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At the sign of the Jack o'Lantern online

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and of the visits of Jeremiah Bradford.

"We talked long to-night upon the immortality of the soul," one entry ran.
"Jeremiah does not believe it, but I must - or die."

Dick soon lost interest in the book, and finding solitary toil at the
shelves uncongenial, went out, whistling. Elaine and Dorothy read on
together, scarcely noting his absence.

The book had begun in the Spring. Early in June was chronicled the arrival
of "a woman calling herself Cousin Elmira, blood relation of my Rebecca.
Was not aware my Rebecca had a blood relation named Elmira, but there is
much in the world that I do not know."

According to the diary, Cousin Elmira had remained six weeks and had
greatly distressed her unwilling host. "Women are peculiar," Uncle
Ebeneezer had written, "all being possessed of the devil, except my
sainted Rebecca, who was an angel if there ever was one.

"Cousin Elmira is a curious woman. To-day she desired to know what had
become of my Rebecca's wedding garments, her linen sheets and
table-cloths. Answered that I did not know, and immediately put a lock
upon the chest containing them. Have always been truthful up to now, but
Rebecca would not desire to have any blood relation handling her sheets.
Of this I am sure.

"Aug. 9. To-day came Cousin Silas Martin and his wife to spend their
honeymoon. Much grieved to hear of Rebecca's death. Said she had invited
them to spend their honeymoon with her when they married. Did not know of
this, but our happiness was of such short duration that my Rebecca did not
have time to tell me of all her wishes. Company is very hard to bear, but
I would do much for my Rebecca.

"Aug. 10. This world can never be perfect under any circumstances, and
trials are the common lot of humanity. We must all endeavour to bear up
under affliction. Sarah Smithers is a good woman, most faithful, and does
not talk a great deal, considering her sex. Not intending any reflection
upon my Rebecca, whose sweet voice I could never hear too often.

* * * * *

"Aug. 20. Came Uncle Israel Skiles with a bad cough. Thinks the air of
Judson Centre must be considered healthy as they are to build a sanitarium
here. Did not know of the sanitarium.

* * * * *

"Aug. 22. Came Cousin Betsey Skiles to look after Uncle Israel. Uncle
Israel not desiring to be looked after has produced some disturbance in my

* * * * *

"Aug. 23. Cousin Betsey Skiles and Cousin Jane Wood, the latter arriving
unexpectedly this morning, have fought, and Cousin Jane has gone away
again. Had never met Cousin Jane Wood.

"Aug. 24. Was set upon by Cousin Silas Martin, demanding to know whether
his wife was to be insulted by Cousin Betsey Skiles. Answered that I did
not know.

"Aug. 25. Was obliged to settle a dispute between Sarah Smithers and
Cousin Betsey Skiles. Decided in favour of S. S., thereby angering B. S.
Uncle Israel accidentally spilled his tonic on Cousin Betsey's clean
apron. Much disturbance in my house.

* * * * *

"Aug. 28. Cousin Silas Martin and wife went away, telling me they could no
longer live with Cousin Betsey Skiles. B. S. is unpleasant, but has her

* * * * *

"Sept. 5. Uncle Israel thinks air of Judson Centre is now too chilly for
his cough. Does not like his bed, considering it drafty. Says Sarah
Smithers does not give him nourishing food.

* * * * *

"Sept. 8. Uncle Israel has gone.

* * * * *

"Sept. 10. Cousin Betsey Skiles has gone to continue looking after Uncle
Israel. Sarah Smithers and myself now alone in peace.

* * * * *

All that Winter, the writing was of books, interspersed with occasional
business details. In the Spring, the influx of blood relations began again
and continued until Fall. The diary revealed the gradual transformation of
a sunny disposition into a dark one, of a man with gregarious instincts
into a wild beast asking only for solitude. Additions to the house were
chronicled from time to time, with now and then a pathetic comment upon
the futility of the additions.

Once there was this item: "Would go away for ever were it not that this
was my Rebecca's home. Where we had hoped to be so happy, there is now a
great emptiness and unnumbered Relations. How shall I endure Relations?
Still they are all of her blood, though the most gentle blood does seem to
take strange turns."

Again: "Do not think my Rebecca would desire to have all her kin visit her
at once. Still, would do anything for my Rebecca. Have ordered five more

As the years went by, the bitterness became more and more apparent. Long
before the end, the record was frankly profane, and saddest of all was the
evidence that under the stress of annoyance the great love for "my
Rebecca" was slowly, but surely, becoming tainted. From simple profanity,
Uncle Ebeneezer descended into blasphemous comment, modified at times by
remorseful tenderness toward the dead.

"To-day," he wrote, "under pressure of my questioning, Sister-in-law Fanny
Wood admitted that Rebecca had never invited her to come and see her.
Asked Sister-in-law why she was here. Responded that Rebecca would have
asked her if she had lived. Perhaps others have surmised the same. Fear of
late I may have been unjust to my Rebecca."

Later on, "my Rebecca" was mentioned but rarely. She became "my dear
companion," "my wife," or "my partner." The building of wings and the
purchase of additional beds by this time had become a permanent feature,
though, as the writer admitted, it was "a roundabout way."

"The easiest way would be to turn all out. Forgetting my duty to the
memory of my dear companion, and sore pressed by many annoyances, did turn
out Cousin Betsey Skiles, who forgave me for it without being so
requested, and remained.

"Trains to Judson Centre," he wrote, at one time, "have been most
grievously changed. One arrives just after breakfast, the other at three
in the morning. Do not understand why this is, and anticipate new trouble
from it."

The entries farther on were full of "trouble," being minute and intimate
portrayals of the emotions of one roused from sleep at three in the
morning to admit undesired guests, interlarded with pardonable profanity.
"Seems that house might be altered in some way, but do not know. Will
consult with Jeremiah."

After this came the record of an interview with the village carpenter, and
rough sketches of proposed alterations. "Putting in new window in middle
and making two upper windows round instead of square, with new
porch-railing and two new narrow windows downstairs will do it. House
fortunately planned by original architect for such alteration. Taking down
curtains and keeping lights in windows nights should have some effect,
though much doubt whether anything would affect Relations."

Soon afterward the oppressed one chronicled with great glee how a lone
female, arriving on the night train, was found half-dead from fright by
the roadside in the morning. "House _is_ fearsome," wrote Uncle Ebeneezer,
with evident relish. "Have been to Jeremiah's of an evening and,
returning, found it wonderful to behold."

Presently, Dorothy came to an intimate analysis of some of the uninvited
ones at present under her roof. The poet was given a full page of scathing
comment, illustrated by rude caricatures, which were so suggestive that
even Elaine thoroughly enjoyed them.

Pleased with his contribution to literature, Uncle Ebeneezer had written a
long and keenly comprehensive essay upon each relation. These bits of
vivid portraiture were numbered in this way: "Relation Number 8, Miss
Betsey Skiles, Claiming to be Cousin." At the end of this series was a
very beautiful tribute to "My Dearly Beloved Nephew, James Harlan Carr,
Who Has Never Come to See Me."

Frequently, thereafter, came pathetic references to "Dear Nephew James,"
"Unknown Recipient of an Old Man's Gratitude," "Discerning and Admirable
James," and so on.

One entry ran as follows: "Have been approached this season by each
Relation present in regard to disposal of my estate. Will fix surprise for
all Relations before leaving to join my wife. Shall leave money to every
one, though perhaps not as much as each expects. Jeremiah advises me to
leave something to each. Laws are such, I believe, that no one remembered
can claim more. Desire to be just, but strongly incline to dear Nephew

On the last page of all was a significant paragraph. "Dreamed of seeing my
Rebecca once more, who told me we should be together again April 7th.
Shall make all arrangements for leaving on that day, and prepare Surprises
spoken of. Shall be very quiet in my grave with no Relations at hand, but
should like to hear and see effect of Surprise. Jeremiah will attend."

The last lines were written on April sixth. "To-morrow I shall join my
loved Rebecca and leave all Relations here to fight by themselves. Do not
fear Death, but shudder at Relations. Relations keep life from being
pleasant. Did not know my Rebecca was possessed of such numbers nor of
such kinds, but forgive her all. Shall see her to-morrow."

Then, on the line below, in a hand that did not falter, was written: "The

Dorothy wiped her eyes on a corner of Elaine's apron, for Uncle Ebeneezer
had been found dead in his bed on the morning of April seventh. "Elaine,"
she said, "what would you do?"

"Do?" repeated Elaine. "I'd strike one blow for poor old Uncle Ebeneezer!
I'd order every single one of them out of the house to-morrow!"

"To-night!" cried Dorothy, fired with high resolve. "I'll do it this very
night! Poor old Uncle Ebeneezer! Our sufferings have been nothing,
compared to his."

"Are you going to tell Mr. Carr?" asked Elaine, wonderingly.

"Tell him nothing," rejoined Dorothy, with spirit. "He's got some old fogy
notions about your house being a sacred spot where everybody in creation
can impose on you if they want to, just because it is your house. I
suppose he got it by being related to poor old uncle."

"Do I have to go, too?" queried Elaine, rubbing her soft cheek against

"Not much," answered Mrs. Carr, with a sisterly embrace. "You'll stay, and
Dick 'll stay, and that old tombstone in the kitchen will stay, and so
will Claudius Tiberius, but the rest - MOVE!"

Consequently, Elaine looked forward to the dinner-hour with mixed
anticipations. Mr. Perkins, Uncle Israel, Mrs. Dodd, and Mrs. Holmes each
found a note under their plates when they sat down. Uncle Israel's face
relaxed into an expression of childlike joy when he found the envelope
addressed to him. "Valentine, I reckon," he said, "or mebbe it's sunthin'
from Santa Claus."

"Queer acting for Santa Claus," snorted Mrs. Holmes, who had swiftly torn
open her note. "Here we are, all ordered away from what's been our home
for years, by some upstart relations who never saw poor, dear uncle. Are
you going to keep boarders?" she asked, insolently, turning to Dorothy.

"No longer," returned that young woman, imperturbably. "I have done it
just as long as I intend to."

Harlan was gazing curiously at Dorothy, but she avoided his eyes, and
continued to eat as though nothing had happened. Dick, guessing rightly,
choked, and had to be excused. Elaine's cheeks were flushed and her eyes
sparkled, the flush deepening when Mrs. Dodd inquired where _her_
valentine was. Mr. Perkins was openly dejected, and Mrs. Dodd, receiving
no answer to her question, compressed her thin lips into a forced

But Uncle Israel was moved to protesting speech. "'T is queer doin's for
Santa Claus," he mumbled, pouring out a double dose of his nerve tonic.
"'T ain't such a thing as he'd do, even if he was drunk. Turnin' a poor
old man outdoor, what ain't got no place to go exceptin' to Betsey's, an'
nobody can't live with Betsey. She's all the time mad at herself on
account of bein' obliged to live with such a woman as she be. Summers I've
allers stayed here an' never made no trouble. I've cooked my own food an'
brought most of it, an' provided all my own medicines, an' even took my
bed with me, goin' an' comin'. Ebeneezer's beds is all terrible drafty - I
took two colds to once sleepin' in one of 'em - an' at my time of life 't
ain't proper to change beds. Sleepin' in a drafty bed would undo all the
good of bein' near the sanitarium. Most likely I'll have a fever or
sunthin' now an' die."

"Shut up, Israel," said Mrs. Dodd, abruptly. "You ain't goin' to die. It
wouldn't surprise me none if you had to be shot on the Day of Judgment
before you could be resurrected. Folks past ninety-five that's pickled in
patent medicine from the inside out, ain't goin' to die of no fever."

"Ninety-six, Belinda," said the old man, proudly. "I'll be ninety-six next
week, an' I'm as young as I ever was."

"Then," rejoined Mrs. Dodd, tartly, "what you want to look out for is
measles an' chicken-pox, to say nothin' of croup."

"Come, Gladys Gwendolen and Algernon Paul," interrupted Mrs. Holmes, in a
high key; "we must go and pack now, to go away from dear uncle's. Dear
uncle is dead, you know, and can't help his dear ones being ordered out of
his house by upstarts."

"What's a upstart, ma?" inquired Willie.

"People who turn their dead uncle's relations out of his house in order to
take boarders," returned Mrs. Holmes, clearly.

"Mis' Carr," said Mrs. Dodd, sliding up into Dick's vacant place, "have I
understood that you want me to go away to-morrow?"

"Everybody is going away to-morrow," returned Dorothy, coldly.

"After all I've done for you?" persisted Mrs. Dodd.

"What have you done for me?" parried Dorothy, with a pleading look at

"Kep' the others away," returned Mrs. Dodd, significantly.

"Uncle Ebeneezer does not want any of you here," said Dorothy, after a
painful silence. The impression made by the diary was so vividly present
with her that she felt as though she were delivering an actual message.

Much to her surprise, Mrs. Dodd paled and left the room hastily. Uncle
Israel tottered after her, leaving his predigested food untouched on his
plate and his imitation coffee steaming malodorously in his cup. Mr.
Perkins bowed his head upon his hands for a moment; then, with a sigh,
lightly dropped out of the open window. The name of Uncle Ebeneezer seemed
to be one to conjure with.

"Dorothy," said Harlan, "might an obedient husband modestly inquire what
you have done?"

"Elaine and I found Uncle Ebeneezer's diary to-day," explained Dorothy,
"and the poor old soul was nagged all his life by relatives. So, in
gratitude for what he's done for us, I've turned 'em out. I know he'd like
to have me do it."

Harlan left his place and came to Dorothy, where, bending over her chair,
he kissed her tenderly. "Good girl," he said, patting her shoulder. "Why
in thunder didn't you do it months ago?"

"Isn't that just like a man?" asked Dorothy, gazing after his retreating

"I don't know," answered Elaine, with a pretty blush, "but I guess it


Various Departures

"Algernon Paul," called Mrs. Holmes, shrilly, "let the kitty alone!"

Every one else on the premises heard the command, but "Algernon Paul,"
perhaps because he was not yet fully accustomed to his new name, continued
forcing Claudius Tiberius to walk about on his fore feet, the rest of him
being held uncomfortably in the air by the guiding influence.

"Algernon!" The voice was so close this time that the cat was freed by his
persecutor's violent start. Seeing that it was only his mother, Algernon
Paul attempted to recover his treasure again, and was badly scratched by
that selfsame treasure. Whereupon Mrs. Holmes soundly cuffed Claudius
Tiberius "for scratching dear little Ebbie, I mean Algernon Paul," and
received a bite or two on her own account.

"Come, Ebbie, dear," she continued, "we are going now. We have been driven
away from dear uncle's. Where is sister?"

"Sister" was discovered in the forbidden Paradise of the chicken-coop, and
dragged out, howling. Willie, not desiring to leave "dear uncle's," was
forcibly retrieved by Dick from the roof of the barn.

Mr. Harold Vernon Perkins had silently disappeared in the night, but no
one feared foul play. "He'll be waitin' at the train, I reckon," said Mrs.
Dodd, "an' most likely composin' a poem on 'Departure' or else breathin'
into a tube to see if he's mad."

She had taken her dismissal very calmly after the first shock. "A woman
what's been married seven times, same as I be," she explained to Dorothy,
"gets used to bein' moved around from place to place. My sixth husband had
the movin' habit terrible. No sooner would we get settled nice an'
comfortable in a place, an' I got enough acquainted to borrow sugar an'
tea an' molasses from my new neighbours, than Thomas would decide to move,
an' more 'n likely, it'd be to some new town where there was a great
openin' in some new business that he'd never tried his hand at yet.

"My dear, I've been the wife of a undertaker, a livery-stable keeper, a
patent medicine man, a grocer, a butcher, a farmer, an' a justice of the
peace, all in one an' the same marriage. Seems 's if there wa'n't no
business Thomas couldn't feel to turn his hand to, an' he knowed how they
all ought to be run. If anybody was makin' a failure of anythin', Thomas
knowed just why it was failin' an' I must say he ought to know, too, for I
never see no more steady failer than Thomas.

"They say a rollin' stone never gets no moss on it, but it gets worn
terrible smooth, an' by the time I 'd moved to eight or ten different
towns an' got as many as 'leven houses all fixed up, the corners was all
broke off 'n me as well as off 'n the furniture. My third husband left me
well provided with furniture, but when I went to my seventh altar, I
didn't have nothin' left but a soap box an' half a red blanket, on account
of havin' moved around so much.

"I got so's I'd never unpack all the things in any one place, but keep 'em
in their dry-goods boxes an' barrels nice an' handy to go on again. When
the movin' fit come on Thomas, I was always in such light marchin' order
that I could go on a day's notice, an' that's the way we usually went. I
told him once it'd be easier an' cheaper to fit up a prairie schooner such
as they used to cross the plains in, an' then when we wanted to move, all
we'd have to do would be to put a dipper of water on the fire an' tell the
mules to get ap, but it riled him so terrible that I never said nothin'
about it again, though all through my sixth marriage, it seemed a dretful
likely notion.

"A woman with much marryin' experience soon learns not to rile a husband
when 't ain't necessary. Sometimes I think the poor creeters has enough to
contend with outside without bein' obliged to fight at home, though it
does beat all, my dear, what a terrible exertion 't is for most men to
earn a livin'. None of my husbands was ever obliged to fight at home an' I
take great comfort thinkin' how peaceful they all was when they was livin'
with me, an' how peaceful they all be now, though I think it's more 'n
likely that Thomas is a-sufferin' because he can't move no more at

Her monologue was interrupted by the arrival of the stage, which Harlan
had gladly ordered. Mrs. Holmes and the children climbed into it without
vouchsafing a word to anybody, but Mrs. Dodd shook hands all around and
would have kissed both Dorothy and Elaine had they not dodged the caress.

"Remember, my dear," said Mrs. Dodd to Dorothy; "I don't bear you no
grudge, though I never was turned out of no place before. It's all in a
lifetime, the same as marryin', and if I should ever marry again an' have
a home of my own to invite you to, you an' your husband'll be welcome to
come and stay with me as long as I've stayed with you, or longer, if you
felt 'twas pleasant, an' I'd try to make it so."

The kindly speech made Dorothy very much ashamed of herself, though she
did not know exactly why, and Gladys Gwendolen, with a cherubic smile,
leaned out of the stage window and waved a chubby hand, saying: "Bye bye!"
Mrs. Holmes alone seemed hard and unforgiving, as she sat sternly upright,
looking neither to the right nor the left.

"Rather unusual, isn't it?" whispered Elaine, as the ponderous vehicle
turned into the yard, "to see so many of one's friends going on the stage
at once?"

"Not at all," chuckled Dick. "Everybody goes on the stage when they leave
the Carrs."

"Good bye, Belinda," yelled Uncle Israel, putting his flannel bandaged
head out of one of the round upper windows. He had climbed up on a chair
to do it. "I don't reckon I'll ever hear from you again exceptin' where
Lazarus heard from the rich man!"

"Don't let that trouble you, Israel," shrieked Mrs. Dodd, piercingly. "I
take it the rich man was diggin' for eight cents in Satan's orchard, an'
didn't have no time to look up his friends."

The rejoinder seemed not to affect Uncle Israel, but it sent Dick into a
spasm of merriment from which he recovered only when Harlan pounded him on
the back.

"Come on," said Harlan, "it's not time to laugh yet. We've got to pack
Uncle Israel's bed."

Uncle Israel was going on the afternoon train, and in another direction.
He sat on his trunk and issued minute instructions, occasionally having
the whole thing taken apart to be put together in a different kind of a
parcel. As an especial favour, Dick was allowed to crate the bath cabinet,
though as a rule, no profane hands were permitted to touch this instrument
of health. Uncle Israel himself arranged his bottles, and boxes, and
powders; a hand-satchel containing his medicines for the journey and the

"I reckon," he said, "if I take a double dose of my pain-killer, this
noon, an' a double dose of my nerve tonic just before I get on the cars, I
c'n get along with these few remedies till I get to Betsey's, where I'll
have to take a full course of treatment to pay for all this travellin'.
The pain-killer bottle an' the nerve tonic bottle is both dretful heavy,
in spite of bein' only half full."

"How would it do," suggested Harlan, kindly, "to pour the nerve tonic into
the pain-killer, and then you'd have only one bottle to carry. You mix
them inside, anyway."

"You seem real intelligent, nephew," quavered Uncle Israel. "I never
knowed I had no such smart relations. As you say, I mix 'em in my system
anyway, an' it can't do no harm to do it in the bottle first."

No sooner said than done, but, strangely enough, the mixture turned a
vivid emerald green, and had such a peculiarly vile odour that even Uncle
Israel refused to have anything further to do with it.

"I shouldn't wonder but what you'd done me a real service, nephew,"
continued Uncle Israel. "Here I've been takin' this, month after month,
an' never suspectin' what it was doin' in my insides. I've suspicioned for
some time that the pain-killer wan't doin' me no good, an' I've been goin'
to try Doctor Jones's Squaw Remedy, anyhow. I shouldn't wonder if my whole
insides was green instead of red as they orter be. The next time I go to
the City, I'm goin' to take this here compound to the healin' emporium
where I bought it, an' ask 'em what there is in it that paints folk's
insides. 'Tain't nothin' more 'n green paint."

The patient was so interested in this new development that he demanded a
paint-brush and experimented on the porch railing, where it seemed,
indeed, to be "green paint." In getting a nearer view, he touched his nose
to it and acquired a bright green spot on the tip of that highly useful
organ. Desiring to test it by every sense, he next put his ear down to the
railing, as though he expected to hear the elements of the compound
rushing together explosively.

"My hearin' is bad," he explained. "I wish you'd listen to this here a
minute or two, nephew, an' see if you don't hear sunthin'." But Harlan,
with his handkerchief pressed tightly to his nose, politely declined.

"I don't feel," continued Uncle Israel, tottering into the house, "as
though a poor, sick man with green insides instead of red orter be turned
out. Judson Centre is a terrible healthy place, or the sanitarium wouldn't
have been built here, an' travellin' on the cars would shake me up
considerable. I feel as though I was goin' to be took bad, an' as if I
ought not to go. If somebody'll set up my bed, I'll just lay down on it

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Online LibraryMyrtle ReedAt the sign of the Jack o'Lantern → online text (page 14 of 16)