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"There, Tom, how's that? Does it droop as much as the one on the other side?"
Tom Kelcey, aged fourteen, squinted critically at the long festoon of ground-pine between the centre of the chimney-breast and the angle of the dingy old oak-beamed ceiling.
"Drop her a couple of inches, Misther Brown," he suggested. "No, not so much. There, that's the shtuff. Now you've got her, foine and dandy."
Brown stepped down from the chair on which he had been standing, and stood off with Tom to view the effect.
"Yes, that's exactly right," said he, "thanks to your good eye. The room looks pretty well, eh? Quite like having a dinner party."
"It's ilegant, Misther Brown, that's what it is," said a voice in the doorway behind them. "Tom bhoy, be afther takin' the chair back to the kitchen for him."
Mrs. Kelcey, mother of Tom, and next-door neighbour to Brown, advanced into the room. She was laden with a big basket, which Brown, perceiving, immediately took from her.
"Set it down careful, man," said she. "The crust on thim pies is that delicate it won't bear joltin'. I had the saints' own luck with 'em this toime, praise be."
"That's great," said Brown. "But I haven't worried about that. You never have anything else, I'm sure."
Mrs. Kelcey shook her head in delighted protest.
"The table is jist the handsomest I iver laid eyes on," she asserted, modestly changing the subject.
"It is pretty nice, isn't it?" agreed Brown warmly, surveying the table with mixed emotions. When he stopped to think of what Mrs. Hugh Breckenridge would say at sight of that table, set for the Thanksgiving dinner her brother, Donald Brown, was giving that afternoon, he experienced a peculiar sensation in the region of his throat. He was possessed of a vivid sense of humour which at times embarrassed him sorely. If it had not been that his bigness of heart kept his love of fun in order he would have had great difficulty, now and then, in comporting himself with necessary gravity.
Mrs. Kelcey herself had arranged that table, spending almost the entire preceding day in dashing about the neighbourhood, borrowing from Brown's neighbours the requisite articles. Brown's own stock of blue-and-white ware proving entirely inadequate, besides being in Mrs. Kelcey's eyes by no means fine enough for the occasion, she had unhesitatingly requisitioned every piece of china she could lay hands on in the neighbourhood. She had had no difficulty whatever in borrowing more than enough, for every woman in the block who knew Brown was eager to lend her best. The result was such an array of brilliantly flowered plates and cups and dishes of every style and shape, that one's gaze, once riveted thereon, could with difficulty be removed.
When Brown had first conceived this festival it had been with the idea of sending to the nearest city for a full equipment, if an inexpensive one, of all the china and glass, linen and silver necessary for the serving of the meal. But upon thinking it over it occurred to him that such an outlay would not only arouse his new friends' suspicion of his financial resources, it would deprive them of one of the chief joys in such a neighbourhood as this in which he was abiding--that of the personal sharing in the details of the dinner's preparation and the proud lending of their best in friendly rivalry.
Therefore the table, as it now stood before him in all but complete readiness for the feast, bore such witness to the warmth of esteem in which the neighbourhood held him, not to mention its resourcefulness in fitting together adjuncts not originally intended for partnership, as must have touched the heart of a dinner-giver less comprehending than Donald Brown, late of St. Timothy's great and prosperous parish.
To begin with, the table itself had been set up in its place in the front room by Tim Lukens the carpenter, who when he was sober was one of the cleverest of artisans. Starting with two pairs of sawhorses and continuing with smooth pine boards, he had constructed a table of goodly proportions and of a solidity calculated to withstand successfully the demand likely to be made upon it. Over this table-top Mrs. Kelcey had laid--without thought, it must be admitted, of any intermediary padding such as certain mistaken hostesses consider essential--three freshly and painstakingly laundered tablecloths, her own, Mrs. Murdison's, and Mrs. Lukens's best, cunningly united by stitches hardly discoverable except by a too-searching eye.
The foundations thus laid, the setting of the table had been a delightful task for Mrs. Kelcey, assisted as she was by Mrs. Murdison, who frequently differed from her in points of arrangement but who yielded most of them upon hearing, as she frequently did, Mrs. Kelcey's verbal badge of office: "Misther Brown put me in charge, Missus Murdison. He says to me, he says, 'Missus Kelcey, do jist as ye think best.'" Together the two had achieved a triumph, and the table now stood forth glowingly ready for its sixteen guests, from the splendid bunch of scarlet geraniums in an immense pink and blue bowl with an Indian's head on one side, to the sixteen chairs, no two exactly alike, which had been obtained from half as many houses.
As for the dinner itself, there was no patchwork about that. Brown himself had supplied the essentials, trusting that the most of his guests could have no notion whatever of the excessively high cost of turkeys that season, or of the price of the especial quality of butter and eggs which he handed over to Mrs. Kelcey to be used in the preparation of the dishes which he and she had decided upon. That lady, however, had had some compunctions as she saw the unstinted array of materials an astonished grocer's boy had delivered upon her kitchen table two days before the dinner, and had expressed herself to Mrs. Murdison as concerned lest Mr. Brown had spent more than he could well afford.
"'Tis the big hearrt of him that leads his judgment asthray," she said, exulting none the less, as she spoke, over the prospect of handling all those rich materials and for once having the chance to display her skilled cookery. "I said as much as I dared, lest I hurrt his pride, but--'Tis but wanct a year, Missus Kelcey,' says he, an' I said no more."
The thrifty Scotswoman shook her head. "The mon kens nae mair aboot the cost o' things than a cheild," said she. "But 'twould be, as ye say, a peety to mak' him feel we dinna appreciate his thocht o' us."
So they had done their best for him, and the result was a wonderful thing. To his supplies they had surreptitiously added small delicacies of their own. Mrs. Kelcey contributed a dish of fat pickles, luscious to the eye and cooling to the palate. Mrs. Murdison brought a jar of marmalade of her own making--a rare delicacy; though the oranges were purchased of an Italian vender who had sold out an over-ripe stock at a pittance. Mrs. Lukens supplied a plate of fat doughnuts, and Mrs. Burke sent over a big platter of molasses candy. Thus the people of the neighbourhood had come to feel the affair one to which not only had they been bidden, but in which they were all in a way entertainers.
The boys of the district, also, had their share in the fun. Though not invited to the dinner proper, they had been given a hint that if they dropped in that evening after their fathers and mothers had departed there might be something left--and what boys would not rather "drop in" after that fashion, by the back door, than go decorously in at the front one? So they had been eager to furnish decorations for the party, according to Brown's suggestion, by going in a body to the woods three miles away and bringing back a lavish supply of ground-pine. They had spent two happy evenings helping Brown make this material into ropes, while he told them stories, and there was not a boy of them all who would not cheerfully have lent his shoulders to the support of the dinner-table throughout the coming meal, if it had suddenly been reported that Tim Lukens's sawhorses were untrustworthy.
"Now, Misther Brown, I'll be goin' home to see to the twins and get me man to dhress himsilf, an' thin I'll be back. Have no fear--av'rythin's doin' foine, an' the turrkey's an ilegant brown jist beginnin' to show. If I'm not back in tin minutes ye moight baste him wanct, but have no other care."
"I'll be delighted to baste him, thank you," Brown responded. "And I have no cares at all, with you in charge. I only hope you won't be too tired to enjoy the dinner. You've been busy every minute since dawn."
"Shure, 'tis the labour of love makes the worrk aisy," she responded, and then, attacked by a sudden and most unusual wave of shyness, disappeared out of the door.
Brown, standing with his back to the fire, smiled to himself. Well he knew that since the suffering three-year-old twin son of the Kelceys had spent the night in his pitiful arms and in the morning taken a turn for the better, the entire Kelcey family would have made martyrs of themselves for his sake. It was quite true that that sort of thing, as his sister, Mrs. Breckenridge, had intimated, was not precisely in accordance with the prescription of Dr. Bruce Brainard, distinguished specialist. But if that night had been his last, Donald Brown could not have spent it in a way more calculated to give him pleasure as he closed his eyes. Surely, since life was still his, the love of the Kelceys was not to be despised.
As he dressed for the dinner Brown considered his attire carefully. He could not venture to wear anything calculated to outshine the apparel of his guests, and yet to don the elbow-worn, shiny-backed blue serge of his everyday apparel seemed not to do them quite honour enough. He had not many clothes with him, but he had brought one suit of rough homespun, smart indeed from the viewpoint of the expensive tailor who had made it, but deceivingly unconventional to the eye of the uninitiated. This he put on, taking particular pains to select a very plain cravat, and to fasten in it with care the scarf-pin bestowed upon him by old Benson, the little watchmaker on the corner below. Through the buttonhole in the lapel of his coat he drew a spicy-smelling sprig of ground-pine, chanting whimsically as he did so a couplet from Ben Jonson:
"Still to be neat, still to be drest, As you were going to a feast."
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