To which they replied, 'Is that all?'
One morning in the very long ago our legendary village sage and general practitioner, A.W. Plummer, MD, was riding his status gig out to Webster Corner, a matter of about three miles, and he passed a farm home that immediately took his notice. The house was on fire. He accordingly directed his dilatory nag into the driveway, stopped by the house's front door, and reaching with his whip he thumped the handle end briskly on the portal. At this a lady opened the door, looked out, and said, "Well, what do you want?"
Dr. Plummer, always a gentleman, then said, "I have come to tell you your house is on fire."
To which the lady said, "Is that all?"
And Dr. Plummer said, "At the moment, that seems to be all. Giddy-yap, Nellie."
When Dr. Plummer became a legal nonagenarian, he gradually reduced his practice and became a full-time philosopher at whose feet I profited, I think, by mastering the gentle art of logical positivism. That's a science now lost when people no longer mean what they say or say what they mean. For several years I was on call to drive Doc in his car up to the state legislature where he loved to attend hearings, no matter what they concerned. On one of my choicest days, he told the lawmakers about Tobias Goddard, who stood for two hours arguing with a milestone about the distance to Lewiston.
So it's not surprising that Doc Plummer came to mind the other evening when we were served some uncooked green beans here at our comprehensive home for senior living. I'm told that for institutional cookery they hold a pot of green beans one minute over the intense heat of a yellow-eye bean. I do not know if this is true and can offer it only as a presumption.
When the young woman who comes about the tables arrived to inquire if everything was all right, I blurted out bravely, "The green beans weren't cooked." At this, the young woman assumed a posture of delighted frustration and said, "Of course the green beans are cooked; everything we serve here is prepared to the most discriminating desires." I felt just terrible to be made a liar in front of all these nice folks who'd just pushed their uncooked green beans aside. But then the young woman said, "Is that all?" and I thought of Dr. Plummer, dear man.
When I was a schoolboy my trail buddy was Eddie Skillin, a compatible lad who, over our wasted youth, hiked with me the length and breadth of Maine in search of fantasies. And one day we ventured into the town of Pownal where, in passing, we found Miss Mardelle Launt high on the top of her daddy's dooryard pile of firewood.
Miss Mardelle came to our school and she was pretty. So Eddie and I paused to chat, and we asked her about the weather up there, and if the hens were laying, and other abstruse things that occupy the minds of fifth- graders. We told her we planned to go to Runaround Pond to lunch, and we would see if the trout were sociable.
She said she and her mother had "done up" 10 quarts of yellow tomatoes that morning, and would do some more tomorrow. She said Monday evening she went to a show in Portland with her folks and they had sundaes at the Moustakis place. One thing led to another, and finally Eddie said, "How come you're up there?"
It was a considerable pile of wood. Her father had brought it from the woods on winter snow, had sawn it in stove lengths, split it, and tossed it into the pile. I'd guess the pile was about 15 feet tall. To farm folks in those days there wasn't much prettier than a well-manufactured pile of upland firewood, unless maybe it was Mardelle Launt. So Eddie asked, "How come you're up there?" The question had crossed my mind, too.
Mardelle said, "Our bull's loose."
And Eddie said, "Is that all?"
Mardelle said she didn't know where the bull was at the moment and she wasn't about to go looking. She'd started from the house to take kitchen orts to the hens, and as she passed the tie-up door the bull had come forth with a nasty blat and fire in his eye. The dish of swill was right where she dropped it before she climbed the woodpile.
That was about half-past 8, and her father had gone to market with three bushels of green peas. She didn't know what time it was now. Her mother hadn't stepped from the house after the bull snorted. Daddy should be home by noon, then she could come down.
Eddie and I broke away shortly, and we felt Mardelle had quite enough to keep her occupied. Back at school, after Labor Day, Mardelle told us her father came home, got the bull on his staff, and everything turned out fine.
My mother used to tell about Nell Ross, a neighbor when Mom was a girl on the farm, who hitched ol' Fan into the buggy one day and started to the village on an errand. Mom supposed that ol' Fan, and probably Nell, too, fell asleep on the way, and the horse wandered off the road and up the slanting end of somebody's huge pile of cordwood.
When the horse reached the other end of the pile there was a question of what to do next, so the horse went back to sleep. Nell was asleep anyway. So along came Wallace Vickery, and he pulled up his horse to stare in disbelief at a horse and buggy and Nell Ross up on the woodpile. He shouted, "Hey, Nell! What you tryin' to do up thar?"
Nell said, "I'm tryin' to git to town!" Does there need to be something else?
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