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Did I ever tell you about the way we fooled Tish Brown's father's only brother Ebenezer on his own honey? Well, I'll tell you that story after a bit, but I'm goin' to tell you now about Mary Jane Brown, this same Ebenezer's daughter, who once taught school in our neighborhood.
Ebenezer Brown was a mighty religious man, bein' a steward in the church, the same as father, an' when Mary Jane got her certificate an' went for a schoolmarm, it worried her father terrible for fear she'd forget the strict rules of conduct he'd laid down to her at home.
It so happened that she was chosen to teach in the little red schoolhouse in our neighborhood, and as this was only a few miles from her home, you'd hardly think that Ebenezer would have thought that his darlin' daughter had gone far away from him into the wide, sinful world, but he did.
Father was head trustee, an' it was the custom for the teacher to start her round of boardin' with us. So, the day after New Year's, Ebenezer fetched Mary Jane an' her trunk to our place, and handed her over gingerly to mother. Then he found father in the drive-house an' said to him, very solemn:
"Stephen, I've brought Mary Jane to stop with you a spell, an' it's mighty glad I'd be of placin' her in your care an' that of your excellent wife but for one thing."
"What's that?" father asked, sharply, as was his way.
"Well, you see," Ebenezer went on, "Mary Jane's my one ewe lamb, an' I've bin terrible particklar about her bringin' up, an' if I do say it of my own child, she jest simply don't know that there's sich a thing as sin in the world."
"You don't mean me to infer, Ebenezer," father said, most taken off his feet, "that my house ain't a fit place for your daughter?"
"Nothin' of the sort, nothin' of the sort," returned Ebenezer, winkin' his little eyes as if he'd caught a cinder. He was the worse man to wink his eyes you ever see. "I know you, Stephen, to the backbone," he went on, "an' I've allus said if there was one woman more worthy than another to take the blessed sacrament it was your wife; but it's the boys, George an' Ed, that I'm afraid of."
"What of them?" father asked, for he was techy on the subject of me an' Ed, and for all he would dress us down himself for every little thing, he didn't relish listenin' to other folks doin' it.
"George an' Ed are bright boys, I own," Ebenezer answered, cautious like; "but the truth is, Stephen, that since they've growed up to what might be called young men, they've been considerably talked about, I understand, not only in this neighborhood, but as far away as our section. You do let 'em go about considerable, you can't deny that, Stephen; an' I've even heard that they've a rig apiece an' drive out to wait on girls of a Sunday, jest as if they was courtin'. Why, only last Sunday George was down to see my brother's girl, Letitia."
"I don't see anything very wicked in that," father said, dryly.
"But that ain't it," continued Ebenezer, evidently with a load on his mind. "Folks say they go to dances an' public parties; and, while far be it from me to say what other folk's children should be 'lowed to do, I want it distinctly understood that my Mary Jane shall never dance a step while I live. So I ask you, Stephen, as brother Christian to brother, to keep an eye on the boys an' see that they don't put any wild notions in Mary Jane's head."
They had some more talk, but that was the substance of it, and father lectured me an' Ed for an hour in the barn, where we all sat huskin' corn, on the strength of it.
Now, it kind of riled me an' Ed to be raked over the coals by old Ebenezer Brown, who had the reputation of tradin' horses not strictly on points, and we made up our minds to give Mary Jane a good lettin' alone, although she was a kind of cute little thing, an' we both liked her.
We was now long about twenty and eighteen, me an' Ed, and we liked a good time as well as the next one. Ed had learned to play the fiddle, and as I could "call off" fine, we was in great demand at all the dances for as much as five miles around home.
There was lots of dances that winter, and we went to most of 'em. It's true, we only had one cutter between us, but we used to take turns usin' it, and the unfortunate one had to drive his girl in a light market sleigh we had.
Mary Jane saw us goin' and comin' from these parties, and as her cousin Tish used to tell her everything, she knew we was goin' to dances, an' that I took Tish every time we could fix up a yarn that would deceive the latter's father.
Mary Jane got restless after a bit, see-in' so much fun goin' on under her nose an' her not in it. So she up and says to me one day, when I'd picked her up at the schoolhouse on my way from the village, and was drivin' her home:
"George," she says, "I hear there's goin' to be a party down to Jones's Mills next Friday evenin'."
"I've heard so, too," I says, wonderin' what she was drivin' at.
"What kind of a party is it goin' to be?" she says.
"Church of England," I says. "A kind of house-warmin' at the Stevens's for the English Church. They set a box near the door, an' you can drop in what you like."
"Oh, is that all," says Mary Jane, mournful like. "Tish told me it was goin' to be a dance."
"Tish is a great talker," I says.
Now, it struck me that Mary Jane seemed quite cast down when I didn't give her any encouragement in the matter of the party. She sat silent for a bit, an' then she put up her face, bashful like (she was a mighty pretty girl when she looked like that), and said:
"It's awful stupid of me stayin' home every night, and Tish and you an' Ed and the rest of the young folks havin' such good times. I just said so to Tish, and she said to me, Mary Jane, you're a little fool for bein' so timid. Why don't you ask George to take you? ' There, now!"
"Not to a dance!" says I, horrified.
"But this ain't goin' to be a dance; just a party," she pleaded.
"Well," says I, "It's just like this, Mary Jane: Your father would have a fit if he heard of you goin' anywhere with me or Ed. We're bad, wicked boys, to him," I says.
"Pshaw! she says, smilin' up at me. "Father's an old fossil, that's what he is, and haven't I known you an' Ed for years, and don't Tish go with you everywhere?"
It occurred to me right there an' then that Mary ane had been very much underestimated by me an' Ed, and I decided that if she wanted to go to the Church of England party, I'd take her an' let old Ebenezer go to the deuce. So says I:
"Mary Jane, if you want to go next Friday evenin', get ready for it an' I'll take you, though I half promised to take Tish, and it's Ed's turn for the cutter."
"Tish won't mind; she said she wouldn't," Mary Jane says in return, and I saw that Tish had been puttin' notions into her good little cousin's head.
I tried to buy Ed off on the cutter, but it wouldn't go, for he had a new girl in mind for the party, and wanted to go in style. Ed was mighty selfish about the cutter when it was his turn. But to make matters worse, what does father an' mother decide to do but go visitin' on Friday, sayin' they won't be home till long in the evenin', and they knew me an' Ed intended goin' to the party!
Ed laughed an' Mary Jane cried when they heard of this last stroke; but I wasn't to be beat, 'specially when Mary Jane felt so bad about it, and had worked all the week on her dress.
So when father an' mother drove off, I cleaned out the big bob-sleigh — the box was eighteen inches high and ten feet long, — filled it half full of clean rye straw, fixed the seat comfortable, and decided to hitch in the span an' drive Mary Jane to the party. I knew I could sneak the bobs into the Church shed where none of the other fellers would be likely to spot me, for we was mighty sensitive on the point of our turnouts in them days, I tell you.
We got to the party all right, and I see that Mary Jane was enjoyin' every minute of it. They had all kinds of games — good old games they was — that took the bashfulness out of a feller; and the schoolmarm went into it, blushin' but happy.
Long about 'leven o'clock the older folks began to leave for home, and I saw Ed goin' into the big dinin' room with his fiddle under his arm. I knew the trouble was about to begin, for you know all these Church of England parties was sure to end up in a dance.
I found Mary Jane talkin' with Will Tinker an' eatin' a big apple, and I called her to one side.
"Mary Jane," I says, very polite like, "it's goin' on midnight, and some of the folks are beginnin' to leave. Don't you think you'd better be makin' a move towards puttin' on your things?"
"Dear me, George!" she cried, "you don't say it's so late! I'd have guessed ten at the latest."
At that moment I heard Ed draw the bow across his fiddle, tunin' up, and it fairly made my heart ache.
"Must we really be goin'?" says Mary Jane, plaintive like, not pretendin' to have heard the fiddle.
"To tell the truth," says I, solemn as a judge, "I'm surprised at this party. They're turnin' it into a dance, I'm afraid!"
Mary Jane looked horrified. " We must go home!" she said
I don't know whether it showed in my face or not, but I did hate like a dog to leave when the fun was just commencin', and I knew that Will Tinker would be only too glad to get a chance of callin' off. Mary Jane evidently saw my distress, for says she:
"George, you don't want to go."
"To be honest," says I, " Mary Jane, I don't."
"Couldn't I just stand an' look on?" she says.
My spirits rose. "Yes," says I, "you can if you only will, but your father'll skin you if he ever hears of it."
"Pshaw!" says she with that darin' twinkle of the eye. "I guess I'm safe with you, George."
The dance began. I called off the square an' the round dances, and danced all the waltzes an' polkas. Mary Jane sat in a chair near the dinin' room door, and every time I passed her she smiled up at me just as happy as a kitten.
Durin' an intermission, while Ed was eatin' cake with his new girl (and a daisy she was — I'd never seen her before), I went over an' set down by Mary Jane.
"Ain't it lovely to know how to dance," says she, all aglow. "Oh, if I only knew how!"
"It's nothin' to learn," says I.
"Do you think I could learn?" says she, earnest like.
"Can a duck swim?" says I, laughin'.
"Really," says she, "do you think I could if I tried?"
Just then the fiddle started up a waltz. I grabbed Mary Jane.
"Come!" says I. "Now's your chance," and we was soon flyin' round to the music. She was a born dancer. In two whirls she caught the step an' was right with me. Did she like it? Well, I never saw a happier girl, and I danced every remainin' dance with her, lettin' Will Tinker get all the glory he wanted callin' off.
We started for home at two in the mornin'. The weather had changed in the night, and a sharp wind was blowin', bringin' with it a fine sleet that stung the face like needle pricks. We stood it for a mile or so, but I see it was punishin' Mary Jane terrible, so I set the seat back three feet or so, and told her to sit down in the nice dry straw an' lean against the seat. Then I tied the reins 'round the dashboard, knowin' the horses would go home all right, and sittin' down by the schoolmarm, pulled the buffalo robe over our heads, and there we was, comfortable as could be, holdin' hands like the two babes in the woods.
Then a peculiar thing happened. I heard the bell of a far-away Church ringin'; then a voice callin' to me from a high hill — just the murmur of a voice — then a slow poundin' — a dull, thumpin' sound; then the voice from the hill comin' nearer an' nearer, growin' louder an' louder, till I felt my blood rushin' into my head and my ears fairly deafened with the noise. The voice was now directly over me. I opened my eyes. The buffalo robe was held aloft and I heard father say, —
"Well, if this don't beat all!"
I looked about me. The bob-sleigh with the horses still hitched to it was in the drive-house at home, and father was standin' by the side with one corner of the buffalo robe in his hand. It was broad daylight. I looked for Mary Jane. There she sat in the straw, her head against the cushion of the seat, sound asleep, but still hangin' tight to my left hand.
"Now, sir," says father with a grin, "what does this mean?"
It was enough to make even him smile. Me an' Mary Jane had gone to sleep the minute almost we sat down in the straw, for neither of us could remember a thing, and the horses brought us home, goin' into the drive-house, the doors of which had luckily been left open. Father comin' out in the mornin' found the bob-sleigh there, and liftin' the robe discovered the two of us.
Say! Mary Jane wouldn't look at me out of the corner of her eye for the next fortnight.