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Rose Terry Cooke
1827-1892

   

Grit

by Rose Terry Cooke



   
 

“Look a-here, Phoebe, I won’t hev no such goin’s-on here. That feller’s got to make tracks. I don’t want none o’ Jake Potter’s folks round, ‘nd you may as well lay your account with it, ‘nd fix accordin’.”

Phoebe Fyler set her teeth together, and looked her father in the face with her steady gray eyes; but she said nothing, and the old man scrambled up into his rickety wagon and drove off.

“Fyler grit” was a proverb in Pasco, and old Reuben did credit to the family reputation. But his share of “grit” was not simply endurance, perseverance, dogged persistence, and courage, but a most unlimited obstinacy and full faith in his own wisdom. Phoebe was his own child, and when things came to an open struggle between them, it was hard to tell which would conquer.

There had been a long quarrel between the Fylers and Potters—such a quarrel as can only be found in little country villages, where people are thrown so near together and have so little to divert their minds that they become as belligerent as a company of passengers on a sailing vessel—fire easily and smoulder long. But Phoebe Fyler was a remarkably pretty girl, with great clear gray eyes, a cheek like the wild rose, abundance of soft brown hair, and a sweet firm mouth and square cleft chin that told their own story of Fyler blood; and Tom Potter was a smart, energetic, fiery young fellow, ready to fight for his rights and then to shake hands with his enemy, whichever beat. There was no law to prevent his falling in love with Phoebe because their fathers had hated each other; indeed, that was rather an inducement. His honest, generous heart looked on the family feud with pity and regret. He would like to cancel it—especially if marrying Phoebe would do it.

And why should she hate him? Her father was an old tyrant in his family; and the feeble, pale mother, who had always trembled at his step since the girl could remember, had never taught her to love her father, because she did not love him herself. Obedience, indeed, was ground into Phoebe. It was obey or suffer in that family, and the rod hanging over the shelf was not in vain. But when she grew up, and left the childish instinct or habit behind her, and the Fyler grit developed, she had the sense to avoid an open conflict whenever she could, for her mother’s sake.

This, however, was a matter of no small importance to Phoebe. She had met Tom Potter time after time at sewing societies, sleigh rides, huckleberryings, and other rustic amusements; they sat together in the singers’ seat; they went to rehearsal; but Tom had never come home with her until lately, and then always parted at the door-sill. Now he had taken the decisive step; he had come Sunday evening to call, and every Pasco girl knew what that meant. It was a declaration. But while Phoebe’s heart beat at his clear whistle outside, and stood still at his knock, she saw with dismay her father rise to open the door.

“Good-evening, Mr. Fyler.”

“How de do? how de do ?” was the sufficiently cordial reply; for the old man was half blind, and by the flicker of his tallow candle could no way discern who his visitor might be.

“I don’t really make out who ye be,” he went on, peering into the darkness.

“My name’s Potter. Is Phoebe to home?”

“Jake Potter’s son?”

“Yes, I be. Is Phoebe to home ?”

An ominous flash from Tom’s black eyes accentuated the question this time, but old Reuben was too blind to see it. He drew back the candle, and said, in a surly but decisive tone,

“’Tain’t no matter to you ef she is or ef she ain’t,” and calmly shut the door in his face.

For a moment Tom Potter was furious. Decency forbade that he should take the door off its rackety binges, like Samson at the gates of Gaza, but he felt a strong impulse to do so, and then an equally strong one to laugh, for the affair had its humorous side. The result was that neither humor nor anger prevailed; but as he strode away, a fixed purpose to woo and marry Phoebe, “whether or no,” took possession of him.

“I’ll see ef Potter faculty can’t match Fyler grit,” he muttered to himself; and not without reason, for the Potters had that trait which conquers the world far more surely and subtly than grit—“faculty,” i.e., a clear head and a quick wit, and capacity of adaptation that wrests from circumstance its stringent sceptre, and is the talisman of what the world calls “luck.”

In the mean time Phoebe, by the kitchen fire, sat burning with rage. Her father came back chuckling.

“I’ve sent that spark up chimney pretty everlastin’ quick.”

Phoebe’s red lips parted for a rude answer, but her mother signaled to her from beyond the fire-place, and the sad pale face had its usual effect on her. She knew that sore heart would ache beyond any sleep if she and her father came to words; so she took up her candle to go to bed, but she did not escape.

“You’ve no need to be a-muggin’ about that feller, Phcebe,” cackled the old man after her. “He won’t never darken my doors, nor your’n nuther; so ye jest stop a-hankerin’ arter him, right off slap. The idee! a Potter a-comm’ here arter you !”

Phoebe’s eyes blazed. She stopped on the lower stair, and spoke sharply,

“Mebbe you’ll find there’s more things can go out o’ the chimney than sparks,” and then hurried up, banging the door behind her in very womanish fashion, and burst into tears as soon as she reached her room.

It was Tuesday morning when old Fyler drove from his door, hurling the words at the beginning of our story at Phoebe on the door-step.

He had found out that Tom Potter had gone to Hartford the day before for a week’s stay, and took the chance to drive sixteen miles down the river on some business, sure that in his day’s absence Tom could not get back to Pasco, and Phoebe would be safe.

But man proposes in vain sometimes. Mr. Fyler did his errand at Taunton, ate his dinner at the dirty little tavern, and set out for home. As he was jogging quietly along, laying plans for the easy discomfiture of Tom and Phoebe, a loud roll of wheels roused him, a muffled roar like a heavy pulse beat, a shriek as of ten thousand hysterical females, and right in the face and eyes of old Jerry appeared a locomotive under full headway, coming round a curve of the track, which the old man had either forgotten or not known ran beside the highway for nearly half a mile. Jerry was old and sober and steady, but what man even could bear the sudden and unforeseen charge of a railway engine bearing down upon him face to face? The horse started, reared, jumped aside, and took to his heels for dear life; the wagon tilted up on a convenient stone, and threw the driver violently out; but in all the shock and terror the “Fyler grit” never failed. With horny hands he grasped the reins so powerfully that the horse could drag him but a few steps before he was stopped by the weight on the bit, and then, as Reuben tried to gather himself out of the dust and consider the situation, he found that one leg hung helpless from the knee, his cheek and forehead were well grazed, and his teeth — precious possession, over whose cost he had groaned and perspired as a necessary but dreadful expense—had disappeared entirely. This was the worst blow. Half blind, with a terrified horse and a broken leg, totally alone and seventy-seven years old, who else would have stopped to consider their false teeth? But he dragged himself over the ground, holding the reins with one hand, groping and fumbling in the dust, till fortunately the missing set was found, uninjured by wheel or stone but considerably mixed up with kindred clay.

“Whoa, I tell ye! whoa !” shouted the old man to Jerry, who, with wild eyes and erect ears, stood quivering and eager to be off.

“Darn ye, stan’ still !” and jerking the reins by way of comment, he crept and hitched himself toward the wagon. Jerry looked round, and seemed to understand the situation. He set down the pawing forefoot, lowered the pointed ears, and, though he trembled still, stood as a rock might, till, with pain and struggle, his master raised himself on one foot against the wheel, and setting his lips tight, contrived to get into the wagon, and on to the seat. “Git up !” he said, and Jerry started with a spring that brought a dark flush of pain to the old man’s cheek. But he did not stop nor stay for pain. “Git up, I tell ye! We’ve got to git as fur as Baxter, anyhow. Go ‘long, Jerry.” And on he drove, though the broken leg, beginning to swell and press on the stiff boot-leg, gave him exquisite pain. But a mile or two passed before he met any one, for it was just noon, and all the country folk were at their dinner. At last a man appeared in the distance, and Reuben drew up by the road-side and shouted to him to stop. It proved to be an Irishman on his way to a farm just below.

“Say, have ye got a jackknife ?” was Reuben’s salutation.

“Yis, Surr, I have that; and a fuss-rate knoife as iver ye see. What’s wantin’ ?”

“Will yer ole hoss stan’ a spell?”

“Shure he’ll stand till the day afther niver, av I’d let him. It’s standin’ he takes to far more than goin’.”

“Then you git out, will ye, ’nd fetch yer knife over here ’nd cut my boot-leg down.”

“What ’n the wurrld are ye afther havin’ yer boot cut for?” queried the Irishman, clambering down to the ground.

“Well, I got spilt out a piece back. Hoss got skeert by one o’ them pesky ingines, ’nd I expect I broke my leg. It’s kinder useless, ’nd it’s kep’ a-swellin’ ever sence, so’s’t it hurts like blazes, I tell ye.”

“The divil an’ all—broke yer leg, man alive? An’ how did ye get back to the waggin ?”

“Oh,I wriggled in somehow. Come, be quick! I want to git to Baxter right off.”

“Why, is it mad ye are? Turn about, man. There’s Kinney’s farm just beyant a bit. Come in there. I’ll fetch the docthor for yez.”

“No, I won’t stop. I must git to the tavern to Baxter fust; then I’ll go home if I can fix it.”

“The Lord help ye, thin, ye poor old crathur !”

“You help me fust, and don’t jaw no more.”

And so snapped at, the astounded Irishman proceeded to cut the boot off—a slow and painful process, but of some relief when over; and Jerry soon heard the word of command to start forward. Three more hard up—hill miles brought them to the tavern, just at the entrance of Baxter, and Jerry stopped at the back-door.

“Hullo !” shouted the old man; and the man who kept the house rose from his armchair with a yawn and sauntered leisurely to the piazza. But his steps quickened as soon as he found out what was the matter, and with neighborly aid Mr. Fyler was soon carried up stairs and laid on a bed, and the doctor sent for. “Say, don’t ye give Jerry no oats, now I tell ye. I won’t pay for ’em. He’s used to hay, ’nd he’ll get a mess o’ meal to-night arter we get home.”

“Why, you can’t get home to-night !” exclaimed the landlord.

“Can’t I? I will, anyhow, ye’d better believe. I’ve got to be there whether or no. Where’s that darned doctor? Brush the dirt off’n my coat, will ye? ’nd here, jest rence off them teeth,” handing them out of his pocket. “I lost ’em out, ’nd hed to scrape round in the dirt quite a spell afore I found ’em.”

“Well, I swan to man !” ejaculated the landlord. “Do you mean to say you hunted round after them ’ere things after you’d got a broke leg ?”

“Sure’s you live, Sir. I hitched around just like a youngster a-learnin’ to creep, ’nd drawed my leg along back side o’ me; I’m kinder blind, ye see, or I should ha’ found ’em quicker.

“By George! ef you hain’t got the most grit !” And the landlord went off to tell his tale in the office.

“Take him up a drink o’ rum, Joe,” was the comment of a hearer. “I know him. He polishes his nose four times a week, you bet; rum’s kinder nateral to him. His dad kep’ a corner grocery. A drink ’11 do him good. I’ll stan’ treat, fur he’s all-fired close. He’d faint away afore he’d buy a drink, fur he ’stills his own cider-brandy. But flesh ant blood can’t allers go it on grit, ef ’tis Fyler grit, ’nd he’ll feel considerable mean afore the doctor gets here. Fetch him up a good stiff sling, ’nd chalk it down to me.”

A kindly and timely tonic the sling seemed to be, and the old fellow took it with great ease.

“Taste kinder nateral ?” inquired the interested landlord, with suspended spoon.

“It’s reel refrashin’,” was the long-delayed answer as the empty tumbler went back to join the unoccupied spoon. “Now fetch on yer doctor.” And without a groan or a word the old man bore the examination, which revealed the fact that both bones of the leg were fractured; or, as the landlord expressed it to a gaping and expectant crowd outside, “His leg’s broke short off in two places.” Without any more ado Reuben bore the setting and splinting of the crushed limb, and accepted meekly another dose of the “refrashin’” fluid from the bar-room.

“Now, doctor, I want to be a travelin’ right off.”

“Traveling! where to?” demanded the doctor, glaring at him over his spectacles.

“Where to! why, back to our folkses, to Pasco.”

“You travel to the land of Nod, man. Go to sleep; you won’t see Pasco to-day, nor to-morrow.”

“I’m a-goin’, anyhow. I tell ye I’ve got ter. Important bizness. I wouldn’t be kep’ here for a thousand dollars.”

The doctor saw a hot flush rise to his face, and an ominous glitter invade the dull eye. He knew his man, and he knew what determined opposition and helplessness might do for him. At seventy-seven a broken leg is no trifle; but if fever sets in, matters become complicated.

“Well,”he said, by way of humoring the refractory patient, “if you’re bound to go, you must go to-night; to-morrow’ll be hard- er for you to move.” And with a friendly nod he left the room, and the landlord fol- lowed him.

“Ye don’t expect he’s a-goin’ to go, do ye, doctor?”

“Lord, man! he might as well stand on his head! Still, you don’t know old Reub Fyler, perhaps. He’s as clear grit as a grind- stone, and if he is bound to go, he’ll go; heaven nor earth won’t stop him, nor men neither.” And the doctor stepped into his sulky and drove off.

An hour afterward Reuben Fyler insisted on being sent home. A neighbor from Pas- co, who had come down after grain with a long wagon, heard of the accident, and hap- pened in.

“I’m bound to git home, John Barnes,” said the old man. “I’ve got ter; I’ve got bizness. Well, I might as well tell ye, that darned Potter feller’s a-snakin’ ’nd a-sneakin’ round arter Phoebe, ’nd ef I’m laid up here, he’ll be hangin’ round there as sure as guns. Fust I know they’ll up ’nd git merried. I’ll see him hanged fust! I’m goin’ hum to-night. I can keep her under my thumb ef I’m there; but ye know how ‘tis: when the cat’s away—”

“H’m !” said John Barnes—a man slow of speech, but perceptive. “Well, ef you’re bound to go, you can have my waggin, ’nd I’ll drive your’n up.”

“But change hosses; I can’t drive no hoss but Jerry.”

“You drive !” exclaimed John, in unfeign- ed astonishment.

“My arms ain’t broke, I tell ye, ’nd I ain’t a-goin’ to pay nobody for what I can do myself, you can jest swear to that.”

And John Barnes retreated to hold council with the bar-room loungers. But remonstrance was in vain. About five o’clock the long wagon was brought up, the seat shoved quite back to the end, and an extempore bed made of flour bags, hay, and old buffalo-robes on the floor of the rickety vehicle; the old man was carried carefully down, packed in as well as the case allowed, his splinted and bandaged leg tied to the side to keep it steady, his head propped up with his overcoat rolled into a bundle, and an old carriage carpet thrown over him and tucked in. Then another “refrashin’” fluid was administered, and the reins being put into his hands, with a sharp chirrup to old Jerry he started off at a quick trot, and before John Barnes could get into his wagon and follow, Fyler was round the corner, out of sight, speeded by the cheers and laughter of the spectators, and eulogized by the landlord, as he bit off the end of a fresh cigar, as “the darnedest piece of Fyler grit or any other grit I ever see !”

In the mean time Phoebe at home went about her daily work in a kind of sullen peace: peaceful, because her father was out of the way for one day at least; sullen, because she foresaw no end of trouble coming to her, but never for one moment had an idea of giving up Tom Potter or of any way to achieve her freedom except by enduring obstinacy. Many another girl, quick-witted or well read in novels, would have enjoyed the situation with a certain zest, and already invented plenty of stratagems; but Phoebe had not been educated in modern style, and tact or cunning was not native to her; she could endure or resist to the death, but she could not elude or beguile, and her father knew it. Her mother was helpless to aid her; but, with the courage mothers have, she set herself out of the question, and having thought deeply all the morning over the knitting-work, which was all she could do now, she surprised Phoebe in the midst of her potato-paring by suddenly saying,

“Phoebe, I see what you’re a-thinkin’ of, and I want to say my say now, afore any body comes in. I’ve heerd enough o’ Tom Potter to know he’s a reel likely young feller; he’s stiddy, ‘nd he’s a professor be- sides, ’nd he’s got a good trade; there ain’t no reason on airth why you shouldn’t keep company with him, ef you like him. It’s clear senseless to hev your life spoiled because your folks ’nd his folks querreled, away back, about a water right.”

Phoebe dropped the potatoes, and gave her mother a speechless hug that brought the tears into those pale blue eyes.

“Softly, dear! I don’t mean to set ye ag’inst your pa, noways; but I don’t think man nor woman hes a right to say their gal sha’n’t marry a man that ain’t bad nor shift- less, jest ’cause they don’t fancy him; ’nd I don’t want to leave ye here when I go, to live my life over agin.”

“Oh, mother,” exclaimed Phoebe, almost dropping the pan again, “I think it would be awful mean of me to leave you here alone !”

“’Twouldn’t be no , Phoebe. I should miss ye, no doubt on’t; I should miss ye consider’ble, but then I shouldn’t worry over your hard times here as I do, some, all the time.”

Poor saint! she fought her battle there by the fireside, and no body saw it but the “cloud of witnesses,” who had hung over many a martyrdom before that was not illustrated by fire or sword.

Phoebe choked a little, and her clear eyes softened; she was only a girl, and she did not fully understand what her mother had suffered and renounced for her, but she loved her with all her warm heart.

“I can’t help ye none, Phoebe,” Mrs. Fyler went on, with a patient smile, “but I can comfort ye, mebbe, and, as fur as my consent goes, you hev it, ef you want to marry Tom; but oh! Phoebe, be sure, sure as death, you do want to: don’t marry him to get away from home: I’d ruther see ye drowned in Long Pond.”

Phoebe’s cheek colored deeply and her bright eyes fell, for her mother’s homely words were solemn in their meaning and tone.

“lam sure, mother,” she said, softly, and went away to fetch more wood for the fire and neither of the women spoke again of the matter, but Phcebe’s brow cleared of its trouble, and her mother lay back in her chair and prayed in her heart. Poor woman! she had mighty need of such a refuge.

So night came on, and after long delay they ate their supper, presuming that the head of the house was delayed by business, little thinking how lie, strapped into John Barnes’s wagon, was pnrsuing his homeward road in the gathering darkness and solitude for though John caught up with him soon, after a mile or two some empty sacks fell out of the Barnes wagon, and no sooner did John miss them than he coolly turned back and left old Reuben to find his way alone. But the old man did not care; he had courage for any thing; so he drove along as cheerily as ever, though his dim sight was darkened further by the darkening air, the overhanging trees, and the limit set to his vision by the horse’s head, which from his position was all he could see before him.

About nine o’clock a benighted traveler driving toward Baxter from Pasco way, with his wife, discerned dimly an approaching horse and wagon, apparently without a driver. He reined his own horse and covered buggy into the ditch to give room, but the road was narrow, and the other horse kept in the middle.

“Turn out! turn out !” shouted the anxions man. “Are you asleep or drunk? Turn out, I tell you !”

But old Fyler heard the echo only of the strenuous voice, and turned out the wrong way, setting his own wheels right into the wheels of the stranger’s buggy.

“You drunken idiot! back, back, I say! you’ve run right into me”—not without objurgations of a slightly profane character to emphasize his remark. “Back, I say! The devil! can’t you hear ?”

By this time both horses were excited the horse in the ditch began to plunge, the other one to rear and back, till what between the pull of his master on the reins and his own terror, Jerry backed his load down the steep bank at the road-side, and but for a tree that caught the wheel, horse, driver, and wagon would have gone headlong into a situation of fatal reverses, where even Fyler grit could not avail.

“Murder !” cried out the old man. “I’ve broke my leg, ‘nd I’m pitchin’ over th’ edge! Lordy massy! stop the cretur! Who be ye? Ketch his head, can’t ye? Thunderation! I’m a-tippin’, sure’s ye live. ”

“Let your horse alone, you old fool !” shouted the exasperated traveler, who was trying vainly to tie his own to some saplings by the road-side, while his wife scrambled out as best she might over the floundering wheels. But by the time the man succeeded, Fyler’s horse had been so demonstrative that the wagon wheels were twisted and locked together, the wagon body tilted up to a dangerous degree, and the old man rolled down to the other side and half out, where he hung helpless, tied by the knee, sick with the pain of his wrenched leg, and unable to stir; but still he yelled for help.

“Can you hold this plagny horse’s head, Anne ?” said the traveler. “I never can right the wheels while he plunges and rears like that.”

“I’ll try,” was the quiet response; and being a woman of courage and weight, she hung on to the bridle, though Jerry made frantic efforts to lift her off the ground and stand on his hind-legs, till the wagon was righted, the groaning old man replaced, his story told, and he ready once more to shake the reins, which still were grasped in his hard hands.

“But you ain’t going on alone in this dark ?” asked the astonished traveler.

“Yes I be, yes I be—sartain. I shall git on well enough ef I don’t meet nobody, ‘ud I guess I sha’n’t.”

“But you met fl5”

“Well, it’s a-growin’ later ‘nd later; there won’t be many more folks out to-night; they ginerly knows enough to stay to hum arter dark out our way.” With which Parthian re- mark he chirped to Jerry and trotted away, without a word of thanks or acknowledg- ment, aching and groaning, and muttering to himself, “Darned fool! what ‘d he want

 
           

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December 5, 2007
   
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