“Nancy!” said Mr. Moppet.
“Sir?” responded Nancy.
Mr. Moppet was coming in from the garden path. Nancy, with plump white arms bared to the elbow, was washing the breakfast dishes in a deep pan of hot soapsuds.
Mr. Moppet was a hard featured elderly man, with whitish blue eyes, a straggly fringe of white beard beneath his square chin, and a bald cranium. Nancy was fresh colored and bright eyed, with silky tendrils of auburn hair drooping over her freckled forehead, and a certain dimple perpetually playing at hide-and-seek on her left cheek. The two completely realized Shakespeare’s ideal of “Crabbed Age and Youth.”
“I’m a-goin’ to town,” said Mr Moppet. “You won’t need to bile no pot victuals for dinner. Waste makes want. A cup o’ tea and a biled egg and what’s left o’ yesterday’s pork and greens — that’ll be all you need.”
“Yes, father,” acquiesced Nancy. She was thinking of something else all the while.
“And, talkin’ ’bout eggs,” added Mr. Moppet, “you may take four dozen up to Peach Farm. Mrs. Wixon wants plenty on ’em to make cake for her niece’s party. Better go early this morning’.”
Nancy colored scarlet under the auburn rings of hair “Can’t I send ’em up by little Bill Becker, father?” said she “Webster Wixon will be there, and — and I don t like Webster Wixon, with his red nose and his compliments.” Mr. Moppet frowned.
“Nancy,” said he, “don’t be a fool. I can see through ye, like ye was a pane o’ glass. Webster Wixon’s a well-to-do man, with money out at interest, and you’d oughter be tickled to death that he’s took a notion to you.”
“Not another word,” grumbled Mr Moppet. “I know jest exactly what’s comin’. It’s that foolish nonsense about Absalom Parker, that I hoped you’d got over long ago. Absalom hain’t no properly, and ain’t like to have none, and no daughter o’ mine ain’t goin’ to marry your Grandfather Atkins’s hired man, not if I know it.”
He paused with this multiplicity of double negatives. Nancy set her small, pearl-white teeth together, her eyes flashed with hazel fire. It was a clear ease of true love versus money.
“Take them eggs straight up to Peach Farm, ” reiterated Mr. Moppet, shaking his forefinger at Nancy, “an’ don’t argufy the p’nt no further. I’m your father, and I know what’s best for you!”
“But you’re going right past the Wixons’ door.”
“No, I ain’t, neither I’m goin’ the Horn Hill Road. I’ve been app’inted by the Supply Committee to buy an air-tight wood stove for the church,” he added with some complacency. “The old one’s rusted clear out, so there’s danger o’ fire every time its used, and the brethren have subscribed twenty dollars for a new one—leastways, a second-hand one, if its jest as good.”
* * *
Webster Wixon, a fat, middle-aged bachelor, was out helping to gather the October apples on the north side of the house when Nancy came up. He made haste to welcome her.
“Good mornin’, Miss Nancy,” said he. “As bloomin’ as ever, I see.”
“Here’s your eggs,” spoke Nancy, curtly.
“Set down a spell, won’t ye?” simpered Mr. Wixon.
“I’m in a hurry,” said Nancy.
“My name’s Miss Moppet, sir!”
“I’ve got something very particular to say to you, Nancy,” urged the middle aged suitor.
“It’ll have to keep,” said Nancy. “I’ve got to get right home.”
“Can’t I walk with you a piece?”
“I’d rather go alone,” she persisted.
“Nancy—Miss Moppet—I must speak!” blurted out the old bachelor. “I love you better’n all the world! I want to make you Mrs. Webster Wixon! There that s what I had on my mind! And your good father, he says it would suit him exactly, and__”
Nancy wheleed around and faced her eager swain.
“Is it me or father, you’re a-courting?” said she.
“Why you, of course!”
“Then take my answer—No!”
And without waiting for the return of her basket, she hurried away, her cheeks blazing, her breath coming quick and fast.
“Father’ll be awful mad,” she thought, “but I’d sooner die than marry that man!”
Webster Wixon stood a minute gazing after her in crestfallen silence; then he went back to apple harvesting with an ominous compression of his lips.
“The madder she gets the prettier she looks,” thought he. “Well, well, time will show. Brother Moppet says she shall be my wife, and that ought to count for consid’able.
Mr. Moppet drove leisurely on to Horn Hill, drove an excellent bargain for a highly ornamental wood-stove, after having successively interviewed every hardware dealer in town, and set forth to return with it in his wagon just at dusk.
“It’s a warm day for the time o’ year,” said he, “and it’s easier traveling for the horse arter dark. It ain’t a bad day’s work, come to think on’t. I beat Brother Piper down pretty well on the price, and it’s worth a dollar’n half to cart the thing home over these bumpy roads. They ‘lowed twenty dollars for it, and I got it for fifteen. Takin’ my time and wheel wear and horseflesh into consideration, I guess I won’t say nothin’ about the odd five dollars. Business is business. It’s a proper pretty pattern too — thistle leaves and acorns. I’d like one the same fashion in my best room, and” — with a long whistle — “why shouldn’t I have it? There’s that second handed stove Gran’ther Atkins took for a debt from Solon Grubb. It’s jest standin’ rustin’ away in his back wood shed. I’ll fetch it home to morrow and black it up, and let Elder Meachan suppose I got a bargain from somebody, and I’ll have the nice new stove for myself, and nobody’ll be none the wiser, now that Gran’ther Atkins is confined to his bed with creepin’ paralysis and Absalom Parker’s up in the wood lots, choppin’ down trees for winter firewood. It’s a good idee. I’m glad I happened to think of it!”
He drew rein opposite the Atkins house. All was dark and quiet there save the one red light that burned in old Mr Atkins’s bed room.
At that identical moment, had he but known it, Absalom Parker — the old man’s general factotum— was hanging over the garden gate of his own place, talking to pretty Nancy among the purple dahlias and quilled asters.
And it was no difficult task for a man of John Moppet’s physical strength skillfully to lift the old stove out of its place in the outer shed into his wagon.
“Git up, Prince,” he muttered to his horse, shaking the reins, and away they went.
Elder Meachan was not quite satisfied with the bargain. The chruch brethren, too, would have preferred a new stove, considering the money they had spent; but Brother Moppet was a man in authority, and they were compelled to acquiesce in his choice.
Nancy was delighted with the new acquisition for the best room.
“Oh, isn’t it pretty!” said she.
“Yes,” nodded Mr. Moppet, rubbing his hands, “It’ll sort o’ dress up the room for your weddin’.”
“Jest so. I’ve arranged matters with Webster Wixon, and__”
Nancy burst into tears, and ran out of the room.
Mr. Moppet glared balefully after her.
“She shall marry him,” muttered he, “or she shall be no darter o’ mine! I won’t be set at defiance by__ Why, hello, Absalom Parker, what brings you here?”
“Mr. Atkins is took wuss this afternoon,” said Absalom, standing at the doorway, like a rustic Apollo. “Wants to see ye—right off!”
It was a Saturday afternoon. As Mr. Moppet drove by the church door, he saw the load of wood being delivered for the first fire of the season.
“Jest in time!” said he to himself. “There’s a frosty feel in the air.”
Grandfather Atkin lay among his pillows, like a wrinkled ghost.
“John,” said he, “all I’ve got in the world is yours; but I think I’d ought to tell you where I’ve hid it, sence the bank robbery give me such a scare.”
“Certainly, certainly!” said his son-in-law, with eager eyes, like those of a bird of prey.
“I’ve hid it away—“
John Moppet placed his ear close to the pallid lips.
“Six five-hundred-dollars bills—“
“Yes, yes—go on!”
“Folded up in an old number of the Horn Hill Gazette—”
“An old number of the Horn Hill Gazette—I understand!” repeated Moppet.
“In the old stove out in the shed!” gasped the old man. “I knowed nobody wouldn’t be likely to look there! It’s your’s John Moppet—every cent of it. And mind you, don’t spend it in no extravagance!”
So speaking the old miser closed his dim eyes and went where there is neither money nor counting of money.
John Moppet uttered an exceeding bitter cry as he remembered the lighted match he had put to the crumpled papers in the stove, to make sure of a draught when it was put up in the northwest corner of the church — the roar of the blaze through the lengths of Russian pipe. In his excellent management he had contrived to overreach himself.
He went home and sat all the evening in a sort of stupor, with his head in his hands.
Nancy, busied about her household tasks, watched him with hazel eyes of surprise.
“I didn’t know he thought so much of Gran’ther Atkins,” pondered she.
“Six times five is thirty—six time five is thirty,” mused Mr. Moppet, rocking to and fro. “Six five-hundred-dollar bills! Three—thousand—dollars—and all gone up chimbly in one breath o’ wind, and me as done it! I shall go crazy. I shall lose my mind. Three—thou—sand—dollars! It’s a judgment on me. I’ve been a mis’able sinner, and cheated the church. I’ve tampered with my own conscience. Six times five is thirty! Six five-hundred-dollar bills! Oh, Lord, there ain’t no calculatin’ what a mis’able sinner I’ve been!”
As the old kitchen clock struck nine, Absalom Parker came in, bringing with him a gust of fresh, frosty air.
“Evenin’, Squire,” said he. “I’m sort o’ looking up the watchers. ‘Spose you’d like to be one of ‘em? But I’d like to speak a word to you first.”
“If it’s about Nancy, it ain’t no use,” said Mr. Moppet, rousing himself to the affairs of the world with some petulance.
“It ain’t about Nancy,” Absalom answered, with a smile. “It’s about Mr. Atkins’s money.”
Mr. Moppet gave a start.
“Oh, you needn’t jump so,” reassured Absalom. “It’s all safe.”
He took a flat parcel out of his pocket.
“Count ‘em,” said he. “Six, ain’t there?”
Mr. Moppet started at Absalom Parker as Aladdin might have started at the Genii.
“How –where —“ he stammered.
Absalom gave a low chuckle.
“Hush!” said he. “Don’t speak loud. I seen the old man hide ‘em there, like a human magpie as he was. I knowed it wasn’t safe, so I quietly took ‘em out, arter he’d had that last stroke, and locked ‘em in his black leather trunk up in the garret. And you may thank me that they wasn’t all burned up in the first fire you lighted in that identical stove!”
Mr. Moppet turned a purplish red.
“You know about that stove?” said he, with a gasp.
“It wasn’t likely no such conjuring could go on about Mr. Atkins’s place, and me not know it,” said Parker, drily. “The stove wasn’t of no great consequence, though, except for old iron. I guess the church folks’ll get sick of it before a great while.”
Mr. Moppet drew a long breath.
“When they do,” said he, “I’ll make ‘em a present of a brand new one. And, Absalom–”
“Yes, Mr Moppet?”
“You won’t say nothin’ to nobody'”
“No,” said Absalom, “I ain’t one o’ the talkin’ sort.”
“And, Absalom — ”
“Yes, Mr Moppet?”
“Since you and Nancy really are attached to each other–”
“We are just that, Mr Moppet.”
“I don’t see no objection to your gettin’ married this fall,” said Moppet, with an effort. “You may tell Nancy that she has my consent!”
Nancy cried a shower of happy tears when Absalom told her the good news.
But he never imparted to her the story of the stove. As he himself had remarked, “he was not one of the talkin’ sort.”
The Newton [AL] Messenger 10 May 1890: p. 1
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending. This is a much nicer outcome than the all-too-common stories of forgetful gentlemen who stored their dynamite in the stove with depressingly predictable results.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.