Ethelyn's Mistake (Chapter 6, page 1 of 6)


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Chapter 6

They were very peculiar, and no one knew this better than Mrs. Jones and
her daughter Melinda, sister and mother to the deceased Abigail and the
redoubtable Tim. Naturally bright and quick-witted, Melinda caught
readily at any new improvement, and the consequence was that the Jones
house bore unmistakable signs of having in it a grown-up daughter whose
new ideas of things kept the old ideas from rusting. After Melinda came
home from boarding-school the Joneses did not set the table in the
kitchen close to the hissing cook stove, but in the pleasant dining
room, where there gradually came to be crocheted tidies on the backs of
the rocking-chairs, and crayon sketches on the wall, and a pot of
geraniums in the window, with a canary bird singing in his cage near by.
At first, Mrs. Markham, who felt a greater interest in the Joneses than
in any other family--Mrs. Jones being the only woman in the circle of
her acquaintance to whom she would lend her copper boiler--looked a
little askance at these "new-fangled notions," wondering how "Miss Jones
expected to keep the flies out of her house if she had all the doors
a-flyin' three times a day," and fearing lest Melinda was getting
"stuck-up notions in her head, which would make her fit for nothing."

But when she found there were no more flies buzzing in Farmer Jones'
kitchen than in her own, and that Melinda worked as much as ever, and
was just as willing to lend a helping hand when there was need of haste
at the Markham house, her anxiety subsided, and the Joneses were welcome
to eat wherever they chose, or even to have to wait upon the table, when
there was company, the little black boy Pete, whom Tim had bought at a
slave auction in New Orleans, whither he had gone on a flatboat
expedition two or three years before. But she never thought of
introducing any of Melinda's notions into her own household. She "could
not fuss" to keep so many rooms clean. If in winter time she kept a fire
in the front room, where in one corner her own bed was curtained off,
and if in summer she always sat there when her work was done, it was all
that could be required of her, and was just as they used to do at her
father's, in Vermont, thirty years ago. Her kitchen was larger than Mrs.
Jones', which was rather uncomfortable on a hot day when there was
washing to be done; the odor of the soap-suds was a little sickening
then, she admitted, but in her kitchen it was different; she had had an
eye to comfort when they were building, and had seen that the kitchen
was the largest, airiest, lightest room in the house, with four windows,
two outside doors, and a fireplace, where, although they had a stove,
she dearly loved to cook just as her mother had done in Vermont, and
where hung an old-fashioned crane, with iron hooks suspended from it.
Here she washed, and ironed, and ate, and performed her ablutions in the
bright tin basin which stood in the sink near to the pail, with the
gourd swinging in the top, and wiped her face on the rolling towel and
combed her hair before the clock, which served the double purpose of
looking-glass and timepiece. When company came--and Mrs. Markham was not
inhospitable--the east room, where the bed stood, was opened; and if the
company, as was sometimes the case, chanced to be Richard's friends, she
used the west room across the hall, where the chocolate-colored paper
and Daisy's picture hung, and where, upon the high mantel, there was a
plaster image of little Samuel, and two plaster vases filled with
colored fruit. The carpet was a very pretty Brussels, but it did not
quite cover the floor on either side. It was a small pattern, and on
this account had been offered a shilling cheaper a yard, and so the
economical Mrs. Markham had bought it, intending to eke out the
deficiency with drugget of a corresponding shade; but the merchant did
not bring the drugget, and the carpet was put down, and time went on,
and the strips of painted board were still uncovered, save by the
straight row of haircloth chairs, which stood upon one side, and the
old-fashioned sofa, which had cost fifty dollars, and ought to last at
least as many years. There was a Boston rocker, and a center table, with
the family Bible on it, and a volume of Scott's Commentaries, and
frosted candlesticks on the mantel and two sperm candles in them, with
colored paper, pink and green, all fancifully notched and put around
them, and a bureau in the corner, which held the boys' Sunday shirts and
Mrs. Markham's black silk dress, with Daisy's clothes in the bottom
drawer, and the silver plate taken from her coffin. There was a
gilt-framed looking-glass on the wall, and blue paper curtains at the
windows, which were further ornamented with muslin drapery. This was the
great room--the parlor--where Daisy had died, and which, on that
account, was a kind of sacred place to those who held the memory of that
sweet, little prairie blossom as the dearest memory of their lives. Had
she lived, with her naturally refined tastes, and her nicety of
perceptions, there was no guessing what that farmhouse might have been,
for a young girl makes a deal of difference in any family. But she died,
and so the house, which when she died, was not quite finished, remained
much as it was--a large, square building, minus blinds, with a wide
hall in the center opening in front upon a broad piazza, and opening
back upon a stoop, the side entrance to the kitchen. There was a picket
fence in front; but the yard was bare of ornament, if we except the
lilac bushes under the parlor windows, the red peony in the corner, and
the clumps of violets and daisies, which grew in what was intended for
borders to the walk, from the front gate to the door. Sometimes the
summer showed here a growth of marigolds, with sweet peas and china
asters, for Andy was fond of flowers, and when he had leisure he did a
little floral gardening; but this year, owing to Richard's absence,
there had been more to do on the farm, consequently the ornamental had
been neglected, and the late autumn flowers which, in honor of Ethelyn's
arrival, were standing in vases on the center table and the mantel, were
contributed by Melinda Jones, who had been very busy in other portions
of the house working for the bride.

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