"OVER THE TEACUPS"
The summer term at Wareham had ended,
and Huldah Meserve, Dick Carter, and
Living Perkins had finished school, leaving
Rebecca and Emma Jane to represent Riverboro
in the year to come. Delia Weeks was at home
from Lewiston on a brief visit, and Mrs. Robinson
was celebrating the occasion by a small and select
party, the particular day having been set because
strawberries were ripe and there was a rooster that
wanted killing. Mrs. Robinson explained this to her
husband, and requested that he eat his dinner on
the carpenter's bench in the shed, as the party was
to be a ladies' affair.
"All right; it won't be any loss to me," said Mr.
Robinson. "Give me beans, that's all I ask. When
a rooster wants to be killed, I want somebody else
to eat him, not me!"
Mrs. Robinson had company only once or twice
a year, and was generally much prostrated for several
days afterward, the struggle between pride and
parsimony being quite too great a strain upon her.
It was necessary, in order to maintain her standing
in the community, to furnish a good "set out," yet
the extravagance of the proceeding goaded her from
the first moment she began to stir the marble cake
to the moment when the feast appeared upon the table.
The rooster had been boiling steadily over a slow
fire since morning, but such was his power of resistance
that his shape was as firm and handsome in
the pot as on the first moment when he was lowered into it.
"He ain't goin' to give up!" said Alice, peering
nervously under the cover, "and he looks like a scarecrow."
"We'll see whether he gives up or not when I
take a sharp knife to him," her mother answered;
"and as to his looks, a platter full o' gravy makes
a sight o' difference with old roosters, and I'll put
dumplings round the aidge; they're turrible fillin',
though they don't belong with boiled chicken."
The rooster did indeed make an impressive showing,
lying in his border of dumplings, and the dish
was much complimented when it was borne in by
Alice. This was fortunate, as the chorus of admiration
ceased abruptly when the ladies began to eat the fowl.
"I was glad you could git over to Huldy's
graduation, Delia," said Mrs. Meserve, who sat at the
foot of the table and helped the chicken while Mrs.
Robinson poured coffee at the other end. She was
a fit mother for Huldah, being much the most stylish
person in Riverboro; ill health and dress were,
indeed, her two chief enjoyments in life. It was
rumored that her elaborately curled "front piece"
had cost five dollars, and that it was sent into Portland
twice a year to be dressed and frizzed; but
it is extremely difficult to discover the precise facts
in such cases, and a conscientious historian always
prefers to warn a too credulous reader against
imbibing as gospel truth something that might be
the basest perversion of it. As to Mrs. Meserve's
appearance, have you ever, in earlier years, sought
the comforting society of the cook and hung over
the kitchen table while she rolled out sugar
gingerbread? Perhaps then, in some unaccustomed
moment of amiability, she made you a dough lady,
cutting the outline deftly with her pastry knife, and
then, at last, placing the human stamp upon it by
sticking in two black currants for eyes. Just call to
mind the face of that sugar gingerbread lady and
you will have an exact portrait of Huldah's mother,
--Mis' Peter Meserve, she was generally called,
there being several others.
"How'd you like Huldy's dress, Delia?" she
asked, snapping the elastic in her black jet bracelets
after an irritating fashion she had.
"I thought it was about the handsomest of any,"
answered Delia; "and her composition was first
rate. It was the only real amusin' one there was,
and she read it so loud and clear we didn't miss
any of it; most o' the girls spoke as if they had
hasty pudtin' in their mouths."
"That was the composition she wrote for Adam
Ladd's prize," explained Mrs. Meserve, "and they
do say she'd 'a' come out first, 'stead o' fourth,
if her subject had been dif'rent. There was three
ministers and three deacons on the committee, and
it was only natural they should choose a serious
piece; hers was too lively to suit 'em."
Huldah's inspiring theme had been Boys, and she
certainly had a fund of knowledge and experience
that fitted her to write most intelligently upon it. It
was vastly popular with the audience, who enjoyed
the rather cheap jokes and allusions with which it
coruscated; but judged from a purely literary standpoint,
it left much to be desired.
"Rebecca's piece wan't read out loud, but the
one that took the boy's prize was; why was that?"
asked Mrs. Robinson.
"Because she wan't graduatin'," explained Mrs.
Cobb, "and couldn't take part in the exercises;
it'll be printed, with Herbert Dunn's, in the school paper."
"I'm glad o' that, for I'll never believe it was
better 'n Huldy's till I read it with my own eyes;
it seems as if the prize ought to 'a' gone to one of
"Well, no, Marthy, not if Ladd offered it to any
of the two upper classes that wanted to try for it,"
argued Mrs. Robinson. "They say they asked him
to give out the prizes, and he refused, up and down.
It seems odd, his bein' so rich and travelin' about
all over the country, that he was too modest to git
up on that platform."
"My Huldy could 'a' done it, and not winked an
eyelash," observed Mrs. Meserve complacently; a
remark which there seemed no disposition on the
part of any of the company to controvert.
"It was complete, though, the governor happening
to be there to see his niece graduate," said Delia
Weeks. "Land! he looked elegant! They say he's
only six feet, but he might 'a' been sixteen, and he
certainly did make a fine speech."
"Did you notice Rebecca, how white she was,
and how she trembled when she and Herbert Dunn
stood there while the governor was praisin' 'em?
He'd read her composition, too, for he wrote the
Sawyer girls a letter about it." This remark was
from the sympathetic Mrs. Cobb.
"I thought 't was kind o' foolish, his makin' so
much of her when it wan't her graduation,"
objected Mrs. Meserve; "layin' his hand on her head
'n' all that, as if he was a Pope pronouncin' benediction.
But there! I'm glad the prize come to Riverboro
't any rate, and a han'somer one never was
give out from the Wareham platform. I guess there
ain't no end to Adam Ladd's money. The fifty dollars
would 'a' been good enough, but he must needs
go and put it into those elegant purses."
"I set so fur back I couldn't see 'em fairly,"
complained Delia, "and now Rebecca has taken
hers home to show her mother."
"It was kind of a gold net bag with a chain," said
Mrs. Perkins, "and there was five ten-dollar gold
pieces in it. Herbert Dunn's was put in a fine leather wallet."
"How long is Rebecca goin' to stay at the farm?" asked Delia.
"Till they get over Hannah's bein' married, and
get the house to runnin' without her," answered
Mrs. Perkins. "It seems as if Hannah might 'a'
waited a little longer. Aurelia was set against her
goin' away while Rebecca was at school, but she's
obstinate as a mule, Hannah is, and she just took
her own way in spite of her mother. She's been
doin' her sewin' for a year; the awfullest coarse
cotton cloth she had, but she's nearly blinded herself
with fine stitchin' and rufflin' and tuckin'. Did
you hear about the quilt she made? It's white, and
has a big bunch o' grapes in the centre, quilted by
a thimble top. Then there's a row of circle-borderin'
round the grapes, and she done them the size
of a spool. The next border was done with a sherry
glass, and the last with a port glass, an' all outside
o' that was solid stitchin' done in straight rows;
she's goin' to exhibit it at the county fair."
"She'd better 'a' been takin' in sewin' and earnin'
money, 'stead o' blindin' her eyes on such foolishness
as quilted counterpanes," said Mrs. Cobb.
"The next thing you know that mortgage will be
foreclosed on Mis' Randall, and she and the children
won't have a roof over their heads."
"Don't they say there's a good chance of the
railroad goin' through her place?" asked Mrs.
Robinson. "If it does, she'll git as much as the farm
is worth and more. Adam Ladd 's one of the stockholders,
and everything is a success he takes holt
of. They're fightin' it in Augusty, but I'd back
Ladd agin any o' them legislaters if he thought he
was in the right."
"Rebecca'll have some new clothes now," said
Delia, "and the land knows she needs 'em. Seems
to me the Sawyer girls are gittin' turrible near!"
"Rebecca won't have any new clothes out o' the
prize money," remarked Mrs. Perkins, "for she sent
it away the next day to pay the interest on that mortgage."
"Poor little girl!" exclaimed Delia Weeks.
"She might as well help along her folks as spend
it on foolishness," affirmed Mrs. Robinson. "I think
she was mighty lucky to git it to pay the interest
with, but she's probably like all the Randalls; it
was easy come, easy go, with them."
"That's more than could be said of the Sawyer
stock," retorted Mrs. Perkins; "seems like they
enjoyed savin' more'n anything in the world, and
it's gainin' on Mirandy sence her shock."
"I don't believe it was a shock; it stands to
reason she'd never 'a' got up after it and been so
smart as she is now; we had three o' the worst
shocks in our family that there ever was on this
river, and I know every symptom of 'em better'n
the doctors." And Mrs. Peter Meserve shook her
"Mirandy 's smart enough," said Mrs. Cobb,
"but you notice she stays right to home, and she's
more close-mouthed than ever she was; never took
a mite o' pride in the prize, as I could see, though
it pretty nigh drove Jeremiah out o' his senses. I
thought I should 'a' died o' shame when he cried
`Hooray!' and swung his straw hat when the governor
shook hands with Rebecca. It's lucky he
couldn't get fur into the church and had to stand
back by the door, for as it was, he made a spectacle
of himself. My suspicion is"--and here every lady
stopped eating and sat up straight--"that the
Sawyer girls have lost money. They don't know a
thing about business 'n' never did, and Mirandy's
too secretive and contrairy to ask advice."
"The most o' what they've got is in gov'ment
bonds, I always heard, and you can't lose money
on them. Jane had the timber land left her, an'
Mirandy had the brick house. She probably took
it awful hard that Rebecca's fifty dollars had to be
swallowed up in a mortgage, 'stead of goin' towards
school expenses. The more I think of it, the more
I think Adam Ladd intended Rebecca should have
that prize when he gave it." The mind of Huldah's
mother ran towards the idea that her daughter's
rights had been assailed.
"Land, Marthy, what foolishness you talk!"
exclaimed Mrs. Perkins; "you don't suppose he
could tell what composition the committee was
going to choose; and why should he offer another
fifty dollars for a boy's prize, if he wan't interested
in helpin' along the school? He's give Emma Jane
about the same present as Rebecca every Christmas
for five years; that's the way he does."
"Some time he'll forget one of 'em and give to
the other, or drop 'em both and give to some new
girl!" said Delia Weeks, with an experience born
of fifty years of spinsterhood.
"Like as not," assented Mrs. Peter Meserve,
"though it's easy to see he ain't the marryin' kind.
There's men that would marry once a year if their
wives would die fast enough, and there's men that
seems to want to live alone."
"If Ladd was a Mormon, I guess he could have
every woman in North Riverboro that's a suitable
age, accordin' to what my cousins say," remarked
"'T ain't likely he could be ketched by any North
Riverboro girl," demurred Mrs. Robinson; "not
when he prob'bly has had the pick o' Boston. I
guess Marthy hit it when she said there's men
that ain't the marryin' kind."
"I wouldn't trust any of 'em when Miss Right
comes along!" laughed Mrs. Cobb genially. "You
never can tell what 'n' who 's goin' to please 'em.
You know Jeremiah's contrairy horse, Buster? He
won't let anybody put the bit into his mouth if he
can help it. He'll fight Jerry, and fight me, till he
has to give in. Rebecca didn't know nothin' about
his tricks, and the other day she went int' the
barn to hitch up. I followed right along, knowing
she'd have trouble with the headstall, and I declare
if she wan't pattin' Buster's nose and talkin' to
him, and when she put her little fingers into his
mouth he opened it so fur I thought he'd swaller
her, for sure. He jest smacked his lips over the bit
as if 't was a lump o' sugar. `Land, Rebecca,' I
says, `how'd you persuade him to take the bit?'
`I didn't,' she says, `he seemed to want it; perhaps
he's tired of his stall and wants to get out in the fresh air.'"
Top of Page
Room | Rebecca
Of Sunnybrook Farm