Rudder Grange/Chapter 17
IN WHICH WE TAKE A VACATION AND LOOK FOR DAVID DUTTON
It was about noon of a very fair July day, in the next summer, when Euphemia and myself arrived at the little town where we were to take the stage up into the mountains. We were off for a two weeks' vacation, and our minds were a good deal easier than when we went away before and left Pomona at the helm. We had enlarged the boundaries of Rudder Grange, having purchased the house, with enough adjoining land to make quite a respectable farm. Of course, I could not attend to the manifold duties on such a place, and my wife seldom had a happier thought than when she proposed that we should invite Pomona and her husband to come and live with us. Pomona was delighted, and Jonas was quite willing to run our farm. So arrangements were made, and the young couple were established in apartments in our back building, and went to work as if taking care of us and our possessions was the ultimate object of their lives. Jonas was such a steady fellow that we feared no trouble from the tree-man or lightning-rodder during this absence.
Our destination was a country tavern on the stage road, not far from the point where the road crosses the ridge of the mountain-range, and about sixteen miles from the town. We had heard of this tavern from a friend of ours, who had spent a summer there. The surrounding country was lovely, and the house was kept by a farmer, who was a good soul, and tried to make his guests happy. These were generally passing farmers and waggoners, or stage-passengers, stopping for a meal; but occasionally a person from the cities, like our friend, came to spend a few weeks in the mountains.
So hither we came, for an out-of-the-world spot like this was just what we wanted. When I took our place at the stage-office, I inquired for David Dutton, the farmer tavern-keeper before mentioned, but the agent did not know of him.
"However," says he, "the driver knows everybody on the road, and he'll set you down at the house."
So off we started, having paid for our tickets on the basis that we were to ride about sixteen miles. We had seats on top, and the trip, although slow—for the road wound uphill steadily—was a delightful one. Our way lay, for the greater part of the time, through the woods, but now and then we came to a farm, and a turn in the road often gave us lovely views of the foot-hills and the valleys behind us.
But the driver did not know where Dutton's tavern was. This we found out after we had started. Some persons might have thought it wiser to settle this matter before starting, but I am not at all sure that it would have been so. We were going to this tavern, and did not wish to go anywhere else. If people did not know where it was, it would be well for us to go and look for it. We knew the road that it was on, and the locality in which it was to be found.
Still, it was somewhat strange that a stage-driver, passing along the road every week-day—one day one way and the next the other way—should not know a public-house like Dutton's.
"If I remember rightly," I said, "the stage used to stop there for the passengers to take supper."
"Well, then, it ain't on this side o' the ridge," said the driver. "We stop for supper, about a quarter of a mile on the other side, at Pete Lowry's. Perhaps Dutton used to keep that place. Was it called the 'Ridge House'?"
I did not remember the name of the house, but I knew very well that it was not on the other side of the ridge.
"Then," said the driver, 'I'm sure I don't know where it is. But I've only been on the road about a year, and your man may 'a' moved away afore I come. But there ain't no tavern this side the ridge, arter ye leave Delhi, and that's nowheres nigh the ridge."
There were a couple of farmers who were sitting by the driver, and who had listened with considerable interest to this conversation. Presently one of them turned around to me and said:
"Is it Dave Dutton ye're askin' about?"
"Yes," I replied, "that's his name."
"Well, I think he's dead," said he.
At this I began to feel uneasy, and I could see that my wife shared my trouble.
Then the other farmer spoke up.
"I don't believe he's dead, Hiram," said he to his companion. "I heered of him this spring. He's got a sheep farm on the other side o' the mountain, and he's a-livin' there. That's what I heered, at any rate. But he don't live on this road any more," he continued, turning to us. "He used to keep tavern on this road, and the stages did used to stop fur supper—or else dinner, I don't jist ree-collect which. But he don't keep tavern on this road no more."
"Of course not," said his companion, "if he's a-livin' over the mountain. But I b'lieve he's dead."
I asked the other farmer if he knew how long it had been since Dutton had left this part of the country.
"I don't know fur certain," he said, "but I know he was keeping tavern here two year ago this fall, fur I came along here myself, and stopped there to git supper—or dinner, I don't jist ree-collect which."
It had been three years since our friend had boarded at Dutton's house. There was no doubt that the man was not living at his old place now. My wife and I now agreed that it was very foolish in us to come so far without making more particular inquiries. But we had had an idea that a man who had a place like Dutton's tavern would live there always.
"What are ye goin' to do?" asked the driver, very much interested, for it was not every day that he had passengers who had lost their destination, "Ye might go on to Lowry's. He takes boarders sometimes."
But Lowry's did not attract us. An ordinary country tavern, where stage-passengers took supper, was not what we came so far to find.
"Do you know where this house o' Dutton's is?" said the driver to the man who had once taken either dinner or supper there.
"Oh, yes! I'd know the house well enough if I saw it. It's the fust house this side o' Lowry's."
"With a big pole in front of it?" asked the driver.
"Yes, there was a sign-pole in front of it."
"An' a long porch?"
"Oh! well!" said the driver, settling himself in his seat, "I know all about that house. That's a empty house. I didn't think you meant that house. There's nobody lives there. An' yit, now I come to remember, I have seen people about too. I tell ye what ye better do. Since ye're so set on staying on this side the ridge, ye better let me put ye down at Dan Carson's place. That's jist about quarter of a mile from where Dutton used to live. Dan's wife can tell ye all about the Duttons, an' about everybody else too, in this part o' the country, and if there ain't nobody livin' at the old tavern, ye can stay all night at Carson's, and I'll stop an' take you back to-morrow, when I come along."
We agreed to this plan, for there was nothing better to be done, and, late in the afternoon, we were set down with our small trunk—for we were travelling under light weight—at Dan Carson's door. The stage was rather behind time, and the driver whipped up and left us to settle our own affairs. He called back, however, that he would keep a good look-out for us to-morrow.
Mrs. Carson soon made her appearance, and very naturally was somewhat surprised to see visitors with their baggage standing on her little porch. She was a plain, coarsely-dressed woman, with an apron full of chips and kindling wood, and a fine mind for detail, as we soon discovered.
"Jist so," said she, putting down the chips and inviting us to seats on a bench. "Dave Dutton's folks is all moved away Dave has a good farm on the other side o' the mountain, an' it never did pay him to keep that tavern, 'specially as he didn't sell liquor. When he went away, his son Al come there to live with his wife, an' the old man left a good deal o' furniter and things for him, but Al's wife ain't satisfied here, and, though they've been here, off an' on, the house is shet up most o' the time. It's fur sale an' to rent both, ef anybody wants it. I'm sorry about you too, fur it was a nice tavern when Dave kept it."
We admitted that we were also very sorry, and the kind-hearted woman showed a great deal of sympathy.
"You might stay here, but we hain't got no fit room where you two could sleep."
At this Euphemia and I looked very blank.
"But you could go up to the house and stay, jist as well as not," Mrs. Carson continued. "There's plenty o' things there, an' I keep the key. For the matter o' that, ye might take the house for as long as ye want to stay; Dave'd be glad enough to rent it; and, if the lady knows how to keep house, it wouldn't be no trouble at all, jist for you two. We could let ye have all the victuals ye'd want cheap, and there's plenty o' wood there, cut, and everything handy."
We looked at each other. We agreed. Here was a chance for a rare good time. It might be better, perhaps, than anything we had expected.
The bargain was struck. Mrs. Carson, who seemed vested with all the necessary powers of attorney, appeared to be perfectly satisfied with our trustworthiness, and when I paid on the spot the small sum she thought proper for two weeks' rent, she evidently considered she had done a very good thing for Dave Dutton and herself.
"I'll jist put some bread an' eggs an' coffee an' pork an' things in a basket, an' I'll have 'em took up fur ye, with yer trunk, an' I'll go with ye an' take some milk. Here, Danny!" she cried, and directly her husband, a long, thin, sunburnt, sandy-headed man appeared, and to him she told in a few words, our story, and ordered him to hitch up the cart and be ready to take our trunk and the basket up to Dutton's old house.
When all was ready, we walked up the hill, followed by Danny and the cart. We found the house a large, low, old-fashioned farm-house, standing near the road with a long piazza in front, and a magnificent view of mountain-tops in the rear. Within, the lower rooms were large and low, with quite a good deal of furniture in them. There was no earthly reason why we should not be perfectly jolly and comfortable here. The more we saw, the more delighted we were at the odd experience we were about to have. Mrs. Carson busied herself in getting things in order for our supper and general accommodation. She made Danny carry our trunk to a bedroom in the second storey, and then set him to work building a fire in a great fireplace, with a crane for the kettle.
When she had done all she could, it was nearly dark, and after lighting a couple of candles, she left us, to go home and get supper for her own family.
As she and Danny were about to depart in the cart, she ran back to ask us if we would like to borrow a dog.
"There ain't nuthin' to be afeard of," she said; "for nobody hardly ever takes the trouble to lock the doors in these parts; but, bein' city folks, I thought ye might feel better if ye had a dog."
We made haste to tell her that we were not city folks, but declined the dog. Indeed, Euphemia remarked that she would be much more afraid of a strange dog than of robbers.
After supper, which we enjoyed as much as any meal we ever ate in our lives, we each took a candle, and after arranging our bedroom for the night, we explored the old house. There were lots of curious things everywhere—things that were apparently so "old-timey," as my wife remarked, that David Dutton did not care to take them with him to his new farm, and so left them for his son, who probably cared for them even less than his father did. There was a garret extending over the whole house, and filled with old spinning-wheels, and strings of onions, and all sorts of antiquated bric-a-brac, which was so fascinating to me that I could scarcely tear myself away from it; but Euphemia, who was dreadfully afraid that I would set the whole place on fire, at length prevailed on me to come down.
We slept soundly that night, in what was probably the best bedroom of the house, and awoke with a feeling that we were about to enter on a period of some uncommon kind of jollity, which we found to be true when we went down to get breakfast. I made the fire, Euphemia made the coffee, and Mrs. Carson came with cream and some fresh eggs. The good woman was in high spirits. She was evidently pleased at the idea of having neighbours, temporary though they were, and it had probably been a long time since she had had such a chance of selling milk, eggs, and sundries. It was almost the same as opening a country store. We bought groceries and everything of her.
We had a glorious time that day. We were just starting out for a mountain stroll when our stage-driver came along on his down trip.
"Hello!" he called out. "Want to go back this morning?"
"Not a bit of it," I cried. "We won't go back for a couple of weeks. We've settled here for the present."
The man smiled. He didn't seem to understand it exactly, but he was evidently glad to see us so well satisfied. If he had had time to stop and have the matter explained to him he would probably have been better satisfied; but as it was he waved his whip to us and drove on. He was a good fellow.
We strolled all day, having locked up the house and taken our lunch with us; and when we came back it seemed really like coming home. Mrs. Carson, with whom we had left the key, had brought the milk and was making the fire. This woman was too kind. We determined to try and repay her in some way. After a splendid supper we went to bed happy.
The next day was a repetition of this one, but the day after it rained. So we determined to enjoy the old tavern, and we rummaged about everywhere. I visited the garret again, and we went to the old barn, with its mows half full of hay, and had rare times climbing about there. We were delighted that it happened to rain. In a wood-shed near the house I saw a big square board with letters on it. I examined the board, and found it was a sign—a hanging sign—and on it was painted in letters that were yet quite plain—
I called to Euphemia, and told her that I had found the old tavern sign. She came to look at it, and I pulled it out.
"Soldiers and sailors!" she exclaimed; "that's funny."
I looked on her side of the sign, and, sure enough, there was the inscription—
"They must have bought this comprehensive sign in some town," I said. "Such a name would never have been chosen for a country tavern like this. But I wish they hadn't taken it down. The house would look more like what it ought to be with its sign hanging before it."
"Well, then," said Euphemia, "let's put it up."
I agreed instantly to this proposition, and went to look for a ladder. We found one in the wagon-house, and carried it out to the sign-post in front of the house. It was raining gently during these performances, but we had on our old clothes, and were so much interested in our work that we did not care for a little rain. I carried the sign to the post, and then, at the imminent risk of breaking my neck, I hung it on its appropriate hooks on the transverse beam of the sign-post. Now our tavern was really what it pretended to be. We gazed on the sign with admiration and content.
"Do you think we had better keep it up all the time?" I asked of my wife.
"Certainly! " said she. "It's a part of the house. The place isn't complete without it."
"But suppose some one should come along and want to be entertained?"
"But no one will. And if people do come, I'll take care of the soldiers and sailors if you will attend to the farmers and mechanics."
I consented to this, and we went indoors to prepare dinner.