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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

After the Mountain Wedding

By Frances Courtenay Baylor (1848–1920)

[Born in Fayetteville, Ark., 1848. Died in Winchester, Va., 1920. Behind the Blue Ridge. A Homely Narrative. 1887.]

PAP had been sitting silent and mortified ever since his rebuff from the elders, who had let him severely alone, except when they looked at him over or under their horn spectacles with a glance indifferent, vacant, cold, or a “What kind of a sort of a fellow is this we’ve got here?” of puzzled inquiry from some “furriner,” who lived some miles away, and only half divined that he was “no ’count” and had best be left to his own company and devices. He felt shy about going up to R. Mintah. To cross the room and set himself up to be stared at, as it were, seemed impossible. Such bold proceedings were not for pariahs, he felt; so he sat still, with Willy leaning against him and trying already to wink the sleep out of his round eyes, and with other companions, in the shape of his own thoughts, that he would have gladly shaken off, they were so bad. Only yesterday, as it seemed, he had been a bridegroom too, and had stood in just such an assembly, feeling immortal in youth and love and joy. And he remembered another bride, the best and fairest among women. “Then” and “now,” the twin vultures, were tearing at his heart,—that bright “then” when he had been so rich that all the tribute and treasures of the world could have added nothing to his wealth; this dark “now” of bankruptcy in which there were none so poor as to, do him reverence, and in which only one thing—the little child that his arm encircled—stood between him and the utter darkness and despair of unloved, unhonored old age. His eyes, in roaming around the room, fell upon his violin, wrapped in the dead wife’s shawl. The poor, faded, threadbare thing was as familiar to him as any sight in the world; but he got a heart-stab from it now, it was eloquent of so much besides his lost happiness. He withdrew his arm hastily from about Willy, and, leaning forward, rested his head on his hands with his fingers shielding his eyes.

“Old Johnny’s gittin’ tired. Look yonder at him a-noddin’ and ready to fall off the bench. Ha! ha! He’s had enough of this,” said one of the youthful rustics to Darthuly Meely, who “He! he! he’d” with a sympathetic snigger over the amusing spectacle.

“He’s done bin to town to-day, maybe,” remarked rustic the second, not to be outdone in wit. “’Tain’t the first time he’s crookt his elbow sence day-break. That’s why he’s so peart and lively to-night. I reckon he’ll roll plum’ off on the floor in a minnit.”

R. Mintah noticed him, too, and came tripping towards him, saying, “Pa-ap! Pa-ap! Ain’t you got no words fur me? Ain’t you goin’ to shake hands and wish me joyful?”

Pap started up and looked bewildered. “R. Mintah, my dear! Is that you? God bless you!” he said, brokenly, and then released her hand suddenly, seized his crutch, and made his way rapidly out of a side-door into the darkness. He was still sitting on the door-step when one of the rustic youths already mentioned came in search of him, saying, “They’re minded to have a merry-bout in there, and is askin’ fur the fiddler. That’s you, ain’t it?”

“No, it ain’t,” said Pap. “I can’t play to-night. I ain’t a-goin’ to play.” He was very sore-hearted, and the manner of the request had not been soothing. R. Mintah came running to him, though, the next minute, saying, “What’s this? What’s this ’bout you not playin’ fur my weddin’? Oh, Pa-ap! You ain’t never meant it. Jonah’s and me’s weddin’! Hit’s never ain’t possible! Why, it’s you that has brought us to this. Ef you hadn’t of holpen me and talked to him like you did we wouldn’t have had no weddin’, and I’d have gone single to my grave. Not play? And him sech a beautiful dancer! And me ready to jump over the house! And you playin’ so eligunt! Come ’long in this minnit, which you’ve always been a good friend to me,—always.”

Of course Pap relented. There never was a creature more susceptible to kindness; and for affection, or affection’s sake, what would he not have done or been? “Well, R. Mintah, to pleasure you, I can’t say you nay, seein’ it’s your weddin’-night,—me that have knowed you sence you warn’t as big as my Willy.”

As he entered with her, a general murmur of satisfaction filled the room, entirely selfish in its origin, but helping to put the old man in tune. “Now we’ll git somethin’ that’s wuth the listenin’,” said old Jacob Potter to his neighbor, Tim White. “I always did like a tune, and Johnny Shore kin play the fiddle first-rate. Hit’s about the only thing he’s good fur.”…

Pap heard and smiled, and tucked his beloved violin under his chin where he stood, and gave a long scrape from tip to end of bow and looked about him with positive assurance.

“Run, git me a stool, Willy boy, to rest Jim Wilkins on,” he said to his little shadow; and, going across the room, he turned an empty water-bucket upside down in the low window-seat, and having enthroned himself, with Willy’s help, gave a second scrape of his bow to say that he was ready. Willy hopped off with his crutch, and it was lucky that both were got out of the way in time, for the effect of Pap’s signal was almost electrical, and in a moment the bashful youths, who had been clinging together all evening so desperately, parted company by one impulse, and, as bold as lions, advanced, seized a maiden apiece by her elbow or hand, and marched with her into the middle of the room. Gone was all stiffness and embarrassment from that moment. A babel of talk burst forth. Podge Brown, who had been the envy of his own sex and the delight, apparently, of the opposite one, was suddenly completely eclipsed and altogether deserted. Podge could not dance.

Not being afflicted with the faintest trace of shyness, he had been talking to the girls all evening and making himself irresistible in his own fascinating way, showing his easy feeling about society and familiarity with its usages in a variety of ways. He had begun by seating himself on the same bench with the maidens—between A. Mander and Darthuly Meely indeed—and had brilliantly excused the boldness of the intrusion by saying that “merlasses must look to catch flies.” He had continued to get off a great number of equally original and lively sallies, to the great amusement and satisfaction of his audience, and the disgust of his companions near the door. He went so far as to make a mock declaration of affection, which he called “a pop,” to two young ladies seated some distance below him. He ended by tickling them all, which threw them into the greatest possible state of arch confusion, and produced such protestations, affectations, profuse giggles, and threats that, naturally, he was driven in self-defence to make fresh demonstrations, whereupon all the timid darlings took refuge in each other’s laps, where they embraced and kissed each other most fondly, and quite by accident looked over at the now furious masculine majority who suffered and were strong. But with the very first bars of “Zip Coon” the conquering Brown found himself no better off than Napoleon at Elba, and in a flash about twenty couples were hard at it, jigging, and hopping, and spinning, and twirling, and not caring a pin what became of him. Away they went, in pairs, and faced each other, and set to, and capered, and bounded, swung half around a circle, fell to their “steps,” swung back into place again, seized each other around the waist and spun madly around for a moment, faced each other again, set to, and so on da capo with fresh energy and other “steps” until not a breath was left in a single body. Such coquetting and pirouetting, such bright eyes and flushed checks, such freedom of movement and native grace among the girls! Such swing and fling, such rampings and stampings, such shouts of delight from the men! Such perfect, unrestrained enjoyment for all! “Zip Coon” melted into “Miss McLeod,” “Miss McLeod” was merged in “Money Musk,” “Money Musk” slipped into “Gray Eagle,” “Gray Eagle” ran into “Yellow Stockings,” “Yellow Stockings” was skilfully pinned without a break to “Fisher’s Hornpipe.”

On they all went, Pap playing with a fire and enthusiasm that worked the dancers up to the highest pitch of excitement, playing as if there wasn’t a heartache in the world and never had been, his eyes half shut, a smile on his face, beating time regularly with his left foot, the dancers dancing to match with all their might and main and heart and soul, and with every muscle of their bodies. The old floor sent up clouds of dust. The walls trembled and swayed. The windows rattled. The candle-sticks clattered. The broom fell in a fright against the disguised flour-barrel. The twins shrieked for joy, and danced, too, about the door after their own fashion. The ciders leaned eagerly forward, and beamed, and oscillated on their seats, and nodded to the music, and exclaimed, and patted the floor with their sticks. And still the reels and reelers went thundering on. Pap grew paler and paler, the dancers were all aflame, but still there was no pause nor break. And now came a loud roar and a mighty tramp. It was a mercy that the shell of a tenement did not collapse like a card-house as all the couples bounded off in the “grand cirkit” all around the room, doing the long glide and hop of “the Irish trot,” which, being well named for wildness and fury, would have been trying to the constitution of the most substantial structure. Utterly exhausted when this highly characteristic outburst of Milesian mirth was over, the dancers fell into the first seats they could find. The first frenzy of movement was over, and Pap could and did stop, too, and proceeded to mop his face with his handkerchief, which he then rolled into a tight ball and returned to his pocket. Nobody thanked him, nobody joined him, except Willy, whom he sent off again to bring him “a gode of water,” but nevertheless he felt that he had his reward. “The folks is had a good fling, ain’t they, honey?” he said to the child when he returned….

Some little time passed before any more dancing was done, and then a sensation was created by Jonah’s challenging Alf Peters to “a break-down.” Jonah was considered by many people the “handsomest dancer on the Mountain.” Alf Peters had won “the endurance prize” for break-downs the week before at the fair. Great interest was naturally felt in such a contest. Both men began by removing their coats, and after a few preliminary stamps and steps each threw back his head, shoulders, and arms, and settled to his shuffling and double-shuffling with a will, “the folks” gathering about them in a circle, Tim White “patting Juber,” Pap fiddling for his life, and R. Mintah shrieking out in her feminine treble squeak, “Don’t you stop, Jonah! Go on! Don’t git beat, Jonah! That’s you!” the opposition petticoated element encouraging Alf in much the same fashion. A more exciting struggle for supremacy was never seen on the Mountain, and how R. Mintah’s eyes did shine with gratified pride when Alf Peters, pumped into an exhausted air-receiver, suddenly stopped, sank on the floor, and thereby confessed himself vanquished. “He’s give in! I knowed it would be so! Stop, Jonah,” she cried. But Jonah went on for some moments to show that he could do so, not that there was the least danger of any dispute or altercation, everybody having seen for some moments that Alf had lost his steadiness and was reeling as a top does before it comes to a stand-still. When Alf rose and sulkily resumed his linen “duster,” with ill-concealed disgust, Jonah cocked his hat very much on the back of his head, stuck his thumbs in his suspenders, and made the tour of the room with R. Mintah hanging on his arm and looking up to him with fondest admiration. He then lit a five-cent cigar, and, in the fulness of his satisfaction, he actually went up to his late deadly enemy, young Culbert, and offered him one, adding a hearty clap on his back that was almost enough to produce a hemorrhage on the spot. “Ain’t you ’most dead, my dear?” asked R. Mintah of her giant, anxiously.

“No,” he replied, with great scorn. “I ain’t teched. Git out there and show me what you kin do.”

Out they got on the floor. Jonah stuck his arms akimbo. Pap, who had exhausted his repertoire, went back to “Zip Coon.” R. Mintah caught up her skirts, turned out her elbows squarely, stuck her pretty head roguishly on one side. Jonah, with a wild “Whoop-ee!” jumped fully two feet into the air, clapped his heels swiftly three times together before he alighted, whirled to the right, whirled to the left, advanced, retreated, gyrated.

R. Mintah teetered forward prettily on her toes, flew right, flew left, with a little fluttering motion like that of a butterfly with wings outspread, retreated when he advanced, advanced when he retreated, glanced archly now over the right shoulder, now over the left, her cheeks like damask roses, her eyes like stars.

Jonah darted towards her with his arms extended; R. Mintah slipped under them and floated away. Jonah danced all around her; R. Mintah kept well out of his reach. Jonah pretended that he was exhausted, and let his steps die away to a faint shuffle, intended to convey the impression that he was quite spent; R. Mintah relaxed her vigilance. Jonah immediately darted forward again, and this time seized the little wife around the waist, and, lifting her up in his strong arms, deposited her bodily on the mantel-shelf, and left her there—a sweet novelty in chimney ornaments. The shouts of the delighted audience had not died away, when Mr. Newman appeared at the door, very tall and straight, very solemn and formal. “Suppur-r, ladies and gentlemen!” he said in loud, mechanical voice, with a whir in it as of a clock running down. “Suppur-r-r! And please to form yourselves in couples of two and walk out.”

This was a welcome sound to Pap, whose head had dropped lower and lower over his violin, and who had been playing for some time with intermittent vigor. And to the elders, all of whom were drooping, too, and some of them dozing. And to Podge Brown, who had been threatening to go home for hours, but somehow had not gone. And to Matilda, who had sat bolt upright all the evening, looking almost as sour and odious as she was. And to Willy, who had rolled off and under a bench, and was “sound,” as Pap remarked when he waked him. And to Stone and Pete, who had not been able to close an eye for thinking of it. And to the dank and grewsome, who rose with alacrity to respond to the summons, but, with all the others, was stopped by Mr. Newman, who gave out: “The bride and the bridegroom will form theirselves as the fust pair of two, and lead forth before all, which will follow on.” This plan of Mr. Newman’s for ensuring due and proper precedence necessitated R. Mintah’s being taken down from her exalted position, and Jonah effected this in a twinkling, whereupon R. Mintah, by dint of standing on tiptoe, managed to administer a mock-violent box on his ear. Peace being restored between them, both suddenly became very dignified and grave. R. Mintah put on her white cotton gloves, which she had taken off. Jonah did the same, and pulled up his collar, moreover, and held his head as high as he could get it. R. Mintah took his arm, and, having “formed theirselves,” they waited a moment for the other “couples of two” to do the same, and then marched out of the room, solemnly, with measured steps, at the slowest possible rate of speed consistent with moving at all, to “Bonaparte crossing the Rhine,” from Pap. To have laughed or talked during this progress would have been a gross indecorum. But when they had arrived at the supper table and taken their places, when Mr. Mathers had asked a blessin’ at great length, and been blessed for not making it shorter, and when Mr. Newman had called out warningly, “Ladies to get their fill fust, gentlemen, and don’t you disremember it. Guzzlers to wait till the last. Begin to commence to wait on your ladies, gentlemen, and don’t spare the vittles pervided and made and set out before you for the same,”—then, I say, there was noise enough…. A bountiful supper that, and certainly a merry company. Podge Brown was again in a position to show the superiority of head over heels, and became every moment more fatally fascinating. Before Mr. Mathers had well got out his “Amen,” he was sportively pouring coffee in the custard, and daubing the pound-cake with mustard, by way of showing the tricksy quality of his wit, and from this he went on to other delightful and genial antics that completely enslaved all the young ladies about him, whom he tickled impartially and persistently, causing them to “think they’d die,” and to assure him that they “would split their sides,” to say nothing of spilling their coffee, dropping their plates, and choking over and over again. But although thus devoted to the sex at large, Mr. Brown was a man, and an unmarried one, and so it came about that he gradually and very artfully narrowed the circle of his charming attentions until Darthuly Meely was the object of most of them, and before the banquet was consumed he had contrived to give her the most signal marks of his preference, such as pulling down her hair, breaking most of her pearls, and repeatedly pulling her chair from under her. Something, however, must be allowed for the expansion of stocks and stones even under certain favorable conditions, and Mr. Brown was but mortal man, Darthuly Meely the dynamic force surging within him and seeking expression in playful fancies. Even Timothy White made three remarks in the course of that supper, and looked almost animated when fruit-cake was handed. And Jinny’s tongue wagged freely in spite of such apparently insuperable obstacles to conversation as biscuits, and apples, and cakes, and pickles, of which her mouth was full. “You did jerk the liveliest to-night,” she said to Pap. “When I knowed you was dead and in your grave, I usened to tell Alfred often that fur fiddlin’ his Pa-ap beat all. And so you do, John, no matter who’s the next one, fur it’s jes’ livin’ music ef ever I heerd any, and you with a leg buried, anyways, to my certain knowing. Hit’s jes’ a wonderment how you kin.”

One lady present certainly got what Mr. Newman wished all to have, and that was the dank and grewsome, who, considering that the meats were not cold baked, nor served on or out of a coffin, contrived to dispose of enough and to spare. She was still sitting over in a corner with a plate in her lank lap heaped high with a miscellaneous collection of eatables, with which she was apparently making close connection as far as could be seen (which was not far, the black sun-bonnet being cast down within an inch of the same, and mysterious sounds of chumping, and cracking, and gulping, and gurgling going on under its immediate protection as behind a screen), when the company trooped back to the living-room, leaving Simon Peter and Stonewall Jackson still skirmishing in the rear—perhaps to cover their retreat and bring off the D. and G.

The evening was now over, as soon appeared. Mothers began to think of their babies and of their bread. Fathers “reckoned it was ’bout time to be gittin’.” Grandfathers yawned dolorously, and were no longer to be kept up even by their sticks. Seeing this, Mr. Newman made his last official declaration: “Them that goes with the bride to her home-bringin’ will git ready to start right away, and ef they’ve got any saddlin’ and bridlin’ to do they’d better be mighty quick about it, as aforesaid.” A general commotion of preparation now ensued. Children were sought for, shawls and bonnets resumed, farewells made, and the heads of families, the elders, and the little ones made their way outside, unlatched their “teams,” clambered into their carts, and then waited, as etiquette demanded, for the departure of the bride and groom. Out came R. Mintah the next moment, followed by Jonah, and all cloaked and hooded. The night was black and starless, and it had been difficult to distinguish anything or anybody, but now fully fifty pine-knots were lit in rapid succession, and flamed and smoked in the fresh breeze that blew from the direction of the Ridge. And now R. Mintah was swept up on a white pony, with a beautiful flowing tail and mane, by Jonah. And now Jonah mounted a big bony chestnut, and laid his hand on his wife’s bridle-rein. And now the young men and maidens mounted their respective steeds, and fell into line behind the first pair who were to be like another first pair, of whom it is said that “Adam delved and Eve span.” And now Stone and Pete rush out and whisk up behind two of the cavaliers, and cling there like a couple of limpets. And now R. Mintah cries out, “Good-by! Good-by!” over and over again. “Good-night, Pa-ap. Good-by, dear Mother Newman. Good-by, Father Newman. Come over soon. Good-by all.” And Jonah gives two short “good-nights,” too, and the procession starts. The gleam of R. Mintah’s red dress and hood is seen for some time, and then is to be seen no longer. The carts and wagons all go creaking, rattling away. The procession turns into the Red Lane now, and the young men and maidens burst into a song full of joy and triumph. Mother Newman turns away in tears. The dank and grewsome flits out into the darkness like Poe’s raven. Matilda stalks off towards home in a temper because Alfred has lingered so long. Little Willy is fretting, too, and appears to be trying to gouge out one of his blue eyes with his fist. The procession is winding around the Mountain now, and they can see the torches still flaming, still smoking, still borne aloft. And now they have suddenly disappeared. Father Newman goes in and shuts the door. Jonah and R. Mintah are married. Pap, Alfred, and the child stumble home in silence—the old leaning, moss-roofed home, with the tottering porch and the wavy chimney, into which a bride as young and fair as R. Mintah walked so long, long ago. As they enter the gates, thet clouds part a little and show a brilliant stretch of stars. And Pap looking up at them thinks of one who has passed beyond them.