INTRODUCING MRS. RAY
“‘He moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform,'” sang Mrs. Ray, coming in from the wood-shed and proceeding to fill up the stove, with the energy which characterized her whole person. A short, well-knit, active person it was, too,—a figure of health and compact muscular strength, a well-shaped head with a tight wad of neat hair on top, bright eyes, and a firm mouth.
Mrs. Wiley, a near neighbor, sat by the table and watched her friend with the after-nightfall passivity of a woman who has to be very active during daylight. Mrs. Wiley was not small and well-knit, neither was she energetic. Life for Mrs. Wiley had gone mainly in a minor key composed largely of sharps, and as a consequence she sighed frequently and sighed even now.
Mrs. Ray slammed the stove door and caroled louder than ever, as if to drown even the echo of a sigh in her kitchen. “‘He moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform,'” she sang, and then, folding her arms on top of her bosom in a manner peculiarly her own, she spoke to Mrs. Wiley in that obtrusively cheerful tone which we use to those who sigh when feeling no desire to sigh with them: “That’s my motto—that song—yes, indeed. It fits everything and accounts for everything and comes in handy anywhere any time, even if I never have wondered myself, but have been dead sure all along. Yes, indeed.”
Mrs. Wiley sighed again, and her eyes moved towards a large, awkward parcel rolled in newspaper, which lay on the end of the table by her. “I’m so glad you feel able to undertake it, Mrs. Ray. I don’t know how I ever could have managed it, if you’d said no. Mr. Wiley will have a new pig-pen this year, and the pigs never can pay for it themselves. So you were my only way to a new winter coat. I’m so glad you didn’t say no. Besides it’s father’s suit, and I shall love to wear it for that reason, too.”
“I never do say no to any kind of work, do I?” said Mrs. Ray, looking at the clock, and then all over the room; “this would be a nice time of life for me to begin to sit around and say no to work. What with Mr. Ray’s second wife’s children not all educated yet, and his first wife’s children getting along to where they’re beginning to be left widows with six apiece and no life insurance, I’m likely to want all the work I can get for some years, as far as I can see. Yes, indeed.”
Mrs. Wiley sighed heavily.
“Mr. Wiley thinks we’d ought to insure our lives in favor of Lottie Ann,” she said, feeling for her pocket-handkerchief at the thought; “she’s so dreadful delicate—but I think it’s foolish—she’s so dreadful delicate.”
“Why don’t you insure Lottie Ann, then?” Mrs. Ray glanced at the clock again, frowned a little and puckered her lips. “If you don’t mind taking that chair the cat’s in, Mrs. Wiley, I believe I’ve got just about time enough to sprinkle the clothes before the mail comes in; it looks so to me.”
Mrs. Wiley slowly and gravely exchanged seats with the cat. “Do you take much washing in now? I shouldn’t think you had time.”
“Time!” Mrs. Ray was dragging a clothes-basket from under the table and filling a dipper with water. “I never stop to think whether I have time or not, any more. ‘He moves in a mysterious way—’ there’s where my motto comes in again. Yes, indeed. I move just the same way myself. I don’t see how I get so much done, but I’ve no time to stop and study over it, or I’d be behind just that much. There’s more than you wonder where I get time from, Mrs. Wiley. They asked me if I had time for the post-office. And I said I had. They asked first if I could read and write, and I said I could; and then they asked me if I had time, and I said I had. And that settled it.”
“Why, Mrs. Ray,” said Mrs. Wiley, watching the clothes-sprinkling, which was now going forward, attentively, “that’s one of the waists from that girl at Nellie O’Neil’s, isn’t it?”
“Yes, indeed. She asked Nellie for a French laundress, and Nellie put her shawl right over her head and run up and asked me if I had time for that, too. I said I was willing to try, so I’m a French laundress too, now. ‘He moves’—”
“What do you think of those two young people at Nellie’s, anyway?” Mrs. Wiley dropped her voice confidentially. “I was meaning to ask you that, right at first.”
“Well, if you ask me,” said Mrs. Ray, “I can’t make him out, and I think she’s mooney. I’m a great judge of mooney people ever since I first knew Mr. Ray, and that girl looks very mooney to me. Look at her coming here and hiking right over and buying the Whittacker house next day—a house I wouldn’t send a rat to buy—not if I had a real liking for the rat. And now the way she’s pulling it to pieces and nailing on new improvements, with the trees all boxed up, as though trees weren’t free as air—oh, she’s mooney, very mooney—yes, indeed.”
“Nellie don’t think they act loving,” said Mrs. Wiley; “and Joey Beall says they don’t act loving even when they’re alone together. He’s been building a culvert for Mr. Ledge, and he’s seen ’em alone together twice. Joey knows how people ought to act when they’re alone together. He always knows when folks are in love, before they know themselves. He tells by seeing them alone together. Why, he knew when you was going to be married—he saw you and Mr. Ray alone together that day you walked to the Lower Falls.”
“But it wasn’t through our acting loving that he knew it,” said Mrs. Ray, energetically ruminative between the dipper of water and the clothes to be sprinkled; “my, but I was mad that day! It was the first and last time anybody ever fooled me into walking to the Lower Falls. Yes, indeed. I like to of died! If Mr. Ray hadn’t asked me to marry him, I’d never have forgiven him getting me to go on that walk. Those flights of steps! And those paths! All the way down I was wanting to turn round and go back. I made up my mind never to take Mr. Ray’s word for nothing again. And I never did. He fooled me into that walk, but he never fooled me again. Yes, indeed. Never!”
“But Joey Beall saw you that day,” said Mrs. Wiley, whose mind was of that strength which is not to be swept beyond its gait by any other mind’s rapidity, “and he said right off that night you’d marry him.”
“Maybe he saw Mr. Ray take his first and second wife down to the Lower Falls, and knew it from his looks with them—Mr. Ray took ’em both down there, and asked ’em each to marry him coming back. All the way down he was telling me what they each said to everything they saw. And coming back he showed me where he asked ’em each. Mr. Ray never made any secret of his first and second wife to me. I’ll say that for him. Yes, indeed. And like enough Joey was around then. He’s always round when people are alone together.”
“But he doesn’t think these young people act loving,” Mrs. Wiley went on, recurring to the main issue under discussion. “Joey says they don’t have the right way at all. He says they don’t disagree right, either. They’re on opposite sides of the dam, the same as if they were married folks, but they don’t seem to feel interested in their discussing. Nellie says they’re real pleasant, but she can’t understand them; Nellie’s very far from making them out.”
“Oh, Nellie can’t make nothing out. She and Jack is dead easy. Look at those other boarders they’ve got. She says she can’t make them out, either. I should think not.”
Mrs. Wiley’s standpoint refused to stretch to the other boarders. She sighed again.
“She seems a very nice girl,” she said, sadly.
“Oh, yes, nice enough—but mooney,” said Mrs. Ray. “I know the kind as soon as I see ’em. I could almost tell ’em by their legs, when they get down from the train on the side away from me. She’s got ideas about souls and scenery, that girl has; but that young man’s got his living to earn, and he hasn’t no time for any ideas. I like him! We both work for the United States Government, and that’s a great bond. Yes, indeed. That young man knows if the dam goes through here, he’ll be fixed for life digging it, and the girl’s just the kind he wants, for he’s practical and she’s mooney—she’s so mooney she’s bought a house to live in while he digs the dam, and yet she’s solemnly hoping there won’t be no dam. She says so.”
“Perhaps she don’t mean it,” suggested Mrs. Wiley.
“Yes, she does mean it,” said Mrs. Ray; “yes, indeed, she means it. I’m a great judge of character and that girl means what she says.”
“About the dam?”
“Yes, about everything. She’s very friendly with me. She buys lots of stamps, and cancels up like a lady. I’m very fond of her.”
“What did she say about the dam?”
“Oh, lots of things. She said it was a desecration for one thing, and then I was singing one day and she said I was very right, for the Lord did move in a very mysterious way, and He would save the falls.”
“Was she as sure as that?” asked Mrs. Wiley, appalled.
“She seemed to be. Oh, but she’s very mooney.”
“She’s expecting a friend on to-night’s train,” said Mrs. Wiley; “Nellie says it’s a girl younger than she is.”
“There’ll be trouble then,” said Mrs. Ray, with the calmness of all prophets of evil; “a girl younger than she is is going to make her look awful old.”
“I wonder how long they’ll stay!”
“I don’t know. You never can tell how long any one will stay here. Some come and say ‘Oh, it’s so quiet,’ and the next morning the express has got to be flagged to take ’em right away; and others come and say ‘Oh, it’s so quiet,’ and send for their trunks and paint-boxes that night. You never can tell how this place is going to strike any one. Mr. Ray’s first wife cried all the time, till she died of asthma brought on by hay-fever; and his second wife liked to be where she could go without her false teeth, and she just loved it here! Yes, indeed.”
“It isn’t so very long till the train now,” said Mrs. Wiley; “I guess I’ll go down to the station. I always like to see the train come in. It’s so sort of amusing to think it’s going to Buffalo. Lottie Ann says it’s so funny to think of something being right here with us, and then going right to Buffalo. I wish Lottie Ann could travel more. Lottie Ann would be a great traveller if she could travel any.”
Mrs. Ray took up the lamp. “Well, if you must go,” she said, “I’ll put the light in the post-office and get down cellar, myself. I’m raising celery odd minutes this year, and getting the beds ready to lay it under is a lot of work.”
Mrs. Wiley rose and moved slowly towards the door. “I wonder how long those other two will stay at Nellie’s,” she said.
Mrs. Ray’s lips drew tightly together. “I can’t say I’m sure,” she said; “I know nothing about them. Folks who never write letters nor get letters don’t cut any figure in my life. Good night, Mrs. Wiley,”—she opened the door as she spoke—”good-by.”
“They’ve been there—” murmured Mrs. Wiley, but the door closing behind her ended her speech.
Categories: English Literature