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- The Road To Providence - 1/28 -


The Road To Providence

by Maria Thompson Daviess

CONTENTS

I THE DOCTORS MAYBERRY, MOTHER AND SON II THE SINGER LADY AND THE BREAD-BOWL III THE PEONY GIRL AND THE BUMPKIN IV LOVE, THE CURE-ALL V THE LITTLE RAVEN AND HER COVERED DISH VI THE PROVIDENCE TAG-GANG VII PRETTY BETTIE'S WEDDING DAY VIII THE NEST ON PROVIDENCE NOB IX THE LITTLE HARPETH WOMAN OF MANY SORROWS X THE SONG OF THE MASTER'S GRAIL

CHAPTER I

THE DOCTORS MAYBERRY, MOTHER AND SON

"Now, child, be sure and don't mix 'em with a heavy hand! Lightness is expected of riz biscuits and had oughter be dealt out to 'em by the mixer from the start. Just this way--"

"Mother, oh, Mother," came a perturbed hail in Doctor Mayberry's voice from the barn door, "Spangles is off the nest again--better come quick!"

"Can't you persuade her some, Tom?" Mother called back from the kitchen door as she peered anxiously across the garden fence and over to the gray barn where the Doctor stood holding the door half open, but ready for a quick close-up in case of an unexpected sally. "My hands is in the biscuits and I don't want to come now. Just try, Tom!"

"I have tried and I can't do it! She's getting the whole convention agitated. You'd better come on, Mother!"

"Dearie me," said Mrs. Mayberry, as she rinsed her hands in the wash-pan on the shelf under tin cedar bucket, "Tom is just as helpless with the chickens at setting time as a presiding elder is at a sewing circle; can't use a needle, too stiff to jine the talk and only good when it comes to the eating, from broilers to frying size. Just go on and mix the biscuits with faith, honey-bird, for I mistrust I won't be back for quite a spell."

"Now let me see what all these conniptions is about," she said in a commanding voice, as she walked boldly in through her son's cautiously widened door gap.

And a scene of confusion that was truly feminine met her capable glance. Fuss-and-Feathers, a stylish young spangled Wyandotte, was waltzing up and down the floor and shrieking an appeal in the direction of a whole row of half-barrel nests that stretched along the dark and sequestered side of the feed-room floor, upon which was established what had a few minutes before been a placid row of setting hens. Now over the rim of each nest was stretched a black, white, yellow or gray head, pop-eyed with alarm and reproach. They were emitting a chorus of indignant squawks, all save a large, motherly old dominick in the middle barrel who was craning her scaly old neck far over toward the perturbed young sister and giving forth a series of reassuring and commanding clucks.

"I didn't do a thing in the world to them, Mother," said Doctor Tom in a deprecatory tone of voice, as if he were in a way to be blamed for the whole excitement. "I was across the barn at the corn-crib when she hopped off her nest and went on the rampage. Just a case of the modern feminine rebellion, I wager."

"No such thing, sir! They ain't nothing in the world the matter with her 'cept as bad a case of young-mother skeer as I have ever had before amongst all my hens. Don't you see, Tom, two of her setting have pipped they shells and the cheepings of the little things have skeered the poor young thing 'most to death. Old Dominick have took in the case and is trying her chicken-sister best to comfort her. These here pullet spasms over the hatching of the first brood ain't in no way unusual. The way you have forgot chicken habits since you have growed up is most astonishing to me, after all the helping with them I taught you." As she spoke, Mother Mayberry had been rearranging the deserted nest with practised hand and had tenderly lifted two feeble, moist little new-borns on her broad palm to show to the Doctor.

"What are you going to do with them, Mother?" he asked, for though his education in chicken lore seemed to have been in vain he was none the less sympathetically interested in his mothers practice of the hen-craft.

"I'm just going to give 'em to Old Dominick to dry out and warm up for her while I persuade her back on the nest. As she gets used to hearing the cheepings from under another hen she'll take the next ones that come with less mistrust." And suiting her actions to her words Mother Mayberry slipped the two forlorn little mites under a warm old wing that stretched itself out with gentleness to receive and comfort them. Some budding instinct had sent the foolish fluff of stylish feathers clucking at her skirts, so she bent down and with a gentle and sympathetic hand lifted the young inadequate back on the nest.

"I really oughter put on a cover and make her set on the next," she said doubtfully, "but it do seem kinder to teach her hovering a little at a time. Course all women things has got mothering borned into 'em, but it comes easier to some than to others. I always feel like giving 'em a helping hand at the start off."

"You have a great deal of faith if you feel sure of that universally maternal instinct in these days, Mother," said the Doctor with a teasing smile as he handed her a quart cup of oats from the bin. "Oh, I know what you're talking about," answered Mother, as she scattered a little grain in front of each nest and prepared to leave in peace and quiet the brooding mothers. "It's this woman's rights and wrongs question. I've been so busy doctoring Providence Road pains and trying to make a good, proper husband outen you for some nice girl, what some other woman have been putting licks on to get ready for you, that I've been too pushed to think about the wrongs being did to me. But not knowing any more about it than I do, I think this woman's rumpus all sounds kinder like a hen scratching around in unlikely and contrary corners for the bread of life, when she knows they is plenty of crumbs at the kitchen door to be et up. But if you're going to ride over to Flat Rock this evening you'd better go on and get back in time for some riz biscuits as Elinory is a-making for you this blessed minute."

"She's not making them for me," answered the young Doctor with the color rising under his clear, tanned skin up to his very forelock. As he spoke he busied himself with bridling his restless young mare.

"Of course she is," answered his mother serenely. "Women don't take no interest in cooking unless they's a man to eat the fixings. Left to herself she'd eat store bread and cheese with her head outen the window for the birds to clean up the crumbs. Stop by and ask after Mis' Bostick and the Deacon. And if you bring me a little candy from the store with the letters, maybe I'll eat it to please you. Now be a-going so as to be a-coming the sooner." With which admonition Mother took her departure down the garden path.

She was tall and broad, was Mother Mayberry, and in her walk was left much of the lissome strength of her girlhood to lighten the matronly dignity of her carriage. Her stiffly starched, gray-print skirts swept against a budding border of jonquils and the spring breezes floated an end of her white lawn tie as a sort of challenge to a young cherry tree, that was trying to snow out under the influence of the warm sun. Her son smiled as he saw her stoop to lift a feeble, over-early hop toad back under the safety of the jonquil leaves, out of sight of a possible savage rooster. He knew what expression lay in her soft gray eyes that brooded under her Wide, placid brow, upon which fell abundant and often riotous silver water-waves. His own eyes were very like them and softened as he looked at her, a masculine version of one of her quick s quirked at the corner of his clean-cut mouth.

"The bread of life--she's found it," he said to himself musingly as he slipped the last buckle in his bridle tight.

"Elinory," called Mother Mayberry from the kitchen steps, "come out here and sense the spring. Everywhere you look they is some young thing a-peeping up or a-reaching out or a-running over or wobbling or bleating or calling. Looks like the whole world have done broke out in blooms and babies."

"I can't--I wish I could," came an answer in a low, beautiful voice with a queer, husky note. "It's all sticking to my hands, flour and everything, and I don't know what to do!"

"Dearie me, you've put in the milk a little too liberal! Wait until I sift on a mite more flour. Now rub it in light! See, it's all right, and most beautiful dough. Don't be discouraged, for riz biscuits is most the top test of cooking. Keep remembering back to those cup custards you made yesterday, what Tom Mayberry ate three of for supper and then tried to sneak one outen the milk-house to eat before he went to bed."

"Oh, did he?" asked Miss Wingate with delight shining in her dark eyes and a beautiful pink rising up in her pale cheeks. "I wish I COULD do something to please him and make him feel how--how-- grateful I am--for the hope he's given me. I was so hopeless and unhappy--and desperate when I came. But I believe my voice is coming back! Every day it's stronger and you are so good to me and make me so happy that I'm not afraid any more. You give me faith to hope--as well as to mix biscuits." And a pearly tear splashed on the rolling- pin.

"Yes, put your trust in the Heavenly Father, child, and some in Tom Mayberry. Before you know it you'll be singing like the birds out in the trees; but I can't let myself think about the time's a-coming for you to fly away to the other people's trees to sing. When Tom told me about Doctor Stein's wanting to send a great big singer lady, what had lost her voice, down here to see if he couldn't cure her like he did that preacher man and the politics speaker, I was skeered for both him and me, for I knew things was kinder simple with us here and I was afraid I couldn't make you happy and comfortable. But then I remembered Doctor Stein had stayed 'most two


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