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Spare Beds

From Ailenroc’s Book, by Cornelia Alexander

That is a curious subject, you will all think, and I think so myself; but I’ve got a little tale to unfold about spare beds in general, and one spare bed in particular, and I had just as well get at it.

Last fall Jasper (that’s my husband) and I went over to Luke Singleton’s to spend the day, and, as a bit rain came on in the evening, we had to stay all night.

I was anxious to get back home; but Jasper said not to trouble, for his mother was with the children and everything would go right; so I tried to enjoy myself, and succeeded very well.

Sarah Singleton in one of the best housekeepers that I know. She does more work than half the other women put together, and she laid herself out for a good supper, and got it.

When bedtime came around, she lit a candle and led me out of her room into her spare room, which is in the front part of the house, and comes nearer being a parlor than any other in the neighborhood; for it has a nice carpet on the floor, two rocking-chairs, a big bureau, and a beautiful bed. The white counter-pane was tucked in so nicely, and the big pillows had such pretty shams on them, that I said: “Sarah, I don’t want to muss up that pretty bed. Put us in one of the back rooms.”

“I shall not,” she said, laughing as hard as she could. “This is my company room, and I intend for my company to use it; we don’t.”

Then she turned down the covers and gave the bed little pats here and there.

“Will you have the bolster and pillows, too?” says she.

“Mercy, no!” I said. “The bolster is enough. I would break my neck to lie on them big pillows, I expect. I believe there are fifty pounds of feathers in that bed and pillows.”

“I know it,” said Sarah. “There are forty pounds of feathers in that bed alone. It’s that heavy I can’t manage it. Luke has to carry it out when it is sunned. Dear me!” said she, sitting down in a chair, while I unlaced my shoes, “The time I did have picking those feathers! Sometimes the geese would pick me black and blue, and the ducks were a sight of trouble.”

“Your carpet holds out well,” I said. “It looks as well as it did when new.”

“That’s because I take care of it,” she said. “I promised Luke that I’d take care of it if he’d buy it, and I have. If I were to leave the doors and windows open, it would fade; and instead of sweeping, I go over it occasionally with a damp cloth.”

“That’s a fine bureau,” I said—for I don’t begrudge to brag on my neighbors’ things, not a bit—”and the drawers are so handy to keep things in.”

“Yes,” said Sarah, “but we don’t keep our wearing clothes in here. I hate so much passing in and out over the carpet. We keep our bed linen and nicest quilts here; and that makes me think,” says she, jumping up, “you’ll need a quilt on your bed. I’ll get out Mary Ann’s newest one. We quilted it last winter, and it never has been slept under. It is the ‘world’s wonder,’ and it’s got nearly fifteen hundred pieces in it.”

It was the prettiest thing I ever laid eyes on, when Sarah spread it over the bed, and I felt so ashamed of my Mattie that I didn’t know which way to look; for Mattie and Mary Ann were of one age—fourteen—and Mattie didn’t have a quilt to her name, while Mary Ann had pieced six or eight nice ones.

When Sarah had bidden me good night and gone out, I took the candle and looked all around that pretty room. The pillow shams took my time. There were flowers, birds, and butterflies worked all over them—and by Mary Ann, at that. I wondered if that was the reason the girl was so stoop-shouldered and so unhealthy looking, and then I thought of my tomboyish Mattie, who couldn’t sit still one minute, scarcely, and wished she was more like Mary Ann in her ways. The fireplace was hid by a paper screen, and there were pictures on it and pictures on the wall; but, although everything was so pretty, it all smelled damp and moldy.

Jasper came in and we went to bed, but I didn’t rest as I thought I should. I turned over and over, till finally Jasper said: “What on earth ails you tonight, Minty?”

“This bed needs sunning and airing,” I said.

“How do you know?” he inquired.

“I know by the smell. Can’t you smell the feathers?”

“It’s the damp weather,” he answered. “Everything smells musty in rainy weather.”

“But it’s full of lumps,” I said, sitting up and trying to work them with my fists. “Sarah said she couldn’t manage this bed, and I believe her, for it has not been sunned lately. Fresh feathers ought not to knot up so.”

“Her beds should be like ours—pretty flat,” says Jasper; and that was the last of him, for he went off to sleep.

But I stayed awake a long time, and sniffed the damp smell of the fireplace, the strange odor of the feathers, and the mustiness of Mary Ann’s quilt; but finally I dozed off.

Jasper waked me the next morning, sneezing. “Kerchew, kerchew!” he said. “Hum, hum, hum! The rain is over, Minty, but I’ve got a bad cold. Kerchew, kerchew!”

“I feel right stiff,” I said, “but I guess it will wear off when I get up.”

“I hope it’s not your old complaint coming on,” he said.

My “old complaint” was sciatica. Well, it did come on. As I stepped into the buggy on starting home, it struck me in my hip like a knife. “O!” I said. “That old pain again!”

Of course I was laid up for a week or more, suffering great pain, and all the time Jasper went sniffling and coughing around, drinking mullein tea.

“It is strange,” he said to me one day, “that our trip to the Singleton’s laid us both up.”

“It’s their fine spare room and their grand company bed that did the work, and I’ll hint Sarah with it, if I live,” said I.

But I didn’t see Sarah in some time. A month passed by, and one day she came to see me. I knew something was wrong with her, for she seemed out of sorts all day; and in the evening, when I remarked that I hoped to be well enough to go out on our next meeting day, she surprised me.

“I never want to hear Brother Simpson preach again,” she said. “He has hurt my feelings so bad I can’t get over it.”

“What in the world?” I said, in amazement. “I thought Brother Simpson was all in all with you and Luke.”

“So he was,” she said, just ready to cry, “and Luke has paid him more than any other one member; but he has hurt my feelings, in my own house.”

“What has he done?” I urged; and she told me.

“He went home with us on his last appointment, and when bedtime came, and I fixed my best bed for him, he refused to occupy it.”

“Was that all?” I inquired.

“No; he gave his reasons, and that’s why it hurt me. He said he had lain in it once and had a spell of sickness in consequence. He said he believed sleeping in unused beds caused the ‘preacher’s sore throat;’ that in his travels he had been put in the spare rooms, till the colds, coughs, and ticklings in his throat interfered seriously with his preaching; and now he makes it a rule to ask to sleep with the children or in a bed that is regularly used. The idea of putting the preacher with the children! And he went on and told me of foul gases, and goodness knows what else, that come from unused feathers. He even said that there was microscopic fungus—little growing things—under my carpet and on the fire screen just because I keep that room shut up ready for company. I never was so insulted in my life, but he was the preacher and I had to bear it. I’ve thought myself a good housekeeper, and the idea of my clean, best room being a trap of diseases—it’s just horrible!”

Then I thought I’d speak, if I died for it. “Sarah,” I said, “don’t get mad with me, for we have always been friends, and I believe you are a little the cleanest housekeeper in the neighborhood; but perhaps there is more truth than poetry in what Brother Simpson said.”

She looked at me pretty hard, but all she said was: “Minty, I’m surprised at you.”

“But maybe it is unhealthy to sleep on feathers that are not aired often. We don’t know, for we have never studied the matter.”

“Bosh!” Sarah said. “I know I don’t sun my bed as often as I ought, but there is no gas in it to kill people.”

“I’ll tell you how to find out, Sarah,” I said. “You and Luke sleep in that room and see if it has any effect on you. If it has, make two beds out of that big one. Let your doors and windows stay open, even if the sun does fade the carpet; it makes the are so close when a room is shut up.”

“I will,” she said. “We will sleep in that dreadful bed to-night.”

The next time I saw Sarah she was in a good humor and laughed over her experiment.

“The room was dreadfully musty,” she said. “I had no idea feathers could smell so old and strange, and I’m sure I sat up in bed half the night, and had a crick in my neck, besides. Luke was so stifled he couldn’t get his breath; so he hoisted a window, and had a headache for his pains. I don’t believe a word about that fungus, but when I took the fire screen out to sun it the next day, there was a thin green coat on the back of it—mold, I suppose. I’ve divided that big bed, and I’m bound from this on to use that room in the daytime, if we don’t need it at night. If keeping a room shut up makes it unhealthy—and I expect it does—that one shall stand open. The boys have put a mat at the door, and I tell them to walk right in to the big glass to comb and brush, if they wear the carpet to a frazzle, but they brush their feet just as carefully. Mary Ann says she is glad the preacher said what he did, and I’ve gotten over it now. I’m sure when he stays with us again the bed won’t give him the sore throat.”

So you see there ends the story of one spare bed, and I’ll be bound all through the length and breadth of the land there is many a company bed that smells just as moldy, just as musty, just as unhealthy, as Sarah Singleton’s; but it’s not every person who has the courage, like Brother Simpson, to call attention to the fact.