The Missus

“A man without a missus is like an engyne without a governor–he either
goes too slow or too fast,” said the Chronic Loafer.

“Mighty souls!” cried the Miller. “What in the name o’ common sense put
that idee into yer head?”

“It was planted there be accident, cultiwated be experience, an’ to-day
it jest blossomed,” was the reply.

The Loafer had come in from a morning on the ridges hunting rabbits.
His old muzzle loader leaned against the counter and his hound Tiger
was sitting at his side, his head resting on the master’s knee and his
solitary eye watching every movement of the thin, grizzled face, which
was almost hidden by a blue cloth cap, with a low hanging visor, and
ear-tabs. The Loafer removed the tabs and stuffed them into his pocket.
Then he laid his hand on his dog’s head and stroked it.

The ticking of the clock, which had a place on a shelf between two jars
of stick-candy, accentuated the long silence that followed. Tiger seemed
to feel that the hush boded ill to his lord, and cocked one ear and
uttered a low growl.

The Teacher pointed his forefinger at the Loafer and said, “I judge
that you intended to imply that havin’ a governor you run regular. Some
engines, you know, run regular but very slow.”

“An’ some runs wery fast,” was the retort. “An’ they buzzes pretty loud
’thout doin’ a tremendous amount o’ labor.”

“Now you’re gettin’ personal and—-”

“Boys, boys!” The Patriarch was rapping for order. “Don’t git quarrelin’
over the question of engynes. Fer my part the plain ole waterwheel beats
’em holly.”

The Miller tilted over on his nail keg and tapped the Loafer on the elbow.

“Tell me,” he said. “Where did ye git that idee? It sounds almanacky.”

“That idee was ginirated this mornin’ ez me an’ Tige was roamin’ ’round
Gum hill tryin’ to start a rabbit. They bein’ no rabbits, me an’ Tige
set down an’ gunned for idees. It was peaceful an’ nice there on the
ridge. The woods hed the reg’lar cheery November rattle, like a dried
up, jolly ole man. The wind was a-shakin’ the dead leaves, an’ they
was a-chipperin’ an’ chirpin’. The pignuts was jumpin’ from the limbs,
sloshin’ th’oo the branches an’ tumblin’ ’round the ground. Overhead a
couple of crows was a-floppin’ about an’ whoopin’ like a lot of boys on
skates, fer the air was bitin’ like, an’ put life in ye.

“Ez I set there on a lawg I minded a felly I oncet heard up to liter’ry
society, who read a piecet ’bout how the year was dyin’ fer autumn was at
hand. I noticed Tige ez he was rollin’ ’round chasin’ pignuts, an’ I sais
to meself, sais I: ‘Dyin’? Why, no. It’s only in its second chil’hood.’
An’ I looked down the hill into the gut an’ seen the smoke curlin’ up
th’oo the trees in the ole Horner clearin’. That’s where I got the
Missus. Then it was that that idee ’bout engynes an’ weemen blossomed.

“Before the first time I ever seen that clearin’ I kind o’ lived in
jerks. Sometimes I’d run hard an’ fast, an’ ’ud make a heap o’ noise, an’
smash all the machinery. Then I’d hev to lay off a month or so to git
patched up agin. My pap was a cute man. He seen right th’oo me an’ he
knowd what was wrong. ‘What you need is a governor,’ sayd he. An’ I got
one. Sence then I’ve ben runnin’ smooth an’ reg’lar an’ not wery fast.
But I hain’t broke no machinery, an’ I’ve never stopped entirely.

“Now it went pretty hard with Pap after Mother died, fer he never did
like housework an’ was continual beggin’ me to git merried. He was
a-naggin’ an’ naggin’ all the time, petickler ’hen he was washin’
dishes. He’d p’int out certain girls in the walley that he thot ’ud hev
me, an’ he’d argy that I otter step up like a leetle man an’ speak me
mind to ’em. He even went so fur as to ’low he’d give me the whole placet
ef unly I’d git some un to take the housework offen his hands. First it
was Mary Potzer. She hed five hundred dollars an’ was a special good
match, but her looks was agin her. She was Omish, an’ like most Omish
folk was square built, ’cept fer bein’ rounded off a leetle on top. The
ole man wouldn’t give me no peace tell I ast her. I didn’t dast do that,
but I tol’ him I hed, an’ that she sayd she ’ud take me ef he kep’ on
doin’ the cookin’. That kind o’ quieted him fer a spell, an’ some months
passed afore he tuk up the subject agin. Next he got to backin’ Rosey
Simpson. She was tolable good-lookin’ an’ lively, he sayd, an’ I ’lowed
he was right, unly she was too lively fer me. I minded the time I seen
her sail inter Bumbletree’s Durham bull ’hen he’d butted a petickler pet
sheep o’ hers. She made the ole beast feel so humble that I concided she
might do fer a defender but never fer a wife. Next it was Sue Kindler an’
then Sairy Somthin’-else, tell I was clean tired o’ the whole idee.

“One night ’hen he’d ben pesterin’ me most mighty bad I gits mad an’
sais, ‘See here, I ain’t courtin’ trouble. I’m comf’table an’ happy ez
I am,’ I sais. ‘I’ve got you an’ Major–Major was the dog–so why do I
want to go settin’ a trap ’hen I can’t be sure what I’m goin’ to catch?’

“‘My boy,’ Pap answered, ‘use the proper bait an’ you’ll git the right

“Now Pap use to git off some good uns oncet in a while, but I wasn’t
in fer givin’ him the credit. I scatted the whole plan. I didn’t know
so much then ez I knows now. Still, sometim’s I ’low that ef it hedn’t
’a’ ben fer Major, I might o’ dissypinted the ole man anyhow. Major was
a coon dog, an’ a mighty fine one, bein’ half setter, quarter houn’,
an’ last quarter coach. Me an’ him was great buddies. Wherever we went
he allus hed an’ eye out fer game. He knowd the seasons, too. Ef it
was September he was watchin’ fer squirrels; October, fer patridges;
November, rabbits; springtime, girls. It was in the spring ’hen I
happened to hear Si Bumbletree speakin’ o’ a petickler fine lot o’
saplin’s fer walkin’ sticks that was growin’ on the chestnut flats at
the foot o’ the mo’ntain jest above Andy Horner’s clearin’. So I sais to
meself, I sais, it bein’ a fine warm day, I’ll jest mosey up there an’
git me one o’ them staffs. It was a good th’ee mile up the walley an’
over the ridge an’ acrosst the gut, but I found the placet all right an’
cut me a nice straight cane. I was comin’ home, peelin’ off the bark an’
not thinkin’ o’ anything in petickler, ’hen I hear Major givin’ a low
growl. I looked up. We was passin’ Horner’s clearin’. There stood the
dog, foreleg lifted, tail straight out, nose pintin’ th’oo the blackberry
bushes ’long the fence.

“‘There is somethin’ pretty important,’ I sais to meself.

“An’ with that I walks up to the hedge an’ peeks over.

“Settin’ on the groun’, weedin’ the onion-patch, was the prettiest girl
I ever laid eyes on. She looked up from een under her sunbonnet outen
a pair o’ sparklin’ blue eyes, an’ showed two rosy cheeks with a perk
leetle nose atween ’em. Major he hed ducked th’oo a hole in the fence an’
come out on the other side, an’ was standin’ solemn-like, lookin’ at her.
All o’ a sudden he begin jumpin’ up an’ down, first on his front legs an’
then on his hint legs, archin’ his neck, waggin’ his tail, an’ showin’
his teeth like he was smilin’ all over.

“‘That’s a nice dog you hev,’ sais the girl, kind o’ musical. She had
stopped her weedin’ an’ was settin’ up lookin’ at the houn’.

“‘Yes,’ sais I, ‘he is a tolable nice animal.’

“Then I thinks to meself, ‘Major seems to like her; I wonder how she’d
suit Pap.’

“Soon ez that come into me mind I seen it was time I got out. I turned
an’ walked down the road harder than I’d ever walked afore.

“That night I couldn’t eat no supper. I’d never felt that same way an’
it worrit me. I knowd no cause fer it, yit I kind o’ thot I didn’t keer
whether I lived or died. It worrit Pap too. He ’lowed he’d hev to powwow

“‘How are ye goin’ to powwow me,’ sais I, ‘’hen ye don’t know what I’m
sufferin’ from? What I’ve got ain’t nawthin’, yit I wish it was somethin’
jest to take me mind offen it.’

“That was ez near ez I could git to the disease. Pap leaned back in his
cheer an’ laughed like he’d die. ’Hen he’d finished splittin’ his sides
he come over to where I was settin’ be the fire.

“‘What you needs,’ sais he, ‘is to go out an’ look at the moon.’

“Before that I’d never thot o’ the moon ’cept ez a kind o’ lantern to
hunt coons by. But ’hen I tuk his adwice, an’ lit me pipe, an’ went out
an’ set on the pump trough, watchin’ the ole felly come climbin’ over the
ridges, all yeller an’ smilin’ an’ friendly, I seen he hed a new uset.
Whatever it was I’d ben sufferin’ from kind o’ passed away an’ left me
ca’m an’ peaceful. Me brain seemed like a pool o’ wotter in a wood, all
still-like, ’cept fer a few ripples o’ idees on the surface. How long I
set there I don’t know. I might ’a’ ben there all night hed the ole man
not called me een.

“The first thing I seen ez I went into the house, was Major crouchin’ be
the fire watchin’ it wery intent. His supper lay beside him. Not a bone
hed ben teched.

“‘Whatever it is,’ sais I, ‘it’s ketchin’.’

“They was nawthin’ doin’ ’round the house next day after breakfast, so I
minded that Pap hedn’t a walkin’-stick. I concided I’d mosey up to the
chestnut flats an’ cut me a staff fer the ole man. Major went along, an’
we got a petickler nice piece o’ kinnykinnick wood. On the road home we
happened to pass be Horner’s clearin’. Ez we was opposite the house I
heard some un a-choppin’ an’ seen the chips flyin’ up over the hedge.
Feelin’ kind o’ thirsty I stopped een to git a drink o’ wotter. There she
was a-splittin’ firewood. ’Hen I explained, she pinted out the spring an’
went on with her work. Ye might ’a’ s’posed we was unly two coon dogs hed
dropped een fer a call, she was so cool. But I wasn’t fer goin’ tell I’d
at least passed the time a day, so I fixed meself on a block o’ oak with
Major beside me.

“‘What are ye doin’?’ I asts, be way o’ openin’ up.

“‘It doesn’t look like ez tho’ I was knittin’, does it?’ she sais kind o’

“With that she drove the axe th’oo a stick o’ hickory ez big ’round
ez my body. It was all I could git outen her. So me an’ Major jest
set there watchin’ quiet-like. It was amazin’ the way she could chop
wood–amazin’–an’ I enjoyed it most a mighty well. The axe ’ud swish
th’oo the air over her head; down it ’ud come on the lawg, straight an’
true; out ’ud fly a th’ee-cornered chip ez neat ez ef it hed ben sawed.
She never looked one way nor the other, nor paid no attention, but kep’
a-pilin’ up firewood tell they was enough to last a week. Then she stuck
the axe in the choppin’ block and walked inter the house. Me an’ Major
moved on.

“That night I couldn’t git no sleep. The ole trouble come on agin,
an’ I went out an’ looked at the moon tell final I dozed off in the
pump-trough. ’Hen I woke next mornin’ I knowd what was wrong. I knowd
that what I hed was somethin’ I’d be better without, yit hed I to do it
over agin I wouldn’t hev awoided it. I knowd I could cut all the saplin’s
offen the chestnut flats an’ I wouldn’t git no ease. ’Hen I went over
the ridge that day I didn’t try to fool meself cuttin’ staffs. No sir.
I walked straight fer the clearin’. Ez I come near the house I whistled
pretty loud to give warnin’. At the gate I looked een. No one was ’round.
I thot to meself she was in the house, so I whistled louder. Major
seemed to understand too, an’ begin barkin’ to beat all. But it hedn’t
no effect. That kind o’ made me feel down like an’ me heart weighed wery
heavy ez I set on the stoop to wait fer her. All o’ a sudden I hear a
rat-tat-tat comin’ from the barn. There she was on the roof, a-nailin’
shingles. I walked down an’ looked up at her.

“‘Hello!’ I calls.

“‘Hello!’ sais she. With that she drove five shingle nails one after
another, never payin’ no attention.

“‘What are ye doin’?’ I asts ez I fixed meself on a chicken-coop an’
lighted me pipe. It’s pretty hard talkin’ to a girl ’hen she’s mendin’ a
barn roof, an’ ez I didn’t git no answer I stood up an’ yelled at the top
o’ me woice, ‘What are ye doin’?’

“‘Well,’ sais she, ‘I s’pose it does look ez tho’ I’m playin’ the
melodium, don’t it?’

“She wasn’t in a wery sociable turn o’ mind, but I’m one o’ those felly’s
that oncet he gits his plow in the furrow don’t pull it out tell he has
at least gone oncet ’round the field. So I jest set there smokin’ while
she kep’ on workin’. By an’ by the dinner-bells over in the walley begin
to ring, an’ she come down. She never sayd a word ’hen she reached the
ground, but I wasn’t to be put back that ’ay. I steps up wery polite
an’ gits her hammer an’ kerrys it inter the house fer her. Weemen allus
likes them leetle attentions. She did any way, fer she smiled, an’ ’hen I
’lowed I must be goin’, she sayd good-by. An’ I went.

“That night ez I set on the pump-trough with Major beside me, watchin’
the moon ez it come climbin’ up over the ridges, I hear plain an’
distinct the rat-tat-tat o’ the hammer an’ the shingle nails. I leaned
back agin the pump, closed me eyes an’ drank in the music. Soon I seen
it all agin–the barnyard with the razor-back pig an’ the broken-horned
cow browsin’ ’round; the barn, so ole an’ tumble-down that the hay was
stickin’ out all over it like it growed on the boards; the roof, half a
dozen pigeons cooin’ on one end, an’ her on the other tackin’ away. What
a pictur it ’ud made fer a reg’lar hand-paintin’!

“After breakfast Pap lighted his pipe, leaned back in his cheer an’ asted
me, ‘How’s that ailment o’ yours gittin’ now?’

“‘Ailment?’ sais I, cool ez ye please. ‘Why, I found it didn’t amount to
nawthin’. It’s all gone.’

“Pap smoked a bit. He was blinkin’ like somethin’ amused him powerful.

“‘By the way,’ he sais, ‘I was up past Horner’s clearin’ yestidy an’ I
seen that humly dotter o’ Andy’s a—-’

“It was so quick an’ sudden, I forgot meself. Never afore hed I felt so
peculiarly, so almighty mad.

“‘See here,’ I cries, jumpin’ up an’ liftin’ me cheer, ‘don’t you dast
talk o’ Andy Horner’s dotter that ’ay,’ I sais. ‘Ef ye do—-’

“I stopped, fer he’d leaned back, an’ was lookin’ at the ceilin’ an’
laughin’ an’ laughin’.

“‘I thot ye hedn’t no ailment,’ he sais.

“Be the twinkle in his eye I seen how he’d fooled me, an’ I set down
feelin’ smaller than a bunty hen.

“‘Ye see,’ sais he, ‘I was comin’ th’oo the flats this mornin’ after
I’d ben fishin’ trout up in the big run, an’ ez I passed Horner’s I
noticed a most remarkable sight. There was Pet Horner a-nailin’ shingles
on the barn roof while a strange man set on a chicken-coop smokin’. I
sais to meself, I sais, ‘Ef that’s the way he gits a missus, I’ll do the
housework tell me dyin’ day.’

“The ole man wasn’t laughin’ now. He was on a subject that was wery dear
to him. His woice was husky with earnestness.

“‘Why don’t ye spruce up?’ he sais. ‘Can’t ye chop wood fer her, or churn
fer her, or pick some stone offen the clearin’ fer her? Unly do somethin’
to show her ye ain’t the laziest man in the walley. Show her your right

“‘Pap,’ sais I, ‘’hen my Missus takes me I wants her to know me jest ez
I am, not as I otter be. Ef there’s any lettin’ on afore the weddin’
there’ll be no lettin’ up after it.’

“With that I gits up an’ walks outen the house, whistlin’ fer Major.

“Him an’ me went up to Horner’s together. We found her churnin’, an’ set
down in the grass an’ watched. Ez I watched I got to thinkin’ over what
the ole man hed sayd. I seen that perhaps he was right; that I’d git her
quicker ef I worked harder. The pictur of gittin’ her quicker almost made
me git up an’ do the churnin’. But I thot agin. Ef I churned now I’d hev
to churn allus or else I’d be cheatin’ her. Ef she knowd she was takin’
a man who was agin the wery suggestion’ she’d never hev no cause to
complain. So I jest lay there chewin’ a straw an’ lookin’.

“That’s the way I done me courtin’ day after day all that summer. It was
slow. Mighty, but it was slow! Sometim’s I got discouraged an’ thot the
eend was never comin’ an’ I’d better give up. Then she’d drop a word or
a look or somethin’ that kind o’ kep’ me hangin’ on. It seemed like she
was gittin’ used to me. We seldom sayd anything, fer she was a thinkin’
woman. Fer me, I remembered how Pap allus allowed it was less dangerous
fer a man to put a boy in charge o’ his saw-mill than to let his heart
run his tongue. So I set an’ sayd nawthin’, but looked a heap.

“It was October ’hen I concided I’d make a trial, fer even ef nawthin’
come of it no petickler harm ’ud be done. So I ast her. She jest th’owed
back her head, folded her arms an’ looked at me.

“‘Well?’ I sais.

“She looked a leetle harder an’ a leetle sterner. Her eyes kind o’

“‘Well?’ I sais agin.

“‘I hevn’t no petickler dislike,’ sais she, ‘but ye ain’t my idee of a
man. A man should move sometim’s.’

“‘Pet,’ I sais, ‘I know I ain’t much on leetle things, but wait tell
they’s big things to do. Then I’ll startle ye!’

“I turned an’ walked out o’ the gate an’ ’long the road toward home.

“She didn’t hev to wait long. That wery night ez I set on the porch, I
seen a big snake o’ fire come pokin’ his head over the mo’ntain top to
the north’ard of us. Fer a time he laid ’round in the huckleberry shelf
there, rollin’ an’ floppin’ about the bushes, like he was takin’ in
the walley an’ wonderin’ what was the easiest way down the side to the
chestnut flats where they was big piles o’ leaves, laurel bushes dry ez
chips, an’ hundreds o’ dead trees, all waitin’ to be devoured. Mighty
fine the ole snake looked, an’ a heap o’ pleasure it give me watchin’ him.

“The thin line o’ fire begin to spread ez it adwanced, an’ soon the whole
side o’ the mo’ntain was ablaze. It was jest a solid bed o’ red. Now an’
then the flames ’ud jump to the top o’ some ole pine, the tree ’ud beat
wild like, to an’ fro, tryin’ to shake ’em off, an’ showers o’ sparks ’ud
go whirlin’ away inter the sky.

“‘Mighty souls!’ I sais to meself. ‘It’s jest like a monstrous big band
festival ’hen all the boys is out with torches an’ they hes a bonfire an’
fireworks an’ music.’

“Music? I hear agin the rat-tat-tat o’ the hammer an’ the shingle nails;
an’ I thot o’ her.

“The fire hed reached the flats. It was movin’ right on the clearin’
where she was all alone, fer Andy was workin’ in the saw-mill in Windy

“You uns otter seen me an’ Major skippin’ up the lane then. They was no
loafin’ about it. Never oncet did we stop tell we reached the ridge.
There we left the road an’ cut th’oo the fiel’s. Soon we was over them
an’ in the woods. We stumbled on an’ on, tumblin’ over lawgs an’ stones,
an’ fallin’ inter bushes tell we reached the top o’ the hill an’ looked
right down inter the gut.

“There we stopped, fer we was spelled like–me an’ Major–an’ jest stood
an’ stared. The smoke filled the whole leetle walley. Th’oo it we could
see the glare o’ the burnin’ chestnut flats. Big tongues o’ flame was
shootin’ up an’ lickin’ ’round in the air. We could hear the snappin’
an’ crashin’ o’ the trees. We could hear the scream o’ the wild cats ez
they was tearin’ fer the open country. A coon run right inter Major, an’
scampered away agin, snarlin’, but the hound never oncet lifted his eyes
offen the gut. A loud snortin’ startled me, an’ a razor-backed pig come
gallopin’ over the hill. Then they was a bellerin’ an’ a crashin’ o’
bushes, below us. The broken-horned cow run pantin’ up the ridge, an’ by
us an’ on th’oo the woods. ’Hen me an Major seen her we jumped for’a’d
together an’ tore down th’oo the blindin’ smoke to the clearin’.

“She was standin’ in the doorway, her head buried in her apron, cryin’
like her heart ’ud break. The minute I set eyes on her I forgot all about
the fire an’ thot unly o’ her. I jest stood there awkward an’ looked at
the girl, fer I was spelled agin, unly worse.

“‘Pet,’ I sais, after a bit, ‘what’s wrong?’

“‘Wrong,’ she cries th’oo her apron. ‘They’s all gone–the cow, the pig,
the chickens–gone fer the walley. Soon the clearin’ ’ll go too.’

“With that she raised her hand an’ pinted th’oo the woods, over the flats
to the solid wall o’ fire.

“Then I laughed. An’ I hed the right to laugh, fer ez I looked at them
flames dartin’ among the trees it seemed like they was the best friends I
ever had.

“‘It’s mean to cheat sech good fellers out o’ sech a nice clearin’,’ I
sais to meself ez I run along the wood road puttin’ the torch to the dry
leaves. ‘It’s mean, but I can’t spend the rest o’ me life settin’ on the
pump-trough watchin’ the moon.’

“An’ cheat ’em I did. The leaves an’ the under-brush cot like powder, an’
the counter-fire went runnin’ over the flats towards the mo’ntain to tell
the ole fire snakes that it wasn’t no uset to try to git to the clearin’
fer they was no path to it ’cept over ashes.

“We stood there in the wood-road watchin’ it–Pet on one side, then
Major, then me. Fer a long time we sayd nawthin’, tell I couldn’t stand
it no more.

“‘Pet,’ sais I, wery abrupt, ‘do you think now I’m so awful slow?’

“‘It ain’t them ez runs fastest allus goes the straightest an’ truest,’
she answers.

“It wasn’t wery much to say. Any girl might ’a’ done jest the same thing.
But from the way she looked, I knowd I’d got my Missus.”