A Kentucky Cardinal/Chapter X

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X

New-Year’s night again, and bitter cold.

When I forced myself away from my fire before dark, and ran down to the stable to see about feeding and bedding the horses and cows, every beast had its head drawn in towards its shoulders, and looked at me with the dismal air of saying, “Who is tempering the wind now?” The dogs in the kennel, with their noses between their hind-legs, were shivering under their blankets and straw like a nest of chilled young birds. The fowls on the roost were mere white and blue puffs of feathers. Nature alone has the making of her creatures; why doesn't she make them comfortable?

After supper old Jack and Dilsy came in, and standing against the wall with their arms folded, told me more of what happened after I got sick. That was about the middle of September, and it is only two weeks since I became well enough to go in and out through all sorts of weather.

It was the middle of September then, my servants said, and as within a week after taking the fever I was very ill, a great many people came out to inquire for me. Some of these, walking around the garden, declared it was a pity for such fruit and flowers to be wasted, and so helped themselves freely every time. The old doctor, who always fears for my health at this season, stopped by nearly every day to repeat how he had warned me, and always walked back to his gig in a round-about way, which required him to pass a favorite tree; and once he was so indignant to find several other persons gathered there, and mournfully enjoying the last of the fruit as they predicted I would never get well, that he came back to the house—with two pears in each duster pocket and one in his mouth—and told Jack it was an outrage. The preacher, likewise, who appears in the spring-time, one afternoon knocked reproachfully at the front door and inquired whether I was in a condition to be reasoned with. In his hand he carried a nice little work-basket, which may have been brought along to catch his prayers; but he took it home piled with grapes.

And then they told me, also, how many a good and kind soul came with hushed footsteps and low inquires, turning away sometimes with brightened faces, sometimes with rising tears—often people to whom I had done no kindness or did not even know; how others, whom I had quarrelled with or did not like, forgot the poor puny quarrels and the dislike, and begged to do for me whatever they could; how friends went softly around the garden, caring for a flower, putting a prop under a too heavily-laden limb, or climbing on step-ladders to tie sacks around the finest bunches of grapes, with the hope that I might be well in time to eat them—touching nothing themselves, having no heart to eat; how dear, dear ones would never leave me day or night; how a good doctor wore himself out with watching, and a good pastor sent up for me his spotless prayers; and at last, when I began to mend, how from far and near there poured in flowers and jellies and wines, until, had I been the multitude by the Sea of Galilee, there must have been baskets to spare. God bless them! God bless them all! And God forgive us all the blindness, the weakness, and the cruelty with which we judge each other when we are in health.

This and more my beloved old negroes told me a few hours ago, as I sat in deep comfort and bright health again before my blazing hickories; and one moment we were in laughter and the next in tears—as is the strange life we live. This is a gay household now, and Dilsy cannot face me without a fleshly earthquake of laughter that I have become such a high-tempered tiger about punctual meals.

In particular, my two nearest neighbors were much at odds as to which had better claim to nurse me; so that one day Mrs. Walters, able to endure it no longer, thrust Mrs. Cobb out of the house by the shoulder-blades, locked the door on her, and them opened the shutters and scolded her out of the window.

One thing I miss. My servants have never called the name of Georgiana. The omission is unnatural, and must be intentional. Of course I have not asked whether she showed any care; but that little spot of silence affects me as the sight of a tree remaining leafless in the woods where everything else is turning green.