From Ailenroc’s Book, by Cornelia Alexander
Mr. Washington Brown is our good-natured man. Everybody says he is one of the best-natured men in the world, and, of course, what everybody says must be so. His neighbor, who is known to be a choleric person, sighs regretfully and wishes he could take the world fair and easily, like Brown. It has grown into a proverb that nothing upsets Brown’s temper. No, sir; rain or shine, luck or no luck, it’s all the same to him. But his friends don’t drop in often to see him get off to church.
On Sunday morning he takes his rest—no use in a hurry, so he lies in bed till the call to breakfast rouses him. Then after breakfast he feeds the horses, and, as it is getting late, begins to prepare for going to meeting.
While Mrs. Brown clears away the breakfast things and tidies up the kitchen, he blacks his boots; and by the time she is ready to make up the beds, he is calling for hot water and his clean clothes. He meditates a while and contemplates his unshaven visage in the glass, and says: “Amanda, I believe I will wear that pair of drab pantaloons to-day, as it is getting late in the season and I may not have another chance to wear them.”
“O dear!” sighs Amanda. “There are no buttons on them.”
Mr. Brown’s eyes open wide and he glares angrily. “What is the reason there are no buttons on them?” he cries.
“Because I was scarce of buttons and cut them off. You told me to lay them by, that you would not need them before next summer.”
Mr. Brown grows red in the face, and he straps his razor as if he had an especial spite at it. “That’s the way,” he growls. “I never can find my things as I want them. I wish to gracious I had some one to see to my clothes. When I want a pair of pantaloons, I want them; but of course I’ll have to stay at home.”
“I can sew them on,” says his wife; “but I know those black pantaloons would look best.”
“Let them alone!” he thunders. “I can wear them without any buttons.”
But Mrs. Brown gets a needle, and tacks on the buttons without a thimble, and jobs the needle under her nail and cries a little; while Mr. Brown shaves his chin as recklessly as safety will permit, and throws the lather over the floor, wipes his razor on his knee, kicks the cat, scolds the children, and behaves altogether like an angry man will behave.
Then his wife lays out his clothes, and while she is getting out the children’s things he calls to her to wash his neck; and while she is washing it, he averts his eyes from her, and will not answer when she speaks to him. Then he flops down on the white counterpane, musses the pillows, and knocks off the shams; and when his wife says, “Why, Washington,” he retorts with something so like a bad word that Tommie and Susie stretch their eyes at each other. Mrs. Brown is washing the baby, and, to hurry matters, sends Tommie and Susie to wash themselves; but they get soap in their eyes, and Susie gets her hair pulled, and Tommie gets bit, and their mother has to go out and wash them at last. Then the good-natured man examines the drab pantaloons and finds a thin place in the knee that he had forgotten. He decides that the black pantaloons will look best, but he must have another dig at Amanda about them; so he rolls them up in a ball and slams them out in the hall, and says: “I told you I couldn’t wear the old things, and I won’t!”
Amanda sighs a little, but she is used to his ways, and knows that she can say nothing to palliate her offense. She folds them up, and, putting the baby in a high chair that he may not get into the dirt or water and spoil his clean clothes, she turns to get ready herself. An exclamation from Mr. Brown draws her attention. In essaying to button his shirt he has found a frayed buttonhole; and if there is one thing at which his soul revolts, it is a frayed buttonhole. He stands regarding her with silent wrath, demonstrating by vigorous pantomime that as fast as he buttons it, the button slips out again.
“O, well,” says Amanda, trying to smooth it over, “it is the lower button, and your vest will hide it. It doesn’t matter about it; the rest are all right.”
“All right,” he mimics—“all right! Do you ever intend to have my clothes all right, even one time? You can find time to fix your own things, but mine are never fit to wear. The time will come, I guess, when I won’t be allowed to have any clothes at all. If I live, I will hire me some shirts made—see if I don’t.”
“Now, look here,” says Amanda, roused at last, “that is a nice, clean, well-done-up shirt, if I did do it, and I want you to hush about your clothes. Can I help the linen wearing out?”
“It’s your washing, madam. You don’t know how to wash, or you would not beat a new shirt all to pieces.”
“A new shirt! Now, Washington, how long have you had that shirt? Will you please state?”
“A month or two,” he answers, trying his cravat before the glass and admiring his snowy bosom.
“You have had that shirt two years, sir, and it has lasted well.”
Washington Brown is astonished, almost petrified. He turns and fixes a stony look on poor Amanda, and says: “Have you any regard for the truth at all?”
“I have,” she asserts, “and I think I ought to know more about the making of that shirt than you do, anyhow, for I made it with my fingers at the same time I made your—”
“Good gracious!” cries Mr. Brown. “Just hush; I don’t want to hear another word. I guess I have a little sense yet. Now,” putting on his hat, “I’m about ready and shall catch out.”
While he is harnessing the horse to the buggy, poor Amanda dives frantically at first one thing and then another, but is only half dressed when he comes in for his coat.
“My soul!” he cries, with all the energy, but not the piety, of the psalmist. “Aren’t you ready yet? What on earth have you been doing all the morning?”
She doesn’t answer, for she thinks if he does not know what she has been doing all the morning, he is past comprehending anything she might say.
“I want a handkerchief! Strange thing to me that I never can get a handkerchief.”
Amanda thinks surely he will not need one to wipe tears away to-day, but she only says: “Well, look in the top drawer there, in the right-hand corner.” He looks, and, failing to find the desired article, tumbles the contents of the drawer on the floor, and vows there are none there; but she fishes out at least half a dozen from among the things he has scattered. One of them he snatches, and takes the children out and puts them in the buggy. Then he stands and cracks the whip, and shouts: “Amanda, I will leave you! Now you must stand before that glass two hours!”
Amanda, on the verge of hysterics, has not even had a peep into the glass all the morning. Fortunately, her collar is basted in the neck of her dress, and in her hurry she forgets the pretty tie she aimed to wear. His dirty clothes must be tucked out of sight, the rumpled coverlet straightened, and the demoralized pillows set up again; then she hurriedly twists up her hair in a knot behind, ties on her hat, forgetting cuffs and gloves, and goes out.
“Well, well, well!” says this good-natured man. “Surely this is not you. Hadn’t you better go back and primp another hour? I could dress forty times while you are getting ready once.”
Amanda gets in with a big lump in her throat and mist before her eyes. She is so worried and nervous she almost wishes she had stayed at home, especially when she discovers that Susie’s hair has not been combed. It is curly hair and she intended to comb it nicely, but in her hurry forgot it. As they go on she tries to straighten it out with her fingers, and wind it into loose curls, but it is in a sorry-looking plight at best.
It is early when they arrive, and Mr. Brown has time to greet his many acquaintances. After Amanda is seated she hears his cheery greetings and hearty laugh, and the lump in her throat gets bigger and bigger. People look strangely at her, and she hears Miss Prim—an old maid whose eyes are as sharp as a ferret’s—say: “What a dowdy sight! She gets worse all the time. Did you ever see the like of the long white bastings in the neck of her dress? I know the woman might wear a bit of ribbon about her neck to hide them. I do believe she does it to annoy her husband, but he is such a good-natured man that nothing annoys him. And will you look at Susie? I don’t believe the child has had her hair combed this day. Dear me! Washington Brown might have married nearer home and done better.”
Amanda hears it all. Her cheeks burn, and she knows she is a dowdy sight. The lace-edged tie that should cover the offending stitches lies snug in her trunk. That Susie’s hair was innocent of brush or comb grieves her more than any one else, but no one knows how it is. The lump stays in her throat, the baby boy frets, and the preaching seems afar off from her aching heart. But Mr. Brown enjoys it all; his boots shine, his shirt bosom is glossy, his collar is a nice fit, and his cravat is the proper thing. He is looking well, and old Sister Goode whispers to Sister Frye: “Washington Brown is a good-looking man, and so good-natured; but his wife looks like an ill creeter; and, betwixt you and me, I believe she is a hornet.” And Sister Frye nods one, two, three times in assent.
After service Miss Gush says to Miss Flirt: “Sweet one, I tell you I admire Mr. Brown so much; he is so dignified. I have an idea that none of the little jars of life could disturb his sublime repose. Pity that his wife cannot borrow some of his dignity.” Miss Flirt simpers and thinks the same, and they all file out, and Mr. Brown gathers his family together, and, with smiles and bows, drives off, and the crowd look after them and repeat the popular saying that “there goes one of the best-natured men in the world. I tell you he is a philosopher—takes things fair and easy.”