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Cymric Strain

By Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)

Chapter 22 - Episode


Copyright Scott Dunbar 2010

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 CHAPTER 22

      “Episode”

        There is no spot on earth more prosaic or uninspiring than a small town on a hot day in summer.  Combined with juvenile ennui, it is fatal to morale.  Mary and I were normally successful.  We had an old army blanket which we used to make a tent, and under it we gypsied ‘till perspiring faces drove us to seek a breeze outside.  Hung over chairs, the same covering became the roof for a townhouse where we delivered dissertations on child-rearing to callers and parroted ideas we had heard our parents express.  We had a box-elder tree-house too, from which we were expected to fall and break our bones.  When we were dolled up for the afternoon, however, we were supposed to play quiet, circumspect games, and sitting on the fence counting horses was our A-1 timekiller.

          Mary and I were what educators have termed ‘convenient’ children.  We did what was expected of us and never distinguished ourselves by clever badness.  Even if we had possessed the requisite talents and initiative, such brilliance was condemned in our family and the aftermath not to our liking.  The best guardians of family honor, however, have their hours off, and Mary and I occasionally withdrew our virtues for re-conditioning.

          On one particular day, one that only torrid climates know, we settled our holly-hock skirts on the white fence where State and Market Streets mingled their dusts and watched for victims to number.  Lilly was reading on the opposite side of the lawn, lolling lazily in a hammock which hung from the boughs of two maple trees.  Lilly, according to modern terminology was in the adolescent stage, enjoying novels of that period except those written by the Duchess whose literature was tabooed by our family censor.

          The sun scorched the grass; the locusts wheezed their soporific drone; and activity was at a low ebb, when Mary had an idea.  Coming down the road on Market Street, carrying a pail of drinking water he was obliged to haul from the Eberhart’s well for two blocks, clumped Bill Snow.  Bill drove the big delivery wagon for the Eberhart Flour Mills and took care of the horses.  We children knew him well by sight, by the small and thin trail of tobacco juice he spurted as he travelled the distance between the Eberhart stable and his back door.  Mary’s creative idea was inspired by Bill’s hulking form.  Made concrete, it involved our spitting into his pail of water, an idea not wholly in the spirit of play for exemplary children.  It was a definite departure from approved standards.  (Enticing sin had us in its clutches.)  When Bill walked below us we saluted him in perfect unison with,

          “I’ll spit in your water bucket.”

          And in the most genuine smart-Alec style we whaled away.  At this point Mary’s version and mine differ acutely.  Mary insists that we hit the water squarely.  I have no such confidence in our aim.  We were beginners in the art and I’ve watched small boys enough to know that it takes skill to hit the bull’s eye.  We were only clumsy amateurs drunk with bravado.

          Bill was astounded.

          “Why Mary and Una, ain’t you ashamed.”

          He gasped.  We might have been later, but at the moment I strongly suspect that we glowed with triumph.  Bill was discovering new kinks in our characters and no doubt his fingers itched.  He looked at his pail but he didn’t dump it.  Perhaps he decided that what you don’t know can’t hurt you and no one would be any the wiser.  Those were the days of one dipper for all mouths anyway, so after giving us a lecture illustrated with a few ferocious looks, he walked on to where Lilly lay basking in the sun.

          Now Lilly had been wondering what Bill’s conversation with us could portend.  Lilly had many facets to her character.  She could be gentle and sweet, but she could also be coldly critical.  She was at that age where younger children rate low, seem crude, and attract undue and unfavorable attention, to their elder’s discomfiture.  Bill found her in one of her proper moods and when, with considerable spirit, he gave her an unexpurgated account of our escapade, like any minister plenipotentiary she departed for the home office bound on a confidential mission.  It wasn’t long then till Mother’s voice summoned us to the house.

          “What’s this I hear about you spitting in Mr. Snow’s pail of water?”

          She asked, studying our faces to discover evidences of guilt, remorse, or both.  Mary and I were silent.

          “Didn’t you know that was a bad thing to do?”

          She looked very severely at us as she spoke.

          “Yes’m”

          We sheepishly admitted.

          Corporal punishment was seldom needed in our household but when Mother decided it was expedient, like Grandmother Rees, she did a thorough and sweeping job.  If we ever rebelled it was because we hated the humiliation it brought.  When we had deliberately plotted mischief we took it chins up.  One thing Mother never did what was common practice in other homes; she never required us to go get her a switch.  She performed that rite herself and we had plenty of shrubbery and young trees.

          Uncle Dave was visiting us at the time.  When he heard Mother cross-examine us he took his hat and went out for a walk.  When he returned the flag was flying and the engagement was over.  Mother had switched us in good style because we had ‘mortified’ her; we had drowned our militancy in tears; then she called us ‘dear’ again and we were reunited with the respected members of our family on a parity; all to the immense relief of our guest.

          Bedtime after we had been punished was infinitely sweetened by our discipline.  Mother didn’t regularly read to us or tell us stories at night, but she made a distinct effort to send us to bed happy.  After administering corporal punishment she salved her own conscience and ours by granting us extra boons.  Her own childhood made her lenient with us at all times, and she expected little of us except to run errands and help around the house, except Mary’s one regular duty.  At the end of the day she was supposed to restore to the boudoir the golden pottery that sunned through the daytime hours back of the woodhouse.

          Usually night had fallen before Mary awoke to her responsibility.  Then in her haste to get under cover before a goblin grabbed her, her caution would flee.  As she rounded the woodhouse at high speed, her arm swinging out too vigorously, she would collide with the building, and the scalloped nicks in the pottery gave tangible proof of her procrastination.

          As soon as this chore was done we proceeded to get ourselves ready for bed.  Mary and I slept in a trundle bed, which during the day was slid under an adult one.  At night, drawered and night-capped, we were tucked under the covers of the low-swung bedstead, which was now standing beside its high counterpart.  From our post close to the floor we could gaze up at the blue ceiling dotted with silver stars and listen to Mother’s re-created stories about ourselves and what we were like as babies.

Cymric Strain, by Una Howell (USA - circa 1880)

Chapter 1 - Introduction
Chapter 2 - Father

Chapter 3 - Dartmouth

Chapter 4 - Killolog

Chapter 5 - America

Chapter 6 - Arrival

Chapter 7 - Gracious Living

Chapter 8 - I Am Born

Chapter 9 - My Name

Chapter 10 - Neighbors

Chapter 11 - The Cyclone

Chapter 12 - The Old Cemetary

Chapter 13 - Music

Chapter 14 - Religion

Chapter 15 - The Circuit

Chapter 16 - Hero No. 1

Chapter 17 - Pageantry

Chapter 18 - Mommy

Chapter 19 - Mental Quirks

Chapter 20 - Decoration

Chapter 21 - Domestic Animals

Chapter 22 - Episode

Chapter 23 - Barn Life

Chapter 24 - Vanities

Chapter 25 - Happy Hollow

Chapter 26 - New Horizons

Chapter 27 - Disciplines

Chapter 28 - An Experimenter

Chapter 29 - Health

Chapter 30 - Murder

Chapter 31 - Misunderstandings

Chapter 32 - Charm

Chapter 33 - Problems

Chapter 34 -Coming Events, Etc.

Chapter 35 - The Wedding

Chapter 36 - At Home

Chapter 37 - Cross Currents

Chapter 38 - A Baby

Chapter 39 - Dr. Winston

Chapter 40 - The Visitor

Chapter 41 - Buffetings

Chapter 42 - Agenda

Chapter 43 - David

Chapter 44 - Exit