A New Home: Who'll Follow
Life in the Clearings
A Walk through the Woods
The next day I was to spend in the society of my hostess; and I felt in no haste to quit my eyrie, although it was terribly close, but waited a call from one of the little maidens before I attempted my twilight toilet. When I descended the ladder, nobody was visible but the womankind.
After breakfast Mrs. Danforth mentioned that she was going about a mile into the woods to visit a neighbor whose son had been bitten by a Massisanga (I spell the word by ear) and was not expected to live.
I inquired of course—"Why, law! it's a rattlesnake; the Indians call them Massisangas and so folks calls 'em so too."
"Are they often seen here?"
"Why, no, not very; as far from the mash. I han't seen but two this spring, and them was here in the garden, and I killed "em both."
"You killed them!"
"Why, law, yes!—Betsey come in one night after tea and told me on "em, and we went out, and she held the candle while I killed them. But I tell you we had a real chase after them!"
My desire for a long walk through the woods, was somewhat cooled by this conversation; nevertheless upon the good dame's reiterated assurance that there was no danger, and that she would "as lief meet forty on 'em as not," I consented to accompany her, and our path through the dim forest was as enchanting as one of poor Shelley's gemmed and leafy dreams. The distance seemed nothing and I scarcely remembered the rattlesnakes.
We found the poor boy in not quite so sad a case as had been expected. A physician had arrived from ____, about fourteen miles off, and had brought with him a quantity of spirits of Hartshorn, with which the poisoned limb had now been constantly bathed for some hours, while frequent small doses of the same specific had been administered. This course had produced a change, and the pale and weary mother had begun to hope.
The boy had been fishing in the stream which was to make the fortune of Montacute, and in kneeling to search for bait, had roused the snake which bit him just before the knee. The entire limb was frightfully swollen and covered with large livid spots "exactly like the snake," as the woman stated with an air of mysterious meaning.
When I saw the body of the snake, which the father had found without difficulty, and killed very near the scene of the accident, so slow are these creatures generally—I found it difficult to trace the resemblance between its brilliant colors, and the purplish brown blotches on the poor boy's leg. But the superstition once received, imagination supplies all deficiencies. A firm belief in some inscrutable connexion between the spots on the snake and the spots on the wounded person is universal in this region, as I have since frequently heard.
During our walk homeward, sauntering as we did to prolong the enjoyment, my hostess gave me a little sketch of her own early history, and she interested me so strongly by her unaffected kindliness, and withal a certain dash of espieglerie, that I listened to the homely recital with a good deal of pleasure.
"I was always pretty lucky" she began—and as I looked at her benevolent countenance with its broad expansive brow and gentle eyes, I thought such people are apt to be "lucky" even in this world of disappointments.
"My mother didn't live to bring me up," she continued, "but a man by the name of Spangler that had no children took me and did for me as if I had been his own; sent me to school and all. His wife was a real mother to me. She was a weakly woman, hardly ever able to sit up all day. I don't believe she ever spun a hank of yarn in her life; but she was a proper nice woman, and Spangler loved her just as well as if she had been ever so smart."
Mrs. Danforth seemed to dwell on this point in her friend's character with peculiar respect—that he should love a wife who could not do her own work. I could not help telling her she reminded me of a man weeping for the loss of his partner—his neighbors trying to comfort him, by urging the usual topics; he cut them short, looking up at the same time with an inconsolable air—"Ah! but she was such a dreadful good creature to work!"
Mrs. Danforth said gravely, "Well, I suppose the poor feller had a family of children to do for;" and after a reflective pause continued—"Well, Miss Spangler had a little one after all, when I was quite a big girl, and you never see folks so pleased as they! Mr. Spangler seemed as if he could not find folks enough to be good to, that winter. He had the prayers of the poor, I tell ye. There wasn't a baby born anywheres in our neighborhood, that whole blessed winter, but what he found out whether the mother had what would make her comfortable, and sent whatever was wanted.
"He little thought that baby that he thought so much on was going to cost him so dear. His wife was never well again! She only lived through the summer and died when the frost came, just like the flowers; and he never held up his head afterwards. He had been a professor for a good many years, but he didn't seem then to have neither faith nor hope. He wouldn't hear reason from nobody. I always thought that was the reason the baby died. It only lived about a year. Well, I had the baby to bring up by hand, and so I was living there yet when Mr. Spangler took sick. He seemed always like a broken-hearted man, but still he took comfort with the baby, and bye and bye the little dear took the croup, and died all in a minute like. It began to be bad about tea and it was dead before sun-rise. Then I saw plain enough nothing could be done for the father. He wasted away just like an April snow, I took as good care on him as I could, and when it came towards the last he wouldn't have anybody else give him even so much as a cup of tea. He set his house in order if ever any man did. He settled up his business and gave receipts to many poor folks that owed him small debts, besides giving away a great many things, and paying all those that had helped take care of him. I think he knew what kind of a feller his nephew was, that was to have all when he was gone.
"Well, all this is neither here nor there. George Danforth and I had been keeping company then a good while, and Mr. Spangler knew we'd been only waiting till I could be spared, so he sent for George one day and told him that he had long intended to give me a small house and lot jist back of where he lived, but, seein things stood jist as they did, he advised George to buy a farm of his that was for sale on the edge of the village, and he would credit him for as much as the house and lot would have been worth, and he could pay the rest by his labor in the course of two or three years. Sure enough, he gave him a deed and took a mortgage, and it was so worded, that he could not be hurried to pay, and everybody said it was the greatest bargain that ever was. And Mr. Spangler gave me a nice settin out besides.—But if there isn't the boys comin in to dinner, and I bet there's nothin ready for 'em!" So saying, the good woman quickened her pace, and for the next hour her whole attention was absorbed by the "savory cates," fried pork and parsnips.
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