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The Remarkable Taste of Ebenezer Brown
A man makes a mistake when he convinces himself that he's so expert in certain things that he can't make a mistake. I used to think, for instance, that the man didn't live that could beat me tradin' horses. I honestly believed that I knowed every ailin' that a horse was subject to, and that in a two-mile drive I could tell what a horse was good for as well as if I'd raised that horse from a colt. But it cost me a hundred-dollar colt an' twenty dollars to boot to discover that a wind-broken, worthless horse'll travel for ten miles at a round trot, with his head in the air, on a pint of shot judiciously administered. Why, I've seen — but that's neither here nor there.
Ebenezer Brown's pride was his sense of taste. Ebenezer was not a bettin' man, he bein' a steward in the Church; but if he'd been a bettin' man, he'd have wagered his farm any time that he could tell the various ingredients in a spoonful of honey just by puttin' it to his lips. He'd been born an' brought up with bees, and he knew their habits like a book.
But it was his boast that you could blindfold him an' place him where you would, and he could tell just how much clover, wild blossoms, flowers an' buckwheat was in any sample of honey that might be presented to him. He despised buckwheat honey; wouldn't have an acre of buckwheat on his farm, and considered it an unfriendly act if any of his neighbors sowed buckwheat within travellin' distance of his bees.
Spring blossom an' clover honey was the only kind he wanted, and he was mighty particular to harvest his honey each year before buckwheat was in bloom, so that if by chance his bees showed such bad taste as to gather any of the brown buckwheat nectar, they could eat it themselves durin' the winter an' not force it on him.
He certainly had a remarkable taste, but as I said before, we all come to the time when we're brought face to face with the fact that we're not above mistakes, and me an' Ed was the means of takin' Ebenezer down a peg in his own estimation, though I've always wished we hadn't done it, for the old man never seemed as lighthearted afterwards.
It was this way: When Ebenezer's daughter Mary Jane finished her year of school teachin' in our section, her father 'lowed that the amount of her salary was not sufficient to overbalance his worryin' about her bein' led into temptation, so he took her back home.
Ed hadn't said much to Mary Jane when she was under his nose, but as soon as she'd retired to private life an' Ebenezer loomed up as a dragon, keepin' her in confinement, Ed took a notion that Mary Jane was a very desirable girl to be sociable with, and he forthwith began to pay her all the attention circumstances permitted of.
This suited Mary Jane down to the ground, for she thought Ed was about right, and his fiddle playin' completely charmed her. But the dragon, Ebenezer, was a stickler. He forbid Mary Jane havin' beaux. He wanted no young men foolin' 'round his daughter, — no, siree; and he wouldn't have it.
Ed didn't mind this in the least, for he liked excitement, and he stood in solid with mother Brown. She thought the sun rose an' set in Ed, for when he laid himself out you could fairly see the wings tryin' to break through his coat. So when Ebenezer wasn't home, Ed was there, and many's the time he's sparked with Mary Jane in the parlor when Ebenezer was sleepin' the sleep of the just, and Mrs. Brown beside him on guard.
Tish Brown, who was Mary Jane's cousin, as I've told you, aided an' abetted all this. Me an' Tish was thick as we could be without bein' actually engaged. Tish was a likely girl, I tell you. I've never seen her equal, and she might have been my wife to-day but for the meanest trick I ever heard of bein' played on a couple. It's really worth tellin'.
One night in summer me an' Tish was drivin' home from meetin' in a new piano-box buggy I'd just bought, and it bein' a quiet, balmy kind of evenin' we let the horse go his own gait, and got to passin' back an' forth some pretty sweet remarks. I told Tish how much I thought of her, and she wasn't at all backward in ownin' up that she thought I was about as near the specification as a feller needed to be. I said to Tish frankly that I believed she was the prettiest girl in the two concessions, and she owned that since I'd got a mustache there wasn't a feller anywhere's around as could hold a candle to me. I allowed that, not exceptin' Jane, who Tish knew was a truly remarkable cook, she was the star artist in gettin' up a tasty meal, and Tish allowed that her father had said that I knew more about scientific farmin' than any other young man in the county.
We run on this way, gettin' pretty spooney, as you may guess, but we reached her home before I'd nerved myself up to the poppin' point.
Along the middle of the followin' week I met a feller by the name of Reub Tompkins down at Milton. Me an' Reub was old friends and had always known each other. Somehow or other he turned the conversation on to Tish Brown.
"I was up to Tish's last evenin'," he says.
"How was they all?" I says.
"Good — first-rate," he says, and then he laughs.
"What are you grinnin' at?" says I.
"Oh, nothin'," he says, and then he says, slappin' me on the back: "George," he says, "I don't know but what you're pretty near all right. Since you growed your mustache, George," he says, "there ain't a feller anywhere's around as can hold a candle to you!"
"What's this you're givin' me?" I says, feelin' pretty foolish.
"George," he says with a grin, "I've heard father say you knowed more about scientific farmin' than any other young man in the county!"
The blood rushed to my face in a flame, and with a pretty strong word I turned on my heel an' walked away.
"To think," says I to myself, my blood boilin', "that Tish 'ud go to work an' tell every word I said to her to Reub Tompkins!"
I don't believe I was ever madder in my life. All the love I ever had for the girl turned to hate in me, and I could have stamped her under my feet for makin' me the laughin' stock of the two concessions.
I'd never heard of a girl playin' a feller as dirty a trick as that. What a girl an' her beau say to one another is sacred; always was an' always will be; but here was Tish, my brave old Tish — my handsome Tish — who I'd knowed from a baby an' who always seemed to like me — goin' an' givin' me dead away to Reub Tompkins, a feller she barely knew!
"That settles Tish Brown for me!" says I, and I never went near her for a month. Then I met her at a strawberry festival. I thought she'd be after me for an explanation, and then I could tell her what I thought of her; but no, sir! She passed me by with her head in the air like a queen, and I never spoke to her again for nigh on twenty years.
I'd lost most of my hair an' was a mighty different-lookin' feller than I once was when I run across her, but she knew me. I own I had no idea who the pale-lookin' woman was who grabbed me by the arm an' said: —
"George, don't you know me?"
I looked hard, and then it come on me who it was.
"Tish!" I cried, and my heart was in my throat.
"Yes, it's me! she said. "Old an' homely an' broken down as you see me, but the same old Tish at heart."
We went into the City Hotel parlor an' sat down to talk it over. The first words she said was,
"George, it was all a mistake!"
I knew what she meant.
"I might have knowed it," I said. "But," said I, "how the mischief, Tish, did Reub Tompkins know every word that you said to me that night we drove home from Milton, if you didn't tell him?"
"I'll tell you, George," Tish replied, with a sad, little smile, "if you'll tell me how Reub Tompkins knew every word that you said to me on the same occasion, if you did'nt tell him."
"Great Scott! Tish!" I cried, "you don't mean to tell me after all these years that Reub told you the same's he did me?
"I do!" said she, "and I know how he come to do it!"
"Tell me!" I asked.
Tish brushed a tear from her cheek an' replied with the same feeble little smile I see she was forcin' on herself, and answered:
"We was so taken up with one another that evenin'," she said, "that we didn't notice Reub when we passed him on the road, and we didn't feel the jar when he jumped an' seated himself lightly in the buggy box behind us; and so he sat there an' heard every word we said to each other. He thought it a good joke to let on to each of us that he knew what we said, though he never told another livin' soul. He never thought it would make the trouble between us that it did, and when he found out how angry we both was he felt ashamed to own up, so he let it drift on. But he told me about it for the first time last year when I run across him here in the city."
I didn't speak for a minute or so. Then I said, slowly:
"It was a bad business for me an' you, Tish."
"It might have been worse, George," she said, "for we both fell on our feet in the marriage line, I guess."
"I've got a good wife, Tish," I said. "But we can't entirely forget the old days."
"We must, George," she said, risin' to her feet. "I just wanted you to know that I wasn't the mean girl you thought me all these years. So good-bye."
That's the romance of me an' Tish. Ain't it a caution what little things turn the courses of our lives!
But to get back to my story when me an' Tish was young an' foolish, and thinkin' nothin' at all of the future: Tish planned to have her cousin Mary Jane over to her place a good deal, and it made it very nice for me an' Ed to meet the girls there. I haven't mentioned that Tish had two sisters older than herself, have I? Well, she had, — Martha an' Minerva was their names — and they both had beaux. So you see, when we got together at Tish's of a Sunday evenin' we made quite a party.
The girls had a certain rule about entertainin' their beaux. It was like this: Martha bein' the oldest, had the parlor, Minerva the sittin' room an' Tish the kitchen. This, of course, when all the fellers was on hand.
When Mary Jane was visitin' an' Ed came, there was no place for them, so they had to manceuvre the best they knew how, and Ed was no slouch at this, as you'll presently see.
Well, one nice Sunday afternoon me an' Ed, both with a rig of our own, drove up to Tish's an' found Martha's feller, Joe Perry, and Tom Clark, Minerva's beau, already on the ground. But to Ed's sorrow there was no Mary ane, although she'd promised to be on hand. Neither Tish or her sisters knew why Mary Jane hadn't come over, so it was decided that everybody would hitch up an' we'd all swoop down on Ebenezer as a surprise.
This we did, and contrary to expectation the dragon was in a very amiable mood, and insisted on us all stayin' for supper. He see we was all double but Ed, and he turned to him with a sly wink.
"It seems to me, Ed," he says, " as if the other boys was gettin' ahead of you. You don't seem to have a girl."
"That's the way it looks, Mr. Brown," says Ed with a sober face. "The girls don't cotton to me much, so I just come along with George to keep him straight." The old man chuckled. "Cheer up," he says. "You may get one some day."
"I hope so," says Ed, and he give Tom Clark a wink that nearly sent that chap into the haymow with convulsions.
"You don't know a girl about these parts, Mr. Brown," Ed says, "who might be had for the askin'?"
Ebenezer scratched his head. " I can't think of one just now," he says. "But I'll keep my eyes open for you," he says.
"Do," says Ed, "and I'll be much obliged. In the meantime I'll just amuse myself watchin' these fellers," he says, " and seein' how they get on."
The old man was now in excellent temper, and nothin' would do but we must go out an' see his bees. This we did, walkin' in Injun file behind him to the row of hives. As he passed each hive he'd stop an' look at it attentively.
"Pretty near ripe," he'd say, "pretty near ripe. Will be ready to pick soon now."
But when he come to the second hive from the end he went gingerly behind it an' looked through the glass in the little box, or cap, which set on top of the hive.
"Fine!" he says. "Fine! Ready to pick to-morrow," he says. "Every drop clover — pure clover — every drop. Not a speck of buckwheat in that cap."
Bees didn't interest me particularly, so I was glad when we turned towards the house. The girls had taken off their things an' was waitin' for us, Mary Jane buzzin' about among 'em an' pretendin' not to notice Ed or the rest of us.
Ebenezer stuck right to us. I never see him so sociable, and wouldn't have believed he could be so jolly. It seemed to tickle him that Ed had drove up without a girl, and he says to Mary Jane:
"You must be nice to Ed, Mary Jane," he says, "for you see he ain't got any girl."
Mary Jane hung down her head an' her father laughed.
"Bashful," says he. " Bashful as all git out. Why, Mary Jane," he says, "Ed
won't bite you — will you, Ed?" says he.
"I don't know 'bout that!" says Ed, and he looked the meanin' of his words.
But Ebenezer kept on:
"Ed wants me to find him a girl," he says, "and I've promised to do it. You don't know of any one, do you?"
"There's Sarah Ann Stevens," says Mary Jane with a lightnin' twinkle of her eye at Ed.
The old man roared.
"Just the one!" he cried; "just the one! I'll look after it for you," he says to Ed. "Me an' Mary Jane'll fix you out all right."
An' so it run on, makin' lots of fun for us all, for we knew that if Ebenezer thought for a minute Ed had a notion of puttin' up to Mary Jane he'd have ordered him from the house.
We set around awhile after supper an' then, two by two, we started to leave. I missed Ed while I was hitchin' up, but s'posed he was havin' a private word with Mary Jane in her father's absence. I found him standin' near my buggy when I come from the house with Tish. Then we drove away. Ed followed in a few minutes, an' when we got to Tish's he was right behind us.
"It seems to me, George, as if you must have driven over Uncle Ebenezer's beehives," he called, as we went through the gate.
"That's as true as I live!" Tish cried. "I've smelled honey all the way home!"
Martha an' Joe an' Minerva an' Tom both swore they smelt honey, too, so nothin' would do but we must get a lantern and examine my buggy.
Settin' there in the back, what did we find but a fine cap of honey!
Of course everybody was surprised, but no one could account for the honey till Ed owned up that while we was hitchin'up he'd lifted Ebenezer's pet cap of clover honey that was already to pick to-morrow! The girls saw there was nothin' to do but make the best of the joke, so they sneaked the honey into the house an' hid it for a couple of weeks. After that time they felt it safe to bring it forth from hidin', and it was represented as bein' a present from my father to Mrs. Brown in return for her kindness to me an' Ed.
You can imagine how wild Ebenezer was when he missed his honey, but he never suspected us for a moment, layin' the theft to some wretch or wretches unknown. Mary Jane told us afterwards that he really mourned for that cap of honey as for one dead an' refused to be comforted.
But it seemed we couldn't use that honey up. It hung on an' on until I'd 'bout forgotten it, until well in the fall, when it burst in on us in the followin' way:
It was Sunday, as usual. Everything happened on a Sunday in them days. Ebenezer an' Mrs. Brown, with Mary Jane, had been invited to take dinner with Tish's parents, it bein' Tish's father's birthday. Me an' Ed an' Joe Perry an' Tom Clark was on hand as usual, and the big dinin'- room table had a crowd about it when we all sat down.
After the blessin's, the talk went along finely, and Ebenezer was particularly happy in his remarks an' continued to quiz Ed about his lack of a girl, though if he'd had half an eye he could have seen that Mary Jane an' Ed was dartin' love at each other across the table.
Presently Tish's mother jumps up all of a sudden an' crys:—
"Why! To think that here's Ebenezer with us an' we haven't got a drop of honey on the table! Minerva," she says, "go right down cellar an' bring up a plate of that delicious clover honey George's father sent to me."
Minerva went, tottering, and I felt rather than heard a sigh go the rounds of the table. We was certainly in for it now, for Ebenezer, with his remarkable taste, would instantly spot that honey as his own!
If I could have crawled under the table an' got out I should certainly have gone, but there was no escape, and Minerva appeared with a generous plate of the honey and, obedient to her mother's command, set it directly before her Uncle Ebenezer.
The old man perked his head with delight. He was at his proudest moment — about to pass judgment on the product of a rival bee-keeper, and a no less distinguished one than my father.
He dipped his knife into the honey an' twisted a load on its point with practiced skill, while we shivered an' held our breath.
Then he sniffed the honey. He sniffed again, and we noticed a pained expression come into his face. Then he delicately tasted the honey, runnin' his tongue slowly between his lips.
I knew I was growin' deadly pale from suppressed emotion. You could have heard a pin drop until Mrs. Brown broke the weird silence.
"Well, Ebenezer," she said, "how do you like it?"
"George," said the old man, solemnly, turnin' to me, "I'm s'prised at your father — such a careful man as he is, toosendin' out such stuff as this under the name of clover honey!" Then he added, with a horrified look in his eyes: "There's positively buckwheat in it!"
The shock was too great. I give one look at Tish an' Ed. They was grittin' their teeth to hold in. The absurdity of the thing was too much. I snorted, and that touched off the rest of the young people an' the table shook with laughter.
Ebenezer looked pained. Then he looked at the honey. Then a smile crept into the corners of his mouth. He tasted the honey carefully.
"It's my stolen cap!" he said.
"But, sir," said I, with the tears runnin' from my eyes, "there's positively buckwheat in it!"
"George," said he, "we'll let it drop where it is. But if you want to keep out of jail, don't tell your father what I said, that's all."