Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Ministers Housekeeper
By Harriet Beecher Stowe (18111896)
[Sam Lawsons Oldtown Fireside Stories. 1871.]
SCENE.The shady side of a blueberry-pasture.Sam Lawson with the boys picking blueberries.Sam, loq.
WAL, you see, boys, twas just here,Parson Carryls wife, she died along in the forepart o March: my cousin Huldy, she undertook to keep house for him. The way ont was, that Huldy, she went to take care o Mis Carryl in the fust ont, when she fust took sick. Huldy was a tailoress by trade; but then she was one o these ere facultized persons that has a gift for most anything, and that was how Mis Carryl come to set sech store by her, that, when she was sick, nothin would do for her but she must have Huldy round all the time: and the minister, he said hed make it good to her all the same, and she shouldnt lose nothin by it. And so Huldy, she staid with Mis Carryl full three months afore she died, and got to seein to everything pretty much round the place.
Wal, arter Mis Carryl died, Parson Carryl, hed got so kind o used to hevin on her round, takin care o things, that he wanted her to stay along a spell; and so Huldy, she staid along a spell, and poured out his tea, and mended his close, and made pies and cakes, and cooked and washed and ironed, and kep everything as neat as a pin. Huldy was a drefful chipper sort o gal; and work sort o rolled off from her like water off a ducks back. There warnt no gal in Sherburne that could put sich a sight o work through as Huldy; and yet, Sunday mornin, she always come out in the singers seat like one o these ere June roses, lookin so fresh and smilin, and her voice was jest as clear and sweet as a meadow larksLordy massy! I member how she used to sing some o them are places where the treble and counter used to go together: her voice kind o trembled a little, and it sort o went thro and thro a feller! tuck him right where he lived!
Here Sam leaned contemplatively back with his head in a clump of sweet fern, and refreshed himself with a chew of young wintergreen. This ere young wintergreen, boys, is jest like a fellers thoughts o things that happened when he was young: it comes up jest so fresh and tender every year, the longest time you hev to live; and you cant help chawin ont tho tis sort o stingin. I dont never get over likin young wintergreen.
Oh, yes! about Huldy. Lordy massy! when a feller is Indianin round, these ere pleasant summer days, a fellers thoughts gits like a flock o young partridges: theys up and down and everywhere; cause one place is jest about as good as another, when theys all so kind o comfortable and nice. Wal, about Huldy,as I was a sayin. She was jest as handsome a gal to look at as a feller could have; and I think a nice, well-behaved young gal in the singers seat of a Sunday is a means o grace: its sort o drawin to the unregenerate, you know. Why, boys, in them days, Ive walked ten miles over to Sherburne of a Sunday mornin, jest to play the bass-viol in the same singers seat with Huldy. She was very much respected, Huldy was; and, when she went out to tailorin, she was allers bespoke six months ahead, and sent for in waggins up and down for ten miles round; for the young fellers was allers mazin anxious to be sent after Huldy, and was quite free to offer to go for her. Wal, after Mis Carryl died, Huldy got to be sort o housekeeper at the ministers, and saw to everything, and did everything: so that there warnt a pin out o the way.
But you know how tis in parishes: there allers is women that thinks the ministers affairs belongs to them, and they ought to have the rulin and guidin of em; and, if a ministers wife dies, theres folks that allers has their eyes open on providences,lookin out whos to be the next one.
Now, there was Mis Amaziah Pipperidge, a widder with snappin black eyes, and a hook nose,kind o like a hawk; and she was one o them up-and-down commandin sort o women, that feel that they have a call to be seein to everything that goes on in the parish, and specially to the minister.
Folks did say that Mis Pipperidge sort o sot her eye on the parson for herself: wal, now that are might a been, or it might not. Some folks thought it was a very suitable connection. You see she hed a good property of her own, right nigh to the ministers lot, and was allers kind o active and busy; so, takin one thing with another, I shouldnt wonder if Mis Pipperidge should a thought that Providence pinted that way. At any rate, she went up to Deakin Blodgetts wife, and they two sort o put their heads together a mournin and condolin about the way things was likely to go on at the ministers now Mis Carryl was dead. Ye see, the parsons wife, she was one of them women who hed their eyes everywhere and on everything. She was a little thin woman, but tough as Inger rubber, and smart as a steel trap; and there warnt a hen laid an egg, or cackled, but Mis Carryl was right there to see about it; and she hed the garden made in the spring, and the medders mowed in summer, and the cider made, and the corn husked, and the apples got in the fall; and the doctor, he hednt nothin to do but jest sit stock still a meditatin on Jerusalem and Jericho and them things that ministers think about. But Lordy massy! he didnt know nothin about where anything he eat or drunk or wore come from or went to: his wife jest led him round in temporal things and took care on him like a baby.
Wal, to be sure, Mis Carryl looked up to him in spirituals, and thought all the world on him; for there warnt a smarter minister no where round. Why, when he preached on decrees and election, they used to come clear over from South Parish, and West Sherburne, and Old Town, to hear him; and there was sich a row o waggins tied along by the meetin-house that the stables was all full, and all the hitchin-posts was full clean up to the tavern, so that folks said the doctor made the town look like a gineral trainin-day a Sunday.
He was gret on texts, the doctor was. When he hed a pint to prove, hed jest go thro the Bible, and drive all the texts ahead o him like a flock o sheep; and then, if there was a text that seemed agin him, why, hed come out with his Greek and Hebrew, and kind o chase it round a spell, jest as ye see a fellar chase a contrary bell-wether, and make him jump the fence arter the rest. I tell you, there want no text in the Bible that could stand agin the doctor when his blood was up. The year arter the doctor was appinted to preach the lection sermon in Boston, he made such a figger that the Brattlestreet Church sent a committee right down to see if they couldnt get him to Boston; and then the Sherburne folks, they up and raised his salary; ye see, there aint nothin wakes folks up like somebody elses wantin what youve got. Wal, that fall they made him a Doctor o Divinity at Cambridge College, and so they sot more by him than ever. Wal, you see, the doctor, of course he felt kind o lonesome and afflicted when Mis Carryl was gone; but railly and truly, Huldy was so up to everything about house, that the doctor didnt miss nothin in a temporal way. His shirt-bosoms was pleated finer than they ever was, and them ruffles round his wrists was kep like the driven snow; and there warnt a brack in his silk stockins, and his shoe buckles was kep polished up, and his coats brushed; and then there warnt no bread and biscuits like Huldys; and her butter was like solid lumps o gold; and there wernt no pies to equal hers; and so the doctor never felt the loss o Mis Carryl at table. Then there Was Huldy allers oppisite to him, with her blue eyes and her cheeks like two fresh peaches. She was kind o pleasant to look at; and the more the doctor looked at her the better he liked her; and so things seemed to be goin on quite quiet and comfortable ef it hadnt been that Mis Pipperidge and Mis Deakin Blodgett and Mis Sawin got their heads together a talkin about things.
Then Mis Sawin she took it up. (Ye see, Mis Sawin used to go out to dress-makin, and was sort o jealous, cause folks sot more by Huldy than they did by her.) Well, says she, Huldy Peters is well enough at her trade. I never denied that, though I do say I never did believe in her way o makin button-holes; and I must say, if twas the dearest friend I hed, that I thought Huldy tryin to fit Mis Kittridges plumb-colored silk was a clear piece o presumption; the silk was jist spiled, so twarnt fit to come into the meetin-house. I must say, Huldys a gal thats always too ventersome about takin sponsibilities she dont know nothin about.
Of course she dont, said Mis Deakin Blodgett. What does she know about all the lookin and seein to that there ought to be in guidin the ministers house? Huldys well meanin, and shes good at her work, and good in the singers seat; but Lordy massy! she haint got no experience. Parson Carryl ought to have an experienced woman to keep house for him. Theres the spring house-cleanin and the fall house-cleanin to be seen to, and the things to be put away from the moths; and then the gettin ready for the association and all the ministers meetins; and the makin the soap and the candles, and settin the hens and turkeys, watchin the calves, and seein after the hired men and the garden; and there that are blessed man jist sets there at home as serene, and has nobody round but that are gal, and dont even know how things must be a runnin to waste!
Wal, the upshot ont was, they fussed and fuzzled and wuzzled till theyd drinked up all the tea in the tea-pot; and then they went down and called on the parson, and wuzzled him all up talkin about this, that, and tother that wanted lookin to, and that it was no way to leave everything to a young chit like Huldy, and that he ought to be lookin about for an experienced woman. The parson he thanked em kindly, and said he believed their motives was good, but he didnt go no further. He didnt ask Mis Pipperidge to come and stay there and help him, nor nothin o that kind; but he said hed attend to matters himself. The fact was, the parson had got such a likin for havin Huldy round, that he couldnt think o such a thing as swappin her off for the Widder Pipperidge.
But he thought to himself, Huldy is a good girl; but I oughtnt to be a leavin everything to her,its too hard on her. I ought to be instructin and guidin and helpin of her; cause taint everybody could be expected to know and do what Mis Carryl did; and so at it he went; and Lordy massy! didnt Huldy hev a time ont when the minister began to come out of his study, and want to tew round and see to things? Huldy, you see, thought all the world of the minister, and she was most afraid to laugh; but she told me she couldnt, for the life of her, help it when his back was turned, for he wuzzled things up in the most singular way. But Huldy shed jest say, Yes, sir, and get him off into his study, and go on her own way.
Yes, sir, says Huldy; and she opened the pantry-door, and showed him a nice dishful shed been a savin up. Wal, the very next day the parsons hen-turkey was found killed up to old Jim Scroggss barn. Folks said Scroggs killed it; though Scroggs, he stood to it he didnt: at any rate, the Scroggses, they made a meal ont; and Huldy, she felt bad about it cause shed set her heart on raisin the turkeys; and says she, Oh, dear! I dont know what I shall do. I was jest ready to set her.
So Huldy she thought there wernt no way to convince him but to let him try: so she took the eggs out, and fixed em all nice in the nest; and then she come back and found old Tom a skirmishin with the parson pretty lively, I tell ye. Ye see, old Tom he didnt take the idee at all; and he flopped and gobbled, and fit the parson; and the parsons wig got round so that his cue stuck straight out over his ear, but hed got his blood up. Ye see, the old doctor was used to carryin his pints o doctrine; and he hadnt fit the Arminians and Socinians to be beat by a tom-turkey; so finally he made a dive, and ketched him by the neck in spite o his floppin, and stroked him down, and put Huldys apron round him.
Oh, no, he wont! says the parson, quite confident. There, there, says he, layin his hands on him, as if pronouncin a blessin. But when the parson riz up, old Tom he riz up too, and began to march over the eggs.
Old Tom he wilted down considerable under this, and looked railly as if he was goin to give in. He staid still there a good long spell, and the minister and Huldy left him there and come up to the house; but they hadnt more than got in the door before they see old Tom a hippin along, as high-steppin as ever, sayin Talk! talk! and quitter! quitter! and struttin and gobblin as if hed come through the Red Sea, and got the victory.
But the parson, he slep ont, and then didnt do it: he only come out next Sunday with a tip-top sermon on the Riginal Cuss that was pronounced on things in gineral, when Adam fell, and showed how everything was allowed to go contrary ever since. There was pig-weed, and pusley, and Canady thistles, cut-worms, and bag-worms, and canker-worms, to say nothin of rattlesnakes. The doctor made it very impressive and sort o improvin; but Huldy, she told me, goin home, that she hardly could keep from laughin two or three times in the sermon when she thought of old Tom a standin up with the corn-basket on his back.
Wal, next week Huldy she jist borrowed the ministers horse and side-saddle, and rode over to South Parish to her Aunt Bascomes,Widder Bascomes, you know, that lives there by the trout-brook,and got a lot o turkey-eggs o her, and come back and set a hen on em, and said nothin; and in good time there was as nice a lot o turkey-chicks as ever ye see.
But not long arter he took it into his head that Huldy ought to have a pig to be afattin with the buttermilk. Mis Pipperidge set him up to it; and jist then old Tim Bigelow, out to Juniper Hill, told him if hed call over hed give him a little pig.
Wal, old Aikin, the carpenter, he didnt come till most the middle of the arternoon; and then he sort o idled, so that he didnt get up the well-curb till sundown; and then he went off and said hed come and do the pig-pen next day.
Wal, arter dark, Parson Carryl he driv into the yard, full chizel, with his pig. Hed tied up his mouth to keep him from squealin; and he see what he thought was the pig-pen,he was rather near-sighted,and so he ran and threw piggy over; and down he dropped into the water, and the minister put out his horse and pranced off into the house quite delighted.
Wal, Huldy she worked and worked, and finally she fished piggy out in the bucket, but he was dead as a door-nail; and she got him out o the way quietly, and didnt say much; and the parson, he took to a great Hebrew book in his study; and says he, Huldy, I aint much in temporals, says he. Huldy says she kind o felt her heart go out to him, he was so sort o meek and helpless and larned; and says she, Wal, Parson Carryl, dont trouble your head no more about it; Ill see to things; and sure enough, a week arter there was a nice pen, all ship-shape, and two little white pigs that Huldy bought with the money for the butter she sold at the store.
Arter that the parson set sich store by Huldy that he come to her and asked her about everything, and it was amazin how everything she put her hand to prospered. Huldy planted marigolds and larkspurs, pinks and carnations, all up and down the path to the front door, and trained up mornin glories and scarlet-runners round the windows. And she was always gettin a root here, and a sprig there, and a seed from somebody else: for Huldy was one o them that has the gift, so that ef you jist give em the leastest sprig of anything they make a great bush out of it right away; so that in six months Huldy had roses and geraniums and lilies, sich as it would a took a gardener to raise. The parson, he took no notice at fust; but when the yard was all ablaze with flowers he used to come and stand in a kind o maze at the front door, and say, Beautiful, beautiful: why, Huldy, I never see anything like it. And then when her work was done arternoons, Huldy would sit with her sewin in the porch, and sing and trill away till shed draw the meadow larks and the bobolinks and the orioles to answer her, and the great big elm-tree overhead would get perfectly rackety with the birds: and the parson, settin there in his study, would git to kind o dreamin about the angels, and golden harps, and the New Jerusalem; but he wouldnt speak a word, cause Huldy she was jist like them wood-thrushes, she never could sing so well when she thought folks was hearin. Folks noticed, about this time, that the parsons sermons got to be like Aarons rod, that budded and blossomed: there was things in em about flowers and birds, and more special about the music o heaven. And Huldy she noticed, that ef there was a hymn run in her head while she was round a workin the minister was sure to give it out next Sunday. You see, Huldy was jist like a bee: she always sung when she was workin, and you could hear her trillin, now down in the corn-patch, while she was pickin the corn; and now in the buttery, while she was workin the butter; and now shed go singin down cellar, and then shed be singin up overhead, so that she seemed to fill a house chock full o music.
Huldy was so sort o chipper and fair spoken, that she got the hired men all under her thumb: they come to her and took her orders jist as meek as so many calves; and she traded at the store, and kep the accounts, and she hed her eyes everywhere, and tied up all the ends so tight that there warnt no gettin round her. She wouldnt let nobody put nothin off on Parson Carryl, cause he was a minister. Huldy was allers up to anybody that wanted to make a hard bargain; and, afore he knew jist what he was about, shed got the best end of it, and everybody said that Huldy was the most capable gal that theyd ever traded with.
Wal, come to the meetin of the Association, Mis Deakin Blodgett and Mis Pipperidge come callin up to the parsons, all in a stew, and offerin their services to get the house ready; but the doctor, he jist thanked em quite quiet, and turned em over to Huldy; and Huldy she told em that shed got everything ready, and showed em her pantries, and her cakes and her pies and her puddins, and took em all over the house; and they went peekin and pokin, openin cupboard-doors, and lookin into drawers: and they couldnt find so much as a thread out o the way, from garret to cellar, and so they went off quite discontented. Arter that the women set a new trouble a brewin. Then they begun to talk that it was a year now since Mis Carryl died; and it rally wasnt proper such a young gal to be stayin there, who everybody could see was a settin her cap for the minister.
Mis Pipperidge said, that, so long as she looked on Huldy as the hired gal, she hadnt thought much about it; but Huldy was railly takin on airs as an equal, and appearin as mistress o the house in a way that would make talk if it went on. And Mis Pipperidge she driv round up to Deakin Abner Snows, and down to Mis Lijah Perrys, and asked them if they wasnt afraid that the way the parson and Huldy was a goin on might make talk. And they said they hadnt thought ont before, but now, come to think ont, they was sure it would; and they all went and talked with somebody else, and asked them if they didnt think it would make talk. So come Sunday, between meetins there warnt nothin else talked about; and Huldy saw folks a noddin and a winkin, and a lookin arter her, and she begun to feel drefful sort o disagreeable. Finally Mis Sawin she says to her, My dear, didnt you never think folk would talk about you and the minister?
Wal, dear, says she, I think its a shame; but they say youre tryin to catch him, and that its so bold and improper for you to be courtin of him right in his own house,you know folks will talk,I thought Id tell you cause I think so much of you, says she.
Huldy was a gal of spirit, and she despised the talk, but it made her drefful uncomfortable; and when she got home at night she sat down in the mornin-glory porch, quite quiet, and didnt sing a word.
He hed a pleasant sort o way with him, the minister had, and Huldy had got to likin to be with him, and it all come over her that perhaps she ought to go away; and her throat kind o filled up so she couldnt hardly speak; and, says she, I cant sing to-night.
No, dear, says the minister, but ill-natured folks will talk; but there is one way we can stop it, Huldyif you will marry me. Youll make me very happy, and Ill do all I can to make you happy. Will you?
Wal, Huldy never told me jist what she said to the minister,gals never does give you the particulars of them are things jist as youd like em,only I know the upshot and the hull ont was, that Huldy she did a considable lot o clear starchin and ironin the next two days; and the Friday o next week the minister and she rode over together to Dr. Lothrops in Old Town; and the doctor, he jist made em man and wife, spite of envy of the Jews, as the hymn says. Wal, youd better believe there was a starin and a wonderin next Sunday mornin when the second bell was a tollin, and the minister walked up the broad aisle with Huldy, all in white, arm in arm with him, and he opened the ministers pew, and handed her in as if she was a princess; for, you see, Parson Carryl come of a good family, and was a born gentleman, and had a sort o grand way o bein polite to women-folks. Wal, I guess there was a ruslin among the bunnets. Mis Pipperidge gin a great bounce, like corn poppin on a shovel, and her eyes glared through her glasses at Huldy as if theyd a sot her afire; and everybody in the meetin house was a starin, I tell yew. But they couldnt none of em say nothin agin Huldys looks; for there want a crimp nor a frill about her that want jis so; and her frock was white as the driven snow, and she had her bunnet all trimmed up with white ribbins; and all the fellows said the old doctor had stole a march, and got the handsomest gal in the parish.