Mrs Ripley's Trip





"And in winter the winds sweep the snows across it."



Thn night was in windy November, and the blast, threatening rain,

roared around the poor little shanty of "Uncle Ripley," set like a

chicken trap on the vast Iowa prairie. Uncle Ethan was mending

his old violin, with many York State "dums!" and "I gal darns!"

totally oblivious of his tireless old wife, who, having "finished

the supper dishes," sat knitting a stocking, evidently for the little

grandson who lay before the stove like a cat. Neither of the old

people wore glasses, and their light was a tallow candle; they

couldn't afford "none o' them newfangled lamps." The room was

small, the chairs wooden, and the walls bare-a home where

poverty was a never-absent guest. The old lady looked pathetically

little, wizened, and hopeless in her ill-fitting garments (whose

original color had long since vanished), intent as she was on the

stocking in her knotted, stiffened fingers, but there was a peculiar

sparkle in her little black eyes, and an unusual resolution in the

straight line of her withered and shapeless lips. Suddenly she

paused, stuck a needle in the spare knob of hair at the back of her

head, and looking at Ripley, said decisively: "Ethan Ripley, you'll

haff to do your own cooking from now on to New Year's; I'm goin'

back to Yaark State."



The old man's leather-brown face stiffened into a look of quizzical

surprise for a moment; then he cackled in-credulously: "Ho! Ho!

har! Sho! be y', now? I want to know if y' be."



"Well, you'll find out."



"Goin' to start tomorrow, Mother?"



"No, sir, I ain't; but I am on Thursday. I want to get to Sally's by

Sunday, sure, an' to Silas's on Thanksgivin'."



There was a note in the old woman's voice that brought genuine

stupefaction into the face of Uncle Ripley. Of course, in this case,

as in all others, the money consideration was uppermost.



"Howgy 'xpect to get the money, Mother? Anybody died an' left

yeh a pile?"



"Never you mind where I get the mony so 's 't tiy don't haff to

bear it. The land knows, if I'd a-waited for you to pay my way-"



"You needn't twit me of bein' poor, old woman," said Ripley,

flaming up after the manner of many old people. "I've done my

part t' get along. I've worked day in and day out-"



"Oh! I ain't done no work, have I?" snapped she, laying down the

stocking and leveling a needle at him, and putting a frightful

emphasis on "I."



"I didn't say you hadn't done no work."



"Yes, you did!"



"I didn't, neither. I said



"I know what you said."



"I said I'd done my part!" roared the husband, dominating her as

usual by superior lung power. "I didn't say you hadn't done your

part," he added with an unfortunate touch of emphasis on "say."



"I know y' didn't say it, but y' meant it. I don't know what y' call

doin' my part, Ethan Ripley; but if cookin' for a drove of harvest

hands and thrashin' hands, takin' care o' the eggs and butter, 'n'

diggin' taters an' milkin' ain't my part, I don't never expect to do my

part, 'n' you might as well know it fust 's last. I'm sixty years old,"

she went on with a little break in her harsh voice, dominating him

now by woman's logic, "an' I've never had a day to my-self, not

even Fourth o' July. If I've went a-visitin' 'r to a picnic, I've had to

come home an' milk 'n' get supper for you menfolks. I ain't been

away t' stay overnight for thirteen years in this house, 'n' it was just

so in Davis County for ten more. For twenty-three years, Ethan

Ripley, I've stuck right to the stove an' churn without a day or a

night off." Her voice choked again, but she rarned and continued

impressively, "And now I'm a-goin' back to Yaark State."



Ethan was vanquished. He stared at her in speechless surprise, his

jaw hanging. It was incredible.



"For twenty-three years," she went on musingly, "I've just about

promised myself every year I'd go back an' see my folks." She was

distinctly talking to herself now, and her voice had a touching,

wistful cadence. "I've wanted to go back an' see the old folks, an'

the hills where we played, an' eat apples off the old tree down by

the old well. I've had them trees an' hills in my mind days and

days-nights, too-an' the girls I used to know, an' my own folks-"



She fell into a silent muse, which lasted so long that the ticking of

the clock grew loud as the gong in the man's ears, and the wind

outside seemed to sound drearier than usual. He returned to the

money problem, kindly, though.



"But how y' goin' t' raise the money? I ain't got no extra cash this

time. Agin Roach is paid an' the mortgage interest paid we ain't got

no hundred dollars to spare, Jane, not by a jugful."



"Waal, don't you lay awake nights studyin' on where I'm a-goin' to

get the money," said the old woman, taking delight in mystifying

him. She had him now, and he couldn't escape. He strove to show

his indifference, however, by playing a tune or two on the violin.



"Come, Tukey, you better climb the wooden hill," Mrs. Ripley

said a half hour later to the little chap on the floor, who was

beginning to get drowsy under the influence of his grandpa's

fiddling. "Pa, you had orta 'a put that string in the clock today-on

the 'larm side the string is broke," she said upon returning from the

boy's bedroom. "I orta get up extry early tomorrow to get some

sewin' done. Land knows, I can't fix up much, but they is a leetle I

c'n do. I want to look decent."



They were alone now, and they both sat expectantly. "You 'pear to

think, Mother, that I'm agin yer goin'." "Waal, it would kinder

seem as if y' hadn't hustled yerself any t' help me git off."



He was smarting under the sense of being wronged. "Waal, I'm jest

as willin' you should go as I am for myself; but if I ain't got no

money, I don't see how I'm goin' to send-"



"I don't want ye to send; nobody ast ye to, Ethan Ripley. I guess if I

had what I've earnt since we came on this farm, I'd have enough to

go to Jericho with."



"You've got as much out of it as I have. You talk about your gom'

back. Ain't I been wantin' to go back myself? And ain't I kep' still

'cause I see it wa'n't no use? I guess I've worked jest as long and as

hard as you, an' in storms an' mud an' heat, ef it comes t' that."



The woman was staggered, but she wouldn't give up; she must get

m one more thrust.



"Waal, if you'd 'a managed as well as I have, you'd have some

money to go with." And she rose, and went to mix her bread, and

set it "raisin'." He sat by the fire twanging his fiddle softly. He was

plainly thrown into gloomy retrospectlon, something quite unusual

for him. But his fingers picking out the bars of a familiar tune set

him to smiling, and, whipping his bow across the strings, he forgot

all about his wife's resolutions and his own hardships. Trouble

always slid off his back like "punkins off a haystack" anyway.



The old man still sat fiddling softly after his wife disappeared in

the hot and stuffy little bedroom off the kitchen. His shaggy head

bent lower over his violin. He heard her shoes drop-one, two.

Pretty soon she called:



"Come, put up that squeakin' old fiddle and go to bed. Seems as if

you orta have sense enough not to set there keepin' everybody in

the house awake."



"You hush up," retorted he. "I'll come when I git ready, not till. I'll

be glad when you're gone-"



"Yes, I warrant that."



With which arniable good nlght they went off to sleep, or at least

she did, while he lay awake, pondering on "where under the sun

she was goin' t' raise that money."



The next day she was up bright and early, working away on her

own affairs, ignoring Ripley totally, the fixed look of resolutlon

still on her little old wrinkled face. She killed a hen and dressed

and baked it She fried up a pan of doughnuts and made a cake. She

was engaged on the doughnuts when a neighbor came in, one of

those women who take it as a personal affront when anyone in the

neighborhood does anything without asking their advice. She was

fat, and could talk a man blind in three minutes by the watch.



"What's this I hear, Mis' Ripley?"



"I dun know. I expect you hear about all they is goin' on in this

neighborhood," replied Mrs. Ripley with crushing bluntness; but

the gossip did not flinch.



"Well, Sett Turner told me that her husband told her that Ripley

told him that you was goin' back East on a visit."



"Waal, what of it?"



"Well, air yeh?"



"The Lord willin' an' the weather permitin', I expect to be."



"Good land, I want to know! Well, well! I never was so astonished

in my life. I said, says I, 'It can't be.' 'Well,' ses 'e, 'tha's what she

told me,' ses 'e. 'But,' ses I, 'she is the last woman in the world to go

gallivantin' off East,' ses I. An' ses he, 'But it comes from good

authority,' ses he. 'Well, then, it must be so,' ses I. But, land sakes!

do tell me all about it. How come you to make up y'r mind? Ail

these years you've been kind a-talkin' it over, an' now y'r actshelly

goin'-Waal, I never! 'I s'pose Ripley furnishes the money,' ses I to

him. 'Well, no,' ses 'e. 'Ripley says he'll be blowed if he sees where

the money's comin' from,' ses 'e; and ses I, 'But maybe she's jest

jokin',' ses I. 'Not much,' he says. S' 'e: 'Ripley believes she's goin'

fast enough. He's jest as anxious to find out as we be-'"



Here Mrs. Doudney paused for breath; she had walked so fast and

had rested so little that her interminable flow of "ses I's" and "ses

he's" ceased necessarily. She had reached, moreover, the point of

most vital interest-the money.



"An' you'll find out jest 'bout as soon as he does," was the dry

response from the figure hovering over the stove, and with all her

maneuvering that was all she got.



All day Ripley went about his work exceedingly thoughtful for

him. It was cold, blustering weather. The wind rustled among the

cornstalks with a wild and mournful sound, the geese and ducks

went sprawling down the wind, and horses' coats were ruffled and

backs raised.



The old man was husking corn alone in the field, his spare form

rigged out in two or three ragged coats, his hands inserted in a pair

of gloves minus nearly all the fingers, his thumbs done up in

"stalls," and his feet thrust into huge coarse boots. During the

middle of the day the frozen ground thawed, and the mud stuck to

his boots, and the "down ears" wet and chapped his hands, already

worn to the quick. Toward night it grew colder and threatened

snow. In spite of all these attacks he kept his cheerfulness, and

though he was very tired, he was softened in temper.



Having plenty of time to think matters over, he had come to the

conclusion "that the old woman needed a play spell. I ain't likely to

be no richer next year than I am this one; if I wait till I'm able to

send her she won't never go. I calc'late I c'n git enough out o' them

shoats to send her. I'd kind a 'lotted on eat'n' them pigs done up mto

sassengers, but if the ol' woman goes East, Tukey an' me'll kind a

haff to pull through without 'em. We'll. have a turkey f'r

Thanksgivin', an' a chicken once 'n a while. Lord! But we'll miss

the gravy on the flapjacks. Amen!" (He smacked his lips over the

thought of the lost dainty.) "But let 'er rip! We can stand it. Then

there is my buffalo overcoat. I'd kind a calc'lated on havin' a

buffalo-but that's gone up the spout along with them sassengers."



These heroic sacrifices having been determined upon, he put them

into effect at once.



This he was able to do, for his corn rows ran alongside the road

leading to Cedarville, and his neighbors were passing almost all

hours of the day.



It would have softened Jane Ripley's heart could she have seen his

bent and stiffened form amid the corn rows, the cold wind piercing

to the bone through his threadbare and insufficient clothing. The

rising wind sent the snow rattling among the moaning stalks at

intervals. The cold made his poor dim eyes water, and he had to

stop now and then to swing his arms about his chest to warm them.

His voice was hoarse with shouting at the shivering team.



That night, as Mrs. Ripley was clearing the dishes away, she got to

thinking about the departure of the next day, and she began to

soften. She gave way to a few tears when little Tewksbury

Gilchrist, her grandson, came up and stood beside her.



"Gran'ma, you ain't goin' to stay away always, are yeh?"



"Why, course not, Tukey. What made y' think that?"



"Well, y' ain't told us nawfliln' 'tall about it. An' yeb kind o' look 'sif

yeh was mad."



"Well, Lain't mad; I'm jest a-thinkin', Tukey. Y'see, I come away

from them hills when I was a little glrl a'most; before I married y'r

grandad. And I ain't never been back. 'Most all my folks is there,

souny, an' we've been s' poor all these years I couldn't seem t' never

get started. Now, when I'm 'most ready t' go, I feel kind a queer-'sif

I'd cry."



And cry she did, while little Tewksbury stood patting her



trembling hands. Hearing Ripley's step on the porch, she rose

hastily and, drying her eyes, plunged at the work again. Ripley

came in with a big armful of wood, which he rolled into the

woodbox with a thundering crash. Then he pulled off his mittens,

slapped them together to knock off the ice and snow, and laid

them side by side under the stove. He then removed cap, coat,

blouse, and boots, which last he laid upon the woodbox, the soles

turned toward the stovepipe.



As he sat down without speaking, he opened the front doors of the

stove and held the palms of his stiffened hands to the blaze. The

light brought out a thoughtful look on his large, uncouth, yet

kindly visage. Life had laid hard lines on his brown skin, but it had

not entirely soured a naturally kind and simple nature. It had made

him penurious and dull and iron-muscled; had stifled all the

slender flowers of his nature; yet there was warm soil somewhere

hid in his heart.



"It's snowin' like all p'sessed," he remarked finally. "I guess we'll

have a sleigh ride tomorrow. I calc'late t' drive y' daown in

scrumptious style. If yeh must leave, why, we'll give yeh a

whoopin' old send-off-won't we, Tukey?



"I've ben a4hinkin' things over kind o' t'day, Mother, an' I've come t'

the conclusion that we have been kind a hard on yeh, without

knowin' it, y' see. Y' see, I'm kind a easygoin, 'an' little Tuke he's

only a child, an' we ain't c'nsidered how you felt."



She didn't appear to be listening, but she was, and he didn't appear,

on his part, to be talking to her, and he kept his voice as hard and

dry as he could.



"An' I was tellin' Tukey t'day that it was a dum shame our crops

hadn't, turned out better. An' when I saw ol' Hatfield go by, I hailed

him an' asked him what he'd gimme for two o' m' shoats. Waal, the

upshot is, I sent t' town for some things I calc'lated ye'd heed. An'

here's a tlcket to Georgetown, and ten dollars. Why, Ma, what's

up?"



Mrs. Ripley broke down, and with her hands all wet with

dishwater, as they were, covered her face and sobbed. She felt like

kissing him, but she didn't. Tewksbury began to whimper, too; but

the old man was astonished. His wife had not wept for years

(before him). He rose and walked clumsily up to her and timidly

touching her hair-



"Why, Mother! What's the matter? What 'v' I done now? I was

calc'latln' to sell them pigs anyway. Hatfield jest advanced the

money on' em."



She hopped up and dashed into the bedroom,and in a few minutes

returned with a yarn mitten, tied around the wrist, which she laid

on the table with a thump, saying:



"I don't want yer money. There's money enough to take me where I

want to go."



"Whee-w! Thunder and jimson root! Wher'd ye git that? Didn't dig

it out of a hole?"



"No. I jest saved it-a dime at a time-see?"



Here she turned it out on the table-some bills, but mostly silver

dimes and quarters.



"Thunder and scissors! Must be two er three hundred dollars

there," stared he.



"They's jest seventy-five dollars and thirty cents; jest about enough

to go back on. Tickets is fifty-five dollars, goin' an' comin'. That

leaves twenty dollars for other expenses, not countin' what I've

already spent, which is six-fifty," said she, recovering her

self-possession. "It's plenty."



"But y' ain't calc'lated on no sleepers nor hotel bills."



"I ain't goin' on no sleeper. Mis' Doudney says it's jest scandalous

the way things is managed on them cars. I'm goin' on the

old-fashioned cars, where they ain't no half-dressed men runain'

around."



"But you needn't be afraid of them, Mother; at your age-"



"There! you needn't throw my age an' homeliness into my face,

Ethan Ripley. If I hadn't waited an' tended on you so long, I'd look

a little more's I did when I married yeh."



Ripley gave it up in despair. He didn't realize fully enough how the

proposed trip had unsettled his wife's nerves. She didn't realize it

herself.



"As for the hotel bills, they won't be none. I a-goin' to pay them

pirates as much for a day's board as we'd charge for a week's, an'

have nawthin' to eat but dishes. I'm goin' to take a chicken an'

some hard-boiled eggs, an' I'm goin' right through to Georgetown."



"Well, all right; but here's the ticket I got."



"I don't want yer ticket."



"But you've got to take it."



"Wall, I hain't."



"Why, yes, ye have. It's bought, an' they won't take it

back."



"Won't they?" She was staggered again.



"Not much they won't. I ast 'em. A ticket sold is sold."



"Waal, if they won't-"



"You bet they won't."



"I s'pose I'll haff to use it"; and that ended iti -They were a familiar

sight as they rode down the road toward town next day. As usual,

Mrs. Ripley sat up straight and stiff as "a half-drove wedge in a

white-oak log." The day was cold and raw. There was some snow

on the ground, but not enough to warrant the use of sleighs. It was

"neither sleddin' nor wheelin'." The old people sat on a board laid

across the box, and had an old quilt or two drawn up over their

knees. Tewksbury lay in the back part of the box (which was filled

with hay), where he jounced up and down, in company with a

queer old trunk and a brand-new imitation-leather handbag, There

is no ride quite so desolate and uncomfortable as a ride in a lumber

wagon on a cold day in autumn, when the ground is frozen and the

wind is strong and raw with threatening snow. The wagon wheels

grind along in the snow, the cold gets in under the seat at the

calves of one's legs, and the ceaseless bumping of the bottom of

the box on the feet is frightful.



There was not much talk on the way down, and what little there

was related mainly to certain domestic regulations to be strictly

followed regarding churning, pickles, pancakes, etc. Mrs. Ripley

wore a shawl over her head and carried her queer little black

bonnet in her hand. Tewksbury was also wrapped in a shawl. The

boy's teeth were pounding together like castanets by the time they

reached Cedarville, and every muscle ached with the fatigue of

shaking. After a few purchases they drove down to the railway

station, a frightful little den (common in the West) which was

always too hot or too cold. It happened to be hot just now-a fact

which rejoiced little Tewksbury.



"Now git my trunk stamped 'r fixed, 'r whatever they call it," she

said to Ripley in a commanding tone, which gave great delight to

the inevitable crowd of loafers begliming to assemble. "Now

remember, Tukey, have Granddad kill that biggest turkey night

before Thanksgiving, an' then you run right over to Mis'

Doudney's-she's got a nawful tongue, but she can bake a turkey

first-rate-an' she'll fix up some squash pies for yeh. You can warm

up one s' them mince pies. I wish ye could be with me, but ye

can't, so do the best ye can."



Ripley returning now, she said: "Waal, now, I've fixed things up

the best I could. I've baked bread enough to last a week, an' Mis'

Doudney has promised to bake for yeh."



"I don't like her bakin'."



"Waal, you'll haff to stand it till I get back, 'n' you'll find a jar o'

sweet pickles an' some crabapple sauce down suller, 'n' you'd better

melt up brown sugar for 'lasses, 'n' for goodness' sake don't eat all

them mince pies up the fust week, 'n' see that Tukey ain't froze

goin' to school. An' now you'd better get out for home. Good-bye,

an' remember them pies.



As they were riding home, Ripley roused up after a long silence.



"Did she-a-kiss you goodbye, Tukey?"



"No, sir," piped Tewksbury.



"Thunder! didn't she?" After a silence. "She didn't me, neither. I

guess she kind of sort a forgot it, bein' so frustrated, y' know."



One cold, windy, intensely bright day, Mrs. Stacey, who lives

about two miles from Cedarville, looking out of the window, saw a

queer little figure struggling along the road, which was blocked

here and there with drifts. It was an old woman laden with a good

half-dozen parcels, any one of which was a load, which the wind

seemed determined to wrench from her. She was dressed in black,

with a full skirt, and her cloak being short, the wind had excellent

opportunity. to inflate her garments ind sail her off occasionally

into the deep snow outside the track, but she held on bravely till

she reached the gate. As she turned in, Mrs. Stacey cried:



"Why! it's Gran'ma Ripley, just getting back from her trip. Why!

how do you do? Come in. Why! you must be nearly frozen. Let me

take off your hat and veil."



"No, thank ye kindly, but I can't stop. I must be glttin' back to

Ripley. I expec' that man has jest let ev'rything go six ways f'r

Sunday."



"Oh, you must sit down just a minute and warm."



"Waal, I will, but I've got to git home by sundown. Sure I don't

s'pose they's a thing in the house to eat."



"Oh dear! I wish Stacey was here, so he could take you home. An'

the boys at school."



"Don't need any help, if 'twa'n't for these bundles an' things. I guess

I'll jest leave some of 'em here an'- Here! take one of these apples. I

brought 'em from Lizy Jane's suller, back to Yaark State."



"Oh! they're delicious! You must have had a lovely time."



"Pretty good. But I kep' thinkin' o' Ripley an' Tukey all the time. I

s'pose they have had a gay time of it" (she meant the opposite of

gay). "Waal, as I told Lizy Jane, I've had my spree, an' now I've got

to git back to work. They ain't no rest for such as we are. As I told

Lizy Jane, them folks in the big houses have Thanksgivin' dinners

every day uv their lives, and men an' women in splendid do's to

wait on 'em, so't Thanksgivin' don't mean anything to 'em; but we

poor critters, we make a great to-do if we have a good dinner oncet

a year. I've saw a pile o' this world, Mrs. Stacey-a pile of it! I didn't

think they was so many big houses in the world as I saw b'tween

here an' Chicago. Waal, I can't set here gabbin'; I must get home to

Ripley. Jest kinder stow them bags away. I'll take two an' leave

them three others. Goodbye. I must be gittin' home to Ripley. He'll

want his supper on time." And off up the road the indomitable

little figure trudged, head held down to the cutting blast. Little

snow fly, a speck on a measureless expanse, crawling along with

painful breathing and slipping, sliding steps- "Gittin' home to

Ripley an' the boy."



Ripley was out to the barn when she entered, but Tewksbury was

building a fire in the old cookstove. He sprang up with a cry of joy

and ran to her. She seized him and kissed him, and it did her so

much good she hugged him close and kissed him again and again,

crying hysterically.



"Oh, gran'ma, I'm so glad to see you! We've had an awful time

since you've been gone."



She released him and looked around. A lot of dirty dishes were on

the table, the tablecloth was a "sight to behold," and so was the

stove-kettle marks all over the tablecloth, splotches of pancake

batter all over the stove.



"Waal, I sh'd say as much," she dryly vouchsafed, untying her

bonnet strings.



When Ripley came in she had on her regimentals, the stove was

brushed, the room swept, and she was elbow-deep in the dishpan.

"Hullo, Mother! Got back, hev yeh?"



"I sh'd say it was about time," she replied briefly with-out looking

up or ceasing work. "Has ol' 'Cruuipy' dried up yit?" This was her

greeting.



Her trip was a fact now; no chance could rob her of it. She had

looked forward twenty-three years toward it, and now she could

look back at it accomplished. She took up her burden again, never

more thinking to lay it down.





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