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At the sign of the Jack o'Lantern online

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it.

"Now, my dear, some women would have told him what they was doin', either
after he got to likin' the cookin' or when he was on his death-bed an'
couldn't help himself, but I never did. I own that it took self-control
not to do it, but I'd learned my lesson from havin' been married twicet
before an' never havin' fit any to speak of. I had to take my pleasure
from seein' him eat a bowl of rice that had a whole chicken in it,
exceptin' only the bones and fibres of its mortal frame, an' a-lappin' up
mebbe a pint of tomato soup that was founded on eight nice pork chops. I'm
a-tellin' you all this merely to show you my point. Every day, Henry was
makin' a blame fool of himself without knowin' it. He'd prattle by the
hour of slaughter-houses an' human cemeteries an' all the time he'd be
honin' for his next meal.

"He used to say as how it was dretful wicked to kill the dumb animals for
food, an' I allers said that there was nothin' to hinder his buyin' as
many as he could afford to an' savin' their lives by pennin' 'em up in the
back yard, an' a-feedin' 'em the things they liked best to eat till they
died of old age or sunthin'. I told him they was all vegetarians, the same
as he was, an' they could live together peaceful an' happy. I even pointed
out that it was his duty to do it, an' that if all believers would do the
same, the dread slaughter-houses would soon be a thing of the past, but I
ain't never seen no food crank yet that's advanced that far in his
humanity.

"I never told him a single word about it, nor even hinted it to him, nor
told nobody else, though I often felt wicked to think I was keepin' so
much pleasure to myself, but my time is comin'.

"When I'm dead an' have gone to heaven, the first thing I'm goin' to do is
to hunt up Henry. They say there ain't no marriage nor givin' in marriage
up there, but I reckon there's seven men there that'll at least recognise
their wife when they see her a-comin' in. I'm goin' to pick up my skirts
an' take off my glasses, so's I'll be all ready to skedaddle, for I expect
to leave my rheumatiz behind me, my dear, when I go to heaven - leastways,
no place will be heaven for me that's got rheumatiz in it - an' then I'm
goin' to say: 'Henry, in all the four years you was livin' with me, you
was eatin' meat, an' you never knowed it. You're nothin' but a human
cemetery.' Oh, my dear, it's worth while dyin' when you know you're goin'
to have pleasure like that at the other end!"




XII

Her Gift to the World


"I regret, my dear madam," said Lawyer Bradford, twisting uneasily in his
chair, "that I can offer you no encouragement whatsoever. The will is
clear and explicit in every detail, and there are no grounds for a
contest. I am, perhaps, trespassing upon the wishes of my client in giving
you this information, but if you are remaining here with the hope of
pecuniary profit, you are remaining here unnecessarily."

He rose as though to indicate that the interview was at an end, but Mrs.
Holmes was not to be put away in that fashion. Her eyes were blazing and
her weak chin trembled with anger.

"Do you mean to tell me," she demanded, "that Ebeneezer voluntarily died
without making some sort of provision for me and my helpless little
children?"

"Your distinguished relation," answered Mr. Bradford, slowly, "certainly
died voluntarily. He announced the date of his death some weeks before it
actually occurred, and superintended the making of his own coffin. He
wrote out minute directions for his obsequies, had his grave dug, and his
shroud made, burned his papers, rearranged his books, made his will - and
was found dead in his bed on the morning of the day set for his departure.
A methodical person," muttered the old man, half to himself; "a most
methodical and systematic person."

Mrs. Holmes shuddered. She was not ordinarily a superstitious woman, but
there was something uncanny in this open partnership with Death.

"There was a diamond pin," she suggested, moodily, "worth, I should think,
some fifteen or sixteen hundred dollars. Ebeneezer gave it to dear Rebecca
on their wedding day, and she always said it was to be mine. Have you any
idea where it is?"

Mr. Bradford fidgeted. "If it was intended for you," he said, finally, "it
will be given to you at the proper time, or you will be directed to its
location. Mrs. Judson died, did she not, about three weeks after their
marriage?"

"Yes," snapped Mrs. Holmes, readily perceiving the line of his thought,
"and I saw her twice in those three weeks. Both times she spoke of the
pin, which she wore constantly, and said that if anything happened to her,
she wanted me to have it, but that old miser hung on to it."

"Madam," said Mr. Bradford, a faint flush mounting to his temples as he
opened the office door, "you are speaking of my Colonel, under whom I
served in the war. He was my best friend, and though he is dead, it is
still my privilege to protect him. I bid you good afternoon!"

She did not perceive until long afterward that she had practically been
ejected from the legal presence. Even then, she was so intent upon the
point at issue that she was not offended, as at another time she certainly
would have been.

"He's lying," she said to herself, "they're all lying. There's money
hidden in that house, and I know it, and what's more, I'm going to have
it!"

She had searched her own rooms on the night of her arrival, but found
nothing, and the attic, so far, had yielded her naught save discouragement
and dust. "To think," she continued, mentally, "that after two of my
children were born here and named for them, that we are left in this way!
I call it a shame, a disgrace, an outrage!"

Her anger swiftly cooled, however, as she went into the house, and her
fond sight rested upon her darlings. Willie had a ball and had already
broken two of the front windows. The small Rebecca was under the sofa,
tempering the pleasure of life for Claudius Tiberius, while young
Ebeneezer, having found a knife somewhere, was diligently scratching the
melodeon.

"Just look," said Mrs. Holmes, in delighted awe, as Dorothy entered the
room. "Don't make any noise, or you will disturb Ebbie. He is such a
sensitive child that the sound of a strange voice will upset him. Did you
ever see anything like those figures he is drawing on the melodeon? I
believe he's going to be an artist!"

Crushed as she was in spirit by her uncongenial surroundings, Dorothy
still had enough temper left to be furiously angry. In these latter days,
however, she had gained largely in self-control, and now only bit her lips
without answering.

But Mrs. Holmes would not have heard her, even if she had replied. A
sudden yowl from the distressed Claudius impelled Dorothy to move the sofa
and rescue him.

"How cruel you are!" commented Mrs. Holmes. "The idea of taking Rebbie's
plaything away from her! Give it back this instant!"

Mrs. Carr put the cat out and returned with a defiant expression on her
face, which roused Mrs. Holmes to action. "Willie," she commanded, "go out
and get the kitty for your little sister. There, there, Rebbie, darling,
don't cry any more! Brother has gone to get the kitty. Don't cry!"

But "brother" had not gone. "Chase it yourself," he remarked, coolly. "I'm
going out to the barn."

"Dear Willie's individuality is developing every day," Mrs. Holmes went
on, smoothly. "There, there, Rebbie, don't cry any more. Go and tell Mrs.
Smithers to give you a big piece of bread with lots of butter and jam on
it. Tell her mamma said so. Run along, that's a nice little girl."

Rude squares, triangles, and circles appeared as by magic on the shining
surface of the melodeon, the young artist being not at all disturbed by
the confusion about him.

"I am blessed in my children," Mrs. Holmes went on, happily. "I often
wonder what I have done that I should have so perfect a boy as Willie for
my very own. Everybody admires him so that I dwell in constant fear of
kidnappers."

"I wouldn't worry," said Dorothy, with ill-concealed sarcasm. "Anybody who
took him would bring him back inside of two hours."

"I try to think so," returned the mother, with a deep sigh. "Willie's
indomitable will is my deepest comfort. He gets it from my side of the
family. None of the children take after their father at all. Ebbie was a
little like his father's folks at first, but I soon got it out of him and
made him altogether like my people. I do not think anybody could keep
Willie away from me except by superior physical force. He absolutely
adores his mother, as my other children do. You never saw such beautiful
sentiment as they have. The other day, now, when I went away and left
Rebbie alone in my apartment, she took down my best hat and put it on. The
poor little thing wanted to be near her mother. Is it not touching?"

"It is indeed," Dorothy assented, dryly.

"My children have never been punished," continued Mrs. Holmes, now
auspiciously launched upon her favourite theme. "It has never been
necessary. I rule them entirely through love, and they are so accustomed
to my methods that they bitterly resent any interference by outsiders.
Why, just before we came here, Ebbie, young as he is, put out the left eye
of a woman who tried to take his dog away from him. He did it with his
little fist and with apparently no effort at all. Is it not wonderful to
see such strength and power of direction in one so young? The woman was in
the hospital when we came away, and I trust by this time, she has learned
not to interfere with Ebbie. No one is allowed to interfere with my
children."

"Apparently not," remarked Mrs. Carr, somewhat cynically.

"It is beautiful to be a mother - the most beautiful thing on earth! Just
think how much I have done for the world!" Her sallow face glowed with the
conscious virtue bestowed by one of the animal functions upon those who
have performed it.

"In what way?" queried Mrs. Carr, wholly missing the point.

"Why, in raising Willie and Ebbie and Rebbie! No public service can for a
moment be compared with that! All other things sink into insignificance
beside the glorious gift of maternity. Look at Willie - a form that a
sculptor might dream of for a lifetime and never hope to imitate - a head
that already has inspired great artists! The gentleman who took Willie's
last tintype said that he had never seen such perfect lines, and insisted
on taking several for fear something should happen to Willie. He wanted to
keep some of them for himself - it was pathetic, the way he pleaded, but I
made him sell me all of them. Willie is mine and I have the first right to
his tintypes. And a lady once painted Willie at his play in black and
white and sent it to one of the popular weeklies. I have no doubt they
gave her a fortune for it, but it never occurred to her to give us
anything more than one copy of the paper."

"Which paper was it?"

"One of the so-called comic weeklies. You know they publish superb
artistic things. I think they are doing a wonderful work in educating the
masses to a true appreciation of art. One of the wonderful parts of it was
that Willie knew all about it and was not in the least conceited. Any
other child would have been set up at being a model for a great artist,
but Willie was not affected at all. He has so much character!"

At this point the small Rebecca entered, dragging her doll by one arm, and
munching a thick slice of bread, thinly coated with molasses.

"I distinctly said jam," remarked Mrs. Holmes. "Servants are so heedless.
I do not know that molasses is good for Rebbie. What would you think, Mrs.
Carr?"

"I don't think it will hurt her if she doesn't get too much of it."

"There's no danger of her getting too much of it. Mrs. Smithers is too
stingy for that. Why, only yesterday, Willie told me that she refused to
let him dip his dry bread in the cream, and gave him a cup of plain milk
instead. Willie knows when his system needs cream and I want him to have
all the nourishment he can get. The idea that she should think she knew
more about it than Willie! She was properly punished for it, however. I
myself saw Willie throw a stick of stove wood at her and hit her foolish
head with it. I think Willie is going to be a soldier, a commander of an
army. He has so much executive ability and never misses what he aims at.

"Rebbie, don't chew on that side, darling; remember your loose tooth is
there. Mamma doesn't want it to come out."

"Why?" asked Dorothy, with a gleam of interest.

"Because I can't bear to have her little baby teeth come out and make her
grow up! I want to keep her just as she is. I have all my children's
teeth, and some day I am going to have them set into a beautiful bracelet.
Look at that! How generous and unselfish of Rebbie! She is trying to share
her bread with her doll. I believe Rebbie is going to be a philanthropist,
or a college-settlement worker. See, she is trying to give the doll the
molasses - the very best part of it. Did you ever see such a beautiful
spirit in one so young?"

Before Mrs. Carr could answer, young Ebeneezer had finished his wood
carving and had grabbed his protesting twin by the hair.

"There, there, Rebbie," soothed the mother, "don't cry. Brother was only
loving little sister. Be careful, Ebbie. You can take hold of sister's
hair, but not too hard. They love each other so," she went on. "Ebbie is
really sentimental about Rebbie. He loves to touch and stroke her glorious
blonde hair. Did you ever see such hair as Rebbie's?"

It came into Mrs. Carr's mind that "Rebbie's" hair looked more like a
plate of cold-slaw than anything else, but she was too wise to put the
thought into words.

Willie slid down the railing and landed in the hall with a loud whoop of
glee. "How beautiful to hear the sounds of childish mirth," said Mrs.
Holmes. "How - - "

From upstairs came a cry of "Help! Help!"

Muffled though the voice was, it plainly issued from Uncle Israel's room,
and under the impression that the bath cabinet had finally set the house
on fire, Mrs. Carr ran hastily upstairs, followed closely by Mrs. Holmes,
who was flanked at the rear by the grinning Willie and the interested
twins.

From a confused heap of bedding, Uncle Israel's scarlet ankles waved
frantically. "Help! Help!" he cried again, his voice being almost wholly
deadened by the pillows, which had fallen on him after the collapse.

Dorothy helped the trembling old man to his feet. He took a copious
draught from the pain-killer, then sat down on his trunk, much perturbed.

Investigation proved that the bed cord had been cut in a dozen places by
some one working underneath, and that the entire structure had instantly
caved in when Uncle Israel had crept up to the summit of his bed and lain
down to take his afternoon nap. When questioned, Willie proudly admitted
that he had done it.

"Go down and ask Mrs. Smithers for the clothes-line," commanded Dorothy,
sternly.

"I won't," said Willie, smartly, putting his hands in his pockets.

"You had better go yourself, Mrs. Carr," suggested Mrs. Holmes. "Willie is
tired. He has played hard all day and needs rest. He must not on any
account over-exert himself, and, besides, I never allow any one else to
send my children on errands. They obey me and me alone."

"Go yourself," said Willie, having gathered encouragement from the
maternal source.

"I'll go," wheezed Uncle Israel. "I can't sleep in no other bed.
Ebeneezer's beds is all terrible drafty, and I took two colds at once
sleepin' in one of 'em when I knowed better 'n to try it." He tottered out
of the room, the very picture of wretchedness.

"Was it not clever of Willie?" whispered Mrs. Holmes, admiringly, to
Dorothy. "So much ingenuity - such a fine sense of humor!"

"If he were my child," snapped Dorothy, at last losing her admirable
control of a tempestuous temper, "he'd be soundly thrashed at least three
times a week!"

"I do not doubt it," replied Mrs. Holmes, contemptuously. "These married
old maids, who have no children of their own, are always wholly out of
sympathy with a child's nature."

"When I was young," retorted Mrs. Carr, "children were not allowed to rule
the entire household. There was a current superstition to the effect that
older people had some rights."

"And yet," Mrs. Holmes continued, meditatively, "as the editor of _The
Ladies' Own_ so pertinently asks, what is a house for if not to bring up a
child in? The purpose of architecture is defeated, where there are no
children."

Uncle Israel, accompanied by Dick, hobbled into the room with the
clothes-line. Mrs. Holmes discreetly retired, followed by her offspring,
and, late in the afternoon, when Dorothy and Dick were well-nigh fagged
out, the structure was in place again. Tremulously the exhausted owner lay
down upon it, and asked that his supper be sent to his room.

By skilful manoeuvring with Mrs. Smithers, Dick compelled the
proud-spirited Willie to take up Uncle Israel's tray and wait for it.
"I'll tell my mother," whimpered the sorrowful one.

"I hope you will," replied Dick, significantly; but for some reason of his
own, Willie neglected to mention it.

At dinner-time, Mr. Perkins drew a rolled manuscript, tied with a black
ribbon, from his breast pocket, and, without preliminary, proceeded to
read as follows:

TO THE MEMORY OF EBENEEZER JUDSON

A face we loved has vanished,
A voice we adored is now still,
There is no longer any music
In the tinkling rill.

His hat is empty of his head,
His snuff-box has no sneezer,
His cane is idle in the hall
For gone is Ebeneezer.

Within the house we miss him,
Let fall the sorrowing tear,
Yet shall we gather as was our wont
Year after sunny year.

He took such joy in all his friends
That he would have it so;
He left his house to relatives
But none of us need go.

In fact, we're all related,
Sister, friend, and brother;
And in this hour of our grief
We must console each other.

He would not like to have us sad,
Our smiles were once his pleasure
And though we cannot smile at him,
His memory is our treasure.

When he had finished, there was a solemn silence, which was at last
relieved by Mrs. Dodd. "Poetry broke out in my first husband's family,"
she said, "but with sulphur an' molasses an' quinine an' plenty of
wet-sheet packs it was finally cured."

"You do not understand," said the poet, indulgently. "Your aura is not
harmonious with mine."

"Your - what?" demanded Mrs. Dodd, pricking up her ears.

"My aura," explained Mr. Perkins, flushing faintly. "Each individuality
gives out a spiritual vapour, like a cloud, which surrounds one. These are
all in different colours, and the colours change with the thoughts we
think. Black and purple are the gloomy, morose colours; deep blue and the
paler shades show a sombre outlook on life; green is more cheerful, though
still serious; yellow and orange show ambition and envy, and red and white
are emblematic of all the virtues - red of the noble, martial qualities of
man and white of the angelic disposition of woman," he concluded, with a
meaning glance at Elaine, who had been much interested all along.

"What perfectly lovely ideas," she said, in a tone which made Dick's blood
boil. "Are they original with you, Mr. Perkins?"

The poet cleared his throat. "I cannot say that they are wholly original
with me," he admitted, reluctantly, "though of course I have modified and
amplified them to accord with my own individuality. They are doing
wonderful things now in the psychological laboratories. They have a system
of tubes so finely constructed that by breathing into one of them a
person's mental state is actually expressed. An angry person, breathing
into one of these finely organised tubes, makes a decided change in the
colour of the vapour."

"Humph!" snorted Mrs. Dodd, pushing back her chair briskly. "I've been
married seven times, an' I never had to breathe into no tube to let any of
my husbands know when I was mad!"

The poet crimsoned, but otherwise ignored the comment. "If you will come
into the parlour just as twilight is falling," he said to the others, "I
will gladly recite my ode on Spring."

Subdued thanks came from the company, though Harlan excused himself on the
score of his work, and Mrs. Holmes was obliged to put the twins to bed.
When twilight fell, no one was at the rendezvous but Elaine and the poet.

"It is just as well," he said, in a low tone. "There are several under
dear Uncle Ebeneezer's roof who are afflicted with an inharmonious aura.
With yours only am I in full accord. It is a great pleasure to an artist
to feel such beautiful sympathy with his work. Shall I say it now?"

"If you will," murmured Elaine, deeply honoured by acquaintance with a
real poet.

Mr. Perkins drew his chair close to hers, leaned over with an air of
loving confidence, and began:

Spring, oh Spring, dear, gentle Spring,
My poet's garland do I bring
To lay upon thy shining hair
Where rests a wreath of flowers so fair.
There is a music in the brook
Which answers to thy tender look
And in thy eyes there is a spell
Of soft enchantment too sweet to tell.
My heart to thine shall ever turn
For thou hast made my soul to burn
With rapture far beyond - -

Elaine screamed, and in a twinkling was on her chair with her skirts
gathered about her. It was only Claudius Tiberius, dressed in Rebecca's
doll's clothes, scooting madly toward the front door, but it served
effectually to break up the entertainment.




XIII

A Sensitive Soul


Uncle Israel was securely locked in for the night, and was correspondingly
restless. He felt like a caged animal, and sleep, though earnestly wooed,
failed to come to his relief. A powerful draught of his usual sleeping
potion had been like so much water, as far as effect was concerned.

At length he got up, his lifelong habit of cautious movement asserting
itself even here, and with tremulous, withered hands, lighted his candle.
Then he put on his piebald dressing-gown and his carpet slippers, and sat
on the declivity of his bed, blinking at the light, as wide awake as any
owl.

Presently it came to him that he had not as yet made a thorough search of
his own apartment, so he began at the foundation, so to speak, and crawled
painfully over the carpet, paying special attention to the edges. Next, he
fingered the baseboards carefully, rapping here and there, as though he
expected some significant sound to penetrate his deafness. Rising, he went
over the wall systematically, and at length, with the aid of a chair,
reached up to the picture-moulding. He had gone nearly around the room,
without any definite idea of what he was searching for, when his
questioning fingers touched a small, metallic object.

A smile of childlike pleasure transfigured Uncle Israel's wizened old
face. Trembling, he slipped down from the chair, falling over the bath
cabinet in his descent, and tried the key in the lock. It fitted, and the
old man fairly chuckled.

"Wait till I tell Belinda," he muttered, delightedly. Then a crafty second
thought suggested that it might be wiser to keep "Belinda" in the dark,
lest she might in some way gain possession of the duplicate key.

"Lor'," he thought, "but how I pity them husbands of her'n. Bet their
graves felt good when they got into 'em, the hull seven graves. What with
sneerin' at medicines and things a person eats, it must have been awful,
not to mention stealin' of keys and a-lockin' 'em in nights. S'pose the
house had got afire, where'd I be now?" Grasping his treasure closely,
Uncle Israel blew out his candle and tottered to bed, thereafter sleeping
the sleep of the just.

Mrs. Dodd detected subdued animation in his demeanour when he appeared at
breakfast the following morning, and wondered what had occurred.

"You look 's if sunthin' pleasant had happened, Israel," she began in a
sprightly manner.

"Sunthin' pleasant has happened," he returned, applying himself to his
imitation coffee with renewed vigour. "I disremember when I've felt so


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Online LibraryMyrtle ReedAt the sign of the Jack o'Lantern → online text (page 9 of 16)