A Dracula of the Hills

Yes, I can understan' ther's a sort o' pleasure collectin' old customs
An' linin' 'mdash up like a card o' butterflies.
Some on 'mdash's real quaint, I dessay,
But lookin's one thing an' livin's another.
Folks don't figger on th' quaintness o' th' things they're doin',
Ther' ain't no knick-knack about it then, I guess.
Times is changed since my young days,
Don't seem like th' same world I used to live in.
What with th' telephones an' th' automobiles,
An' city folks rampin' all over th' place Summers,
Lots o' things has kind o' faded out.
But I remember some queer goin's on;
They seem queer 'nough to me now, lookin' back.
We had good times a-plenty, nat'rally,
But they're all jumbled up together when I think on 'mdash,
I can't git aholt o' one more'n another,
While ther's some fearful strange things I can't ever lose a mite of,
No matter how I try.
I'd like to forgit 'bout Florella Perry,
But I ain't never be'n able to.
I don't know as you'd call it a custom,
'Twarn't th' first time th' like had happened, I know,
But ther' ain't never no such doin's nowadays.
Do the Lord's ways change, I wonder?
Superstition, you call it—but I don't know.
Seein's believin' all th' world over,
An' 'twas my own father seed
An' others besides him.
I didn't, 'cause I was a young girl an' not let,
But I watched th' beginnin's;
An' what my eyes didn't see, my ears heerd,
An' that afore other folks' seein' was cold, as you might say.
'Twas all of forty year ago;
I was jest a slip of a girl drawin' toward th' beau stage but not yit ther'.
One day I'd be thinkin' o' nothin' but ribbons,
An' th' next I'd go coastin' bellybumps all afternoon with th' boys.
Florella made me a woman for fair;
P'raps that was a good thing, 'twas time for it,
But I be'n a woman long 'nough now
An' I kind o' like to look back to what went afore.
I warn't livin' here then;
My husband was a Rockridge man
An' I come here when I married.
I was raised t'other side o' Bear Mountain to Penowasset.
Father kep' th' store ther'.
They thought a heap o' him in th' town
An' I had a happy childhood.
We didn't live over th' shop,
But quite along by th' end o' th' village
In a house my mother got from her father.
We had a couple o' fields an' a wood lot
An' kep' a hired man.
Father used to drive back an' forth in a buggy mornin's an' evenin's,
But Mother an' me didn't miss for neighbors.
Jared Pierce owned a fine big farm just beyond us,
An' Joe Perry's was t'other side th' road.
Florella was Joe's wife,
An' a real pretty creatur she was,
Fragile as a chiney plate
An' bright an' tidy as a June pink in sunshine.
She loved flowers;
Her door-yard was like a nosegay from May till October.
I never seen sich flowers as hers;
Nobody else couldn't make 'mdash bloom so,
Even when she give 'mdash th' seeds.
Her snowdrops was al'ays first up in th' Spring,
An' it took more'n a couple o' frosts to kill her late asters.
Th' way we knew she was ill was when th' garden begun to git weedy.
She an' Joe'd be'n married 'bout seven year then,
An' My! but they'd be'n happy!
Exceptin' for not havin' a child, I don't think ther' was a thing they wanted.
An' then Florella took sick.
It come with a cough one Winter,
An' she couldn't seem to git back her stren'th.
Come plantin' time, she couldn't do it.
Joe done his best, but that year th' garden warn't nothin' perticlar.
Florella used to set in her rocker on th' piazza lookin' at it an' cryin'.
Many's th' time I've slipped over an' done a little rakin' for her.
At first she liked me to do it,
But after a while she said to let it alone;
Ef it warn't her garden, she said, she didn't care nothin' 'bout it.
She spoke almost fierce, I thought, an' I didn't go over agin for quite a spell.
When I did, Florella had took to her bed.
She was a queer kind of invalid. You couldn't seem to help her any.
She'd let you do things an' thank you,
But she al'ays seemed angry that you had to come.
One day I was dustin' her room, an' she said to me:
“Becky, I ain't a-goin' to die.”
“'Course you ain't, Florella,” says I,
“Whatever put that into your head?”
She flared up at that.
“'Tain't no use lyin' to me, Becky Wales, I know I'm dyin'.
But I won't die. You'll see.
I'll find some way o' livin'.
Even ef they bury me, I'll live.
You can't kill me, I ain't th' kind to kill.
I'll live! I'll live, I tell you,
Ef there's a Devil to help me do it!”
She screamed this out at me, settin' up in bed
An' p'intin' with her finger.
I was so scared I had to grab a chair to keep from fallin',
An' Joe come runnin' in from th' barn.
He took her in his arms an' soothed her,
An' she bust out cryin' an' sunk into a little heap in th' big bed
So's you couldn't hardly see her, she was so thin.
Joe sent me home. He said not to mind Florella,
That she was flighty an' didn't know what she was sayin'.
Well, after that things got worse.
Florella had spell after spell;
You could hear her cryin' an' hollerin' way down th' road.
It was al'ays th' same thing: she wouldn't die,
Nobody could make her die.
'Twas awful pitiful to hear her takin' on.
Sometimes she'd moan an' moan,
An' then she'd break out crazy mad an' angry, screamin' for life.
Joe was at his wits' end.
Dr. Smilie said ther' warn't nothin' to do for her
'Cept give her quietin' draughts.
But Florella wouldn't take 'mdash;
She said they was a little death,
An' she'd throw down th' cup every time they give it to her.
Then she took a notion to see Anabel Flesche.
She was a queer sort of woman, was Anabel,
She lived in a little shed of a place over Chester way.
Some said she had Indian blood in her,
Anyway she was learn'd in herbs an' semples;
She claimed to know jest when to pick 'mdash,
An' she talked a lot o' foolishness about th' full o' th' moon,
An' three hours before dawn, an' th' dew o' th' second Friday,
An' things like that.
Well, Florella had her in,
An' she made her camomile teas an' lotions, out o' leaves an' plants she'd gathered,
An' fussed around with bits o' wax an' string,
But Florella didn't change none.
She kep' sinkin' an' sinkin',
An' th' cryin' spells got to comin' oftener.
She cried most o' th' time then.
I used to set in th' stair winder
When I'd oughter be'n in bed, listenin'.
It made my flesh creep to hear her poor cracked voice declarin' she wouldn't die,
An' all th' time she was dyin' plain as pikestaff.
I never see nobody so hungry for life;
She was jest starvin' for it.
Why, even when ther' warn't nothin' lef' of her but eyes an' bones,
She'd talk an' talk 'bout th' life she'd a right to, an' she was goin' to have, come what or nothin'!
It was kind o' lonesome out our way then;
Most o' th' passin' got to go by th' Brook Road.
'Twarn't so handy by a good two mile,
But nobody couldn't a-bear to hear Florella
Callin' an' wailin'.
You couldn't count ten th' times she was still.
'Twas a awful witchin' sound, comin' through th' night th' way it did;
I know I got all frazzled out losin' my sleep for hearin' it.
Mother an' Mis' Pierce used to take it in turns to watch her,
An' 'twas a real kindness to do it,
It wore th' nerves so.
One Saturday afternoon Mis' Pierce was with her,
When all of a suddint she jumped out o' bed,
Cryin' she was goin' int' th' garden,
That she was well now an' wouldn't be kep' back no more.
Mis' Pierce caught her just as she was goin' through th' door
An' ther' was a struggle, I guess.
Joe heerd where he was out in th' yard hoein' beans.
He was scared to death, an' jest heaved his hoe up onto his shoulder
An' run in as he was.
Florella seed him comin' with th' hoe up on his shoulder,
An' she screamed a fearful wild scream:
“You too, Joe!” she said,
“You want to kill me same as th' others?
But you shan't do it.
I'll live to spite you,
I'll live because o' you.”
She was mockin', an' grinnin', an' coughin',
An' menacin' him with her finger,
An' her head joggin' back an' forth from shoulder to shoulder like a rag-doll's.
Mis' Pierce run'd over an' tell'd Mother soon's she could git a minit,
An' them was her very words.
Now Florella loved Joe as only a rare few women do love;
But she was jest plumb crazy by this time,
Worryin' 'bout th' life was leavin' her, an' all eat up with consumption.
But it didn't make no diff'rence to Joe,
He loved her al'ays.
He jest picked her up an' laid her back in bed,
An' she went off unconscious an' never come to.
She died that night.
I mind it well, 'cause th' whippoorwills'd be'n so loud th' night before;
When I'd heerd 'mdash I'd thought Florella's time was come.
I've al'ays hated funerals,
I can't a-bear to look on a corpse
An' Florella's was dretful.
Not that she warn't pretty;
She was. Even her sickness hadn't sp'iled her beauty.
She was like herself in a glass, somehow,
An old glass where you don't see real clear.
'Twas like music to look at her,
Only for her mouth.
Ther' was a queer, awful smile 'bout her mouth.
It made her look jeery, not a bit th' way Florella used to look.
Ef I shut my eyes I can see that face now,
Blue, an' thin an' th' lips all twisted up an' froze so.
I guess I've seen that face in my mind every day for forty year, more or less.
Well, they buried her, an' we girls set pansies an' lobelia all about her grave
An' took turns tendin' 'mdash, week by week.
I'd loved Florella,
An', when she was dead, I rec'llected her as she was 'fore her sickness come
An' forgot th' rest.
Two years is a long time to watch a person die,
An' Joe'd done more nussin' than most husbands.
He kind o' pined when 'twas all finished,
But th' neighbors kep' a-droppin' in to see him,
An' Mother an' Mis' Pierce did him up every so often,
An' bimeby he got aholt of himself,
An' seemed to be gittin' on nicely.
He was a proper good farmer
An' things was goin' well with him,
All 'ceptin' his sorrow, which nothin' couldn't lift, nat'rally,
When th' next Winter he caught a bad cold.
I guess he let it go too far afore he saw th' doctor;
Anyhow it got a good settle on him an' he couldn't shake it off.
Nobody'd have thought much of it, I guess, but for Florella beginnin' th' same way.
Joe warn't concerned, he said he'd be all right come Spring,
But he warn't. He'd try to do his work as usual,
But soon he'd give over an' set down.
He was real patient, but he didn't git no better.
Dr Smilie begun to look grave.
One day I went over with a bowl o' soup from Mother.
Joe was settin' in th' garden, by a bed o' portulaca;
They's cruel bright flowers, an' Joe looked so grey beside 'mdash
I got a start to see him.
“Becky,” says he, “I know you loved Florella,
An' I should like you to have her flowers,” says he.
“I've willed th' farm to my brother over to Hillsborough,
But you can dig up th' flowers afore he takes possession.”
“Joe,” I said, “Joe—” an' I couldn't git out another word for th' life o' me.
“Yes,” he went on, “o' course I'm goin'. I've give her all I could, but it can't last.
Anabel Flesche was here yesterday, an' she told me.
I'm glad to ease her any, you know that,
But it can't last.”
Glad to ease Anabel Flesche—I thought,
But I know'd he didn't mean that.
I run right home an' told Mother, an' she told Father,
An' that evenin' they druv down to Dr. Smilie's.
The doctor 'lowed 'twas consumption, but he was angry enough 'bout Anabel Flesche.
“I'll see that hussy stops her trapesin',” he said,
“Rilin' up a sick man with her witch stories,” he said.
“I'll witch her, I'll run her out o' town if she comes agin.”
Anabel didn't come agin, but I guess she done it th' first time,
For Joe didn't seem to take much int'rest in gittin' well.
When a man don't want to live, he don't live, an' that's gospel.
Joe went down hill so fast that by Mid-summer ther' warn't no hope.
I used to set with him a good deal,
An' 'twas queer how diff'rent he was to Florella.
I think he was th' quietest man I ever see.
He didn't seem to have no pleasure 'cept in speakin' 'bout Florella.
By times he told me everythin':
How he courted her, an' what she said, an' th' way she looked when he brought her home.
I got awful near life for a young girl with th' things he told me.
I've be'n married an' widowed since, but I don't know as I ever got nearer to things than Joe's talk brought me.
Men ain't alike, an' women ain't alike, an' marriages is th' most unlike of all.
My marriage, when it come, was no more like Joe's an' Florella's
Than a piney's like a cabbage.
But this ain't my story.
“Florella had a strong will,” says Joe to me one afternoon.
Autumn had come by then, an' some o' th' leaves had fell,
An' those that hung on were so bright they seemed to fairly smarten up th' sun.
Joe was layin' in his bed with a patchwork quilt over him,
A lovely one 'twas, the State House Steps pattern;
Florella'd made it, she was wonderful clever with her needle.
Th' whole room was a blaze o' sunshine.
Right on th' chimbley hung a picture o' Florella
Some travellin' artist had painted th' year she was married.
I don't suppose city folk would have made much of it,
But I thought 'twas a sweet pretty thing, an' th' spon-image o' Florella.
“Florella had a mighty strong will,” says Joe agin.
“She owned me body an' soul, an' that was a rare pride to me.”
I couldn't figger what to answer, so I didn't.
“I guess she owns me still,” he says, an' I don't know ef he was really talkin' to me.
“I'm glad she does. It's got to be both o' us, all or neither, together.”
He smiled at that, very slow an' tired, almost as though it hurt his lips to do it.
“Perhaps you don't understand, little Becky,” said he.
I don't know whether I did or not, an' I didn't have a chance to say,
For all of a sudden crash down come Florella's picture on th' floor with th' cord broke.
I jumped nearly out o' my skin, I expect I screamed too,
But Joe didn't so much as shiver.
“Yes,” he said, lookin' at me with his steady smile,
“This proves it. You mark my words. It can't go on much longer. Poor Florella!”
He sighed then an' layed down, an' I thought he went to sleep.
I picked up th' picture, but th' glass had cut it badly,
All about th' mouth too.
It make it look th' way Florella's corpse did an' give me a turn.
I was afeerd Joe'd see it when he waked up,
So I set it with its face aginst th' wall.
But I needn't have bothered, for Joe never waked up.
When Mother come, she didn't think he looked right,
An' she sent for Dr. Smilie.
He warn't dead when th' doctor got ther',
But he was unconscious an' hardly breathin';
He stayed like that for a day an' a night
An' then 'twas all over.
All over for Joe, yes,
But not for us.
About a week after th' funeral, Father met Anabel Flesche.
“So Joe Perry's dead,” whined Anabel, an' Father was sure th' old hag looked pleased.
He only said, “Yes, he's dead,” an' was pushin' on when Anabel stopped him.
“Florella's a determined woman,” she cackled, “ain't you afeerd she'll try somebody else?”
“What th' Hell do you mean?” cried out Father.
“She loved life,” said Anabel, in a queer, sly way,
“Joe's gone, but ther's others.”
Father was so angry he couldn't trust himself to speak,
He jest touched up his horse an' druv on.
But what Anabel said rankled.
He an' Mother talked it over that night.
I warn't supposed to hear, but I did.
I was all shook up with th' things had happened
An' I daresn't stay in bed alone with nobody near,
So I used to creep out an' set on th' stairs
Till Father an' Mother come up.
It comforted me to know they was in th' next room,
An' I could sleep then.
Mother was real strict, an' I was al'ays sent to bed at nine;
They'd come up 'bout ten, an' I'd set that hour on th' stairs
Where I could look int' th' kitchen an' see 'mdash.
That's how I come to hear.
Afterwards I 'lowed I knew, an' they told me everythin'.
Well, to make a long story short,
Father an' Jared Pierce went straight to th' Selectmen,
An' told 'mdash what Anabel was hintin'.
Then some old people rec'llected things which had happened years ago,
An', puttin' two an' two together, they decided to see for themselves.
The Selectmen was all ther', an' Father, an' Jared Pierce;
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