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A COMEDY OF WAR.
YRUS BENSON'S engagement to most conciliatory manner, and he could be
was not bad-looking, speaking neg- To this, lacking a proper response, he was atively, after the Mantit fashion, and a man silent. And Patience again opened her mouth: would not have minded the cast in her left «Well, can't ye speak, man? What d'ye eye had her temper not been equally crooked. want? » But when that was fairly roused, she was a During his drive over he had somewhat Tartar, and everybody and everything ani, carefully formulated a proper speech in which mate fled before her as before an impending to make his proposal; but it had fled, and, alcyclone.
though he now made a rapid and desperate But neither crooked eye nor crooked temper search in the caverns of his memory, he could had stood in the way of her being sought in not so much as catch a glimpse even of the wedlock even before her engagement to tail of it. Cyrus. The one other suitor who had stormed, «Yah!” said Patience again, raising the though he had failed to carry, her maiden skillet threateningly. fortress, was a well-to-do farmer living at «I rode over from Plympton to ask ye to Plympton in the remote neighborhood of marry me, and -» he blurted out, saying Mantit. His wife had recently died, and as exactly the thing he did not intend; but his he was looking about for a successor to care proposal was never completed. for his seven children and an equal number The skillet flew from the uplifted hand, and of cows, a waggish acquaintance had recom- the farmer, who had kept his hold upon the mended Patience.
door-latch, was outside in an instant, and, Up to the moment of recommendation he hastily unhitching his horse, skipped into the had never heard her name. Nevertheless, he wagon with a celerity that would have surat once resolved to go and offer himself, be- prised those familiar with his rheumatic lieving, with the fatuity of many a man habit, and lashing his horse into a run, did similarly intentioned, that he had only to hold not draw rein till he was fairly outside the out his hand and the apple--in this instance lane and on the highway. a crab-would drop into it.
« That skillet must 'a' split the door panel, He accordingly drove over, and arriving, he remarked to the sympathizing wag who hitched his horse to the iron staple in the had named Patience, and to whom he imwoodhouse, and knocked at the kitchen door. parted the result of his offer. «Patience d'ye No response was made. He knocked a second say her name was ? It'd ought to be Fury. I time. The third time he applied the full force never see such an eye » -- her left eye proba of his fist, and a voice-a voice that made bly, which in her rages retreated fairly out him start in his boots-responded:
of sight behind the bridge of her nose. « Come in, can't ye, and not stand there This marked rejection of the farmer's suit beatin' the door in.»
led her neighbors to infer that Patience did The invitation was not encouraging; but not intend to marry, and for some time gossip our farmer, not of those who, having put ceased to concern itself with that probability, their hand to the plow, turn back, -at least and took the direction of her savings, which not at the first rebuff, - lifted the latch and were thought to be considerable, her hair, entered. Patience was standing by the stove which must be dyed, as it « never could 'a' with a long-handled skillet in her hand, pre- kep' its color so at her age,» and her kitchen paratory to putting on the potatoes for door, which, with her customary contrariness, dinner. Her face wore the aspect of a she had had painted a sky-blue instead of the storm-cloud out of which the lightning might conventional chocolate-brown. leap at any moment.
But it broke out afresh on the discovery Good morning,» said the visitor in his that Cyrus Benson spent every Friday evening
regularly at Patience's. Had it been Sunday had not the storekeeper pressed it upon him evening no doubt would have been felt even and lighted it himself. at the first as to his intentions, but the « No," he said, as Cyrus tended the customchoice of Friday threw speculations off the ary payment; «darn it all, man! we 'll have track. It is true that every other evening of a treat all round in honor of the event.» He the week had been long devoted to its special brought out a bunch of cigars and opened purpose; for Cyrus was the most methodical half a dozen bottles of root beer. «Here's to of men.
the health and happiness of the future Mrs. Tuesday evening he spent at the store, Cyrus Benson," said he to Cyrus. Then, «Good where he bought one cigar, lighted it before Lord!» But this was an aside. taking his departure, smoked it leisurely « I feel pretty much as I do when I see our along the road and through the fields across old cat pounce on a robin. I'd resky it if I lots, depositing the stump in a hollow oak by could,» he remarked after Cyrus had left. the last pair of bars. A favorite arithmetical «He 'll be reg'larly chawed up.» problem with the store humorists was the No one ventured to mention the matter to number of stumps therein deposited in a Patience until Mrs. Acorn, bolder than the given time, and whether, allowing to Cyrus other matrons, did so, and found her remarkthe traditional years of man, he would be ably complacent. able to fill it in his lifetime-a problem « It come out before I thought, and I complicated by the probable decay of the expected nothin' short o' havin' my eyes earlier strata. Monday and Thursday even- scratched out. But she was as smilin' as a ings were spent in a neighboring shoe shop baskit o' chips-real tickled. But Lor'! » playing checkers with the shoemaker. They reflectively, - « she's nothin' but a woman, played until nine o'clock, stopping on the and a woman's a woman after all's said and stroke of the hour whatever the crisis of done » — which was a nail hit on the head. the game. Wednesday evening he walked to Few women lack womanly sensitiveness, and Tarkiln to visit a distant cousin. Saturday the feeling, on the part of Patience, that he evening he passed in the laborious reading viewed her wholly in a commercial light had of his weekly paper, and Sunday evening he doubtless added vigor to the arm with which slept.
she had hurled the skillet at the venturesome But nobody ever could tell where he might farmer. turn up on Friday night. Whatever erratic « Well, I don't know what Cyrus can be tendency he had in his nature seemed to break thinkin' of. He's got more courage than out on that evening of the week.
folks ever give him credit for. 'T ain't many « He might be here and he might be there; men folks 'd care to tackle Patience. And there was no calculatin' on Cyrus of a Friday what would his poor mother say? Poor creanight. He was such a queer chap, but clever tur'! We don't know what we ’re fetchin' -clever as the day, the adjective being child'en into the world for. used in its old New England sense.
It was more than a nine days' wonder. But But these erratic Friday evening wander- speculation concerning this marriage, and ings came to an end in Patience's comfortable other things of lesser importance, was cut sitting-room, and everybody was astonished, short by the breaking out of the Civil War, and knew not what to think.
and what followed in Mantit was an epitome « Cyrus Benson! Well, I am beat! Why, of the whole North. he's meek as Moses! »
There was an evening telegram; a night « Well, he'd have to be to live with ride on the part of the captain of the Light Patience.
Infantry Company to summon his men scat« Live with Patience! You don't mean to tered through the adjacent towns, many of say he's thinkin' o' marryin' her!
them mere lads who, when they donned their «What he's thinkin' of I don't know, but uniforms, did so with the expectation of being it's my opinion she's made up her mind to summoned to no more serious duty than a marry him.)
semi-annual training or yearly muster. But & Well, if she's made up her mind, the each sprang to the call, and additional recruits whole United States can't stop her.» came forward, among the latter being Cyrus
So by degrees doubt was merged into cer- Benson. tainty, and Cyrus, entering the store one In the chill and gray April morning they Tuesday evening, was met with such a storm assembled on the green by the store. The of facetious congratulation that he was dazed, storekeeper had raised a flag, scant of stars and would have left without his weekly cigar and shabby, but it served. Young girls were there, flushed with excitement and patriotism, And you promised. What's the good o' your yet not quite believing it all. War was as promises? But, there! It 's just like a man, yet too unfamiliar a thing. Older women makin' a woman trust him and then clearin’ choked back the tears till there was time to out and leavin' her.» weep-if there ever would be. They had sat « But I shall come back if I 'm alive, I up all the night making, mending, and wash- tell ye. I ain't any notion o' breakin' my ing, preparing a comfortable kit. Time enough promise. But ’t ain't a time to be marryin' to sleep when their soldier was on the march and givin' in marriage. The country 's a-if they could sleep.
callin'. » But Patience was not there. She had had « Country! Yah! Such talk 's sickenin'! a stormy interview with Cyrus when he called And I don't believe a word of it. And if you on his way to the rendezvous to tell her he do go you need n't come back here again. had enlisted. His appearance was not heroic. I 'm well quit of ye.» Then she went in, and His toilet had been of the rapidest and slight- banged the sky-blue door. est, and, ordinarily as « neat as a pin,» he was Cyrus stood for a moment irresolute. He decidedly frowzy. His uniform would be heard confused noises in the kitchen,-chairs furnished him in Boston, together with one slammed about, a table pushed across the of Governor Andrew's now historic overcoats. floor, the fall of crockery, -and a cat sprang But had he been in the freshest and gayest out of the window he had opened, with eyes military trim, that would have had no mollify- glaring and tail bristling. It was no use to ing effect on Patience.
linger; Patience's tempests of passion were «You ain't a-goin' one step,” said she, long in stilling; he had but to go. As he after he had announced his intention; and did so he drew the cuff of his sleeve across she stepped up, and bolted the door behind his eyes. For, bad-tempered woman though him. But Cyrus was too quick for her, and she was, «crabbed » as everybody called her, had opened a window and was out before she she was the only woman Cyrus could in any knew it.
sense call his own; for his mother was dead, Finding commands of no avail, she opened and he had no sister. the door and stooped to entreaty; but to this Other women might be kind to him. Good Cyrus was equally impervious. He did not Mrs. Acorn pressed upon him a package of not argue; that was not his way. With all tea, and the doctor's wife had ready two his « cleverness » he had an obstinate streak pairs of woolen socks to add to his kit. in him—the obstinacy of the good-natured But he would have given all other kindnesses man; he was « set.»
for one kind word from Patience. Patience entreated, going back now and After that Patience's temper became still again to her first fierce declaration, «You more uncertain. When the Mantit branch of sha’n’t go one step, Cyrus. Them good-for- the Sanitary Commission was started, the nothin' niggers are at the bottom of it,) committee for her district called upon her said she, and I wish they was in Tophet. for contributions of «old linen, worn dress She was never an abolitionist.
skirts, spare blankets, dried apples, jell.» «I don't care what 's at the bottom of it. « Anything,» said Mrs. Acorn; «you can use The country 's a-callin', and I'm goin',» said up anything for beddin' and such purposes,
and I know you've got a store laid by in your « Yah!» responded Patience. «Country a- garret. Your mother was a master hand for callin'! It's just because you want to get savin' everything. And you 're goin' t' have quit o' work, you and the whole lazy kit of plenty o' apples, I see. The Sanitary 's goin' 'em.»
to send 'em down where our own folks be; To this Cyrus made no reply. And his it'll be such a comfort to the boys. And dried silence was all the more exasperating that apples go to the right spot, Isaac writes. Patience felt behind it the impregnable wall They 'd had a few the last time o' writin', of a resolution that she could neither storm just about a gill apiece, –and they stewed nor coax into capitulation.
'em themselves in their little tin cups, and « I should like to part pleasantly,” he said they were lickin' good, Isaac wrote. That's at last, « seein' it ’s likely I may never come his favorite word for what he likes. There's back.)
nothin' like our own folks' victuals; and But Patience was past feeling the pathos mebbe Cyrus 'll get some o' yours, Patience, of his speech.
and — » « I warrant you 'll come back fast enough,» « «Cyrus Benson 's nothin' to me, says said she, « after plantin' and hayin' 's over. she,» --so reported Mrs. Acorn at the weekly
meeting of the Sanitary,- «Cyrus Benson 's « Well, that 's better than if she took up nothing to me,'—a-slattin' down a pan o' milk for the Southerners, as some o' our folks do. she'd fetched out to skim, and sloppin' it all They say Dr. Hall, over to Titicut,- he 's round over the table and floor, and if I been a Copperhead from the beginnin', -he had n't 'a' drew back ’t would 'a' gone all said the other day, right out to Sprague's over me too, - (and I'm surprised you should Shingle Mill, that he hoped the South would think o' askin' me to contribute, says she. lick. And at that they after him and chased (If they want to fight, let 'em; but I 've him into the woods, and he ain't been seen no call to help bind up their wounds and since. They say he's hidin' in Turkey Swamp. keep 'em at it. And I 've somethin' else to But I doubt about that. Turkey Swamp 's do besides dryin' apples for a parcel o' lazy one o' Mis' Hall's back chambers, I guess. men to eat. Let 'em go home and go to work, They ’ve threatened to tar and feather him the whole kit of 'em, North and South, I say. when they do get him. Wastin' the substance of folks for what?- « Well, 't was queer the way Patience I should like to ask.)
ketched me up about Cyrus. If she wa'n't « And as she asked I ventur'd to answer, the woman she is, and he wa’n't the man he betterwise I should 'a' just got up and come is, and they were both young folks, I could away, — «It's for our country, Patience, says account for it.» I-(the country our fathers bled and died And Mrs. Acorn, wagging her head slowly for, and that we are so proud of, and want from side to side, fell into a brief reverie to keep goin' all right for our pusterity, concerning the time when she and «father »
were young, before Isaac, who, like Cyrus, « Well, you know Patience and her manners had enlisted for the war, was born, and when when her dander 's up, which is consider'ble to hear father called « clever and kind,» would often. «Yah!) says she, in that irritatin' have angered her almost as bad as the same way o'hers. My father was a peaceable terms, applied to Cyrus, did Patience. Then man that minded his own business and fit no- the talk of the circle took a more intimate body; and I ain't much concerned about the turn as the women cut and basted and knit; future o' my pusterity," says she. “And you how a great battle was talked of; Isaac had can tell the folk that sent ye-) (I'm a com- written about it, and so had the other boys. mittee, says I, interruptin' her, (and repre- And the voices grew more and more subdued, sent the great Sanitary Commission. Well, with lapses into silence, and more than one you can tell 'em from me, says she, they tear was surreptitiously swept away as though won't get nothin' out o' me-not a red cent, it were an officious fly. nor the wormiest apple on the place, nor the And then Mrs. Acorn aroused herself with raggedest sheet. And as for Cyrus Benson, a cheerful remark about the blackberry wine says she, a-slattin' that pan o' milk again, (I she had been making for the Sanitary, and don't know what right you have to speak to which she had corked so tightly in a glass me about that obstinate fool. He's nothin' demijohn before it had fairly worked that it to me. And at that I had to speak again. went off in the dead of the night like a can( And, says I, you know best, Patience, non, and jarred the bed. And when she went whether Cyrus is anything to you or not, but down cellar the next day to see how her you ’ve no call to speak that way of him. He wine was getting on, she found nothing but may n't be so bright as some, but he's a kind, bits of glass and a damp spot on the cellar clever creatur' as ever breathed, and he's bottom. «And how father did laugh! ('T showed his patriotism as few have, enlistin' would do Isaac more good than pints o'wine again after his three months was out, and for to hear about mother's demijohn bu'stin', said the war, too.)
father.» Nothing pleased father and Isaac « But Lor'! you 'd 'a' thought I 'd said more than to get the laugh on her. somethin' dretful. Bright!) says she, and «
But Isaac never heard of it; for the great that left eye o'hers slid right back o' the battle came. Was it Gaines's Mills, or Fredbridge of her nose, just as it does when she's ericksburg, or Gettysburg ? What matters it? in one o' ḥer tantrums. (Clever!) says she, The ---th Massachusetts was in it, and Isaac and over went that pan o' milk slap on to the fell, shot in the forehead; and Charlie Smith floor, what was left on 't, and I got up and was hurt by a shell in the breast, and would come away as quick as I could. And I de- lose one arm, or perhaps both, even if he got clare, I don't know what to make o' her. She up; and Melvin Pratt and Cyrus Benson were ain't a real Copperhead, for she don't seem to missing. So telegraphed their captainhave no sympathy with either side.
not the one who took the midnight ride; VOL. LII.-58.
he had won his bays, and slept in a soldier's He was the first to speak. «Don't ye know grave.
me?» he asked. «Don't ye know Cyrus ? » Isaac's body would be sent home, he wrote But she neither stirred nor spoke. later on; as for Melvin and Cyrus, they had « I thought ye'd be glad to see me,” he said been buried in nameless graves.
querulously. There was a moment or two of And the Sanitary work went on as before, further waiting, and then she came slowly for «there's other mothers' sons if mine 's forward, and, still without speaking, opened gone,» said good Mrs. Acorn. And Patience the gate for him, and taking him by the empty had her tempers, and seemed to grow harder; sleeve, led him into the house. The opposite at least, so thought Mrs. Acorn at times, and neighbor, with her eye glued to the opening then, again, she did n't know.
between the shade and the window casing, She could never account satisfactorily for was paralyzed at the sight. Patience «ketching » her up so about Cyrus She quickly recovered, however, and ran if she did n't care for him, and if she did, it out across to Mrs. Acorn's. «Good gracious! must be « dretful hard» to have nobody to it 's Cyrus Benson as sure as you ’re alivespeak to. To talk with «father» about Isaac what there is left of him. And to see Patience was a sight of comfort to her; what she leadin' of him in, just for all the world like should do without father to speak to she Mary and her little lamb!» The neighbor was an did n't know. So one day she just stepped elderly widow of a sentimental turn of mind. in, and found Patience cleaning out the wood- The news spread like wild-fire, and Patience house. That was an infallible sign that she was inundated with callers. Nothing short of was out of sorts, and her reply to Mrs. Acorn's unquenchable curiosity would have made them greeting was as short as pie-crust; but Mrs. dare such an invasion, and she received them Acorn, observing her closely, saw that she with an equanimity, a subdued quietness of was unusually pale and thin.
manner, that surprised them. But no one was « She never did have any fat to boast of, permitted to see her guest. She had put him but now she 's nothin' but a rail. I did n't right to bed, Patience said. He was dreadmention Cyrus; I thought 't wa’n’t wise; and fully weak and worn, and slept the greater I did n't stay long. But I 'm sure she 's part of the time. When he was able to sit up feelin' it. Sorrer softens most folks, but it they could see him. At the end of the week don't her, poor creatur'! She ain't one of the he was seen sitting in the south porch in the meltin' kind. After her mother died she was sun, and after that callers came in almost just like a snappin'-turtle for months; and every day. she 's just so now.)
But he had little to say in answer to their
eager and numberless questions. For the It was a smiling, joyous June morning, and most part he was listless, and sat with his Patience, as her opposite neighbor in the lane head bent down. observed, was «airin'» all her feather-beds. « Poor creatur'! He's lost what little mind For Patience was superlatively neat; «Pos- he ever did have.» sessed,» as the doctor's wife, who was fond of « The men folks say they don't think 't is epigrams, had once remarked -- « possessed Cyrus.) with a neat devil.»
«Men folks! What won't men folks say She was spreading the beds on chairs in the when they get together? Talk o' women front yard, where sun and wind had equal play. gossipin’! » She beat and punched the beds, and shook her « They say Cyrus's eyes were black, and stiff-corded sunbonnet, shutting out at the this man's eye is blue.» same time the landscape and the approach- « Well, don't eyes change, I should like to ing figure in it. It was a halting figure, and know? Babies' eyes gen’rally change, and had been for some time making the distance kittens' always. He's suffered enough to up the lane, and across the stretch of close, turn his eyes any color, I should think. Just even turf that lay between it and the front as if it can be anybody but Cyrus! » yard-a figure of a man in ragged blue, one « Patience seems to think 't is,” said Mrs. arm gone, one leg gone below the knee, a Acorn; «and if anybody ’d ought t know hideous purple scar across one cheek and whether it 's Cyrus or not, it 's her. The temple, and a faded green shade over one most of us 'u'd know our own.» eye. As Patience at last looked up, her eyes « That's so,) said the sentimental widow; fell upon him where he stood outside the gate. «it's difficult to deceive the eye of affection.» The nimble wind shook his empty sleeve and However, she had her own doubts on one trousers' leg.
or two occasions when, drawn thither by