Story of Waitstill Baxter

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Author: Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin

VII "What Dreams May Come

SUPPER was over and the work done at last; the dishes washed, the beans put in soak, the hens shut up for the night, the milk strained and carried down cellar. Patty went up to her little room with the one window and the slanting walls and Waitstill followed and said good-night. Her father put out the lights, locked the doors, and came up the creaking stairs. There was never any talk between the sisters before going to bed, save on nights when their father was late at the store, usually on Saturdays only, for the good talkers of the village, as well as the gossips and loafers, preferred any other place to swap stories than the bleak atmosphere provided by old Foxy at his place of business.

Patty could think in the dark; her healthy young body lying not uncomfortably on the bed of corn husks, and the patchwork comforter drawn up under her chin. She could think, but for the first time she could not tell her thoughts to Waitstill. She had a secret; a dazzling secret, just like Ellen Wilson and some of the other girls who were several years older. Her afternoon’s experience loomed as large in her innocent mind as if it had been an elopement.

"I hope I’m not engaged to be married to him, EVEN IF HE DID—" The sentence was too tremendous to be finished, even in thought. "I don’t think I can be; men must surely say something, and not take it for granted you are in love with them and want to marry them. It is what they say when they ask that I should like much better than being married, when I’m only just past seventeen. I wish Mark was a little different; I don’t like his careless ways! He admires me, I can tell one; that by the way he looks, but he admires himself just as much, and expects me to do the same; still, I suppose none of them are perfect, and girls have to forgive lots of little things when they are engaged. Mother must have forgiven a good many things when she took father. Anyway, Mark is going away for a month on business, so I shan’t have to make up my mind just yet!" Here sleep descended upon the slightly puzzled, but on the whole delightfully complacent, little creature, bringing her most alluring and untrustworthy dreams.

The dear innocent had, indeed, no need of haste! Young Mr. Marquis de Lafayette Wilson, Mark for short, was not in the least a gay deceiver or ruthless breaker of hearts, and, so far as known, no scalps of village beauties were hung to his belt. He was a likable, light-weight young chap, as indolent and pleasure-loving as the strict customs of the community would permit; and a kiss, in his mind, most certainly never would lead to the altar, else he had already been many times a bridegroom. Miss Patience Baxter’s maiden meditations and uncertainties and perplexities, therefore, were decidedly premature. She was a natural-born, unconsciously artistic, highly expert, and finished coquette. She was all this at seventeen, and Mark at twenty-four was by no means a match for her in this field of effort, yet!—but sometimes, in getting her victim into the net, the coquette loses her balance and falls in herself. There wasn’t a bit of harm in Marquis de Lafayette, but he was extremely agile in keeping out of nets!

Waitstill was restless, too, that night, although she could not have told the reason. She opened her window at the back of the house and leaned out. The evening was mild with a soft wind blowing. She could hear the full brook dashing through the edge of the wood-lot, and even the "ker-chug" of an occasional bull-frog. There were great misty stars in the sky, but no moon.

There was no light in Aunt Abby Cole’s kitchen, but a faint glimmer shone through the windows of Uncle Bart’s joiner’s shop, showing that the old man was either having an hour of peaceful contemplation with no companion but his pipe, or that there might be a little group of privileged visitors, headed by Jed Morrill, busily discussing the affairs of the nation.

Waitstill felt troubled and anxious to-night; bruised by the little daily torments that lessened her courage but never wholly destroyed it. Any one who believed implicitly in heredity might have been puzzled, perhaps, to account for her. He might fantastically picture her as making herself out of her ancestors, using a free hand, picking and choosing what she liked best, with due care for the effect of combinations; selecting here and there and modifying, if advisable, a trait of Grandpa or Grandma Foxwell, of Great-Uncle or Great-Aunt Baxter; borrowing qualities lavishly from her own gently born and gently bred mother, and carefully avoiding her respected father’s Stock, except, perhaps, to take a dash of his pluck and an ounce of his persistence. Jed Morrill remarked of Deacon Baxter once: "When Old Foxy wants anything he’11 wait till hell freezes over afore he’ll give up." Waitstill had her father’s firm chin, but there the likeness ended. The proud curve of her nostrils, the clear well-opened eye with its deep fringe of lashes, the earnest mouth, all these came from the mother who was little more than a dim memory.

Waitstill disdained any vague, dreary, colorless theory of life and its meaning. She had joined the church at fifteen, more or less because other girls did and the parson had persuaded her; but out of her hard life she had somehow framed a courageous philosophy that kept her erect and uncrushed, no matter how great her difficulties. She had no idea of bringing a poor, weak, draggled soul to her Maker at the last day, saying "Here is all I have managed to save out of what you gave me!" That would be something, she allowed, immeasurably something; but pitiful compared with what she might do if she could keep a brave, vigorous spirit and march to the last tribunal strengthened by battles, struggles, defeats, victories; by the defense of weaker human creatures, above all, warmed and vitalized by the pouring out and gathering in of love.

Patty slept sweetly on the other side of the partition, the contemplation of her twopenny triumphs bringing a smile to her childish lips: but even so a good heart was there (still perhaps in the process of making), a quick wit, ready sympathy, natural charm; plenty, indeed, for the stronger sister to cherish, protect, and hold precious, as she did, with all her mind and soul.

There had always been a passionate loyalty in Waitstill’s affection, wherever it had been bestowed. Uncle Bart delighted in telling an instance of it that occurred when she was a child of five. Maine had just separated amicably from her mother, Massachusetts, and become an independent state. It was in the middle of March, but there was no snow on the ground and the village boys had built a bonfire on a plot of land near Uncle Bart’s joiner’s shop. There was a large gathering in celebration of the historic event and Waitstill crept down the hill with her homemade rag doll in her arms. She stood on the outskirts of the crowd, a silent, absorbed little figure clad in a shabby woollen coat, with a blue knit hood framing her rosy face. Deborah, her beloved, her only doll, was tightly clasped in her arms, for Debby, like her parent, had few pleasures and must not be denied so great a one as this. Suddenly, one of the thoughtless young scamps in the group, wishing to create a new sensation and add to the general excitement, caught the doll from the child’s arms, and running forward with a loud war-whoop, flung it into the flames. Waitstill did not lose an instant. She gave a scream Of anguish, and without giving any warning of her intentions, probably without realizing them herself, she dashed through the little crowd into the bonfire and snatched her cherished offspring from the burning pile. The whole thing was over in the twinkling of an eye, for Uncle Bart was as quick as the child and dragged her out of the imminent danger with no worse harm done than a good scorching.

He led the little creature up the hill to explain matters and protect her from a scolding. She still held the doll against her heaving breast, saying, between her sobs: " I couldn’t let my Debby burn up! I couldn’t, Uncle Bart; she’s got nobody but me! Is my dress scorched so much I can’t wear it? You’11 tell father how it was, Uncle Bart, won’t you?"

Debby bore the marks of her adventure longer than her owner, for she had been longer in the fire, but, stained and defaced as she was, she was never replaced, and remained the only doll of Waitstill’s childhood. At this very moment she lay softly and safely in a bureau drawer ready to be lifted out, sometime, Waitstill fancied, and shown tenderly to Patty’s children. Of her own possible children she never thought. There was but one man in the world who could ever be the father of them and she was separated from him by every obstacle that could divide two human beings.

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Chicago: Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin, "VII What Dreams May Come," Story of Waitstill Baxter, ed. Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937 and trans. Townsend, R.S. in Story of Waitstill Baxter (New York: A. L. Burt Company, 1916), Original Sources, accessed August 8, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3VYEL2RCE44XUDE.

MLA: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith. "VII "What Dreams May Come." Story of Waitstill Baxter, edited by Paine, Albert Bigelow, 1861-1937, and translated by Townsend, R.S., in Story of Waitstill Baxter, Vol. 22, New York, A. L. Burt Company, 1916, Original Sources. 8 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3VYEL2RCE44XUDE.

Harvard: Wiggin, KD, 'VII "What Dreams May Come' in Story of Waitstill Baxter, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, Story of Waitstill Baxter, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 8 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=3VYEL2RCE44XUDE.