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- Across the Years - 10/34 -
were accomplished? Nothing!"
The Honorable Jonas Whitermore paused for breath, and I caught mine and held it. It seemed, for a minute, as if everybody all over the house was doing the same thing, too, so absolutely still was it, after that one word--"nothing." They were beginning to understand--a little. I could tell that. They were beginning to see this big thing that was taking place right before their eyes. I glanced at the little woman down in front. The tender glow on her face had grown and deepened and broadened until her whole little brown-clad self seemed transfigured. My own eyes dimmed as I looked. Then, suddenly I became aware that the Honorable Jonas Whitermore was speaking again.
"And not for one year only, nor two, nor ten, has this quintessence of devotion been mine," he was saying, "but for twice ten and then a score more--for forty years. For forty years! Did you ever stop to think how long forty years could be--forty years of striving and straining, of pinching and economizing, of serving and sacrificing? Forty years of just loving somebody else better than yourself, and doing this every day, and every hour of the day for the whole of those long forty years? It isn't easy to love somebody else always better than yourself, you know! It means the giving up of lots of things that you want. You might do it for a day, for a month, for a year even--but for forty years! Yet she has done it--that most wonderful woman. Do you wonder that I say it is to her, and to her alone, under God, that I owe all that I am, all that I hope to be?"
Once more he paused. Then, in a voice that shook a little at the first, but that rang out clear and strong and powerful at the end, he said:
"Ladies, gentlemen, I understand this will close your programme. It will give me great pleasure, therefore, if at the adjournment of this meeting you will allow me to present you to the most wonderful woman in the world--my wife."
I wish I could tell you what happened then. The words--oh, yes, I could tell you in words what happened. For that matter, the reporters at the little stand down in front told it in words, and the press of the whole country blazoned it forth on the front page the next morning. But really to know what happened, you should have heard it and seen it, and felt the tremendous power of it deep in your soul, as we did who did see it.
There was a moment's breathless hush, then to the canvas roof there rose a mighty cheer and a thunderous clapping of hands as by common impulse the entire audience leaped to its feet.
For one moment only did I catch a glimpse of Mrs. Jonas Whitermore, blushing, laughing, and wiping teary eyes in which the wondrous glow still lingered; then the eager crowd swept down the aisle toward her.
"Crickey!" breathed the red-faced old man at my side. "Well, stranger, even if it does seem sometimes as if the good Lord give some folks tongues and forgot to give 'em brains to run 'em with, I guess maybe He kinder makes up for it, once in a while, by givin' other folks the brains to use their tongues so powerful well!"
I nodded dumbly. I could not speak just then--but the young woman in front of me could. Very distinctly as I passed her I heard her say:
"Well, now, ain't that the limit, Sue? And her such an ordinary woman, too!"
The Price of a Pair of Shoes
For fifty years the meadow lot had been mowed and the side hill ploughed at the nod of Jeremiah's head; and for the same fifty years the plums had been preserved and the mince-meat chopped at the nod of his wife's-- and now the whole farm from the meadowlot to the mince-meat was to pass into the hands of William, the only son, and William's wife, Sarah Ellen.
"It'll be so much nicer, mother,--no care for you!" Sarah Ellen had declared.
"And so much easier for you, father, too," William had added. "It's time you rested. As for money--of course you'll have plenty in the savings- bank for clothes and such things. You won't need much, anyhow," he finished, "for you'll get your living off the farm just as you always have."
So the matter was settled, and the papers were made out. There was no one to be considered, after all, but themselves, for William was the only living son, and there had been no daughters.
For a time it was delightful. Jeremiah and Hester Whipple were like children let out of school. They told themselves that they were people of leisure now, and they forced themselves to lie abed half an hour later than usual each day. They spent long hours in the attic looking over old treasures, and they loitered about the garden and the barn with no fear that it might be time to get dinner or to feed the stock.
Gradually, however, there came a change. A new restlessness entered their lives, a restlessness that speedily became the worst kind of homesickness--the homesickness of one who is already at home.
The extra half-hour was spent in bed as before--but now Hester lay with one ear listening to make sure that Sarah Ellen did let the cat in for her early breakfast; and Jeremiah lay with his ear listening for the squeak of the barn door which would tell him whether William was early or, late that morning. There were the same long hours in the attic and the garden, too--but in the attic Hester discovered her treasured wax wreath (late of the parlor wall); and in the garden Jeremiah found more weeds than he had ever allowed to grow there, he was sure.
The farm had been in the hands of William and Sarah Ellen just six months when the Huntersville Savings Bank closed its doors. It was the old story of dishonesty and disaster, and when the smoke of Treasurer Hilton's revolver cleared away there was found to be practically nothing for the depositors. Perhaps on no one did the blow fall with more staggering force than on Jeremiah Whipple.
"Why, Hester," he moaned, when he found himself alone with his wife, "here I'm seventy-eight years old--an' no money! What am I goin' ter do?"
"I know, dear," soothed Hester; "but 't ain't as bad for us as 'tis for some. We've got the farm, you know; an'--"
"We hain't got the farm," cut in her husband sharply. "William an' Sarah Ellen's got it."
"Yes, I know, but they--why, they're us, Jeremiah," reminded Hester, trying to keep the quaver out of her voice.
"Mebbe, Hester, mebbe," conceded Jeremiah; but he turned and looked out of the window with gloomy eyes.
There came a letter to the farmhouse soon after this from Nathan Banks, a favorite nephew, suggesting that "uncle and aunt" pay them a little visit.
"Just the thing, father!" cried William. "Go--it'll do you both good!" And after some little talk it was decided that the invitation should be accepted.
Nathan Banks lived thirty miles away, but not until the night before the Whipples were to start did it suddenly occur to Jeremiah that he had now no money for railroad tickets. With a heightened color on his old cheeks he mentioned the fact to William.
"Ye see, I--I s'pose I'll have ter come ter you," he apologized. "Them won't take us!" And he looked ruefully at a few coins he had pulled from his pocket. "They're all the cash I've got left."
William frowned a little and stroked his beard.
"Sure enough!" he muttered. "I forgot the tickets, too, father. 'T is awkward--that bank blowing up; isn't it? Oh, I'll let you have it all right, of course, and glad to, only it so happens that just now I--er, how much is it, anyway?" he broke off abruptly.
"Why, I reckon a couple of dollars'll take us down, an' more, mebbe," stammered the old man, "only, of course, there's comin' back, and--"
"Oh, we don't have to reckon on that part now," interrupted William impatiently, as he thrust his hands into his pockets and brought out a bill and some change. "I can send you down some more when that time comes. There, here's a two; if it doesn't take it all, what's left can go toward bringing you back."
And he handed out the bill, and dropped the change into his pocket.
"Thank you, William," stammered the old man. "I--I'm sorry--"
"Oh, that's all right," cut in William cheerfully, with a wave of his two hands. "Glad to do it, father; glad to do it!"
Mr. and Mrs. Whipple stayed some weeks with their nephew. But, much as they enjoyed their visit, there came a day when home--regardless of weeds that were present and wax wreaths that were absent--seemed to them the one place in the world; and they would have gone there at once had it not been for the railroad fares.
William had not sent down any more money, though his letters had been kind, and had always spoken of the warm welcome that awaited them any time they wished to come home.
Toward the end of the fifth week a bright idea came to Jeremiah.
"We'll go to Cousin Abby's," he announced gleefully to his wife. "Nathan said last night he'd drive us over there any time. We'll go to-morrow, an' we won't come back here at all--it'll be ten miles nearer home there, an' it won't cost us a cent ter get there," he finished triumphantly. And to Cousin Abby's they went.
So elated was Jeremiah with the result of his scheming that he set his wits to work in good earnest, and in less than a week he had formulated an itinerary that embraced the homes of two other cousins, an aunt of Sarah Ellen's, and the niece of a brother-in-law, the latter being only three miles from 'his own farmhouse--or rather William's farmhouse, as he corrected himself bitterly. Before another month had passed, the round of visits was accomplished, and the little old man and the little old woman--having been carried to their destination in each case by their latest host--finally arrived at the farmhouse door. They were weary, penniless, and half-sick from being feasted and fêted at every
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