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The Story of Obed, Orah, and the Smoking-Cap

by Mrs. A. M. Diaz

A cozy room, a wood fire, bright andirons, and a waiting company. The Family Story-Teller promised the children he would come, and the whole circle, young, older, oldest, are expecting a good time; for the Family Story-Teller can tell stories by the hour on any subject that may be given him, from a flat-iron to a whale-ship. He once told about a flat-iron—and nothing can be flatter than a flat-iron—a story half an hour long. It began, "Once there was a flat-iron."

But where is he? Has he forgotten? Did the snowstorm hinder? Has he missed his horse-car? Hark! a stamping in the entry. Dick runs to open the door, and shows Family Story-Teller upon the mat, tall and erect, brushing the snow from his cloak, his whiskers, and his laughing eyes.

Miss Flossie declared that he must be "judged" for coming so late.

Said Dick, "I judge him to tell as many stories as we want."

This judgment being thought too easy for a person like him, to make it harder he was "judged" to tell the stories all about the same thing. It was left to grandpa to say what this thing should be, and grandpa said, with a laugh, "going to mill."

"Very well," said Family Story-Teller, "I will begin at once, and tell you the entertaining story of 'Obed, Orah, and the Smoking-Cap.'" He then began as follows:

Once upon a time, in the pleasant village of Gilead, dwelt Mr. and Mrs. Stimpcett, with their four young children—Moses, Obadiah (called Obed), Deborah (called Orah), and little Cordelia. Mrs. Stimpcett, for money's sake, took a summer boarder, Mr. St. Clair, a city young man, who wished to behold the flowery fields, repose upon the dewy grass, and who had also another reason for coming, which will be told presently.

On the morning after Mr. St. Clair's arrival, Mrs. Stimpcett said to grandma that, as the noise of four young children at once would be too much for a summer boarder until he should become used to it, Obed and Orah would go and spend the day with their grandfather's cousin, Mrs. Polly Slater. Mrs. Polly Slater lived all alone by herself in a cottage at another part of the village of Gilead. Obed was six and a half years old, and Orah nearly five.

The two children set forth early in the morning. Orah wore her pink apron and starched sun-bonnet, and Obed wore his clean brown linen frock and trousers, the frock skirt standing out stiff like a paper fan. As his second best hat could not be found, and his first best was not to be thought of, he was obliged to wear his third best, which had a torn brim, and which he put on with tears and sniffles and loud complaints.

It happened very curiously that as Obed and Orah were walking through the orchard, Obed still sniffling, they saw, under a bush, a beautiful smoking-cap. Obed quickly threw down his old hat, and put on the smoking-cap in a way that the loose part hung off behind.

This beautiful smoking-cap belonged to the summer boarder, and was presented to him by a young lady who liked him very much. It was wrought in a Persian pattern slightly mingled with the Greek, and was embroidered with purple, yellow, crimson, Magenta, sage green, invisible blue, écru, old gold, drab, and other shaded worsteds, dotted with stitches of shining silk and beads of silver, the tassel alone containing skeins of écru sewing silk. The young lady lived not very far from Mr. Stimpcett's, and she was that other reason why Mr. St. Clair became a summer boarder in the pleasant village of Gilead.

Spry, the puppy dog, probably carried the smoking-cap to the orchard; but all that is known with certainty is that Mr. St. Clair, the evening before, then wearing the cap, reclined upon several chairs with his head out of the window, gazing at the moon, and there fell asleep, and that, as on account of the abundance of his hair it was a little too small, the cap fell off his head, and that when he awoke the pain in the back of his neck and the lateness of the hour caused him to forget all about it.

Now when Obed and Orah arrived at Mrs. Polly Slater's, they found her doors shut and locked. Mr. Furlong, the man who lived in the next house, called out to them, "Mrs. Polly Slater has borrowed a horse and cart, and gone to mill; she will stay and eat dinner with your aunt Debby." Then he added, "I am harnessing my horse to go to mill; how would you like to go with me, and ride back with Mrs. Polly Slater in the afternoon?"

Obed and Orah liked this so much that they ran and clambered into the cart as fast as they could, Orah climbing in over the spokes of a wheel. Mr. Furlong fastened Obed's cap on by tying around it a stout piece of line.

When they had ridden several miles on their way to mill, they met a boy on horseback galloping at a furious rate. The moment this boy saw Mr. Furlong, he pulled up his horse—he nearly fell off behind in doing so—and said he, "Mr. Furlong, your sister at Locust Point has heard bad news, and wants to see you immediately."

Mr. Furlong drove as fast as he could, until he came to the road which turned off to Locust Point. Here he set the children down, and showed Obed, not quite half a mile ahead of them, a large white building with a flag flying from the top. "There," said he, "your aunt Debby, you know, lives next to that white building. It is a straight road. I am sorry to leave you. Keep out of the way of the horses, and go directly to her house." Mr. Furlong then drove to Locust Point.

Now after the two children had walked a short distance, they came to a road which led across the road in which they were walking, and along this cross-road were running boys and girls, some barefoot, some bare-headed, some drawing baby carriages at such a rate that the babies were nearly thrown out; and all that these boys and girls would say was, "Baker's cart! baker's cart!" At last Obed and Orah found out that a baker's cart had upset in coming through the woods, and had left first-rate things to eat scattered all about. Our two children found a whole half sheet of gingerbread, which was not sandy, to speak of; and as they sat eating it, they looked through some bushes down a hill, and saw there something which looked like a molasses cooky. They scrambled down, the blackberry vines doing damage to their clothes, and found two molasses cookies, and each took one. But before Orah had finished hers she leaned her head on a grassy hummock, and fell asleep. When she awoke, sad to relate, they turned the wrong way, and went farther and farther and farther into the woods. After walking a long time, they came to a brook, and stopped there to drink. They had to lie flat on the ground, and suck up the water. Orah took off her shoes and stockings, because there was sand in them, and dipped her feet in the brook. Obed pulled hard, but he could not pull her stockings on over her wet feet, and she had to carry them and her shoes in her hand. The woods became thicker as the children walked on, and the trees taller. Obed began to cry. "Oh dear!" he said; "we are lost! we are lost!"

"Oh, I want to see my ma! I do! I do!" said Orah, and burst out crying. Crying?—roaring!—so the man said who heard it.

This was a charcoal man who happened along just then, driving an empty charcoal cart. He kindly asked them where they lived, and whither they were going. After Obed had told him, he said to them, "You poor little children! You are dirty and ragged, and you are a long way from your aunt Debby's. I shall pass near your father's house, and would you like to take a ride with me?" Then, as they seemed willing, he helped them into his cart, dropping them at the bottom as the safest place. Obed, however, by putting his toes into knot-holes and cracks, climbed high enough to put his head over the top, and Orah found a loose board which she could shove aside, and so push her head through and look up at Obed.

Now as they were rattling down a steep hill not a great way from home, a slender young lady started from the sidewalk, and ran after them, shouting and waving her parasol in the most frantic manner. The charcoal man did not hear her. This frantic and slender young lady was the young lady who made for Mr. St. Clair the smoking-cap done in the Persian pattern slightly mingled with the Greek, and embroidered with the shaded worsteds before mentioned, mingled with stitches of silk and beads of silver.

It is not strange that upon seeing that smoking-cap, which had cost her so much time and labor and money, appearing over the top of a charcoal cart on the head of a sooty little boy—it is not strange, I say, that the slender young lady went to Mr. St. Clair and asked what it all meant. She found Mr. St. Clair sitting upon the door-step, watching the sunset sky. Mr. St. Clair declared that he had spent the whole day in looking for the smoking-cap, and that it must have been stolen. Mr. and Mrs. Stimpcett came out, and said they had been looking for the cap all day, and had felt badly on account of its loss. At this moment, grandma, who was confined to her room with rheumatism, called down from a chamber window that there were two little beggar children coming round the barn—colored children, she thought.

"Why," cried the slender young lady, "that's the very boy!"

Mr. St. Clair rushed out to the barn. Just as he left the door-step who should drive up to the gate and come in but Mrs. Polly Slater. "I have been to the mill," said she, "and I came home by this road, thinking you would like to hear from Debby."

"But where are Obed and Orah?" cried Mrs. Stimpcett, in alarm.

"I have not seen them," said Mrs. Polly Slater.

As she said this, Mr. Furlong stopped at the gate. He said that as he was passing by he thought he would ask how Obed and Orah got on in finding their aunt Debby's.

"Aunt Debby's!" cried Mr. Stimpcett, Mrs. Stimpcett, grandma, and Mrs. Polly Slater—"Aunt Debby's!"

On hearing at what place Mr. Furlong had left her children, Mrs. Stimpcett fainted and fell upon the ground. Then all the people tried to revive her. The slender young lady fanned with her parasol, Mrs. Polly Slater fetched the camphor bottle, Mr. Furlong pumped, Mr. Stimpcett threw dipperfuls of water—though owing to his agitation not much of it touched her face—and grandma called down from the chamber window what should be done.

In the confusion no one noticed the approach of a newcomer. This was the charcoal man, bringing shoes and stockings. "Here are your little girl's shoes and stockings," said he. "She left them in my cart."

"They are not my little girl's," said Mr. Stimpcett, throwing a dipperful of water on the ground.

"She said she was your little girl," said the charcoal man. "But there she is"—pointing to the barn; "you can see for yourself."

Mr. Stimpcett ran to the barn, and was amazed to find that the two beggar children were his Obed and Orah. Mr. St. Clair was scolding them, and the tears were running down their cheeks in narrow paths. Mr. Stimpcett led them quickly to Mrs. Stimpcett. Seeing their mother stretched as if dead upon the ground, they both screamed, "Ma! ma! m—a!"

The well-known sounds revived her. She opened her eyes, raised herself, and caught the children in her arms.

The slender young lady advised that the smoking-cap be hung out-doors in a high wind, and afterward cleansed with naphtha. The clothes of Obed and Orah were also hung out, and Mr. Stimpcett, for fun, arranged them in the forms of two scarecrows, which scared so well that the birds flew far away. The consequence was an enormous crop of cherries, all of which, except a few for sauce, Mr. Stimpcett sent to the charcoal man.

Mr. St. Clair and the slender young lady were married the next year at cherry-time, and it was said that during their honey-moon they subsisted chiefly upon cherries. And now my story's done.

"How is this, Mr. Story-Teller?" cried the children's mamma. "The story is a story, no doubt, but it can not be counted in, for Obed and Orah did not really go to mill."

Family Story-Teller said, looking around with a calm smile, that he could tell plenty more, and that in his next one Grandma Stimpcett should really go to mill, and should meet with surprising adventures.