The Wrestling Match

The village had awakened from its long winter of sleep. It had shaken off
its lethargy and stepped forth into the light and sunshine to take up
life in the free air until the months should speed around and the harsh
winds and the snows drive it back again to a close kitchen and a stifling
stove. The antiquated saw-mill down by the creek buzzed away with a vim
that plainly told that the stream was swollen with the melted snows of
the winter just passed. The big grist-mill bumped and thumped in deep
melodious tones, as though it were making an effort to drown the rasping,
discordant music of its small but noisy neighbor. From the field beyond
the line of houses came the melancholy “haw, gee, haw, gee-up” of the man
at the plow and the triumphant calls of the chickens, as they discovered
each luscious worm in the newly-turned furrow. A few robins flitted among
the still leafless branches of the trees, and down in the meadows beyond
the bridge an occasional venturesome lark or snipe whistled merrily.

The double doors of the store were wide open. Had all the other signs of
spring been missing, this fact alone would have indicated to the knowing
that if the snows had not melted and the birds not come back, it was high
time they did. Those doors never stood open until the Patriarch felt it
in his bones that the winter was gone and he could with safety leave the
side of the stove within and migrate to the long bench without, to bask
in the sunshine. This morning the old man arose from his accustomed chair
with a look of wonderment on his face. He swung one leg to and fro for a
moment, then rapped on his knee gently with the heavy knob of his cane.
He tapped his head mysteriously with his forefinger and gazed in silence
out of the window, taking in the outward signs.

“Boys,” he said at length, “it’s time we was gittin’ out agin. Spring has
come.”

With that he hobbled toward the door.

“Good, Gran’pap,” said the Chronic Loafer, rolling off the counter and
following.

Then the Storekeeper opened both doors.

The old oak bench that had stood neglected through the long winter,
exposed to wind and warping rain, gave a joyous creak as it felt again on
its broad, knife-hacked back the weight of the Patriarch and his friends.
It kicked up its one short, hickory leg with such vehemence as to cause
the Storekeeper to throw out his hands, as though the world had dropped
from under him and he was grasping at a cloud for support.

“Mighty souls!” he cried, when he had recovered his equilibrium and
composure.

“My, oh, my!” murmured the old man, his face beaming with contentment as
he sat basking in the sun. “Don’t the old bench feel good agin? Why, me
an’ this oak board hes ben buddies fer nigh onter sixty years.”

The season seemed to have imposed new life into the Chronic Loafer as it
had nature. He suddenly tossed off his coat, with one leap cleared the
steps and began dancing up and down in the road.

“It jest makes a felly feel like wrastlin’, Gran’pap,” he shouted, waving
his arms defiantly at the bench. “Come on.”

The Patriarch stroked his long beard and smiled amusedly at this
unexpected exhibition of energy. The Miller’s nose curled contemptuously
skyward, and he fell to beating the flour out of his coat to show his
indifference to the challenge. The Tinsmith puffed more vigorously at his
pipe, so that the great clouds of smoke that swept upward from the clay
bowl, enveloped the Storekeeper and caused him to sneeze violently.

At this indisposition on the part of the four to take up the gauntlet he
had thrown down, the Loafer became still more defiant.

“Hedgins!” he sneered. “You uns is all afraid, eh?”

“Nawthin’ to be afraid of,” snapped the Miller. “Simple because spring’s
come, ez it’s ben comin’ ever since I can remember, I hain’t a-goin’ to
waller ’round in a muddy road.”

The School Teacher laid his left hand upon his heart, and fixing a solemn
gaze on the roof of the porch, recited: “In the spring the young man’s
fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

“There ye go agin,” cried the Loafer, “quotin’ that ole Fifth Reader o’
yourn.”

“That,” said the pedagogue, “is Tennyson.”

“I thot it was familar,” exclaimed the Storekeeper. A smile crept into
his usually vacant face, and he slapped the Teacher on the knee. “You
mean ole Seth Tennyson that runs the Shingletown creamery. He’s a cute
un.”

The reply was a withering, pitying glance.

“It sounds a heap more like Seth’s brother Bill,” ventured the Miller.

“Don’t git argyin’ on that,” said the Loafer. “There’s nawthin’
particular new or good in it any way. The main pint is I bantered ye an’
you uns ’s all dead skeert.”

“Come, come,” said the Patriarch, beating his stick on the floor to call
the boaster to order. “Ef I was five year younger I’d take your banter;
I’d druv yer head inter the mud tell you’d be afraid of showin’ up at the
store fer a year, fer fear some un’d shovel ye inter the road. That’s
what I’d do. I hates blowin’, I do–I hates blowin’. Fur be it from me to
blow, particular ez I was somethin’ of a wrastler ’hen I was a young un.”

“I bet I could ’a’ th’owed you in less time ’an it takes me to set down,”
the Loafer said, as he seated himself on the steps and got out his pipe.

“Th’owed me, would you? Well, I’d ’a’ liked to hev seen you a-th’owin’
me.” He shook his stick at the braggart. “Why, don’t you know that ’hen
I was young I was the best wrastler in the walley; didn’t you ever hear
o’ the great wrastlin’ me and Simon Cruller done up to Swampy Holler
school-house?”

“Did Noar act as empire?” asked the Loafer.

“What does you mean be talkin’ of Noar an’ sech like ’hen I’m tellin’
of wrastlin’? Tryin’ to change the subject I s’pose, eh?” cried the
Patriarch, reddening with anger. “Don’t you know—-”

“Tut-tut, Gran’pap,” said the Storekeeper, gently taking the raised cane
in his hand and forcing it back into an upright position, one end resting
on the floor, while on the other were piled the old man’s two fat hands.
“Don’t mind him. Go on with your story.”

The Patriarch’s wrath passed as quickly as it had come. He speedily
wandered back into his youth, and soon was so deep in the history of
Simon Cruller, of Simon Cruller’s family and of Becky Stump as to be
completely oblivious to his tormentor’s presence.

“Me an’ Sime Cruller was buddies,” he began at length. “That was tell
we both kind o’ set our minds on gittin’ Becky Stump. You uns never
seen her, eh? Well, mebbe you never seen her grave-stun. It stands be
the alderberry bushes in the buryin’-groun’, an’ ef you hain’t seen it
ye otter, fer then ye might git an idee what sort o’ a woman she was.
Pretty? Why, she was a model, she was–a perfect model. Hair? You uns
don’t often see sech hair nowadays ez Becky Stump hed–soft an’ black
like. Eyes? Why, they sparkled jest like new buggy paint. An’ mighty
souls, but she could plough! She wasn’t none of your modern girls ez is
too proud to plough. Many a day I set over on the porch at our placet an’
looked down acrosst the walley an’ seen her a-steppin’ th’oo the fiel’,
an’ I thot how I’d like to hev one han’le while she’d hev the other, an’
we’d go trampin’ along life’s furrow together.”

“Now Gran’pap, I ’low you’ve ben readin’—-”

“Can’t you keep still a piece?” roared the Miller.

The Loafer returned to his pipe and silence.

“The whole thing come to a pint at a spellin’ bee up to Swampy Holler
school,” continued the Patriarch, unmindful of the interruption. “Becky
Stump was there an’ looked onusual pretty, fer it was cold outside an’
the win’ hed made her face all red on the drive over from home. Sime was
there, too, togged out in store clothes, his hair all plastered down with
bear ile, an’ with a fine silk tie aroun’ his collar that ’ud ’a’ ketched
the girls real hard hed I not hed a prettier one.

“Ez luck ’ud hev it, me an’ Sime Cruller was on opposite sides. It wasn’t
long afore I seen he was tryin’ to show off with his spellin’. It’s
strange, but it’s a failin’ with men that ez soon ez they gits their
minds set on a particular girl they wants to show off before her. Why
most of ’em taller up their boots, put on their Sunday clothes an’ go
walkin’ by their girl’s house twicet a day fer no reason at all but jest
to be seen lookin’ togged up an’ han’som. Men allus seems to want the
weemen to know they is better spellers, or better somethin’ else ’an some
other feller. They ain’t no reason fer it. No common-sense woman is goin’
to merry no man simple because he can spell or wrastle better or husk
more corn than anybody else. An’ yit men’ll insist on showin’ off in them
wery things ’henever they gits a chancet.




“It didn’t take me five minutes to see that Sime Cruller was tryin’ to
show off afore Becky Stump; was tryin’ to prove to her that he was a
smarter lad than me. An’ it didn’t take me that long to concide I’d hev
none of it. I seen him every time he spelled a hard un, look triumphant
like at her, settin’ ez she was down be the stove; then he’d grin at
me. I seen it all, an’ I spelled ez I never spelled afore, an’ a mighty
fine speller I was, too, ’hen I was young. Mebbe I didn’t set all over
Sime Cruller. Mebbe I didn’t spile his showin’ off. I don’t jest exactly
remember what the word was, but it must ’a’ ben a long un with a heap of
syllables, fer he missed it an’ set down lookin’ ez mad ez a bull ’hen he
steps inter a bees’ nes’. Three others missed it, an’ it come to me. Why
do you know them letters jest rolled off my tongue ez easy. You otter ’a’
seen the look Becky Stump give me an’ the look Sime give me. Huh!

“When intermission come, Sime he gits off in one corner an’ begins
blowin’ to a lot of the boys. I heard him talkin’ loud ’bout me, so
I steps over. He sayd it was all a mistake; that he could beat me at
anything–spellin’, wrastlin’ or fishin’. He was showin’ off agin, fer he
talked loud like Becky Stump could hear. I makes up me mind I wouldn’t
stand his blowin’.

“‘See here, Sime Cruller!’ I sais, sais I, ‘you uns is nawthin’ but a
blow-horn,’ I sais. ‘You claims you can wrastle. Why, I can th’ow you in
less time than it takes to tell it, an’ if you steps outside I’ll prove
me words.’

“That kinder took Sime Cruller down, fer wrastlin’ was his speciality an’
he’d th’owed every felly in the walley ’ceptin’ me, an’ him an’ me hed
never clinched, fer I wasn’t considered much at a fight. But me dander
was up an’ I wasn’t in fer lettin’ him show off.

“‘You th’ow me!’ he sais. Then he begin to laugh like he’d die at the
wery idee.

“With that we went outside, follered by the rest of the boys. They was a
quarter-moon overhead, an’ the girls put two candles in the school-house
winders, so, with the snow, we could see pretty well.

“At it we went. Boys, you otter ’a’ ben there! You otter ’a’ seen it!
That was wrastlin’! ’Hen Sime an’ me clinched I ketched him ’round the
waist with my right arm an’ got a hold of the strap of his right boot
with the forefinger of me left hand. He gits his left arm ’round my neck
an’ down my back somehow, an’ with his right hand tears the buttons
off me coat an’ grabs me in the armhole of me waistcoat. Over we goes,
like two dogs, snarlin’, an’ snappin’, while the boys in a ring around
us cheered, an’ the girls crowdin’ the school-house porch trembled an’
screamed with fright. We twisted, we turned, we rolled over an’ over tell
we looked like livin’ snowballs. Sime got off the boot I’d a holt on, an’
give me a sudden turn that almost sent me on me back. But I was quick.
Mighty souls, but I was quick! I ups with me foot an’ lands me heel right
on his chist, an’ he went flyin’ ten feet inter a snow-bank, kerryin’ me
coat-sleeve with him. He was lookin’ up at the moon ’hen I run up to
him, an’ I’d hed him down, but he turned over, an’ they wasn’t nawthin’
fer me to do but to set on his back. I ’low I must ’a’ set there fer half
an hour, restin’ an’ gittin’ me wind. Anyway, I was so long I almost
forgot I was wrastlin’, fer he give me a sudden turn, an’ ’fore I knowd
it he hed the waist holt an’ hed almost th’owed me.

“But I was quick. Mighty souls, but I was quick! I keeps me feet an’
gits one hand inter his waistcoat pocket an’ hung to him. ’Henever you
wrastles, git your man be the boot strap or the pocket, an’ you has the
best holt they is. Ef I hedn’t done that I might not ’a’ ben here to-day.
But I done it, an’ fer a full hour me an’ Sime Cruller rolled ’round,
even matched. Time an’ agin I got sight o’ Becky Stump standin’ on the
porch, her hands gripped together, her face pale, her eyes almost poppin’
outen her head, she was watchin’ us so hard, an’ the wery sight of her
urged me on to inhuman efforts. It seemed to hev the same ’fect on Sime.
Me heart beat so hard it made me buttons rattle. Still I kep’ at it. Sime
was so hot it was fer me jest like wrastlin’ with a stove, an’ still we
kep’ at it. Then all of a sudden–it was two hours after we hed fust
clinched–everything seemed to swim–I couldn’t feel no earth beneath–I
only knowd I was still holdin’ onto Sime–then I knowd nawthin’.

“‘Hen I come to, I was layin’ be the school-house stove, an’ Becky Stump
was leanin’ over me rubbin’ a snowball acrosst me forehead. The other
folks was standin’ back like, fer they seemed to think that after sech an
exhibition it was all settled an’ they didn’t want to disturb us.

“‘Becky,’ I whispers, ‘did I win?’

“‘You did,’ she sais. ‘You both fainted at oncet, but you fainted on top.’

“‘An’ now I s’pose you’ll hev me,’ I sais, fer it seemed like they was
somethin’ in her eyes that kinder urged me on.

“She was quiet a piece; an’ then she leans down an’ answers, ‘Do you
think I wants to merry a fien’?’”

The Patriarch ceased his narration and fell to stroking his beard and
humming softly.

“Well?” cried the Loafer.

“Well?” retorted the old man.

“Did she ever merry?”

The Patriarch shook his head.

“Go look at the grave-stun,” he said, “an’ on it you’ll see wrote: ‘Here
lies Becky Stump. Her peaceful soul’s at rest!’”

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