* * * * *
Later, I asked her how she had caught the snake.
“After you left me,” she said, “I sat down to think. I knew that the boys wanted to scare me, and it struck me what a splendid thing ’twould be to scare them. Just then I saw the snake asleep on the rocks; and I remembered what one o’ the cowboys had said about their being stupid and sluggish at this time o’ year. But my! when it came to catching it alive—I—nearly had a fit, I’d chills and fever before I was able to brace up. Well, sir, I got me a long stick, and I fixed a noose at the end of it; and somehow—with the Lord’s help—I got the creature into my work-basket; and I carried it home, and put it under my bed, with a big stone atop o’ the lid. But I never slept a wink. I’m teetotal, but I know now what it is to have the—the—”
“Jim-jams,” said I.
“I believe that’s what they call it in California. Yes, I saw snakes, rattlers, everywhere!”
“You’re the pluckiest little woman in the world,” said I.
“Oh no! I’m a miserable coward, and always will be. Now it’s over I kind of wish I hadn’t scared the little children quite so bad.”
About a month later, when Alethea-Belle was leaving us and about to take up new quarters in Paradise, near the just finished village schoolhouse, Mrs. Spafford came to me. The schoolmarm, it seemed, had stepped off our scales. She had gained nearly ten pounds since the day of the great victory.
“Your good cooking, Mrs. Spafford—” Mrs. Spafford smiled scornfully.
“Did my good cooking help her any afore she whacked them boys? Not much. No, sir, her scholars hev put the flesh on to her pore bones; and I give them the credit. They air tryin’ to pay for what their schoolmarm’s put into their heads and hearts.”
“Miss Buchanan has taught us a thing or two,” I suggested.
“Yes,” Mrs. Spafford replied solemnly, “she hev.”
Looking back, I am quite sure that John Jacob Dumble’s chief claim to the confidence of our community—a confidence invariably abused—was the fact that the rascal’s family were such “nice folks,” “so well-raised,” so clean, so respectable, such constant and punctual “church-members.” After the Presbyterian Church was built in Paradise, no more edifying spectacle could be seen than the arrival on Sunday mornings of the Dumble family in their roomy spring wagon. The old man—he was not more than fifty-five—had two pretty daughters and a handsome son. Mrs. Dumble, a comely woman, always wore grey clothes and grey thread gloves. She had a pale, too impassive face, and her dark hair, tightly drawn back from her brows, had curious white streaks in it. Ajax said a thousand times that he should not sleep soundly until he had determined whether or not Mrs. Dumble was a party to her husband’s misdemeanours. My brother’s imagination, as I have said before, runs riot at times. He was of opinion that the wearing of grey indicated a character originally white, but discoloured by her husband’s dirty little tricks. Certainly Mrs. Dumble was a woman of silence, secretive, with lips tightly compressed, as if—as Ajax remarked—she feared that some of John Jacob’s peccadilloes might escape from them.