It is a gospel truth, universally acknowledged in the hills, that a single farmer in possession of good bottomland must be in want of a wife and helpmeet.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering the holler, this verity is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful hereditament of some one or other of their daughters.
“Franklin!’ said his wife to him one fine morning, “you heard that Possum Creek has been rented by some furriner?’
Mr. Kettle replied that he had not.
“But it is,” returned she; “for Serenity Long has just been here, and she done just told me all about it.”
Pa Kettle made no answer.
“Don’t you want to know who has taken it, you old sinner?” cried his wife impatiently.
“It don’t matter, Ma, Yer fixin’ to tell me whether I want to hear it or not.”
This was invitation enough.
“Why, my dear, you must know, Serenity says that Possum Creek has been taken by a English feller; that he a’came down on Monday to see the place, and was so taken by the view of the strip mines that he signed on with Errol Morris immediately. He’s a-movin’ in before Halloween, and he’d got a maid and cook and who-all knows what else coming in by the end of next week.”
“What is this Yankee’s name?”
“He’s not a Yankee, you damn fool, he’s a redcoat!”
“Furrin is furrin. What’s he called?”
“Married, or a batchelor fella?”
“Oh, he’s single alright. Serenity talked about him like he was a prize-winning hog! Single, and rolling in it; four or five hunnert a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
“The girls? What does he have to do with the girls?”
“Why Pa!” replied the exasperated Mrs. Kettle, “How can you be so vexatious? You have to know that I am undertaking to hitch one of our’n to him.”
Pa reached for his shotgun, a dark look upon his face. “Is that his scheme in settling here?”
“Scheme! Horsefeathers, how you talk so! But tain’t out of the realm of the possible that he’ll a-fall in love with one or another of them, and you must go set a spell with him as soon as he settles in.”
“I ain’t seein’ no reason for that. You and the girls can go, or you send them in a gaggle by themselves, which ought to be even better; for as you is as pretty as any of ‘em. That Bingley might like you the best of all.”
“Franklin! How you talk! I had my share of looks once upon a time, but I don’t pertend to be any spring chicken nowadays. When a woman has fifteen children, she ought to give over thinkin of her own refinements.”
“In sech a case, a woman tain’t got much left to think on, though that ‘Chelle Duggar over in Bluefield don’t seem to think so. ”
“But, Pa, you must go and see that Bingley once he comes to the holler.”
“That’s more than I plan on doing, I ‘spect.”
“Think of your daughters, for once in your life! You think on what a step up it would be for one of them for one second! Judge Williams and Missus Lucas have already decided to step over and see him and you know they don’t visit no newcomers. ‘Deed you must go, for it will be nigh-impossible for us to visit him elsewise.”
“You are full of scruples today, Ma. You feelin alright?. Anyways, I bet ole Mr. Bingley will be happier than a beagle in bear shit to see you. I’ll scribble him a note and send it over with you all to tell him he can have which-ever of the girls he wants. Hell, he can have two if he likes, though I must throw in a good word for Lizzy.”
“You will do no such thing! Lizzy is not one bit better’n the others; she ain’t half as fetchin’ as Jane, nor near as slutty as Lydia. But she always was your favorite.”
“They ain’t none of them got much to recommend them,” replied Pa; “they are all as silly and ignorant as any woman; but Lizzy’s a bit quicker than her sisters.”
“Franklin Kettle, how can you speak of your own flesh and blood in such a way? You take pleasure in vexing me, I swan. You got no more compassion for my nerves than a Revenoor at a still.”
“You mistake me, Ma. I have a mighty respect for your nerves. They are my old friends these many years. I have heard you talk on them and their feelin’s for fourscore and seven, at least.”
“Why there’s no compassion in you at all, old man. You do not know how I suffer.”
“But I hope you will get over it, and live to see twenty rich bachelors a year come into the holler.”
“It won’t no use to us if four and twenty should come, since you will not visit a-one of ‘em.”
“I tell you what, Phoebe. When four and twenty show up I will go and set with every single one.”
Franklin Kettle was so odd a mixture of slow parts, sarcastic humor, mountain reserve, and caprice, that sharing a four-room cabin with him for twenty-three years had not been near enough to make Ma Kettle understand him. Her mind was easier to explan. She was a woman of simple understanding, confused information, and a hellacious temper. When she was discontented, the whole valley trembled in fear. The business of her life was to get her daughters married off; her foremost joy lay in knowing her neighbor’s business, and disapproving of it.