Prudence of the Parsonage
The Project Gutenberg eBook, Prudence of the Parsonage, by Ethel Hueston,Illustrated by Arthur William Brown
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Title: Prudence of the Parsonage
Author: Ethel Hueston
Release Date: May 18, 2006 [eBook #18413]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK PRUDENCE OF THE PARSONAGE***
E-text prepared by Al Haines
[Frontispiece: "What did you put in this soup, Prudence?"]
PRUDENCE OF THE PARSONAGE
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
ARTHUR WILLIAM BROWN
GROSSET & DUNLAP
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
TO MY MOTHER
WHO DEVOTED HER LIFE TO REARING
A WHOLE PARSONAGE-FULL OF ROLLICKING
PRUDENCE OF THE PARSONAGE
None but the residents consider Mount Mark, Iowa, much of a town, andthose who are honest among them admit, although reluctantly, that MountMark can boast of far more patriotism than good judgment! But thevery most patriotic of them all has no word of praise for the uglylittle red C., B. & Q. railway station. If pretty is as pretty does,as we have been told so unpleasantly often, then the station ishandsome enough, but as an ornament to the commonwealth it is a dismalfailure,—low, smoky and dust-grimed. In winter its bleakness andbareness add to the chill of the rigorous Iowa temperature, and insummer the sap oozing through the boards is disagreeably suggestive ofperspiration. The waiting-room itself is "cleaned" every day, and yetthe same dust lies in the corners where it has lain for lo, these manyyears. And as for the cobwebs, their chief distinction lies in theirripe old age. If there were only seven spiders in the ark, after thesubsiding of the waters, at least a majority of them must have foundtheir way to Mount Mark station in South-eastern Iowa.
Mount Mark is anything but proud of the little station. It openlyscoffs at it, and sniffs contemptuously at the ticket agent who bearsthe entire C., B. & Q. reputation upon his humble shoulders. At thesame time, it certainly does owe the railroad and the state a debt ofgratitude for its presence there. It is the favorite social rendezvousfor the community! Only four passenger trains daily pass through MountMark,—not including the expresses, which rush haughtily by with nomore than a scornful whistle for the sleepy town, and in return forthis indignity, Mount Mark cherishes a most unchristian antipathytoward those demon fliers.
But the "passengers"—ah, that is a different matter. The arrival of apassenger train in Mount Mark is an event—something in the nature of aC., B. & Q. "At Home," and is always attended by a large andenthusiastic gathering of "our best people." All that is lacking arethe proverbial "light refreshments!"
So it happened that one sultry morning, late in the month of August,there was the usual flutter of excitement and confusion on the platformand in the waiting-room of the station. The habituťs were there inforce. Conspicuous among them were four gaily dressed young men,smoking cigarettes and gazing with lack-luster eyes upon the animatedscene, which evidently bored them. All the same, they invariablyappeared at the depot to witness this event, stirring to others nodoubt, but incapable of arousing the interest of these life-wearyyouths. They comprised the Slaughter-house Quartette, and were themost familiar and notorious characters in all the town.
The Daily News reporter, in a well-creased, light gray suit and tanshoes, and with eye-glasses scientifically balanced on his aquilinenose, was making pointed inquiries into the private plans of thetravelers. The Daily News reporters in Mount Mark always wearwell-creased, light gray suits and tan shoes, and always haveeye-glasses scientifically balanced on aquiline noses. The uninitiatedcan not understand how it is managed, but there lies the fact. PerhapsThe News includes these details in its requirements of applicants.Possibly it furnishes the gray suits and the tan shoes, and even theeye-glasses. Of course, the reporters can practise balancing themscientifically,—but how does it happen that they always have aquilinenoses? At any rate, that is the Mount Mark type. It never varies.
The young woman going to Burlington to spend the week-end wassurrounded with about fifteen other young women who had come to "seeher off." She had relatives in Burlington and went there very often,and she used to say she was glad she didn't have to exchange Christmaspresents with all the "friends" who witnessed her arrivals anddepartures at the station. Mount Mark is a very respectable town, beit understood, and girls do not go to the station without an excuse!
The Adams Express wagon was drawn close to the track, and the agent wasrushing about with a breathless energy which seemed all out ofproportion to his accomplishments. The telegraph operator was gazingearnestly out of his open window, and his hands were busily movingpapers from one pigeon-hole to another, and back again. Old HarveyReel, who drove the hotel bus, was discussing politics with the man whokept the restaurant, and the baggage master, superior and supremelydirty, was checking baggage with his almost unendurably lordly air.
This was one of the four daily rejuvenations that gladdened the heartof Mount Mark.
A man in a black business suit stood alone on the platform, his handsin his pockets, his eyes wandering from one to another of the strangefaces about him. His plain white ready-made tie proclaimed his calling.
"It's the new Methodist preacher," volunteered the baggage master,crossing the platform, ostensibly on business bound, but really to see"who all" was there. "I know him. He's not a bad sort."
"They say he's got five kids, and most of 'em girls," responded theAdams Express man. "I've ordered me a dress suit to pay my respects inwhen they get here. I want to be on hand early to pick me out a girl."
"Yah," mocked the telegraph operator, bobbing his head through thewindow, "you need to. They tell me every girl in Mount Mark has turnedyou down a'ready."
But the Methodist minister, gazing away down the track where a thincurl of smoke announced the coming of Number Nine, and Prudence,—heardnothing of this conversation. He was not a handsome man. His hair wasgray at the temples, his face was earnest, only saved from severity bythe little clusters of lines at his eyes and mouth which proclaimedthat he laughed often, and with relish.
"Train going east!"
The minister stood back from the crowd, but when the train camepounding in a brightness leaped into his eyes that entirely changed theexpression of his face. A slender girl stood in the vestibule, leaningdangerously outward, and waving wildly at him a small gloved hand.When the train stopped she leaped lightly from the steps, ignoring thestool placed for her feet by the conductor.
"Father!" she cried excitedly and small and slight as she was, sheelbowed her way swiftly through the gaping crowd. "Oh, father!" Andshe flung her arms about him joyously, unconscious of the admiring eyesof the Adams Express man, and the telegraph operator, and old HarveyReel, whose eyes were always admiring when girls passed by. She didnot even observe that the Slaughterhouse Quartette looked at herunanimously, with languid interest from out the wreaths of smoke theyhad created.
Her father kissed her warmly. "Where is your baggage?" he asked, ahand held out to relieve her.
"Here!" And with a radiant smile she thrust upon him a box of candyand a gaudy-covered magazine.
"Your suit-case," he explained patiently.
"Oh!" she gasped. "Run, father, run! I left it on the train!"
Father did run, but Prudence, fleeter-footed, out-distanced him andclambered on board, panting.
When she rejoined her father her face was flushed. "Oh, father," shesaid quite snappily, "isn't that just like me?"
"Yes, very like," he agreed, and he smiled. "Where is your umbrella?"
Prudence stopped abruptly. "I don't know," she said, with a stonyface. "I can't remember a blessed thing about the old umbrella. Oh, Iguess I didn't bring it, at all." She breathed long in her relief."Yes, that's it, father, I left it at Aunt Grace's. Don't you worryabout it. Fairy'll bring it to-morrow. Isn't it nice that we cancount on Fairy's remembering?"
"Yes, very nice," he said, but his eyes were tender as he looked downat the little figure beside him.
"And so this is Mount Mark! Isn't it a funny name, father? Why dothey call it Mount Mark?"
"I don't know. I hadn't thought to inquire. We turn here, Prudence;we are going north now. This is Main Street. The city part of thetown—the business part—is to the south."
"It's a pretty street, isn't it?" she cried. "Such nice big maples,and such shady, porchy houses. I love houses with porches, don't you?Has the parsonage a porch?"
"Yes, a big one on the south, and a tiny one in front. The house faceswest. That is the college there. It opens in three weeks, and Fairycan make freshmen all right, they tell me. I wish you could go, too.You haven't had your share of anything—any good thing, Prudence."
"Well, I have my share of you, father," she said comfortingly. "AndI've always had my share of oatmeal and sorghum molasses,—though onewouldn't think it to look at me. Fairy gained a whole inch last weekat Aunt Grace's. She was so disgusted with herself. She says she'llnot be able to look back on the visit with any pleasure at all, justbecause of that inch. Carol said she ought to look back with morepleasure, because there's an inch more of her to do it! But Fairy saysshe did not gain the inch in her eyes! Aunt Grace laughed every minutewe were there. She says she is all sore up and down, from laughing somuch."
"We have the house fixed up pretty well, Prudence, but of course you'llhave to go over it yourself and arrange it as you like. But rememberthis: You are not allowed to move the heavy furniture. I forbid itemphatically. There isn't enough of you for that."
"Yes, I'll remember,—I think I will. I'm almost certain to remembersome things, you know."
"I must go to a trustees' meeting at two o'clock, but we can get a gooddeal done before then. Mrs. Adams is coming to help you thisafternoon. She is one of our Ladies, and very kind. There, that isthe parsonage!"
Prudence gazed in silence. Many would not have considered it abeautiful dwelling, but to Prudence it was heavenly. Fortunately thewide, grassy, shaded lawn greeted one first. Great spreading maplesbordered the street, and clustering rose-bushes lined the walk leadingup to the house. The walk was badly worn and broken to be sure,—butthe roses were lovely! The grass had been carefully cut,—thefather-minister had seen to that. The parsonage, to Prudence'sgratified eyes, looked