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comes to light, just remember that it's mine. I don't doubt it'll turn up
sometime. An' now, my dear, I'll just begin on them letters. Cousin Si
Martin's folks are a-packin' an' expectin' to get here next week. I
suppose you're willin' to furnish the stamps?"

"Willing!" cried Dorothy, "I should say yes!"

Mrs. Dodd toiled long at her self-imposed task, and, having finished it,
went out into the kitchen, where for an hour or more she exchanged
mortuary gossip with Mrs. Smithers, every detail of the conversation being
keenly relished by both ladies.

At dinner-time, eleven people sat down to partake of the excellent repast
furnished by Mrs. Smithers under the stimulus of pleasant talk. Harlan was
at the head, with Miss St. Clair on his right and Mrs. Dodd on his left.
Next to Miss St. Clair was the poet, whose deep sorrow did not interfere
with his appetite. The twins were next to him, then Mrs. Holmes, then
Willie, then Dorothy, at the foot of the table. On her right was Dick, the
space between Dick and Mrs. Dodd being occupied by Uncle Israel.

To a careless observer, it might have seemed that Uncle Israel had more
than his share of the table, but such in reality was not the case. His
plate was flanked by a goodly array of medicine bottles, and cups and
bowls of predigested and patent food. Uncle Israel, as Dick concisely
expressed it, was "pie for the cranks."

"My third husband," remarked Mrs. Dodd, pleasantly, well aware that she
was touching her neighbour's sorest spot, "was terribly afflicted with
stomach trouble."

"The only stomach trouble I've ever had," commented Mr. Chester, airily
spearing another biscuit with his fork, "was in getting enough to put into
it."

"Have a care, young man," wheezed Uncle Israel, warningly. "There ain't
nothin' so bad for the system as hot bread."

"It would be bad for my system," resumed Dick, "not to be able to get
it."

"My third husband," continued Mrs. Dodd, disregarding the interruption,
"wouldn't have no bread in the house at all. He et these little straw
mattresses, same as you've got, so constant that he finally died from the
tic doleroo. Will you please pass me them biscuits, Mis' Carr?"

Mrs. Dodd was obliged to rise and reach past Uncle Israel, who declined to
be contaminated by passing the plate, before she attained her desired
biscuit.

"Next time, Aunt Belinda," said Dick, "I'll throw you one. Suffering
Moses, what new dope is that?"

A powerful and peculiarly penetrating odour filled the room. Presently it
became evident that Uncle Israel had uncorked a fresh bottle of medicine.
Miss St. Clair coughed and hastily excused herself.

"It's time for me to take my pain-killer," murmured Uncle Israel, pouring
out a tablespoonful of a thick, brown mixture. "This here cured a
Congressman in less 'n half a bottle of a gnawin' pain in his vitals. I
ain't never took none of it yet, but I aim to now."

The vapour of it had already made the twins cry and brought tears to Mrs.
Dodd's eyes, but Uncle Israel took it clear and smacked his lips over it
enjoyably. "It seems to be a searchin' medicine," he commented, after an
interval of silence. "I don't misdoubt that it'll locate that pain that
was movin' up and down my back all night last night."

Uncle Israel's wizened old face, with its fringe of white whisker, beamed
with the joy of a scientist who has made a new and important discovery. He
had a long, hooked nose, and was painfully near-sighted, but refused to
wear glasses. Just now he sniffed inquiringly at the open bottle of
medicine. "Yes," he said, nodding his bald head sagely, "I don't misdoubt
this here can locate it."

"I don't, either," said Harlan, grimly, putting his handkerchief to his
nose. "Will you excuse me, Dorothy?"

"Certainly."

Mrs. Holmes took the weeping twins away from the table, and Willie, his
mentor gone, began to eat happily with his fingers. The poet rose and drew
a roll of manuscript from his coat pocket.

"This afternoon," he said, clearing his throat, "I employed my spare
moments in composing an ode to the memory of our sainted relative, under
whose hospitable roof we are all now so pleasantly gathered. I will read
it to you."

Mrs. Dodd hastily left the table, muttering indistinctly, and Dick
followed her. Willie slipped from his chair, crawled under the table, and
by stealthily sticking a pin into Uncle Israel's ankle, produced a violent
disturbance, during which the pain-killer was badly spilled. When the air
finally cleared, there was no one in the room but the poet, who sadly
rolled up his manuscript.

"I will read it at breakfast," he thought. "I will give them all the
pleasure of hearing it. Art is for the many, not for the few. I must use
it to elevate humanity to the Ideal."

He went back to his own room to add some final reverent touches to the
masterpiece, and to meditate upon the delicate blonde beauty of Miss St.
Clair.

From Mrs. Dodd, meanwhile, Dick had gathered the pleasing purport of her
voluminous correspondence, and insisted on posting all the letters that
very night, though morning would have done just as well. When he had gone
downhill on his errand of mercy, whistling cheerily as was his wont, Mrs.
Dodd went into her own room and locked the door, immediately beginning a
careful search of the entire apartment.

She scrutinised the walls closely, and rapped softly here and there,
listening intently for a hollow sound. Standing on a chair, she felt all
along the mouldings and window-casings, taking unto herself much dust in
the process. She spent half an hour in the stuffy closet, investigating
the shelves and recesses, then she got down on her rheumatic old knees and
crept laboriously over the carpet, systematically taking it breadth by
breadth, and paying special attention to that section of it which was
under the bed.

"When you've found where anythin' ain't," she said to herself, "you've
gone a long way toward findin' where 't is. It's just like Ebeneezer to
have hid it."

She took down the pictures, which were mainly family portraits, life-size,
presented to the master of the house by devoted relatives, and rapidly
unframed them. In one of them she found a sealed envelope, which she
eagerly tore open. Inside was a personal communication which, though
brief, was very much to the point.

"Dear Cousin Belinda," it read, "I hope you're taking pleasure in your
hunt. I have kept my word to you and in this very room, somewhere, is a
sum of money which represents my estimate of your worth, as nearly as
sordid coin can hope to do. It is all in cash, for greater convenience in
handling. I trust you will not spend it all in one store, and that you
will, out of your abundance, be generous to the poor. It might be well to
use a part of it in making a visit to New York. When you find this, I
shall be out in the cemetery all by myself, and very comfortable.

"Yours, Ebeneezer Judson."

"I knowed it," she said to herself, excitedly. "Ebeneezer was a hard man,
but he always kep' his word. Dear me! What makes me so trembly!"

She removed all the bedclothes and pounded the pillows and mattress in
vain, then turned her attention to the furniture. It was almost one
o'clock when Mrs. Dodd finally retired, worn in body and jaded in spirit,
but still far from discouraged.

"Ebeneezer must have mistook the room," she said to herself, "but how
could he unless his mind was failin'? I've had this now, goin' on ten
year."

In the night she dreamed of finding money in the bureau, and got up to see
if by chance she had not received mysterious guidance from an unknown
source. There was money in the bureau, sure enough, but it was only two
worn copper cents wrapped in many thicknesses of old newspaper, and she
went unsuspiciously back to bed.

"He's mistook the room," she breathed, drowsily, as she sank into troubled
slumber, "an' to-morrer I'll have it changed. It's just as well I've
scared them others off, if so be I have."




XI

Mrs. Dodd's Third Husband


Insidiously, a single idea took possession of the entire household. Mrs.
Smithers kept a spade near at hand and systematically dug, as opportunity
offered. Dorothy became accustomed to an odorous lantern which stood near
the back door in the daytime and bobbed about among the shrubbery at
night.

There was definite method in the madness of Mrs. Smithers, however, for
she had once seen the departed Mr. Judson going out to the orchard with a
tin box under his arm and her own spade but partially concealed under his
long overcoat. When he came back, he was smiling, which was so unusual
that she forgot all about the box, and did not observe whether or not he
had brought it back with him. Long afterward, however, the incident
assumed greater significance.

"If I'd 'ave 'ad the sense to 'ave gone out there the next day," she
muttered, "and 'ave seen where 'e 'ad dug, I might be a rich woman now,
that's wot I might. 'E was a clever one, 'e was, and 'e's 'id it. The old
skinflint wasn't doin' no work, 'e wasn't, and 'e lived on 'ere from year
to year, a-payin' 'is bills like a Christian gent, and it stands to reason
there's money 'id somewheres. Findin' is keepin', and it's for me to keep
my 'ead shut and a sharp lookout. Them Carrs don't suspect nothink."

She was only half right, however. Harlan, lost in his book, was heedless
of everything that went on around him, but Mrs. Dodd's reference to the
diamond pin, and her own recollection of the money she had found in the
bureau drawer, began to work stealthily upon Dorothy's mind, surrounded,
as she was, by people who were continually thinking of the same thing.

Then, too, their funds were getting low. There was little to send to the
sanitarium now, for eleven people, as students of domestic economics have
often observed, eat more than one or two. Dick was also affected by the
current financial depression, and at length conceived the idea that Uncle
Ebeneezer's worldly goods were somewhere on the premises.

Mrs. Holmes spent a great deal of time in the attic, while the care-free
children, utterly beyond control, rioted madly through the house. Dorothy
discovered Mr. Perkins, the poet, half-way up the parlour chimney, and sat
down to see what he would do when he came out and found her there. He had
seemed somewhat embarrassed when he wiped the soot from his face, but had
quickly explained that he was writing a poem on chimney-swallows and had
come to a point where original research was essential.

Even Elaine, not knowing what she sought, began to investigate, idly
enough, the furniture and hangings in her room, and Mrs. Dodd, eagerly
seizing opportunities, was forever keen on the scent. Uncle Israel, owing
to the poor state of his health, was one of the last to be affected by the
surrounding atmosphere, but when he caught the idea, he made up for lost
time.

He was up with the chickens, and invariably took a long afternoon nap, so
that, during the night, there was bound to be a wakeful interval.
Ordinarily, he took a sleeping potion to tide him over till morning, but
soon decided that a little mild exercise with some pleasant purpose
animating it, would be far better for his nerves.

Mrs. Dodd was awakened one night by the feeling that some one was in her
room. A vague, mysterious Presence gradually made itself known. At first
she was frightened, then the Presence wheezed, and reassured her. Across
the path of moonlight that lay on her floor, Uncle Israel moved
cautiously.

He was clad in a piebald dressing-gown which had been so patched with
various materials that the original fabric was uncertain. An old-fashioned
nightcap was on his head, the tassel bobbing freakishly in the back, and
he wore carpet slippers.

Mrs. Dodd sat up in bed, keenly relishing the situation. When he opened a
bureau drawer, she screamed out: "What are you looking for?"

Uncle Israel started violently. "Money," he answered, in a shrill whisper,
taken altogether by surprise.

"Then," said Mrs. Dodd, kindly, "I'll get right up and help you!"

"Don't, Belinda," pleaded the old man. "You'll wake up everybody. I am
a-walkin' in my sleep, I guess. I was a-dreamin' of money that I was to
find and give to you, and I suppose that's why I've come to your room. You
lay still, Belinda, and don't tell nobody. I am a-goin' right away."

Before she could answer in a way that seemed suitable, he was gone, and
the next day he renewed his explanations. "I dunno, Belinda, how I ever
come to be a-walkin' in my sleep. I ain't never done such a thing since I
was a child, and then only wunst. How dretful it would have been if I had
gone into any other room and mebbe have been shot or have scared some
young and unprotected female into fits. To think of me, with my
untarnished reputation, and at my age, a-doin' such a thing! You don't
reckon it was my new pain-killer, do you?"

"I don't misdoubt it had sunthin' to do with payin'," returned Mrs. Dodd,
greatly pleased with her own poor joke, "an', as you say, it might have
been dretful. But I am a friend to you, Israel, an' I don't 'low to make
your misfortune public, but, by workin' private, help you overcome it."

"What air you a-layin' out to do?" demanded Uncle Israel, fearfully.

"I ain't rightly made up my mind as yet, Israel," she answered, pleasantly
enough, "but I don't intend to have it happen to you again. Sunthin' can
surely be done that'll cure you of it."

"Don't, Belinda," wheezed her victim; "I don't think I'll ever have it
again."

"Don't you fret about it, Israel, 'cause you ain't goin' to have it no
more. I'll attend to it. It 's a most distressin' disease an' must be took
early, but I think I know how to fix it."

During her various investigations, she had found a huge bunch of keys
beneath a pile of rubbish on the floor of a closet in an unoccupied room.
It was altogether possible, as she told herself, that one of these keys
should fit the somnambulist's door.

While Uncle Israel was brewing a fresh supply of medicine on the kitchen
stove, she found, as she had suspected that one of them did fit, and
thereafter, every night, when Uncle Israel had retired, she locked him in,
letting him out shortly after seven each morning. When he remonstrated
with her, she replied, triumphantly, that it was necessary - otherwise he
would never have known that the door was locked.

On her first visit to "town" she made it her business to call upon Lawyer
Bradford and inquire as to Mr. Judson's last will and testament. She
learned that it did not concern her at all, and was to be probated, in
accordance with the dead man's instructions, at the Fall term of court.

"Then, as yet," she said, with a gleam of satisfaction in her small, beady
eyes, "they ain't holdin' the house legal. Any of us has the same right to
stay as them Carrs."

"That's as you look at it," returned Mr. Bradford, squirming uneasily in
his chair.

Try as she might, she could extract no further information, but she at
least had a bit of knowledge to work on. She went back, earnestly desiring
quiet, that she might study the problem without hindrance, but,
unfortunately for her purpose, the interior of the Jack-o'-Lantern
resembled pandemonium let loose.

Willie was sliding down the railing part of the time, and at frequent
intervals coasting downstairs on Mrs. Smithers's tea tray, vocally
expressing his pleasure with each trip. The twins, seated in front of the
library door, were pounding furiously on a milk-pan, which had not been
empty when they dragged it into the hall, but was now. Mrs. Smithers was
singing: "We have our trials here below, Oh, Glory, Hallelujah," and a
sickening odour from a fresh concoction of Uncle Israel's permeated the
premises. Having irreverently detached the false front from the keys of
the melodeon, Mr. Perkins was playing a sad, funereal composition of his
own, with all the power of the instrument turned loose on it. Upstairs,
Dick was whistling, with shrill and maddening persistence, and Dorothy,
quite helpless, sat miserably on the porch with her fingers in her ears.

Harlan burst out of the library, just as Mrs. Dodd came up the walk, his
temper not improved by stumbling over the twins and the milk-pan, and
above their united wails loudly censured Dorothy for the noise and
confusion. "How in the devil do you expect me to work?" he demanded,
irritably. "If you can't keep the house quiet, I'll go back to New York!"

Too crushed in spirit to reply, Dorothy said nothing, and Harlan whisked
back into the library again, barely escaping Mrs. Dodd.

"Poor child," she said to Dorothy; "you look plum beat out."

"I am," confessed Mrs. Carr, the quick tears coming to her eyes.

"There, there, my dear, rest easy. I reckon this is the first time you've
been married, ain't it?"

"Yes," returned Dorothy, forcing a pitiful little smile.

"I thought so. Now, when you're as used to it as I be, you won't take it
so hard. You may think men folks is all different, but there's a dretful
sameness to 'em after they've been through a marriage ceremony. Marriage
is just like findin' a new penny on the walk. When you first see it, it's
all shiny an' a'most like gold, an' it tickles you a'most to pieces to
think you're gettin' it, but after you've picked it up you see that what
you've got is half wild Indian, or mebbe more - I ain't never been in no
mint. You may depend upon it, my dear, there's two sides to all of us, an'
before marriage, you see the wreath - afterwards a savage.

"I've had seven of 'em," she continued, "an' I know. My father give me a
cemetery lot for a weddin' present, with a noble grey marble monumint in
it shaped like a octagon - leastways that's what a school-teacher what
boarded with us said it was, but I call it a eight-sided piece. I'm
speakin' of my first marriage now, my dear. My father never give me no
weddin' present but the once. An' I can't never marry again, 'cause
there's a husband lyin' now on seven sides of the monumint an' only one
place left for me. I was told once that I could have further husbands
cremationed an' set around the lot in vases, but I don't take to no such
heathenish custom as that.

"So I've got to go through my declinin' years without no suitable
companion an' I call it hard, when one's so used to marryin' as what I
be."

"If they're all savages," suggested Dorothy, "why did you keep on
marrying?"

"Because I hadn't no other way to get my livin' an' I was kinder in the
habit of it. There's some little variety, even in savages, an' it's human
natur' to keep on a-hopin.' I've had 'em stingy an' generous, drunk an'
sober, peaceful an' disturbin'. After the first few times, I learned to
take real pleasure out'n their queer notions. When you've learned to enjoy
seein' your husband make a fool of himself an' have got enough
self-control not to tell him he's doin' it, nor to let him see where your
pleasure lies, you've got marryin' down to a fine point.

"The third time, it was, I got a food crank, an' let me tell you right
now, my dear, them's the worst kind. A man what's queer about his food is
goin' to be queerer about a'most everything else. Give me any man that can
eat three square meals a day an' enjoy 'em, an' I'll undertake to live
with him peaceful, but I don't go to the altar again with no food crank,
if I know it.

"It was partly my own fault, too, as I see later. I'd seen him a-carryin'
a passel of health food around in his pocket an' a-nibblin' at it, but I
supposed it was because the poor creeter had never had no one to cook
proper for him, an' I took a lot of pleasure out of thinkin' how tickled
he'd be when I made him one of my chicken pies.

"After we was married, we took a honeymoon to his folks, an' I'll tell you
right now, my dear, that if there was more honeymoons took beforehand to
each other's folks, there'd be less marryin' done than what there is. They
was all a-eatin' hay an' straw an' oats just like the dumb creeters they
disdained, an' a-carryin' wheat an' corn around in their pockets to piece
out with between greens.

"So the day we got home, never knowin' what I was a-stirrin' up for
myself, I turned in an' made a chicken an' oyster pie, an' it couldn't be
beat, not if I do say it as shouldn't. The crust was as soft an' flaky an'
brown an' crisp at the edges as any I ever turned out, an' the inside was
all chicken an' oysters well-nigh smothered in a thick, creamy yellow
gravy.

"Well, sir, I brung in that pie, an' I set it on the table, an' I chirped
out that dinner was ready, an' he come, an' - my dear! You never saw such
goins'-on in all your born days! Considerin' that not eatin' animals makes
people's dispositions mild an' pleasant, it was sunthin' terrible, an' me
all the time as innercent as a lamb!

"I can't begin to tell you the things my new-made husband said to me. If
chickens an' oysters was human, I'll bet they'd have sued him for slander.
He said that oysters was 'the scavengers of the sea' - yes'm, them's his
very words, an' that chickens was even worse. He went on to tell me how
they et worms an' potato bugs an' beetles an' goodness knows what else,
an' that he wa'n't goin' to turn the temple of his body into no
slaughter-house. He asked me if I desired to eat dead animals, an' when he
insisted on an answer, I told him I certainly shouldn't care to eat 'em
less'n they _was_ dead, and from then on it was worse 'n ever.

"He said that no dead animal was goin' to be interred in the insides of
him or his lawful wife, an' he was goin' to see to it. It come out then
that he'd never tasted meat an' hadn't rightly sensed what he was
missin'.

"Well, my dear, some women would have took the wrong tack an' would have
argyfied with him. There's never no use in argyfyin' with a husband, an'
never no need to, 'cause if you're set on it, there's all the rest of the
world to choose from. When he'd talked himself hoarse an' was beginnin' to
calm down again, I took the floor.

"'Say no more,' says I, calm an' collected-like. 'This here is your house
an' the things you're accustomed to eatin' can be cooked in it, no matter
what they be. If I don't know how to put the slops together, I reckon I
can learn, not being a plum idjit. If you want baked chicken feed and
boiled hay, I'm here to bake 'em and boil 'em for you. All you have to do
is to speak once in a polite manner and it'll be done. I must insist on
the politeness, howsumever,' says I. 'I don't propose to live with any man
what gets the notion a woman ceases to be a lady when she marries him. A
creeter that thinks so poor of himself as that ain't fit to be my
husband,' says I, 'nor no other decent woman's.'

"At that he apologised some, an' when a husband apologises, my dear, it's
the same as if he'd et dirt at your feet. 'The least said the soonest
mended,' says I, an' after that, he never had nothin' to complain of.

"But I knowed what his poor, cranky system needed, an' I knowed how to get
it into him, especially as he'd never tasted meat in all his life. From
that time on, he never saw no meat on our table, nor no chickens, nor sea
scavengers, nor nothin', but all day, while he was gone, I was busy with
my soup pot, a-makin' condensed extracts of meat for flavourin' vegetables
an' sauces an' so on.

"He took mightily to my cookin' an' frequently said he'd never et such
exquisite victuals. I'd make cream soups for him, an' in every one,
there'd be over a cupful of solid meat jelly, as rich as the juice you
find in the pan when you cook a first-class roast of beef. I'd stew
potatoes in veal stock, and cook rice slow in water that had had a chicken
boiled to rags in it. Once I put a cupful of raw beef juice in a can of
tomatoes I was cookin' and he et a'most all of 'em.

"As he kep' on havin' more confidence in me, I kep' on usin' more an'
more, an' a-usin' oyster liquor for flavourin' in most everything durin'
the R months. Once he found nearly a bushel of clam-shells out behind the
house an' wanted to know what they was an' what they was doin' there. I
told him the fish man had give 'em to me for a border for my flower beds,
which was true. I'd only paid for the clams - there wa'n't nothin' said
about the shells - an' the juice from them clams livened up his soup an'
vegetables for over a week. There wa'n't no day that he didn't have the
vital elements of from one to four pounds of meat put in his food, an' all
the time, he was gettin' happier an' healthier an' more peaceful to live
with. When he died, he was as mild as a spring lamb with mint sauce on


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Online LibraryMyrtle ReedAt the sign of the Jack o'Lantern → online text (page 8 of 16)