"Only think, Hiel, Dolly's going to Boston," said Nabby, when they had seated themselves cosily with the infant Zeph between them at the supper-table.

"Ye don't say so, now!" said Hiel, with the proper expression of surprise.

"Yes, Miss Kittery, her Boston aunt, 's comin' next week, and I'm goin' in to do up her muslins for her. Yes, Dolly 's goin' to Boston."

"Good!" said Hiel. "I hope she'll get a husband there."

"That's jest all you men think of," answered Nabby. "Dolly ain't one o' that kind; she ain't lookin' out for fellers—though there's plenty would be glad to have her. She ain't one o' that sort."

"Wal," said Hiel, "she's too good-lookin' to be let alone; she'll hev to hev somebody."

"Oh, there's enough after her," said Nabby. "There was that Virginny fellow in Judge Belcher's office, waitin' on her home from meetin' and wanting to be her beau; she wouldn't have nothin' to say to him. Then there was that academy teacher used to walk home with her, and carry her books and go with her to singin' school; but Dolly didn't want him. And there's Abner—he jest worships the ground she treads on; and she's jest good friends with him. She's good friends with 'em all round, but come to case in hand she don't want any on 'em."

"Wal, there ain't nothin' but the doctrine o' 'lection for such gals," said Hiel. "When the one they's decreed to marry comes along then their time comes, jest as yours and mine did, Nabby."

The conversation was here interrupted by the infant Zeph, who had improved the absorbed state of his parents' minds to carry out a plan he had been some time meditating, of upsetting the molasses pitcher. This was done with such celerity that before they could make a move both his fat hands were triumphantly spatted into the brown river, and he gave a crow of victory.

"There! clean table-cloth this very night! Did I ever see such a young un!" cried Nabby, as she caught him away from the table. "Father thinks he's perfection. I should like to have him have the care of him once," she added, bustling and brightening and laughing as she scolded; while Hiel, making perfectly sincere but ill-directed efforts to scrape up the molasses with a spoon, succeeded only in distributing it pretty equally over the table-cloth.

"Well, now, if there ain't a pair of you!" said Nabby, when she returned to the table. "If that ain't jest like a man!"

"Wal, what would ye hev me—like a girl, or a dog, or what?" asked Hiel, as he stood, with his hands in his pockets, surveying the scene. "I did my best; but I ain't used to managing molasses and babies together; that's a fact."

"It's lucky Mother went out to tea," said Nabby, as she whisked off the tablecloth, wiped the table, re-clothed it with a clean one, and laid the supper dishes back in a twinkling. "Now, Hiel, we'll try again; and be sure and put things where he can't get 'em; he does beat all for mischief!"

And the infant phenomenon, who had had his face washed and his apron changed in the interim, looked up confidingly in the face of each parent and crowed out a confident laugh.

"Don't let's tell Mother," said Nabby; "she's always sayin' we don't govern him; and I'm sure she spoils him more than we do; but if she'd been here she wouldn't get over it for a week."

In fact, the presence of Mother Jones in the family was the only drawback on Nabby's domestic felicity, that good lady's virtues, as we have seen, being much on the plaintive and elegiac order. There is indeed a class of elderly relatives who, their work in life being now over, have nothing to do but sit and pass criticisms on the manner in which younger pilgrims are bearing the heat and burden of the day.

Although Nabby was confessedly one of the most capable and energetic of housekeepers, though everything in her domestic domains fairly shone and glittered with neatness, though her cake always rose even, though her bread was the whitest, her biscuits the lightest, and her doughnuts absolute perfection, yet Mother Jones generally sat mildly swaying in her rocking-chair and declaring herself consumed by care—and averring that she had "everything on her mind." "I don't do much, but I feel the care of everything," the old lady would remark in a quavering voice. "Young folks is so thoughtless; they don't feel care as I do."

At first Nabby was a little provoked at this state of things; but Hiel only laughed it off.

"Oh, let her talk. Mother likes to feel care; she wants something to worry about; she'd be as forlorn as a hen without a nest-egg if she hadn't that. Don't you trouble your head, Nabby, so long as I don't."

For all that, Nabby congratulated herself that Mother Jones was not at the tea-table, for the nurture and admonition of young Zeph was one of her most fruitful and weighty sources of care. She was always declaring that "children was sech an awful responsibility, that she wondered that folks dared to git married!" She laid down precepts, strict even to ferocity, as to the early necessity of prompt, energetic government, and of breaking children's wills; and then gave master Zeph everything he cried for, and indulged all his whims with the most abject and prostrate submission.

"I know I hadn't orter," she would say, when confronted with this patent inconsistency; "but then I ain't his mother. I ain't got the responsibility; and the fact is he will have things and I hev to let him. His parents orter break his will, but they don't; it's a great care to me;" and Mother Jones would end by giving him the sugar-bowl to play with, and except for the immutable laws of nature she would doubtless have given him the moon or any part of the solar system that he had cried for.

Nevertheless, let it not be surmised that Mother Jones, notwithstanding the minor key in which she habitually indulged, was in the least unhappy. There are natures to whom the "unleavened bread and bitter herbs" of life are an agreeable and strengthening diet, and Mother Jones took real pleasure in everything that went to show that this earth was a vale of tears. A funeral was a most enlivening topic for her, and she never allowed an opportunity to pass within riding distance without giving it her presence, and dwelling on all the details of the state of the "corpse" and the minutiæ of the laying-out for weeks after, so that her presence at table between her blooming son and daughter answered all the moral purposes of the skeleton which the ancient Egyptians kept at their feasts. Mother Jones also, in a literal sense, "enjoyed poor health" and petted her coughs and her rheumatisms, and was particularly discomposed with any attempt to show her that she was getting better. Yet when strictly questioned the good lady always admitted, though with a mournful shake of the head, that she had everything to be thankful for—that Hiel was a good son, and Nabby was a good daughter, and 'since Hiel had jined the church and hed prayers in his family, she hoped he'd hold on to the end—though it really worried her to see how light and triflin' he was.'

In fact Hiel, though maintaining on the whole a fairly consistent walk and profession, was undoubtedly a very gleesome church member, and about as near Mother Jones's idea of a saint as a bobolink on a clover-top. There was a worldly twinkle in his eye, and the lines of his cheery face grew rather broad than long, and his mother's most lugubrious suggestions would often set him off in a story that would upset even the old lady's gravity and bring upon her pangs of repentance. For the spiritual danger and besetting sin that Mother Jones more especially guarded against was an "undue levity;" but when she remembered that Dr. Cushing himself and all the neighboring clergymen, on an occasion of a "ministers' meeting" when she had been helping in the family, had vied with each other in telling good stories, and shaken their sides with roars of heartiest laughter, she was somewhat consoled about Hiel. She confessed it was a mystery to her, however, 'how folks could hev the heart to be a-laughin' and tellin' stories in sich a dying world.'

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