Story of Waitstill Baxter

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Author: Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin

XIII Haying -Time

EVERYBODY in Riverboro, Edgewood, Milliken’s Mills, Spruce Swamp, Duck Pond, and Moderation was "haying." There was a perfect frenzy of haying, for it was the Monday after the "Fourth," the precise date in July when the Maine farmer said good-bye to repose, and "hayed" desperately and unceasingly, until every spear of green in his section was mowed down and safely under cover. If a man had grass of his own, he cut it, and if he had none, he assisted in cutting that of some other man, for "to hay," although an unconventional verb, was, and still is, a very active one, and in common circulation, although not used by the grammarians.

Whatever your trade, and whatever your profession, it counted as naught in good weather. The fish-man stopped selling fish, the meat-man ceased to bring meat; the cobbler, as well as the judge, forsook the bench; and even the doctor made fewer visits than usual. The wage for work in the hay-fields was a high one, and every man, boy, and horse in a village was pressed into service.

When Ivory Boynton had finished with his own small crop, he commonly went at once to Lawyer Wilson, who had the largest acreage of hay-land in the township. Ivory was always in great demand, for he was a mighty worker in the field, and a very giant at "pitching," being able to pick up a fair-sized hay-cock at one stroke of the fork and fling it on to the cart as if it were a feather. Lawyer Wilson always took a hand himself if signs of rain appeared, and Mark occasionally visited the scene of action when a crowd in the field made a general jollification, or when there was an impending thunderstorm. In such cases even women and girls joined the workers and all hands bent together to the task of getting a load into the barn and covering the rest.

Deacon Baxter was wont to call Mark Wilson a "worthless, whey-faced, lily-handed whelp," but the description, though picturesque, was decidedly exaggerated. Mark disliked manual labor, but having imbibed enough knowledge of law in his father’s office to be an excellent clerk, he much preferred travelling about, settling the details of small cases, collecting rents and bad bills, to any form of work on a farm. This sort of life, on stage-coaches and railway trains, or on long driving trips with his own fast trotter,suited his adventurous disposition and gave him a sense of importance that was very necessary to his peace of mind. He was not especially intimate with Ivory Boynton, who studied law with his father during all vacations and in every available hour of leisure during term time, as did many another young New England schoolmaster. Mark’s father’s praise of Ivory’s legal ability was a little too warm to please his son, as was the commendation of one of the County Court judges on Ivory’s preparation of a brief in a certain case in the Wilson office. Ivory had drawn it up at Mr. Wilson’s request, merely to show how far he understood the books and cases he was studying, and he had no idea that it differed in any way from the work of any other student; all the same, Mark’s own efforts in a like direction had never received any special mention. When he was in the hay-field he also kept as far as possible from Ivory, because there, too, he felt a superiority that made him, for the moment, a trifle discontented. It was no particular pleasure for him to see Ivory plunge his fork deep into the heart of a hay-cock, take a firm grasp of the handle, thrust forward his foot to steady himself, and then raise the great fragrant heap slowly, and swing it up to the waiting haycart amid the applause of the crowd. Rodman would be there, too, helping the man on top of the load and getting nearly buried each time, as the mass descended upon him, but doing his slender best to distribute and tread it down properly, while his young heart glowed with pride at Cousin Ivory’s prowess.

Independence Day had passed, with its usual gayeties for the young people, in none of which the Baxter family had joined, and now, at eleven o’clock on this burning July morning, Waitstill was driving the old mare past the Wilson farm on her way to the river field. Her father was working there, together with the two hired men whom he took on for a fortnight during the height of the season. If mowing, raking, pitching, and carting of the precious crop could only have been done at odd times during the year, or at night, he would not have embittered the month of July by paying out money for labor: but Nature was inexorable in the ripening of hay and Old Foxy was obliged to succumb to the inevitable. Waitstill had a basket packed with luncheon for three and a great demijohn of cool ginger tea under the wagon seat. Other farmers sometimes served hard cider, or rum, but her father’s principles were dead against this riotous extravagance. Temperance, in any and all directions, was cheap, and the Deacon was a very temperate man, save in language.

The fields on both sides of the road were full of haymakers and everywhere there was bustle and stir. There would be three or four men, one leading, the others following, slowly swinging their way through a noble piece of grass, and the smell of the mown fields in the sunshine was sweeter than honey in the comb. There were patches of black-eyed Susans in the meadows here and there, while pink and white hardhack grew by the road, with day lilies and blossoming milkweed. The bobolinks were fluting from every tree; there were thrushes in the alder bushes and orioles in the tops of the elms, and Waitstill’s heart overflowed with joy at being in such a world of midsummer beauty, though life, during the great heat and incessant work of haying-time, was a little more rigorous than usual. The extra food needed for the hired men always kept her father in a state of mind closely resembling insanity. Coming downstairs to cook breakfast she would find the coffee or tea measured out for the pot. The increased consumption of milk angered him beyond words, because it lessened the supply of butter for sale. Everything that could be made with buttermilk was ordered so to be done, and nothing but water could be used in mixing the raised bread. The corncake must never have an egg; the piecrust must be shortened only with lard, or with a mixture of beef-fat and dripping; and so on, and so on, eternally.

When the girls were respectively seventeen and thirteen, Waitstill had begged a small plot of ground for them to use as they liked, and beginning at that time they had gradually made a little garden, with a couple of fruit trees and a thicket of red, white, and black currants raspberry and blackberry bushes. For several summers now they had sold enough of their own fruit to buy a pair of shoes or gloves, a scarf or a hat, but even this tiny income was beginning to be menaced. The Deacon positively suffered as he looked at that odd corner of earth, not any bigger than his barn floor, and saw what his girls had done with no tools but a spade and a hoe and no help but their own hands. He had no leisure (so he growled) to cultivate and fertilize ground for small fruits, and no money to pay a man to do it, yet here was food grown under his very eye, and it did not belong to him! The girls worked in their garden chiefly at sunrise in spring and early summer, or after supper in the evening; all the same Waitstill had been told by her father the day before that she was not only using ground, but time, that belonged to him, and that he should expect her to provide "pie-filling" out of her garden patch during haying, to help satisfy the ravenous appetites of that couple of "great, gorming, greedy lubbers" that he was hiring this year. He had stopped the peeling of potatoes before boiling because he disapproved of the thickness of the parings he found in the pig’s pail, and he stood over Patty at her work in the kitchen until Waitstill was in daily fear of a tempest of some sort.

Coming in from the shed one morning she met her father just issuing from the kitchen where Patty was standing like a young Fury in front of the sink. "Father’s been spying at the eggshells I settled the coffee with, and said I’d no business to leave so much good in the shell when I broke an egg. I will not bear it; he makes me feel fairly murderous! You’d better not leave me alone with him when I’m like this. Oh! I know that I’m wicked, but isn’t he wicked too, and who was wicked first?"

Patty’s heart had been set on earning and saving enough pennies for a white muslin dress and every day rendered the prospect more uncertain; this was a sufficient grievance in itself to keep her temper at the boiling point had there not been various other contributory causes. Waitstill’s patience was flagging a trifle, too, under the stress of the hot days and the still hotter, breathless nights. The suspicion crossed her mind now and then that her father’s miserliness and fits of temper might be caused by a mental malady over which he now had little or no control, having never mastered himself in all his life. Her power of endurance would be greater, she thought, if only she could be certain that this theory was true, though her slavery would be just as galling.

It would be so easy for her to go away and earn a living; she who had never had a day of illness in her life; she who could sew, knit, spin, weave, and cook. She could make enough money in Biddeford or Portsmouth to support herself, and Patty, too, until the proper work was found for both. But there would be a truly terrible conflict of wills, and such fierce arraignment of her unfilial conduct, such bitter and caustic argument from her father, such disapproval from the parson and the neighbors, that her very soul shrank from the prospect. If she could go alone, and have no responsibility over Patty’s future, that would be a little more possible, but she must think wisely for two.

And how could she leave Ivory when there might perhaps come a crisis in his life where she could be useful to him? How could she cut herself off from those Sundays in the choir, those dear fugitive glimpses of him in the road or at prayer-meeting? They were only sips of happiness, where her thirsty heart yearned for long, deep draughts, but they were immeasurably better than nothing. Freedom from her father’s heavy yoke, freedom to work, and read, and sing, and study, and grow,—oh! how she longed for this, but at what a cost would she gain it if she had to harbor the guilty conscience of an undutiful and rebellious daughter, and at the same time cut herself off from the sight of the one being she loved best in all the world.

She felt drawn towards Ivory’s mother to-day. Three weeks had passed since her talk with Ivory in the churchyard, but there had been no possibility of an hour’s escape from home. She was at liberty this afternoon—relatively at liberty; for although her work, as usual, was laid out for her, it could be made up somehow or other before nightfall. She could drive over to the Boynton’s place, hitch her horse in the woods near the house, make her visit, yet be in plenty of time to go up to the river field and bring her father home to supper. Patty was over at Mrs. Abel Day’s, learning a new crochet stitch and helping her to start a log-cabin quilt. Ivory and Rodman, she new, were both away in the Wilson hay-field; no time would ever be more favorable; so instead of driving up Town-House Hill when she returned to the village she kept on over the bridge.

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Chicago: Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin, "XIII Haying -Time," 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 July 23, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4ZPX28FSJ81EX5N.

MLA: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith. "XIII Haying -Time." 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. 23 Jul. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4ZPX28FSJ81EX5N.

Harvard: Wiggin, KD, 'XIII Haying -Time' in Story of Waitstill Baxter, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, Story of Waitstill Baxter, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4ZPX28FSJ81EX5N.