"Aunt 'Phroney's Boy"
By L. Frank Baum
Author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, John Dough and the Cherub, The Treasure of Karnak, and The Visitors from Oz, etc.
Originally published in St. Nicholas Magazine, December 1912, exactly one hundred years ago.
Oddities of spelling and the spacing of contractions have been retained.
Illustrations by George Avison
The boy realized he had made a mistake before he had driven the big touring car a half-mile along this dreadful lane. The map had shown the road Fennport clearly enough, but it was such a roundabout way that, when the boy came to this crossing, he decided to chance it, hoping it would get him to Fennport much quicker. The landscape was barren of interest, the farm-houses few and far between, and the cross-road seemed as promising as the main way. Meanwhile, at Fennport, the county fair was progressing, and there was no use wasting time on the road.
The promise faded after a short stretch; rust and ditches appeared; rotten culverts and sandy hollows threatened the safety of the car. The boy frowned, but doggedly kept going. He must be fully half-way to another road by this time, and, if he could manage to keep on without breaking a spring or ripping a tire, it would be as well to continue as to turn back.
Suddenly the engines began muttering and hesitated in doing their duty. The boy caught the warning sound, and instantly divined the reason; he had forgotten to replenish the gasolene before starting, and the tank was about empty. Casting a quick, inquiring glance around, he saw the roof of a farm-house showing through the trees just ahead. That was a joyful sight, for he had scarcely dared hope to find a building upon this unused, seemingly abandoned lane. He adjusted the carbureter, and urged the engines to feed upon the last drops of the precious fluid they could absorb. Slowly, with staggering gait, the automobile pushed forward until just opposite the farm-house, when, with a final moan, the engines gave up the struggle, and the car stopped dead.
Then the boy turned and looked at the lonely dwelling. It was a small, primitive sort of building, ancient and weather-stained. There was a simple garden at the front, which faced the grove and not the lane, and farther along, stood a rickety, rambling barn that was considerably larger than the house.
Upon a tiny side porch of the dwelling, directly facing the road, sat an old woman with a battered tin pan full of rosy-cheeked apples in her lap. She was holding a knife in one hand and a half-pared apple in the other. Her mouth was wide open in amazement, her spectacled eyes staring fixedly at the automobile--as if it had been a magical apparition and the boy a weird necromancer who had conjured it up.
He laughed a little at the amusing expression of the old woman, for he was a good-humored boy in spite of his present vexations. Then, springing to the ground, he walked toward the porch and removed his cap, to make a graceful bow. She did not alter her pose, and, with eyes still fixed upon the car, she gasped:
"Laws-a-me! if it ain't one o' them no-hoss keeridges."
"Nothing wonderful about that, is there?" asked the boy, smiling, as he reached the porch.
"Why not?" said she; "ain't they the mos' wunnerful things in all the world? Mart'n Luther's seen 'em in town, an' told me about 'em, but I never thought as I 'd see one with my own eyes."
Her awe and interest were so intense that, as yet, she had not glanced once at the boy's face. He laughed, in his quiet way, as he leaned over the porch rail, but it occurred to him that there was something pathetic in the fact that the lonely old woman had never seen an automobile before.
"Don't you ever go to town yourself?" he asked curiously.
She shook her head. "Not often, though sometimes I do," she replied. "Went to Fennport a year ago las' June, an' put in a whole day there. But it tired me, the waggin jolts so. I'm too old now fer sech doin's, an' Mart'n Luther 'lows it ain't wuth payin toll-gate both ways for. He has to go sometimes, you know, to sell truck an' buy groceries; he 's there to-day, 'tendin' the county fair; bit I 've stayed home an' minded my own business 'til I hain't got much hankerin' fer travel any more."
During this speech, she reluctantly withdrew her eyes from the automobile and turned them upon the boy's face. He was regarding her placid features with a wonder almost equal to her own. It seemed so strange to find one so isolated and secluded from the world, and so resigned to such a fate.
"No near neighbors?" he said.
"The Bascomes live two miles north, but Mis' Bascome an' I don't git on well. She ain't never had religion."
"But you go to church?"
"Certain sure, boy! But our church ain't town way, you know; it 's over to Hobbs' Corners. Ev'ry Sunday fer that las' year, I 've been lookin' out for them no-hoss waggins, thinkin' one might pass the Corners. But none ever did."
"This is a queer, forsaken corner of the world," the boy said reflectively. "and yet it 's in the heart of one of the most populous and progressive States in the Union."
"You 're right 'bout that," she agreed. "Silas Herrin 's bought the lates' style thrash'n'-machine--all painted red--an' I guess the county fair at Fennport makes the rest o' th world open its eyes some. We 're ahead of 'em all on progressin', as Mart'n Luther 's said more 'n once."
"Who is Martin Luther?" asked the boy.
"He 's my man. His name 's Mart'n Luther Sager, an' I 'm Aunt 'Phroney Sager--the which my baptism name is Sophroney. Mart'n Luther were named fer the great Meth'dis' preacher. He had a hankerin' to be a Baptis' in his young days, but he das n't with such a name. So he j'ined the Meth'dists to make things harmoni'us, an' he 's never regretted it."
The boy smiled in an amused way, but he did not laugh at her. There was something in her simple, homely speech, as well as in the expression of her face, that commanded respect. Her eyes were keen, yet gentle; her lips firm, yet smiling; her aged, wrinkled features complacent and confident, yet radiating a childlike innocence.
"Ain't ye 'fraid to run the thing?" she asked, reverting to the automobile.
"No, indeed. It 's as simple as a sewing-machine--when you know how."
"I 'd like to see it go. It come so sudden-like past the grove that when I looked up, you 'd stopped short."
"I 'd like to see it go myself, Aunt 'Phroney," the boy answered; "But it won't move a step unless you help it. Just think, Ma'am, you 've never seen a motor-car before, and yet the big machine can't move without your assistance! "
She knew he was joking, and returned his merry smile; but the speech puzzled her.
"As how, boy?" she inquired.
"The 'no-hoss keeridge' is a hungry monster, and has to be fed before he 'll work. I hope you will feed him, Aunt 'Phroney."
"Gasolene. I forgot to fill up the tank before I started, and now the last drop is gone."
"Gasolene!" she exclaimed, with a startled look; "why, we don't keep gasolene, child. How on earth do you expec' to find sech a thing in a farm-house?"
"Don't you cook with gasolene?" he asked.
"My, no! We use good chopped wood--splinters and knots. Mis' Bascome had a gas'lene stove once, but it bu'sted an' set fire to the baby; so they buried it in the back yard. "
"No, boy; the stove. They managed to put the baby out."
This statement puzzled him, but his mind was more on the gasolene.
"Does n't your husband use gasolene around the farm?" he inquired.
"And you have n't any naphtha or benzine--just a little?"
"Not a drop. "
The boy's face fell. "Where is the nearest place I might get some gasolene?" he asked.
"Lemme see. Harpers' might have it--that 's six mile' west--or Clark's store might have some, at Everdale. That 's seven mile' off, but I ain't sure they keep it. The only place they 're sure to have it is over to Fennport, which is 'leven mile' from here by the turnpike."
The boy considered all this seriously. "Can I borrow a horse from you--and a buggy?" he asked.
"Mart'n Luther 's gone to town with the only team we own. We ain't had a buggy fer twenty-two years.
He sighed, and sat down on the steps, looking disconsolately toward the big touring car that was now so helpless. Aunt 'Phroney resumed her task of paring the apples, but now and then she also would glance admiringly at the automobile.
"Come far?" she presently inquired.
"To-day? Why, Durham 's thirty mile' from here."
"I know; that 's only an hour's run, with good roads."
"But the roads are not good in this neighborhood. I wanted to run over to Fennport to see the fair. I thought there might be some fun there, and I 'd jog over this morning and run back home to-night. That would n't have been any trick at all, if I had n't forgotten the gasolene."
"Live in Durham?" she asked.
"Yes; Father has the bank there."
"Pretty big town, I 've heard."
"Why, it 's only a village. And a stupid, tiresome village at that. Lonely, too. That 's why Father got this touring car; he said it would help to amuse me. May I have an apple?"
Aunt 'Phroney smiled indulgently, and handed him an apple from the pan. The idea of one who lived in the thriving, busy town of Durham becoming lonely filled her with amusement. For her part, she had n't left the old farm-house, except to go to church, for nearly two years, and days at a time she never saw a human being other than her silent, morose husband. Yet she was not lonely--not really lonely--only at times did her isolation weigh upon her spirits.
"Got a mother, child?" she softly inquired.
He nodded, biting the apple.
"Mother 's an invalid. She does n't leave, her own rooms, and keeps two trained nurses and a special cook, and she studies social science--and such things."
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know; it 's only a name to Father and me. But Father has the bank to interest him, and as I 'm not ready for the bank yet, he lets me run the automobile."
Aunt 'Phroney gave him a pitying look.
"Guess I un'erstan' your hist'ry now," she said gently. "You need n't say no more 'bout it. Hev another apple?"
"I will, thank you. They 're fine. Grow 'em here?"
"Yes. Mart'n Luther 's entered a peck at the county fair, an' hopes to git the premium. It 's two dollars, in cash. He 's put up our Plymouth Rock rooster an' some pertaters fer prizes, too, an' seein' he 's entered 'em, it don't cost him anything to get into the fair grounds--only the ten cents fer toll-gate."
"Why did n't you go with him?" asked the boy.
Aunt 'Phroney flushed a little. "That some more hist'ry--the kind that 's better not studied," she remarked quietly. "Mart'n Luther took it from his pa, I guess. His pa once cried like a baby when he lost four cents through a whole in his pocket. After that, ev'ry penny was kep' strapped up in his leather pocket-book, which were never unstrapped without a groan. Yes, Mart'n Luther 's a' honest man. an' God-fearin'; but I guess he takes after his pa."
The boy finished his apple.
"Come out and see our touring car," he said. "I 'd like to show it to you, although I can't take you to ride in it."
"Thank you," she eagerly replied. ''I 'll come in a minute. Let me git this apple-sass started cookin' first."
She went into the kitchen with the apples, but soon came back, and with a brisk air followed the boy across the patch of rank grass to the road.
"I can't walk six miles or more, you know, " he remarked, "and lug a can of gasolene back with me; so I 'll have to wait until your husband comes back to-night with the team. You don't mind my staying with you, do you?"
"Of course not," she answered. "I like boys--boys like you, that is. We--we never had no children of our own."
He showed her all the parts of the automobile, and explained how they worked and what they were for, all in a simple way that enabled her readily to understand. She was in a flutter of excitement at her close proximity to the wonderful invention, and the luxury of the seats, and interior fittings filled her with awe. At first, he could not induce Aunt 'Phroney to enter the car and sit down upon the soft cushions, but, after much urging, she finally yielded, and was frankly delighted at the experience.
"It must 'a' cost a lot o' money," she observed.
"I guess your pa is pretty good to you. Like enough he did n't take after any one with a strapped pocket-book."
''No," laughed the boy; "Father is always kind to me. But I wish--I wish--"
"I wish we lived together on a farm like this, where we could enjoy each other. All day he 's at the bank, you know."
"If he worked the farm," said the woman, "you would n't see much of him then, either, 'cept at meal-time. Mart'n Luther gits up at daylight, works in the fields all day, an' goes to bed after supper. In heaven we may find time to enjoy the sassiety of our friends, but p'r'aps there 'll be so much company there, it won't matter."
"I think," said the boy, solemnly, "we need a good deal more here than we shall need in heaven. Does any one get what he needs, I wonder?"
"Some may, but not many," she rejoined cheerfully. "Some of us don't get even gasolene, you know. Funny, ain't it, how such a little thing can spoil a great big creation like this? Why, in some ways, it beats Silas Herrin's new thrash'n'-machine; but it ain't so useful, 'cause the thrash'n'-machine runs along the road without horses to where it wants to go, an' then its injynes do the thrashin' better 'n hands can do it."
"I 've never really examined one," he replied thoughtfully; "it must be very interesting."
"Come into the barn." she said, "an' I 'll show you Silas Herrin's new one. He brought it here yest'day, but he an' all his crew are at the fair to-day, an' they won't begin thrashin' our crop till nex' Monday."
He followed her to the barn, willing to while away the time examining the big thresher. It filled nearly all the clear space on the barn floor, and towered half as high as the haymow. With its bright red body and diverse mechanical parts, the machine certainly presented an imposing appearance. The boy examined it with much curiosity.
"There are two distinct engines," he said musingly; "one a motor, I suppose, and one to do the work. The big one runs by steam, but this smaller one seems a gasolene engine."
"Perhaps it is," said the woman; "I never had it explained to me like you did your own machine."
"If it is," he suddenly exclaimed, "there must be some gasolene among Mr. Herrin's traps to run it with! If I can only find it, I 'll borrow enough to get me to Fennport."
Eagerly, now, he began the search, the woman looking on with interest. In a short time, he drew out from the interior of the thresher a ten-gallon can, which proved to be filled with the fluid he sought.
"Hooray!" be cried joyfully. "We 'll have our ride, after all. Aunt 'Phroney."
"It--it ain't stealin', is it?" she asked doubtfully. "This all b'longs to Silas Herrin, you know."
"It 's a law of the road, ma'am, that any one needing gasolene has the right to help himself--if he pays for what he lakes. I 'll pay Silas Herrin a good price, and he 'll have plenty left to run his engine with."
He got a bucket, measured out about three gallons, and placed a silver dollar on top of the can for payment. Then, when he had "fed" his automobile, an operation watched carefully by the old woman, the boy turned and said:
"Aunt 'Phroney, I 've a proposition to make. Get on your things, and I 'll take you to the fair at Fennport and give you a good time."
"Land sakes, boy!" she cried, holding up both hands; "I could n't think of it."
"There 's the work to do."
"Cut it out for to-day. Martin Luther 's having a holiday, and I 'm sure you 're entitled to one, too."
"He--he might be mad."
"I don't see why. It won't cost him a cent, you know, and perhaps we won't see him at all. We 'll have a good dinner somewhere, see all the sights, have a fine auto ride, and I 'll fetch yon home in plenty of time to get supper for your husband."
The temptation was too strong to be resisted. Aunt 'Phroney's face broke into a beaming smile, and she hurried into the house to get on her "bes' bib an' tucker."
Her reappearance caused the boy's eyes to twinkle. She wore a plain, black gown, baggy and ill made, an old-fashioned "Peasley" shawl wrapped around her shoulders, and a wonderful hat that no milliner would have recognized as modern head-gear. But the boy did not mind. He helped her to the seat beside him, saw that she was comfortable, and started the engines slowly, so as not to alarm her.
The lane from the farm-house to the Fennport turnpike was in much better condition than the other end, which Aunt 'Phroney said was seldom used by any one. They traversed it with merely a few bumps, and on reaching the turnpike glided along so smoothly, that the old woman was in an ecstasy of delight.
"I almos' hope Mart'n Luther will see us,'' she remarked. "Would n't he be s'prised, though, to see me in this stylish no-hoss keeridge?"
"I think he would," said the boy.
"An' jealous, too. Mart'n Luther says I take life easier ner he does, 'though my work 's jus' as hard fer me as his is fer him. Only diffrence is, I don't complain."
"Is--is your husband a poor man?" the boy hazarded.
"Goodness, no! Mart'n Luther 's pretty well off, I 'm told. Not by him, mind you. He only tells me what he can't afford. But our minister once said he would n't be s'prised if Mart'n Luther had a thousan' dollars laid up! It 's a pretty good farm, an' he works it himself. An' he's so keerful o' spendin'."
"Does n't he give you money for--for clothes and--and things?"
"Oh, yes; he 's good 'bout that. We made an agreement, once, an' he 's stuck to it like a man. Ev'ry New-Year's, he gives me five dollars for dresses an' hats, an' ev'ry Fourth o' July I git fifty cents an' no questions asked."
The boy's eyes grew big at this.
"Does n't he spend anything on himself, either?" he inquired.
"A little, of course. He gits his clo's second-hand from the drug-store keeper, who 's about the same size as Mart'n Luther, but some fatter, an' he puts five cents in the contribution box ev'ry Sunday, an'--an'--well, there 's the toll-gate he has to pay for ev'ry time he goes to town. That toll-gate makes him orful mad. We 're comin' to it pretty soon. You don't mind, do you?"
"Not at all," he cried, laughing merrily.
"Mart'n Luther 's savin', an' no mistake." she continued musingly, "He would n't let me put him up no lunch to-day, 'cause he said Tom Dwyer would he sure to ask him to eat with him, an' if he did n't, he could easy get hold o' some fruit on exhibition. He said to save the food for his supper to-night, an' he 'd git along somehow."
"He ought to he worth several thousand dollars, at that rate." observed the boy, not without indignation. "But what good is his money to him, or to you, if he does n't enjoy it? You ought to have a better allowance than you do, for you 've certainly helped him to accumulate the money."
She heaved a little sigh.
"He says he can't afford any more," she replied, "an' I 'm satisfied, as things be. I used to long to buy pretty things an' go 'round, once in a while, but I 've got all over that now. I 'm happy, an' the Lord takes keer o' me. Did n't He send you here to-day with the--this--orto--orto--machine o' yours?"
"I wonder if He did?" returned the boy, gravely. "Oh, here 's the dreadful toll-gate, Aunt 'Phroney."
It was nearly eleven o'clock when they entered the big gate of the fair grounds. The automobile attracted considerable attention, although there were two or three others in Fennport. As the boy assisted Aunt 'Phroney from the car, she was recognized by several acquaintances who frequented her church, and it was good to witness the old woman's pride and satisfaction at the looks of bewilderment that greeted her. She took the boy's arm and passed through the crowd with her chin well up, and presently they were in the main pavilion, where the largest part of the display was centered.
"Let 's look at the fruits an' veg'tibles," she eagerly exclaimed. "I want to see if Mart'n Luther 's won any prizes. Do you know, boy, he promised me all the money he won that come to over four dollars?"
"Did he, really?"
"Yes, he were feelin' quite chirky this mornin', 'fore he left, so he promised it. But if he won first prize on ev'rything, it 'd be only five dollars altogether, so I guess he did n't risk much."
They found the fruits, but Martin Luther's red apples had no ribbon on them, either blue or red.
"They don't look as good here, 'longside the others, as they did to home," sighed Aunt 'Phroney; "so I guess the jedge was correc' in lett'n' 'em pass by. Let 's see how the pertaters turned out."
Martin Luther's potatoes had failed to win. They lay just between the lots which had drawn the first and second prizes, and even the boy's inexperienced eyes could see they were inferior to the others.
"They bake well," murmured Aunt 'Phroney, "an' they bile jus' fine; but they ain't so pretty as them others, thet 's a fact. I guess Mart'n Luther won't hev to give me any of his prize-money this year--'specially as he don't git any."
"Did n't you say you had a chicken in the show?" asked the boy.
"Yes, an' a mightv fine rooster he is, if I do say it. I 've looked after him myself, ever since he were an egg, an' he 's that high an' mighty, I named him 'The Bishop.' Seems to me he 'll be hard to beat, but p'r'aps when he 's compared to others, the Bishop 'll be like the apples an' 'taters."
"Where is he?"
"The poultry show 'll be in a tent somewheres."
"Let 's find him," said the boy, almost as interested as his companion.
They inquired the way, and, in passing through the grounds to the poultry tent, they passed a crowd surrounding one of those fakers so prominent at every country fair. Aunt 'Phroney wanted to see what was going on, so the boy drew her dexterously through the circle of spectators. As soon as they reached a place of observation, the old woman gave a violent start and grabbed her escort's arm. A lean, round-shouldered man with chin whiskers was tossing rings at a board filled with jack-knives of all sizes and shapes, in a vain endeavor to "ring" one of them. He failed, and the crowd jeered. Then he drew a leather wallet from his pocket, unstrapped it, and withdrew a coin with which he purchased more delusive rings. The boy felt Aunt 'Phroney trembling beside him.
"See that ol' feller yonder?" she asked.
"Yes," said he.
"That 's Mart'n Luther!"
They watched him with breathless interest, but not one of the rings he threw managed to capture a knife. Others tried them, undeterred by the failure of the old farmer, and, after watching them a short time, out came Martin Luther's leather pocket-book again.
"Come!" whispered the woman, in deep distress; "let 's go afore I faint dead away! Who 'd believe Mart'n Luther could be sech a spen'thrift an' prodigal? I did n't b'lieve 't was in him."
The boy said nothing, but led her out of the crowd. To solace his companion's grief, he "treated" Aunt 'Phroney to pink lemonade, which had the effect of decidedly cheering her up. They found the poultry tent almost deserted, and, after a brief search, the woman recognized the Bishop. A man down the row of cages was even now judging the fowls and attaching ribbons to the winning birds as he went along.
"He 'll come to the Plymouth Rocks in a minute," whispered Aunt 'Phroney; "let 's wait an' see what happens."
It did n't take the judge very long to decide. Quite promptly he pinned a blue ribbon to the Bishop's cage, and Aunt 'Phroney exclaimed: "There! we 've got a prize at last, boy!"
The judge looked up, saw the boy, and held out his hand with a smile of recognition.
"Why, how are you, Mr. Carroll?" he exclaimed cordially; "I thought I was the only Durham man on the grounds. Did you drive your new car over?"
The boy nodded.
"They sent for me to judge this poultry show," continued the man, "but it 's the poorest lot of alleged thoroughbreds I ever saw together. Not a really good bird in the show."
"That ought to make your task easier," said the boy.
"No, it makes it harder. For instance, there's the Sweepstakes Prize for the best bird of any sort on exhibition. Tell me, how am I to make such an award, where all are undeserving?"
"Very well, I 'll tell you," returned the boy, audaciously. "If I were judging, I 'd give this fellow"--pointing to the Bishop--"the Sweepstakes."
"Eh? This fellow?" muttered the judge, eyeing Aunt 'Phroney's pet critically. "Why, I don't know but you 're right, Mr. Carroll. I had it in mind to give the Sweepstakes to that White Leghorn yonder, but this Plymouth Rock seems well set up and has good style."
The Bishop had recognized his mistress, and was strutting proudly and showing to excellent advantage. While the judge considered him, he flapped his wings and gave a lusty crow.
"I 'll take back my statement," said the man. "Here is a really good bird. Guess I 'll follow your advice, Mr. Carroll"; and he pinned a bright yellow ribbon marked "Sweepstakes" next to the blue one on the Bishop's cage.
Aunt 'Phroney drew a long breath. Her eyes were sparkling.
"How much is the Sweepstakes, jedge?" she inquired.
"It 's the largest money prize offered--twenty-five dollars--and there 's a silver water-pitcher besides. I 'm sorry such a liberal premium did not bring out a better display. But I must hurry and make my report, for I want to catch the two o'clock train home. Good day, Mr. Carroll."
As he bowed and left the tent, Aunt 'Phroney was staring proudly at the Bishop.
"Twenty-five dollars!" she gasped, "an' two dollars first prize for Plymouth Rocks! Twenty-seven dollars an' a silver pitcher! Boy, do you know what this means? It means I 'll git twenty-three dollars--an' Mart'n Luther 'll git jus' four.
"Will he keep his promise?" the boy asked.
"Yes. Mart'n Luther 's a' honest man, an' God-fearin'--but he ain't got much jedgment 'bout ringin' jack-knives. Dear me, who 'd ever think he 'd turn out a squanderer?"
The boy took her away to the big dining-hall. It was divided into two sections by a rail. On one side was a sign reading: "Square Meal, 25c.'' On the other side was the legend: "Regular Dinner, with Oysters and Ice-Cream, 50c."
Disregarding his companion's protests, the boy led her into the latter section, which had few patrons compared with the cheaper one. No sooner had Aunt 'Phroney tucked her napkin under her chin than she grew pale and stared amazed across the rail. The boy's eyes followed hers and recognized Martin Luther seated at a table facing them, and eating with ravenous industry.
"Twenty-five cents gone--an' he might 'a' took the lunch I offered him!" wailed the old woman. Perhaps the magnetism of their combined gaze affected Martin Luther, for he raised his eyes and encountered his wife's horrified stare. The man was justified in being equally astonished. Motionless, with a piece of beef poised half-way to his mouth, he glared alternately at the strange boy and at Aunt 'Phroney. His face betokened bewilderment, shame at being discovered, and, at the last, an unreasoning panic. He slowly rose to his feet, turned his back, and ignominiously fled from the hall.
"Never mind," said the woman, her lips firmly set, "he 'll know he 's got somethin' to explain when he gits home; an' if Mart'n Luther ever hears the last o' them jack-knives an' his prodigal 'square meal,' my name ain't Sophroney Sager!"
After the dinner, with its accompanying luxuries of oysters and ice cream, was over, they saw the balloon ascension and the races; and then, early in the afternoon, the boy put Aunt 'Phroney into the touring car and they drove to Fennport, where the tank was filled with gasolene. During this operation, the boy noticed that the old woman shivered slightly in the cool autumn weather, and drew her thin shawl more closely around her as she sat waiting in the car.
"You ought to have brought a heavy coat," he said.
"Why, I have n't got any," she returned, smiling at him cheerfully.
"No coat! What do you wear in winter, when you go to church?" the boy asked.
"When it 's real cold, I wrap a comforter 'round me on the way, an' then wear this shawl into church. Aunt Sally left it to me when she died. It 's real Peasley."
"Get out of the car, Please, Aunt 'Phroney," the boy said quietly.
"Why cert'nly, if you say so; but what for?"
"I had a birthday last week, and Father gave me a check. I want to buy a present for my best girl at this store, and I wish you to help me pick it out."
She went in, then, full of interest, and the boy whispered to the clerk, who began to display a collection of thick, warm coats in sober colors.
"Try this one on, Aunt 'Phroney," urged the boy.
Suddenly she became suspicious, and flushed like a school-girl.
"Boy," she began, "if you dare--"
"Hush, please!" he pleaded. "Do you want to shame me before all these strangers? And spoil my birthday? And prove that I have n't any best girl?"
The appeal was effective. The old woman meekly submitted to the "try-on," and presently he said to the clerk: "This one will do. Mrs. Sager will take it with her and wear it home, as the air is a bit chilly."
Before she could recover from her dazed condition, they were once more in the automobile and speeding down the turnpike toward the farm.
"Feel warm enough, Aunt 'Phroney?" asked the boy, turning a merry face toward her. Then he saw that her eyes were full of tears. She nestled closer to him and murmured softly: "You know, boy, we--we never had a chick or a child of our own!"
That evening father and son were seated in the banker's library.
"I spent twenty dollars of my birthday money, to-day," said the boy.
"Indeed. In what way?"
"Trying to make an old country woman happy."
"Really, my son?"
"Really, Father; and I think--I 'm quite sure--that I succeeded."
And then he told him the whole story.
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, November 16 and 23, 1919.
Last Week's Puzzles
The Forgetful Poet is pleased to learn that you guessed the missing words in his verses to be mincemeat, Thanksgiving, head, bed, dishes and Thanksgiving!
The Forgetful Poet
So many of you guessed the dear fellow's missing words that he is simply amazed. He wants to know how you knew Thanksgiving was coming. "Dear knows," I said, and he snapped his fingers and said he guessed nose was right and that your dear noses had given the secret away.
"How many raisins in a fruit cake?" he asked me.
"What nonsense!" I said crossly. "Can't you make up a regular riddle?" He said no; that he felt too funny.
"Did your ancestors come over in the Mayflower?" he asked next. "That is a riddle." I saw he had something on his mind, so instead of answering said:
"No, on the Cauliflower!" he chuckled. That was too much, so I went out and closed the door. On my return I found a paper with these riddles scrawled upon it:
A nut that is a favorite
With boys and girls is found
In a letter of the alphabet,
And, after thought profound.
I've found a girl's name gives another!
Dairy products two
Will add two more and that makes four.
A certain part of you
Will give us five, and, word alive,
Part of a room one more!
Ha, ho, hum, and that's enough,
These riddles are a bore.
[Answers next time.]
Copyright © 2012 Eric Shanower and David Maxine. All rights reserved.
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