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“A New Start”

Here is full start of Frank H. Sweet, “A New Start” in Family Circle column, The Presbyterian Banner 95:6 (Pittsburgh; July 16, 1908) : 188-190 (189)
189 (same, at hathitrust)

Paragraphs are numbered to facilitate referencing.

  1. Old Man Lane was down on his hands and knees, pulling weeds in his son’s vegetable garden. The garden was directly back of a large, rambling farmhouse, suggestive of comfortable wealth within. Everything about the place was neat and orderly. This was due largely to the “puttering around” of the little old man at work in the garden. Although sixty-nine years of age, he was very active and worked steadily, but his son and daughter-in-law always spoke of him as “puttering around,” and they never gave him the credit of really working. Indeed, he was supposed to be free to do just as he pleased, but, as he sometimes said with a good deal of bitterness of spirit, “I take notice that they keep me at something all of the time.”
  2. The old man was not in a very happy frame of mind as he pulled weeds in the garden that beautiful summer day. He was entirely alone on the place. Even the hired man had been given a holiday, and Jennie, the robust girl who helped Mrs. Lane with her housework, had gone to town with the rest of the family. The one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the town of Shirley, three miles distant, was being celebrated. The Governor of the State was to be present, and it was to be the red-letter day in the history of the town. Wagons and buggies had been going by the Lane farmhouse all morning. Old Man Lane saw them with the spirit of revolt increasing in his heart. He tugged almost viciously at the weeds in the garden, and kept talking to himself as he worked. It would have been ludicrous had not there been a certain pathos in the way the old man kept wagging his head and talking in an undertone to himself.
  3. “There ain’t nothing fair nor right about it,” he said. “Here I be working away like a slave and all the rest of ’em in town having a good time. Henry and his wife made the excuse that there were so many tramps around nowadays that they couldn’t feel easy about going away and leaving the place alone, so I must stay at home. If ever a man was an old lunk-head I was one the day I deeded my place over to my son in consideration of him giving me a home for life and taking keer of me. Taking keer of me! Humph! Great taking keer it’s been! Never worked much harder in my life than I have in the two years since Henry and his folks moved in here on me, and never got so little for it! Just my vittles and a few cheap clothes that I had to have to keep within the law when it comes to clothes, and they have been begretched me! I’m so shabby I’m ashamed to go to meeting. Old ijit that I was to sign away everthing I had on earth and put myself in a position where I have to ask some one to buy me a little smokin’ tobacker. That’s begretched me, too, and Lyddy, Henry’s wife, is forever fussing about me smoking. I have to go out of the house to smoke now. You may be sure I never had to when my Hannah was alive and we was living here in our own house that I went and deeded away after she died and left me alone! I ain’t ever been trated right since that day!”
  4. He tore up a big clump of tickle grass and flung it aside before adding: “Of course I never dreamed that things would turn out the way they have. Henry and Lyddy was sugar itself after Hannah died. They said I was too old and feeble to have the care of the place and that I had earned the right to a rest. They made it appear that if I deeded the place over to them I’d have nothing to do the rest o’ my days but just to lazy around taking my ease. Great Scott! If they call this taking my ease, I wonder to man what they would call real work. Seems as if they can’t bear to see me idle a minute. And they tell folks that ‘father seems to enjoy puttering around.’ They even make it appear to the neighbors that they try to keep me from doing so much. I guess the neighbors know beter. But what can I do? I’ve deeded away my home, and I ain’t known what it was to have so much as a quarter in my pocket for more than a year. They buy even my tobacker for me and the few things I have to wear. If I say anything about having a little money o’ my own, they ask what needed I have of money with ev’rything provided for me. I feel like a pauper here in my own home — no, not my own home any more! Crazy that I was to give it away!”
  5. His bitterness of spirit increased as he worked away under the hot sun. Presently he rose stiffly to his feet and wiped the perspiration from wrinkled brow on the back of one toil-worn hand. His back ached from so much stooping, and he said, rebelliously:
  6. “I declare I’ll not pull another blamed weed to-day! Henry told me to try to go over the whole garden to-day, and me almost seventy years old and not as strong as most men o’ my years, although I ain’t not invalid; but it always did make me dizzy to work in a stooping position. I’ll just take a day off myself, and if they say a word to me in complaint when they git home they’ll hear from me! I been an old simpleton to be the meechin’ jelly-fish I’ve been the past two years, and I’m done with it! I’ll take a day off! Yes, and I’ll put on my best clothes, such as they are, and clean myself up and kind o’ go on a toot right hear at home. Lyddy has set out a skimpy little cold lunch for me — some bread and milk and a piece o’ pie about two inches wide. I know where the key o’ her preserve closet is, and mind me if I don’t take anything I want from it, and I’ll whack off a good big slice o’ the pound cake she keeps on hand jist for comp’ny. I’ll be comp’ny today in my own house. Dunno but I’ll wring the neck o’ one o’ Lyddy’s young br’ilers that she sets such store by, because she gits twenty cents a pound for ’em, and br’ile it for my own dinner. I’ll tell you the worm has turned!”
  7. It was the beginning of a just revolt on the part of Old Man Lane. He had not done his ungrateful son and daughter-in-law any injustice in anything he had said about them. It was all true. They had inveigled him into deeding his home over to them after the death of his wife, and then they had “carried things with a high hand,” as he expressed it. He had been made to feel as if he were a dependent in his own home, and the rights that were his by every unwritten law of justice were denied him. It was time for the old worm to turn.
  8. Old Man Lane went into the house, and when he came out again and sat down in a rocking-chair on the shady front piazza of the house he was neatly if shabbility dressed. He had put on a clean blue and white striped hickory shirt, and his soiled overalls had been exchange for his “Sunday best” trousers. He had knotted a clean plaid cotton handkerchief loosely around his neck in lieu of a collar, and a pair of loose and comfortable carpet slippers were on his feet. He had two or three papers under his arm and a quarter of a pie in his hand.
  9. “Going to take it easy,” he said to himself as he sat down in the chair. “I’m going to just set back and rok and read and snooze and be comfortable all day, and Henry and Lyddy can like it or lump it as they please. They told me I should ‘take it easy’ the rest o’ my days if I turned the place over to them, and I’ll show ’em that I allow to do it now and then, anyhow. If I had my home back in my own name and knew what I know today, you just bet you I’d hang on to it. There’d be no deeding it over to no one to take keer o’ me in return for it. I man is a fool to — there comes the postman!”
  10. The rural letter-carrier came down the road at that moment and Old Man Lane went to the gate to meet him. The letter-carrier was a cheery, young fellow who always had a pleasant word to say.
  11. “Hello, Father Lane,” he said. “Why aren’t you in town at the great celebration? Hardly any one at home along my route to-day.”
  12. “I would be if I had my way,” replied Old Man Lane. “My folks thought some one ought to stay at home to look after the place, and they elected me to do it.”
  13. “Well, I guess you and Mother Fryte up the road are taking care of the whole neighborhood. No one else at home around here. I left Mother Frye sitting on the porch of her son’s house, and she wasn’t in the happiest frame of mind because she had been left at home while all the rest of the folks had gone to town. Here’s a letter for you, Father Lane.”
  14. “For me?” said the old man, eagerly. Letters seldom came for him, so seldom that it was quite an event for him to receive one. The letter the postman handed him was postmarked in a distant city and was addressed in an unknown hand. Old Man Lane hurrid back to the porch and, sitting down in the rocking-chair, cut open an end of the nvelope with his pocketknife. The letter was from a lawyer and it was as follows: “Mr. John Lane: “Dear Sir: — I write to inform you of the fact that your half-brother, Henry Parker, who died last week in this city, has made you one of his heirs to the extent of a legacy of twenty thousand dollars, to be paid to you in cash. He was, as you probably know, a somewhat eccentric man, and it is a great surprise to those who knew him to discover that he has left an estate of more than one hundred and fifty thousaid dollars in cash and the most valuable securities. He was unmarried, and with the exception of th bequest to you and three or four smaller bequests, the entire estate goes to charitable institutions. Will you please communicate with me at once that I may take steps toward putting you into possession of your inheritance.”
  15. The effect of this letter on Old Man Lane was magical. He jumped up from his chair and pirouetted up and down the piazza, waving the letter above his head. He threw back his head and laughed almost hysterically. He even kissed the letter in the exuberance of his delight. Then he said:
  16. “I reckon I will take a day off! I’ll take many a day off! Good-bye, old garden! I’ll pull no more weeds out of you! I’ll turn no more grindstones for my son to sharpen his tools on! I’ll do no more ‘puttering about’ of the back-breaking kind I’ve been doing! A day off! Well, I guess!”
  17. He sat down and read the letter again and again. Then he said to himself, but aloud:
  18. “I got to tell some one o’ my good fortune. I’ll tell it to the chickens if no one else! I know what I’ll do. I’ll run over and tell Sarah Frye about it. The postman said that she was alone at home. Sarah will be glad o’ my good fortune. She told me just the other day that she thought it was a burning shame the way I was treated here. She’ll be glad to know that I’m not going to be treated so any longer. La, how sweet Lyddy and Henry will be when they know about it! I reckon they’ll want me to turn it all over them so that the can take more keer o’ me, in return for it. Not much they don’t! Not a cent of it do they handle exceptin’ as I choose to let ’em! I’ve had a good lesson in turning over what I had to ’em. I can hear Lyddy being sweet to me already. It won’t do her no good. I’m going to travel some now and have me another home of my own. The Perkins place is for sale for two thousand dollars and it’s dirt cheap at that. Nice little house of seven roomes, and ten acres of ground with a fine young orchard and ev’rything in good shape. I was thinking the other day of how I wished I owned it. Purtiest view o’ the river to be had around here, and nice spring water piped right into the house. I’ll own that place within forty-eight hours after I get my money. Now I’m going over and tell Sarah Frye about it!”
  19. He found the widow Sarah Frye sitting on the piazza of her son’s house reading a paper the postman had left her. She greeted him heartily and said:
  20. “You didn’t go to town to the celebration?”
  21. “No; and for the same reason you didn’t go. I was ordered to stay at home and look after the place. You had the same orders, eh?”
  22. “Yes, I had,” said Sarah Frye, sharply. She was a wholesome looking woman of about sixty-five years. Her husband had died two years before the time this story opens, and she had taken her small inheritance of two thousand dollars and added it to her son’s savings, and he had bought the farm on which they lived, with the understanding that his home was also to be his mother’s home for life. The deed stood in her son’s name, a fact of which he and his sharp-tongued wife had reminded her more than once in the past few months when she had grown rebellious over her position in the new home. Like Old Man Lane, she had been compelled to work all of the time without receiving anything in return for her labor. Sarah rejoiced openly for Old Man Lane’s good fortune and approved most heartily of his determination to keep every cent of his inheritance within his own control.
  23. “I’d buy the Perkins place if I were you,” she said. “And I’d live my own life in my own way. You know I’m so put out over the way things have gone here since I put my little fortune out of my own hands and control that I am going to look around and see if I can’t get me a place to work out as matron of some institution, or housekeeper. You known I’m a good cook and a good housekeeper, and I never was in better health in my life. I’m only sixty-five, and I wouldn’t have to work any harder if I hired out as a cook than I work right here on this farm without getting a thing for it but my board and a few cheap clothes, and my son and his wife hinting at how grateful I ought to be because I have such a good home here. I ’low on leaving this ‘good home’ the first chance I get, John Lane.”
  24. “Don’t blame you, Sarah, said Old Man Lane, promptly. “As you say, you are well and strong and good housekeeper and — and — why, Lord love us, Sarah, I’ll need a housekeeper when I buy the Perkins place! Of course I will! What you say to keeping house for me?”
  25. Sarah Fry started and colored slightly, then she said:
  26. “Why — wny — John, I — well, I’m afraid it would make talk. You know how little it takes to start some folks to gabbling. Old as we are, some one would —”
  27. “Yes, they would!” said Old Man Lane, tartly. Then he lapsed into a reflective mood, and a sudden flush came to his cheeks, and a sudden brightness to his eye. He glanced furtively at the comely Sarah, cleared his throat once or twice, and at last came close to her chair and said:
  28. “See here, Sarah, I do need a housekeeper turribly, and, as you say, folks would talk about you if you came to keep house for me, old as we be, and I wound’t for all my fortune have you do anything that would bring reproach to you. I see that you couldn’t come to me as my housekeeper, but, Sarah, you could come to me as — as — well, as my wife! Then no one could open thoir mouths. And — O Sarah! marry me! That’s it! You’ve known me for fifty years. La, I used to drag you home from school on my sled. Don’t you remember — dear? Course you do! Honest Injun, Sarah, I’d rather have you as the mistress o’ the new house I’m going to have than any other woman on top o’ the earth. That’s straight. Come — dear, let’s both take a day off and must set here and plan our future”
  29. She buried her crimson face in her hands for a moment or two and the looked up into his face and said frankly and with shining eyes:
  30. “Yes, John, I will do it. I will marry you and be as true a wife to you as ever a man had. I have known you and respected you for fity years, and I am not afraid to trust my happiness to your keeping. Everyone knows I couldn’t be much unhappier than here. I’ll be your wife, John, and I hope the good Lord will spare us to each other many years. Now I’m going to get you up a good dinner. My son’s wife set out the things she wanted me to have, but I’m going to break into anything that’s locked up in this house and show you what a good dinner an old lady can get up. S’possing you run down one of those young chickens and I’ll fry it for dinner. But you’ll have to jerk off the feathers, too. I’ll mix up a mess o’ nice light cream o’ tartar biscuits to eat with the cream gravy I’ll make.”
  31. They were washing and wiping the dishes together after dinner when the doorbell rang. Sarah went to the door, and a moment later John heard her saying:
  32. “Why, Elder Beal, if this isn’t a real s’prise! And if here isn’t Mrs. Beal! And here’s your daughter Susie! How glad I am to see all of you! I’ve a visitor here already that you know. John Lane, you come here!”
  33. Old Man Lane came in from the kitchen and greeted the elder and his family with the utmost cordiality.
  34. “We are on our way home from town,” the elder explained, “and we thought we would make a little call here. My wife isn’t very well, and we didn’t care to be in the crowd in town very long. Thought we’d drive in for an hour or two and see the decorations.”
  35. Sarah insisted on preparing dinner for her guests, and while they ate it John announced his engagement to Sarah.
  36. “Glad of it,” said the elder, heartily. “Nothing like a home of their own for old folks, although you don’t come under the category of all folks either of you when it comes to strength and good health. You just go ahead with your marrying, and the sooner the better.”
  37. “That’s what I say,” said Old Man Lane. “I think that — say, elder, what’s the matter with ou marrying us right here and now? You’re the very many we’d want for the ceremony when it comes off, anyhow. No license is needed in our State, and here are two witnesses. What do you say, Sarah?”
  38. “I—I—dear me!” exclaimed Sarah. Then she added merrily, “This is so sudden.”
  39. But with an hour Sarah was the bride of Old Man Lane, and when Henry and his wife came home that night they found the following note awaiting them:
  40. “Dear Children: — I have taken a day off, or rather, a good many days off, for I never expect to come back. My half-brother, that I’ve not heard from in years, has died and left me a little inheritance of twenty thousand dollars, and I have married Sarah Frye. We have gone home with Elder Beal and his wife for a little honeymoon toot, and your ma will stay there while I go on to the city to get my money. Then we will set up for ourselves in the Perkins place, that I allow to buy. We shall be glad to have you call; but that place and every dollar of my money remains under my control as long as I live, and if my wife outlives me it will be hers while she lives. Keep that in mind. So no more for the present from
                                  “Your father.”

20 April 2022