Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
THE VERMIFUGE BOTTLE
"Shall we dip the lambs as we did last spring, after shearing the sheep?" Addison asked the Old Squire, as we drew back from table.
"I suppose we shall have to do it," the old gentleman replied. "It is a disagreeable job, but it needs to be done."
"That means another poke stew!" cried Ellen, with a look of disgust.
I was quite in the dark as to what a "poke stew" might be.
"O it's beautiful smellin' stuff!" exclaimed Halstead. "Going to put any tobacco into it?" he asked.
"A little," replied Gramp. "That is about the only use I ever would like to see tobacco put to," he added with a glance at Halse, at which the latter gave me a sly nudge under the table.
"Then I suppose we may as well take two large baskets with tools for digging, and go down to Titcomb's meadow for the poke," suggested Addison. "If you can get the arch-kettle hot while we are gone, we can have the poke put to stew and simmer, so as to be good and strong by day after to-morrow. I suppose you will shear the sheep that day; and by the next morning the lambs will need attending to, will they not, sir?"
"Most likely," replied the Old Squire, smiling to see how Addison was taking the burden of work on his young shoulders. "I can certainly get the kettle hot," he added, laughing. "That looks like the easiest part of the job."
"But you worked hard this forenoon, sir," Addison said. "I noticed how you handled those sheep. To wash seventy sheep is no light job."
"Ad doesn't count me in at all," remarked Halse. "I reckon the 'Assistant Washer' had something to do."
"Yes, my Assistant worked well," said the Old Squire. "I could not have washed more than fifty, but for his aid."
"Well, there is one thing to be said, right here and now," interposed Gram with decision. "I cannot and will not have that awful mess of poke, tobacco and what-not brewed in the kitchen arch-kettle. Now you hear me, Joseph. Last year you stewed it there and you nearly drove us out of the house. Such a stench I never smelled. It made me sick all night and filled the whole house. I said then it should never come into the kitchen again. You must take the other kettle and set it up out of doors."
"Aren't you growing a little fussy, Ruth?" replied the Old Squire, evidently to rally her, for he laughed roguishly.
"Maybe I am," replied Gram, shortly. "If you were a little more 'fussy' about some things, it would be no failing."
This bit of fencing amused Addison and Theodora very much; and I began to surmise that good-humored as grandmother habitually was, she yet had a will of her own and was determined to regulate her domain indoors in the way she deemed suitable.
"Well, we will boil the stuff out of doors this year," replied the Old Squire. "It is not the kind of perfumery women-folks like to smell," he added, teasingly.
"Now don't try to be funny about it," rejoined Gram severely. "I never ran you much in debt for perfumery, as you know. But I don't think it is quite fair for a man to bring such a nauseous mess as that into the kitchen to stew, then run off and leave it for the women-folks to stand over and stir, and finally leave the dirty kettle for them to scrub out the next day!"
"Hold on, Ruth! Hold on. You've let out a great deal more than I wanted you to, now!" cried the Old Squire. "I remember now, I did forget that kettle last year. 'Twas too bad. I don't blame you, Ruth Ann, I don't blame you in the least for grumbling about it."
With that Gram looked up and laughed, but still gave her head a slight toss.
I watched for a day or two a little anxiously, to see if she really cherished any resentment, but soon discovered that there was no real ill-feeling; it was only Gram's way of holding her ground and standing for her house rights.
As we went out to get shovels and the two baskets, I ventured to ask Addison, confidentially, whether Gram were really severe. "No!" said he. "She's all right. She touches the Old Squire up a little once in awhile, when he needs it; she always gets him foul, too. I suppose he doesn't try very hard to hold up his end, but she always floors him when they get to sparring. Then he will laugh and say something to patch things up again. O they never really quarrel. Gramp once said to me, as we were going out into the field together, after Gram had been touching him up, 'Addison,' said he, 'your grandmother was a Pepperill. They were nice folks; but they had spicy tempers, some of them. Old Sir William Pepperill, that led our people down to Louisburg, was her great-great-uncle. They were good old New England stock, but none of them would ever bear a bit of crowding; and I always take that into account.'"
Halstead came out and then went to search for a tool which they termed a "nigger hoe," a hoe with a narrow blade, such as, in the old plantation days of the South, the negroes are said to have used for turning over the turf of new fields.
Theodora came to the door of the wagon-house. "Going with us after poke?" Addison called out to her.
"I wish we could," she replied; "but we have lots to do in the house. Gram says that, as we were out all the forenoon, we must stay indoors the rest of the day."
Ellen, too, was espied gazing regretfully after us, as we set off with the baskets and tools. Halse had a pocketful of doughnuts (which he always called duffnuts). He had made a raid on the pantry, he said, and enlivened the way by topping off his dinner with them.
We went out through the fields to the southwest of the farm buildings, then crossed a lot called the calf pasture, and then a swale, descending through woods and bushes into the valley of the west brook.
"This is the meadow-brook," said Addison. "But Titcomb's meadow is a mile below here. We will follow down the brook till we come to it.
"That's poke," he continued, pointing to a thick, rank, green plant, with great curved leaves, now about a foot in height and growing near the bank of the brook. Halstead gave one of the plants a crushing stroke with his hoe, and I noticed that it gave off a very unpleasant odor.
"It is poison," Addison remarked. "It is the plant that botanists call veratrum viride, I believe. But the common name is Indian poke."
"O Ad knows everything; his head is stuffed with long words!" exclaimed Halse, derisively. "It'll bust one of these days. I don't dare to get very near him on that account."
"No danger that yours will ever 'bust' on account of what's inside it," retorted Addison, laughing.
But Halstead, although he had begun the joking, did not appear to take this shot back in good part. He turned aside and began to cut a witch-hazel rod.
"Now quit that, Halse," exclaimed Addison. "Wait till we get the poke dug, then we will all three cut some rods and fish for half an hour."
But Halstead proceeded to string a hook, bait it with a bit of pork which he had brought, and then dropped it into a hole beside an alder bush at a bend of the stream.
"He is the most provoking fellow I ever saw," muttered Addison. "He will fish all the time, and we will have the poke to dig. I meant to show you a good hole to fish in, but now he will scare all the trout away!
"Come on, Halse!" he shouted back. "What's the use to skulk and shirk like that?"
"O you dig viratum-viridy!" cried Halstead. "You understand all about that, you know. I don't comprehend it well enough; but I guess I can manage to fish a little." A moment after we saw him haul out a trout, which glistened as it went wriggling through the air and fell in the grass. Halse got it, and holding it up so that we could see it, shouted, "No viratum-viridy about that!"
"No use fooling with him," Addison said to me. "His nose is out of joint about that word. He will not lift a finger to help us, but will catch a good string of fish to take home; and if I say a word about it to the folks, he will declare that I was so overbearing that he couldn't work with me. That's the song he always sings.
"Sometimes," continued Addison, with another backward glance of suppressed indignation, "I get so 'mad' all through at that boy that I could thrash him half to death. If it wasn't for Doad and the old folks, I believe I should do it.
"But of course that isn't the best thing to do," Addison continued. "The best way to get along is to have as little to do with him as you can, and not pay any attention to his quirks. For he is the trick pony in this family. You cannot go out with him anywheres, without having some sort of a circus; I defy you to. You see now, if we ever go out together, without a scrape."
We went on down the brook to the meadow, called after its owner's name; the stream was more sluggish here, and along its turfy banks the clumps of Indian poke were very numerous. With shovel and hoe, we then proceeded to dig up the rank-growing and ranker-smelling plant. To get out much of the root required a great effort, and we did not like to smear our hands with the juice. For this plant (which is the same made use of by homoeopathic physicians as a medicine) proves poisonous to cattle when, as is sometimes the case in the early spring, the animals are tempted to crop its rank, fresh leaves. In order to take home enough in our two baskets, we trod it down with our feet very solidly; and when at length they were heaped full, each was heavy.
"I wish Ellen could have come, to help us home with it," said Addison. "There ought to be two to each basket, one on each side, and so change hands once in a while."
"Are we going to fish now?" I asked.
"Well, but you see the sun is nearly down," replied Addison. "It is getting late in the afternoon for fishing, and we have a hard job before us, to tote these baskets home. Besides, Halse has fished away down past us, in all the good holes. I guess we had better not stop this time, but wait for a lowery day.
"Come, help carry these baskets home!" he shouted to Halstead, who was now near the lower end of the meadow. But the latter was very intent at a trout-hole into which he had just dropped his hook, and did not respond. We waited a few minutes, then shouldered the baskets, and carrying our shovels in our free hands, set off. At first the basket did not seem very heavy; but, by the time I had gone half a mile, I found myself very tired. Addison, however, plodded sturdily forward with his basket, and after resting for a few moments, I toiled on in his wake.
Presently Halse overtook us.
"Hullo, shirk!" Addison called out. "How many fish?"
Halstead held up a pretty string of fourteen.
"Well, you've had all the fun so far," said Addison. "Now let's see you carry one of these baskets."
"What a fuss about a little basket of green stuff!" exclaimed Halstead contemptuously; and throwing mine on his shoulder, he started on at a great pace.
Before he had got as far as the "calf pasture," however, he began to lag, fell behind and at length set down the basket.
"What was the use of stuffing them so full!" he grumbled. "There was no need of so much."
A few rods farther on, he again set the basket down on a rock. Addison turned round and laughed at him. "What's the matter with that 'little basket of green stuff?'" he exclaimed.
"But there's no need of so much!" cried Halstead, and he threw out a part of it before going on. I gathered up what he threw out and followed behind him. When we came to the stone wall between the pasture and the southwest field, Halse set the basket down and hurried on past Addison to the house, in advance of us.
"He has run ahead to show his trout and tell a fine story," said Addison, with a laugh. "That's the way he always does. But they know him pretty well. I don't take the trouble to contradict any of his talk now."
"Does he tell lies?" I asked.
"Not exactly outright lies," said Addison. "But he will talk large and try to lead the folks to think that he dug the most of the poke and brought it home, besides catching the trout. That's the kind of boy he is; but if I were you, I would not mind anything of that sort. They all know how it is a great deal better than they want to know. You will not lose anything by keeping quiet." Addison saw that I was a little ruffled on account of the fishing incident, and thought it best to calm me.
By the time I reached the farm-yard, where the Old Squire had hung up a large iron kettle and had water boiling in it, I was very tired indeed. What with splitting wood in the early morning, catching seventy sheep and digging and carrying poke, I had put forth a good deal of muscular strength that day, for a lad unused to such exertion. In fact, the day had seemed a week in length to me; for I appeared to myself to have learned a hundred new things since morning, and had passed through a wide series of new experiences.
But supper was ready, and supper is a great source of recuperation with a hungry boy. How delicious the "pop-overs" and maple syrup tasted! I was ashamed to ask for a sixth "pop-over;" but when cousin Theodora called for more and slipped a sixth upon my plate, I felt very grateful to her. Halstead was boasting of his skill fishing, and relating how he threw the trout out of the holes.
"Won't they taste good for breakfast!" he exclaimed. "Nell, if you will clean them and fry them, you shall have three. I shall want four for my share," he continued; "and that will give the rest of you one apiece!"
Addison laughed. "That's real generous of you, Halse, seeing that the rest of us had such poor luck fishing," said he. Theodora was listening, and by and by asked me in a whisper her chair at table being next mine whether Halstead had helped dig the poke.
"Ask Addison," I said, laughing in turn.
She did not ask, but I noticed that her face wore a thoughtful expression during the remainder of the time we were at table.
After supper we put the poke into the kettle. The Old Squire had already chipped up and thrown into it a pound of tobacco; and during the evening we brought wood several times from the wood-shed and kept the kettle boiling. By the time it had grown dark, I was glad to creep away to bed, for I had grown so sleepy that I could scarcely keep my eyes open. It seemed to me, too, that I had no more than fallen soundly asleep when I heard somebody knocking and saying that it was time to get up and dress. 'Twas actually some moments before I could believe that morning had come again. The sun had risen, however, and Halstead was dressing. "Grandmarm's up fryin' my trout," said he. "I can smell 'em. O won't they taste good! But one is all you can have."
"If you had done your part, we might all three have caught some trout," I grumbled, for I felt sleepy still and not in a good humor.
"Look here," said Halstead, "I stand a good deal of that kind of talk from Ad, but you needn't think you can take up his tune."
"What will you do?" I asked.
"Give you a thrashing," said Halstead. "It would do you good, too. One little George Washington is all we can have in this house."
I had some doubts as to his being able to handle me; still he was considerably the larger, and I concluded that I had better not provoke him to a trial of his ability in that direction. But his threat set a deep resentment brewing in my mind. At breakfast time, however, he attempted to soften the asperities of boy life between us, by putting two trout, instead of one, on my plate. I surmised that Theodora had prompted him to do it, however, but was not certain.
Gramp and Ellen had been to the pasture the previous evening and driven the flock of sheep and lambs down to the west barn, where they had remained shut up over night. This was the Old Squire's custom with his flock the night of the washing, to prevent the sheep from taking cold, and also from a theory of his that if they were kept warm for two nights after washing, the oil from their skins would start sufficiently to put the wool in proper condition for shearing on the third day.
After breakfast, the business of the day was announced to be bean-planting, at which Halstead groaned audibly. Twelve quarts of yellow-eyed beans, which had been carefully picked over, were brought out from the granary chamber for seed; and with tin basins to drop from and hoes to cover with, we were about setting off for the field, when the bleating of sheep was heard along the road, and a babel of voices. "There comes Edwards' flock!" cried Halstead. "And there's Tom and Kate."
The flock went streaming along the road; and we young folks turned out to assist in driving them through the field and pasture, down to the yard by the Little Sea.
Thomas I had met already. His sister Catherine looked to be a little older than Ellen. She and our girls appeared to be great friends and rapidly exchanged a stock of small news and confidences. I felt bashful about drawing near them, to receive an introduction; but Ellen brought her young neighbor around, near where I was helping the other boys pen up the sheep, and informed her that I was the new cousin who had come to live at the farm, and hence that we must needs become acquainted. Catherine and I did not become much acquainted, however, for months afterwards.
Thomas and Catherine had an older brother, who did not appear with them that morning. Mr. Edwards himself was a strong, weather-browned farmer, then about forty-five years of age. Addison explained to them the workings of his water-warming apparatus, and showed them where fuel could be gathered for a fire beneath the pipes; we then returned to go to our work. Before we had gone to the field, however, another interruption occurred. A swarm of bees came out of one of the hives, at the bee-house in the garden, and after mounting in a dense, brown cloud into the air over the hives, settled upon the limb of a large apple tree, a few rods distant. Gram bustled out with a pan and began drumming noisily upon it, to drown the hum of the queen bee, as she said, and thus prevent the swarm from flying away.
Meantime the Old Squire was putting on a veil and gloves, and then came out with a saw in his hand, while Addison brought forth a new hive which had been hurriedly rinsed out with salt and water.
"Fetch a ladder, quick!" was the order to Halstead and me.
Theodora had brought the clothes-line, which Addison hastily took from her hands, and climbing the apple tree, attached one end of it to the bending bough upon which the dark-brown mass of bees now clustered. This seemed to me then to be a very brave act, for numbers of the bees were darting angrily about, and one as he afterwards showed us stung him on the wrist.
By this time the Old Squire had set the ladder, and climbing up, sawed off the bough a little back of the point where the bees were clinging to it. All this time Gram was drumming vigorously without cessation; and Theodora having fetched a broad bit of board which she placed on the ground under the tree, Addison slowly lowered the bough with the bees till it rested upon the board, when Gramp clapped the empty hive over them, and the swarm was hived; for during the day the bees went up from the bough into the top of the hive, and that evening it was gently removed to a place in the row of hives at the bee-house.
This was an early swarm, hence valuable. Gram repeated to us a proverb in rhyme which set forth the relative values of swarms.
"A swarm in May is worth a load of hay.
A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon,
But a swarm in July is not worth a fly."
July swarms would not have time to lay up a store of honey during the season of flowers.
Between bees and neighbors the forenoon was far advanced before we reached the field and began bean-planting. Quite enough of it remained, however, to render me certain that farm work, in summer, is far from being a pastime. We planted the beans among the corn which had been planted two weeks previously and was now a finger's length above the ground. The corn hills were three feet and a half apart, and between the hills of every row we now inserted a hill of beans. Halstead and I dropped the seed, three beans to a hill, going a few steps in advance of Addison and the old Squire, who followed us with hoes and covered the beans. The process of dropping was very simple; we had only to make an imprint in the soft earth with the right heel, and then drop three beans in the hole. Yet with the sun hot above my head, I found it a sweaty task, and was but too glad to hear Ellen blow the horn for dinner.
Bean-planting was the business again after dinner, but dark clouds rose in the west, shortly before three o'clock, and soon the first thunder-shower of the season rose, rumbling upward over the White Mountains. We were compelled to run for the barn. Gramp improved the opportunity to sharpen the sheep-shears, and as soon as the shower abated, sent Halstead off to notify a man at the Corners, named Peter Glinds, a professional shearer, that his services would be required on the following day. "Old Peter," as he was called, had made shearing sheep his spring vocation for many years; he was a very tall, lean, yellow old man, who was reported to use a plug of tobacco a day, the year round.
Addison set about preparing a half-hogshead tub to hold the poke decoction for immersing the lambs after the sheep were sheared.
But singeing off caterpillars' nests in the orchard was my work for the remainder of that afternoon and the following forenoon. I went up to the west barn a number of times, however, to see Peter Glinds shear sheep, for I had a great curiosity concerning this piece of farm work.
Addison and Halstead were assisting at the shearing, the latter catching and fetching the sheep, one by one, to the shearers, while the former was attending to the fleeces, binding up each one by itself in a compact bundle with stout twine. Instead of sitting at a bench, or standing at a table, the sheep-shearer worked on his knees, extending the sheep prone upon the barn floor. Old Peter could shear a sheep in ten minutes; Gramp was less speedy with the shears; he contrived to shear about as many as Peter, however, for, after every fourth sheep, the latter would have to stop to light his pipe and refresh himself. "A bad habit! A bad habit!" he would exclaim nearly every time he lighted up. "A bad habit! but I can't seem to get along 'thout it." He also "chewed" constantly during the intervals between smokes.
Peter was not very considerate of the feelings of the sheep while under his hands, and a little careless with the shears. Naturally a sheep will get clipped occasionally, and lose a bit of skin; but all those that Peter sheared were plentifully covered with red spots. It nettled the Old Squire, who always detested needless cruelty to domestic animals. One of the sheep, in fact, looked so badly that Gramp exclaimed, "Glinds, if you are going to skin the sheep, better take a butcher knife!"
"'Twas a bad nestly sheep; 'twouldn't keep still nowheres," replied Peter.
The old man had a thin, but rather long, gray beard; and while shearing one of the sheep, either in revenge for its cuts, or else, as is more likely, mistaking Peter's beard for a wisp of hay, it made a fitful grab at it and tweaked away a small mouthful. Peter cried out angrily and continued scolding in an undertone about it for some minutes. This vastly amused Addison, who chanced to see the incident. In addition to his duties with the wool, Addison was also "doctor." When a sheep was cut with the shears, Gramp had the spot touched up with a swab, dipped in a dish of melted tallow, to coat over the raw place and exclude the air. To be effective, however, the tallow needed to be hot, or at least quite warm, so that Addison was frequently making trips with the tallow dipper to the stove in the house kitchen.
Going in with him to tell the girls of the accident to old Peter's beard, I found them laboring and discouraged over the churn; for some reason the cream had failed to come to butter that morning in a reasonable time. They had been churning for nearly two hours. It was an old-fashioned dasher churn, and the labor was far from light. Addison could not stop to assist them; but I volunteered to do so, and soon found that I had embarked in a tiresome business, for we had to work at the dasher for as much as an hour more before the butter came.
That evening I had an ill turn. It may have been due to change of climate, or of food, or perhaps the unwonted exercise. Gram, however, was convinced that I had a "worm-turn;" and that night, for the first time, I made the acquaintance of the Vermifuge Bottle!
Now Gram was a dear old soul, but had certain fixed ideas as to the ailments of youngsters and the appropriate remedies therefor. Whenever any one of us had taken cold, or committed youthful indiscretions in diet, she was always persuaded that we were suffering from an attack of Worms which I am spelling with a big W, since it was a very large ailment in her eyes. To her mind, and in all honesty, the average child was a kind of walking helminthic menagerie, a thin shell of flesh and skin, inclosing hundreds, if not thousands, of Worms! And drastic measures were necessary to keep this raging internal population down to the limits where a child could properly live.
For this bane of juvenile existence, Gram had one constant, sovereign remedy in which she reposed implicit faith, and which she never varied nor departed from, and that was a great spoonful of Van Tassel's Vermifuge, followed four hours later by two great spoonfuls of castor oil. Be it said, too, that the castor oil of that period was the genuine, oily, rank abomination, crude from the bean, and not the "Castoria" of present times, which children are alleged to cry for! And as for Van Tassel's Vermifuge, it resembled raw petroleum, and of all greenish-black, loathly nostrums was the most nauseous to swallow. It was my fixed belief and hope in those youthful years that, if anywhere in the next world there were a deep, dark, super-heated compartment far below all others, it would be reserved expressly for Van Tassel and his Anthelminthic.
Whenever, therefore, any one of us put in an appearance at the breakfast table, looking a little rusty and "pindling," without appetite, Gram would survey the unfortunate critically, with commiseration on her placid countenance, and exclaim, "The Worms are at work again! Poor child, you are all eaten up by worms! You must take a dose of Vermifuge."
This diagnosis once made, excuses, prayers, sudden assumptions of liveliness, or pseudo exhibitions of ravenous appetite, availed nothing. Gram would rise from the table, walk calmly to the medicine cupboard and fetch out that awful Bottle and Spoon.
With a species of fascination, the Worm-suspect would then watch her turn out the hideous, sticky liquid, till the tablespoon was full and crowning over the brim of it all around. Why, even to this day, as the picture rises in memory, I feel my stomach roll and see the hard, wild grin on the face of Halstead as he watched the ordeal approach me.
"Now shut your eyes and open your mouth," Gram would say, and, when the awful dose was in, "Swallow! Swallow hard!" Then up would come her soft, warm hand under my chin, tilting my head back like a chicken's. There was no escape.
On one occasion Halstead bolted, while the Vermifuge was being poured out, and escaped to the barn. But he had to go without his breakfast that forenoon, and when he appeared at the dinner table, Bottle, Spoon and Gram with a severe countenance were waiting for him.
Theodora used to try to take hers without murmuring, although convinced that it was a mere whim, stipulating only that she might go out in the kitchen to swallow it. But with Wealthy, who was younger, the ingestion of Vermifuge was usually preceded by an orgy of tears and supplications. Addison, who was older and generally well, long smiled in a superior way at the grimaces of us who were more "Wormy." But shortly after our first Thanksgiving Day at the farm, he, too, fell ill and failed to come down to breakfast. On his absence being noted, Gram went up-stairs to inquire into his plight; and it was with a sense of exultation rather than proper pity, I fear, that Halse and I saw the old lady come down presently and get the Vermifuge Bottle. We heard Addison expostulating and arguing in rebuttal for some minutes, but he lost the case. Wealthy, who had stolen up-stairs on tip-toe, to view the denouement, informed us later, in great glee, that Addison had attempted by a sudden movement to eject the nauseous mouthful, but that Gram had clapped one hand under his chin and pinched his nose with the thumb and finger of the other, till he was compelled to swallow, in order to breathe.
About that time it was hopefully observed that the Bottle was nearly empty. A certain cheerfulness sprang up. It proved short-lived. The next time the Old Squire went to the village, Gram sent for two more bottles. The benevolent smile with which she exhibited the fresh supply to us that night caused our hearts to sink. To have it the handier, she poured both bottlefuls into an empty demijohn and put the Spoon beside it in the cupboard.
Addison, although a pretty good boy in the main, was a crafty one. I never knew, certainly, whether or not Halstead and Ellen had any previous knowledge as to the prank Addison played with the Vermifuge, but I rather think not. There was another large flask-shaped bottle in the same cupboard, about half full of elderberry wine, old and quite thick, which Gram had made years before. It was used only "for sickness," and was always kept on the upper shelf. We knew what it was, however; by the time we had been there a year, there were not many bottles in that or any other cupboard which we had not investigated.
The Vermifuge and the old elderberry wine looked not a little alike, and what Ad must have done though he never fairly owned up to it was to shift the thick, dark liquids from one bottle to the other and restore the bottles to their usual places in the cupboard. Time went on and I think that it was Ellen who had next to take a dose from the Bottle. It was then remarked that she neither shed tears nor made the usual wry faces. Nor yet did she appear in haste to seize and swallow the draught of consolatory coffee from the Old Squire's sympathetic hand. "Why, Nellie girl, you are getting to be quite brave," was his approving comment; and Ellen, with a puzzled glance around the table, laughed, looked earnestly at Gram, but said nothing; I think she had caught Addison's eye fixed meaningly on her.
If recollection serves me aright, I was the next whose morning symptoms indicated the need of Vermifuge; and I remember the thrill of amazement that went through me when the Spoon upset its dark contents adown the roots of my tongue and Gram's cozy hand came up under my chin.
"Why, Gram!" I spluttered. "This isn't !"
"Here, dear boy, take a good swallow of coffee. That'll take the taste out o' your mouth," Gramp interrupted, his own face drawn into a compassionate pucker, and he clapped the cup to my mouth. I drank, but, still wondering, was about to break forth again, when a vigorous kick under the table, led me to take second thought. Addison was regarding me in a queer way, so was Ellen. Gram was placidly putting away the Bottle and Spoon; and something that tingled very agreeably was warming up my stomach. I burst out laughing, but another kick constrained me to preserve silence.
For some reason we did not say anything to each other about this, although I remember feeling very curious concerning that last dose. A species of roguish free-masonry took root among us. Once after that, when Vermifuge was mentioned, Addison winked to me; and I think we were pretty well aware that something funny had started, unbeknown to Gram. Theodora, however, knew nothing of it. Whether this reprehensible slyness would have continued among the rest of us, until we had taken up the whole of the elderberry wine, I cannot say; but about a month later, a dismal exposé was precipitated one Friday night by the arrival of Elder Witham. There was to be a "quarterly meeting" at the meeting-house Saturday afternoon and Sunday, and the Elder came to the Old Squire's to stay till Monday morning.
Elder Witham was getting on in years; and upon this occasion he had taken a little cold, and being a lean, tall, atrabilious man, his appetite was affected. Gram, as usual, had prepared a good supper, largely on the Elder's account; but I remember that after we had sat down and the Elder had asked the blessing, he straightened back and said, "Sister S , I see you've got a nice supper. But I don't believe I can eat a mouthful to-night. I'm all out of fix. I'm afraid I shan't be able to preach to-morrow. If you will not think strange, I want to go back into the sitting-room and lie down a bit on your lounge, to see if I can't feel better."
Gram was much disturbed; she followed the Elder from the table and we overheard her speak of sending for a doctor; but the Elder said no, he guessed that he should soon feel better.
"Well, but Elder Witham, isn't there something I can give you to take?" Gram asked. "Some Jamaica ginger, or something like that?"
"Oh, that is rather too fiery for me," we heard the Elder say.
"Then how would a few swallows of my elderberry wine do?" queried Gram.
"But you know, Sister S, that I don't much approve of such things," the Elder replied.
"Still, I think really, that it would do you good," urged Gram.
"Perhaps," assented the Elder; for, truth to say, this was not his first introduction to the elderberry bottle; and we heard Gram go to the medicine cupboard.
And "about this time," as the old almanac used to have it, several of us youngsters at the supper table began to feel strangely interested. Addison glanced across at Ellen, then jumped up suddenly and took a step or two toward the sitting-room, but changed his mind and went hastily out through the kitchen into the wood-shed. After a moment or two, Ellen stole out after him. As for myself, mental confusion had fallen on me; I looked at Halse, but he was eating very fast.
The trouble culminated speedily, for it does not take long to turn out a small glass of elderberry wine, or drink it, for that matter. The Elder did not drink it all, however; he took one good swallow, then jumped to his feet and ran to the wood-box. "Sin o' the Jews! What! What! What stuff's this?" he spluttered, clearing his mouth as energetically as possible. "You've given me bug-pizen, by mistake! and I've swallered a lot of it!"
Inexpressibly shocked and alarmed, Gram could hardly trust the evidence of her senses. She stared helplessly, at first, then all in a tremble, snatched up the bottle, smelled of it, then tasted it.
"My sakes, Elder Witham!" she cried, "but don't be scared, it's only Vermifuge, such as I give the children for Worms!"
"Tsssauh!" coughed the Elder. "But it's nasty stuff, ain't it?"
By this time, Gramp had appeared on the scene, and he fetched a cup of tea to take the taste out of the Elder's mouth. Halstead snatched a handful of cookies off the table and decamped. I could not find anything of Addison or Ellen, and so ventured into the sitting-room, with Theodora and Wealthy.
Gram, the Old Squire and Elder Witham were now holding a species of first-aid council. The Elder had taken a full swallow of Vermifuge, and after reading the "Directions," they all came to the conclusion that the only safe and proper thing to do was for him to take two tablespoonfuls of castor oil. This was accomplished during the evening; but it was a strangely hushed and completely overawed household. Gram, indeed, was nearly prostrated with mortification. How the Old Squire felt was not quite so clear; as we milked that night, I thought once that I saw him shaking strangely as he sat at his cow which stood next to mine; but I was so shocked myself that I could hardly believe, then, that he was laughing.
Addison helped milk, but immediately disappeared again, and Halse soon retired to bed. Ellen, too, had gone to bed.
Next morning, affairs had not brightened much. Nobody spoke at the breakfast table. The Elder's breakfast was carried in to him, and the net result was that he did not preach that afternoon, as was expected; another minister occupied the pulpit.
Gram gave up going to that quarterly meeting altogether. Shame was near making her ill; and the clouds of chagrin hung low for several days.
It was not till Thursday, following, that Gram recovered her spirits and temper sufficiently to inquire into it. Thursday morning she questioned the whole of us with severity.
Little actual information was elicited, however, for the reason that the most of us knew but little about it. We confessed what we knew, unless, perhaps, Ad kept back something. We all all except Theodora knew that we had previously taken elderberry instead of Van Tassel; and Gram gave us an earnest lecture on the meanness of such concealments of facts. The Old Squire said nothing at the time; but I think that he had some private conversation with Addison concerning the matter.
The episode put a damper on the Vermifuge Bottle, however; it was never quite so prominent afterwards. But I have digressed, and gone in advance of my narrative of events at the old farm that season.