“See that boy of poor Abel Edwards’s dancin’ along, when his father ain’t been dead a week!” one woman at her window said to another.
Squire Eben Merritt had three boon companions—the village lawyer, Eliphalet Means; a certain John Jennings, the last of one of the village old families, a bachelor of some fifty odd, who had wasted his health and patrimony in riotous living, and had now settled down to prudence and moderation, if not repentance, in the home of his ancestors; and one Colonel Jack Lamson, also considered somewhat of a rake, who had possibly tendered his resignation rather than his reformation, and that perforce. Colonel Lamson also hailed originally from a good old stock of this village and county. He had gone to the wars for his country, and retired at fifty-eight with a limp in his right leg and a cane. Colonel Lamson, being a much-removed cousin of the lawyer’s, kept bachelors’ hall with him in a comfortable and untidy old mansion at the other end of the town, across the brook.
Many nights of a week these four met for an evening of whist or bezique, to the scandal of the steady-going folk of the town, who approved not of cards, and opined that the Squire’s poor wife must feel bad enough to have such carousings at her house. But the Squire’s wife, who had in herself a rare understanding among women of masculine good-fellowship, had sometimes, if the truth had been told, taken an ailing member’s hand at cards when their orgies convened at the Squire’s. John Jennings, being somewhat afflicted with rheumatic gout, was occasionally missing. Then did Abigail Merritt take his place, and play with the sober concentration of a man and the quick wit of a woman. Colonel Jack Lamson, whose partner she was, privately preferred her to John Jennings, whose overtaxed mental powers sometimes failed him in the memory of the cards; but being as intensely loyal to his friends as to his country, he never spoke to that effect. He only, when the little, trim, black-haired woman made a brilliant stroke of finesse, with a quick flash of her bright eyes and wise compression of lips, smiled privately, as if to himself, with face bent upon his hand.
Whether Abigail Merritt played cards or not, she always brewed a great bowl of punch, as no one but she knew how to do, and set it out for the delectation of her husband and his friends. The receipt for this punch—one which had been long stored in the culinary archives of the Merritt family, with the poundcake and other rich and toothsome compounds—had often, upon entreaty, been confided to other ambitious matrons, but to no purpose. Let them spice and flavor and add measures of fine strong liquors as they would, their punch had not that perfect harmony of results, which effaces detail, of Abigail Merritt’s.
“By George!” Colonel Jack Lamson was wont to say, when his first jorum had trickled down his experienced throat—“By George! I thought I had drunk punch. There was a time when I thought I could mix a bowl of punch myself, but this is punch.”