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Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards was an American writer. She wrote more than 90 books including biographies, poetry, and several for children.
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Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards
"And some say, she expects to get him married to Rose Ellen before the year's out!"
"I want to know if she does!"
"Her sister married a minister, and her father was a deacon, so mebbe she thinks she's got a master key to the Kingdom. But I don't feel so sure of her gettin' this minister for Rose Ellen. Some say he's so wropped up in his garden truck that he don't know a gal from a gooseberry bush. He! he!"
The shrill cackle was answered by a slow, unctuous chuckle, as of a fat and wheezy person; then a door was closed, and silence fell.
The minister looked up apprehensively; his fair face was flushed, and his mild, blue eyes looked troubled. He gazed at the broad back of his landlady, as she stood dusting, with minute care, the china ornaments on the mantelpiece; but her back gave no sign. He coughed once or twice; he said, "Mrs. Mellen!" tentatively, first low, then in his ordinary voice, but there was no reply. Was Mrs. Mellen deaf? he had not noticed it before. He pondered distressfully for a few moments; then dropped his eyes, and the book swallowed him again. Yet the sting remained, for when presently the figure at the mantelpiece turned round, he looked up hastily, and flushed again as he met his hostess' gaze, calm and untroubled as a summer pool.
"There, sir!" said Mrs. Mellen, cheerfully. "I guess that's done to suit. Is there anything more I can do for you before I go?"
The minister's mind hovered between two perplexities; a glance at the book before him decided their relative importance.
"Have you ever noticed, Mrs. Mellen, whether woodcocks are more apt to fly on moonshiny nights, as White assures us?"
"Woodbox?" said Mrs. Mellen. "Why, yes, sir, it's handy by; and when there's no moon, the lantern always hangs in the porch. But I'll see that Si Jones keeps it full up, after this."
Decidedly, the good woman was deaf, and she had not heard. Could those harpies be right? If any such idea as they suggested were actually in his hostess' mind, he must go away, for his work must not be interfered with, and he must not encourage hopes, the minister blushed again, and glanced around to see if any one could see him.
But he was so comfortable here, and Miss Mellen was so intelligent, so helpful; and this seemed the ideal spot on which to compile his New England "Selborne."
He sighed, and thought of the woodcock again. Why should the bird prefer a moonshiny night? Was it likely that the creature had any appreciation of the beauties of nature? Shakespeare uses the woodcock as a simile of folly, to express a person without brains. Ha!
The door opened, and Rose Ellen came in, her eyes shining with pleasure, her hands full of gold and green.
"I've found the 'Squarrosa,' Mr. Lindsay!" she announced. "See, this is it, surely!"
The minister rose, and inspected the flowers delightedly. "This is it, surely!" he repeated. "Stem stout, hairy above; leaves large, oblong, or the lower spatulate-oval, and tapering into a marginal petiole, serrate veiny; heads numerous; seeds obtuse or acute; disk-flowers, 16 x 24. This is, indeed, a treasure, for Gray calls it 'rare in New England.' I congratulate you, Miss Mellen."
"Late, sir?" said Mrs. Mellen, calmly. "Oh, no, 'tisn't hardly five o'clock yet. Still, 'tis time for me to be thinkin' of gettin' supper."
"Don't you want I should make some biscuit for supper, mother?" asked Rose Ellen, coming out of her rapt contemplation of the goldenrod that Gray condescended to call rare, he to whom all things were common.
Her mother made no answer.
"Don't you want I should make a pan of biscuit?" Rose Ellen repeated. Still there was no reply, and the girl turned to look at her mother in some alarm.
"Why, mother, what is the matter? why don't you answer me?"
"Your mother's deafness," the minister put in, hurriedly, "seems suddenly increased: probably a cold, "
"Was you speakin' to me, Rose Ellen?" said Mrs. Mellen.
"Why, yes!" said the girl, in distress.
"Why, mother, how did you get this cold? you seemed all right when I went out."
"Gettin' old!" cried Mrs. Mellen. "'Tis nothin' of the sort, Rose Ellen! I've took a cold, I shouldn't wonder. I went out without my shawl just for a minute. I expect 'twas careless, but there! life is too short to be thinkin' all the time about the flesh, 'specially when there's as much of it as I have. I've ben expectin' I should grow hard of hearin', though, these two years past. The Bowlers do, you know, Rose Ellen, 'long about middle life. There was your Uncle Lihu. I can hear him snort now, sittin' in his chair, like a pig for all the world, and with no idea he was makin' a sound."
"But it's come on so sudden!" cried Rose Ellen, in distress.
"That's Bowler!" said her mother. "Bowler for all the world! They take things suddin, whether it's hoarsin' up, or breakin' out, or what it is. There! you've heard me tell how my Aunt Phoebe 'Lizabeth come out with spots all over her face, when she was standin' up to be married. Chicken-pox it was, and they never knew where she got it; but my grand'ther said 'twas pure Bowler, wherever it come from."
She gazed placidly at her daughter's troubled face; then, patting her with her broad hand, pushed her gently out of the room before her.
"Mr. Lindsay's heard enough of my bein' hard of hearin', I expect," she said, cheerfully, as they passed into the kitchen.
"Don't you fret, Rose Ellen! You won't have to get a fog-horn yet awhile. I don't know but it would be a good plan for you to mix up a mess o' biscuit, if you felt to: Mr. Lindsay likes your biscuit real well, I heard him say so."
"That's what I was going to do," said Rose Ellen, still depressed. "I wish't you'd see the doctor, mother. I don't believe but he could help your hearing, if you take it before it's got settled on you."
"Well, I won't, certain!" said Mrs. Mellen. "The idea, strong and well as I be! Bowler blood's comin' out, that's all; and the only wonder is it hasn't come out before."
All that day, and the next, the minister did not seem like himself. He was no more absent-minded than usual, perhaps, that could hardly be. But he was grave and troubled, and the usual happy laugh did not come when Rose Ellen checked him gently as he was about to put pepper into his tea. Several times he seemed about to speak: his eye dwelt anxiously on the cream-jug, in which he seemed to be seeking inspiration; but each time his heart failed him, and he relapsed with a sigh into his melancholy reverie.
Rose Ellen was silent, too, and the burden of the talk fell on her mother. At supper on the second day, midway between the ham and the griddle-cakes, Mrs. Mellen announced:
"Rose Ellen, I expect you'd better go down to Tupham to-morrow, and stay a spell with your grandm'ther. She seems to be right poorly, and I expect it'd be a comfort to her to have you with her. I guess you'd better get ready to-night, and Calvin Parks can take you up as he goes along."
Rose Ellen and the minister both looked up with a start, and both flushed, and both opened wide eyes of astonishment.
"Why, mother!" said the girl. "I can't go away and leave you now, with this cold on you."
Her mother did not hear her, so Rose Ellen repeated the words in a clear, high-pitched voice, with a note of anxiety which brought a momentary shade to Mrs. Mellen's smooth brow. The next moment, however, the brow cleared again.
"I guess you'd better go!" she said again. "It'd be a pity if Mr. Lindsay and I couldn't get along for a month or six weeks; and I wrote mother yesterday that you would be up along to-morrow, so she'll be looking for you. I don't like to have mother disappointed of a thing at her age, it gives her the palpitations."
"You wrote that I was coming!" repeated Rose Ellen. "And you never told me you was writing, mother? I I should have liked to have known before you wrote."
"Coat?" said Mrs. Mellen. "Oh, your coat'll do well enough, Rose Ellen. Why, you've only just had it bound new, and new buttons put on. I should take my figured muslin, if I was you, and have Miss Turner look at it and see how you could do it over: she has good ideas, sometimes, and it'd be a little different from what the girls here was doin', maybe. Anyway, I'd take it, and your light sack, too. 'Twon't do no harm to have 'em gone over a little."
Rose Ellen looked ready to cry, but she kept the tears back resolutely.
"I don't want to leave you, with this deafness coming on!" she shouted, her usually soft voice ringing like a bugle across the tea-table.
"There! there! don't you grow foolish," her mother replied, with absolute calm.
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