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Chapter 24 Sweeping and dusting

  • > Is supper ready, the house trimmed, rushes strewed, cobwebs swept?
  • >                                     TAMING OF THE SHREW.
  • GREAT preparations were making all Saturday and Monday for the expecte_athering. From morning till night Miss Fortune was in a perpetual bustle. Th_reat oven was heated no less than three several times on Saturday alone.
  • Ellen could hear the breaking of eggs in the buttery, and the sound of beatin_r whisking for a long time together; and then Miss Fortune would come ou_ith floury hands, and plates of empty egg-shells made their appearance. Bu_llen saw no more. Whenever the coals were swept out of the oven, and Mis_ortune had made sure that the heat was just right for her purposes, Ellen wa_ent out of the way, and when she got back there was nothing to be seen bu_he fast-shut oven door. It was just the same when the dishes, in all thei_erfection, were to come out of the oven again. The utmost Ellen was permitte_o see was the napkin covering some stray cake or pie that by chance had t_ass through the kitchen where she was.
  • As she could neither help nor look on, the day passed rather wearily. Sh_ried studying; a very little she found was enough to satisfy both mind an_ody in their present state. She longed to go out again and see how the sno_ooked, but a fierce wind all the fore part of the day made it unfit for her.
  • Toward the middle of the afternoon she saw with joy that it had lulled, an_hough very cold, was so bright and calm that she might venture. She ha_agerly opened the kitchen door to go up and get ready, when a long, wear_awn from her old grandmother made her look back. The old lady had laid he_nitting in her lap and bent her face down to her hand, which she was rubbin_cross her brow as if to clear away the tired feeling that had settled there.
  • Ellen's conscience immediately brought up Alice's words,–"Can't you d_omething to pass away a tedious hour now and then?" The first feeling was o_exed regret that they should have come into her head at that moment; the_onscience said that was very selfish. There was a struggle. Ellen stood wit_he door in her hand, unable to go out or come in. But not long. As the word_ame back upon her memory,–"A charge to keep I have,"–her mind was made up; after one moment's prayer for help and forgiveness she shut the door, cam_ack to the fireplace, and spoke in a cheerful tone.
  • "Grandma, wouldn't you like to have me read something to you?"
  • "Read!" answered the old lady. "Laws a me!  _I_  don't read nothing, deary."
  • "But wouldn't you like to have  _me_  read to you, grandma?"
  • The old lady in answer to this laid down her knitting, folded both arms aroun_llen, and, kissing her a great many times declared she should like any thin_hat came out of that sweet little mouth. As soon as she was set free, Elle_rought her Bible, sat down close beside her, and read chapter after chapter; rewarded even then by seeing that though her grandmother said nothing she wa_istening with fixed attention, bending down over her knitting as if i_arnest care to catch every word. And when at last she stopped, warned b_ertain noises down stairs that her aunt would presently be bustling in, th_ld lady again hugged her close to her bosom, kissing her forehead and cheek_nd lips, and declaring that she was "a great deal sweeter than any sugar- plums;" and Ellen was very much surprised to feel her face wet with a tea_rom her grandmother's cheek. Hastily kissing her again (for the first time i_er life), she ran out of the room, her own tears starting and her hear_welling big. "Oh! how much pleasure," she thought, "I might have given m_oor grandma, and how I have let her alone all this while! How wrong I hav_een. But it shan't be so in future!"
  • It was not quite sundown, and Ellen thought she might yet have two or thre_inutes in the open air; so she wrapped up very warm and went out to the chip- yard.
  • Ellen's heart was very light; she had just been fulfilling a duty that cos_er a little self-denial, and the reward had already come; and now it seeme_o her that she had never seen any thing so perfectly beautiful as the scen_efore her–the brilliant snow that lay in a thick carpet over all the field_nd hills, and the pale streaks of sunlight stretching across it between th_ong shadows that reached now from the barn to the house. One moment the ligh_inted the snow-capped fences and whitened barn-roofs; then the lights and th_hadows vanished together, and it was all one cold dazzling white. Oh, ho_lorious!–Ellen almost shouted to herself. It was too cold to stand still; sh_an to the barnyard to see the cows milked. There they were,–all her ol_riends–Streaky and Dolly and Jane and Sukey and Betty Flynn,–sleek an_ontented; winter and summer were all the same to them. And Mr. Van Brunt wa_ery glad to see her there again, and Sam Larkens and Johnny Low looked as i_hey were too, and Ellen told them with great truth she was very glad indee_o be there; and then she went in to supper with Mr. Van Brunt and an amazin_ppetite.
  • That was Saturday. Sunday passed quietly, though Ellen could not hel_uspecting it was not entirely a day of rest to her aunt; there was a savour_mell of cooking in the morning which nothing that came on the table by an_eans accounted for, and Miss Fortune was scarcely to be seen the whole day.
  • With Monday morning began a grand bustle, and Ellen was well enough now t_ome in for her share. The kitchen, parlour, hall, shed, and lower kitchen, must all be thoroughly swept and dusted; this was given to her, and _orning's work pretty near she found it. Then she had to rub bright all th_rass handles of the doors, and the big brass andirons in the parlour, and th_rass candlesticks on the parlour mantelpiece. When at last she got throug_nd came to the fire to warm herself, she found her grandmother lamenting tha_er snuff-box was empty, and asking her daughter to fill it for her.
  • "Oh! I can't be bothered to be running up stairs to fill snuff-boxes,"
  • answered that lady; "you'll have to wait."
  • "I'll get it, grandma," said Ellen, "if you'll tell me where."
  • "Sit down and be quiet!" said Miss Fortune. "You go into my room just when _id you, and not till then."
  • Ellen sat down; but no sooner was Miss Fortune hid in the buttery than the ol_ady beckoned her to her side, and nodding her head a great many times, gav_er the box, saying softly–
  • "You can run up now; she won't see you, deary. It's in a jar in the closet.
  • Now's the time."
  • Ellen could not bear to say no. She hesitated a minute, and then boldly opene_he buttery door.
  • "Keep out!–what do you want?"
  • "She wanted me to go for the snuff," said Ellen in a whisper; "please do le_e–I won't look at any thing nor touch any thing, but just get the snuff."
  • With an impatient gesture her aunt snatched the box from her hand, pushe_llen out of the buttery, and shut the door. The old lady kissed and fondle_er as if she had done what she had only tried to do; smoothed down her hair, praising its beauty, and whispered,
  • "Never mind, deary,–you'll read to grandma, won't you?"
  • It cost Ellen no effort now. With the beginning of kind offices to her poo_ld parent, kind feeling had sprung up fast; instead of disliking and shunnin_he had begun to love her.
  • There was no dinner for any one this day. Mr. and Mrs. Van Brunt came to a_arly tea; after which Ellen was sent to dress herself, and Mr. Van Brunt t_et some pieces of board for the meat-choppers. He came back presently with a_rmful of square bits of wood; and sitting down before the fire began t_hittle the rough sawn ends over the hearth. His mother grew nervous. Mis_ortune bore it as she would have borne it from no one else, but vexation wa_athering in her breast for the first occasion. Presently Ellen's voice wa_eard singing down the stairs.
  • "I'd give something to stop that child's pipe!" said Miss Fortune. "she'_ternally singing the same thing over and over–something about 'a charge t_eep.'–I'd a good notion to give her a charge to keep this morning; it woul_ave been to hold her tongue."
  • "That would have been a public loss,  _I_  think," said Mr. Van Brunt gravely.
  • "Well, you  _are_  making a precious litter!" said the lady, turning shor_pon him.
  • "Never mind," said he in the same tone; "it's nothing but what the fire'l_urn up anyhow; don't worry yourself about it."
  • Just as Ellen came in, so did Nancy by the other door.
  • "What are you here for?" said Miss Fortune with an ireful face.
  • "Oh!–Come to see the folks and get some peaches," said Nancy;–"come to hel_long, to be sure."
  • "Ain't your grandma coming?"
  • "No, ma'am, she ain't. I knew she wouldn't be of much use, so I thought _ouldn't ask her."
  • Miss Fortune immediately ordered her out. Half laughing, half serious, Nanc_ried to keep her ground. But Miss Fortune was in no mood to hear parleying.
  • She laid violent hands on the passive Nancy, and between pulling and pushin_t last got her out and shut the door. Her next sudden move was to haul of_er mother to bed. Ellen looked her sorrow at this, and Mr. Van Brunt whistle_his_  thoughts; but that either made nothing, or made Miss Fortune mor_etermined. Off she went with her old mother under her arm. While she was gon_llen brought the broom to sweep up the hearth, but Mr. Van Brunt would no_et her.
  • "No," said he,–"it's more than you nor I can do. You know," said he, with _ly look, "we might sweep up the shavings into the wrong corner!"
  • This entirely overset Ellen's gravity, and unluckily she could not get it bac_gain, even though warned by Mrs. Van Brunt that her aunt was coming. Tryin_nly made it worse, and Miss Fortune's entrance was but the signal for a fres_urst of hearty merriment. What she was laughing at was of course instantl_sked, in no pleased tone of voice. Ellen could not tell, and her silence an_lushing only made her aunt more curious.
  • "Come, leave bothering her," said Mr. Van Brunt at last; "she was onl_aughing at some of my nonsense, and she won't tell on me."
  • "Will you swear to that?" said the lady sharply.
  • "Humph!–no, I won't swear; unless you will go before a magistrate with me;–bu_t is true."
  • "I wonder if you think I am as easy blinded as all that comes to!" said Mis_ortune scornfully.
  • And Ellen saw that her aunt's displeasure was all gathered upon her for th_vening. She was thinking of Alice's words, and trying to arm herself wit_atience and gentleness, when the door opened and in walked Nancy as demurel_s if nobody had ever seen her before.
  • "Miss Fortune, granny sent me to tell you she is sorry she can't come to- night–she don't think it would do for her to be out so late,–she's a littl_ouch of the rheumatics, she says."
  • "Very well," said Miss Fortune. "Now clear out!"
  • "You had better not say so, Miss Fortune–I'll do as much for you as any two o_he rest,–see if I don't!"
  • "I don't care–if you did as much as fifty!" said Miss Fortune, impatiently. "_on't have you here; so go, or I'll give you something to help you along."
  • Nancy saw she had no chance with Miss Fortune in her present humour, and wen_uickly out. A little while after Ellen was standing at the window, from whic_hrough the shed window she had a view of the chip-yard, and there she sa_ancy lingering still, walking round and round in a circle, and kicking th_now with her feet in a discontented fashion.
  • "I am very glad she isn't going to be here," thought Ellen. "But, poor thing!
  • I dare say she is very much disappointed. And how sorry she will feel goin_ack all that long, long way home!–what if I should get her leave to stay?
  • wouldn't it be a fine way of returning good for evil?–But, oh dear! I don'_ant her here! But that's no matter–"
  • The next minute, Mr. Van Brunt was half startled by Ellen's hand on hi_houlder, and the softest of whispers in his ear. He looked up, very muc_urprised.
  • "Why, do  _you_  want her?" said he, likewise in a low tone.
  • "No," said Ellen, "but I know I should feel very sorry if I was in her place."
  • Mr. Van Brunt whistled quietly to himself. "Well," said he, "you  _are_  _ood-natured piece."
  • "Miss Fortune," said he presently, "if that mischievous girl comes in again _ecommend you to let her stay."
  • "Why?"
  • "'Cause it's true what she said–she'll do you as much good as half a dozen.
  • She'll behave herself this evening, I'll engage, or if she don't I'll mak_er."
  • "She's too impudent to live! But I don't care–her grandmother is anothe_ort,–but I guess she is gone by this time."
  • Ellen waited only till her aunt's back was turned. She slipped down stairs an_ut at the kitchen door, and ran up the slope to the fence of the chip-yard.
  • "Nancy–Nancy!"
  • "What?" said Nancy, wheeling about.
  • "If you go in now I guess Aunt Fortune will let you stay."
  • "What makes you think so?" said the other surlily.
  • "'Cause Mr.Van Brunt was speaking to her about it. Go in and you'll see."
  • Nancy looked doubtfully at Ellen's face, and then ran hastily in. More slowl_llen went back by the way she came. When she reached the upper kitchen sh_ound Nancy as busy as possible,–as much at home already as if she had bee_here all day; helping to set the table in the hall, and going to and fr_etween that and the buttery with an important face. Ellen was not suffered t_elp, nor even to stand and see what was doing; so she sat down in the corne_y her old friend Mrs. Van Brunt, and with her head in her lap watched by th_irelight the busy figures that went back and forward, and Mr. Van Brunt wh_till sat working at his bits of board. There were pleasant thoughts i_llen's head that kept the dancing blaze company. Mr. Van Brunt once looked u_nd asked her what she was smiling at; the smile brightened at his question, but he got no more answer.
  • At last the supper was all set out in the hall so that it could very easily b_rought into the parlour when the time came; the waiter with the best cups an_aucers, which always stood covered with a napkin on the table in the fron_oom, was carried away; the great pile of wood in the parlour fireplace, buil_ver since morning, was kindled; all was in apple-pie order, and nothing wa_eft but to sweep up the shavings that Mr. Van Brunt had made. This was done; and then Nancy seized hold of Ellen.
  • "Come along," said she, pulling her to the window,–"come along, and let u_atch the folks come in."
  • "But it isn't time for them to be here yet," said Ellen; "the fire is onl_ust burning."
  • "Fiddle-de-dee! they won't wait for the fire to burn, I can tell you. They'l_e along directly, some of them. I wonder what Miss Fortune is thinkin_f,–that fire had ought to have been burning this long time ago,–but the_on't set to work till they all get here, that's one thing. Do you know what'_oing to be for supper?"
  • "No."
  • "Not a bit?"
  • "No."
  • "Ain't that funny! Then I'm better off than you. I say, Ellen, any one woul_hink  _I_  was Miss Fortune's niece and you was somebody else, wouldn't they?
  • Goodness! I'm glad I ain't. I am going to make part of the supper myself,–wha_o you think of that? Miss Fortune always has grand suppers–when she has 'e_t all; 'tain't very often, that's one thing. I wish she'd have a bee ever_eek, I know, and let me come and help. Hark!–didn't I tell you? there'_omebody coming this minute; don't you hear the sleigh-bells? I'll tell yo_ho it is now; it's the Lawsons; you see if it ain't. It's good it's such _right night–we can see 'em first-rate. There–here they come–just as I tol_ou–here's Mimy Lawson the first one–if there's any body I do despise it'_imy Lawson."
  • "Hush!" said Ellen. The door opened and the lady herself walked in followed b_hree others–large, tall women, muffled from head to foot against the cold.
  • The quiet kitchen was speedily changed into a scene of bustle. Loud talkin_nd laughing–a vast deal of unrobing–pushing back and pulling up chairs on th_earth–and Nancy and Ellen running in and out of the room with countles_rappers, cloaks, shawls, comforters, hoods, mittens, and moccasins.
  • "What a precious muss it will be to get 'em all their own things when the_ome to go away again," said Nancy. "Throw 'em all down there, Ellen, in tha_eap. Now come quick–somebody else'll be here directly."
  • "Which is Miss Mimy?" said Ellen.
  • "That big ugly woman in a purple frock. The one next her is Kitty–the black- haired one is Mary, and t'other is Fanny. Ugh! don't look at 'em; I can't bear
  • 'em."
  • "Why?"
  • "'Cause I don't, I can tell you; reason good. They are as stingy as they ca_ive. Their way is to get as much as they can out of other folks, and le_ther folks get as little as they can out of them. I know 'em. Just watch tha_urple frock when it comes to the eating. There's Mr. Bob."
  • "Mr. who?"
  • "Bob–Bob Lawson. He's a precious small young man, for such a big one. There–g_ake his hat. Miss Fortune," said Nancy, coming forward, "mayn't the gentleme_ake care of their own things in the stoop, or must the young ladies wait upo_hem too? t'other room won't hold every thing neither."
  • This speech raised a general laugh, in the midst of which Mr. Bob carried hi_wn hat and cloak into the shed as desired. Before Nancy had done chucklin_ame another arrival; a tall, lank gentleman, with one of those unhappy-shape_aces that are very broad at the eyes and very narrow across the chops, an_aving a particularly grave and dull expression. He was welcomed with such _hout of mingled laughter, greeting and jesting, that the room was in _omplete hurly-burly; and a plain-looking stout, elderly lady, who had come i_ust behind him, was suffered to stand unnoticed.
  • "It's Miss Janet," whispered Nancy,–"Mr. Marshchalk's aunt. Nobody wants t_ee her here; she's one of your pious kind, and that's a kind your aunt don'_ake to."
  • Instantly Ellen was at her side, offering gently to relieve her of hood an_loak, and, with a tap on his arm drawing Mr. Van Brunt's attention to th_eglected person.
  • Quite touched by the respectful politeness of her manner, the old lad_nquired of Miss Fortune as Ellen went off with a load of mufflers, "who wa_hat sweet little thing?"
  • "It's a kind of sweetmeats that is kept for company, Miss Janet," replied Mis_ortune with a darkened brow.
  • "She's too good for every-day use, that's a fact," remarked Mr. Van Brunt.
  • Miss Fortune coloured and tossed her head, and the company were for a momen_till with surprise. Another arrival set them agoing again.
  • "Here come the Hitchcocks, Ellen," said Nancy. "Walk in, Miss Mary–walk in, Miss Jenny–Mr. Marshchalk has been here this great while."
  • Miss Mary Hitchcock was in nothing remarkable. Miss Jenny when her wrapper_ere taken off showed a neat little round figure, and a round face of ver_right and good-humoured expression. It fastened Ellen's eye, till Nanc_hispered her to look at Mr. Juniper Hitchcock, and that young gentlema_ntered dressed in the last style of elegance. His hair was arranged in _aultless manner–unless perhaps it had a little  _too_  much of the tallo_andle; for when he had sat for a while before the fire it had somewhat th_ook of being excessively wet with perspiration. His boots were as shiny a_is hair; his waistcoat was of a startling pattern; his pantaloons were ver_ightly strapped down; and at the end of a showy watch-ribbon hung some show_eals.
  • The kitchen was now one buzz of talk and good-humour. Ellen stood half smilin_o herself to see the universal smile, when Nancy twitched her.
  • "Here's more coming–Cilly Dennison, I guess–no, it's too tall;– _who_  is it?"
  • But Ellen flung open the door with a half-uttered scream and threw hersel_nto the arms of Alice, and then led her in; her face full of such extreme jo_hat it was perhaps one reason why her aunt's wore a very doubtful air as sh_ame forward. That could not stand however against the graceful politeness an_leasantness of Alice's greeting. Miss Fortune's brow smoothed, her voic_leared, she told Miss Humphreys she was very welcome, and she meant it.
  • Clinging close to her friend as she went from one to another, Ellen wa_elighted to see that everyone echoed the welcome. Every face brightened a_eeting hers, every eye softened, and Jenny Hitchcock even threw her arm_ound Alice and kissed her.
  • Ellen left now the window to Nancy and stood fast by her adopted sister, wit_ face of satisfaction it was pleasant to see, watching her very lips as the_oved. Soon the door opened again, and various voices hailed the new-comer as
  • "Jane," "Jany," and "Jane Huff." She was a decidedly plain-looking countr_irl, but when she came near, Ellen saw a sober sensible face and a look o_horough good nature which immediately ranked her next to Jenny Hitchcock i_er fancy. Mr. Bill Huff followed, a sturdy young man; quite as plain an_ardly so sensible-looking, he was still more shining with good-nature. H_ade no pretension to the elegance of Mr. Juniper Hitchcock; but before th_vening was over, Ellen had a vastly greater respect for him.
  • Last, not least, came the Dennisons; it took Ellen some time to make up he_ind about them. Miss Cilly, or Cecilia, was certainly very elegant indeed.
  • Her hair was in the extremest state of nicety, with a little round cur_lastered in front of each ear; how she coaxed them to stay there Ellen coul_ot conceive. She wore a real watch, there was no doubt of that, and there wa_ven a ring on one of her fingers with two or three blue or red stones in it.
  • Her dress was smart, and so was her figure, and her face was pretty; and Elle_verheard one of the Lawsons whisper to Jenny Hitchcock that "there wasn't _reater lady in the land than Cilly Dennison." Her brother was very different; tall and athletic, and rather handsome,  _he_  made no pretension to be _entleman. He valued his fine farming and fine cattle a great deal higher tha_uniper Hitchcock's gentility.