The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 2/Number 4/Ann Potter's Lesson
ANN POTTER'S LESSON.
My sister Mary Jane is older than I,—as much as four years. Father died when we were both small, and didn't leave us much means beside the farm. Mother was rather a weakly woman; she didn't feel as though she could farm it for a living. It's hard work enough for a man to get clothes and victuals off a farm in West Connecticut; it's up-hill work always; and then a man can turn to, himself, to ploughin' and mowin';—but a woman a'n't of no use, except to tell folks what to do; and everybody knows it's no way to have a thing done, to send.
Mother talked it all over with Deacon Peters, and he counselled her to sell off all the farm but the home-lot, which was sot out for an orchard with young apple-trees, and had a garden-spot to one end of it, close by the house. Mother calculated to raise potatoes and beans and onions enough to last us the year round, and to take in sewin' so's to get what few groceries we was goin' to want. We kept Old Red, the best cow; there was pasture enough for her in the orchard, for the trees wa'n't growed to be bearin' as yet, and we 'lotted a good deal on milk to our house; besides, it saved butcher's meat.
Mother was a real pious woman, and she was a high-couraged woman too. Old Miss Perrit, an old widder-woman that lived down by the bridge, come up to see her the week after father died. I remember all about it, though I wa'n't but ten years old; for when I see Miss Perrit comin' up the road, with her slimpsy old veil hanging off from her bumbazine bonnet, and her doleful look, (what Nancy Perrit used to call "mother's company-face,") I kinder thought she was comin' to our house; and she was allers so musical to me, I went in to the back-door, and took up a towel I was hemmin', and set down in the corner, all ready to let her in. It don't seem as if I could 'a' been real distressed about father's dyin' when I could do so; but children is just like spring weather, rainin' one hour and shinin' the next, and it's the Lord's great mercy they be; if they begun to be feelin' so early, there wouldn't be nothin' left to grow up. So pretty quick Miss Perrit knocked, and I let her in. We hadn't got no spare room in that house; there was the kitchen in front, and mother's bed-room, and the buttery, and the little back-space opened out on't behind. Mother was in the bed-room; so, while I called her, Miss Perrit set down in the splint rockin'-chair that creaked awfully, and went to rockin' back and forth, and sighin', till mother come in. "Good-day, Miss Langdon!" says she, with a kind of a snuffle, "how dew you dew? I thought I'd come and see how you kep' up under this here affliction. I rec'lect very well how I felt when husband died. It's a dreadful thing to be left a widder in a hard world;—don't you find it out by this?"
I guess mother felt quite as bad as ever Miss Perrit did, for everybody knew old Perrit treated his wife like a dumb brute while he was alive, and died drunk; but she didn't say nothin'. I see her give a kind of a swaller, and then she spoke up bright and strong.
"I don't think it is a hard world, Miss Perrit. I find folks kind and helpful, beyond what I'd any right to look for. I try not to think about my husband, any more than I can help, because I couldn't work, if I did, and I've got to work. It's most helpful to think the Lord made special promises to widows, and when I remember Him I a'n't afeard."
Miss Perrit stopped rockin' a minute, and then she begun to creak the chair and blow her nose again, and she said,--
"Well, I'm sure it's a great mercy to see anybody rise above their trouble the way you do; but, law me! Miss Langdon, you a'n't got through the fust pair o' bars on't yet. Folks is allers kinder neighborly at the fust; they feel to help you right off, every way they can,--but it don't stay put, they get tired on't; they blaze right up like a white-birch-stick, an' then they go out all of a heap; there's other folks die, and they don't remember you, and you're just as bad off as though you wa'n't a widder."
Mother kind of smiled,--she couldn't help it; but she spoke up again just as steady.
"I don't expect to depend on people, Miss Perrit, so long as I have my health. I a'n't above takin' friendly help when I need to, but I mean mostly to help myself. I can get work to take in, and when the girls have got their schoolin' they will be big enough to help me. I am not afraid but what I shall live and prosper, if I only keep my health."
"Hem, well!" whined out Miss Perrit. "I allers thought you was a pretty mighty woman, Miss Langdon, and I'm glad to see you're so high-minded; but you a'n't sure of your health, never. I used to be real smart to what I am now, when Perrit was alive; but I took on so, when he was brought home friz to death that it sp'iled my nerves; and then I had to do so many chores out in the shed, I got cold and had the dreadfullest rheumatiz! and when I'd got past the worst spell of that and was quite folksy again, I slipped down on our door-step and kinder wrenched my ankle, and ef't hadn't 'a' been for the neighbors, I don't know but what Nancy and I should 'a' starved."
Mother did laugh this time. Miss Perrit had overshot the mark.
"So the neighbors were helpful, after all!" said she. "And if ever I get sick, I shall be willin' to have help, Miss Perrit. I'm sure I would take what I would give; I think givin' works two ways. I don't feel afraid yet."
Miss Perrit groaned a little, and wiped her eyes, and got up to go away. She hadn't never offered to help mother, and she went off to the sewing-circle and told that Miss Langdon hadn't got no feelings at all, and she b'lieved she'd just as soon beg for a livin' as not. Polly Mariner, the tailoress, come and told mother all she said next day, but mother only smiled, and set Polly to talkin' about the best way to make over her old cloak. When she was gone, I begun to talk about Miss Perrit, and I was real mad; but mother hushed me right up.
"It a'n't any matter, Ann," said she. "Her sayin' so don't make it so. Miss Perrit's got a miserable disposition, and I'm sorry for her; a mint of money wouldn't make her happy; she's a doleful Christian, she don't take any comfort in anything, and I really do pity her."
And that was just the way mother took everything.
At first we couldn't sell the farm. It was down at the foot of Torringford Hill, two good miles from meetin', and a mile from the school-house; most of it was woodsy, and there wa'n't no great market for wood about there. So for the first year Squire Potter took it on shares, and, as he principally seeded it down to rye, why, we sold the rye and got a little money, but 'twa'n't a great deal,--no more than we wanted for clothes the next winter. Aunt Langdon sent us d own a lot of maple-sugar from Lee, and when we wanted molasses we made it out of that. We didn't have to buy no great of groceries, for we could spin and knit by fire-light, and, part of the land bein' piny woods, we had a good lot of knots that were as bright as lamps for all we wanted. Then we had a dozen chickens, and by pains and care they laid pretty well, and the eggs were as good as gold. So we lived through the first year after father died, pretty well.
Anybody that couldn't get along with mother and Major (I always called Mary Jane "Major" when I was real little, and the name kind of stayed by) couldn't get along with anybody. I was as happy as a cricket whilst they were by, though, to speak truth, I wasn't naturally so chirpy as they were; I took after father more, who was a kind of a despondin' man, down-hearted, never thinkin' things could turn out right, or that he was goin' to have any luck. That was my natur', and mother see it, and fought ag'inst it like a real Bunker-Hiller; but natur' is hard to root up, and there was always times when I wanted to sulk away into a corner and think nobody wanted me, and that I was poor and humbly, and had to work for my living.
I remember one time I'd gone up into my room before tea to have one of them dismal fits. Miss Perrit had been in to see mother, and she'd been tellin' over what luck Nancy'd had down to Hartford: how't she had gone into a shop, and a young man had been struck with her good looks, an' he'd turned out to be a master-shoemaker, and Nancy was a-goin' to be married, and so on, a rigmarole as long as the moral law,--windin' up with askin' mother why she didn't send us girls off to try our luck, for Major was as old as Nance Perrit. I'd waited to hear mother say, in her old bright way, that she couldn't afford it, and she couldn't spare us, if she had the means, and then I flung up into our room, that was a lean-to in the garret, with a winder in the gable end, and there I set down by the winder with my chin on the sill, and begun to wonder why we couldn't have as good luck as the Perrits. After I'd got real miserable, I heerd a soft step comin' up stairs, and Major come in and looked at me and then out of the winder.
"What's the matter of you, Anny?" said she.
"Nothing," says I, as sulky as you please.
"Nothing always means something," says Major, as pleasant as pie; and then she scooched down on the floor and pulled my two hands away, and looked me in the face as bright and honest as ever you see a dandelion look out of the grass. "What is it, Anny? Spit it out, as John Potter says; you'll feel better to free your mind."
"Well," says I, "Major, I'm tired of bad luck."
"Why, Anny! I didn't know as we'd had any. I'm sure, it's three years since father died, and we have had enough to live on all that time, and I've got my schooling, and we are all well; and just look at the apple-trees,--all as pink as your frock with blossoms; that's good for new cloaks next winter, Anny."
"'Ta'n't that, Major. I was thinkin' about Nancy Perrit. If we'd had the luck to go to Hartford, may-be you'd have been as well off as she; and then I'd have got work, too. And I wish I was as pretty as she is, Major; it does seem too bad to be poor and humbly too."
I wonder she didn't laugh at me, but she was very feelin' for folks, always. She put her head on the window-sill along of mine, and kinder nestled up to me in her lovin' way, and said, softly,--
"I wouldn't quarrel with the Lord, Anny."
"Why, Major! you scare me! I haven't said nothing against the Lord. What do you mean?" said I,--for I was touchy, real touchy.
"Well, dear, you see we've done all we can to help ourselves; and what's over and above, that we can't help,--that is what the Lord orders, a'n't it? and He made you, didn't He? You can't change your face; and I'm glad of it, for it is Anny's face, and I wouldn't have it changed a mite: there'll always be two people to think it's sightly enough, and may-be more by-and-by; so I wouldn't quarrel with it, if I was you."
Major's happy eyes always helped me. I looked at her and felt better. She wasn't any better-lookin' than I; but she always was so chirk, and smart, and neat, and pretty-behaved, that folks thought she was handsome after they knowed her.
Well, after a spell, there was a railroad laid out up the valley, and all the land thereabouts riz in price right away; and Squire Potter he bought our farm on speculation, and give a good price for it; so't we had two thousand dollars in the bank, and the house and lot, and the barn, and the cow. By this time Major was twenty-two and I was eighteen; and Squire Potter he'd left his house up on the hill, and he'd bought out Miss Perrit's house, and added on to't, and moved down not far from us, so's to be near the railroad-depot, for the sake of bein' handy to the woods, for cuttin' and haulin' of them down to the track. Twasn't very pleasant at first to see our dear old woods goin' off to be burned that way; but Squire Potter's folks were such good neighbors, we gained as much as we lost, and a sight more, for folks are greatly better'n trees,--at least, clever folks.
There was a whole raft of the Potters, eight children of 'em all, some too young to be mates for Major and me; but Mary Potter, and Reuben, and Russell, they were along about as old as we were: Russell come between Major and me; the other two was older.
We kinder kept to home always, Major and me, because we hadn't any brothers to go out with us; so we were pretty shy of new friends at first. But you couldn't help bein' friendly with the Potters, they was such outspoken, kindly creturs, from the Squire down to little Hen. And it was very handy for us, because now we could go to singin'-schools and quiltin's, and such-like places, of an evenin'; and we had rather moped at home for want of such things,--at least I had, and I should have been more moped only for Major's sweet ways. She was always as contented as a honey-bee on a clover-head, for the same reason, I guess.
Well, there was a good many good things come to us from the Potters' movin' down; but by-and-by it seemed as though I was goin' to get the bitter of it. I'd kept company pretty steady with Russell. I hadn't give much thought to it, neither; I liked his ways, and he seemed to give in to mine very natural, so't we got along together first-rate. It didn't seem as though we'd ever been strangers, and I wasn't one to make believe at stiffness when I didn't feel it. I told Russell pretty much all I had to tell, and he was allers doin' for me and runnin' after me jest as though he'd been my brother. I didn't know how much I did think of him, till, after a while, he seemed to take a sight of notice of Major. I can't say he ever stopped bein' clever to me, for he didn't; but he seemed to have a kind of a hankerin' after Major all the time. He'd take her off to walk with him; he'd dig up roots in the woods for her posy-bed; he'd hold her skeins of yarn as patient as a little dog; he'd get her books to read. Well, he'd done all this for me; but when I see him doin' it for her, it was quite different; and all to once I know'd what was the matter. I'd thought too much of Russell Potter.
Oh, dear! those was dark times! I couldn't blame him; I knew well enough Major was miles and miles better and sweeter and cleverer than I was; I didn't wonder he liked her; but I couldn't feel as if he'd done right by me. So I schooled myself considerable, talking to myself for being jealous of Major. But 'twasn't all that;--the hardest of it all was that I had to mistrust Russell. To be sure, he hadn't said nothin' to me in round words; I couldn't ha' sued him; but he'd looked and acted enough; and now,--dear me! I felt all wrung out and flung away!
By-and-by Major begun to see somethin' was goin' wrong, and so did Russell. She was as good as she co uld be to me, and had patience with all my little pettish ways, and tried to make me friendly with Russell; but I wouldn't. I took to hard work, and, what with cryin' nights, and hard work all day, I got pretty well overdone. But it all went on for about three months, till one day Russell come up behind me, as I was layin' out some yarn to bleach down at the end of the orchard, and asked me if I'd go down to Meriden with him next day, to a pic-nic frolic, in the woods.
"No!" says I, as short as I could.
Russell looked as though I had slapped him. "Anny," says he, "what have I done?"
I turned round to go away, and I catched my foot in a hank of yarn, and down I come flat on to the ground, havin' sprained my ankle so bad that Russell had to pick me up and carry me into the house like a baby.
There was an end of Meriden for me; and he wouldn't go, either, but come over and sat by me, and read to me, and somehow or other, I don't remember just the words, he gave me to understand that--well--that he wished I'd marry him.
It's about as tirin' to be real pleased with anything as it is to be troubled, at first. I couldn't say anything to Russell; I just cried. Major wasn't there; mother was dryin' apples out in the shed; so Russell he didn't know what to do; he kind of hushed me up, and begged of me not to cry, and said he'd come for his answer next day. So he come, and I didn't say, "No," again. I don't believe I stopped to think whether Major liked him. She would have thought of me, first thing;--I believe she wouldn't have had him, if she'd thought I wanted him. But I a'n't like Major; it come more natural to me to think about myself; and besides, she was pious, and I wasn't. Russell was.
However, it turned out all right, for Major was 'most as pleased as I was; and she told me, finally, that she'd known a long spell that Russell liked me, and the reason he'd been hangin' round her so long was, he'd been tellin' her his plans, and they'd worked out considerable in their heads before she could feel as though he had a good enough lookout to ask me to marry him.
That wasn't so pleasant to me, when I come to think of it; I thought I'd ought to have been counselled with. But it was just like Major; everybody come to her for a word of help or comfort, whether they took her idee or not,--she had such feelin' for other folks's trouble.
I got over that little nub after a while; and then I was so pleased, everything went smooth ag'in. I was goin' to be married in the spring; and we were goin' straight out to Indiana, onto some wild land Squire Potter owned out there, to clear it and settle it, and what Russell cleared he was to have. So mother took some money out of the bank to fit me out, and Major and I went down to Hartford to buy my things.
I said before, we wasn't either of us any great things to look at; but it come about that one day I heerd somebody tell how we did look, and I thought considerable about it then and afterwards. We was buyin' some cotton to a store in the city, and I was lookin' about at all the pretty things, and wonderin' why I was picked out to be poor when so many folks was rich and had all they wanted, when presently I heerd a lady in a silk gown say to another one, so low she thought I didn't hear her,--"There are two nice-looking girls, Mrs. Carr."
"Hem,--yes," said the other one; "they look healthy and strong: the oldest one has a lovely expression, both steady and sweet; the other don't look happy."
I declare, that was a fact. I was sorry, too, for I'd got everything in creation to make anybody happy, and now I was frettin' to be rich. I thought I'd try to be like Major; but I expect it was mostly because of the looks of it, for I forgot to try before long.
Well, in the spring we was married; and when I come to go away, Major put a little red Bible into my trunk for a weddin' present; but I was cryin' too hard to thank her. She swallowed down wh atever choked her, and begged of me not to cry so, lest Russell should take it hard that I mourned to go with him. But just then I was thinkin' more of Major and mother than I was of Russell; they'd kept me bright and cheery always, and kept up my heart with their own good ways when I hadn't no strength to do it for myself; and now I was goin' off alone with Russell, and he wasn't very cheerful-dispositioned, and somehow my courage give way all to once.
But I had to go; railroads don't wait for nobody; and what with the long journey, and the new ways and things and people, I hadn't no time to get real down once before we got to Indiana. After we left the boat there was a spell of railroad, and then a long stage-ride to Cumberton; and then we had to hire a big wagon and team, so's to get us out to our claim, thirty miles west'ard of Cumberton. I hadn't no time to feel real lonesome now, for all our things hed got to be onpacked, and packed over ag'in in the wagon; some on 'em had to be stored up, so's to come another time. We was two days gettin' to the claim, the roads was so bad,--mostly what they call corduroy, but a good stretch clear mud-holes. By the time we got to the end on't, I was tired out, just fit to cry; and such a house as was waitin' for us!--a real log shanty! I see Russell looked real beat when he see my face; and I tried to brighten up; but I wished to my heart I was back with mother forty times that night, if I did once. Then come the worst of all, clutterin' everything right into that shanty; for our frame-house wouldn't be done for two months, and there wa'n't scarce room for what we'd brought, so't we couldn't think of sendin' for what was stored to Cumberton. I didn't sleep none for two nights, because of the whip-poor-wills that set on a tree close by, and called till mornin' light; but after that I was too tired to lie awake.
Well, it was real lonesome, but it was all new at first, and Russell was to work near by, so't I could see him, and oftentimes hear him whistle; and I had the garden to make, round to the new house, for I knew more about the plantin' of it than he did, 'specially my posy-bed, and I had a good time gettin' new flowers out of the woods. And the woods was real splendid,--great tall tulip-trees, as high as a steeple and round as a quill, without any sort o' branches ever so fur up, and the whole top full of the yeller tulips and the queer snipped-lookin' shiny leaves, till they looked like great bow-pots on sticks; then there's lots of other great trees, only they're all mostly spindled up in them woods. But the flowers that grow round on the ma'sh edges and in the clearin's do beat all.
So time passed along pretty glib till the frame-house was done, and then we had to move in, and to get the things from Cumberton, and begin to feel as though we were settled for good and all; and after the newness had gone off, and the clearin' got so fur that I couldn't see Russell no more, and nobody to look at, if I was never so lonesome, then come a pretty hard spell. Everything about the house was real handy, so't I'd get my work cleared away, and set down to sew early; and them long summer-days that was still and hot, I'd set, and set, never hearin' nothin' but the clock go "tick, tick, tick," (never "tack," for a change,) and every now'n'then a great crash and roar in the woods where he was choppin', that I knew was a tree; and I worked myself up dreadfully when there was a longer spell 'n common come betwixt the crashes, lest that Russell might 'a' been ketched under the one that fell. And settin' so, and worryin' a good deal, day in and day out, kinder broodin' over my troubles, and never thinkin' about anybody but myself, I got to be of the idee that I was the worst-off creature goin'. If I'd have stopped to think about Russell, may-be I should have had some sort of pity for him, for he was jest as lonesome as I, and I wasn't no kind of comfort to come home to,--'most always cryin', or jest a-goin' to.
So the summer went along till 'twas nigh on to winter, and I wa'n't in no better sperrits. And now I wa'n't real well, and I pined for mother, and I pined for Major, and I'd have given all the honey and buckwheat in Indiana for a loaf of mother's dry rye-bread and a drink of spring-water. And finally I got so miserable, I wished I wa'n't never married,--and I'd have wished I was dead, if 'twa'n't for bein' doubtful where I'd go to, if I was. And worst of all, one day I got so worked up I told Russell all that. I declare, he turned as white as a turnip. I see I'd hurt him, and I'd have got over it in a minute and told him so,--only he up with his axe and walked out of the door, and never come home till night, and then I was too stubborn to speak to him.
Well, things got worse, 'n' one day I was sewin' some things and cryin' over 'em, when I heard a team come along by, and, before I could get to the door, Russell come in, all red for joy, and says,--
"Who do you want to see most, Anny?"
Somehow the question kind of upset me;--I got choked, and then I bu'st out a-cryin'.
"Oh, mother and Major!" says I; and I hadn't more'n spoke the word before mother had both her good strong arms round me, and Major's real cheery face was a-lookin' up at me from the little pine cricket, where she'd sot down as nateral as life. Well, I _was_ glad, and so was Russell, and the house seemed as shiny as a hang-bird's-nest, and by-and-by the baby came;--but I had mother.
'Twas 'long about in March when I was sick, and by the end of April I was well, and so's to be stirrin' round again. And mother and Major begun to talk about goin' home; and I declare, my heart was up in my mouth every time they spoke on't, and I begun to be miserable ag'in. One day I was settin' beside of mother; Major was out in the garden, fixin' up things, and settin' out a lot of blows she'd got in the woods, and singin' away, and says I to mother,--
"What be I going to do, mother, without you and Major? I 'most died of clear lonesomeness before you come!"
Mother laid down her knittin', and looked straight at me.
"I wish you'd got a little of Major's good cheer, Anny," says she. "You haven't any call to be lonely here; it's a real good country, and you've got a nice house, and the best of husbands, and a dear little baby, and you'd oughter try to give up frettin'. I wish you was pious, Anny; you wouldn't fault the Lord's goodness the way you do."
"Well, Major don't have nothin' to trouble her, mother," says I. "She's all safe and pleasant to home; she a'n't homesick."
Mother spoke up pretty resolute:--
"There a'n't nobody in the world, Anny, but what has troubles. I didn't calculate to tell you about Major's; but sence you lay her lively ways to luck, may-be you'd better know 'em. She's been engaged this six months to Reuben Potter, and he's goin' off in a slow consumption; he won't never live to marry her, and she knows it."
"And she come away to see me, mother?"
"Yes, she did. I can't say I thought she need to, but Russell wrote you was pinin' for both of us, and I didn't think you could get along without me, but I told her to stay with Reuben, and I'd come on alone. And says she, 'No, mother, you a'n't young and spry enough to go alone so fur, and the Lord made you my mother and Anny my sister before I picked out Reuben for myself. I can't never have any kin but you, and I might have had somebody beside Reuben, though it don't seem likely now; but he's got four sisters to take care of him, and he thinks and I think it's what I ought to do; so I'm goin' with you.' So she come, Anny; and you see how lively she keeps, just because she don't want to dishearten you none. I don't know as you can blame her for kinder hankerin' to get home."
I hadn't nothin' to say; I was beat. So mother she went on:--
"Fact is, Anny, Major's always a-thinkin' about other folks; it comes kind of nateral to her, and then bein' pious helps it. I guess, dear, when you get to thinkin' more about Russell an' the baby, you'll forget some of your troubles. I hope the Lord won't have to give you no harder lesson than lovin', to teach you Major's ways."
So, after that, I couldn't say no more to mother about stayin'; but when they went away, I like to have cried myself sick,--only baby had to be looked after, and I couldn't dodge her.
Bym-by we had letters from home; they got there all safe, and Reuben wa'n't no worse, Major said;--ef't had been me wrote the letter, I should have said he wa'n't no better!--And I fell back into the old lonesome days, for baby slept mostly; and the summer come on extreme hot; and in July, Russell, bein' forced to go to Cumberton on some land business, left me to home with baby and the hired man, calculatin' to be gone three days and two nights.
The first day he was away was dreadful sultry; the sun went down away over the woods in a kind of a red-hot fog, and it seemed as though the stars were dull and coppery at night; even the whip-poor-wills was too hot to sing; nothin' but a doleful screech-owl quavered away, a half a mile off, a good hour, steady. When it got to be mornin', it didn't seem no cooler; there wa'n't a breath of wind, and the locusts in the woods chittered as though they was fryin'. Our hired man was an old Scotchman, by name Simon Grant; and when he'd got his breakfast, he said he'd go down the clearin' and bring up a load of brush for me to burn. So he drove off with the team, and, havin' cleared up the dishes, I put baby to sleep, and took my pail to the barn to milk the cow,--for we kept her in a kind of a home-lot like, a part that had been cleared afore we come, lest she should stray away in the woods, if we turned her loose; she was put in the barn, too, nights, for fear some stray wild-cat or bear might come along and do her a harm. So I let her into the yard, and was jest a-goin' to milk her when she begun to snort and shake, and finally giv' the pail a kick, and set off, full swing, for the fence to the lot. I looked round to see what was a-comin', and there, about a quarter of a mile off, I see the most curus thing I ever see before or since,--a cloud as black as ink in the sky, and hangin' down from it a long spout like, something like an elephant's trunk, and the whole world under it looked to be all beat to dust. Before I could get my eyes off on't, or stir to run, I see it was comin' as fast as a locomotive; I heerd a great roar and rush,--first a hot wind, and then a cold one, and then a crash,--an' 'twas all as dark as death all round, and the roar appeared to be a-passin' off.
I didn't know for quite a spell where I was. I was flat on my face, and when I come to a little, I felt the grass against my cheek, and I smelt the earth; but I couldn't move, no way; I couldn't turn over, nor raise my head more'n two inches, nor draw myself up one. I was comfortable so long as I laid still; but if I went to move, I couldn't. It wasn't no use to wriggle; and when I'd settled that, I jest went to work to figger out where I was and how I got there, and the best I could make out was that the barn-roof had blowed off and lighted right over me, jest so as not to hurt me, but so't I could'nt move.
Well, there I lay. I knew baby was asleep in the trundle-bed, and there wa'n't no fire in the house; but how did I know the house wa'n't blowed down? I thought that as quick as a flash of lightnin'; it kinder struck me; I couldn't even see, so as to be certain! I wasn't naterally fond of children, but somehow one's own is different, and baby was just gettin' big enough to be pretty; and there I lay, feelin' about as bad as I could, but hangin' on to one hope,--that old Simon, seein' the tornado, would come pretty soon to see where we was.
I lay still quite a spell, listenin'. Presently I heerd a low, whimperin', pantin' noise, comin' nearer and nearer, and I knew it was old Lu, a yeller hound of Simon's, that he'd set great store by, because he brought him from the Old Country. I heerd the dog come pretty n ear to where I was, and then stop, and give a long howl. I tried to call him, but I was all choked up with dust, and for a while I couldn't make no sound. Finally I called, "Lu! Lu! here, Sir!" and if ever you heerd a dumb creature laugh, he barked a real laugh, and come springin' along over towards me. I called ag'in, and he begun to scratch and tear and pull,--at boards, I guessed, for it sounded like that; but it wa'n't no use, he couldn't get at me, and he give up at length and set down right over my head and give another howl, so long and so dismal I thought I'd as lieves hear the bell a-tollin' my age.
Pretty soon, I heerd another sound,--the baby cryin'; and with that Lu jumped off whatever 'twas that buried me up, and run. "At any rate," thinks I, "baby's alive." And then I bethought myself if 'twa'n't a painter, after all; they scream jest like a baby, and there's a lot of them, or there was then, right round in our woods; and Lu was dreadful fond to hunt 'em; and he never took no notice of baby;--and I couldn't stir to see!
Oh, dear! the sweat stood all over me! And there I lay, and Simon didn't come, nor I didn't hear a mouse stir; the air was as still as death, and I got nigh distracted. Seemed as if all my life riz right up there in the dark and looked at me. Here I was, all helpless, may-be never to get out alive; for Simon didn't come, and Russell was gone away. I'd had a good home, and a kind husband, and all I could ask; but I hadn't had a contented mind; I'd quarrelled with Providence, 'cause I hadn't got everything,--and now I hadn't got nothing. I see just as clear as daylight how I'd nussed up every little trouble till it growed to a big one,--how I'd sp'ilt Russell's life, and made him wretched,--how I'd been cross to him a great many times when I had ought to have been a comfort; and now it was like enough I shouldn't never see him again,--nor baby, nor mother, nor Major. And how could I look the Lord in the face, if I did die? That took all my strength out. I lay shakin' and chokin' with the idee, I don't know how long; it kind of got hold of me and ground me down; it was worse than all. I wished to gracious I didn't believe in hell; but then it come to mind, What should I do in heaven, ef I was there? I didn't love nothin' that folks in heaven love, except the baby; I hadn't been suited with the Lord's will on earth, and 'twa'n't likely I was goin' to like it any better in heaven; and I should be ashamed to show my face where I didn't belong, neither by right nor by want. So I lay. Presently I heerd in my mind this verse, that I'd learned years back in Sabbath School,--
"Wherefore He is able also to save them to
there it stopped, but it was a plenty for me. I see at once there wasn't no help anywhere else, and for once in my life I did pray, real earnest, and--queer enough--not to get out, but to be made good. I kind of forgot where I was, I see so complete what I was; but after a while I did pray to live in the flesh; I wanted to make some amends to Russell for pesterin' on him so.
It seemed to me as though I'd laid there two days. A rain finally come on, with a good even-down pour, that washed in a little, and cooled my hot head; and after it passed by I heerd one whip-poor-will singin', so't I knew it was night. And pretty soon I heerd the tramp of a horse's feet;--it come up; it stopped; I heerd Russell say out loud, "O Lord!" and give a groan, and then I called to him. I declare, he jumped!
So I got him to go look for baby first, because I could wait; and lo! she was all safe in the trundle-bed, with Lu beside of her, both on 'em stretched out together, one of her little hands on his nose; and when Russell looked in to the door she stirred a bit, and Lu licked her hand to keep her quiet. It tells in the Bible about children's angels always seein' the face of God, so's to know quick what to do for 'em, I suppose; and I'm sure her'n got to her afore the tornado; for though the house-roof had blowed off, and the chimbley tumbled down, there wa'n't a splinter nor a brick on her bed, only close by the head on't a great hunk of stone had fell down, and steadied up the clothes-press from tumblin' right on top of her.
So then Russell rode over, six miles, to a neighbor's, and got two men, and betwixt 'em all they pried up the beams of the barn, that had blowed on to the roof and pinned it down over me, and then lifted up the boards and got me out; and I wa'n't hurt, except a few bruises: but after that day I begun to get gray hairs.
Well, Russell was pretty thankful, I b'lieve,--more so'n he need to be for such a wife. We fixed up some kind of a shelter, but Lu howled so all night we couldn't sleep. It seems Russell had seen the tornado to Cumberton, and, judgin' from its course 'twould come past the clearin', he didn't wait a minute, but saddled up and come off; but it had crossed the road once or twice, so it was nigh about eleven o'clock afore he got home; but it was broad moonlight. So I hadn't been under the roof only about fifteen hours; but it seemed more.
In the mornin' Russell set out to find Simon, and I was so trembly I couldn't bear to stay alone, and I went with him, he carryin' baby, and Lu goin' before, as tickled as he could be. We went a long spell through the woods, keepin' on the edge of the tornado's road; for't had made a clean track about a quarter of a mile wide, and felled the trees flat,--great tulips cut off as sharp as pipe-stems, oaks twisted like dandelion-stems, and hickories curled right up in a heap. Presently Lu give a bark, and then such a howl! and there was Simon, dead enough; a big oak had blowed down, with the trunk right acrost his legs above the knees, and smashed them almost off. 'Twas plain it hadn't killed him to once, for the ground all about his head was tore up as though he'd fought with it, and Russell said his teeth and hands was full of grass and grit where he'd bit and tore, a-dyin' so hard. I declare, I shan't never forget that sight! Seems as if my body was full of little ice-spickles every time I think on't.
Well, Russell couldn't do nothin'; we had no chance to lift the tree, so we went back to the house, and he rode away after neighbors; and while he was gone, I had a long spell of thinkin'. Mother said she hoped I wouldn't have no hard lesson to teach me Major's ways; but I had got it, and I know I needed it, 'cause it did come so hard. I b'lieve I was a better woman after that. I got to think more of other folks's comfort than I did afore, and whenever I got goin' to be dismal ag'in I used to try 'n' find somebody to help; it was a sure cure.
When the neighbors come, Russell and they blasted and chopped the tree off of Simon, and buried him under a big pine that we calculated not to fell. Lu pined, and howled, and moaned for his master, till I got him to look after baby now and then, when I was hangin' out clothes or makin' garden, and he got to like her in the end on't near as well as Simon.
After a while there come more settlers out our way, and we got a church to go to; and the minister, Mr. Jones, he come to know if I was a member, and when I said I wa'n't, he put in to know if I wasn't a pious woman.
"Well," says I, "I don't know, Sir." So I up and told him all about it, and how I had had a hard lesson; and he smiled once or twice, and says he,--
"Your husband thinks you are a Christian, Sister Potter, don't he?"
"Yes, I do," says Russell, a-comin' in behind me to the door,--for he'd just stepped out to get the minister a basket of plums. "I ha'n't a doubt on't, Mr. Jones."
The minister looked at him, and I see he was kinder pleased.
"Well," says he, "I don't think there's much doubt of a woman's bein' pious when she's pious to home; and I don't want no better testimony'n yours, Mr. Potter. I shall admit you to full fellowship, sister, when we have a church-meetin' next; for it's my belief you experienced religion under that blowed-down barn."
And I guess I did.