Read CHAPTER IX - DYNAMITE of The Tinder-Box, free online book, by Maria Thompson Daviess, on ReadCentral.com.

When a man injures a woman’s feelings by any particular course of conduct to which she objects, the maternal in her rises to the surface and she treats and forgives him as she would a naughty child, but a man makes any kind of woman-affront into a lover’s quarrel.  That is what masculine Glendale has been doing to its women folks for four days, and I believe everybody has been secretly enjoying it.

As to the rally, they have stood aside with their hands in their pockets and their noses in the air, and if it hadn’t been for Aunt Augusta and Nell and Jane being natural-born carpenters and draymen, we might have had to give it up and let them go on with it to their own glory.

When Nell and Jane went to see Mr. Dodd about building the long tables to serve the barbecue dinner on, he said he was too busy to do it and hadn’t even any lumber to sell.

Then things happened in my back yard that it sounds like a romance to write about.  Jane sent me over to borrow the Crag’s team and wagon and Henrietta and Cousin Martha and any of the rest of his woman-impedimenta that I could get.  He was out of town, trying a case over at Bolivar, and wouldn’t get back until Monday night.

I am glad he wasn’t here, for it would have gone hard with me to treat him in the manner that Jane decided it was best for all the women in Glendale to treat all the men in this crisis.  It sounded sweet and cold as molasses dispenses itself to you in midwinter, and I could see it was a strain on Mamie and Caroline and Mrs. Kirkland, Nell’s mother, and young Mrs. Dodd, the carpenter’s wife, the Boston girl that married him before she realized him, to keep it up from day to day.

Besides that I’m going to be a politician’s wife though he doesn’t know it yet and I want the Crag to be away from the necessity of taking any sides in this civilized warfare.  That’s one reason I am such a go-between for Uncle Peter and the League, I am making votes for my man, so I consider it all right for me never to deliver any of their messages to each other as they are given to me, but to twist them into agreeability to suit myself.

Sallie said the Dominie was entirely on our side and that was why she went walking with him Sunday afternoon.  All the other men were cool to him and he is so sensitive.

But to get back to the back yard.  I glory in writing it and want the Five to consider it as almost sacred data, though I hope they will never have to do likewise.

Jane and Nell and Aunt Augusta took the two axes and one large hammer and tore down my back fence while I and the others loaded the planks on the wagon.  Jane appointed Henrietta to sit and hold the slow old horses in case they should have got demoralized by the militant atmosphere pervading Glendale and try to bolt.  I never saw any human being enjoy herself as Henrietta did, and it was worth it all just to look into her radiant countenance.

Jane took all the hard top blows to do herself and left the unloosening of the lower nails to Aunt Augusta while Nell ripped off the planks that stuck.  I could almost hear Nell’s long, polished finger nails go with a rip every time she jerked a particularly tough old plank into subjection, and Aunt Augusta dispensed encouraging axioms about pioneer work as she banged along behind Jane.  Jane herself looked as cool as a cucumber, didn’t get the least bit ruffled, and had the expression on her face that the truly normal woman has while she is hemming a baby’s flannel petticoat.

And though during the day many delightful crises were precipitated, the most interesting were the expressions that devastated Polk Hayes’s and Lee Greenfield’s faces as they came around the side of the house to see what all that hammering was about.

“Caroline!” exclaimed Lee, in perfect agony, as he beheld the lady of his ardent, though long-restrained, affections poised across the wheel of the wagon tugging at the middle of a heavy plank which Mrs. Dodd and I were pushing up to her, while Mamie, the mother of seven, stood firmly on top of the wagon guiding it into place.

“Help!” gasped Polk, as he started to take the ax from Jane by force.

Then we all stopped while Jane quietly gurgled the molasses of the situation to them, and sent them on down the street sadder and wiser men.  I thought Polk was going to cry on her shoulder before he was finally persuaded to go and leave us to our fate, and the expression on Lee’s face as he looked up at torn, dirty, perspiring Caroline, with a smudge on her nose and blood on her hand from an absolutely insignificant scratch, was such as ought to have been on Ned’s face as he ought to have been standing by Mamie with the asafetida bottle.  That’s mixed up but the Five ought to catch the point.

It took up all of Saturday afternoon and part of Monday morning, but we built those tables, thereby disciplining masculine Glendale with a severity that I didn’t think could have been in us.

We all rested on Sunday, that is, ostensibly.  Jane put down all sorts of things on paper that everybody had to do on Monday and on Tuesday.  Henrietta sat by her in a state of trance and it did me good to see Sallie out in the hammock at Widegables taking care of both the Kit and the Pup, laboriously assisted by panting Aunt Dilsie, because Jane explained to her so beautifully that she needed a lot of Henrietta’s time, that Sallie acquiesced with good-natured bewilderment.  Of course, Cousin Jasmine helped her some, but she was busy aiding Cousin Martha to beat up some mysterious eggs in the kitchen with the shutters shut because it was Sunday.  It was something that takes two days to “set” and was to be the piece de resistance, after the barbecue.

Mrs. Hargrove couldn’t help Sallie at all with the kiddies, either, because she was looking through all her boxes and bundles for a letter from her son, which she thought said something about favoring woman’s rights, and if it is like she thinks it is, she is going to go to the barbecue and get things nice and hot instead of having them brought to her cold.

I had hoped to get a few minutes Sunday afternoon to myself so I could go up into the garret and look through one of the trunks I brought from Paris with me to see how many sets of things I have got left.  I am going to need a trousseau pretty soon, and I might need it more suddenly than I expect.  I don’t see any reason for people’s not marrying immediately when they make up their minds, and my half of ours is made up strong enough to decidedly influence rapidity in his.  But then I really don’t believe that the Crag would care very much about the high lights of a trousseau, and it was just as well that Nell came in to get me to help her write a letter to National Headquarters to know if she could have any kind of assignment in the Campaign for the Convention to alter the Constitution in Tennessee when it meets next winter.

“Have you made up your mind fully to go in for public life, Nell?” I asked mildly.  “Some of your friends might not like it very much and and ”

“If you mean Polk Hayes, Evelina,” Nell answered with the positiveness that only a very young person can get up the courage to use, “I have forgot that I was ever influenced by his narrow-minded, primitive personality at all.  If I ever love and marry it will be a man who can appreciate and further my real woman’s destiny.”

“Well, then, that’s all right,” I answered with such relief in my heart that it must have showed in my voice and face.  I had worried about Nell since I could see plainly, though she hasn’t told me yet, and I am sure he doesn’t realize it, that Jane had decided Folk’s destiny.  Nell is not twenty-one yet and she will find lots of men in the world that will be fully capable of making her believe they feel that way about her destiny, until they succeed in tying her up to using it for the real utilitarian purposes they are sure such a pretty woman is created for.

It will take men in general another hundred years yet, and lots of suffering, to realize that a woman’s destiny is anything but himself, and get to housekeeping with her on that basis.

Of course, I see the justice and need of perfect equality in all things between the sexes, emotional equality especially, but I hope the time will never come when men get as hungry to see their women folks as said feminists get to see them, after they have been away about four days out in the Harpeth Valley.  It takes a woman’s patience to stand the tug.

The Crag didn’t jog into Glendale on his raw-boned old horse until one-thirty Monday night.  I had been watching down Providence Road for him from my pillow ever since I put out my light at eleven, because Jane had decided that it was our duty to go to bed early so as to be as fresh as possible for the rally in the morning.  She had walked to the gate with Polk at ten and hadn’t come back until eleven, so, of course, she was ready to turn in.  It was just foolish, primitive old convention that kept me from slipping on my slippers and dressing-gown I’ve got the prettiest ones that ever came across the Atlantic, Louise de Mereton, Rue de Rivoli, Paris and going down to the gate to see him for just a minute.  That second he stood undecided in the middle of the road looking at my darkened house was agony that I’m not going to put up with very much longer.

Scientifically I feel that I’m thinking life with one lobe of my brain and breathing with one lung.  Still I made myself go to sleep.

Everybody believes in God in a different kind of way, and mine satisfies me entirely.  I know that the hairs of my head are numbered and that not a sparrow falls; and I don’t stop at that.  I feel sure that my tears are measured and my smiles are rejoiced over, and when I want a good day to come to me I ask for it and mostly get it.  There never was another like the one He sent me down this morning on the first slim ray of dawn that slid over the side of Old Harpeth!

The sun was warm and jolly and hospitable from the arrival of its first rays, but the wind was deliciously cool and bracing and full of the wine of October.  It came racing across the fields laden with harvest scents, blustering a bit now and then enough to bring down a shower of nuts or to make the yellow corn in the shocks in the fields rustle ominously of a winter soon to come.

The maples on the bluff were garmented in royal crimson brocaded with yellow, the buck-bushes that grew along the edges of the rocks were strung with magenta berries and regiments of tall royal purple iron weeds and yellow-plumed golden-rod were marshaled in squads and clumps for a background for the long tables.

Jane and I with Henrietta were out by the old gray moss rock at the first break of day, installing Jasper and Petunia and a few of their confreres.  Jasper has always been king of all Glendale barbecue-pits and he had had them dug the day before and filled with dry hickory fires all night, and his mien was so haughty that I trembled for the slaves under his command.  His basket of “yarbs” was under the side of the rock in hoodoo-like shadows and the wagons of poor, innocent, sacrificed lambs and turkeys and sucking-pigs were backed up by the largest infernal pit.  Petunia was already elbow deep in a cedar tub of corn meal for the pones, and another minion was shucking late roasting-ears and washing the sweet potatoes to be packed down with the meat by eight o-clock.  A wagon was to collect the baked hams and sandwiches and biscuits and confections of all variety and pedigree from the rest of the League at ten o’clock.

We didn’t know it then but another wagon was already being loaded very privately in town with ice and bottles, glasses and lemons and mint and kegs and schooners.  I am awfully glad that the Equality League had forgotten all about the wetting up of the rally, because I don’t believe we would have been equal to the situation with Aunt Augusta and Jane both prohibition enthusiasts, but it did so promote the sentiment of peace and good cheer during the day for us to all feel that the men had not failed us in a crisis, as well as in the natural qualities inherent in their offering for the feast.  There was a whole case of Uncle Peter’s private stock.  Could human nature have done better than that?

But if we did forget to provide the liquids, I am glad we had the foresight to provide other viands enough to feed a regiment, because a whole army came.

“Evelina,” gasped Jane, as we stood on the edge of the bluff that commands a view of almost all the Harpeth Valley stretched out like the very garden of Eden itself, crossed by silver creeks, lined with broad roads and mantled in the richness of the harvest haze, “can all those wagons full of people be coming to accept our invitation?”

“Yes, they’re our guests,” I answered, with the elation of generations of rally-givers rising in my breast, as I saw the stream of wagons and carriages and buggies, with now and then a motor-car, all approaching Glendale from all points of the compass.

“Have we enough to feed them.  Jasper?” she turned and asked in still further alarm.

“Nothing never give out in Glendale yit, since we took the cover offen the pits for Old Hickory in my granddad’s time,” he answered, with a trace of offense in his voice, as he stood over a half tub of butter mixing in his yarbs with mutterings that sounded like incantations.  I drew Jane away for I felt that it was no time to disturb him, when the basting of his baked meats was just about to begin.

I was glad that about all the countryside had gathered, unhitched their wagons, picketed their horses, and got down to the enjoyment of the day before the motor-cars bringing the distinguished guests had even started from Bolivar.  It was great to watch the farmers slap neighbors on the back, exchange news and tobacco plugs, while the rosy women folks grouped and ungrouped in radiant good cheer with children squirming and tangling over and under and around the rejoicings.

“This, Evelina,” remarked Jane, with controlled emotion in her voice and a mist in her eyes behind their glasses, “is not only the bone and sinew but also the rich red blood in the arteries of our nation.  I feel humbled and honored at being permitted to go among them.”

And the sight of dear old Jane “mixing” with those Harpeth Valley farmer folk was one of the things I have put aside to remember for always.  They all knew me, of course, and I was a bit teary at their greetings.  Big motherly women took me in their arms and younger ones laid their babies in my arms and laughed and cried over me, while every few minutes some rugged old farmer would call out for Colonel Shelby’s “little gal” and look searchingly in my face for the likeness to my fire-eating, old Confederate, politician father.

But it was Jane that took them by storm and kept them, too, through the crisis of the day.  Jane is the reveille the Harpeth Valley has been waiting for for fifty years.  I thought I was, but Jane is it.

And it was into an atmosphere of almost hilarious enjoyment that the distinguished Commission arrived a few minutes before noon, just as Jasper’s barbecue-pits were beginning to send forth absolutely maddening aromas.

Nell whirled up the hill first and turned her Buick across the road by the bluff with that rakish skill of hers that always sends my heart into my throat.  And whom did she have sitting at her blue, embroidered linen elbow but Richard Hall himself?  Good old big, strong dandy Dickie, how great it was to see him again, and if I had had my own heart in my breast it would have leaped with delight at the sight of him!  But even the Crag’s that I had exchanged mine for, though it was an entire stranger to Dickie, beat fast enough in sympathy with the dance in my eyes to send the color up to my face in good fashion as I hurried across a clump of golden-rod to meet him.

“Evelina, the Lovely!” he exclaimed in his big booming voice, as he took me by both shoulders and shook me instead of shaking merely my hand.

“Richard the Royal!” I answered in our old Quartier Latin form of greeting.  I didn’t look right into his eyes as I always had, however, and something sent a keen pain through the exchanged heart in my breast at the thought that I might be obliged to hurt the dandy old dear.

But suddenly the sight of Nell’s loveliness cheered me.  She had had Dick in that car with her ever since nine o’clock, almost three hours, showing him the sights of that teeming heavy lush harvest countryside around Bolivar and Glendale, all over which are low-roofed old country houses which brood over families that cluster around the unit that one man and a woman make in their commonwealth.  Nell’s eyes were sweet as she looked at him.  I’ll wait and see if I need to worry over him.  With the fervor I felt I had a right to, I then avoided the issue of Richard’s eyes, put it up to God and Nell, and introduced him to Jane.

And while the three of them stood waiting for Nell to back up the Buick and put her spark-plug in her pocket, only Richard calmly took it and put it in his, the rest of the cars came up the hill and turned into the edge of the golden-rod.

Aunt Augusta was in the first one with the Chairman of the Commission, whose name even would have paralyzed anybody but Aunt Augusta; and Mamie and Cousin Martha, Caroline and several more of the ladies made up the rest of the Committee who had gone to escort the distinguished guests to the rally.

The Crag was in the last car with a perfectly delicious old gray-haired edition of Dickie, and I almost fell on both their necks at once.  What saved them was Polk appearing between us with three long mint-topped glasses.

I’m glad old Dick immediately had his eyebrows well tangled in the mint of his julep, for I got my own eyes farther down into Cousin James’s deep gray ones than I expected and it was hard to come up.  I hadn’t had a plunge in them for three days and I went pretty deep.

“Eve!” he said softly, as he raised his glass and smiled across his green tuft.

Yes, I know he knows that I know, there is an answer to that name when he says it that way, but I’m not going to give it until I am ready and the place is romantically secluded enough to suit me.  He just dares me when he says it to me before other people.  That reminds me, the harvest moon is full to-night and rises an hour later every evening from now on.  I don’t want to wait another month before I propose to him.  I’ve always chosen moonlight for that catastrophe of my life.  I wonder if men have as good times planning the culmination of their suits as I am having with mine?

But I had to come down quickly to a little thing like the rally and give the signal to feed all the five hundred people, who by that time were nice, polite, ravening wolves, for Jasper had uncovered the turkey-pit to keep them from getting too brown while the lambs caught up with them.

Jane was the master of ceremonies, because I balked at the last minute.  I think I would be capable of managing even a National Convention in Chicago that far away from the Harpeth Valley, but I couldn’t do it with my friends of pioneer generations looking on.  A man or woman never grows up at all to the woman who has knitted baby socks for them or the man who has let them ride down the hill on the front of his saddle.

And at the head of the center table Jane asked the Crag to sit beside her, so that he would be in place to command attention for her when she wanted to speak, and where everybody could hear him when he did.

And while the table was piled high and emptied, and piled high again, so many bouquets of oratory were culled, tied, and cast at the guests along the table that I believe they would have been obliged to pay exclusive attention to them if the things to eat had not been just as odoriferous and substantial.  Before dinner was over everybody had spoken that was of a suitable age, and some that had heretofore in the Harpeth Valley been considered of an unsuitable sex.

Jane’s speech of welcome made such an impression that it is no wonder some of the old mothers in Israel got up to iterate it, as the dinner progressed.

She, as usual, refrained from prejudice-smashing and stones-at-glass-houses throwing, and she hadn’t said ten sentences before she had the whole feeding multitude with her.

She began on the way our pioneer mothers had to contrive to keep larders stocked and good things ready for the households, and she tickled the palate of every man present by mentioning every achievement in a culinary way that every woman of his household had made in all the generations that had gone over Harpeth Valley.  She called all the concoctions by their right names, too, and she always gave the name of the originator, who was some dear old lady that was sleeping in the Greenwood at the foot of the hill, or in some grave over at Providence or Hillsboro or Bolivar, and who was grandmother or great-grandmother to a hundred or more of the guests.  I had wondered why Jane had been poring over that old autograph manuscript receipt book in my desk for days, and as she paid these modern resurrecting compliments to the long gone cooks, tears and laughed literally deluged the table.

And as she built up, achievement by achievement, the domestic woman-history of the valley, Jane showed in the most insidious way possible how the pioneer women had been really the warp on which had been woven the woof of the whole history of their part of the Nation, political, financial, and religious.  I never heard anything like it in all my life, and as I looked down those long tables at those aroused, tense, farmer faces, I knew Jane had cracked the geological crust of the Harpeth Valley, and built a brake that would stop any whirlwind on the woman-question that might attempt to come in on us over the Ridge from the outside world.  They saw her point and were hard hit.  When “Votes for Women” gets to coming down Providence Road the farmers will hitch up a wagon and take mother and the children with a well-packed lunch basket to meet it half way.  This is a prophecy!

Then, after Jane sat down, I don’t believe such a speechifying ever was before as resounded out over the river, even in the time of Old Hickory.  Everybody had something to say and got to his feet to say it well, even if some of them did brandish a turkey wing or a Iamb rib to emphasize their points.

And the women were the funniest things I ever beheld, as we were treated to one maiden speech after another, issuing from the lips of plump matrons anywhere from thirty to sixty.  They had never done it before, but liked it after they had tried.

Mother Mayberry from Providence, who is the grand old woman of the whole valley, having established her claim to the title thirty years ago by taking up her dead doctor husband’s practice and “riding saddlebags to suffering ever since,” as she puts it, broke the feminine ice by rising from her seat by the side of one of the entranced Magnates, who had been so delighted with her and her philosophies that he could hardly do his dinner justice, and addressing the rally in her wonderful old voice with her white curls flying and her cheeks as pink as a girl’s.

“Children,” she said, after everybody had clapped and clapped so she couldn’t get a start for several minutes, “The Harpeth Valley women have been a-marching along behind the men for many a day, because their strong shoulders had to break undergrowth for both, but now husbands and fathers and sons have got their feet up on the bluff of Paradise Ridge, and it does look like they will be a-reaching down their hands to help us up, in the break of a new day, to stand by their side; and I, for one, say mount! I’m ready!”

A perfect war of applause answered her, and Dickie’s father got up to go down the whole length of the table to shake hands with her, but had to wait until she came out of the embrace of Nell’s fluffy arms, and got a hand free from the Magnate on one side and Aunt Augusta on the other.

Even Sallie began to look speechful, and I believe she would have got up and spoken a few words on the subject of women, and how they need men to look after them, but she said something to Mr. Haley, who shook his head and then got up and prosed beautifully to us for ten minutes, and would have gone on longer, if he hadn’t seen Henrietta begin to look mutinous.

The feast had begun at one o’clock, but by Jasper’s skilful maneuvering of one gorgeous viand after the other, into the right place, by having relays of pones browned to the right turn and potatoes at the proper bursting point, it had been prolonged until the shadows of late afternoon were beginning to turn purple.

“Don’t nobody ever leave one of my barbecue tables until sundown begins to tetch up the empty bones,” has been his boast for years.  And as he had cleared away the last scrap from the last table, he leaned against a tree, exhausted and triumphant, with alert, adoring eyes fixed on the Crag, who had risen in his place at the head of the long central table.

I had felt entirely too far away from him down at the other end with one of the junior Magnates and Dickie, but I was glad then that I sat so I could look straight into his face as the light from across the Harpeth Valley illumined it without, while a wonderful glow lit it from within.

All of the others had spoken of the achievements of their families and forefathers and vaunted the human history of the valley, but he spoke of the great hill-rimmed Earth Pocket itself.  He gave the Earth credit for the crops that she had yielded up for her children’s sustenance.  He described how she had bred forest kings for the building of their homes, granted stores of fuel from her mines for their warming, and nourished great white cotton patches and flocks of sheep to clothe them from frosts and winds.

And as he spoke in a powerful voice that intoned up in the tree-tops like a great deep bell, he turned and looked out over the valley with an expression like what must have been on Moses’s face when he saw into the promised land.

“She’s our Mother,” he said, as he flung back the long lock from across his forehead and stretched out his strong arm and slender hand towards the sun that was dropping fast down to the rim of Old Harpeth.  “She has bared her breasts to suckle us, covered us from sun and snow, and now she expects something from us.  If she has built us strong and ready, then we are to answer when the world has need of us and her storehouses and mines.  We are to give out her invitations and welcome all who are hungry and who come a-seeking.  Gentlemen, her wealth and her fertility are yours and her beauty!”

For a long, long minute every face in the assembly was turned to the setting sun, and a perfect glory rose from the valley and burned the call of its grandeur into their eyes.  We seemed to be looking across fields and forests and streams to the dim purple hills that might be the ramparts of the Holy City itself, while just below us lay the little quiet village of the dead whose souls must just have gone before.

And after that everybody rose with one accord and began to hurry to start out upon the long roads homeward, just as the great yellow moon rose in the east to balance the red old sun that was sinking in the west.  Only the Magnate sat still in his place for several long minutes looking out across to Old Harpeth, and I wondered whether he was thinking about the Eternal City or how many rails it was going to take to span the valley at his feet.

And I I just stood on the edge of the bluff by myself and let my soul lift up its wings of rejoicing that my Crag had got his beautiful desire for apostrophizing the Mother-Valley so all the world might hear.  And then suddenly it came over me in a great warm, uplifting, awe-inspiring rush that a woman who takes on herself voluntarily the responsibility of marrying a poet and an orator and a mystic, who is the complete edition of a Mossback that all those qualities imply, must square her shoulders for a long, steady, pioneer march through a strange country.

Could such achievement be for me?

“Please God!” I prayed right across into the sunset, “make me a full cup that never fails him!”

I don’t know how long I stood talking with God that way about my man, but when I turned and looked back under the maples everybody was gone, and I could hear the last rattle and whirl going down the hill.  For a second I felt that there was nobody but Him and me left on the hill, but even in that second my heart knew better.

“Now?” I questioned myself softly, out over to the yellow moon that had at last languidly and gracefully risen, putting the finishing touch to the scene I had been planning for my proposal.

“Evelina,” said the Crag quietly from where he stood leaning against the tallest maple, “shall we stay here forever and ever, or hurry down through the cemetery by the short cut to the station to say good-by to the railroaders as they expect us to do?”

Nobody ever had a better opening than that, and I ought to have said, “Be mine, be mine,” with some sort of personal variation of the theme, and have clapped him to my breast and been happy ever after.  That is what a courageous man would have done under the circumstances, with an opportunity like that, but I got the worst kind of scare I ever experienced, and answered: 

“How much time have we got?  Do you think we can make it?”

“Plenty,” he answered comfortably as I began to quicken my pace to the little gate that leads between the hedge into the little half-acre of those who rest.  Then as I tried to pass him, he caught my hand and made me walk in the narrow path close at his side.

Now even a very strong-minded woman, who had to go through a little graveyard with moonlight making the tombstones glower out from deep shadows of cedar trees, in the depths of which strange birds croak, while the wind rustles the dry leaves into piles as they fall, wouldn’t feel like honorably proposing to the man she intended to marry, even if she was scrouged so close to his arm that it was difficult for both of them to walk, would she?

I excuse myself this time, but I must hold myself to the same standard that I want to hold Lee Greenfield to.  How do I know that he hasn’t had all sorts of cold, creepy feeling’s keeping him from proposing to Caroline?

I hereby promise myself that I will ask Cousin James to marry me the next favorable opportunity I get, if I die with fright the next minute, or have to make the opportunity.

Still, I can’t help wondering what does keep him so composed under the circumstances.  Surely he wouldn’t refuse me, but how do I know for sure?  How does a man even know if a woman is ?