Kitchen Junket by Ralph Page(continued)
"What do you mean? Old and stiff am I? Bet I do the Morning Star and never miss a step. If you'll play something real lively Al, I'll do balancin' with Chris that you ain't seen the like of since we fired on Fort Sumter."
It was always a pleasure to play on Uncle's fiddle. Having a very dark varnish it was known as a black violin. The name applied only to its color for it was made by Conant of Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1864. The bow was an ounce or so heavier too, than the general run of such, making it very easy to get a good full tone from all the strings.
"What yer goin' t' play, Al?" quried Jim as the sets were lining up.
"Like to play St. Anne's Reel." I answered, "Do you know it?"
"Nope. Never heard of it. How's it go?"
"Key of D, like this," and going over close to him I ran over the tune a couple of times while he listened and watched the fingering.
"Now let me try it with yer once, Al. Seems t' be easy enough." He had it the first time: "Good enough to stub round home on," he grinned.
Mean while, there was a lot of confusion going on around us. Everybody it seemed, wanted to be in Uncle Wallace's set.
"Thunderation," he exploded, in a voice loud enough to be heard clear up to Stoddard Box, "ain't room enough in here for all of yer. Two sets is enough. Th' rest of yer go some place and set down."
"Hadn't ought t' have that many, "volunteered Henry Wilson. "Too crowded in here now."
"Room enough for anyone who knows how t' dance," replied Walter Barrett, " 'f you could balance 'stead er hoppin' round like a grasshopper--"
"What are you hollerin' about," interupted Uncle Wallace, "you're off over there by the winders where its cool. We got th' fireplace a singein' our backsides. Who throwed that maple chunk on?"
"Thawin' out a mite, be ye Wallace? Sh'd think ye would, carryin' that paunch o' yourn round."
The three elderly men had been insulting each other since before any of us there could remember. Strangers hearing them for the first time expected them to come to blows. Such an idea never entered their heads. It was only routine procedure with them.
"Will you old men stop treadin' round each other like a bunch of Shanghai roosters, so's we can get to dancin'?" said Edna finally.
"That's right," said Ernest, "let 'er go Al, 'fore we all suffocated in here."
"Sets in order," commanded Uncle Wallace, "here's how it goes. 'Right hand to partners, balance and swing. Left hand balance and swing. Down the center and back. Cast off, and right and left four.' You all know it; ain't no need of my callin' the changes. Stay with th' music, an' don't hurry."
Right from the start, the men cut loose with fancy balance steps. Cooper steps. Brazing steps. High Betty Martins. Pigeon wings and Tiptoe Jims. Plain and fancy clog steps, the active men did them all; a different balance each time. While waiting their turn, the inactive men kept up a soft undercurrent rhythm of heel and toe taps. The girls too, caught the feeling of the dance and did light toe-twinkling steps in a sort of counter-point to their more boistrous partners. Even the right and left figure was danced with 'fancy Dan' capers.
Dancing in Uncle's set were Larry, Walter, Louis, Harry and Everett, all renowned 'balancers'. Our family was known as one of excellent dancers and here were the best. The other set wasn't to be sneezed at either, since Harold, Ernest, Clint, Sam, Henry and Sheldon could hold their own in any 'balancing' company.
The Conant fiddle seemed to play itself as I gave the tune every variation I'd ever heard on Prince Edward Island the previous winter.
"Gor-rye, Wallace," panted Sam as the dance ended, "give most anything 'f I could cut a pigeon wing the way you do. Guess you're right about my knees not bein' hung on right."
"Warn't that a good tune?" beamed Uncle Wallace, wiping the perspiration from his face. "Say you brought it down from Canady with yer? Want to learn it sometime. Puts music into yer feet all right, don't it? Lan' sakes, I almost had to ask Florence to breathe for me 'fore I got to the end of the line. Ain't had so much exercise since we hayed the Brick-yard and mowed through a whiteassed hornet's nest."
Suddenly, everyone there realized that they were hungry, and while the girls were hurrying around getting the baskets of sandwiches from the buttery, some of us men brought in some sawhorses and planks and set up a long table in front of the fireplace in the sitting room. There were some near accidents with the planks, and everyone got in the way at some time or other. It was a happy sort of confusion and in a very few minutes we had found seats around the table and were gazing in mouth watering anticipation at the "lunch" set before us.
There were egg sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, bean sandwiches, and platters of thick-sliced cold roast pork, roast beef, home cured ham and corned beef, to be used as 'making' for sandwiches by anyone who wanted them. Sour pickles, dill pickles, sweet tomato pickle, and picklelilli. Yellow earthenware bowls heaped high with potatoe chips. Mince-meat pie and dried apple pie. It was almost a sacriledge to start eating any of it.
"Never saw you men so bashful in my life," said Helen, cousin Ernest's wife. "You usually act 's though you hadn't et for a week. Aim to set here all night, droolin'?"
The spell was broken. Everyone reached at once. As I stretched for the plate of egg sandwiches, Clint, sitting opposite, anticipated the move and caught my wrist. Ensued a few seconds of 'wrist twistin', resulting in Sheldon getting the prize instead of either of us.
"There, you see?" laughed my sister Marguerite. "That's what you get for being a hog."
If there had been laughter and joking during the dancing it was nothing compared to what went on the next half hour. We kept reminding each other of previous junkets; how much someone else had eaten. About the time that the combination of hot pork and the heat of the room had nearly overcome Sheldon, so that we had had to put him to bed for a while; about Clint and I eating the contents of a two pound box of saltines the night Ethelyn made the welsh rarebit; about the night we'd hung May baskets at Frank Bridge's before going on to a party at Maurice's; of the night we'd had oyster stew at Harold's birthday party and some one had dropped a bright red crab into Harry's glass of water. Of shiverees following the marraige of many now sitting around the table. It being generally conceded that the shiveree to end all shiverees was the one honoring the wedding of Howard and Irene several years ago, during which we had fired box after box of shotgun shells until the barrels were too hot to touch let off twenty pounds of dynamite and Frank Burgess had contrived a gigantic 'devils fiddle' that had been heard miles down the river. The whole conclave had so frightened Everett Scott's new housekeeper that she had left for her native Cape Cod at dawn the next morning.
Swiftly the food disappeared, washed down with strong coffee that mother and Marguerite made in an iron kettle over the blaze in the fireplace.
"Whew," groaned Florence, "And I didn't think I was hungry when I set down."
"That's what you always say," retorted her husband Sheldon.
"Yup," agreed Clint," and then you eat more 'n any four of us. Don't know where you put it all."
"Throw your plates and cups into the fireplace and then move that table out of here," Aunt Mabel told us. "Might want to dance some more after a while."
This was done speedily, almost before you could have said 'Run around Jack Robinson's barn' a dozen times. By using paper plates and cups we saved the girls a lot of work and time from washing dishes.
Then, Uncle Wallace asked: "Laurie, won't you sing something for us?"
"About the only song I know is the one about Young Charlotte," mother replied, "but I'll sing it for you if you want I should."
Mother was always modest concerning her repitoire of old songs. Actually, she could sing for hours without repeating herself. Now, folding her hands in her lap and leaning back in the cane bottomed chair she sang in a soft, sweet voice the long, tragic story of Young Charlotte, or the Frozen Girl.
"Young Charlotte dwelt on the mountain side
In a bare and lonely spot,
No cabin there for miles around
But her father's humble cot.
On many a pleasant winter's eve
Young swains would gather there,
To laugh and pass the hours away
For she was wondrous fair.
Her parents dressed her up
As fine as any city belle,
For Charlotte was their only child
And each did love her well.
One New Year's eve at the window pane
She watched with anxious care
As jingling bells passed by her door
In the cold and frosty air."