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8 “I’m so tired,” sighed Cousin Ernestine Bugle, dropping into her chair at the Windy Poplars supper-table. “I’m afraid sometimes to sit down for fear I’ll never be able to git up again.”
Cousin Ernestine, a cousin three times removed of the late Captain MacComber, but still, as Aunt Kate used to reflect, much too close, had walked in from Lowvale that afternoon for a visit to Windy Poplars. It cannot be said that either of the widows had welcomed her very heartily, in spite of the sacred ties of family. Cousin Ernestine was not an exhilarating person, being one of those unfortunates who are constantly worrying not only about their own affairs but148 everybody else’s as well and will not give themselves or others any rest at all.
The very look of her, Rebecca Dew declared, made you feel that life was a vale of tears.
Certainly Cousin Ernestine was not beautiful and it was extremely doubtful if she ever had been. She had a dry, pinched little face, faded, pale blue eyes, several badly placed moles and a whining voice. She wore a rusty black dress and a decrepit neck-piece of Hudson seal which she would not remove even at the table, because she was afraid of draughts.
Rebecca Dew might have sat at the table with them had she wished, for the widows did not regard Cousin Ernestine as any particular “company.” But Rebecca always declared she couldn’t “savor her victuals” in that old kill-joy’s society. She preferred to “eat her morsel” in the kitchen, but that did not prevent her from saying her say as she waited on the table.
“Likely it’s the spring getting into your bones,” she remarked unsympathetically.
“Ah, I hope it’s only that, Miss Dew. But I’m afraid I’m like poor Mrs. Oliver Gage. She et mushrooms last summer but there must-a been a toadstool among them, for she’s never felt the same since.
“But you can’t have been eating mushrooms as early as this,” said Aunt Chatty.
“No, but I’m afraid I’ve et something else. Don’t try to cheer me up, Charlotte.
You mean well, but it ain’t no use. I’ve been through too much. Are you sure there ain’t a spider in that cream jug, Kate? I’m afraid I saw one when you poured my cup.”
“We never have spiders in our cream jugs,” said Rebecca Dew ominously, and slammed the kitchen door.
“Mebbe it was only a shadder,” said Cousin Ernestine meekly. “My eyes ain’t what they were. I’m afraid I’ll soon be blind. That reminds me . . . I dropped in to see Martha MacKay this afternoon and she was feeling feverish and all out in some kind of a rash. ‘Looks to me as though you had the measles,’ I told her.
‘Likely they’ll leave you almost blind. Your family all have weak eyes.’ I thought she ought to be prepared. Her mother isn’t well either. The doctor says it’s indigestion, but I’m afraid it’s a growth. ‘And if you have to have an operation and take chloroform,’ I told her, ‘I’m afraid you’ll never come out of it. Remember you’re a Hillis and the Hillises all had weak hearts. Your father died of heartfailure, you know.’“149 “At eighty-seven!” said Rebecca Dew, whisking away a plate.
“And you know three score and ten is the Bible limit,” said Aunt Chatty cheerfully.
Cousin Ernestine helped herself to a third teaspoonful of sugar and stirred her tea sadly.
“So King David said, Charlotte, but I’m afraid David wasn’t a very nice man in some respects.”
Anne caught Aunt Chatty’s eye and laughed before she could help herself.
Cousin Ernestine looked at her disapprovingly.
“I’ve heerd you was a great girl to laugh. Well, I hope it’ll last, but I’m afraid it won’t. I’m afraid you’ll find out all too soon that life’s a melancholy business. Ah well, I was young myself once.”
“Was you really?” inquired Rebecca Dew sarcastically, bringing in the muffins.
“Seems to me you must always have been afraid to be young. It takes courage, I can tell you that, Miss Bugle.”
“Rebecca Dew has such an odd way of putting things,” complained Cousin Ernestine. “Not that I mind her of course. And it’s well to laugh when you can, Miss Shirley, but I’m afraid you’re tempting Providence by being so happy.
You’re awful like our last minister’s wife’s aunt . . . she was always laughing and she died of a parralattic stroke. The third one kills you. I’m afraid our new minister out at Lowvale is inclined to be frivolous. The minute I saw him I sez to Louisy, ‘I’m afraid a man with legs like that must be addicted to dancing.’ I s’pose he’s give it up since he turned minister, but I’m afraid the strain will come out in his family. He’s got a young wife and they say she’s scandalously in love with him. I can’t seem to git over the thought of any one marrying a minister for love.
I’m afraid it’s awful irreverent. He preaches pretty fair sermons, but I’m afraid from what he said of Elijah the Tidbit last Sunday that he’s far too liberal in his views of the Bible.”
“I see by the papers that Peter Ellis and Fanny Bugle were married last week,”
said Aunt Chatty.
“Ah, yes. I’m afraid that’ll be a case of marrying in haste and repenting at leisure.
They’ve only known each other three years. I’m afraid Peter’ll find out that fine150 feathers don’t always make fine birds. I’m afraid Fanny’s very shiftless. She irons her table napkins on the right side first and only. Not much like her sainted mother. Ah, she was a thorough woman if ever there was one. When she was in mourning she always wore black nightgowns. Said she felt as bad in the night as in the day. I was down at Andy Bugle’s, helping them with the cooking, and when I come downstairs on the wedding morning if there wasn’t Fanny eating an egg for her breakfast . . . and her gitting married that day. I don’t s’pose you’ll believe that . . . I wouldn’t if I hadn’t a-seen it with my own eyes. My poor dead sister never et a thing for three days afore she was married. And after her husband died we was all afraid she was never going to eat again. There are times when I feel I can’t understand the Bugles any longer. There was a time when you knew where you was with your own connection, but it ain’t that way now.”
“Is it true that Jean Young is going to be married again?” asked Aunt Kate.
“I’m afraid it is. Of course Fred Young is supposed to be dead, but I’m dreadful afraid he’ll turn up yet. You could never trust that man. She’s going to marry Ira Roberts. I’m afraid he’s only marrying her to make her happy. His Uncle Philip once wanted to marry me, but I sez to him, sez I, ‘Bugle I was born and Bugle I will die. Marriage is a leap in the dark,’ sez I, ‘and I ain’t going to be drug into it.’
There’s been an awful lot of weddings in Lowvale this winter. I’m afraid there’ll be funerals all summer to make up for it. Annie Edwards and Chris Hunter were married last month. I’m afraid they won’t be as fond of each other in a few years’
time as they are now. I’m afraid she was just swept off her feet by his dashing ways. His Uncle Hiram was crazy . . . he belieft he was a dog for years.”
“If he did his own barking nobody need have grudged him the fun of it,” said Rebecca Dew, bringing in the pear preserves and the layer cake.
“I never heerd that he barked,” said Cousin Ernestine. “He just gnawed bones and buried them when nobody was looking. His wife felt it.”
“Where is Mrs. Lily Hunter this winter?” asked Aunt Chatty.
“She’s been spending it with her son in San Francisco and I’m awful afraid there’ll be another earthquake afore she gits out of it. If she does, she’ll likely try to smuggle and have trouble at the border. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another when you’re traveling. But folks seem to be crazy for it. My cousin Jim Bugle spent the winter in Florida. I’m afraid he’s gitting rich and worldly. I said to him afore he went, sez I . . . I remember it was the night afore the Colemans’ dog died . . . or was it? . . . yes, it was . . . ‘Pride goeth afore destruction and a haughty spirit afore a fall,’ sez I. His daughter is teaching over in the Bugle Road school and she can’t151 make up her mind which of her beaus to take. ‘There’s one thing I can assure you of, Mary Annetta,’ sez I, ‘and that is you’ll never git the one you love best. So you’d better take the one as loves you . . . if you kin be sure he does.’ I hope she’ll make a better choice than Jessie Chipman did. I’m afraid she’s just going to marry Oscar Green because he was always round. ‘Is that what you’ve picked out?’ I sez to her. His brother died of galloping consumption. ‘And don’t be married in May,’
sez I, ‘for May’s awful unlucky for a wedding.’”
“How encouraging you always are!” said Rebecca Dew, bringing in a plate of macaroons.
“Can you tell me,” said Cousin Ernestine, ignoring Rebecca Dew and taking a second helping of pears, “if a calceolaria is a flower or a disease?”
“A flower,” said Aunt Chatty.
Cousin Ernestine looked a little disappointed.
“Well, whatever it is, Sandy Bugle’s widow’s got it. I heerd her telling her sister in church last Sunday that she had a calceolaria at last. Your geraniums are dreadful scraggy, Charlotte. I’m afraid you don’t fertilize them properly. Mrs.
Sandy’s gone out of mourning and poor Sandy only dead four years. Ah well, the dead are soon forgot nowadays. My sister wore crape for her husband twentyfive years.”
“Did you know your placket was open?” said Rebecca, setting a coconut pie before Aunt Kate.
“I haven’t time to be always staring at my face in the glass,” said Cousin Ernestine acidly. “What if my placket is open? I’ve got three petticoats on, haven’t I? They tell me the girls nowadays only wear one. I’m afraid the world is gitting dreadful gay and giddy. I wonder if they ever think of the judgment day.”
“Do you s’pose they’ll ask us at the judgment day how many petticoats we’ve got on?” asked Rebecca Dew, escaping to the kitchen before any one could register horror. Even Aunt Chatty thought Rebecca Dew really had gone a little too far.
“I s’pose you saw old Alec Crowdy’s death last week in the paper,” sighed Cousin Ernestine. “His wife died two years ago, lit’rally harried into her grave, poor creetur. They say he’s been awful lonely since she died, but I’m afraid that’s too good to be true. And I’m afraid they’re not through with their troubles with him yet, even if he is buried. I hear he wouldn’t make a will and I’m afraid there’ll be152 awful ructions over the estate. They say Annabel Crowdy is going to marry a jack-of-all-trades. Her mother’s first husband was one, so mebbe it’s heredit’ry.
Annabel’s had a hard life of it, but I’m afraid she’ll find it’s out of the frying-pan into the fire, even if it don’t turn out he’s got a wife already.”
“What is Jane Goldwin doing with herself this winter?” asked Aunt Kate. “She hasn’t been in to town for a long time.”
“Ah, poor Jane! She’s just pining away mysteriously. They don’t know what’s the matter with her, but I’m afraid it’ll turn out to be an alibi. What is Rebecca Dew laughing like a hyenus out in the kitchen for? I’m afraid you’ll have her on your hands yet. There’s an awful lot of weak minds among the Dews.”
“I see Thyra Cooper has a baby,” said Aunt Chatty.
“Ah, yes, poor little soul. Only one, thank mercy. I was afraid it would be twins.
Twins run so in the Coopers.”
“Thyra and Ned are such a nice young couple,” said Aunt Kate, as if determined to salvage something from the wreck of the universe.
But Cousin Ernestine would not admit that there was any balm in Gilead much less in Lowvale.
“Ah, she was real thankful to git him at last. There was a time she was afraid he wouldn’t come back from the west. I warned her. ‘You may be sure he’ll disappoint you,’ I told her. ‘He’s always disappointed people. Every one expected him to die afore he was a year old, but you see he’s alive yet.’ When he bought the Holly place I warned her again. ‘I’m afraid that well is full of typhoid,’ I told her. ‘The Holly hired man died of typhoid there five years ago.’ They can’t blame me if anything happens. Joseph Holly has some misery in his back. He calls it lumbago, but I’m afraid it’s the beginning of spinal meningitis.”
“Old Uncle Joseph Holly is one of the best men in the world,” said Rebecca Dew, bringing in a replenished teapot.
“Ah, he’s good,” said Cousin Ernestine lugubriously. “Too good! I’m afraid his sons will all go to the bad. You see it like that so often. Seems as if an average has to be struck. No, thank you, Kate, I won’t have any more tea . . . well, mebbe a macaroon. They don’t lie heavy on the stomach, but I’m afraid I’ve et far too much. I must be taking French leave, for I’m afraid it’ll be dark afore I git home. I don’t want to git my feet wet; I’m so afraid of ammonia. I’ve had something153 traveling from my arm to my lower limbs all winter. Night after night I’ve laid awake with it. Ah, nobody knows what I’ve gone through, but I ain’t one of the complaining sort. I was determined I’d git up to see you once more, for I may not be here another spring. But you’ve both failed terrible, so you may go afore me yet. Ah well, it’s best to go while there’s some one of your own left to lay you out. Dear me, how the wind is gitting up! I’m afraid our barn roof will blow off if it comes to a gale. We’ve had so much wind this spring I’m afraid the climate is changing. Thank you, Miss Shirley . . .” as Anne helped her into her coat . . . “Be careful of yourself. You look awful washed out. I’m afraid people with red hair never have real strong constitutions.”
“I think my constitution is all right,” smiled Anne, handing Cousin Ernestine an indescribable bit of millinery with a stringy ostrich feather dripping from its back. “I have a touch of sore throat tonight, Miss Bugle, that’s all.”
“Ah!” Another of Cousin Ernestine’s dark forebodings came to her. “You want to watch a sore throat. The symptoms of diptheria and tonsillitis are exactly the same till the third day. But there’s one consolation . . . you’ll be spared an awful lot of trouble if you die young.”
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