The Second Chance by Nellie L. McClung
Chapter IX. Mrs. Perkins's Turn
Tell you what I like the best Long about knee-deep in June ... Some afternoon Just to git out and rest And not work at nothing else.
----James Whitcomb Riley.
Out in the poplar grove behind the house, on a fine, sunshiny Saturday, afternoon, Pearl Watson and Billy were busy making a hammock under Aunt Kate's directions. They had found an old barrel in the scrub, and Aunt Kate was showing them how, with the staves, they could make the loveliest hammock by boring two auger holes in each end and running ropes thro' the holes.
When the hammock was completed and swung between two big trees, Pearl ran into the house for her mother.
"Ma," she said, "we've made this hammock mostly for you, and you're to get in first." She took a quilt and pillow off one of the beds and brought her mother out to the hammock, which was now held down by the four youngest boys. By a quick movement Pearl spilled them out on the grass and, spreading the quilt on the staves, soon made her mother comfortable.
"Now, Ma, here's where you're to come every after-noon," she said. "Aunt Kate'll see that you do it when I'm not here to watch you; but, anyway, I know I can trust you. Look up to the clouds and listen to the birds and think of the nicest things you ever heard, and forget that there ever comes holes in the little lads' pants, and forget that you ever had to wash for other people, and just remember we've a farm of our own and the crops' growin', and so is the garden just as fast as if you was up watchin' it."
Aunt Kate, standing by, looked in wonder at her little niece.
"Faith, Pearlie, you have quare ways," she said. "Ye're as much like yer Uncle Bill as if ye belonged to him. He'd have taken great comfort out of you and yer quare speeches if he was here, pore fellow."
"He's in a better place, Katie, dear," said Mrs. Watson piously.
After a pause, Pearl said: "You see, Ma, a person has to get soaked full of sunshine and contented feelings to be able to stand things. You've just got to lay in a stock of them, like a squirrel does the nuts for the winter, and then when trouble comes you can go back and think over all the good times you've had, and that'll carry ye over till the trouble passes by. Every night here there'll be a lovely sunset, all blue and gold, like the streets of heaven. That ought to help some, and now the leaves are comin' and new flowers every day nearly, and the roses'll be here in June, and the cherry blossoms will be smellin' up the place before that, and at night ye'll hear the wild ducks whizzin' by up in the air. They'll all keep us heartened up more'n we need just now, but we better be settin' it away to use when we need it."
"Look! Who's yon?" Aunt Kate asked, looking down the road.
A quaint-looking, stout old lady was walking toward them.
"That'll be Mrs. Perkins comin' to see us," Mrs. Watson said, in alarm. "Let me out o' this, Pearlie. It's a lazy trollop she'll think I am if she ketches me lyin' here."
"Lie where you are, Ma," Pearl said firmly. "It'll do her good to see some one restin' easy. I know her, Ma, she's Martha's mother, and they're great workers."
When Mrs. Perkins arrived, Pearl went forward and introduced her to her mother and Aunt Kate, with due ceremony.
Mrs. Perkins was a short, stout woman, whose plump figure was much like the old-fashioned churn, so guiltless was it of modern form improvers. Mrs. Perkins's eyes were gray and restless, her hair was the colour of dust, and it was combed straight back and rolled at the back of her neck in a little knob about the size and shape of a hickory nut. She was dressed in a clean print dress, of that good old colour called lilac. It had little white daisies on a striped ground and was of that peculiar shade that people call "clean looking." It was made in a plain "bask" with buttons down the front, and a plain, full skirt, over which she wore a white, starched apron, with a row of insertion and a flounce of crocheted lace.
Pearl brought out chairs.
"Well, now, you do look comfortable,"' said Mrs. Perkins, with just a shadow of reproach in her voice that did not escape Pearlie. "It must be nice to have nothin' to do but just laze around."
"She's done a big day's work already," Pearl said, quickly. "She worked all her life raisin' us, and now she's goin' to take a rest once in a while: and watch us rustle."
"Well, upon my word, you can talk some, can't you?" Mrs. Perkins said, not altogether admiringly. Aunt Kate gallantly interposed on Pearl's behalf by telling what a fine help the was to her mother, and soon the conversation drifted into an amiable discussion of whether or not peas should be soaked before they are planted.
Then Pearl and Mary went into the house and prepared the best meal that the family supply of provisions permitted. They boiled eggs hard, and spiced them the way Pearl had seen Camilla do. Pearl sliced up some of Aunt Kate's home-made bread as thin as she could, and buttered it; she brought out, from the packing box that they were still in, one of the few jars of peaches, and then made the tea. She and Mary covered the table with a clean white flour-sack; they filled a glass jar with ferns and anemones for a centre-piece and set the table as daintily as they could, even putting a flower beside each pate.
"Land alive!" Mrs. Perkins exclaimed, when they carried the table out under the trees, where she sat with Aunt Kate and Mrs. Watson. "I haven't et outside since we used to have the picnics in Millford in old Major Rogers's time. I mind the last one we had. I seen old Mrs. Gilbert just fillin' the stuff into her basket, and I do believe she tuk more home than she brought, though I ain't the one to say it, because I do not like to talk against a neighbour, though there are some as say it right out, and don't even put a tooth on it."
"Don't you go to the Pioneers picnics, now?" Pearl asked, as she poured the tea.
"No; I haven't gone since Mrs. Burrell came. I don't like her. She isn't what I think a minister's wife ought to be, mind you; she said an awful queer thing at our place the very first time she was there. She was askin' me why we didn't get out to church, and I was tellin' her about all the chores we had to do, milkin' and feedin' the stock, and that, and she didn't say much, but when she got down to pray before she left, she started off all right, and I wasn't really noticin' what she was sayin' until I hears her say: 'Lord, take away the cows and the pigs and the hens from these people, if it is the pigs and the cows and hens that's keepin' them from attendin' church, for it is better for them to do without milk or butter or eggs all their lives than to be eternally lost.' Them was just her words. Well, it just about made me faint to think of losin' all that, and I says: 'Take that back, and we'll go'; I was so flustered. And now, some of us has been drivin' down once a day; but, mind you, I don't feel real easy when I'm near her. The idea of her plottin' harm against innocent critturs that never done her any harm!"
Pearl said to Mary when they went back into the kitchen, "Mary, that woman hasn't got the right idea of things. It don't do you a bit of good to eat outside if you're thinkin' hard of anybody. It'll take a queer old lot of blue sky and fresh air and singin' birds and cherry-blossoms to soak all that out of her; but of course it'll help some."
Mrs. Perkins stirred her tea with pleasure. She found it a real delight to have good listeners who did not interrupt her. All her life she had had to tell her stories against a counter-attraction, that is, if her husband was present, for he was always telling one of his own at the same time, and that sort of thing wears on the stoutest nerves.
"You'll soon have a real nice place here, Mrs. Watson," she said, looking around. "Poor Mrs. Cavers would have had things nice if she had had her own way. She was the greatest woman for makin' little fixin's--she and my Martha were always doin' something--dear me, the way she'd stick up for that man, and make excuses for him! 'Mr. Cavers has a headache,' or 'Mr. Cavers is quite tired out.' Mr. Cavers, mind you. Oh, I tell you, she was fetched up different. Any one could see that. When I saw her first she was as pretty a girl as you'd see, and Bill was a fine-lookin' man, too. We never knew he would drink, and I don't think he ever did until Sandy Braden got his license and opened up a bar. I'll never forget the first night he came home drunk. She came runnin' over to our house and told us she was afraid he was dyin'. Pa and I went over with her, and I told her right out, plump and plain, what was wrong with him just as soon as I saw him. I'll never forget the way she backed up from me, givin' queer little screeches, and then she came back quick, her eyes just blazin', and says she, grabbin' me by the shoulders, 'I don't--believe--it,' just as slow as that, and then she begged me to forgive her, the pore lamb, and straightened right up as stiff as a poker, but all white and twitchy, and from that day to this she has never let on to a livin' soul about him drinkin', but she's just as nice to him as if he was a good man to her."
Pearl listened to this story with sympathetic interest. She had known this all the time--the beads on the cretonne had told the story.
"And when her little Georgie died, if ever a woman was tried sore it was her. She sent Bill for the doctor, and he fell in with a threshin' gang and forgot to come home; yes, and that poor woman was alone with little George choking with croup. Libby Anne ran over for me, but he was too far gone. Bill came home in the mornin' so drunk we couldn't make him understand that the child was dead, and he kept askin' us all the time how little Georgie was now. I came home in the mornin' to help to milk, and Martha went over to stay with her. Martha can't ever forget the sad sight she saw when she went in. Bill was on the lounge drunk. Little George lay on the bed dead, and she was sittin' there makin' the shroud, and even then she made excuses for Bill to Martha, and said he'd been up all night, and was tired."
When Pearl went back into the kitchen she reported progress to Mary.
"She's talkin' kinder now, Mary. The fresh air and the wind through the trees is beginnin' to tell on her. Give me another cup of tea for her."