> 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."
"'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.
"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?"
"Not a bit?"
"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
"'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."
"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.