It seemed to him that nothing less than a side of beef could take out of his mouth the taste of those fiddling little lamb chops and the restaurant fare of the past six months.
* * * * *
All through the winter Fred had kept up a little heat in the house, with an eye to frozen water pipes. But there was a chill upon the place as they opened the door now. It was late afternoon. The house was very still, with the stillness of a dwelling that has long been uninhabited. The two stood there a moment, peering into the darkened rooms. Then Hosea Brewster strode forward, jerked up this curtain, that curtain with a sharp snap, flap! He stamped his feet to rid them of slush. He took off his hat and threw it high in the air and opened his arms wide and emitted a whoop of sheer joy and relief.
“Welcome home! Home!”
She clung to him. “Oh, Hosey, isn’t it wonderful? How big it looks! Huge!”
“Land, yes.” He strode from hall to dining room, from kitchen to library. “I know how a jack-in-the-box feels when the lid’s opened. No wonder it grins and throws out its arms.”
They did little talking after that. By five o’clock he was down in the cellar. She heard him making a great sound of rattling and bumping and shaking and pounding and shovelling. She smelled the acrid odour of his stubby black pipe.
“Hosey!”—from the top of the cellar stairs. “Hosey, bring up a can of preserves when you come.”
“Can of preserves.”
“Any kind you like.”
“Can I have two kinds?”
He brought up quince marmalade and her choicest damson plums. He put them down on the kitchen table and looked around, spatting his hands together briskly to rid them of dust. “Sh’s burning pretty good now. That Fred! Don’t any more know how to handle a boiler than a baby does. Is the house getting warmer?”
He clumped into the dining room, through the butler’s pantry, but he was back again in a wink, his eyes round. “Why, say, mother! You’ve got out the best dishes, and the silver, and the candles, and all. And the tablecloth with the do-dads on it. Why—”
“I know it.” She opened the oven door, took out a pan of biscuits and slid it deftly to one side. “It seems as if I can’t spread enough. I’m going to use the biggest platters, and I’ve put two extra boards in the table. It’s big enough to seat ten. I want everything big, somehow. I’ve cooked enough potatoes for a regiment, and I know it’s wasteful, and I don’t care. I’ll eat in my kitchen apron, if you’ll keep on your overalls. Come on.”
He cut into the steak—a great, thick slice. He knew she could never eat it, and she knew she could never eat it. But she did eat it all, ecstatically. And in a sort of ecstatic Nirvana the quiet and vastness and peace of the big old frame house settled down upon them.