In Which Eddie and I Are Warmed by the Nugents
In high school days, Eddie and I would jack our summer jobs about the middle of August, and with our camping plunder in two canvas shoulder-packs would hit the trail for an outing before school opened. One summer, it was probably 1924, we cheated a bit and started off by railroad train as far as Skowhegan. It was 2 cents a mile to Skowhegan, and then we could mosey along on foot as we very well pleased.
We had a two-boy pup tent, surplus from the Doughboy war. At high school age, we were well experienced in making do on the ancient Indian trails of Maine. When we got off the train it was raining, and before we were nigh to Cornville a nasty northeast storm had settled in with evident intention of durability. We pressed on.
It was not a cheerful day. We had ponchos big enough to reach our knees after covering our shoulders and packs. It was not a cold storm. But it was a very soggy one, and we found nothing about it to invite us under the shade of a hospitable tree to make a lunch. Eddie and I later figured that we walked 28 miles that day, satisfied that when the rain stopped we would have pleasant weather, and plenty of time to dry off. The afternoon was waning when we gave up.
Through the driving rain, we could see a farmhouse ahead, standing back from the road. All we'd seen were farmhouses in the rain, but this one seemed to have a difference. I said to Eddie, or Eddie said to me, "How about sleeping in a dry haymow?"
Dripping all over the porch, we came to rap on the back door of the farmhouse. It opened at once and somebody's sweet grandmother looked us over and said, "Mercy!" Eddie did the talking, saying we were two boys off on a hike, soaking wet, and could we go into the barn to dry off?
The lady looked at Eddie and then at me, and she turned into her kitchen to call, "Waldo! I think it's for you!"
Waldo came limping. He had been getting ready to go to the barn for evening chores, we suspected, and he had one boot on when he was interrupted. He had the other boot in his hand. Now he looked us over as Eddie explained again.
He said, "Wait'll I get this boot on!" There was a roof on the farmhouse porch. When booted, he pulled on a linseed slicker and said, "Your names?" Then he asked, "You got matches?"
"Lemme have them." Fumbling under our ponchos, Eddie and I brought from our shirt pockets the watertight glass bottles in which we kept our emergency matches. He looked them over, and said, "Wouldn't want a fire on a night like this."
The barn, to Eddie and me, was more magnificent than any stately pleasure dome decreed in Xanadu, and the hip-roofed haymow was tall with the season's new sweet hay. The man's cows were still on pasture and he hadn't yet pitched down a forkful. "Make yoursel's at home!" he said.
He left us, and Eddie and I stripped and debated how best to make some supper. We had food, but most of it called for a campfire. Water we had; a pipe was running spring water into a trough for the cows. Our spare shirts and pants were dry in the sacks, so we were decent when the man came back.
"Excuse me all over the place," he said. "Marm tells me I forgot my polites. I'll chore up, and then we'll go to the house for supper. Marm's got beef stew and with-its, and I was lucky enough this mornin' to shoot a Transparent apple pie on the hoof."
He had four milking cows, and he brought another pail and I milked one of them. Eddie wasn't brought up with a cow, so he watched. Then we scratched the hens and picked up the eggs, fed four hogs that made great cries of joy.
Mrs. Nugent said they had a grandson in Rhode Island about our age, and she didn't like the idea of having him out in a rainstorm. She had a pan of cream-of-tartar biscuits, the stew, and glasses of cold milk before the apple pie appeared.
Mr. Nugent made an invocation, and not only expressed gratitude for the food, but for the pleasure of having guests to cheer such a stormy day. Eddie and I did the supper dishes, and then went to the barn, leaving the Nugents dozing in two kitchen rockers, each with a lap cat. You'd never know the pigs were there, but the cows made those soft sounds that cows make in their stanchions, and Eddie and I were lulled instantly, our camp blankets under us in the new hay, and the rain beating the barn shingles to assure us tomorrow would be another day.
MRS. NUGENT packed us a lunch of biscuits and honey and apple pie, and Eddie and I walked along. It was a lovely morning, with clean westerly air, and a blue Somerset sky to put a fringed gentian to shame. The brook beside which we paused was very high with the rain, but we found a pool where we could ease the haymow dust. The water was chill. The biscuits were good. From our packsacks we got a couple of postcards all made ready with stamps, and to Mr. and Mrs. Nugent we each sent our thanks. We never did hear from them.
Long years later, my wife and I and our two youngsters were in Somerset County, riding about to see the fall foliage, and we came to Wellington, or whatever the town was. I hunted up the farm where Eddie and I had weathered the rain. The buildings and the farmyard were about the same. I stepped on the porch and rapped. Then I saw the note on the door: Gone to Masardis. Be back Tuesday. But the name at the bottom was not Nugent.