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THE OLD CAPTAIN.
"Let--me--see!" said Farmer Hartley, as he gathered up the reins and turned old Nancy's head towards the village, while Hildegarde, on the seat beside him, turned back to wave a merry farewell to Nurse Lucy, who stood smiling in the porch. "Let--me--see! Hev you ben off the farm before, Huldy, sence you kem here?"
"Not once!" replied Hilda, cheerily. "And I don't believe I should be going now, Farmer Hartley, if it were not for Pink's hat. I promised myself that she should not wear that ugly straw sun-bonnet again. I wonder why anything so hideous was ever invented."
"A straw bunnit, do ye mean?" said the farmer; "somethin' like a long sugar-scoop, or a tunnel like?"
"Yes, just that!" said Hilda; "and coming down over her poor dear eyes so that she cannot see anything, except for a few inches straight before her."
"Wal!" said the farmer, meditatively, "I remember when them bunnits was considered reel hahnsome. Marm Lucy had one when she was a gal; I mind it right well. A white straw it was, with blue ribbons on top of it. It come close round her pooty face, an' I used to hev to sidle along and get round in front of her before I could get a look at her. I hed rayther a grudge agin the bunnit on that account; but I supposed it was hahnsome, as everybody said so. I never see a bunnit o' that kind," he continued, "without thinkin' o' Mis' Meeker an' 'Melia Tyson. I swan! it makes me laugh now to think of 'em."
"Who were they?" asked Hildegarde, eagerly, for she delighted in the farmer's stories. "Please tell me about them!"
The farmer shook his head, as was his wont when he was about to relapse into reminiscences, and gave old Nancy several thoughtful taps with the whip, which she highly resented.
"Ol' Mis' Meeker," he said, presently, "she was a character, she was! She didn't belong hereabouts, but down South somewhere, but she was cousin to Cephas Tyson, an' when Cephas' wife died, she came to stop with him a spell, an' look out for his children. Three children there was, little Cephas, an' Myrick, an' 'Melia. 'Melia, she was a peart, lively little gal, with snappin' black eyes, an' consid'ble of a will of her own; an' Mis' Meeker, she was pooty stout, an' she took things easy, jest as they kem, an' let the children--an' 'Melia specially--do pooty much as they'd a mind to. Wal, one day I happened in to see Cephas about a pair o' steers I was thinkin' o' buyin'. Cephas was out; but Mis' Meeker said he'd be right in, she reckoned, an' asked me to take a cheer an' wait. So I sot down, an' while I was waitin', in come 'Melia, an' says she, 'Say, Aunt Cilly (Mis' Meeker's name was Priscilla)--Say, Aunt Cilly, can I go down an' play with Eddie? He wants me to come, reel bad. Can I, Aunt Cilly?' 'Not to-day, dearie,' says Mis' Meeker; 'you was down to play with Eddie yesterday, an' I reckon that'll do for one while!' she says. I looked at little 'Melia, an' her eyes was snappin' like coals. She didn't say nothin', but she jest took an' shoved her elbow right through the plate-glass winder. Ho! ho! Cephas had had his house made over, an' he was real proud of his plate-glass winders. I d' 'no' how much they'd cost him, but 'twas a pooty good sum. An' she shoved her elbow right through it and smashed it into shivers. I jumped up, kind o' startled by the crash. But ol' Mis' Meeker, she jes' looked up, as if she was a leetle bit surprised, but nothin' wuth mentionin'. 'Why, honey!' says she, in her slow, drawlin' kind o' way, 'I didn't know ye wanted to go that bad! Put on yer bunnit, an' go an' play with Eddie this minute!' says she. Ho! ho! ho! Them was her very words. An' 'Melia, she tossed her bunnit on (one o' them straw Shakers it was, an' that's what made me think o' the story), and jes' shook the glass out'n her sleeve,--I d' 'no' why the child warn't cut to pieces, but she didn't seem t' have got no hurt,--and made a face at her aunt, an' off she went. That's the way them children was brought up."
"Poor things!" cried Hilda. "What became of them, Farmer Hartley?"
"'Melia, she run off an' married a circus feller," replied the farmer, "an' the boys, I don't rightly know what become of 'em. They went out West, I b'lieve; an' after 'Melia married, Cephas went out to jine 'em, an' I ain't heerd nothin' of 'em for years."
By this time they were rattling through the main street of the little village, and presently stopped before an unpretending little shop, in the window of which were displayed some rather forlorn-looking hats and bonnets.
"Here y'are, Huldy!" said the farmer, pointing to the shop with a flourish of his whip. "Here's whar ye git the styles fust hand. Hev to come from New York to Glenfield to git the reel thing, ye see."
"I see!" laughed Hilda, springing lightly from the wagon.
"I'll call for ye in 'bout half an hour;" and with a kindly nod the farmer drove away down the street.
Hildegarde entered the dingy little shop with some misgivings, "I hope I shall find something fresh!" she said to herself; "those things in the window look as if they had been there since the Flood." She quickly made friends with the brisk little milliner, and they were soon turning over the meagre store of hats, trimmed and untrimmed.
"This is real tasty!" said the little woman, lifting with honest pride an alarming structure of green satin, which some straggling cock's feathers were doing their best to hide.
Hilda shuddered, but said pleasantly, "Rather heavy for summer; don't you think so? It would be better for a winter hat. What is this?" she added, drawing from the farthest recesses of the box an untrimmed hat of rough yellow straw. "I think perhaps this will do, Miss Bean."
"Oh my land, no! you don't want that!" cried the little milliner, aghast. "That's only common doin's, anyhow; and it's been in that box three years. Them shapes ain't worn now."
"Never mind!" said Hilda, merrily; "it is perfectly fresh, and I like the shape. Just wait till you see it trimmed, Miss Bean. May I rummage a little among your drawers? I will not toss the things about."
A piece of dotted mull and a bunch of soft pink roses rewarded her search; and with these and a bit of rose-colored ribbon she proceeded to make the rough straw into so dainty and bewitching a thing that Miss Bean sat fairly petrified with amazement on her little hair-cloth sofa in the back shop. "Why! why!" she said. "If that ain't the beat of all! It's the tastiest hat I ever see. You never told me you'd learned the trade!"
This last was rather reproachfully said; and Hilda, much amused, hastened to reassure the good woman.
"Indeed, I never learned the trade," she said. "I take to it naturally, I think; and I have watched my mother, who does it much better than I."
"She must be a first-class trimmer, then!" replied Miss Bean, emphatically. "Works in one o' them big houses in New York, I reckon, don't she?"
Hildegarde laughed; but before she could reply, Miss Bean went on to say: "Wal, you're a stranger to me, but you've got a pooty good count'nance, an' ye kem with Farmer Hartley; that's reference enough." She paused and reflected, while Hildegarde, putting the finishing touches to the pretty hat, wondered what was coming. "I wasn't calc'latin' to hire help this summer," continued the milliner; "but you're so handy, and yer ma could give ye idees from time to time. So if ye'd like a job, I d' 'no' but I'd like to hire ye."
The heiress of all the Grahams wanted to laugh at this na´ve proposal, but good feeling and good manners alike forbade. She thanked Miss Bean for her kind offer, and explained that she was only spending her school vacation at Hartley Farm; that her time was fully occupied, etc., etc.
The little milliner looked so disappointed that Hilda was seized with a royal impulse, and offered to "go over" the hats in the window while she waited for Farmer Hartley, and freshen them up a bit.
"Well, I wish't ye would!" said poor Miss Bean. "Fact is, I ain't done so well as I c'd wish this season. Folks is dretful 'fraid o' buyin' new things nowadays."
Then followed a series of small confidences on the hair-cloth sofa, while Hilda's fingers flew about the forlorn hats and bonnets, changing a ribbon here and a flower there, patting and poking, and producing really marvellous results. Another tale of patient labor, suffering, privation. An invalid mother and an "innocent" brother for this frail little woman to support. Doctors' bills and hard times, and stingy patrons who were "as 'fraid of a dollar-bill as if 'twas the small-pox." Hilda's eyes filled with tears of sympathy, and one great drop fell on the green satin hat, but was instantly covered by the wreath of ivy which was replacing the staring cock's feathers.
"Wal, I declare to gracious!" exclaimed Miss Bean. "You'd never know that for the same hat, now, would ye? I thought 'twas han'some before, but it's enough site han'somer now. I shouldn' wonder a mite if Mis' Peasley bought that hat now. She's been kind o' hankerin' arter it, the last two or three times she was in here; but every time she tried it on, she'd say No, 'twas too showy, she guessed. Wal, I do say, you make a gret mistake not goin' into the trade, for you're born to it, that's plain. When a pusson's born to a thing, he's thrown away, you may say, on anything else. What was you thinkin'--"
But at this moment came a cheery call of "Huldy! Huldy!" and Hildegarde, cutting short the little woman's profuse thanks and invitations to call again, bade her a cordial good-by, and ran out to the wagon, carrying her purchase neatly done up in brown paper.
"Stiddy thar!" said the farmer, making room for her on the seat beside him. "Look out for the ile-can, Huldy! Bought out the hull shop, hev ye? Wal, I sh'll look for gret things the next few days. Huddup thar, Nancy!" And they went jingling back along the street again.
As they passed the queer little shops, with their antiquated signboards, the farmer had something to say about each one. How Omnium Grabb here, the grocer, missed his dried apples one morning, and how he accused his chore-boy, who was his sister's son too, of having eaten them,--"As if any livin' boy would pick out dried apples to eat, when he hed a hull store to choose from!" and how the very next day a man coming to buy a pair of boots, Omnium Grabb hooked down a pair from the ceiling, where all the boots hung, and found them "chock full" of dried apples, which the rats had been busily storing in them and their companion pairs.
How Enoch Pillsbury, the "'pottecary, like t' ha' killed" Old Man Grout, sending him writing fluid instead of the dark mixture for his "dyspepsy."
How Beulah Perkins, who lived over the dry-goods store, had been bedridden for nineteen years, till the house where she was living caught fire, "whereupon she jumped out o' bed an' grabbed an umbrella an' opened it, an' ran down street in her red-flannel gownd, with the umbrella over her head, shoutin', 'Somebody go save my bedstid! I ain't stirred from it for nineteen years, an' I ain't never goin' to stir from it agin. Somebody go save my bedstid!'"
"And was it saved?" asked Hilda, laughing.
"No," said the farmer; "'t wa'n't wuth savin', nohow. Besides, if't hed been, she'd ha' gone back to it an' stayed there. Hosy Grout, who did her chores, kicked it into the fire; an' she was a well woman to the day of her death."
Now the houses straggled farther and farther apart, and at last the village was fairly left behind. Old Nancy pricked up her ears and quickened her pace a little, looking right and left with glances of pleasure as the familiar fields ranged themselves along either side of the road. Hilda too was glad to be in the free country again, and she looked with delight at the banks of fern, the stone walls covered with white starry clematis, and the tangle of blackberry vines which made the pleasant road so fragrant and sweet. She was silent for some time. At last she said, half timidly, "Farmer Hartley, you promised to tell me more about your father some day. Don't you think this would be a good time? I have been so much interested by what I have heard of him."
"That's curus, now," said Farmer Hartley slowly, flicking the dust with the long lash of his whip. "It's curus, Huldy, that you sh'd mention Father jest now, 'cause I happened to be thinkin' of him myself that very minute. Old Father," he added meditatively, "wal, surely, he was a character, Father was. Folks about here," he said, turning suddenly to Hilda and looking keenly at her, "think Father was ravin' crazy, or mighty nigh it. But he warn't nothin' o' the sort. His mind was as keen as a razor, an' as straight-edged, 'xcept jest on one subject. On that he was, so to say, a little--wal--a little tetched."
"And that was--?" queried Hilda.
"Why, ye see, Huldy, Father had been a sea-farin' man all his days, an' he'd seen all manner o' countries an' all manner o' folks; and 'tain't to be wondered at ef he got a leetle bit confoosed sometimes between the things he'd seen and the things he owned. Long'n short of it was, Father thought he hed a kind o' treasure hid away somewhar, like them pirate fellers used to hev. Ef they did hev it!" he added slowly. "I never more'n half believed none o' them yarns; but Father, he thought he hed it, an' no mistake. 'D'ye think I was five years coastin' round Brazil for nothin'?' he says. 'There's di'monds in Brazil,' he says, 'whole mines of 'em; an' there's some di'monds out o' Brazil too;' and then he'd wink, and laugh out hearty, the way he used. He was always laughin', Father was. An' when times was hard, he'd say to my mother, 'Wealthy, we won't sell the di'monds yet a while. Not this time, Wealthy; but they're thar, you know, my woman, they're thar!' And when my mother'd say, 'Whar to goodness be they, Thomas?' he'd only chuckle an' laugh an' shake his head. Then thar was his story about the ruby necklace. How we youngsters used to open our eyes at that! Believed it too, every word of it."
"Oh! what was it?" cried Hilda. "Tell me, and I will believe it too!"
"He used to tell of a Malay pirate," said the farmer, "that he fit and licked somewhere off in the South Seas,--when he sailed the 'Lively Polly,' that was. She was a clipper, Father always said; an' he run aboard the black fellers, and smashed their schooner, an' throwed their guns overboard, an' demoralized 'em ginerally. They took to their boats an' paddled off, what was left of 'em, an' he an' his crew sarched the schooner, an' found a woman locked up in the cabin,--an Injin princess, father said she was,--an' they holdin' her for ransom. Wal, Father found out somehow whar she come from,--Javy, or Mochy, or some o' them places out o' the spice-box,--an' he took her home, an' hunted up her parents an' guardeens, an' handed her over safe an' sound. They--the guardeens--was gret people whar they lived, an' they wanted to give Father a pot o' money; but he said he warn't that kind. 'I'm a Yankee skipper!' says he. ''Twas as good as a meal o' vittles to me to smash that black feller!' says he. 'I don't want no pay for it. An' as for the lady, 'twas a pleasure to obleege her,' he says; 'an' I'd do it agin any day in the week, 'xcept Sunday, when I don't fight, ez a rewl, when I kin help it.' Then the princess, she tried to kiss his hand; but Father said he guessed that warn't quite proper, an' the guardeens seemed to think so too. So then she took a ruby necklace off her neck (she was all done up in shawls, Father said, an' silk, an' gold chains, an' fur an' things, so 's 't he couldn' see nothin' but her eyes; but they was better wuth seein' than any other woman's hull face that ever he see), and gave it to him, an' made signs that he must keep that, anyhow. Then she said somethin' to one o' the guardeens who spoke a little Portuguese, Father understandin' it a little too, and he told Father she said these was the drops of her blood he had saved, an' he must keep it to remember her. Jest like drops of blood, he said the rubies was, strung along on a gold chain. So he took it, an' said he warn't likely to forget about it; an' then he made his bow, an' the guardeens said he was their father, an' their mother, an' their great-aunt, an' I d' 'no' what all, an' made him stay to supper, an' he didn't eat nothin' for a week arterward."
The farmer paused, and Hildegarde drew a long breath, "Oh!" she cried, "what a delightful story, Farmer Hartley! And you don't believe it? I do, every word of it! I am sure it is true!"
"Wal, ye see," said the farmer, meditatively; "Ef' t was true, what become o' the necklace? That's what I say. Father believed it, sure enough, and he thought he hed that necklace, as sure as you think you hev that bunnit in yer hand. But 'twarn't never found, hide nor hair of it."
"Might he not have sold it?" Hilda suggested.
Farmer Hartley shook his head, "No," he said, "he warn't that kind. Besides, he thought to the day of his death that he hed it, sure enough. 'Thar's the princess's necklace!' he'd say; 'don't ye forgit that, Wealthy! Along with the di'monds, ye know.' And then he'd laugh like he was fit to bust. Why, when he was act'lly dyin', so fur gone 't he couldn' speak plain, he called me to him, an' made signs he wanted to tell me somethin'. I stooped down clost, an' he whispered somethin'; but all I could hear was 'di'monds,' and 'dig,' and then in a minute 'twas all over. Poor old Father! He'd been a good skipper, an' a good man all his days."
He was silent for a time, while Hilda pondered over the story, which she could not make up her mind to disbelieve altogether.
"Wal! wal! and here we are at the old farm agin!" said the farmer presently, as old Nancy turned in at the yellow gate. "Here I've been talkin' the everlastin' way home, ain't I? You must herry and git into the house, Huldy, for I d' 'no' how the machine's managed to run without ye all this time. I sha'n't take ye out agin ef I find anythin's wrong."
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