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Homespun Tales

12. Gold and Pinchbeck
Just then Mrs. Brooks groaned in the next room and called Rose, who went in to minister
to her real needs, or to condole with her fancied ones, whichever course of action
appeared to be the more agreeable at the moment.
Mrs. Brooks desired conversation, it seemed, or at least she desired an audience for a
monologue, for she recognized no antiphonal obligations on the part of her listeners. The
doctors were not doing her a speck of good, and she was just squandering money in a
miserable boarding-house, when she might be enjoying poor health in her own home; and
she did n't believe her hens were receiving proper care, and she had forgotten to pull
down the shades in the spare room, and the sun would fade the carpet out all white before
she got back, and she did n't believe Dr. Smith's magnetism was any more use than a cat's
foot, nor Dr. Robinson's electricity any better than a bumblebee's buzz, and she had a
great mind to go home and try Dr. Lord from Bonnie Eagle; and there was a letter for
Rose on the bureau, which had come before supper, but the shiftless, lazy, worthless
landlady had forgotten to send it up till just now.
The letter was from Mite Shapley, but Rose could read only half of it to Mrs. Brooks,
little beside the news that the Waterman barn, the finest barn in the whole township, had
been struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Stephen was away at the time, having
taken Rufus to Portland, where an operation on his eyes would shortly be performed at
the hospital, and one of the neighbors was sleeping at the River Farm and taking care of
the cattle; still the house might not have been saved but for one of Alcestis Crambry's
sudden bursts of common sense, which occurred now quite regularly. He succeeded not
only in getting the horses out of the stalls, but gave the alarm so promptly that the whole
neighborhood was soon on the scene of action. Stephen was the only man, Mite reminded
Rose, who ever had any patience with, or took any pains to teach, Alcestis, but he never
could have expected to be rewarded in this practical way. The barn was only partly
insured; and when she had met Stephen at the station next day, and condoled with him on
his loss, he had said: "Oh, well, Mite, a little more or less does n't make much difference
just now."
"The rest would n't interest you, Mrs. Brooks," said Rose, precipitately preparing to leave
the room.
"Something about Claude, I suppose," ventured that astute lady. "I think Mite kind of
fancied him. I don't believe he ever gave her any real encouragement; but he'd make love
to a pump, Claude Merrill would, and so would his father before him. How my sister
Abby made out to land him we never knew, for they said he'd proposed to every woman
in the town of Bingham, not excepting the wooden Indian girl in front of the cigar-store,
and not one of 'em but our Abby ever got a chance to name the day. Abby was as set as
the everlastin' hills, and if she'd made up her mind to have a man he could n't wriggle
 
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