is just a present.
We've got to find a way to do up needs in a present package for 'em. I
declare, I feel right put to know what to do." Mother Mayberry's voice
was actually worried, and she paused with her scissors ready to snip a
bit of the gingham into narrow bands.

"Well, we oughter be thankful we've got the things to give, and we'll
find some sort of way to slip up on the blind side of them about the
taking of them. The Deacon's britches is one pressing thing. Can't we
take some of the church carpet money and get Mr. Hoover to buy him a
pair when he hauls corn to town Monday?"

"Yes, indeed, we can," answered Mother Mayberry, radiant at the very
thought of this relief proposition. "It's a heap more important to
carpet the Deacon with britches than the church floor right now.
Between them and her old bombersine, Mis' Bostick have spent the year
with her patch-thimble on her finger."

"I declare, it hurts me so in church to look at her elbows and back
seams that I can't hardly listen to the Deacon pray. Patching is the
most worrisome job a woman has to do, according to my mind," said the
widow, with an expression of distaste on her beaming face. "I've done
patched two men, and I know what I'm talking about."

"It is a trial," answered Mother Mayberry, "and Mis' Bostick's life
have been a patched one at the best, a-moving in the Methodist wagon
from one station to another and a-trying every time to cut herself out
by a new style to suit each congregation, Anyway, I reckon all women's
lives have wored thin and had to be darned in some places, but patches
on her garment of life ain't going to make no difference to a woman
when she puts it on to meet her Lord, just so it's cut on the charity
mantle pattern. And Mis' Bostick's was hung to cover the multitude. But
a-talking here have made me sprout a idea: 'Liza Pike have blazed the
trail for us, bless her little heart! Her mother don't never cook a
single thing that 'Liza haven't got a dish handy to beg some for the
Deacon and Mis' Bostick. And she don't stop at her own cook stove, but
she's always here looking into what Cindy cooks with an eye to the old
folk's sweet-tooths or chicken-hankers. I know, too, she gets what she
wants from you for them, so there is our leading. The Deacon loves
'Liza, and she is such a entertainment to him that he'd eat ten meals a
day at her dictation and no questions asked. And she do beat all with
her mothering ways with them old folks. Last Wednesday night she had
Deacon a-leading prayer meeting with a red flannel band around his
throat for his croaks, and just yesterday she made Mis' Bostick stay in
bed half the day, covered up head and ears, to sweat off a little
nose-dripping cold. She's always a-consulting Tom and leaving me out. I
think she's got her eye on my practice. They never was such a
master-hand of a child in Providence before."

"There you are right," laughed the widow. "It's getting so that they
ain't a child on the Road as will let its own mother look at a cut
finger or a black bruise 'fore 'Liza have done had her say about what
is to be did. I believe it is as you say, Mis' Mayberry, and 'Liza can
play raven for us in fine style. I know Mis' Pike will push it on and
more'n do her part in the filling of the child's covered dish."

"That she will," answered Mother Mayberry heartily. "Judy Pike spends a
heap of time turning over life to find for certain which is the right
and wrong of it, but once found, she sticks close to the top weave.
We'll plan it all out at the Sewing Circle, and then get it down to
days who's to send what regular. I'm thankful for this leading of how
to take care of our old folks, and I know you are, too."

"Couldn't nobody be thankfuller," answered the rosy widow, "and the
filling of that dish is a-going to give me a lot of good pride. But I'd
better be going and seeing after them girls and the house cleaning.
They are both master hands, but if Buck Peavey was to happen to tie
hisself up to the front gate, it would be good-by dust-pan and mop for
Pattie. Not that I don't feel for her in the liking of that rampaging
boy of Mis' Peavey's, and it's mighty hard not to kinder saunter into a
little chat when the men folks call you. How are Miss Elinory to-day?
Ain't she the prettiest and most stylishest girl you have ever saw? I
wonder if she would lend me that long-tailed waist she wears to get the
pattern off to make me and Clara May and Pattie one?" As she spoke,
Mrs. Pratt rose, picked up little Hoover and set Bettie on her little
bare feet.

"I know she will be glad to, and such a head sewer as you are can copy
it most exact. Here she are now! Child, Mis' Pratt have been so
complimenting of your looks and clothes that I'm sorter set up with
pride over you."

"Good morning, Mrs. Pratt," exclaimed the singer lady, as she appeared
in the doorway with the resuscitated Martin Luther at her side. "The
darling babies! You are not going, are you?" The widow and Miss Wingate
had developed a decided attraction for each other, and their blossoming
friendship delighted Mother Mayberry most obviously.

"I wish I didn't have to," answered Mrs. Pratt, beaming with smiles,
which little Bettie echoed as she coquetted around her mother's skirts
with Miss Wingate, "but it's most dinner-pot time, and I've got mouths
to feed when the horn blows."

"Elinory, child, run get that pink, long-tailed waist of your'n to let
Bettie make one by, please," said Mother Mayberry, with total
unconsciousness of that very strong feminine predilection for
exclusiveness of design in wearing apparel. The garment in question was
a very lovely, simply-cut linen affair that bore a distinguished
foreign trade-mark. "I know you feel complimented by her wanting to
make one for herself by it, and maybe Clara May and Pattie, too. They
ain't no worldly feeling as good as having your clothes admired, is
they?"

"Indeed there isn't," answered Miss Wingate cordially, and if there was
chagrin in her heart at the thought of seeing Providence in uniform
with the precious pink blouse, her smile belied it. She immediately
ascended to her room, and returned quickly with the treasure in her
hand. "Let me come and see you fit them," she entreated. "I don't know
how to sew one, but I can tell how it ought to look."

"Come spend the day next Monday. We'll all have a good time together
and I'll make you some more of them fritters you liked for supper the
other night." The widow fairly beamed like a headlight at the thought
of the successful impromptu supper party a few nights before, when
Doctor Mayberry had brought Miss Wingate down upon her unexpectedly
with a demand to be invited to stay to supper for that especial dainty.
As she spoke she was half-way down the walk, and looked back, smiling
at them over the baby's bonnet.

"Yes, I heard Tom Mayberry disgraced himself over your maple syrup jug,
Bettie Pratt," called Mother Mayberry after her. "That Hoover baby
surely have growed. Good-by!"

"They ain't nothing in this world so comforting to a woman as good
feeling with her sisters, one and all," Mother Mayberry said as she
watched the last switch of the widow's skirt. "Mother, wife and
daughter love is a institution, but real sistering is a downright
covenant. Me and Bettie have held one betwixt us these many a year. But
you and me have both put a slight on the kitchen since Cindy got back.
Let's go see if dinner ain't most on the table."

And they found that from their neglect the dinner had suffered not at
all. Cindy, a gaunt, black woman with a fire of service and devotion to
Mother Mayberry in her eyes, and apparently nothing else to excuse
existence, had accomplished the meal as a triumph.

She had set the table out on the side porch under the budding
honeysuckle, and as Mother Mayberry and Miss Wingate, followed by
Martin Luther, ever ready to do trencher duty, came out of the back
hall Doctor Tom emerged from his office door.

"Why, I didn't see you come in, Tom," said Mother. "You muster used
wings and lit."

"No, I came from across the fields and in the back way. I've had a
patient and I'm puffed up with pride." As he spoke he smiled at Miss
Wingate and his mother delightedly.

"'Lias Hoover's puppy," said Mother, stating the fact to Miss Wingate.
"Was you able to fix him up, Tom?"

"Oh, yes; his puppyship will navigate normally in ten days, I think;
but this was a real patient."

"Why, who, son? Don't keep me waiting to know, for I'm worried at the
very thought of a Providence pain. Who's down now and what did you do
for 'em?" And Mother bestowed upon the young doctor a glance of
inter-professional inquiry. "Squire Tutt," answered her son promptly.
"I met him up by the store and he asked me what I would do if a man had
a snake bite out in the woods, ten miles from any hot-water kettle. I
diagnosed the situation and prescribed with the help of Mr. Petway, and
I think--I think, Mother, I've proselyted your patient."

"Now, Tom, don't make fun of the Squire. Them are real pains he has,
and I don't think it is right for a doctor to have a doubting mind
towards a patient. Sympathy will help worry any kinder bad dose down.
You know I want you to do your doctoring in this life with love to be
gave to help smooth all pain." Mother regarded him seriously over her
glasses as she admonished.

"I will--I do, Mother," answered the Doctor, and his gray eyes danced
before he veiled them with his black lashes as he looked down at his
plate.

Miss Wingate flushed ever so slightly and busied herself with spreading
butter on a large piece of bread for Martin Luther, an unnecessary
attention, as she had performed that same office for him just the
moment before, and even he had not been able to make an inroad thereon.

"I think you are right, Mrs. Mayberry," she said slowly after a
second's rally of her forces. "The sympathy and--and regard of one's
physician is very necessary at times and--and--" She paused, but not so
much as a glance out of the corner of her purple black eyes did she
throw in the direction of the Doctor.

"Course they ain't nothing so encouraging in the world as love, and I
think the sick oughter have it gave to 'em in large and frequent doses!
I'm thankful I've got so much in my heart that I can just prescribe it
liberal when needed. Dearie me, could that shadow be a chicken-hawk?
Just excuse me, children; finish your dinner while I go out and look
after my feather babies." And Mother hurried away through the kitchen,
leaving the singer lady and the Doctor sitting at the table under the
fragrant vine, with the replete Martin Luther nodding his sleepy head
down into his plate between them.

And thus deserted, the flush rose up under Miss Wingate's eyes and a
dimple teased at the corner of her red lips, but she busied herself
with removing the plate from under Martin Luther's yellow mop and
making a pillow of her own bare arm, against which he nestled his
chubby little cheek with a sigh of content, as he drifted off into his
usual after-dinner nap.

The Doctor watched her from under his half-closed eyes, then he lit a
cigarette, leaned his elbow on the table and sat silent for a few
moments, while under her breath she hummed a little sleep song to the
drifting baby.

"On the whole," he asked at last, the usual delightful courtesy with
which he always addressed her striving with an unusual trace of gentle
banter in his deep voice, "what do you think of Mother's philosophies?"

"I think," she answered as she ruffled the baby's curls with one white
hand, "they are so true that no wonder they are--are more healing
than--than your medicines."

She raised her eyes to his suddenly and they were filled to the brim
with frank merriment.

"Don't tell me I'm going to lose my one and only star patient, Teether
Pike and the puppy excepted!" he exclaimed with a laugh.

"Yes," she answered slowly, "I'm going to let you operate when the time
comes--but it's your Mother that's healing me. Oh, can't you, can't you
see what she's doing for me?" she turned to him and asked suddenly, the
burr thrown across her voice heavily because of the passion in her
tones. "I came to you a broken instrument--useless for ever,
perhaps--unfit for all I knew of life unless you healed me, and
now--now I can make things and do things--a pie and a good one, bread
to feed and the butter thereto, and to-day two halves of a pair of
trousers, no the halves of two pairs of trousers. What matter if I
never sing again?" She stretched her white arm across the table and
looked over the head of the sleeping baby straight into his eyes. Hers
were soft with tears, and a divine shyness that seemed to question him.

He lifted the white hand, with its pink palm upward, gently into his
own brown one, and placed the tip of one of his fingers on a tiny red
scar on her forefinger.

"Do you know the story the drop of blood I took from this prick this
morning told?" he asked with his eyes shining into hers. "A gain of
over thirty percent in red corpuscles in less than a month. Yes, I
admit it; Mother is building, but when she has you ready--I'm going to
give it back to you, the wonderful voice. I don't know why I know, but
I do."

"And I don't know why I know that you will--but I do," she answered
with lowered voice and eyes. "When all the others tried I knew they
would fail. The horrible thought clutched at my throat always, and
there seemed no help. I don't feel it now at all. I'm too busy," she
added with a catch in her laugh and a sudden mist in her eyes.

"Mother's treatment again," he laughed as he laid her hand gently back
on the table.

"And yours--when directed by her--her philosophies," she ventured
daringly, as she lifted Martin Luther into her arms, with a view to
depositing him upon the haven of Mother's bed to finish his nap.

The Doctor looked at her a second, started to answer, thought better of
it, took the heavy youngster out of her arms into his own and strode
across the hall with him into Mother's room.

The singer lady walked to the edge of the porch, pulled down a spray of
the fragrant vine and looked out through it to the blue hills beyond
the meadows. She hummed a waltz-song this time, and her eyes were
dancing as if she were meditating some further assault on the Doctor's
imperturbability. He came back and stood beside her, and was just about
to make a tentative remark when Mother Mayberry hurried around the side
of the house.

"Children!" she exclaimed, her eyes shining, her cheeks pink with
excitement, and the white curls flying in every direction; "I never did
have such a time in my life! It WERE a chicken-hawk and he were right
down amongst the hens and little chickens. Old Dominick was spread out
like a featherbed over all hers and most of Spangles', and there
Spangles was just a-contending with him over one of her little black
babies. He had it in his claw, but she had him by a beak full of
feathers and was a-swinging on for fare-you-well. Old Dominick was
a-directing of her with squawks, and Ruffle Neck was just squatting
over hers, batting her eyes with skeer, for all the world like she was
a fine lady a-going into a faint. And there stood all four of the
roosters, not a one of 'em a-turning of a feather to help her! They
looked like they was petrified to stone, and I'm a great mind to make
'em every one up into pies and salad and such. They's a heap of men,
come trouble, don't make no show, and the women folks have to lead the
fight. But they might er helped her after she's took holt!"

"The brutes!" exclaimed Doctor Tom with real indignation. "When are you
going to have the pie, Mother?" he added teasingly.

"Well, I've got no intentions of feeding no such coward truck to you,
sir," answered his mother, still flurried with belligerency.

"But the little baby chicken--what DID become of it?" demanded Miss
Wingate, and she, too, cast a glance of scorn at the Doctor.

"Why, he dropped it and flew away as soon as he caught sight of me. It
ain't hurt a mite, and Spangles have hovered it and all the rest she
could coax out from under Dominick. Now this do settle it! Good looks
don't disqualify a woman from nothing; it's the men that can't stand
extra long tail feathers and fluted combs. I'm a-going to put 'em all
four in the pot before Wednesday."

"I apologize; I apologize, with emotion, for all my doubts, both
expressed and unexpressed, of Mrs. Spangles!" the Doctor hastened to
exclaim. "Neck under heel for the whole masculine fraternity and
suffrage triumphant!"

"Well, it's not as bad as that," answered Mother in a jovially
mollified tone of voice. "Meek, plain-favored men like you may be let
live, with no attention paid 'em. Now go on over to Flat Rock and stop
a-wasting me and my honey-bird's time with your chavering. Come back
early for supper or you won't get none, for all three of us are a-going
to prayer meeting."

"I'll be here, and thank you for-crumbs of attention," answered the
Doctor, and, with a laughing glance at both his mother and Miss Wingate
he took himself off in the direction of the barn, for the purpose of
saddling his horse for his afternoon visit to his patients beyond the
Nob.

"Ain't he good to look at?" asked Mother Mayberry as she watched his
tall figure swing down the garden path. "Good looks in a man can be a
heap of pleasure to a woman, but she mustn't let on to him."

"I believe," said Miss Wingate in an impersonally judicial tone of
voice, "that Doctor Mayberry is the very handsomest man I ever saw. One
would almost call him beautiful. It isn't entirely that he is so tall
and grand and has such eyes, but--do you know I think it is because he
is so like you that he is so lovely." And the singer lady tucked her
hand into Mother Mayberry's with a shy blush.

"Liking folks kinder shines 'em up, same as furniture polish,
honey-bird," laughed Mother Mayberry with delight at the compliment.
"You're a-rubbing some on me and Tom Mayberry. But he were the best
favored baby I 'most ever saw, if I do say it, as shouldn't."

"Oh!" said Miss Wingate delightedly, "I know he must have been lovely!
What was he like?"

"Well," answered Mother reminiscently, "he were about like he are now.
He come so ugly I cried when I seen him first, and Doctor Mayberry
teased me about it to the day of his death. He called Tom 'Ugly' for
short. But he mighty soon begun to sprout little pleasing ways,
a-looking up under them black lashes and a-laughing acrost my breast.
His cheeks was rosy, his back broad and his legs straight, same as now.
He teethed easy, walked soon, have never learned to talk much yet, and
had his measles and whooping-cough when his time come. I just thought
he were something 'cause he were mine. All babies is astonishing
miracles to they mothers."

"But I'm sure Doctor Mayberry was really wonderful," said Miss Wingate,
instantly sympathetic. "Had he always such black hair?"

"Borned with it. Now, my little girl had beautiful yellow curls and I
can show you one, by the Lord's mercy I've got it." Mother paused and
an ineffable gentleness came into her lovely old face. "I want to tell
you about it, honey-heart, 'cause it have got a strange sweetness to
it. She wasn't but five years old when she died, tooken sudden with
pneumony cruel bad. Nobody thought to cut me one of her curls before
they laid her away, and when I come to myself I grieved over it more
than I had oughter. But one day when the fall come on and the days was
short and dark; and it looked like nothing couldn't light up the old
house with that sunshine head gone, me almost a-feeling bitter and
questioning why, Tom went out and picked up a robin's nest that had
blowed down from a tree in the yard. And there, wound around inside it,
was the little curl I had cut off in the spring, out on the porch, what
had tagged into her eyes and worried her! The mother bird had used it
to make the nest soft for her babies and now didn't need it no more.
When I looked at it I took it as a message and a sign that my Lord
hadn't forgot me, and I ain't never mistrusted Him again. Come, let me
show it to you."



CHAPTER V

THE LITTLE RAVEN AND HER COVERED DISH


Wednesday morning dawned clear and bright. From over Providence Nob the
round red old sun looked jovially and encouragingly down upon
Providence, up and stirring at an unusually early hour, for in the
mid-week came Sewing Circle day and the usual routine of work must be
laid by before the noon meal, and every housewife in condition to
forgather at the appointed place on the stroke of one. Mrs. Peavey had
aroused the protesting Buck at the peep of dawn, the Pikes were all up
and breakfasting by the first rays of light that fell over the Ridge,
and the Hoover biscuits had been baked in the Pratt oven and handed
across the fence fifteen minutes agone. Down the road Mr. Petway was
energetically taking down the store shutters and Mr. Mosbey was
building the blacksmith shop fire. Cindy had milked and started
breakfast and Mother Mayberry had begun the difficult task of getting
the Doctor up and ready for the morning meal. Martin Luther had had a
glass of warm milk and was ready for an energetic attack upon his first
repast.

Above, in her room under the gables, the singer lady had been awakened
by the brushing of a white-capped old locust bough against her casement
as it attempted to climb with all its bloom into her dormer window. As
she looked through the mist, a long golden shaft of light shot across
the white flowers and turned the tender green leaves into a bright
yellow. Suddenly a desire to get up and look across at the Nob
possessed her, for the arrival of the sun upon the scene of action was
a sight that held the decided charm of novelty. And on this particular
morning she found it more than worth while. Providence lay at her feet
like a great bouquet of lilacs, locust and fruit blossoms. The early
mist was shot through with long spears of gold and the pale smoke
curled up from the brick chimneys and mingled its pungent wood-odor
with the perfume laden air. She drank in great drafts of exhilaration
and delighted her eyes with the picture for a number of minutes, until
an intoxicating breakfast aroma began to steal up from Cindy's domain.
Then, spurred by a positive agony of hunger, it took the singer lady
the fewest possible number of minutes to complete a dainty and most
ravishing breakfast toilet.

"Why, honey-bird," exclaimed Mother Mayberry as she descended the steps
and found them all at breakfast in the wide-open dining-room, "what did
you get up so soon for? It's Wednesday and the Sewing Circle meets with
me, so Cindy and us must be a-stirring, but I had a breakfast in my
mind for you two hours from now. You hadn't oughter done it. Them ain't
orders in your prescription."

"I'm so hungry," she pleaded with a most wickedly humble glance at the
Doctor, who was busy consuming muffins and chicken gravy. "Can't I have
a breakfast now, Doctor--and the other one two hours later? Please!"

"Yes," answered the Doctor, "but don't forget the two glasses of cream
and dinner and some of the Sewing Party refreshments, to say nothing of
supper-and are you going to make custards for us to eat before seeking
our downy couches?"

"The cup custards are going to be part of the Sewing Circle
refreshments," his mother answered him. "I want to show off my teaching
to the Providence folks. Give the child some chicken, Tom Mayberry, and
then you can go to your work. We don't want you underfoot."

"Don't you need my help?" asked the Doctor, as, in a disobedient frame
of mind, he lingered at the table to watch the singer lady begin
operations on her dainty breakfast.

"Well, you can set here and see that Elinory gets all she wants and
more too, but I must be a-doing around. There cames the Deacon! I
wonder what the matter is!" And Mother Mayberry hurried out of the
house and down to the front gate to meet the Deacon who was coming
slowly up the Road.

"Good morning, Sister Mayberry," he said cheerily enough, though there
was an expression of anxiety on his gentle old face. "I thought I would
find you up, even at this unusually early hour. Your lamp is always
burning to meet emergencies. Mrs. Bostick is not well this morning and
I came up to see if you could find a moment to step down to see her
soon. I also wanted to ask Thomas to stop in for a moment on his way
over to Flat Rock. I am sure that she is not at all ill, but I am just
overly anxious."

"Why, of course, we will both come right away, Deacon! What did she eat
last night for supper? She oughter be careful about her night eating."

"Let me see," answered the Deacon thoughtfully, "I think we both had a
portion of milk and toast administered by our young sister, Eliza Pike.
I recall I pleaded for some of the peaches, still in the jar you gave
Mrs. Bostick, but was sternly denied." As he spoke the Deacon beamed
with affectionate pride over having been vanquished by the stern Eliza.

Just at this moment from around the corner of the Pike home came the
young woman in question, with a pitcher in one hand and a covered dish
in the other. Ez followed her with a plate wrapped in a napkin, and
Billy brought up the rear with a bucket of cool water which he sloshed
over his bare feet with every step.

"Why, Deacon," demanded Eliza sternly, "you ain't gone and et breakfast
with Mother Mayberry, when I told you about Maw making light rolls
before she went to bed 'cause to-day is Wednesday?"

"No, Eliza," answered the Deacon meekly, with a delighted glance at
Mother Mayberry out of the corner of his eye. "Neither Mrs. Bostick nor
I would think of breakfasting without your superintendence. I was just
starting over to tell you that she felt indisposed and would like to
see you and Sister Mayberry, along with the Doctor, later in the day."

"Well," answered Eliza confidently, "I think I can tend to her if
Mother Mayberry is too busy to come. I was a-going to watch for Doctor
Tom and ask him in anyway. Please come on home, Deacon, 'fore the rolls
get cold and the scrambled eggs set. Ez, hold the plate straight or the
butter will run outen the rolls! Please come on, Deacon!"

"Yes, Deacon, go along with her right away," answered Mother Mayberry,
as her eyes rested on the serious face of the ministering child with a
peculiar tenderness tinged with respect. "And, 'Liza, honey, stop by
and tell me how Mis' Bostick does when you come back, and let me know
if you need me to help you any."

"Yes'm, Mother Mayberry," answered Eliza with a flash of pure joy
shining in her devoted little face when she found that she was not to
be supplanted in her attendance on her charges. "I was a-coming to see
you this morning anyway about the place Mr. Mosbey burned his finger
and I tied up last night. Please come on, Deacon!"

"And a little child shall lead them," said Mother Mayberry to herself,
as she watched the breakfast party down the road. Martin Luther had
come out from the table by this time and now trotted along at the
Deacon's heels like a replete and contented puppy. Ez held the plate
carefully and Billy seemed about sure of arriving at his destination
with at least half the bucket of cool water. "Yes, a little child--but
some children are borned with a full-growed heart."

And true to her promise Eliza appeared an hour or two later to hold
serious consultation over the blacksmithing finger down the Road.

"'Liza," said Mother Mayberry as she prepared a stall for the finger
and poured a cooling lotion in a small bottle for which the child
waited eagerly, "you are a-doing the right thing to take nice things to
Mis' Bostick and the Deacon and I'm proud of your being so kind and
thoughtful. Do they ever ask you where you bring 'em from?"

"I always tell 'em, Mother Mayberry. Deacon said I oughtn't to get
things from other folks to bring to 'em, but I told him that you and
Mis' Pratt and Mis' Mosbey and Mis' Peavey would be mad at me if I just
took things from Maw to 'em and slighted they cooking. I pick out the
best things everybody makes. Maw's light rolls, Mis' Pratt's sunshine
cake and cream potatoes, Cindy's chicken and Mis' Peavey for baked
hash. I took the custards from Miss Elinory to please her; but Mis'
Mosbey's is better. I wanted 'em to have the best they is on the Road,
'cause they is old and they is our'n."

"Bless your dear little heart, the best they shall have always!"
exclaimed Mother Mayberry, as she hugged her small confrere close
against her side and wiped away a tear with a quick gesture. "Now you
can go fix up Nath Mosbey's finger to suit your mind, Sister Pike," she
added with a laugh as she, bestowed the bottle.

The rest of the morning was filled to the minute for the Mayberry
household, which seemed possessed with a frenzy of polishing and
garnishing. After Cindy had done her worst with broom and mop, Mother
Mayberry with feather duster and cloth, Miss Wingate threw her energies
with abandon into the accomplishing of a most artistic scheme of
decoration. She set tall jars of white locust blossoms in the hall
which shone out mystically in the cool dusk. She mingled lilac and red
bud, cherry blossoms and narcissus and trailed long vines of
honeysuckle over every possible place.

"Dearie me," said Mother Mayberry, as she paused in her busy manoeuvers
to take in what Miss Wingate proudly declared to be the completed
effect, "everybody will think they have walked into a flower show. I'm
sorry I never thought of inviting in the outdoors to any of my parties
before. I wonder if some of the meek folks, that our dear Lord told
about being invited in from the byways and hedges, mightn't a-brought
some of the hedge blooms along into the feast with 'em. Thank you,
child, the prettiness will feed everybody's eye, I know, but you'd
better run along and get to whipping on that custard for they stomicks.
This here is a Mission Circle, but it have got a good knife and fork
by-law to it. Make a plenty and if we feel well disposed toward Tom
Mayberry, come bedtime, we may feed him a half dozen."

And in accordance with time-honored custom the stroke of one found the
Providence matrons grouped along the Road and up Mother Mayberry's
front walk, in the act of assembling for the good work in hand.

"Come in, everybody," exclaimed Mother Mayberry, as she welcomed them
from the front steps. "I'm mighty glad all are on time, for I have got
the best of things to tell, as I have been saving by the hardest for
three days. A woman holding back news is mighty like root-beer, liable
to pop the cork and foam over in spite of all."

"I'm mighty glad to hear something good," said Mrs. Peavey in a doleful
tone. "Looks like the world have got into astonishing misery. Did you
all read in the Bolivar Herald last week about that explode in a mine
in Delyware; a terrible flood in Louisianny and the man that killed his
wife and six children in Kansas? I don't know what we're a-coming to. I
told Mr. Peavey and Buck this morning, but they ain't either of 'em got
any sympathy. They just went on talking about the good trade Mr. Hoover
made in hogs over to Springfield and the fine clover stand they have
got in the north field."

By this time the assembly had removed their hats, laid them on Mother
Mayberry's snowy bed and settled themselves in rocking-chairs that had
been collected from all over the house for the occasion. Gay sewing
bags had been produced and the armor of thimbles and scissors had been
buckled on. Mother Mayberry still stood in the center of the room
watching to see that all of her guests were comfortably seated.

"Them were mighty bad happenings, Mis' Peavey, and I know we all feel
for such trouble being sent on the Lord's people," said Mother Mayberry
seriously, though a smile quirked at the corners of the Widow Pratt's
pretty mouth and young Mrs. Nath Mosbey bent over to hunt in her bag
for an unnecessary spool of thread. Mrs. Peavey's nature was of the
genus kill-joy, and it was hard to steer her into the peaceful waters
of social enjoyment.

"I don't think any of that is as bad as three divorce cases I read
about in a town paper that Mr. Petway wrapped up some calico for me
in," answered Mrs. Peavey, continuing her lamentations over conditions
in general, which they all knew would get to be over conditions in
particular if something did not intervene to stop the tide of her
dissatisfaction.

"Divorces oughtn't to be allowed by the United States," answered Mrs.
Pike decidedly. "They are too many people in the world that don't seem
to be able to hitch up together, without letting folks already geared
roam loose again. But what's the news, Sister Mayberry?" There came
times when only Judy Pike's uncompromising veto could lay Mrs. Peavey
on the table.

"Well, what do you think! Tom Mayberry have got this Providence
Meeting-house Sewing Circle a good big sewing order from the United
States Government. Night drawers and aprons and chimeses and all sorts
of things and--"

"Lands alive, Sister Mayberry, you must be outen your head!" exclaimed
Mrs. Peavey with her usual fear-the-worst manner. "What earthly use can
the United States Government have for night drawers and chimeses?"

"Now, Hettie Ann, you didn't let me have my say out," remonstrated
Mother Mayberry as they all laughed merrily at Mrs. Peavey's
scandalized remonstrance. "They are for them poor misfortunates over at
Flat Rock what the Government have sent Tom down here to study about,
so he can find the bug that makes the disease and stop it from
spreading everywhere. While he's a-working with 'em he has to see that
they are provided for; and they condition are shameful. He wants
outfits for the women and children and Mr. Petway have the order to buy
the men's things down in the City for him. He's a-going to pay us good
prices for the work and it will mean a lot of money for the carpet and
the repair fund. A quarter apiece for the little night drawers without
feet to 'em is good money. He wanted to give us fifty cents but I told
him no, I wasn't a-going to cheat my own country for no little child's
night rigging. A quarter is fair to liberal, I say."

"That it is, Mis' Mayberry, and thank Doctor Tom, too, for giving us
the order," answered Widow Pratt heartily. "When can we begin? I'll cut
'em all out at home, so as to save time, if you'll give me the goods. I
can cut children's clothes out with my eyes shut and sew 'em with my
left hand if needs be."

"Well, if all we hear be true, Bettie Pratt, it's a good thing it comes
easy to you. The sewing for seventeen might be a set-back to any kind
of co'ting, but seeing as you likes it so, why, maybe--" Mrs. Peavey
paused and peered at the blushing widow with goading curiosity in her
keen eyes.

"Well, it hasn't been a bit to me and Mr. Hoover, Mis' Peavey," she
answered with dancing eyes and a lovely rose color mounting her cheeks.
"Looks like all the love we have got for each other's orphant children
have mixed itself up into a wedding cake for the family. I had laid off
to tell you all about it this afternoon, and here's a box of
peppermints Mr. Hoover sent everybody. He said to make you say sweet
things about him to me. Have one, Mis' Peavey, and pass the box!"

With which a general laugh and buzz of inquiry went around with the box
of sweets provided by the wily widower.

"Well, we think we'll just build a long, covered porch acrost the
fronts of the two houses to connect 'em up," answered Mrs. Pratt to a
friendly inquiry about her future domestic arrangements.

"I know it will look sorter like a broke-in-two steamboat but I can put
the boys all over into one house and take the girls with me. We can
rent a room in the boys' house to Mr. Petway and he'll look after them
if need be, though 'Lias Hoover and my Henny Turner are getting big,
dependable boys already. I'm so glad the children match out in pairs. I
always did want twins and now I'm going to have eight pairs and the
baby over. I don't think I ever was so happy before." And pretty Bettie
fairly radiated lovingness from her big, motherly heart.

"Bettie Pratt, you are a regular Proverbs, last chapter and tenth to
thirtieth verse woman and your husband's heart is a-going to 'safely
rejoice' in you," said Mother Mayberry as she beamed across the little
sleeve she was basting in an apron. "And this brings me to the mention
of another little Bible character we have a-running about amongst us.
It's 'Liza Pike, as should be called one of God's own little ravens
arid you all know why."

"Yes, we do, Sister Mayberry," spoke up Mrs. Mosbey quickly. "And I've
just caught on to her doings, and thankful I am to her for letting in
the light to us before it were too late maybe."

"Why, what have my child been a-doing to be spoke of this way?" asked
her mother with both pride and uneasiness in her tone, for Eliza, as is
the way of all geniuses, especially those of a philanthropic turn of
mind, was apt often to confront those responsible for her with the
unexpected.

"Just seeing what we was failing to notice, that Mis' Bostick and the
Deacon was in need of being tooken care of and, without a word to
anybody, starting out with a covered dish and a napkin to do the
providing for 'em. And in the right spirit, too, walking into each
kitchen and taking the best offen the stove--no left-over scraps in her
offering to the Lord, and she have gave a lesson to grown-ups. We all
love the old folks and was ready to do, but 'Liza have proved that love
must be mixed with a little gumption to make wheels go round. And ain't
she cute about it? She told the Deacon that she had to bring something
from everybody's kitchen or hurt all our feelings. They is a way of
putting what-oughter-be into words that makes it a truth, and she did
it that time." As she delivered her little homily on the subject of the
absent small Sister Pike, Mother Mayberry's face shone with emotion and
there was a mist in her eyes that also dimmed the vision of some of the
others.

"And the way of her," laughed the widow softly. "Told me yesterday I
didn't brown my hoe-cake enough on both sides for the Deacon's
greens--that Mis' Peavey's was better."

"Why, Mis' Pratt, 'Liza oughtn't to speak that way to you; it ain't
manners," her mother hastened to say as they all laughed, even the
misanthrope, who was much pleased over this public acknowledgment of
the superiority of her handiwork.

"Now, Judy honey, don't you say one word to 'Liza about that! She have
got the whole thing fixed up for us now, and it won't do to get her
conscious like in her management of the old folks. The thing for us to
do is to make our engagements for truck with her regular and take her
dictation always about what is sent. Keep it in her mind how
complimented we are to be let give to the Deacon and she'll manage him,
pride and all, in a sorter game. We'll make it a race with her which
pleases him most. And now," Mother paused and looked from the face of
one hearty country woman to another with a wealth of affection for each
and every one, "let's don't none of us forget to take the child up to
the throne with us each night in the arms of prayer, as one of His
ministers!--Well it's time for us to walk out to the dining-room and
see what kind of a set-out Cindy and Elinory have got for us. Yes, Mis'
Nath, did you ever see such a show of decorations? She must a-kinder
sensed the wedding in the air in compliment to you, Bettie. Come in,
one and all!"

And the cheerful company assembled around the hospitable Mayberry board
put into practice the knife and fork by-law of the Circle with hearty
good will. Cindy's austerity relaxed noticeably at the compliments
handed her in return for her offer of the various viands she had
prepared for their delectation, and Miss Wingate blushed and beamed
upon them all with the most rapturous delight when her efforts met with
like commendation. She had insisted on helping Cindy wait on them and
was such a very lovely young Hebe that they could scarcely eat for
looking at her.

"Sakes, Mis' Mayberry," said Mrs. Pike, who had unbent from her reserve
over her second cup of tea to a most remarkable degree, "it were hard
enough to ask Doctor Tom in to pot-luck with my chicken dumplins, that
he carries on over, a-knowing about what you and Cindy could shake up
in the kitchen, but with Miss Elinory's cooking added I'm a-going to
turn him away hungry next time."

"Oh, please don't!" exclaimed Miss Wingate. "Yours is the next place he
has promised to take me to supper. And Bud and Eliza have both invited
me."

"I'll set a day with him this very night," responded Mrs. Judy, all
undone with pride. Nothing in the world could have pleased the
hospitable country women more than the parties that Doctor Tom had been
improvising for the amusement of the singer girl. Before each visit he
openly and boldly made demands of each friend for her CHEF-D'OEUVRE and
consumed the same heartily and with delight in the stranger's growing
appetite.

"If you folks don't stop spoiling Tom Mayberry I won't never be able to
get him a wife. I'll have to take little Bettie to raise and teach her
how to bit and bridle him," laughed Mother Mayberry, as they all rose
and flocked to the front porch.

In the Road in front of the house had congregated the entire school of
small-fry, drawn by the mother lode, but too well trained to think of
making any kind of interruption to the gathering. They were busily
engaged in a tag and tally riot which was led on one side by Eliza and
the other by Henny Turner, whose generalship could hardly be said to
equal that of his younger and feminine opponent. Teether and little
Hoover sat in the Pike wheelbarrow which was drawn up beside the Pike
gate, and attached thereto by long gingham strings were Martin Luther
and little Bettie. They champed the gingham bits drawn through their
mouths and pranced with their little bare feet in the dust, as Eliza
found time every minute or two to call out "whoa" or cut at them with a
switch as she flashed past them. They were distinctly of the game and
were blissfully unconscious of the fact that they were not in it. This
arrangement for keeping them happy, though out of the way, had been of
Eliza's contriving and did credit to her wit in many senses of the word.

At the appearance of their be-hatted parents on Mother Mayberry's front
walk they all swooped over and stood in a circle around the gate. A
mother who has many calls in the life-complicated to take her out of
reach of the children is different from a mother who is always in the
house, kitchen, garden or at a convenient neighbor's, and this weekly
three-hour separation occasionally had disastrous results.

"Have anything happened, 'Liza?" asked her mother, as she ran a
practised eye over her group and detected not a loose end. Eliza and
Bud had rolled over the wheelbarrow, led by the prancing team.

"No'm," answered Eliza, "everybody's been good and the Deacon have told
us three Bible tales, and my side have beat Henny's five catches and
one loose. But Henny played his'n good," she added, with a worthy
victor's generosity to the fallen foe.

"Here's a whole bucket of cakes Cindy and Miss Elinory made in case we
found a good passel of children when the meeting was over," said Mother
Mayberry as she tendered the crisp reward of merit to Bud Pike, who
stood nearest her.

"Thank you, ma'am," answered Bud, mindful of his manners. "Say, 'Liza,
let's all go down and set on the pump and eat 'em, and we can drink
water, too, so they will last longer."

"All right," answered Eliza, and she set about unharnessing the young
team, who immediately scampered after the rest. She handed little
Hoover to Mrs. Pratt and was preparing to set off with Teether in the
wake of the cake bucket, when the widow called to her.

"'Liza, honey," she said, "here's some peppermints for you. They wasn't
enough to give some to all the children, but I want you to get a bite,
anyway."

"Thanky, ma'am, but I don't like the fresh air taste of 'em in my
mouth," answered Eliza. "But can you give me five of 'em? I want one
for Deacon and Mis' Bostick and I want one for Squire Tutt, 'cause he
do love peppermint so. He wouldn't take the medicine Mother Mayberry
fixes for him if she didn't put peppermint in it. He says so. He's
porely and have got his head all tied up in a shawl, 'cause prayer
meeting day Mis' Tutt sings hymns all the time and music gives him
misery in his ears. I want to give her one, too, and I want one for
Cindy."

"I'll save all in the box for you, sweetie," assented Mrs. Pratt
heartily. "Now run along, for you might get left out of that cake
eating."

"No, ma'am, I won't," answered Eliza with confidence; "they won't begin
till I get there. It wouldn't be fair." And she hurried down the Road
to where the group waited impatiently but loyally around the town pump.

"Ain't they all the Lord's blessings?" asked Mother Mayberry, as she
looked down the Road at the little swarm with tender pride in her eyes.

"That they are," answered the widow, with an echo of the pride in her
own rich voice, "and to think that pretty soon seventeen of 'em will be
mine!"

And it was an hour or two later that the old red sun had reluctantly
departed across the west meadows, just as a soft lady moon rose
languidly over Providence Nob. Providence suppers had all been served,
the day's news discussed with the men folk, jocularly eager to get the
drippings of excitement from the afternoon infair, and the Road
toddlers put to bed, when the soft-toned Meeting-house bell droned out
its call for the weekly prayer meeting. Very soon the Road was in a
gentle hum of conversation as the congregation issued from their house
doors and wended their way slowly toward the little church, which, back
from the Road in an old cedar glade, brooded over its peaceful yard of
graves. The men had all donned their coats and exchanged field hats for
stiff, uncomfortable, straight-brimmed straw, and their wives still
wore the Sewing Circle gala attire. The older children walked
decorously along, each group in wake of the heads of their own family,
though Buck Peavey had managed to annex himself to the Hoover household.

"Well, I don't know just what to do with you all," said Mother
Mayberry, as she came out on the front porch, sedately bonneted, with
her Bible and hymn-book under her arm and fortified with a huge
palm-leaf fan. "It's my duty to make you both come with Cindy and me to
prayer meeting, but I don't hold with a body using they own duty as a
stick to fray out other folks with. I reckon I'll have to let you two
just set here on the steps and see if you can outshine the moon in your
talk, which you can't, but think you can."

"Oh, we'll come with you! I was just going to get my hat," exclaimed
the singer lady as she rose from the steps upon which Doctor Tom kept
his seat and puffed a ring of his cigar smoke at his mother daringly.

"No, honey-bird, you've had a long day since your sun-up breakfast and
I'll excuse you. I'd LET Tom Mayberry go only I have to make him stay
to keep care of you. Put that lace fascination around your throat if a
breeze blows up! Tom, try to make out, with Elinory's help, to bring a
fresh bucket of water from the spring for the night. Good-by, both of
you; I'm a-going to bring you a blessing!"

"Yourself, mother," called the Doctor after her.

"Honey-fuzzle," called Mother back from the gate. "Better keep it, son,
you'll need it some day."

"Was there ever, ever anybody just like her?" asked Miss Wingate, as
she sank back on the step beside the Doctor.

"I think not," he answered with a hint of tenderness in his voice; "but
then, really, Mother is one of a type. A type one has to get across a
continent from Harpeth Hills to appreciate. She's the result of the men
and women who blazed the wilderness trail into Tennessee, and she has
Huguenot puritanism contending with cavalier graces of spirit in her
nature."

"Well, she's perfectly darling and the little town is just an exquisite
setting for her. Do you know what this soft moonlight aspect of
Providence reminds me of, with those tall poplars down the Road and the
wide-roofed houses and barns? The little village in Lombardy
where--where I met--my fate."

"Met your fate?" asked the Doctor quickly after a moment. His face was
in the shadow and not a note in his voice betrayed his anxiety.

"Yes," answered the singer lady in a dreamy, reminiscent voice. The
moon shone full down into her very lovely face, fell across her white
throat and shimmered into the faint rose folds of her dainty gown. Her
close, dark braids showed black against the fragrant wistaria vines and
her eyes were deep and velvety in the soft light. "Yes, it was the
summer I was eighteen and I had gone over with my father for a month or
two of recuperation for him after a long extra session of Congress.
Monsieur LaTour was staying in the little village, also recuperating.
He heard me singing to father, and that night my fate was sealed. It
was a wonderful thing to come to me--and I was so young."

"Tell me about it," said the Doctor quietly, and his voice was
perfectly steady, though his heart pounded like mad and his cigar shook
in his fingers.

"My father died at the end of the summer, after only a few day's
illness, and he had grown to believe what LaTour said of my voice, and
to have great confidence in my future. I had no near relatives and in
his will he left me to Monsieur LaTour and Madame, his wife. She is an
American and her father had been in the Senate with father for years.
Monsieur is a very great teacher, perhaps the greatest living. Madame
wanted to come to Providence with me, but Doctor Stein insisted that I
come alone. I--I'm very glad she didn't, though they both love me and
await--" She paused and leaned her flower head back against the
wistaria vine.

And the great breath that Doctor Thomas Mayberry of Providence drew
might have cracked the breast of a giant. In this world no record is
kept of the great moments when a private individual's universe collides
with his far star and of the crash that ensues.

"I rather thought you meant another--another kind of fate. I was
preparing for confidences," he managed to say in a very small voice for
so large a man.

"Mais, non, Monsieur, jamais--never!" she exclaimed quickly.
"I--I--have been tempted to think sometimes I might like that sort--of
a--fate, but I haven't had the time. It was work, work, sleep, eat,
live for the voice! And--and once or twice it has seemed worth while.
My debut night in Paris when I sang the Juliette waltz-song-just the
moment when I realized I could use it as I would and always more
volume--and the people! And again the night in New York when I had made
it incarnate Elizabeth as she sings to Tannhauser--the night it went
away." And as she spoke she dropped her head on her arms folded across
her knees.

"Have you picked out the song you are going to sing first when it comes
back?" demanded the very young Doctor with a quick note of tenderness
in his voice, still under a marvelous control.

"Yes," she answered as she turned her head and peeped up at him with
shining eyes, a delicious little burr of a laugh in her throat, "Rings
on my fingers, bells on my toes, for Teether Pike. He is wild about my
humming it, and dances with his absurd, chubby little legs at the first
note. What will he do if I can really sing it? And I'll sing Beulah
Land for Cindy, and I'm sitting on the stile, Mary, for your mother,
perhaps, Oh, the kingdom of my heart for Buck, and Drink to me only,
for Squire Tutt, hymns for the Deacon--and a paean for you, if I have
to order one from New York."

"Do you know," said the Doctor after a long pause in which he lit his
cigar and again began to puff rings out into the moonlight, "I'd like
to say that you are--are a--perfect wonder."

"You may," she answered with a laugh. Then suddenly she stretched out
her hand to him and, as he took it into his, she asked very quietly
with just the one word, "When?"

"In a few weeks, I hope," he answered her just as quietly,
comprehending her instantly.

"I'll be good--and wait," she answered him in a Hone of voice that
would have done credit to little Bettie Pratt. "Let's hurry and get
that bucket of water; don't you hear them singing the doxology?"



CHAPTER VI

THE PROVIDENCE TAG-GANG


"Miss Elinory, do you think getting married and such is ketching, like
the mumps and chickenpox?" asked Eliza Pike as she sat on the steps at
the daintily shod feet of the singer lady, who sat in Mother Mayberry's
large arm-chair, swinging herself and Teether slowly to and fro,
humming happily little vagrant airs that floated into her brain on the
wings of their own melody. Teether's large blue eyes looked into hers
with earnest rapture and his little head swayed on his slender neck in
harmony with her singing.

"Why, Eliza, I'm sure I don't know. Do you think so?" answered Miss
Wingate, as she smiled down into the large eyes raised to hers. The
heart-to-heart communions, which she and Eliza found opportunities to
hold, were a constant source of pleasure to Miss Wingate, and the
child's quaint little personality unfolded itself delightedly in the
sunshine of appreciation from this lady of her adoration.

"Yes'm, I believe I do. Mis' Pratt and Mr. Hoover started it, and last
night Mr. Petway walked home with Aunt Prissy and Maw set two
racking-chairs out on the front porch for 'em. Paw said he was more'n
glad to set in the back yard and smoke his pipe. Maw wouldn't put
Teether to bed, but rocked him in her lap 'cause he might wake up and
disturb 'em. She let me set up with her and Paw and he told tales on
the time he co'ted her. She said hush up, that co'ting was like mumps
and chickenpox and he was about to get a second spell. Does it make you
want a beau too, Miss Elinory?"

"Well," answered Miss Wingate slowly with a candor that would have been
vouched no other soul save the sympathetic Eliza, "it might be nice."

"I thought you would like one," answered Eliza enthusiastically, "and
you know I had done picked out Doctor Tom for you, but since I saw him
dress up so good this morning and go to Bolivar to take the train to
the City and he got the letter from Miss Alford day before
yesterday--that is, Aunt Prissy says Mr. Petway thinks it was from
her--I reckon it won't be fair to get him for you, when she had him
first last summer. Oughtn't you to be fair about taking folk's beaux
just like taking they piece of cake or skipping rope?" Eliza was fast
developing a code of morals that bade fair to be both original and
sound.

"Yes," answered Miss Wingate with the utmost gravity and not a little
perturbation in her voice, "yes, of course. When did Doctor Mayberry
go?"

"This morning before you came down-stairs. He give Mother Mayberry some
drops for Mis' Bostick and told me, too, how to give 'em to her. Mother
Mayberry is down there now and I'm a-going to stay with her this
afternoon. But I tell you what we can do, Miss Elinory, there is Sam
Mosbey--I believe you can get him easy. He picked up a rose you dropped
when you went in the store to get your letters the other day, and when
Mr. Petway laughed he got red even in his ears. And just this week he
have bought a pair of pink suspenders, some sweet grease for his hair
and green striped socks. He'll look lovely when he gets fixed up and I
hope you will notice him some." Eliza spoke in the most encouraging of
tones of the improvement in appearance of the suitor she was
advocating, and was just about to continue her machinations by further
enthusiasm when, from down the road at the Bosticks, came Mother
Mayberry's voice calling her, and like a little killdee she darted away
to the aid of her confrere.

And for several long minutes Miss Wingate sat perfectly still and
looked across the meadow to the sky-line with intent eyes. Teether was
busily engaged in drawing by degrees his own pink toes up to his rosy
lips in an effort to get his foot into his mouth, an ambition that
sways most mortals from their seventh to tenth month. A thin wraith of
Miss Alford's personality had been drifting through the singer lady's
consciousness for some days, but she was positively stunned at this
sudden materialization. There come moments in the lives of most women
when they get glimpses into the undiscovered land of their own hearts
and are appalled thereby. Suddenly she hugged the chuckling baby very
close and began a rapid rocking to the humming accompaniment of a
rollicking street tune, a seemingly inexplicable but perfectly natural
proceeding.

"Well, I'd like to know which is the oldest, you or the baby,
honey-bird!" exclaimed Mother Mayberry as she came up the steps in the
midst of the frolic. "You and him a-giggling make music like a nest
full of young cat-birds. Did you ever notice how 'most any down-heart
will get up and go a-marching to a laugh tune? I needed just them
chuckles to set me up again." As she finished speaking Mother Mayberry
seated herself on the top step and Miss Wingate slipped down beside her
with the baby in her arms.

"What is the trouble this morning, Mrs. Mayberry?" she asked, as she
moved a little closer, so Teether could reach out and nozzle against
Mother Mayberry's shoulder. "Anybody sick?"

"No, not to say sick much," answered Mother, with a touch of
wistfulness in her gentle eyes, "but it looks like, day by day, I can
see Mis' Bostick slipping away from us, same as one of the white garden
lilies what on the third day just closes up its leaves when you ain't
looking and when you go back is gone."

"She isn't so old she can't--can't recuperate when the lovely warm days
come to stay this summer, is she?" asked the singer lady with a quick
sympathy in her voice and eyes.

"No, she ain't so old as to die by old age, but what hurts me, child,
is that it is just her broke heart giving out. She have always been
quiet and gentle-smiling, but since the news of Will's running off with
that money came to Providence she have just been fading away. A
mother's heart don't break clean over a child, but gets a jagged wound
that won't often heal. When I think of her suffering it puts a hitch in
my enjoying of that Tom Mayberry." And Mother blinked away the
suspicion of a tear.

"But Mrs. Bostick and the Deacon both are so fond of Doctor Mayberry
that it must be a joy to have him such a comfort to them," said Miss
Wingate softly, as she carried one of Teether's pink hands to her lips.

"Yes, child, I know he is all that. Somehow, here in Providence, we
women have all tried to put some of our own sister love for one another
in our young folks. I hold that when the whole world have learned to
cut sister and brother deep enough into they children's hearts, then
His kingdom is a-going to come in about one generation from them. Now
there's a picture that goes on the page with my remarks! Bettie sure do
look pretty with that white sunbonnet on her head, and count how many
Turners, Pratts, Hoovers and Pikes she have got trailing peacefully
behind her, all like full-blood brothers and sisters. I'm so glad she's
a-bringing her sewing to set a spell. Come in, Bettie, here's a rocker
a-holding out arms to you!" Little Hoover was as usual bobbing in
Bettie's arms and he gurgled at the sight of Teether Pike as if in joy
at this encounter with his side partner and when deposited upon the
floor beside him made a brotherly grab at one of young Pike's pink feet
in the most manifest interest.

"Well, if this just ain't filling at the price," said the widow as she
settled herself in the rocker, and Mother Mayberry established herself
in one opposite, while Miss Wingate elected to remain on the step by
the babies. "I left Pattie over to my house helping Clara May get a
little weed-pulling outen 'Lias and Henny in my garden. Buck Peavey
have just passed by looking like the last of pea-time and the first of
frost. I do declare it were right down funny to see Pattie toss her
head at him, and them boys both giggled out loud. He ain't spoke to
Pattie for a week 'cause she sang outen Sam Mosbey's hymn-book last
Wednesday night at prayer meeting. He've got a long-meter doxology face
for sure."

"And he's a-suffering, too," answered Mother Mayberry with the utmost
sympathy in her placid face at the troubles of her favorite, Buck, the
lover. "To some folks love is a kinder inflammatory rheumatism of the
soul and a-deserving of pity."

A vision of a girl at a college commencement with her nose buried in a
pink peony, looking up and smiling, flashed across the consciousness of
the singer lady and she pressed her head between little Hoover's chubby
shoulders, and acknowledged herself a fit subject for sympathy. To go
and not even think of telling her good-by was cruel, and a forlorn
little sob stifled itself in the mite's pink apron.

"Well, folks," broke in the widow's cheerful voice that somehow
reminded one of peaches and cream, "I come over to-day to get a little
help and encouragement about planning the wedding. I knowed Miss
Elinory would think it up stylish for me and Mis' Mayberry would lend
her head to help fitting notions to what can be did. Mr. Hoover's
clover hay will be laid by next week and he says they ain't nothing
more to keep us back. I've sewed up four bolts of light caliker, two of
domestic, one of blue jeans, and three of gingham into a trousseau for
us all to wear on the wedding trip, and Mr. Petway are a-going to take
measures and bring out new shoes and tasty hats all 'round, next wagon,
trip to town. I think we will make a nice genteel show."

"Are you-going to take everybody on the trip?" asked Miss Wingate,
roused out of her woe by the very idea of the tour in the company of
the seventeen.

"That we are," responded the widow heartily, "but not all to onct.
We'll have to make two bites of the cherry. The day after the wedding
we are a-going to take the two-horse team, a trunk and the ten youngest
and go a-visiting over the Ridge at Mr. Hoover's brother's, Mr.
Biggers. We won't stay more'n a week and stop a day or two coming back
to see Andy and Carrie Louise. Then we'll drop the little ones here on
you neighbors and pick up the seven big ones, add Buck for a compliment
and go on down to the City for two days' high jinks. We're going to
take 'em up to the capitol and over the new bridge and we hope to
strike some kind of band music going on somewhere for 'em to hear. We
want a photygraft group of us all, too. We are going to put up at the
Teamsters' Hotel up on the Square and Mr. Hoover have got party rates.
He says he are a-going to get that seven town-broke anyway, if it costs
two acres of corn. Now won't we have a good time?" The bright face of
the prospective bride fairly radiated with joy at the prospect--Miss
Wingate could but be sympathetically involved, and Mother Mayberry
beamed with delight at the plan.

"That'll be a junket that they won't never a one of 'em forget,
Bettie!" she exclaimed with approval. "They ain't nothing in the world
so educating as travel. And you can trust a country child to see
further and hear more than any other animal on earth. I wouldn't trust
Tom to go to town now without coming back pop-eyed over the
ottermobiles," and Mother Mayberry laughed at her own fling at the
sophisticated young Doctor. Another dart of agony entered the soul of
the singer lady and this time the vision of the girl and the peony was
placed in a big, red motor-car--why red she didn't know, except the
intensity of her feelings seemed to call for that color. She was his
patient and courtesy at least demanded that he should tell her of his
intended absence. What could--

"Well, to come out with the truth," Mrs. Pratt was going on to say by
the time Miss Wingate brought herself to the point of listening again,
"it's just the wedding itself that have gave me all these squeems. Why,
Mis' Mayberry, how on earth are we a-going to parade all the seventeen
into the Meeting-house without getting the whole congregation into a
regular giggle? I don't care, 'cause I know the neighbors wouldn't give
us a mean laugh, but I can see Mr. Hoover have got the whole seventeen
sticking in his craw at the thought, and I'm downright sorry for him."

"Yes, Bettie, men have got sensitive gullets when it comes to
swollering a joke on theyselves," said Mother Mayberry, as she joined
in the widow's merry laugh at the plight of the embarrassed widower.
"Looks like when we all can trust Mr. Hoover to be so good and kind to
you and your children, after he have done waded into the marrying of
you, we oughter find some way to save his feelings from being
mortified. Can't you hatch out a idea, Elinory?"

"Oh, yes, I know, I know just what to do--it came to me in a flash!"
exclaimed the singer lady with pink-cheeked enthusiasm over the
inspiration that had risen from the depths at the call of Mrs. Pratt
and brought her up to the surface of life with it for a moment anyway.
"I saw a wedding once in rural England. All the children in the village
in a double line along the path to the church, each with baskets of
flowers from which they threw posies in front of the bride as she came
by them! Let's get all the children together and mix them up and let
them stand along the walk to the church door. It will just make a
beautiful picture with no--no thought of--of who belongs to anybody.
Everybody from Pattie and Buck down to little Bettie and Martin Luther!
Won't it be lovely? I can show them just how to march, down the road
with their baskets in their arms, and Mrs. Pratt, you can come from
your house with the Deacon and Mr. Hoover can come out of the back of
the store--with--with, who is going to be his groomsman?"

"Lawsy me, I hadn't thought of that," answered the widow. "I'll tell
you, Mr. Pratt's brother is coming over from Bolivar to the wedding,
and as he is a-going to be a kinder relation in law by two marriages
with Mr. Hoover, I think it would be nice to ask him."

"Er--yes," assented the singer lady, controlling a desire to smile at
this mix-up of the bride's present and past relations to life. "The
little girls ought to have white dresses and the boys--well, what could
the little boys wear?" Miss Wingate felt reasonably sure that white
dresses for all the feminine youth of Providence would be forthcoming,
but she hesitated at suggesting a costume for the small boys.

"Yes, all the little girls have got white dresses and ribbons and
fixings, but dressing up a herd of boys is another thing," answered
Mother Mayberry. "If just blue jeans britches could be made to do we
might make out to get the top of them rigged out in a white shirt
apiece; couldn't we, Bettie?"

"That we can," answered the bride heartily. "Give me a good day at the
sewing-machine, with somebody to cut and somebody to baste, and I will
get 'em all turned out by sundown. But they feet! Mis' Mayberry, could
we get Jem into shoes, do you reckon? About how many bad stumped toes
is they in Providence now?"

"Well," answered Mother Mayberry reflectively, "I don't know about but
two, but we can ask 'Liza Pike. Thank you for your plan, honey-bird,
and we're a-going to put it through so as to be a credit to you.
Children are sorter going out of style these days and I'm proud to make
a show of our'n. Women's leaving babies outen they calculations is
kinder like cutting buds offen the tree of life, and I'm glad no sech
fashion have struck Harpeth Hills yet."

"Now, ain't that the truth?" exclaimed the Widow Pratt. "Sometimes when
I read some of the truck about what women have took a notion to turn
out and do in the world, I get right skeered about what are a-going to
happen to the babies and men in the time to come."

"Don't worry about 'em, Bettie," laughed Mother Mayberry, with a
quizzical sparkle in her eyes. "Even when women have got that right to
march in the front rank with the men and carry some of the flags, that
they are a-contending for, they'll always be some foolish enough to lag
behind with babies on they breasts, a string of children following and
with always a snack in her pocket to feed the broke down front-rankers,
men or women. You'll find most Providence women in that tag-gang, I'm
thinking; but let's do our part in whooping on the other sisters that
have got wrongs to right."

"I suppose the world really has done women injustice in lots of ways,"
said the singer lady plaintively, for she had very lately, for the
first time in her life, felt the
sit-still-and-hold-your-hands-while-he-rides-away grind, and it had
struck in deep.

"Yes, I suppose so," answered Mother Mayberry, as she picked up little
Hoover, who was nodding like a top-heavy petunia in a breeze, and
stretched him across her lap for a nap. "But as long as she have got
the spanking of man sprouts from they one to ten years she oughter make
out to get in a vote to suit herself, as time comes along, especially
if she have picked her husband right."

"She--she can't--can't pick her husband," hazarded the singer lady
desperately.

"Yes, she can, honey-child," answered Mother Mayberry comfortably. "The
smile in her eye and the switch of her skirts is a woman's borned-vote,
and she can elect herself wife to any man she cares to use 'em on. But
what about the collation, Bettie? Everybody is going to help you with
the cooking and fixings, and let's have a never-forget supper this
onct."

"That we are," answered Mrs. Pratt emphatically. "Mr. Hoover says no
hand-around, stand-around for him; he wants a regular laid table with a
knife and fork set-down to it. He says we are a-going to feed our
friends liberal, if it takes three acres of timothy hay to do it, and
he's about right. We'll begin thinking about that and deciding what the
first of the week. But I must be a-going to see that the dinner horn
blows in time. I want to get my sparagrasses extra tender, for 'Liza
have notified me that she is going to stop by to-day with the covered
dish, and I want to fill it tasty for her. Come visiting soon, Miss
Elinory, for I've got something to show you that are too foolish to
speak about to Mis' Mayberry." And the widow gave a delicious little
giggle as she lifted the sleeping baby from Mother Mayberry's lap and
started down the steps.

"Dearie me, Bettie," answered Mother with a laugh, "don't you know that
poking up a woman's curiosity is mighty apt to start a yaller jacket to
buzzing? I'll be by your house sometime before sundown myself."

"Some women's ship of life is a steamboat that stops to take on
passengers at every landing. Bettie's are one of them kind, and she'll
tie up with 'em all in glory when the time comes," remarked Mother
Mayberry as she watched the sturdy widow swing away down the Road with
the baby asleep over her shoulder.

Just at this moment, Cindy found occasion to summon Mother Mayberry to
the chicken yard on account of a dispute that had arisen between old
Dominick and one of the ungallant roosters that had resulted in an
injury to one of the small fry, which lay pitifully cheeping on the
back steps. Dominick, with every feather awry, was holding command of
the bowl of corn-meal while her family feasted, and the Plymouth
rooster stood at a respectful distance with a weather eye on both the
determined mother and Cindy's broom. Retribution in the form of Mother
Mayberry descended upon him swiftly and certainly, and he lost no time
in seeking seclusion under the barn.

And by the time order and peace were restored to the barn-yard, Mother
came in to dinner and spent an hour in interested hen-lore with the
singer lady, who was really fond of hearing about the feathered
families when she saw how her interest in them pleased Mrs. Mayberry.
The subject of the Doctor, his absence and the probable time of his
return was not mentioned by his mother, and for the life of her Miss
Wingate could not muster the courage for a single question. She felt
utterly unable to stand even the most mild eulogy on the peony-girl and
was glad that nothing occurred to turn the conversation in that
direction. She was silent for the most part, and most assiduous in her
attentions to Martin Luther, whose rapidly filling outlines were making
him into a chubby edition of the Raphaelite angel. Martin had landed in
the garden of the gods and was making the most of the golden days. He
bore his order of American boyhood with jaunty grace, and the curl had
assumed a rampant air in place of the pathetic.

"Martin, do you want me to wash your face and hands and come go
visiting with me?" asked the singer lady, as she stood on the front
steps and watched Mother Mayberry depart in her old buggy on the way to
visit a patient over the Nob. A long, lonely afternoon was more than
she could face just now, and she felt certain that distraction, if not
amusement, could be found in a number of places along the Road.

"Thank, ma'am, please," answered Martin Luther, who still clung to the
formula that he had found to be a perfectly good open sesame to most of
the pleasant things of life, when used as he knew how to use it.

So, taking her rose-garden hat in one hand and Martin Luther's chubby
fist in the other, Miss Wingate started down Providence Road for a
series of afternoon calls, at the fashionable hour of one-thirty. She
was just passing by Mrs. Peavey's gate with no earthly thought of going
in when she beheld the disconsolate Buck stretched full length on the
grass under a tree, which was screened by a large syringa bush from the
front windows of the maternal residence. A hoe rested languidly beside
him, and it was a plain case of farm hookey.

"Oh, Miss Elinory," called his mother from the side steps, "did Mis'
Mayberry hear about that fire down in town that burned up two firemen,
a police and a woman?" At the sound of his mother's strident voice,
Buck curled up in a tight knot and with a despairing glance rolled
under the bush.

"I don't know, Mrs. Peavey, but I'll tell her," Miss Wingate called
back as she prepared to hasten on for fear Mrs. Peavey would come to
the gate for further parley, and thus discover the exhausted culprit.

"And a man tooken pisen on account of a bank's failing in Louisville,"
she added in a still shriller tone, which just did carry across the
distance to Mrs. Pike's front door, through which Miss Wingate was
disappearing. Her prompt flight had saved the day for the disconsolate
lover, who cautiously rolled from under the bush again and went on with
his interrupted nap.

She found Mrs. Pike and Miss Prissy at home, and spent a really
delightful hour in speculating and unfolding possible plans for the
Pratt-Hoover nuptials. Miss Prissy blushed and giggled at an
elephantine attempt at badinage that her sister-in-law directed at her
on the subject of Mr. Petway, and after a while Miss Wingate went on
her way, in a manner comforted by their wholesome merriment. She
hesitated at the front gate of the Tutt residence, but the sight of the
Squire pottering around in a diminutive garden at the side of the house
decided her to enter, for Squire Tutt held the charm for her that a
still-fused fire-cracker holds for a small boy.

"I ain't well at all," he exploded, in answer to her polite question,
asked in the meekest of voices. "Don't you set up to marry Tom
Mayberry, girl, if you don't wanter get a numbskull. Told me to eat a
passel of raw green stuff for my liver, like I was a head of cattle.
I'll die if I follow him. Everybody he doctors'll die. Snake bite is
the only thing he knows how to cure, and snakes don't crawl until the
last of the month. Don't marry him, I say, don't marry him!"

And it took Miss Wingate several minutes after her hurried adieus to
get over the effect of the Squire's inhibitory caution. But the haven
for which she had been instinctively aiming was just across the Road,
and she found a peace and quiet which sank into her perturbed soul like
a benediction. The Deacon sat by Mrs. Bostick's bed with his Bible
across his thin old knees, and Eliza was crouched on the floor just in
front of him, with her knees in her embrace and her eyes fixed on his
gentle face. Little Bettie Pratt lay across Mrs. Bostick's bed, deep in
her afternoon nap, and Henny Turner was stretched out full length on
the floor in front of the window, while 'Lias sat with his back against
the wall with the puppy in his arms. The pale face of the sweet invalid
was lit by a gentle smile, and she held one of the sleeping child's
warm little hands in her frail, knotted, old fingers. Unnoticed, Miss
Wingate and Martin Luther paused a moment at the door.

"Golly, Deacon, but didn't he do him up at one shot, and nothing but a
little piece of rock in the gum-sling!" exclaimed 'Lias in excitement
over the climax of the tale the Deacon had just completed. "I wisht I
was that strong!"

"It was the strength the Lord gived to him, 'Lias Hoover, to special
kill the giant with," said Eliza in an argumentative tone of voice. "Do
you reckon He tooken the strength away from David the next morning,
Deacon, or let him keep it to use all the time?" Eliza's extreme
practicality showed at all times, even in those of deepest excitement.

The Deacon was saved the strain of intellect involved in making reply
to this demand by his wife's low exclamation of pleasure as she caught
sight of the girl and the tot in the doorway. She smiled softly as the
singer lady seated herself on the side of the bed and took both her
hand and that of the sleeping baby in a firm, young one. A peculiar
bond of sympathy had arisen between the girl and the gentle old
invalid, both fighting pain and anxiety. Mrs. Bostick would lie for
hours drinking in tales of Miss Wingate's travels in the world, which
she had timidly but eagerly asked for from the beginning of their
friendship. The girl knew that the anxious mother-heart vas using her
descriptions to fare forth on quests for the wanderer into the wide
world beyond the Harpeth Hills, that had all her life bounded her
horizon, and she sat by her long hours, leading the way into the
uttermost parts. After a fatherly greeting, the Deacon departed with
the children to his bench under the trees and left the two alone for
their talk, and the long shadows were stretched across the Road and the
sun sinking beyond the Ridge before the singer lady wended her way
dejectedly home with the play-wearied Martin Luther trailing beside
her. She found Mother Mayberry, much to her relieved astonishment,
placidly rocking in her accustomed place, with her palm-leaf ruffling
the water-waves and a fresh lawn tie blowing in the breeze.

"Come in, honey-hearts," she said eagerly, with bright tenderness
shining in her face for the girl and the barefoot young pilgrim; "I
have been setting here a-missing you both for a hour. With you and my
young mission boy both gone I'm like an old hawk-robbed hen. I knew you
was with Mis' Bostick, and I didn't come for you 'cause somehow them
rocking-chair-bed travels you and her take seems to comfort her. I
wouldn't interrupt one of 'em for the world, though I was getting plumb
lonesome. I was even a-hankering after that Tom Mayberry what I left
not over two hours ago."

"Has the Doctor come back from the City this soon?" demanded the singer
lady, with a queer thump in her cardiac region that almost smothered
her voice.

"Well now, to tell the truth, Tom Mayberry haven't been to no City,"
answered his mother with a chuckle as she looked at Miss Wingate over
Martin Luther's head on her shoulder where he had buried it with a
demand for "milk, milk, thank ma'am, please." "I don't think he wants
you to know what he have been having happen to him, but I can't keep
from telling you 'cause I'm tickled clean to my funny bone. Dave Hanks
come over here at daylight wanting a doctor quick, and I had a cramp in
my leg what I forgot to tie a yarn string around before I went to bed,
so I had to let Tom hurry on over there 'count of the push they was in.
Then I got to studying it over and while I knewed how Tom had had a lot
of practice in such things in a hospital, I thought it was just as well
to let him get a little Harpeth experience along that line and sorter
prove his character to Squire Tutt and the rest. About dinner time,
though, I got sorry for him and hitched up and went over there to see
how they was a-getting along, without telling you or Cindy anything
about it. And what did I find? That Tom Mayberry and Dave Hanks out on
the back porch, Dave taking a drink outen a bottle and Tom with two
babies wrapped up in a shawl showing 'em to a neighbor woman, proud as
a peacock over 'em. He most dropped 'em when he seen me and I promised
not to tell you about it at all, but if you coulder seen him!" And the
tried and proven young AEsculapius' mother fairly rolled in her chair
with mirth at the recollection.

"Oh," gasped the singer girl, as she sank weakly down upon the top step
and leaned her head against the convenient post. "It was awful--I--I--"
she caught herself quickly in the expression of the intensity of her
relief.

"No, it wasn't awful," answered Mother Mayberry, fortunately losing the
trend of the exclamation. "They are mighty sweet little babies, both
girls. The joke is mostly on me getting uneasy and following Tom up.
When I pick out his wife, I must be sure and see she are a girl what
don't worry none about what he is up to. A trouble-hunting wife is a
rock sinker to any man, but around a doctor's neck she'll finish him
quick. Don't let on to the shame-faced thing when he comes! He asked me
what you'd been a-doing all day, and I told him I thought maybe you had
a few custards in your mind for him to-night when he gets back from
Flat Rock. Don't you want to beat up some with Cindy's help? And they
is a bunch of pink peonies he sent you from Mis' Hank's bushes,
sticking in a bucket on the back porch. Pin one in your hair to sorter
compliment him after all the trouble he have had this day, poor Tom!"



CHAPTER VII

PRETTY BETTIE'S WEDDING DAY


And even old Dame Nature of Harpeth Hills aroused herself for the
occasion and took in hand the wedding day of pretty Bettie Pratt on
Providence Road. In the dark hours before dawn she spread a light film
of clouds over the stars, from which she first puffed a stiff
dust-cleansing breeze and then proceeded to sprinkle a good washing
shower which took away the last trace of wear and tear of the past hot
days, so by the time she brought the sun out for a final shine up, the
village looked like it had been having a most professional laundering.
And after an hour or two of his warm encouragement, the roses lifted
their buds and began to blow out with joyous exuberance. Mother
Mayberry's red-musks tumbled over the wall almost on to the head of
Mrs. Peavey's yellow-cluster, and Judy Pike's pink-cabbage fairly flung
blossoms and buds over into the Road. The widow's own moss-damask
nodded and beckoned hospitably to Mrs. Tutt's Maryland tea, and Pattie
Hoover's Maiden's Blush mingled its sweetness with that of the dainty
white-cluster that climbed around Mrs. Bostick's window. A haunting
perfume from the new-mown clover fields drifted over it all and the
glistening silver poplar leaves danced in the breezes.

"Was they ever such a day before!" exclaimed Mother Mayberry as she
stood on the front steps with the singer lady, who was as blooming
herself as any rose on the Road. "And everything is well along towards
ready when it's turned twelve. The children have all been washed from
skin out and just need a last polish-off. I've put 'em all on honor not
to get dirty again and I think every shoe will be on by marching time."

"The baskets and the tubs of roses are in the milk house, and I will
arrange them at the last minute so they won't wilt," answered Miss
Wingate with enthusiasm that matched Mother Mayberry's. "Do you suppose
there is anything I can do to help anybody anywhere? I never was so
excited before."

"I don't believe they is a loose end to tie up on the Road, child. Even
Bettie herself have finished for the day and have gone over to set a
quiet hour with Mis' Bostack. Clothes is all laid out on beds, and cold
lunch snacks put on kitchen tables. They ain't to be a dinner cooked on
the Road this day 'cept what 'Liza and Cindy are a-stewing up for the
Deacon and Mis' Bostick. Looks like everything is on greased wheels,
and--but there comes the child running now! I do hope they haven't
nothing flew the track."

"Mother Mayberry, please ma'am, tell me what to do about Mis' Tutt!"
Eliza exclaimed with anxiety spread all over her little face, which was
given a comic cast by a row of red flannel rags around her head over
which were rolled prospective curls, due to float out for the
festivities. "She says she won't go to the wedding 'cause it's prayer
meeting night, and it were a sin to put off the Lord's meeting 'till
to-morrow night. I didn't know she were a-going to do this way! I got
out her dress for her yesterday. The Squire is so mad he says tell
Doctor Tom to come do something for him quick and not to bring no hot
water kettle neither."

"Dearie me," said Mother Mayberry with mild exasperation in her voice.
"You run along, 'Liza, and don't you worry with Mis' Tutt. I'll come
down there tereckly and see if I can't kinder persuade her some. Go
around there and give that message to Doctor Tom yourself. I don't take
no stock in such doctoring as he does to the Squire these days."

"Isn't it too bad for Mrs. Tutt to feel that way and miss the wedding?"
asked Miss Wingate with a trace of the same exasperation in her voice
that had sounded in Mother Mayberry's tones.

"It are that," answered Mother regretfully. "Looks like religion
oughter be tooken as a cooling draft to the soul and not stuck on life
like a fly blister. But I think we can kinder fix Mis' Tutt some. And
that reminds me, I want you to undertake a job of using a little
persuading on Tom Mayberry for me. He have got the most lovely long
tail coat, gray britches, gray vest and high silk hat up in his press,
and he says he are a-going to wear his blue Sunday clothes same as
usual, when I asked him careless like about it this morning. I'm fair
dying to behold him just onct in them good clothes he wears out in the
big world and thinks Providence people will make fun of him to see, but
I wouldn't ask him outright to put 'em on for me, not for nothing."

"Do you know, Mrs. Mayberry, you really--really flirt with the Doctor?"
laughed Miss Wingate as she rubbed her delicate little nose against
Mother Mayberry's shoulder with Teether Pike's exact nozzling gesture.

"Well, it's a affair that have been a-going on since the first time I
laid eyes on Ugly, and they ain't nothing ever a-going to stop it
'lessen his wife objects," answered Mother Mayberry as she glanced down
quizzically at the face against her shoulder.

"She's sure to--to adore it," answered the singer lady as she buried
her head in Mother's tie so only the rosy back of her neck showed.

"Yes, I think she will understand," answered the Doctor's mother with a
sweet note in her rich voice as she bestowed a little hug on the
slender body pressed close to hers. "You see, child, the tie twixt a
woman and her own man-child ain't like anything on earth, and I feel it
must hold between Mary and her Son in Heaven. I felt it pull close like
steel when mine weren't fifteen minutes old, and it won't die when I do
neither. And that Tom Mayberry are so serious that a-flirting with him
gets him sorter on his blind side and works to a finish. Can't you try
to help me out about that coat and the silk hat?"

"Yes," answered Miss Wingate with a dimpling smile, "I'll try. I'll ask
him what I shall wear and then maybe--maybe--"

"That's the very idea, honey-bird!" exclaimed Mother Mayberry
delightedly. "Tell him you are a-going to put on your best bib and
tucker and it'll start the notion in him to keep you company. If a
woman can just make a man believe his vanity are proper pride, he will
prance along like the trick horse in a circus. Now s'pose you kinder
saunter round careless like to--"

"Mis' Mayberry," came in a doleful voice over the wall near the porch,
and Mrs. Peavey's mournful face appeared, framed in the lilac bushes.
"I've just been reading the Tuesday Bolivar Herald, and Bettie Pratt's
own first husband's sister-in-law's child died last week out in
Californy, where she moved when she married the second time. I hate to
tell Bettie and have the wedding stopped, but I feel it are my duty not
to let her pay no disrespect to her Turner children by having a wedding
with some of they law-kin in trouble."

"Well, Hettie Ann, I don't believe I'd tell her, for as bad as that
would be on the Turner children, think how much the Pratts and Hoovers
would lose in pleasure, so as they are the majority, it's only fair
they should rule." Mother Mayberry had for a moment stood aghast at the
idea of the misanthrope's descent upon happy Bettie with even this long
distance shadow to cast across her joy, but dealing with her neighbor
for years had sharpened her wits and she knew that a sense of fair play
was one of Mrs. Peavey's redeeming traits that could always be counted
upon.

"Yes, I reckon that are so," she answered grudgingly. "Then we'll have
to keep the bad news to tell her when she gets back from the trip. Did
you know that spangled Wyandotte hen have deserted all them little
chickens and is a-laying again out in the weeds behind the barn? Told
you them foreign poultry wasn't no good," with which she disappeared
behind the top stone of the wall.

"Poor Spangles! she carried them chickens a week longer than could be
expected and now don't get no credit for it," said Mother Mayberry, as
the singer lady gave vent to the giggle she had been suppressing for a
good many minutes. "Now run on, sweet child, and use them beguilements
on Tom for me, while I go try to rub some liniment on Mis' Tutt's
conscience. Fill up Martin Luther sometime soon, will you?"

And in accordance with directions, after a few minutes spent before
Mother Mayberry's old-fashioned mirror in tucking three very perfect
red-musk buds in the belt of her white linen gown, the singer lady
descended upon the unwitting victim, in the north wing and began the
machinations according to promise. Doctor Mayberry, unfortunately for
him, showed extravagant signs of delight at the very sight of the
enemy, for it was almost the first voluntary visit she had ever paid
him, and thus he gave her the advantage to start with.

"You aren't busy, are you?" she asked as she glanced around the
book-lined room and into the laboratory beyond. "This is only a
semi-professional consultation. Could I stay just a few minutes?" and
the lift of her dark lashes from her eyes was most effectively unfair.
As she spoke she settled herself in his chair, while he leaned against
the table looking down upon her with a very shy delight in his gray
eyes and a very decided color in his tan cheeks.

"As long as you will," he answered. "I never can prescribe from a
hurried consultation. It always takes several hours for me to locate
anything. I'm very slow, you know."

"Why, I rather thought you treated your patients with--with very little
time spent in consultation," a remark which she, herself, knew to be a
dastardly manoeuver. "You attended to Squire Tutt's trouble in a very
few minutes, it seems," she hastened to add, as she glanced at a flask
that lay on the corner of the table.

"The Squire's trouble is chronic, and simply calls for refilled
prescriptions," he laughed, his generosity giving over the retort that
was his due. "I somehow think this matter of yours will prove obscure
and will call for time."

"It's a wedding dress I want you to prescribe for me," she hazarded a
bit too hurriedly, for before she could catch up with her own words he
had flashed her an answer.

"That depends!" was the victim's most skilful parry.

"Would you wear a white embroidery and lace or a rose batiste? A rose
hat and parasol go with the batiste, but the white is perfectly
delicious. You haven't seen either one, so I want you to choose by
guess." Only the slightest rose signal in her cheeks showed that she
had been pricked by his quick thrust. She had taken one of the damask
buds from her belt and was daintily nibbling at the folded leaves. Over
it, her eyes dared him to follow up his advantage.

"I don't know--I'll have to think about it," he answered her, weakly
capitulating, but still on guard. "If I choose one for to-day, when
will you wear the other? Soon?" he bargained for his forbearance.

"Whenever you want me to if you'd like to see it," she answered with
what he ought to have known was dangerous meekness. "What are you going
to wear?" she asked, putting the direct question with disarming
boldness.

"Blue serge Sunday-go-to-meetings," he answered carelessly, as if it
were a matter to be dismissed with the statement. "Let's see--say them
over again--white dress, pink parasol, rose hat, how did they go?"

"Once, not long ago, I was in your room with Mrs. Mayberry hunting for
the kittens the yellow cat had hidden in the house, and I caught a
glimpse of a most beautiful frock coat--it made me feel partyfied then,
and I thought of the rose gown I have never worn and--and--" she paused
to let that much sink in well. "I thought I would ask you," she ended
in a pensive tone, as she kept her eyes fixed on the rose determinedly.

"You don't have to ask me things--just tell me!" he answered with an
exquisite hint of something in his voice which he quickly controlled.
"The frock coat let it be--and shall we say the rose gown? Then the
high gods protect Providence when it beholds!" he added with a laugh.

"Oh, will you really?" she asked, overwhelmed with the ease with which
the battle had been won.

"I will," he answered, "only don't let Mother tease me, please!"

At which pathetically ingenuous demand the conquering singer lady
tossed him the rose and laughed long and merrily.

"You and your Mother are perfect--" she was observing with delighted
dimples, when Mother Mayberry herself stood in the doorway with
well-concealed eagerness as to the outcome of the mission, in her face.

"Well," she observed with a laugh, "I'm glad to see somebody that has
time to stand-around, set-around, passing the news of the day. Did you
all know that Bettie Pratt were a-going to get married in about two
hours and a half?"

"We did," answered her son as he drew her a chair close to that of Miss
Wingate. "We were just discussing in what garb we could best grace the
occasion. Did you succeed in getting Mrs. Tutt to change her mind about
honoring the festivities?"

"Oh, yes, she just wanted to be persuaded some. It's a mighty dried-up
mind that can't leaf out in a change onct in a while, and it's mostly
men folks that take a notion, then petrify to stone in it. But you all
oughter see what is a-going on down the Road."

"What?" they both demanded of her at the same second.

"It's that 'Liza Pike again. Just as soon as that child hatches a idea,
the whole town takes to helping her feather it out. She got Mis'
Bostick's bed moved to the front window, and then found that Nath
Mosbey's fence kept her from seeing the Road where the procession are
a-going into the Meeting-house yard. But that didn't down her none at
all, for when I left she had Nath and Buck and Mr. Petway a-knocking
down the two panels of fence, and leaving Mis' Bostick a clean sweep of
view, Did you ever?" and mother Mayberry chuckled over the small
sister's triumph over what to the rest of Providence would have seemed
an insurmountable obstacle.

"It's just like her, the darling!" exclaimed the singer lady
appreciatively.

"And she have got the Deacon all tucked out until he is a sight to
behold. She have made Mis' Peavey starch his white tie until it sets
out on both sides like cat whiskers, and have pinned a bokay on his
coat 'most as big as the bride's. Then she have reached his forelock up
on his head so he looks like Martin Luther, and she have got him
a-settin' down, so as not to get out of gear none. Mis' Bostick is
a-wearing a little white rose pinned on her night-gown, and they is
honeysuckle trailed all over the bed. But here am I a-chavering with
you all, with time a-flying and no chance of putting salt on her tail
this day. Please, Tom Mayberry, go down to the store and buy a nickel's
worth of starch, and it's none of your business how I want to use it.
I'm going to look a surprise for you myself, before sundown."

"Well, how did you get along with him, honeybird?" she asked eagerly,
as they ascended the front steps together, while the Doctor strode down
the Road on his errand.

"Beautifully!" exclaimed the singer lady with enthusiasm and the very
faintest of blushes.

"I thought so from his looks," answered the beguiled young Doctor's
wily mother. "A man always do have that satisfied martyr-smile when he
thinks he are doing something just to please a woman. Now, honey-child,
you ain't got nothing to do but frill out your own sweet self; and make
a job of it while you are about it." With which command Mother Mayberry
dismissed Miss Wingate up the stairs to her dormer-window room.

And it is safe to say that no two such teeming hours ever fleeted their
seconds away on Providence Road as did those ensuing. The whole village
buzzed and bumbled and swarmed in and out from house to house like a
colony of clover-drunken bees on an August afternoon. Laughter floated
on the air and mingled with banter and song, while the aroma of flesh
pots and fine spices drifted from huge waiters being hurriedly carried
from down and up the Road and into the Pratt gate. The wedding supper
was being laid on improvised tables in Bettie's side yard, with Judy
Pike in command, seconded by Mrs. Peavey with her skirts tucked up out
of possible harm and her mind on the outlook for any possible disaster,
from the wilting of the jelly mold to a sad streak in the bride's cake,
baked by the bride herself with perfectly happy confidence.

Then on the heels of the excitement came a quiet half-hour devoted to
the completing of all toilets behind closed family doors. A shrill
squeal issuing now and then from an open window told its tale of
tortures being undergone, and a smothered masculine ejaculation added a
like testimony.

At exactly a quarter to five, Miss Wingate issued from her room after a
completely satisfactory seance with her mirror, and from the front
steps looked down in dismay upon a scene of rebellion, that threatened
at any moment to become one of riot.

On the grass beside the porch stood a group of little girls all
starched, frilled, curled and beribboned until they resembled a large
bouquet of cabbage roses themselves. Each one clasped carefully a gaily
decorated basket filled with roses, and from each and every pair of
eyes there danced sparks of rage, aimed at a huddled company of small
boys who were returning their indignation by sullen scorn mixed with
determination in their polished, freckled faces. Half way between each
group stood Eliza Pike, a glorified Eliza, from a halo of curls to
brand new small shoes. She had evidently been carrying on a losing
series of negotiations, for her usually sanguine face had an expression
of utter hopelessness, tinged with some of the others' feminine
indignation.

"Miss Elinory," she exclaimed as the singer lady came to the edge of
the porch, "I don't know what to make of the boys, they never did this
way before!"

"Why, what is the matter?" asked Miss Wingate, something of Eliza's
panic communicating itself to her own face and voice.

The boys all suddenly found interest in their own feet or the cracks in
the pavement, so Eliza as usual became the spokesman for the occasion.

"They say they just won't carry baskets of flowers, because it makes
them look silly like girls. They will march with us if you make 'em do
it, but they won't carry no baskets for nobody. I don't want Mis' Pratt
to find out how they is a-acting, for three of 'em are hers and five
Hoovers, and it is they own wedding." Eliza's voice almost became a
wail in which Miss Wingate felt inclined to join.

At this juncture, Martin Luther took it upon himself to create a
further diversion and to add fuel to the flame. By a mistake, and
through a determination to follow instructions, he had clung to little
Bettie's hand, and when she picked up one of the tiny baskets provided
for the two tots, so had he, and thus he found himself humiliatingly
equipped and on the wrong side of the yard and question. Disengaging
himself from the wide-eyed Bettie, he marched to the center of the
middle ground and cast the despised basket upon the grass.

"No girl--BOY, thank ma'am, please!" he announced with a defiant glance
at the singer lady up from under the rampant curl, and that he did not
fail in his usual shibboleth of courtesy was due to his habitual use of
it, rather than a desire to soften the effect of his announcement.

Miss Wingate sank down upon the steps in helpless dismay, and tears
began to drop from Eliza's eyes, when Mother Mayberry appeared upon the
scene of action, stiff and rustling as to black silk gown, capped with
a cobweb of lace over the water-waves and most imposing as to mien.

"Now what's all these conniptions about?" she demanded, and eyed the
boys with an expression of reserving judgment that did her credit, for
a forlorn and surly sight they presented.

And again Eliza stated the case of the culprits in brief and not
uncertain terms.

"Well, well," said Mother Mayberry, and a most delicious laugh fell on
the overcharged air and in itself began to clear the atmosphere, "so
you empty-handed, cross-faced boys think you look more stylisher for
the wedding than the girls look, do you?"

"No'm, we never said that," answered young Bud with a grin coaxing at
his wide mouth. "We just don't want to carry no baskets. Buck said he
wouldn't, and Sam Mosbey said they had oughter tie a sash around the
middle of all of us for a show. We think the girls look fine," and he
cast an uneasy glance at his sister.

"Well, seeing as you came down as far as to pass a compliment on 'em, I
reckon the girls will have to forgive you for talking about them that
way. I am willing to ask Miss Elinory here to give you each a little
bunch of roses to carry in your hand instead of a basket, and to let
you walk along beside the girls, though nobody will look at you anyway
or know you are there. Is that a bargain and is everybody ready to step
into line?"

And almost instantly there was a relieved and amicable settling of the
difficulties, a sorting of bunches from the despised baskets, and a
quick line-up.

"Now start on down! Don't you hear Miss Prissy playing the organ for
you?" exclaimed Mother Mayberry from the steps. "Billy, lift up your
feet, and Henny, you throw the first rose just where Miss Elinory told
you to. Everybody watch Henny and throw a flower whenever he does. Aim
them at the ground and not at each other or the company. We'll be just
behind you. Now, Martin Luther, take Bettie by the hand and don't go
too fast!"

"A little fun poked at the right time will settle most man
conniptions," she added, in an aside to the relieved and admiring
singer lady, as they prepared to follow in the wake of the bridal train.

And among all the weddings over all the land, that fill to a joyous
overflowing almost every hour of the month of June, none could have
been more lovely or happier than that of pretty Bettie Pratt, and the
embarrassed but adoring Mr. Hoover on Providence Road. The train of
solemn, wide-eyed little flower bearers was received by the wedding
guests, who were assembled around the Meeting-house door, with a
positive wave of rapture and no hint of the previous hurricane of
rebellion showed in their rosy, cherubic countenances. They separated
at the designated point and according to instructions took their stand
along the side of the walk from the gate to the steps. Billy stepped
high, roly-poly little Bettie steered Martin Luther into place and
Eliza had the joy of catching a glimpse of the pale face across the
store-yard, peering out of the window with the greatest interest.

Then from the Pratt home, directly across the Road, came the Deacon and
Bettie, and the enthusiasm at this point boiled up and ran over in a
perfect foam of joy. And, indeed, the pair made a picture deserving of
every thrill, Bettie in her dove gray muslin and the Deacon bedight
according to Eliza's expert opinion of good form. He beamed like a
gentle old cherub himself, while she giggled and blushed and nodded to
the children as she stepped over the rain of roses, on up to the very
door itself. Immediately following the children, the congregation filed
in and settled itself for the long prayer, that the Deacon always used
to open such solemn occasions.

The singer lady found herself seated between Mother Mayberry and the
Doctor on the end of the pew, and out of the corner of her eye she
essayed a view of his magnificence, but caught him in the act of making
the same pass in her direction. They both blushed, and her smile was
wickedly tantalizing, though she kept her eyes fixed on the Deacon's
face as he began to read the words of the service in his sweet old
voice, with its note of tender affection for the pair of friends for
whom he read them. And she never knew why she didn't realize it or why
she thought of permitting it, but as the impressive words enfolded the
pair at the altar, one of her own small hands was gently possessed in a
warm, strong one, and tightly clasped. For moments the pair of hands
rested on the bench between them, hid by a filmy fold of the rose gown.
There was just nothing to be done about it that the singer lady could
see, so she let matters rest as they were and gave her attention to
trying to keep the riot in her own heart in reasonable bounds. However,
it might have been a comfort to her to know that across the church,
Buck had captured five of Pattie's sunburned fingers, and Mr. Petway
was sitting so close to Miss Prissy that Mr. Pike came very near being
irreverent enough to nudge the devout Judy. Then what a glorious time
followed the solemn minutes in the church! The very twilight fell upon
the entire wedding party still feasting and rejoicing, and it was under
the light of the early stars that the guests had to wend their way
home. Mother Mayberry was surrounded by a court of small boys, each one
eager for her words of commendation on their more than exemplary
conduct and she smiled and joked them as they escorted her to her
door-step. Cindy had gone on ahead and a light shone from the kitchen
window, which was answered by flashes all along and across the Road as
the various households settled down to the business of recovering
sufficient equilibrium to begin the conduct of the ordinary affairs of
daily life at the morrow sun-up.

"Sit down here on the steps just a minute," pleaded the Doctor with
trepidation in his voice, for the rose lady had found the strength of
mind to reprove him for their conduct in church by ignoring him utterly
at the wedding feast, even going to the point of partaking of her
supper in the overwhelmed company of Sam Mosbey, who not for the life
of him could have told from whence came the courage to ask for such a
compliment, and the result of which had been to send him back later to
the table in a half-famished condition; he not having been able to
feast the eyes and the inner man at the same time.

"Can I trust you?" she demanded of the Doctor in a very small and
reproving voice.

"If that is a condition--yes," he reluctantly consented, as he looked
up at her in the starlight.

"Thank you--you were very grand," she said after she had settled
herself in what she decided to be an uncompromising distance from him.
"You really graced the occasion."

"Miss Wingate," he said slowly, and he turned his head so that only his
profile showed against the dusk of the wistaria vine, "you wouldn't
really be cruel to a country boy with his heart on his sleeve and only
his pride to protect it, would you?"

"I suppose it was unkind, for he was so hungry and couldn't seem to eat
at all; but I saw Mrs. Pike giving him a glorious supper later, so
please don't worry over him." Which answer was delivered in a meek tone
of voice that it was difficult to hold to its ingenuous note.

The Doctor ignored this feint and went on with the most exquisite
gentleness in his lovely voice that somehow brought her heart into her
throat, and without knowing it she edged an inch or two closer to him
and her hand made an involuntary movement toward his that rested on the
step near her, but which she managed to stop in time. "You realize, do
you not, dear lady, that your friendliness to--to us all, commands my
intensest loyalty? You'll just promise to remember always that I do
understand and go on being happy with us, won't you--us country folks
of Providence Road?" The note of pride in his voice was struck with no
uncertain sound.

"Oh, but it's you that don't--don't--" the singer lady was about to
commit herself most dreadfully by her exclamation in the low dove notes
that alone had no trace of the disastrous burr, when Mother Mayberry
stepped out of the hall door and came and seated herself beside them.

"Well, of course, I know the Bible do say that they won't be no
marriage or giving in marriage in the hereafter, but I do declare we
all might miss such infairs as these, even in Heaven," she observed
jovially. "Didn't everybody look nice and act nice? Course it was just
country doings to you, honey-bird, but I know you enjoyed it some even
if it were." Like all sympathetic natures Mother Mayberry fell with
ease into the current of any thought, and the young Doctor reached out
and took her hand into his with quick appreciation of the fact.

"It was so very lovely that it made me--made me want--" the daring with
which the singer lady had begun her defiant remark gave out in the
middle and she had to let it trail weakly.

"Well, I hope it made Mr. Petway want Prissy bad enough to ask her,
along about moon-up," said Mother Mayberry in a practical tone of
voice. "Seems like I hear they voices; and if he IS over there I don't
see how he can get out of co'ting some. It's just in the air
to-night--and WE'D better all be a-going to bed so as to get up early
to start off. Tom Mayberry, seems to me as I remember it, you looked
much less plain favored to-day than common. Did you have on some new
clothes? And ain't you a-going to pass a compliment on Elinory and me,
both with new frocks wored to please you?"

The Doctor laughed and as they all rose together he still held his
mother's hand in his and instead of an answer he bent and kissed it
with a most distinctly foreign-acquired grace.

"That's honey-fuzzle again, Tom Mayberry, if not in words, in acts,"
she exclaimed with a delighted laugh. "But pass it along to Elinory if
only to keep her from feeling lonesome. Let him kiss your hand, child,
he ain't nothing but a country bumpkin that can't talk complimentary to
save his life. Now, go get your bucket of water, sonny, and don't let
in the cat!"



CHAPTER VIII

THE NEST ON PROVIDENCE NOB


"Why, honey-bird; troubles ain't nothing but tight, ugly little buds
the Lord are a-going to flower out for us all, in His good time; maybe
not until in His kingdom. I hold that fact in my heart always," said
Mother Mayberry as she looked down over her glasses at the singer lady
sitting on the top step at her feet.

"I know you do," answered Miss Wingate with a new huskiness rather than
the burr in her voice, which made Mother look at her quickly before she
drew another thread through her needle. "But I was just thinking about
Mrs. Bostick and wishing--oh! I wish we could in some way bring her son
back to her before it is too late. Yesterday afternoon when I started
home she drew me down and asked me if when--when I went out into the
world again I would look for him and help him. Is there nothing that
can be done about it?"

"I reckon not, child," answered Mother Mayberry gently. "If Will was to
come back now it would be just to tear up her heart some more. Last
night, when I was a-settling of her for bed, I began to talk about the
other five children she have buried under God's green grass, each in a
different county, as they moved from place to place. I just collected
them little graves together and tried to fill her heart with 'em, and
when I left she was asleep with a smile on her face I ain't seen for a
year. It's as I say--a buried baby are a trouble bud that's a-going to
flower out in eternity for a woman. I'll find a lone blossom and she a
little bunch. I'm praying in my heart that Will's a stunted plant
that'll bloom late, but in time to be sheathed in with the rest. But
bless your sweet feeling-heart, child, and let's keep the smile on our
faces for her comfort! Woman must bend and not break under a sorrow
load. Take some of them calcanthuses to her when you go down for one of
them foreign junkets and ask her to tell you about them little folks of
her'n. Start her on the little girl that favored the Deacon and cut off
all his forelock with the scissors while he were asleep, so he 'most
made the congregation over at Twin Creeks disgrace theyselves with
laughing at his shorn plight the next Sunday. I've got to turn around
'fore sundown for I've got 'most a day's work to straighten out the hen
house and settle the ruckus about nests. The whole sisterhood of 'em
have tooken a notion to lay in the same barrel and have to be persuaded
some. Now run on so as to be back as early as you can before Tom
comes." And as Mother Mayberry spoke, she began to gather together her
sewing, preparatory to a sally into the world of her feathered folk.

But before she had watched the singer lady out of sight down the Road,
with her spray of brown blossoms in her one hand and her garden hat in
the other, she espied young Eliza rapidly approaching from up the Road
and there was excitement in every movement of her slim, little body and
in every swish of her short calico skirts, as well as in the way her
long pigtail swung out behind.

"Mother Mayberry," she exclaimed, as she sank breathless on the top
step, "they is a awful thing happened! Aunt Prissy was 'most disgraced
'bout a box of soap and Bud and 'Lias and Henny might have got killed
and Buck too, because he sent one to Pattie and wrote what was on the
card. I've been so scared I am in the trembles now, but you said always
pray to the Lord and I did it while I was a-running down to the store
to beg Mr. Petway not to make her jump off from Bee Rock on the Nob
like the lady Mis' Peavey read about in the paper did because the man
wouldn't marry her that she was in love with. Fast as I were a-running
I reckon the Lord made out what I said and beat me to him and told
him--"

"'Liza, 'Liza, honey, stop this minute and tell me what you are
a-talking about," demanded Mother Mayberry, with almost as much
excitement in her voice as was trembling in that of the small talking
machine at her feet. "Now begin at the beginning and tell me just what
is the matter with your Aunt Prissy?"

"Nothing now," answered Eliza, taking a fresh breath, "she's a-going to
marry Mr. Petway, only she won't know it until to-night and I've
promised him not to tell her."

"What?" was all that Mother Mayberry managed to demand from the depths
of her astonishment as she sank back in her rocking-chair and regarded
Eliza with positive awe.

"Yes'um, and it were all about them two beautiful boxes of
sweet-smelling soap that he bought in town and have had in the store
window for a week. Buck bought one to send to Pattie for a birthday
present and he wrote, 'When this you see, remember me,' on a card and
put it in the box. I carried it over to her for him and Mr. Hoover jest
laughed, and said Buck meant Pattie didn't keep her face clean. But
Mis' Hoover hugged Pattie and whispered something to her and told Mr.
Hoover to shut up and go see how many children he could get to come in
and be washed up for dinner. Buck was a-waiting for me around the
corner of the store and when I told him how pleased Mis' Hoover and
Pattie were, he--"

"But wait a minute, 'Liza," interrupted Mother Mayberry with a laugh,
"them love jinks twixt Buck and Pattie is most interesting, but I'm
waiting to hear about your Aunt Prissy and Mr. Petway. It's liable to
be serious when two folks as old as they is--but go on with your tale,
honey."

"Well, Buck wrote two of them beautiful 'Remember me' verses on nice
pieces of white paper, in them curlycues the Deacon taught him, before
he got one to suit him and he left one on the counter, right by the
cheese box. While we was gone, along come 'Lias and Bud and Henny and
disgraced Aunt Prissy."

"Why, what did them scamps do?" demanded Mother Mayberry, looking over
her glasses in some perturbation as the end of the involved narration
began to dawn upon her.

"They tooken the other box of soap outen the window and put the verse
in it and carried it down to Aunt Prissy and told her Mr. Petway sent
it to her. It was a joke they said, but they was good and skeered. I
got home then and I seen her and Maw laughing about it and Aunt Prissy
was just as pink and pleased and loving looking as Pattie were and Maw
was a-joking of her like Mis' Pratt--no, Hoover--did Pattie and all of
a sudden I knewed it were them bad boys, 'cause I seen 'em laughing in
a way I knows is badness. Oh, then I was so skeered I couldn't swoller
something in my throat 'cause I thought maybe Aunt Prissy would jump
offen Bee Rock when she found she were so disgraced with Mr. Petway. I
woulder done it myself, for I got right red in my own face thinking
about it." And the blush that was a dawn of the eternal feminine again
rose to the little bud-woman's face.

"It were awful, Eliza child, and I don't blame you for being mortified
over it," said Mother Mayberry with a quick appreciation of the wound
inflicted on the delicacy of the child, and the tale began to assume
serious proportions in her mind as she thought of the probable result
to the incipient affair between the elderly lovers that had been a
subject of prayful hope to her for some time past. "What did you do?"

"I prayed," answered Eliza in a perfectly practical tone of voice, "and
as I prayed I ran to Mr. Petway as fast as I could. He was filling
molasses cans at the barrel when I got there and they wasn't nobody in
the store, only I seen Bud and Henny peeping from behind the blacksmith
shop and they was right white, they was so skeered by that time. Then I
told him all about it and begged him to let Aunt Prissy have the box of
soap and think he sent it, so her feelings wouldn't get hurted. I told
him I would give him my seventy-five cents from picking peas to pay for
it and that Aunt Prissy cried so when her feelings was hurted, and she
thought so much of him that she kept her frizzes rolled up all day when
she hoped he might be coming that night to see her and got Maw to bake
tea-cakes to pass him out on the front porch and he MIGHT let her have
just that one little box of soap."

"What did he say, child?" asked Mother Mayberry in a voice that was
positively weak from anxiety and suppressed mirth at Eliza's own
account of her management of the outraged lover.

"He didn't say a thing, but he sat down on a cracker box and just
hugged me and laughed until he cried all over my dress and I hugged
back and laughed too, but I didn't know what at. Then he told me that
he didn't ever want Aunt Prissy to know about them bad boys' foolish
joke 'cause he wanted to marry Aunt Prissy and didn't want her to find
out that three young scallawags had to begin his co'ting for him."

"Did he say all that to you, 'Liza honey, are you sure?" asked Mother
Mayberry, beginning to beam with delight at the outcome of the horrible
situation.

"Yes'm, he did, and I went out and brought Bud and 'Lias and Henny in
and he talked to 'em serious until 'Lias cried and Bud got choked
trying not to. Then he give them all a bottle of soda pop and they
ain't never anybody a-going to tell anybody else about it. He made them
boys cross they hearts and bodies not to. I didn't cross mine 'cause I
knew I had to tell you, but I do it now." And Eliza stood up and
solemnly made the mystic sign, thus locking the barn door of her secret
chambers after having quartered the troublesome steed of confidence on
the ranges of Mother Mayberry's conscience.

"Well, 'Liza, a secret oughter always be wrapped up tight and dropped
down the well inside a person, and suppose you and me do it to this
one. And, child, I want to tell you that you did the right thing all
along this line, and it were the Heavenly Father you asked to help you
out that put the right notion in your heart of what to do."

"Yes'm, I believe He did, and He got hold of Mr. Petway some too, to
make him kind about wanting to marry Aunt Prissy. He are a-going to ask
her to-night and I promised to keep Paw outen the way for him, 'cause
Paw WILL get away from Maw and come talk crops with him sometimes on
the front porch. May I go out to the kitchen and get Cindy to make a
little chicken soup for Mis' Bostick now? I can't get her to eat much
to-day."

"Yes, and welcome, Sister Pike," answered Mother Mayberry heartily, and
she shook with laughter as the end of the blue calico skirt disappeared
in the hall. "The little raven have actually begun to sprout cupid
wings," she said to herself as she went around the corner of the house
toward the Doctor's office. "Co'ting are a bombshell that explodes in
the big Road of life and look out who it hits," she further observed to
herself as she paused to train up a shoot of the rambler over the
office door.

The Doctor had just come from over the Ridge, put up his horse and made
his way through the kitchen and hall into his office where he found his
Mother sitting in his chair by the table. He smiled in a dejected way
and seated himself opposite her, leaned his elbows on the table and
dropped his chin into his hands.

"Now, what's your trouble, Tom Mayberry?" demanded his Mother, as she
gazed across at him with anxiety and tenderness striving in glance and
tone. "You've been a-going around like a dropped-wing young rooster
with a touch of malaria for a week. If it's just moon-gaps you can keep
'em and welcome, but if it's trouble, I claim my share, son."

"I meant to tell you to-day, Mother," he answered slowly. After a
moment's silence he looked up and said steadily, "I've failed with Miss
Wingate--and I'm too much of a coward to tell her. I feel sure now that
she'll never be able to use her voice any more than she can in the
speaking tones and she--she will never sing again." As he spoke he
buried his face in his hands and his arms shook the table they rested
upon.

For a moment Mother Mayberry sat perfectly still and from the whispered
words on her lips her son knew she was praying. "The Lord's will be
done," she said at last in her deep, quiet voice, and she laid one of
her strong hands on her son's arm. "Tell me about it, Tom. You ain't
done no operation yet."

"Yes, Mother, I have," he answered quietly. "All the different
laryngeal treatments she had tried under the greatest specialists. Her
one hope was to be built up to the point of standing a bloodless
operation with the galvanic shock. I have tried three times in the last
week to release the muscles and start life in the nerves that control
the vocal chords. In the two other cases with which I have succeeded
the response was immediate after the first operation. Now I dare not
risk another tear of the muscles. One reason I didn't tell her is that
I had to count on her losing the fear that she wouldn't gain the
control. You know she thinks they have been only preliminary treatments
and you have heard her laugh as I held her white throat in my hands.
She believes completely in the outcome. God, to think I have failed
her--HER!"

"Yes, Tom, He knows--and Mother understands," his Mother answered
gently.

"And she must be told right away," said the Doctor as he rose and
walked to the window. "It is only fair. Shall I or you tell her?
Choose, Mother, what will be best for her! But can she stand it?"

"Son," said his Mother, as she also rose and stood facing him with the
late afternoon sun falling straight into her face which, lit by the
light without and a fire within, shone with a wonderful radiance. "Son,
don't you know these old Harpeth Hills have looked down in they day on
many a woman open her arms, take a burden to her heart and start on a
long journey up to the Master's everlasting hills? Sometimes it have
been disgrace, or a lifelong loneliness, or her man hunted out into the
night by the law. I have laid still-born children into my sisters'
arms, and I've washed the blood from the wounds in women's murdered
sons, but I ain't never seen no woman deny her Lord yet and I don't
look to see this little sister of my heart refuse her cup. I'll tell
her, for it's my part--but Tom Mayberry, see that you stand to her when
your time comes, as it surely will."

"Don't you know, Mother, that I would lay down my life to do the least
thing for her?" he asked, with the suffering drawing his young face
into stern, hard lines. "But to do the one thing for her I might have
done has been denied me," he added bitterly.

"No, Tom, there's one thing left to you to give her. Sympathy is God's
box of precious ointment and see that you break yours over her heart
this day. Now, I'm a-going down Providence Road to meet her and I know
the Lord will help me to the right words when the time comes. I leave
His blessing with you, boy!" And she turned and left him with his
softened eyes looking up into her calm face.

Then for a long hour Mother Mayberry worked quietly among her dependent
feather folk and as she worked, her gentle face had its brooding
mother-look and her lips moved as she comforted and fortified herself
with snatches of prayer for the journey through the deep waters, on
which she was to lead this child of her affection. After the last
tangle had been straightened out, each brood settled in comfortable
quarters and the cause of all quarrels arbitrated, she walked to the
front gate and stood looking down the Road.

And up from the Deacon's house came a little procession that made her
smile with a sob clutching at her heart. The singer lady had taken
Teether from the arms of his mother, who stood happily exchanging the
topics of the times with the Hoover bride, who had not had thus far
sufficient opportunity to expatiate on quite all the adventures of the
wedding journey and kept on hand still a small store of happenings to
recount to her sympathetic neighbors as they found time and
opportunity. The rosy rollicking youngster she had perched on her
shoulder and held him steadily thus exalted by his pair of sturdy,
milk-fed legs. Martin Luther, as usual, clung to her skirts, Susie Pike
danced on before her and the Deacon was walking slowly along at her
side, carefully carrying the rose-garden of a hat in both his hands. He
was looking up at her with his gentle face abeam with pleasure and
Mother Mayberry could hear, as they came near, that she was humming to
him as he lined out some quaint, early-church words to her. It was a
never failing source of delight to the old patriarch to have her thus
fit motives from the world's great music to the old, pioneer hymns.

"Sister Mayberry," he exclaimed with exultation in his old face, "I
never thought to hear in this world these words of my brother, Charles
Wesley, sung to such heavenly strains as my young sister has put them
this day. Never before, I feel, have they had fit rendition. While I
line the verse, sing them again to Sister Mayberry, child, that her
ears may be rejoiced with mine." And Mother Mayberry caught at the top
of the gate as the girl slipped the nodding baby down into her arms and
in her wonderful muted voice hummed the Grail motif while the Deacon
raised his thin old hands and lined out the

    "Hail, holy, holy, holy Lord,
     Whom one in three we know--"

on through its verses to its final invocation of the

    "Supreme, essential One, adored
     In co-eternal Three."

"The Lord bless you, child, and make His sun to shine upon you," he
said as the last note died away, while Teether chuckled and nozzled at
Mother Mayberry's shoulder. "I must go on back to sit with Mrs. Bostick
and will deposit this treasure with Sister Mayberry," he added with a
smile as he handed the bouquet-hat over the gate.

"Susie, can't you take Teether over to your Aunt Prissy and tell her
that Mother says please give him his milk right away, for it's past
time, and she will come in a few minutes?" asked the singer lady, as
she handed the reluctant baby to the small girl at her side.

"Milk, thank ma'am, please," demanded Martin Luther quickly, having no
intention of being left out of any lactic deal.

"Run ask Cindy," answered Mother Mayberry, as she started him up the
front walk, and came on more slowly with Miss Wingate at her side. In
her soul she was realizing fully the influence the lovely woman had
thrown over the hearts of the simple Providence folk and the greatness
of her own nature was making her understand something of the loss to
those of the outer world whom the great singer would be no longer able
to call within the spell of her wonderful voice.

"Honey-bird," she said gently, as she drew the girl to the end of the
porch where the wistaria vine, a whispering maple and the crimson
rambler shut them in from the eyes of all the world save the spirit of
Providence Nob, which brooded down over them in a wisp of cloud across
its sun-reddened top, "here's the place and time and heart strength to
tell you that your Lord have laid the hand of affliction on you heavy
and have tooken back from you the beautiful voice He gave you to use
for a time. I'm a-praying for you to be able to say His will be done."

For one instant the singer woman went white to the eyes and swayed back
against the vine, then she asked huskily, "Did HE say so?"

"Yes," answered the Doctor's mother gently with her deep eyes looking
into the girl's very soul. "Them treatments was operations and they is
all he dares to make for fear of your losing the speaking voice what
you have got so beautiful. If they is any love and pity in my heart
after I have stopped giving it to you I'm going to pour some out on Tom
Mayberry, for when a man's got to look sorrow in the eyes he goes blind
and don't know what way to turn, lessen a woman leads him. But he ain't
neither here or there and--"

"Where is he?" demanded Miss Wingate in her soft dove notes as she
looked the tragedy-stricken young Doctor's mother straight in the face,
with her dark eyes completely unveiling her heart, woman to woman.
"I--I want HIM!"

"What's left of him is in the office, and you are welcome to the
pieces," answered his Mother, a comprehensive joy rising above the
sorrow in her eyes. "I reckon I can trust him with you, but if you need
any help, call me," she added, as the singer girl fled down the steps
and around to the office wing.

And they neither one of them ever knew how it really happened, though
she insisted on accusing herself and he claimed always the entire
blame, but he had been sitting where his Mother had left him for an
hour or more with his face in his hands when he suddenly found himself
clasped in soft arms and his eyes pressed close against a bare white
throat and a most wonderful dove voice was murmuring happy, comforting
little words that fell down like jewels into his very heart of hearts.
And his own strong arms held very close a palpitating, cajoling, flower
of a woman, who was wooing for smiles and dimpling with raptures.

"I don't care, I don't, and please don't you!" she pleaded with her
lips against his black forelock.

"I can't help caring! The one thing I asked of all my years of hard
work was to give the music back to you--" and again he buried his face
in the soft lace at her throat.

"You say, do you, that I'll never sing again?" she asked quickly, and
as she spoke she lifted his head in her hands and waited an instant for
the smothered groan with which he answered her.

"Now, listen," she answered him in a voice fairly a-tremble with joyous
passion and as she spoke she laid his ear close over her heart and held
him so an instant. "Does it matter that only you will ever hear the
song, dear?" she whispered, then slipped out of his arms and across to
the other side of the table before he could detain her.

"No, Tom Mayberry," she said as he reached for her, and her tone was so
positive that he stopped with his arms in the air and let them sink
slowly to his side. "We'll have this question out right here and if I
have trouble with you I'll--call your Mother," and she laughed as she
shook away a tear.

"Please!" he pleaded and his face was both so radiant and so worn that
she had to harden her heart against him to be able to hold herself in
hand for what she wanted to say to him.

"No," she answered determinedly, "and you must listen to every word I
say, for I am getting frightened already and may have to stop."

"I want to talk some myself," he said with the very first smile coming
into his grave young eyes. "I want to tell you that I can't help loving
you, and have ever since I first saw you, but that it won't do at all
for you to marry--marry a Providence country bumpkin with nothing but a
doctoring head on his shoulders. I want you to understand that--"

"Please don't refuse me this way before I've ever asked you," she said
with a trace of the grand dame hauteur in her manner and voice that he
had never seen before. "I think--I think very suddenly I have come to
realize, Doctor Mayberry, that--that--oh, I'm very frightened, but I
must say it! I wouldn't blame you or your Mother for not wanting me at
all. I--I somehow, I don't seem very great--or real to myself here in
Providence. My training has been all to one end--useless now--and I'm
all unlessoned and unlearned in the real things of life. I seem to feel
that the hot theaters and the crowds that have looked at me and--am I
what she has a right to demand in your wife?" And, with a proud little
gesture, she laid her case in his hands.

And though she had not expected anything dramatic from him in the way
of refutation of her speech, she was totally unprepared for the
wonderful, absolute silence that met her heroics. He stood and looked
her full in the eyes with a calm radiance in his face that reminded her
of the dawn-light she had seen that morning come over Providence Nob
and his deep smile gave a young prophet look to his austere mouth. And
as she gazed at him she drew timidly nearer, even around the corner of
the table.

"Your work is so wonderful--and real--and you ought to have a wife
who--" By this time she had got much nearer and her voice trailed off
into uncertainty. And still he stood perfectly still and looked at her.

"She loves me and I love her, so that, do you think, I might--I might
learn? Cindy says I'm a wonder--and remember the custards," she
finished from somewhere in the region of his collar. "Now that we've
both refused each other do you suppose we can go on and be happy?" she
laughed softly from under his chin.

And the young Doctor held her very close and never answered a word she
said. The strain on him had been very great and he was more shaken than
he wanted her to see. But from the depths of her heart she understood
and pressed closer to him as she gave him a long silence in which to
recover himself. Twilight was coming in the windows and a fragrant
night breeze was ruffling her hair against his cheek before she stirred
in his arms.

"We've got to ask--to ask Mother before--before," she was venturing to
suggest in the smallest of voices in which was both mirth and
tenderness, when a low laugh answered her from the doorway.

"Oh, no you don't," said Mother Mayberry, as she beamed upon them with
the most manifest joy. "I had done picked you out before you had been
here more'n a week, honey-bird. You can have him and welcome if you can
put up with him. He's like Mis' Peavey always says of her own jam;
'Plenty of it such as it is and good enough what they is of it.' A real
slow-horse love can be rid far and long at a steady gate. He ain't
pretty, but middling smart." And the handsome young Doctor's mother
eyed him with a well-assumed tolerance covering her positive rapture.

"Are you sure, sure you're not disappointed about--about that
peony-girl?" demanded the singer lady, as she came into the circle of
Mother Mayberry's arm and nozzled her little nose under the white lawn
tie.

"Le'me see," answered Mother Mayberry in a puzzled tone of voice. "I
seem to understand you, but not to know what you are talking about."

"The girl to whom he gave the graduating bouquet with Mrs. Peavey's
peony in it," she whispered, but not so low that the Doctor, who had
come over and put a long arm around them both, couldn't hear.

"Well," answered Mother Mayberry in a judicial tone of voice as she
bestowed a quizzical glance on the Doctor, who blushed to the roots of
his hair at this revelation of the fact of his Mother's indulgence in
personal reminiscence, "I reckon Miss Alford'll be mighty disappointed
to lose him, but I don't know nothing about her riz biscuits. Happiness
and good cooking lie like peas in a pod in a man's life and I reckon
I'll have to give Tom Mayberry, prize, to you."

"Mother!" exclaimed the Doctor.

"Thank you," murmured Miss Wingate with a wicked glance at him from his
Mother's shoulder that brought a hurried embrace down upon them both.

"Children," said Mother Mayberry, as she suddenly reached put her
strong arms and took them both close to her breast, "looks like the
Lord sometimes hatches out two birds in far apart nests just to give
'em wing-strength to fly acrost river and hill to find each other. You
both kinder wandered foreign some 'fore you sighted one another, but
now you can begin to build your own nest right away, and I offers my
heart as a bush on Providence Nob to put it in."



CHAPTER IX

THE LITTLE HARPETH WOMAN OF MANY SORROWS


"This here are a curious spell of weather," remarked Mother Mayberry,
as she paused beside the singer lady who was holding Martin Luther up
on the broad window-sill, and with him was looking disconsolately down
the Road. "June's gone to acting like a woman with nerves that cries
just because she can. I'm glad all the chicken babies are feathered out
and can shed rain. Them little Hoosier pullets have already sprouted
tail feathers. They ain't a one of 'em a-going into the skillet no
matter how hungry Tom Mayberry looks after 'em. If I don't hold you and
Cindy back from spoiling him with chicken-fixings three times a day
he'll begin to show pin feathers hisself in no time."

"He likes chicken better than anything else," murmured Miss Wingate as
she buried a blush in Martin Luther's topknot.

"Well, wanting ain't always a reason for being gave to," said the
Doctor's mother with a chuckle as she admired the side view of the
blush. "But, seeing that he about half feeds hisself by looking at me
and you at the table, I reckon I'll have to let him have two chickens a
day to keep up his strength. Honey-fuzzle are a mighty satisfying diet,
though light, for a growed man. Reckon we can persuade him to try a
couple of slices of old ham onct in a while so as to give a few
broilers time to get legs long enough to fry?"

"We can try," answered the singer lady in a doubtful tone of voice, for
the Doctor's penchant for young chicken was very decided.

"Dearie me, it do beat all how some plans of life fall down in the
oven," said the Doctor's mother, as she eyed Miss Wingate with her most
quizzical smile quirking up the corners of her humorous mouth. "Here I
put myself to all manner of troubles to go out into the big world to
get a real managing wife for Tom Mayberry and I might just as well have
set cross-handed and waited for Susie Pike or little Bettie to grow up
to the spoiling of him. I thought seeing that you'd been raised with a
silver spoon in your mouth and handed life on a fringed napkin, so to
speak, you would make him stand around some, but for all I can see
you're going to make another Providence wife. Ain't you got none of the
suffering-women new notions at all?"

"I can't help it," answered the singer lady, ducking her head behind
Martin Luther again, but smiling up out of the corners of her eyes.

"Are you just going to drop over into being a poor, down-trodden,
miserable, man-bossed Harpeth Hill's wife, without trying a single
new-fashioned husband remedy on him, with so many receipts for managing
'em being written down by ladies all over the world, mostly single
ones?" demanded Mother Mayberry, fairly bubbling over with glee at the
singer lady's abashment.

"Yes, I am," answered Miss Wingate sturdily. "I want him to have just
what he wants."

"This are worse and more of it," exclaimed the Doctor's delighted
Mother. "You are got a wrong notion, child! Marriage ain't no slow,
plow-team business these days; it's hitched at opposite ends and
pulling both ways for dear life. Don't you even hope you will be; able
to think up no kind of tantrums to keep Tom Mayberry from being happy?"

"I don't want to," laughed the infatuated bride prospective.

"Then I reckon I'll have to give up and let you settle down into being
one of these here regular old-fashioned, primping-for-a-man,
dinner-on-the-table-at-the-horn-blow,
hanging-over-the-front-gate-waiting kind of wives. I thought I'd caught
a high-faluting bird of Paradise for him and you ain't a thing in the
world but a meadow dove. But there comes Bettie scooting through the
rain with little Hoover under her shawl. Providence folks have got duck
blood, all of 'em, and the more it pours out they paddles. Come in and
shake your feathers, Bettie."

"Howdy all," exclaimed the rosy Mrs. Hoover. "This here rain on the
corn is money in everybody's pocket. I just stopped in to show you this
pink flowered shirt-waist I have done finished for Miss Prissy Pike.
Ain't it stylish?"

"It surely are, Bettie!" exclaimed Mother Mayberry. "I'm so glad you
got it pink."

"And it don't run neither. I tried it," said the proud designer of the
admired garment.

"That's a good sign for the wedding. You can rub happiness that's fast
dyed through any kinder worry suds and it'll come out with the color
left. Any news along the Road?" asked Mother Mayberry, as she handled
the rosy blouse with careful hands.

"Well, Henny Turner says that Squire Tutt are in bed covered up head
and ears with the quilts, but 'Lias says that it are just 'cause Mis'
Tutt have got a happy spell on her and have been exorting of him. She
called all three of them boys in, Bud and Henny and 'Lias, and made 'em
learn a Bible verse a-piece, and I was grateful to her for her
interest, but the Squire cussed so to 'em while she went to get 'em a
cake that I'm afraid the lesson were spoiled for the chaps."

"I don't reckon it were, Bettie. Good salts down any day, while Evil
don't ever keep long. But I do wish we could get the Squire and Mis'
Tutt to be a little more peaceably with one another. It downright
grieves me to have 'em so spited here in they old age." And Mother
Mayberry's eyes took on a regretful look and she peered over her
glasses at the happy bride. On her buoyant heart she ever carried the
welfare of every soul in Providence and the crabbed old couple down the
Road was a constant source of trouble to her.

"You shan't worry over 'em, Mis' Mayberry," answered pretty Bettie
quickly, "You get every Providence trouble landed right on your
shoulders as soon as one comes. You don't get a chance to do nothing
but deal out ease to other people's bodies and souls, too."

"Well, a cup of cold water held to other folks' mouths is a mighty good
way to quench your own thirst, Bettie child, and I'm glad if it are
gave to me to label out the blessing of ease. But have you been in to
the Deacon's this morning?"

"No'm, I'm a-going to stop as I go along home," answered Bettie. "I
have seed the little raven paddling back and forth, so I guess they is
all right. I must hurry on now, for I see Miss Prissy at the window
looking for me. Ain't my baby a-growing?" she asked, as she picked
little Hoover off of the floor and again enveloped the bobbing head
under her own shawl.

"Yes, it are, and Mr. Hoover's a-smiling hisself fat by the day,
child," answered Mother Mayberry with a smile. "Do you pass on the word
to Elinory here that Providence husbands wear good, both warp and woof?"

"That they do, Miss Elinory, and I never seed nothing like 'em in my
travels," called back the bride from the door, as she reefed in her
skirts and sailed out in the downpour.

"Well, your mind oughter be satisfied, child, for Bettie muster seen a
good deal of the world in that three weeks' bridal trip in the farm
wagon," laughed Mother Mayberry at the singer lady by the window. "Now
I'm a-going to swim out to gather eggs and I'll be back if I don't
drown." With which she left the girl and the tot to resume their watch
down the Road for a horse and rider due in not over two hours' time.

And indeed the last of old June's days seemed in danger of dripping
away from her in tears of farewell. Rain clouds hung low over Harpeth
Hills and drifted down to the very top of Providence Nob. A steady
downpour had begun in the night and held on into the day and seemed to
increase in volume as the hours wore away. The tall maples were
standing depressed-boughed and dripping and the poplar leaves hung
sodden and wet, refusing a glimpse of their silver lining. A row of
bleeding-hearts down the walk were turning faint pink and drooping to
the ground, while every rose in the yard was shattered and wasted away.

"Rain, rain!" wailed Martin Luther under his breath, as he pressed his
cheek to the window-pane and looked without interest at a forlorn
rooster huddled with a couple of hens under the snowball bush.

"Don't you want a cake and some milk?" asked the singer lady, as she
gave him a comforting hug and essayed consolation by the offer of a
material distraction.

"No milk, no cake; L-i-z-a, thank ma'am, please," he sobbed a
disconsolate demand for what he considered a good substitute sunbeam.

"There she comes now, darling," exclaimed the singer lady, with as much
pleasure coming into her face as lit the doleful cherub's at her side.
And from the Pike front door there had issued a small figure, also
enveloped in an old shawl, which made its way across the puddles with
splashing, bare feet. She had her covered dish under her arm and a
bucket dangled from one hand. She answered Martin Luther's hail with a
flash of her white teeth and sped across the front porch.

And in the course of just ten minutes the experienced young pacifier
had established the small boy as driver to Mother Mayberry's large
rocking-chair, mounted him on the foot of the bed with snapping switch
to crack and thus secured a two-hour reign of peace for his elders.

"Miss Elinory," she said, as she came and stood close to the singer
lady seated in the deep window, "I'm mighty glad you got Doctor Tom;
and it were fair to the other lady, too. He couldn't help loving you
best, 'cause you are got a sick throat and she ain't. Do you reckon
she'll be satisfied to take Sam Mosbey when she comes again? I'm sorry
for her."

"So am I, Eliza," laughed Miss Wingate softly, as the rose blush stole
up over her cheeks, "but I don't believe she'll need Mr. Mosbey. Don't
you suppose she--that--is--there must be some one down in the City whom
she likes a lot."

"Yes'm, I reckon they is. Then I'll just take Sam myself when I grow up
if nobody else wants him," answered Eliza comfortably. "I'm sorry to be
glad that your throat didn't get well, but Mis' Peavey says that you
never in the world woulder tooken Doctor Tom if you coulder gone away
and made money singing to people. I don't know what me or him or Mother
Mayberry woulder done without you, but we couldn'ter paid you much to
stay. You won't never go now, will you?"

"Never," answered the singer lady, as she drew the little ingenue close
to her side. "And let me whisper something to you, Eliza--I
never--would--have--gone--any--way. I love you too much, you and Mother
Mayberry--and Doctor Tom."

"And Mis' Bostick and Deacon," exclaimed the loyal young raven. "Miss
Elinory, I get so scared about Mis' Bostick right here," she added,
laying her hand on her little throat. "She won't eat nothing and she
can't talk to me to-day. Maw and Mis' Nath Mosbey are there now and
waiting for Doctor Tom to come back. They said not to tell Mother
Mayberry until the rain held up some, but they want her, too. Can't
loving people do nothing for 'em, Miss Elinory?" and with big, wistful
eyes the tiny woman put the question, which has agonized hearts down
the ages.

"Oh, darling, the--loving itself helps," answered the singer lady
quickly with the mist over her eyes.

"I believe it do," answered Eliza thoughtfully.

"I hold the Deacon's other hand when he sets by Mis' Bostick! He wants
me, and she smiles at us both. I don't like to leave 'em for one single
minute. I have to wait now for Cindy to get the dinner done, but then
I'm a-going to run. Why, there goes Mother Mayberry outen the gate
under a umbrella! And Aunt Prissy asked me to get a spool of number
fifty thread from her to sew some lace on a petticoat Mis' Hoover have
done finished for her. If I was to go to get married I'd make some
things for my husband, too, and not so much for myself. I wouldn't want
so many skirts unless I knewed he had enough shirts."

"But, Eliza," remonstrated Miss Wingate, slightly shocked at this
rather original idea of providing a groom with a trousseau, "perhaps he
would rather get things for himself."

"No'm, he wouldn't," answered Eliza positively. "I ain't a-going to say
anything to Aunt Prissy about it 'cause you never can tell what will
hurt her feelings, but I want you to get Mis' Hoover to show you how
and make three nice shirts for Doctor Tom, so you can wash one while he
wears the other and keep one put away for Sunday. That is the way Maw
does for Paw and all the other folks on the Road does the same for they
men. Mis' Peavey can show you how to iron them nice, for she does the
Deacon's for me and Mother Mayberry is too busy to bother with such
things 'count of always having to go to sick folks even over to the
other side of the Nob. Cindy don't starch good. You'll do for Doctor
Tom nice, now you've got him, won't you?"

"Yes, Eliza, I will," answered the singer lady meekly, as this
prevision of the life domestic rose up and menaced her. She even had a
queer little thrill of pleasure at the thought of performing such
superhuman tasks for what was to be her individual responsibility among
Providence men along the Road. The certainty that she would never be
allowed to perform such offices at machine and tub actually depressed
her, for the thought had brought a primitive sense of possession that
she was loath to dismiss; the passion for service to love being an
instinct that sways the great lady and her country sister alike. "Do
you think he--will let me?" she asked of her admonisher.

"Just go on and do it and don't ask him," was the practical answer.
"There he comes now leading his horse and he have been to see Mis'
Bostick. I can get the dinner and run on to meet him and hear how he
thinks she are," she exclaimed as she seized her dish and bucket and
disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.

And a few minutes later, as Doctor Mayberry was unsaddling his horse in
the barn a lithe figure enveloped as to head and shoulders in one of
Cindy's kitchen aprons darted under the dripping eaves and stood
breathless and laughing in the wide door.

"I saw you come up the Road," said the singer lady, as she divested
herself of the gingham garment, "and I was dying to get out in the
rain, much to Cindy's horror. You are late."

"Not much," answered the young Doctor, slipping out of his rain coat
and coming over to stand beside her in the door. "What have you been
doing all morning?"

"I've been being--being lectured," she answered, as she looked up in
his face with dancing dark eyes.

"Who did it to you?" he asked, taking her fingers into his and drawing
her farther back from the splash of the rain drops.

"Your Mother and then Eliza Pike," she answered with a low laugh.
"Eliza is afraid I won't 'do for you' in proper Providence style and
I'm very humble and--I--I want to learn. She thinks I ought to begin on
some--some shirts for you right now and I'm going to. What color do you
prefer?"

"Horrors!" exclaimed the Doctor, positively blushing at the thought of
the very lovely lady engaged in such a clothing mission.

"I knew you wouldn't have any confidence in them," answered Miss
Wingate mournfully, "and I haven't myself, but still I was willing to
try."

"Oh, yes, I have!" the young Doctor hastened to exclaim. "Better make
them suitable for traveling, for I've got marching orders in the noon
mail. Are you ready to start to Italy on short notice and then on to
India?"

"What?" demanded the singer lady with alarmed astonishment.

"Yes," answered the young Doctor coolly. "The Commission writes that my
reports on Pellagra down here are complete enough now for them to send
some chap down to continue them, while I go on to Southern Italy for a
study of similar conditions there and then on to India for a still more
exhaustive examination. The Government is determined to stamp this
scourge out before it gets a hold, and it's work to put out the fire
before it spreads. Better hurry the shirts and pack up your own fluff."

"But I'm not going a step or a wave," answered the singer girl
defiantly. "I'm too busy here now. I don't ever intend to leave Mother
as long as I live. I don't see how you can even suggest such a thing to
me."

"Do you know what leaving Mother is like?" asked the young Doctor, as
he looked down on her with tenderness in his gray eyes and Mother
Mayberry's own quizzical smile on his lips. "It's like going to sleep
at night with a last look at Providence Nob,--you wake up in the
morning and find it more there than ever. She was THERE on sunny
mornings over in Berlin and THERE on gray days in London and I had her
on long hard hospital nights in New York. Just come with me on this
trip and I promise she and Old Harpeth will be here when we get back.
Please!"

"I don't know," answered Miss Wingate in a small voice as she rubbed
her cheek against the arm of his coat. "I'm in love with Tom Mayberry
of Providence Road. I don't know that I want to go traveling with a
distinguished physician on an important Government mission and attend
Legation dinners and banquets and--I don't want to leave my Mother,"
and there was a real catch in the laugh she smothered in his coat
sleeve.

"Dearie girl," he exclaimed, looking down with delight at a small
section of blush left visible against the rough blue serge of his coat,
"you and Mother are--"

"Sakes, you folks, I wish you'd try to listen when you are called at!"
came in a sharp voice as Mrs. Peavey looked down upon them from over
the wall near the barn. "One of them foolish Indiany chickens are
stretched out kicking most drowned in a puddle right by the barn door,
and there you both stand doing nothing for it. Tom Mayberry, pick it up
this minute and give it to me! I'm a-going to put it behind my stove
until Mis' Mayberry comes home. I've got some feeling for her love of
chickens, _I_ have."

"Oh, I didn't see it!" exclaimed Miss Wingate, in an agony of regret.
"The dear little thing! Give it to me and I'll take care of it."

"Fiddlesticks! Chickens ain't 'dear little things,' and I wouldn't
trust neither one of you to take care of a flea of mine, with your
philandering. Hand it here to me, Tom Mayberry, like I tell you!" And
the Doctor hastened to pick up the little gasping bunch of drenched
feathers, which Mrs. Peavey tucked in the corner of her shawl "Did you
all hear that a car busted into another one down in the City day before
yesterday and throwed the driver and broke a lady's arm and cut a
baby's leg shameful? It was in the morning paper I saw down to the
store; and a wind storm blew off a man's roof too."

"I haven't read the paper yet," answered the singer lady in the subdued
voice she always used in addressing Mother Mayberry's pessimistic
neighbor.

"Well, you oughter take interest in accidents if you are a-going to be
a Doctor's wife. It'll be all in the family then and you can hear it
all straight and maybe see some folks mended," answered Mrs. Peavey,
and she failed to notice Miss Wingate's horrified expression at such a
prospect. "How's Mis' Bostick, Tom? That is, how do your Mother say she
are, for I couldn't trust your notion in such a case as her'n."

"I think Mother feels worried over her to-day," answered the Doctor
gently, with not a trace of offense at his neighbor's outspoken
question. "Her heart is very weak and it is impossible to stimulate her
further. Mother is up there now and I'll come tell you what she says
when she comes home to dinner."

"Well, I'm always thankful for news, bad as it mostly are," answered
Mrs. Peavey in gloomy gratitude for his offer of a report from Mother
Mayberry. "You all had better go on in the house now and put Miss
Elinory's wet feet in the stove, for they won't be no use in her dying
on Mis' Mayberry's hands with pneumony at this busy time of the year.
Them slippers is too foolish to look at." With which the shawled head
disappeared from the top of the wall.

"Do you know, I had a strange dream last night," said the singer lady,
as the Doctor hung up his bridle and shut the feed-room door
preparatory to following out Mrs. Peavey's injunction as to carrying
Miss Wingate away to be dry shod. "I dreamed that I was singing to Mrs.
Bostick and the Deacon, REALLY singing, and just as it rose clear and
strong Mrs. Peavey called to me to 'shut up' and it stopped so suddenly
that I waked up--and the strange part of it is that I heard, really
heard, I thought, my own voice die away in an echo up in the eaves. For
a second I seemed awake and listening--and it was lovely--lovely!"

"Dear," said the Doctor, as he took her hand in his and held it against
his breast, "I would give all life has to offer me to get it back for
you. I will hope against hope! I haven't written Doctor Stein yet. I
can't make myself write. Perhaps we will find some one on this trip who
has some theory or treatment or something to offer. I've been praying
that help will come!"

"Would you--like me any better if I had it back?" she asked with a
happy little laugh as she laid her cheek against their clasped hands.
"Would you want L'ELEONORE more than you do just plain Elinor Wingate,
care Mother Mayberry, Providence, Tennessee?"

"I'm going to carry you in the house so you can put on dry stockings,"
answered the Doctor with a spark in his gray eyes that scorned her
question, and without any discussion he picked her up, strode through
the rain with her and deposited her in the kitchen door.

And over by the long window they found Mother Mayberry standing with
her hand on Cindy's shoulder, who sat with her head bowed in her apron
sobbing quietly, while Martin Luther stood wide-eyed and questioning,
with his little hand clutching Mother's skirts.

"Children," said Mother quietly as she came and stood beside them in
the doorway, while Martin Luther nestled up to Doctor Tom, "I've come
down the Road to tell you that it are all over up at the Deacon's. It
were very beautiful, for Mis' Bostick just give us a smile and went to
meet her Lord with the love of us all a-shining on her face. We didn't
hardly sense it at first, for she had just spoke to 'Liza, and the
Deacon were over by the window. I ain't got no tears to shed for her
and Deacon are so stunned he don't need 'em yet."

"Mother," exclaimed the Doctor, as he took her hand in his, while the
singer lady crept close and rested against her strong shoulder.

"Yes, son," answered his Mother gently, "it come so sudden I couldn't
even send for you, but go on up there now and see what you can do for
Deacon. He'll want you for the comfort of your presence, you and 'Liza."

"And Eliza!" exclaimed Miss Wingate with a sob, "it'll break her little
heart."

"They never was such a child as 'Liza Pike in the world," said Mother
Mayberry softly and for the first time a film of tears spread over her
eyes. "She have never said a word, but just stands pressed up close
with her arm 'round the Deacon's shoulders as he sits with his Good
Book acrost his knees. She give one little moan when she understood,
but she ain't made a mite of child-fuss, just shed her baby tears like
a woman growed to sorrow. Her little bucket and dish of dinner is
a-setting cold on the table and a little draggled rose she had brung in
not a hour back is still in Mis' Bostick's fingers, and the other one
pinned on the Deacon's coat. When Judy and Betty wanted to begin to fix
things she understood without a word, led the Deacon out into the hall
and are just a-standing there a-keeping him up in his daze by the
courage in her own loving little heart. The good Lord bless and keep
the child! Now, go on, Tom, and see what you can do! Yes, Cindy will
run right over and tell Mis' Peavey. And stop in and see Squire Tutt,
for Henny Turner says he are down to-day and a-asking for you. Come
into my room, honey-bird, I've got to look for something."

"Somehow, I don't feel about dying as lot of folks do," she remarked to
the singer lady, as she stood in front of the tall old chest of drawers
in her own room a few minutes later. "Death ain't nothing but laying
down one job of work and going to answer the Master when He calls you
to come take up another. Mis' Bostick have worked in His vineyard early
and late, through summer sun and winter wind, and now He have summoned
her in for some other purpose. He'll find her well-tried and seasoned
to go on with whatever plans He have for her in His Kingdom."

"It's wonderful to believe that," answered the singer girl through her
tears. "It seems to supply a reason for what happens to us here--if we
can go on with it later."

"Course we can," answered Mother Mayberry, as she began to search in
her top drawer for something. "I hope He have got some good big job cut
out for Tom Mayberry and me; but course it will have to be something
different, for they won't be no more sickness or death or sorrowing for
us doctors to tend on. But Pa Lovell and Doctor Mayberry have found
something by this time and maybe it will be for me and Tom to work at
it alongside of 'em. It might be you will have the beautiful voice back
and come sing for us all, as have never heard you in this world. Then,
too, I believe He'll give it to little Sister Pike to tend on the
prophets and maybe I'll be there to see!"

"This is the first time I ever could take--take any interest in Heaven
at all," confessed Miss Wingate, lifting large, comforted eyes to
Mother Mayberry's face. "When I was so desperate and didn't know what
to do, before I came and found out that there was a place for me in
this world even if I couldn't sing any more, I used to dread the
thought of Heaven, even if I might some day be good enough to go there."

"Well, a stand-around, set-around kind of Heaven may be for some people
as wants it, but a come-over-and-help-us kind is what I'm hoping for. I
want to have a good lot of honest acts to pack up and take into the
judgment seat to prove my character by and then be honored with some
kind of telling labor to do. I'm looking for something white to put at
Mis' Bostick's neck, for we are a-going to lay her in her grave in the
old dress with its honorable patches, but with a little piece of fine
white to match her sweet soul. Here it is."

"Will you let me know if I can do anything for anybody or the Deacon
later?" asked the singer lady gently.

"I know you will be a comfort to him, child, after a while. You can
look after my chickens and things for me, for Cindy's a-going with me
and that leaves you to feed the two boys, Tom and Martin Luther, for
dinner. And don't you never forget that you are the apple-core of your
Mother Mayberry's heart and she's a-going to hold you to her tender,
even unto them Glory days we've been a-planning for, with Death here in
the midst of Life."



CHAPTER X

THE SONG OF THE MASTER'S GRAIL


"In all my long life it have never been gave to me to see anything like
Deacon Bostick and his Providence children," said Mother Mayberry, as
she stood on the end of the porch with the singer girl's hand in hers.
"He are a-setting on his bench under the tree right by her window, like
he always did to listen for her, and every child in the Road is
a-huddled up against him like a forlorn lot of little motherless
chickens. He have got little Bettie and Martin Luther on his knees and
the rest are just crowded up all around him. He don't seem to notice
any of the rest of us, but looks to 'Liza for everything. She got him
to go to bed at nine o'clock and when Buck and Mr. Petway went to set
up for the night they found she'd done made 'Lias and Henny and Bud all
lie down by him, one on each side and Bud acrost the foot. He wanted
'em to stay and the men let 'em do it. Judy says she were up by
daylight and gone down the Road to see about his breakfast and things.
And now she are just a-standing by him waiting for the bell to toll for
the funeral. The Deacon have surely followed his Master in the
suffering of little children to draw close to him in this life and now
he are becoming as one of 'em before entering the Kingdom."

"This soft, misty, sun-veiled day seems just made for Mrs. Bostick,"
said Miss Wingate with unshed tears in her voice.

"It may be just a notion of mine, honey-bird, but it looks like up here
in Harpeth Hills the weather have got a sympathy with us folks. Look
how Providence Nob have drawed a mist of tears 'twixt it and the faint
sun. When troubles are with us I've seen clouds boil up over the Ridge
and on the other hand we ain't scarcely ever had rain on a wedding or
church soshul day. I like to feel that maybe the good Lord looks
special after us of His children living out in the open fields and we
have got His word that He tempers the winds. People in the big cities
can crowd up and keep care of one another, but out here we are all just
in the hollow of His hand. Here comes Mis' Peavey. I asked her to go
along to the funeral with me and you. It are most time now."

"Howdy, all," said Mrs. Peavey in an utterly gray tone of voice. "Mis'
Mayberry, that Circuit Rider have never come from Bolivar yet. Do you
reckon his horse have throwed him or is it just he don't care for us
Providence folks and don't think it worth his while to come say the
words over Sister Bostick?"

"Oh, he come 'most a half-hour ago, Hettie Ann," answered Mother
Mayberry quickly. "Bettie had a little snack laid out for him 'count of
his having to make such a early start to get here. He was most kind to
the Deacon and professed much sorrow for us all. How are your side this
morning?"

"I got out that foolish dry plaster Tom made me more'n a month ago and
put it on last night, 'cause I didn't want to disturb you, and to my
surprise they ain't a mite of pain hit me since. But I guess it are
mostly the clearing weather that have stopped it."

"Maybe a little of both," answered the Doctor's mother with a smile,
"but anyway, it's good that you ain't a-suffering none. We must all
take good care of each other's pains from now on, 'cause we are most
valuable one to another. Friends is one kind of treasure you don't want
to lay up in Heaven."

"I spend most of my time thinking about folks' accidents and hurts and
pains," answered Mrs. Peavey in all truth. "Miss Elinory, did you
gargle your throat with that slippery-ellum tea I thought about to make
for you last week?"

"Yes, Mrs. Peavey, I did," answered Miss Wingate quickly, for she had
performed that nauseous operation actuated by positive fear of Mrs.
Peavey if she should discover a failure to follow her directions.

"It'll cure you, maybe," answered the gratified neighbor. "There's the
bell and let's all go on slow and respectful."

And the sweet-toned old Providence Meeting-house bell was tolling its
notes for the passing of the soul of the gentle little Harpeth woman of
many sorrows as her friends and neighbors walked quietly down the Road,
along the dim aisle and took their places in the old pews with a
fitting solemnity on their serious faces. The young Circuit Rider spoke
to them from a full heart in sympathetically simple words and Pattie
Hoover led the congregation from behind the little cabinet organ in a
few of the Deacon's favorite hymns.

Then the little procession wound its way among the graves over to a
corner under an old cedar tree, where the stout young farmers laid
their frail burden down for its long sleep. The Deacon stood close by
and the children clung around his thin old legs, to his hands, and
reached to grasp at a corner of his coat. Eliza laid her head against
his shoulder and Henny and 'Lias crowded close on the other side, while
Bud held the old black hat he had taken from off his white hair, in
careful, shaking little hands. The singer lady, with the Doctor at her
side and her hand in Mother Mayberry's, stood just opposite and the
others came near.

The simple service that the Church has instituted for the committing of
its dead to the grave had been read by the Circuit Rider, the last
prayer offered, and as a long ray of sunlight came through the mist and
fell across the little assembly, he turned expectantly to Pattie
Hoover, who stood between her father and Buck at the other end of the
grave. He had read the first lines of the hymn and he expected her to
raise the tune for the others to follow. But when a woman's heart is
very young and tender, and attuned to that of another which is
throbbing emotionally close by, her own feelings are apt to rise in a
tidal wave of tears, regardless of consequences; and as Buck Peavey
choked off a sob, Pattie turned and buried her head on her father's
arm. There was a long pause and nobody attempted to start the singing.
They were accustomed to depend on Pattie or her organ and their own
throats were tight with tears. The unmusical young preacher was
helpless and looked from one to another, then was about to raise his
hands for the benediction, when a little voice came across the grave.

"Ain't nobody going to sing for Mis' Bostick?" wailed Eliza, as her
head went down on the Deacon's arm in a shudder of sobs.

Then suddenly a very wonderful and beautiful thing happened in that old
churchyard of Providence Meeting-house under Harpeth Hills, for the
great singer lady stepped toward the Deacon a little way, paused,
looked across at the old Nob in the sunlight, and high and clear and
free-winged like that of an archangel, rose her glorious voice in the

  "Hail, holy, holy, holy Lord,"

which she had set for him and the gentle invalid to the wonderful motif
of the Song of the Master's Grail. Love and sorrow and a flood of tears
had relieved a pressure somewhere, the balance had been recovered and
her muted voice freed. And on through the verses to the very end she
sang it, while the little group of field people held their breath in
awe and amazement. Then, while they all stood with bowed heads for the
benediction, she turned and walked away through the graves, out of the
churchyard and on up Providence Road, with an instinct to hide from
them all for a moment of realization.

"And here I have to come and hunt the little skeered miracle out of my
own feather pillows," exclaimed Mother Mayberry a little later with
laughter, tears, pride and joy in her voice, as she bent over the broad
expanse of her own bed and drew the singer girl up in her strong arms.
"Daughter," she said, with her cheek pressed to the flushed one against
her shoulder, "what the Lord hath given and taketh away we bless Him
for and none the less what He giveth back, blessed be His name. That's
a jumble, but He understands me. You don't feel in no ways peculiar, do
you?" and as she asked the question the Doctor's mother clasped the
slender throat in one of her strong hands.

"Not a bit anywhere," answered Miss Wingate, with the burr all gone
from her soft voice. "Is it true?"

"Dearie me, I can't hardly stand it to hear you speak, it are so
sweet!" exclaimed Mother Mayberry in positive rapture and again the
tears filled her eyes, while her face crinkled up into a dimpled smile.
"Don't say nothing where the mocking-birds will hear you, please,
'cause they'll begin to hatch out a dumb race from plumb
discouragement. Come out on the porch where it ain't so hot, but I'm
a-holding on to you to keep you from flying up into one of the trees.
I'm a-going to set about building a cage for you right--"

"Now, didn't I tell you about that slippery-ellum!" came in a
positively triumphant voile to greet them as they stepped out of the
front door. Mrs. Peavey was ascending the steps all out of breath, her
decorous hat awry, and her eyes snapping with excitement. "Course I
don't think this can be no positive cure and like as not you'll wake up
to-morrow with your voice all gone dry again, but it were the
slippery-ellum that done it!"

"I think it must have helped some," answered the singer lady in the
clear voice that still held its wonted note of meekness to her neighbor.

"Course it did! Tom Mayberry's experimenting couldn'ter done it no real
good. His mother have been giving that biled bark for sore throat for
thirty years and it was me that remembered it. But it were a pity you
done it at the grave; that were Mis' Bostick's funeral and not your'n.
Now look at everybody a-coming up the Road with no grieving left at
all."

"Oh, Hettie Ann," exclaimed Mother Mayberry in quick distress, "it are
a mean kind of sorrow that can't open its arms to hold joy tender.
Think what it do mean to the child and--Look at Bettie!"

And indeed it was a sight to behold the pretty mother of the seventeen
sailing up the front walk like a great full-rigged ship. Miss Wingate
flew down the steps to meet her and in a few seconds was enveloped and
involved with little Hoover in an embrace that threatened to be
disastrous to all concerned. Judy Pike was close behind and, making a
grab on her own part, stood holding the end of the singer lady's sash
in her one hand while Teether, from her other arm, caught at the bright
ribbons and squealed with delight. The abashed Pattie hung over the
front gate and Buck grinned in the rear.

"Lawsy me, child," Mrs. Hoover laughed and sobbed as she patted the
singer lady on the back, little Hoover anywhere he came upmost and
included Teether and Judy also in the demonstration, "I feel like it
would take two to hold me down! You sure sing with as much style as you
dress! And to think such a thing have happened to all of us here in
Providence. We won't never need that phonygraph we all are a-hankering
after now. Speak up to the child, Judy Pike!"

"I don't need to," answered the more self-contained Sister Pike, "she
knows how I'm a-rejoicing for her. Just look at Mr. Hoover and Ez Pike
a-grinning acrost the street at her and here do come the Squire and
Mis' Tutt walking along together for the first time I almost ever seed
'em."

"Wheeuh," wheezed the Squire, "I done come up here to give up on the
subject of that Tom Mayberry! He don't look or talk like he have got
any sense, girl, but he are the greatest doctor anywhere from Harpeth
Hills to Californy or Alasky. He have got good remedies for all. I
reckon you are one of the hot water kind, but he can give bitters too.
You'd better keep him to the bitters though for safety."

"There now! You all have done heard the top testimony for Tom
Mayberry," exclaimed Mother, fairly running over with joy.

"Glory!" was the one word that rose to the surface of Mrs. Tutt's
emotions, but it expressed her state of beatitude and caused the Squire
to peer at her with uneasiness as if expecting an outburst of
exhortation on the next breath. Mrs. Peavey's experienced eye also
caught the threatened downpour and she hastened to admonish the group
of women.

"Sakes, you all!" she exclaimed, untying the strings of her bonnet
energetically, "they won't be a supper cooked on the Road if we don't
go get about it. A snack dinner were give the men and such always calls
for the putting on of the big pot and the little kettle for supper.
Miss Elinory will be here for you all to eat up to-morrow morning,
'lessen something happens to her in the night, like a wind storm. Go on
everybody!"

"Oh," exclaimed Mother Mayberry, as she stood on the top step looking
down at them all, "look how the sun have come out on us all, with its
happiness after the sorrow we have known this day. I thank you, one and
all, for your feeling with me and my daughter Elinory. The rejoicing of
friends are a soft wind to folks' spirit wings and we're all flying
high this night. Get the children bedded down early, for they have had
a long day and need good sleep. Bettie, let Mis' Tutt walk along with
you and the Squire can come on slow. Don't nobody forget that it are
Sewing Circle with Mis' Mosbey to-morrow."

And, with more congratulations to the singer lady, laughs with Mother
Mayberry, and the return of a shot or two with Mrs. Peavey, the happy
country women dispersed to their own roof trees. The sorrow that had
come they had endured for the night and now they were ready to rise up
and meet joy for the morning. In the children of nature the emotions
maintain their elemental balance and their sense of the proportions of
life is instinctively true.

"Look, honey-bird, who's coming!" said Mother Mayberry, just as she was
turning to seat herself in her rocking-chair, tired out as she was with
the strain of the long day. "Run, meet 'em at the gate!" And up
Providence Road came the old Deacon and Eliza hand in hand, with Martin
Luther trailing wearily behind them. When she saw Miss Wingate at the
gate, Eliza, for the first time during the day, loosed her hold on her
old charge and darted forward to hide her head on the singer lady's
breast as her thin little arms clasped around her convulsively.

"Now," she wailed, "Mis' Bostick are dead and you'll be goned away too.
Can't you stay a little while, till we can stand to let you go? Poor
Doctor Tom! Please, oh, please!"

"Darling, darling, I'm never going to leave you!" exclaimed Miss
Wingate, as she hugged the small implorer as closely as possible and
held out one hand to the Deacon as he came up beside them. "I'm going
to stay and sing for you and the Deacon whenever you want me--if it
will help!"

"Child," said the old patriarch, with an ineffable sweetness shining
from his sad old face, "out of my affliction I come to add my blessing
to what the Lord has given to you this day. And I take this mercy as a
special dispensation to me and to her, as it came when you were
performing one of His offices for us. No sweeter strain could come from
the Choir Invisible that she hears this night, and if she knows she
rejoices that it will be given at other times to me, to feed my lonely
soul."

"The songs are yours when you want them, Deacon," said the singer girl
in her sweet low voice as she held his hand in hers gently.

"And it are true what the Deacon says, they ain't no help like music,"
said Mother Mayberry who had come down the walk and stood leaning
against the gate near them. "A song can tote comfort from heart to
heart when words wouldn't have no meaning. It's a high calling, child,
and have to be answered with a high life."

"I know Pattie and Buck and Aunt Prissy will let you always sing in the
choir if Deacon asks 'em," said Eliza in a practical voice as she again
took hold of the Deacon's hand, "and Mr. Petway are a-going to buy a
piano for Aunt Prissy when they get married and sometimes you can sing
by it if Doctor Tom can't save up enough to get you one. But I want
Deacon to come home now, 'cause he are tired." And without more ado she
departed with her docile charge, leaving the tired Martin Luther with
his hands clasped in Mother Mayberry's.

"Mother," faltered Miss Wingate as she and Mother Mayberry were slowly
ascending the steps, assisting the almost paralyzed young missionary to
mount between them, "where do you suppose--HE is?" For some minutes
back the singer lady had been growing pale at the realization that the
Doctor had not come to her since she had left his side in the
churchyard and her eyes were beginning to show a deep hurt within.

"I don't know, Elinory, and I've been a-wondering," answered Mother
Mayberry as she sank down on the top step and took the tired child in
her arms.

"Oh," said Miss Wingate as she stood before her on the lower step and
clasped her white hands against her breast, "do you suppose he is going
to--to hurt me now?"

"Child," answered the Doctor's mother quietly, with a quick sadness
spreading over her usually bright face, "they ain't nothing in the
world that can be as cruel as true love when it goes blind. Tom
Mayberry is a good man and I borned, nursed and raised him, but I won't
answer for him about no co'ting conniptions. A man lover are a shy bird
and they can't nothing but a true mate keep him steady on any limb. You
ain't showed a single symptom of managing Tom yet, but somehow I've got
confidence in you if you just keep your head now."

"But what can the matter be?" demanded Miss Wingate in a voice that
shook with positive terror.

"Well," answered Mother Mayberry slowly, "I sorter sense the trouble
and I'll tell you right out and out for your good. Loving a woman are a
kinder regeneration process for any man, and a good one like as not
comes outen it humbler than a bad most times. Tom have wrapped you
around with some sorter pink cloud of sentiments, tagged you with all
them bokays the world have give you for singing so grand, turned all
them lights on you he first seen you acrost and now he's afraid to come
nigh you. I suspect him of a bad case of chicken-heart and I'm
a-pitying of him most deep. He's just lying down at your feet waiting
to be picked up."

"I wonder where he is!" exclaimed Miss Wingate as a light flashed into
her eyes and a trace of color came back to her cheeks.

"You'll find him," answered the Doctor's mother comfortably, "and when
you do I want you to promise me to put him through a good course of
sprouts. A wife oughtn't to stand on no pedestal for a man, but she
have got no call to make squaw tracks behind him neither. Go on and
find him! A woman have got to come out of the pink cloud to her husband
some time, but she'd better keep a bit to flirt behind the rest of her
life. Look in the office!"

"Well; Martin Luther," remarked Mother a few minutes later, as she
lifted the absolutely dead youngster in her arms and rose to take him
into the house, "life are all alike from Harpeth Hills to Galilee. A
woman can shape up her dough any fancy way she wants and it's likely to
come outen the oven a husband. All Elinory's fine songs are about to
end in little chorus cheeps with Tom under Mother Mayberry's wings, the
Lord be praised!"

And over in the office wing the situation was about as Mother
Mayberry's experienced intuitions had predicted. Miss Wingate found the
young Doctor sitting in the deep window and looking out at Providence
Nob, which the last rays of the sun were dying blood red, with his
strong young face set and white. The battle was still on and his soul
was up in arms.

"Where have you been?" she asked quietly as she came and stood against
the other side of the casement. The pain in his gray eyes set her heart
to throbbing, but she had herself well in hand.

"When I came up the Road the others were all here and I waited to see
you until they were gone," he answered her, just as quietly and in just
as controlled a voice and with possibly just as wild a throb in his
heart "I have been writing to Doctor Stein and there are the Press
bulletins, subject to your approval," He pointed to some letters on the
table which she never deigned to notice. She had drawn herself to her
slim young height and looked him full in the face with a beautiful
stateliness in her manner and glance. Her dark eyes never left his and
she seemed waiting for him to say something further to her.

"You know without my telling you how very glad I am for you," he said
gently and his hand trembled on the window ledge.

"Are you?" she asked in a low tone, still with her eyes fixed on his
face, but her lips pressed close with a sharp intake of breath.

"Yes," he answered quickly, and this time the note of pain would sound
clearly in his voice. "Yes, no matter what it means to me!"

The pain of it, the haggard gray eyes, the firm young mouth and the
droop of the broad shoulders were too much for the singer girl and she
smiled shakily as she held out her arms.

"Tom Mayberry," she pleaded with a little laugh, "please, please don't
treat me this way. I promised your mother to be stern with you but--I
can't! Don't you see that it can only mean to me what it means to your
happiness--if--do you, could you possibly think it would make any
difference to me? Do you suppose for all the wide world I would throw
away what I have found here in Providence under Harpeth Hills--my
Mother and you? Ah, Tom, I'll be good, I'll go to Italy and India with
you! I'll--I'll 'do for' you just the best I can!"

"But, dear, it isn't right at all," whispered the young Doctor to the
back of the singer lady's head, as he laid his cheek against the dark
braids. "Your voice belongs to the world--there must be no giving it
up. I can't let you--I--"

"Listen," said the singer girl as she raised her head and looked up
into his face. "For all your life you will have to go where pain and
grief call you, won't you? Can't you take my voice with you and use
it--as one of your--remedies? Your Mother says songs can comfort where
words fail; let me go with you! Your father brought her and her herb
basket to Providence, won't you take me and my songs out into the world
with you? Don't send me back to sing in the dreadful crowded theaters
to people who pay to hear me. Let me give it all my lifelong, as she
has given herself here in Providence. Please, Tom, please!" And again
she buried her head against his coat.

And as was his wont, the silent young doctor failed to answer a single
word but just held her close and comforted. And how long he would have
held her, there is no way to know, because the strain had been too
great on Mother Mayberry and in a few minutes she stood calmly in the
door and looked at the pair of children with happy but quizzical eyes.

"It's just as well you got Tom Mayberry straightened out quick,
Elinory," she remarked in her most jovial tone. "I've been getting
madder and madder as I put Martin Luther to bed and though I ain't
never had to whip him yet, I'd just about made up my mind to ask him
out in the barn and dress him down for onct. Now are you well over your
tantrum, sir?" she demanded as she eyed the shamefaced young Doctor
delightedly.

"Mother!" he exclaimed as he turned his head away and the color rose
under his tan.

"Have you done made up your mind to travel from town to town with
Elinory and take in the tickets at the door and make yourself useful to
her the rest of your life? Are you a-going to follow her peaceable all
over Europe, Asia and Africa?" And her eyes fairly over-danced
themselves with delight.

"Mother!" and this time the exclamation came from Miss Wingate as she
came over to rest her cheek against Mother Mayberry's arm. She also
blushed, but her eyes danced with an echo of the young Doctor's
mother's laugh as she beheld his embarrassment.

"Yes," answered the Doctor, rallying at last, "yes, I'm ready to go
with her. Will you go too, Mother, as retained physician?"

"Well, I don't know about that," answered his Mother with a laugh; "not
till 'Liza Pike have growed up to take my place here. But I'm mighty
glad to see you take your dose of humble pie so nice, Tom, and I reckon
I'll have to tell you how happy I am about my child here. It was kinder
smart of you to cure her and then claim her sweet self as a fee, wasn't
it?"

"I do feel that way, Mother, and I don't see how I can let her make the
sacrifice. Her future is so brilliant and I--I--"

"Son," said Mother Mayberry with the banter all gone from her rich
voice and the love fairly radiating from her face as she laid a tender
hand on the singer lady's dark head on her shoulder, "I don't have to
ask my honey-bird the choice she have made. A woman don't want to wear
her life-work like no jewelry harness nor yet no sacrificial garment,
but she loves to clothe herself in it like it were a soft-colored,
homespun dress to cover the pillow of her breast and the cradle of her
arms to hold the tired folks against. Take her to India's coral strand
if you must, for it's gave a wife to follow the husband-star. Long ago
I vowed you to the Master's high call and now with these words I
dedicates my daughter the same. She have waded through much pain and
sorrow, but do it matter along how hard a Road folks travels if at last
they come to they Providence?"





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