Story of Waitstill Baxter

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Author: Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin

VIII the Joiner’s Shop

VILLAGE "Aunts" and "Uncles" were elected to that relationship by the common consent of the community; their fitness being established by great age, by decided individuality or eccentricity of character, by uncommon lovableness, or by the possession of an abundant wit and humor. There was no formality about the thing; certain women were always called "Aunt Sukie," or "Aunt Hitty," or what not, while certain men were distinguished as "Uncle Rish," or "Uncle Pel," without previous arrangement, or the consent of the high contracting parties.

Such a couple were Cephas Cole’s father and mother, Aunt Abby and Uncle Bart. Bartholomew Cole’s trade was that of a joiner; as for Aunt Abby’s, it can only be said that she made all trades her own by sovereign right of investigation, and what she did not know about her neighbor’s occupations was unlikely to he discovered on this side of Jordan. One of the villagers declared that Aunt Abby and her neighbor, Mrs. Abel Day, had argued for an hour before they could make a bargain about the method of disseminating a certain important piece of news, theirs by exclusive right of discovery and prior possession. Mrs. Day offered to give Mrs. Cole the privilege of Saco Hill and Aunt Betty-Jack’s, she herself to take Guide-Board and Town-House Hills. Aunt Abby quickly proved the injustice of this decision, saying that there were twice as many families living in Mrs. Day’s chosen territory as there were in that allotted to her, so the river road to Milliken’s Mills was grudgingly awarded to Aunt Abby by way of compromise, and the ladies started on what was a tour of mercy in those days, the furnishing of a subject of discussion for long, quiet evenings.

Uncle Bart’s joiner’s shop was at the foot of Guide-Board Hill on the Riverboro side of the bridge, and it was the pleasantest spot in the whole village. The shop itself had a cheery look, with its weather-stained shingles, its small square windows, and its hospitable door, half as big as the front side of the building. The step was an old millstone too worn for active service, and the piles of chips and shavings on each side of it had been there for so many years that sweet-williams, clove pinks, and purple phlox were growing in among them in the most irresponsible fashion; while a morning-glory vine had crept up and curled around a long-handled rake that had been standing against the front of the house since early spring. There was an air of cosy and amiable disorder about the place that would have invited friendly confabulation even had not Uncle Bart’s white head, honest, ruddy face, and smiling welcome coaxed you in before you were aware. A fine Nodhead apple tree shaded the side windows, and underneath it reposed all summer a bright blue sleigh, for Uncle Bart always described himself as being "plagued for shed room" and kept things as he liked at the shop, having a "p’ison neat " wife who did exactly the opposite at his house.

The seat of the sleigh was all white now with scattered fruit blossoms, and one of Waitstill’s earliest remembrances was of going downhill with Patty toddling at her side; of Uncle Bart’s lifting them into the sleigh and permitting them to sit there and eat the ripe red apples that had fallen from the tree. Uncle Bart’s son, Cephas (Patty’s secret adorer), was a painter by trade, and kept his pots and cans and brushes in a little outhouse at the back, while Uncle Bart himself stood every day behind his long joiner’s bench almost knee-deep in shavings. How the children loved to play with the white, satiny rings, making them into necklaces, hanging them to their ears and weaving them into wreaths.

Wonderful houses could always be built in the corner of the shop, out of the little odds and ends and "nubbins" of white pine, and Uncle Bart was ever ready to cut or saw a special piece needed for some great purpose.

The sound of the plane was sweet music in the old joiner’s ears. "I don’t hardly know how I’d a made out if I’d had to work in a mill," he said confidentially to Cephas. "The noise of a saw goin’ all day, coupled with your mother’s tongue mornin’s an’ evenin’s, would ’a’ been too much for my weak head. I’m a quiet man, Cephas, a man that needs a peaceful shop where he can get away from the comforts of home now and then, without shirkin’ his duty nor causin’ gossip. If you should ever marry, Cephas,—which don’t look to me likely without you pick out a dif’rent girl,—I ’d advise you not to keep your stock o’ paints in the barn or the shed, for it’s altogether too handy to the house and the women-folks. Take my advice and have a place to yourself, even if it’s a small one. A shop or a barn has saved many a man’s life and reason Cephas, for it’s ag’in’ a woman’s nature to have you underfoot in the house without hectorin’ you. Choose a girl same’s you would a horse that you want to hitch up into a span; ’t ain’t every two that’ll stan’ together without kickin’. When you get the right girl, keep out of her way consid’able an’ there’ll be less wear an’ tear."

It was June and the countryside was so beautiful it seemed as if no one could be unhappy, however great the cause. That was what Waitstill Baxter thought as she sat down on the millstone step for a word with the old joiner, her best and most understanding friend in all the village.

"I’ve come to do my mending here with you," she said brightly, as she took out her well-filled basket and threaded her needle. "Isn’t it a wonderful morning? Nobody could look the world in the face and do a wrong thing on such a day, could they, Uncle Bart?"

The meadows were a waving mass of golden buttercups; the shallow water at the river’s edge just below the shop was blue with spikes of arrowweed; a bunch of fragrant water-lilies, gathered from the mill-pond’s upper levels, lay beside Waitstill’s mending-basket, and every foot of roadside and field within sight was swaying with long-stemmed white and gold daisies. The June grass, the friendly, humble, companionable grass, that no one ever praises as they do the flowers, was a rich emerald green, a velvet carpet fit for the feet of the angels themselves. And the elms and maples! Was there ever such a year for richness of foliage? And the sky, was it ever so blue or so clear, so far away, or so completely like heaven, as you looked at its reflection in the glassy surface of the river?

"Yes, it’s a pretty good day," allowed Uncle Bart judicially as he took a squint at his T-square. "I don’ know’s I should want to start out an’ try to beat it! The Lord can make a good many kinds o’ weather in the course of a year, but when He puts his mind on to it, an’ kind o’ gives Himself a free hand, He can turn out a June morning that must make the Devil sick to his stomach with envy! All the same, Waity, my cow ain’t behavin’ herself any better’n usual. She’s been rampagin’ since sun-up. I’ve seen mother chasin’ her out o’ Mis’ Day’s garden-patch twice a’ready!—It seems real good an’ homey to see you settin’ there sewin’ while I’m workin’ at the bench. Cephas is down to the store, so I s’pose your father’s off somewheres?"

Perhaps the June grass was a little greener, the buttercups yellower, the foliage more lacey, the sky bluer, because Deacon Baxter had taken his luncheon in a pail under the wagon seat, and departed on an unwilling journey to Moderation, his object being to press the collection of some accounts too long overdue. There was something tragic in the fact, Waitstill thought, that whenever her father left the village for a whole day, life at once grew brighter, easier, more hopeful. One could breathe freely, speak one’s heart out, believe in the future, when father was away.

The girls had harbored many delightful plans at early breakfast. As it was Saturday, Patty could catch little Rod Boynton, if he came to the bridge on errands as usual; and if Ivory could spare him for an hour at noon they would take their luncheon and eat it together on the river-bank as Patty had promised him. At the last moment, however, Deacon Baxter had turned around in the wagon and said: "Patience, you go down to the store and have a regular house-cleanin’ in the stock-room. Git Cephas to lift what you can’t lift yourself, move everything in the place, sweep and dust it, scrub the floor, wash the winder, and make room for the new stuff that they’11 bring up from Mill-town ’bout noon. If you have any time left over, put new papers on the shelves out front, and clean up and fix the show winder. Don’t stand round gabbin’ with Cephas, and see’t he don’t waste time that’s paid for by me. Tell him he might clean up the terbaccer stains round the stove, black it, and cover it up for the summer if he ain’t too busy servin’ cust’mers."

"The whole day spoiled!" wailed Patty, flinging herself down in the kitchen rocker. "Father’s powers of invention beat anything I ever saw!

That stock-room could have been cleaned any time this month and it’s too heavy work for me anyway; it spoils my hands, grubbing around those nasty, sticky, splintery boxes and barrels. Instead of being out of doors, I’ve got to be shut up in that smelly, rummy, tobacco-y, salt-fishy, pepperminty place with Cephas Cole! He won’t have a pleasant morning, I can tell you! I shall snap his head off every time he speaks to me."

"So I would!" Waitstill answered composedly. "Everything is so clearly his fault that I certainly would work off my temper on Cephas! Still, I can think of a way to make matters come out right. I’ve got a great basket of mending that must be done, and you remember there’s a choir rehearsal for the new anthem this afternoon, but anyway I can help a little on the cleaning. Then you can make Rodman do a few of the odd jobs, it will be a novelty to him; and Cephas will work his fingers to the bone for you, as you well know, if you treat him like a human being."

"All right!" cried Patty joyously, her mood changing in an instant. "There’s Rod coming over the bridge now! Toss me my gingham apron and the scrubbing-brush, and the pail, and the tin of soft soap, and the cleaning cloths; let’s see, the broom’s down there, so I’ve got everything. If I wave a towel from the store, pack up luncheon for three. You come down and bring your mending; then, when you see how I’m getting on, we can consult. I’m going to take the ten cents I’ve saved and spend it in raisins. I can get a good many if Cephas gives me wholesale price, with family discount substracted from that. Cephas would treat me to candy in a minute, but if I let him we’d have to ask him to the picnic! Good-bye!" And the volatile creature darted down the hill singing, "There’ll be something in heaven for children to do," at the top of her healthy young lungs.

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Chicago: Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin, "VIII the Joiner’s Shop," 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 January 24, 2021, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5LPF98FAF2PQNXI.

MLA: Wiggin, Kate Douglas Smith. "VIII the Joiner’s Shop." 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. 24 Jan. 2021. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5LPF98FAF2PQNXI.

Harvard: Wiggin, KD, 'VIII the Joiner’s Shop' in Story of Waitstill Baxter, ed. and trans. . cited in 1916, Story of Waitstill Baxter, A. L. Burt Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 24 January 2021, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5LPF98FAF2PQNXI.