MRS. RIPLEY'S TRIP
"And in winter the winds sweep the snows across it."
The night was in windy November, and the blast, threatening rain, roared around the poor little shanty of "Uncle Ripley," set like a chicken trap on the vast Iowa prairie. Uncle Ethan was mending his old violin, with many York State "dums!" and "I gal darns!" totally oblivious of his tireless old wife, who, having "finished the supper dishes," sat knitting a stocking, evidently for the little grandson who lay before the stove like a cat. Neither of the old people wore glasses, and their light was a tallow candle; they couldn't afford "none o' them newfangled lamps." The room was small, the chairs wooden, and the walls bare--a home where poverty was a never-absent guest. The old lady looked pathetically little, wizened, and hopeless in her ill-fitting garments (whose original color had long since vanished), intent as she was on the stocking in her knotted, stiffened fingers, but there was a peculiar sparkle in her little black eyes, and an unusual resolution in the straight line of her withered and shapeless lips. Suddenly she paused, stuck a needle in the spare knob of hair at the back of her head, and looking at Ripley, said decisively: "Ethan Ripley, you'll haff to do your own cooking from now on to New Year's; I'm goin' back to Yaark State."
The old man's leather-brown face stiffened into a look of quizzical surprise for a moment; then he cackled incredulously: "Ho! Ho! har! Sho! Be y', now? I want to know if y' be."
"Well, you'll find out."
"Goin' to start tomorrow, Mother?"
"No, sir, I ain't; but I am on Thursday. I want to get to Sally's by Sunday, sure, an' to Silas's on Thanksgivin'."
There was a note in the old woman's voice that brought genuine stupefaction into the face of Uncle Ripley. Of course, in this case, as in all others, the money consideration was uppermost.
"Howgy 'xpect to get the money, Mother? Anybody died an' left yeh a pile?"
"Never you mind where I get the mony so 's 't tiy don't haff to bear it. The land knows, if I'd a-waited for you to pay my way--"
"You needn't twit me of bein' poor, old woman," said Ripley, flaming up after the manner of many old people. "I've done my part t' get along. I've worked day in and day out--"
"Oh! I ain't done no work, have I?" snapped she, laying down the stocking and leveling a needle at him, and putting a frightful emphasis on "I."
"I didn't say you hadn't done no work."
"Yes, you did!"
"I didn't, neither. I said
"I know what you said."
"I said I'd done my part!" roared the husband, dominating her as usual by superior lung power. "I didn't say you hadn't done your part," he added with an unfortunate touch of emphasis on "say."
"I know y' didn't say it, but y' meant it. I don't know what y' call doin' my part, Ethan Ripley; but if cookin' for a drove of harvest hands and thrashin' hands, takin' care o' the eggs and butter, 'n' diggin' taters an' milkin' ain't my part, I don't never expect to do my part, 'n' you might as well know it fust 's last. I'm sixty years old," she went on with a little break in her harsh voice, dominating him now by woman's logic, "an' I've never had a day to myself, not even Fourth o' July. If I've went a-visitin' 'r to a picnic, I've had to come home an' milk 'n' get supper for you menfolks. I ain't been away t' stay overnight for thirteen years in this house, 'n' it was just so in Davis County for ten more. For twenty-three years, Ethan Ripley, I've stuck right to the stove an' churn without a day or a night off." Her voice choked again, but she continued impressively, "And now I'm a-goin' back to Yaark State."
Ethan was vanquished. He stared at her in speechless surprise, his jaw hanging. It was incredible.
"For twenty-three years," she went on musingly, "I've just about promised myself every year I'd go back an' see my folks." She was distinctly talking to herself now, and her voice had a touching, wistful cadence. "I've wanted to go back an' see the old folks, an' the hills where we played, an' eat apples off the old tree down by the old well. I've had them trees an' hills in my mind days and days--nights, too--an' the girls I used to know, an' my own folks--"
She fell into a silent muse, which lasted so long that the ticking of the clock grew loud as the gong in the man's ears, and the wind outside seemed to sound drearier than usual. He returned to the money problem, kindly, though.
"But how y' goin' t' raise the money? I ain't got no extra cash this time. Agin Roach is paid an' the mortgage interest paid we ain't got no hundred dollars to spare, Jane, not by a jugful."
"Waal, don't you lay awake nights studyin' on where I'm a-goin' to get the money," said the old woman, taking delight in mystifying him. She had him now, and he couldn't escape. He strove to show his indifference, however, by playing a tune or two on the violin.
"Come, Tukey, you better climb the wooden hill," Mrs. Ripley said a half hour later to the little chap on the floor, who was beginning to get drowsy under the influence of his grandpa's fiddling. "Pa, you had orta 'a put that string in the clock today--on the 'larm side the string is broke," she said upon returning from the boy's bedroom. "I orta get up extry early tomorrow to get some sewin' done. Land knows, I can't fix up much, but they is a leetle I c'n do. I want to look decent."
They were alone now, and they both sat expectantly. "You 'pear to think, Mother, that I'm agin yer goin'." "Waal, it would kinder seem as if y' hadn't hustled yerself any t' help me git off."
He was smarting under the sense of being wronged. "Waal, I'm jest as willin' you should go as I am for myself; but if I ain't got no money, I don't see how I'm goin' to send--"
"I don't want ye to send; nobody ast ye to, Ethan Ripley. I guess if I had what I've earnt since we came on this farm, I'd have enough to go to Jericho with."
"You've got as much out of it as I have. You talk about your gom' back. Ain't I been wantin' to go back myself? And ain't I kep' still 'cause I see it wa'n't no use? I guess I've worked jest as long and as hard as you, an' in storms an' mud an' heat, ef it comes t' that."
The woman was staggered, but she wouldn't give up; she must get m one more thrust.
"Waal, if you'd 'a managed as well as I have, you'd have some money to go with." And she rose, and went to mix her bread, and set it "raisin'." He sat by the fire twanging his fiddle softly. He was plainly thrown into gloomy retrospectlon, something quite unusual for him. But his fingers picking out the bars of a familiar tune set him to smiling, and, whipping his bow across the strings, he forgot all about his wife's resolutions and his own hardships. Trouble always slid off his back like "punkins off a haystack" anyway.
The old man still sat fiddling softly after his wife disappeared in the hot and stuffy little bedroom off the kitchen. His shaggy head bent lower over his violin. He heard her shoes drop--one, two. Pretty soon she called:
"Come, put up that squeakin' old fiddle and go to bed. Seems as if you orta have sense enough not to set there keepin' everybody in the house awake."
"You hush up," retorted he. "I'll come when I git ready, not till. I'll be glad when you're gone--"
"Yes, I warrant that."
With which arniable good nlght they went off to sleep, or at least she did, while he lay awake, pondering on "where under the sun she was goin' t' raise that money."
The next day she was up bright and early, working away on her own affairs, ignoring Ripley totally, the fixed look of resolutlon still on her little old wrinkled face. She killed a hen and dressed and baked it She fried up a pan of doughnuts and made a cake. She was engaged on the doughnuts when a neighbor came in, one of those women who take it as a personal affront when anyone in the neighborhood does anything without asking their advice. She was fat, and could talk a man blind in three minutes by the watch.
"What's this I hear, Mis' Ripley?"
"I dun know. I expect you hear about all they is goin' on in this neighborhood," replied Mrs. Ripley with crushing bluntness; but the gossip did not flinch.
"Well, Sett Turner told me that her husband told her that Ripley told him that you was goin' back East on a visit."
"Waal, what of it?"
"Well, air yeh?"
"The Lord willin' an' the weather permitin', I expect to be."
"Good land, I want to know! Well, well! I never was so astonished in my life. I said, says I, 'It can't be.' 'Well,' ses 'e, 'tha's what she told me,' ses 'e. 'But,' ses I, 'she is the last woman in the world to go gallivantin' off East,' ses I. An' ses he, 'But it comes from good authority,' ses he. 'Well, then, it must be so,' ses I. But, land sakes! do tell me all about it. How come you to make up y'r mind? Ail these years you've been kind a-talkin' it over, an' now y'r actshelly goin'--Waal, I never! 'I s'pose Ripley furnishes the money,' ses I to him. 'Well, no,' ses 'e. 'Ripley says he'll be blowed if he sees where the money's comin' from,' ses 'e; and ses I, 'But maybe she's jest jokin',' ses I. 'Not much,' he says. S' 'e: 'Ripley believes she's goin' fast enough. He's jest as anxious to find out as we be--'"
Here Mrs. Doudney paused for breath; she had walked so fast and had rested so little that her interminable flow of "ses I's" and "ses he's" ceased necessarily. She had reached, moreover, the point of most vital interest--the money.
"An' you'll find out jest 'bout as soon as he does," was the dry response from the figure hovering over the stove, and with all her maneuvering that was all she got.
All day Ripley went about his work exceedingly thoughtful for him. It was cold, blustering weather. The wind rustled among the cornstalks with a wild and mournful sound, the geese and ducks went sprawling down the wind, and horses' coats were ruffled and backs raised.
The old man was husking corn alone in the field, his spare form rigged out in two or three ragged coats, his hands inserted in a pair of gloves minus nearly all the fingers, his thumbs done up in " stalls," and his feet thrust into huge coarse boots. During the middle of the day the frozen ground thawed, and the mud stuck to his boots, and the "down ears" wet and chapped his hands, already worn to the quick. Toward night it grew colder and threatened snow. In spite of all these attacks he kept his cheerfulness, and though he was very tired, he was softened in temper.
Having plenty of time to think matters over, he had come to the conclusion "that the old woman needed a play spell. I ain't likely to be no richer next year than I am this one; if I wait till I'm able to send her she won't never go. I calc'late I c'n git enough out o' them shoats to send her. I'd kind a 'lotted on eat'n' them pigs done up mto sassengers, but if the ol' woman goes East, Tukey an' me'll kind a haff to pull through without 'em. We'll. have a turkey f'r Thanksgivin', an' a chicken once 'n a while. Lord! But we'll miss the gravy on the flapjacks. Amen!" (He smacked his lips over the thought of the lost dainty.) "But let 'er rip! We can stand it. Then there is my buffalo overcoat. I'd kind a calc'lated on havin' a buffalo--but that's gone up the spout along with them sassengers."
These heroic sacrifices having been determined upon, he put them into effect at once.
This he was able to do, for his corn rows ran alongside the road leading to Cedarville, and his neighbors were passing almost all hours of the day.
It would have softened Jane Ripley's heart could she have seen his bent and stiffened form amid the corn rows, the cold wind piercing to the bone through his threadbare and insufficient clothing. The rising wind sent the snow rattling among the moaning stalks at intervals. The cold made his poor dim eyes water, and he had to stop now and then to swing his arms about his chest to warm them. His voice was hoarse with shouting at the shivering team.
That night, as Mrs. Ripley was clearing the dishes away, she got to thinking about the departure of the next day, and she began to soften. She gave way to a few tears when little Tewksbury Gilchrist, her grandson, came up and stood beside her.
"Gran'ma, you ain't goin' to stay away always, are yeh?"
"Why, course not, Tukey. What made y' think that?"
"Well, y' ain't told us nawfliln' 'tall about it. An' yeb kind o' look 'sif yeh was mad."
"Well, Lain't mad; I'm jest a-thinkin', Tukey. Y'see, I come away from them hills when I was a little glrl a'most; before I married y'r grandad. And I ain't never been back. 'Most all my folks is there, souny, an' we've been s' poor all these years I couldn't seem t' never get started. Now, when I'm 'most ready t' go, I feel kind a queer--'sif I'd cry."
And cry she did, while little Tewksbury stood patting her trembling hands. Hearing Ripley's step on the porch, she rose hastily and, drying her eyes, plunged at the work again. Ripley came in with a big armful of wood, which he rolled into the woodbox with a thundering crash. Then he pulled off his mittens, slapped them together to knock off the ice and snow, and laid them side by side under the stove. He then removed cap, coat, blouse, and boots, which last he laid upon the woodbox, the soles turned toward the stovepipe.
As he sat down without speaking, he opened the front doors of the stove and held the palms of his stiffened hands to the blaze. The light brought out a thoughtful look on his large, uncouth, yet kindly visage. Life had laid hard lines on his brown skin, but it had not entirely soured a naturally kind and simple nature. It had made him penurious and dull and iron-muscled; had stifled all the slender flowers of his nature; yet there was warm soil somewhere hid in his heart.
"It's snowin' like all p'sessed," he remarked finally. "I guess we'll have a sleigh ride tomorrow. I calc'late t' drive y' daown in scrumptious style. If yeh must leave, why, we'll give yeh a whoopin' old send-off--won't we, Tukey?
"I've ben a-thinkin' things over kind o' t'day, Mother, an' I've come t' the conclusion that we have been kind a hard on yeh, without knowin' it, y' see. Y' see, I'm kind a easygoin, 'an' little Tuke he's only a child, an' we ain't c'nsidered how you felt."
She didn't appear to be listening, but she was, and he didn't appear, on his part, to be talking to her, and he kept his voice as hard and dry as he could.
"An' I was tellin' Tukey t'day that it was a dum shame our crops hadn't, turned out better. An' when I saw ol' Hatfield go by, I hailed him an' asked him what he'd gimme for two o' m' shoats. Waal, the upshot is, I sent t' town for some things I calc'lated ye'd heed. An' here's a tlcket to Georgetown, and ten dollars. Why, Ma, what's up?"
Mrs. Ripley broke down, and with her hands all wet with dishwater, as they were, covered her face and sobbed. She felt like kissing him, but she didn't. Tewksbury began to whimper, too; but the old man was astonished. His wife had not wept for years (before him). He rose and walked clumsily up to her and timidly touching her hair--
"Why, Mother! What's the matter? What 'v' I done now? I was calc'latln' to sell them pigs anyway. Hatfield jest advanced the money on' em."
She hopped up and dashed into the bedroom,and in a few minutes returned with a yarn mitten, tied around the wrist, which she laid on the table with a thump, saying:
"I don't want yer money. There's money enough to take me where I want to go."
"Whee-ew! Thunder and jimson root! Wher'd ye git that? Didn't dig it out of a hole?"
"No. I jest saved it--a dime at a time--see?"
Here she turned it out on the table--some bills, but mostly silver dimes and quarters.
"Thunder and scissors! Must be two er three hundred dollars there," stared he.
"They's jest seventy-five dollars and thirty cents; jest about enough to go back on. Tickets is fifty-five dollars, goin' an' comin'. That leaves twenty dollars for other expenses, not countin' what I've already spent, which is six-fifty," said she, recovering her self-possession. "It's plenty."
"But y' ain't calc'lated on no sleepers nor hotel bills."
"I ain't goin' on no sleeper. Mis' Doudney says it's jest scandalous the way things is managed on them cars. I'm goin' on the old-fashioned cars, where they ain't no half-dressed men runain' around."
"But you needn't be afraid of them, Mother; at your age--"
"There! you needn't throw my age an' homeliness into my face, Ethan Ripley. If I hadn't waited an' tended on you so long, I'd look a little more's I did when I married yeh."
Ripley gave it up in despair. He didn't realize fully enough how the proposed trip had unsettled his wife's nerves. She didn't realize it herself.
"As for the hotel bills, they won't be none. I a-goin' to pay them pirates as much for a day's board as we'd charge for a week's, an' have nawthin' to eat but dishes. I'm goin' to take a chicken an' some hard-boiled eggs, an' I'm goin' right through to Georgetown."
"Well, all right; but here's the ticket I got."
"I don't want yer ticket."
"But you've got to take it."
"Wall, I hain't."
"Why, yes, ye have. It's bought, an' they won't take it back."
"Won't they?" She was staggered again.
"Not much they won't. I ast 'em. A ticket sold is sold."
"Waal, if they won't--"
"You bet they won't."
"I s'pose I'll haff to use it"; and that ended it. They were a familiar sight as they rode down the road toward town next day. As usual, Mrs. Ripley sat up straight and stiff as "a half-drove wedge in a white-oak log." The day was cold and raw. There was some snow on the ground, but not enough to warrant the use of sleighs. It was " neither sleddin' nor wheelin'." The old people sat on a board laid across the box, and had an old quilt or two drawn up over their knees. Tewksbury lay in the back part of the box (which was filled with hay), where he jounced up and down, in company with a queer old trunk and a brand-new imitation-leather handbag, There is no ride quite so desolate and uncomfortable as a ride in a lumber wagon on a cold day in autumn, when the ground is frozen and the wind is strong and raw with threatening snow. The wagon wheels grind along in the snow, the cold gets in under the seat at the calves of one's legs, and the ceaseless bumping of the bottom of the box on the feet is frightful.
There was not much talk on the way down, and what little there was related mainly to certain domestic regulations to be strictly followed regarding churning, pickles, pancakes, etc. Mrs. Ripley wore a shawl over her head and carried her queer little black bonnet in her hand. Tewksbury was also wrapped in a shawl. The boy's teeth were pounding together like castanets by the time they reached Cedarville, and every muscle ached with the fatigue of shaking. After a few purchases they drove down to the railway station, a frightful little den (common in the West) which was always too hot or too cold. It happened to be hot just now--a fact which rejoiced little Tewksbury.
"Now git my trunk stamped 'r fixed, 'r whatever they call it," she said to Ripley in a commanding tone, which gave great delight to the inevitable crowd of loafers begliming to assemble. "Now remember, Tukey, have Granddad kill that biggest turkey night before Thanksgiving, an' then you run right over to Mis' Doudney's--she's got a nawful tongue, but she can bake a turkey first-rate--an' she'll fix up some squash pies for yeh. You can warm up one s' them mince pies. I wish ye could be with me, but ye can't, so do the best ye can."
Ripley returning now, she said: "Waal, now, I've fixed things up the best I could. I've baked bread enough to last a week, an' Mis' Doudney has promised to bake for yeh."
"I don't like her bakin'."
"Waal, you'll haff to stand it till I get back, 'n' you'll find a jar o' sweet pickles an' some crabapple sauce down suller, 'n' you'd better melt up brown sugar for 'lasses, 'n' for goodness' sake don't eat all them mince pies up the fust week, 'n' see that Tukey ain't froze goin' to school. An' now you'd better get out for home. Good-bye, an' remember them pies.
As they were riding home, Ripley roused up after a long silence.
"Did she-a-kiss you goodbye, Tukey?"
"No, sir," piped Tewksbury.
"Thunder! didn't she?" After a silence. "She didn't me, neither. I guess she kind of sort a forgot it, bein' so frustrated, y' know."
One cold, windy, intensely bright day, Mrs. Stacey, who lives about two miles from Cedarville, looking out of the window, saw a queer little figure struggling along the road, which was blocked here and there with drifts. It was an old woman laden with a good half-dozen parcels, any one of which was a load, which the wind seemed determined to wrench from her. She was dressed in black, with a full skirt, and her cloak being short, the wind had excellent opportunity. to inflate her garments ind sail her off occasionally into the deep snow outside the track, but she held on bravely till she reached the gate. As she turned in, Mrs. Stacey cried:
"Why! it's Gran'ma Ripley, just getting back from her trip. Why! how do you do? Come in. Why! you must be nearly frozen. Let me take off your hat and veil."
"No, thank ye kindly, but I can't stop. I must be glttin' back to Ripley. I expec' that man has jest let ev'rything go six ways f'r Sunday."
"Oh, you must sit down just a minute and warm."
"Waal, I will, but I've got to git home by sundown. Sure I don't s'pose they's a thing in the house to eat."
"Oh dear! I wish Stacey was here, so he could take you home. An' the boys at school."
"Don't need any help, if 'twa'n't for these bundles an' things. I guess I'll jest leave some of 'em here an'-- Here! take one of these apples. I brought 'em from Lizy Jane's suller, back to Yaark State."
"Oh! they're delicious! You must have had a lovely time."
"Pretty good. But I kep' thinkin' o' Ripley an' Tukey all the time. I s'pose they have had a gay time of it" (she meant the opposite of gay). "Waal, as I told Lizy Jane, I've had my spree, an' now I've got to git back to work. They ain't no rest for such as we are. As I told Lizy Jane, them folks in the big houses have Thanksgivin' dinners every day uv their lives, and men an' women in splendid do's to wait on 'em, so't Thanksgivin' don't mean anything to 'em; but we poor critters, we make a great to-do if we have a good dinner oncet a year. I've saw a pile o' this world, Mrs. Stacey--a pile of it! I didn't think they was so many big houses in the world as I saw b'tween here an' Chicago. Waal, I can't set here gabbin'; I must get home to Ripley. Jest kinder stow them bags away. I'll take two an' leave them three others. Goodbye. I must be gittin' home to Ripley. He'll want his supper on time." And off up the road the indomitable little figure trudged, head held down to the cutting blast. Little snow fly, a speck on a measureless expanse, crawling along with painful breathing and slipping, sliding steps-- "Gittin' home to Ripley an' the boy."
Ripley was out to the barn when she entered, but Tewksbury was building a fire in the old cookstove. He sprang up with a cry of joy and ran to her. She seized him and kissed him, and it did her so much good she hugged him close and kissed him again and again, crying hysterically.
"Oh, gran'ma, I'm so glad to see you! We've had an awful time since you've been gone."
She released him and looked around. A lot of dirty dishes were on the table, the tablecloth was a "sight to behold," and so was the stove--kettle marks all over the tablecloth, splotches of pancake batter all over the stove.
"Waal, I sh'd say as much," she dryly vouchsafed, untying her bonnet strings.
When Ripley came in she had on her regimentals, the stove was brushed, the room swept, and she was elbow-deep in the dishpan. " Hullo, Mother! Got back, hev yeh?"
"I sh'd say it was about time," she replied briefly without looking up or ceasing work. "Has ol' 'Cruuipy' dried up yit?" This was her greeting.
Her trip was a fact now; no chance could rob her of it. She had looked forward twenty-three years toward it, and now she could look back at it accomplished. She took up her burden again, never more thinking to lay it down.