Fighting Cousins, an Old Tale

“Now then, Caspar, wipe those dirty feet of yours, and mind my fair linen, that you do not upset it into the fire with your clumsy ways! Dear heart it puzzles me for what the Almighty made the men. always in the way as they are, making a roughed field of my new-scrubbed floor: clamouring for their food three times a-day ; and then, if they are wanted to take a girl to the fair or to dance, always tired or busy, forsooth !” Such was Madell’s reception of her cousin Carper one chilly autumn evening, when he returned from work a little earlier than his father.

 

They were three in the household,—old Caspar, chiefly called’ Father,’ young Caspar, and the orphan cousin Maddel, who had never known any other home. All hale and hearty, and blessed with a fair amount of the world’s goods, they ought to have been a very happy party, if it had not been for a certain’ rasping —I can call it by no other name- which went on between the two younger two.

 

Caspar was clumsy and careless, often causing dire mischief in the neatly-arranged household: and then, Maddel’s ire and her tongue once roused, there was little peace for the rest of the day.

 

This evening Caspar had walked half way across the newly mopped kitchen floor, leaving clods of dirt from the field in his wake before he remembered to stop and remove his boots.  To make matters worse, as he bent to unfasten the boots,   his broad shoulders brushed up against the shaky clothes-line on which, before the fire, hung the linen sleeves and lappets of the burgomaster’s wife, Maddel’s weekly triumph of washing, causing the best lappet of all to tremble, flutter, and finally sail downwards on to the hearth and the wood-ashes, to be snatched up by Maddel, smirched, if not scorched. Her tongue wagged afresh, and not too pleasantly, at this disaster.

 

Caspar made a kind of grunt of apology; but talking not being in his way, his cousin received it with a scornful toes of the head, finally flouncing out into the wood-yard for more logs, and leaving the door wide open, sending a stream of chilly air poured into the cottage.

 

There-at Caspar pulled his moustaches- new, of which he was vastly proud, and said to himself,—sat down by the fire to begin mending the torn whip, which was the reason he had come home early, and began a rare stream of words of his own, “And Heaven alone knows to what good the girls were born into the world! Fiddle, faddle, from morn till night! No place for the sole of one’s foot; cleaning the house up just to serve as a trap to catch dirty boot.; going to church, even, merely to see if Fritz or George is missing from his place, and—’

 

How many more sins Caspar would have discovered in women-kind cannot be told here, as he was abruptly  stopped in his catalogue by a shriek from Maddel outside,—the cry of his name, so piercing, so heart-rending, that the lad rushed from the seat by the hearth and dashed- still in his stockinged feet- out into the court-yard.

 

‘Oh, Caspar! dear Caspar! save me! the terrible creature!” cried the girl, convulsively hugging a log of wood, while at her feet from beneath another log a snake reared and wriggled itself; a dangerous snake, known to be fatal in its bite.

 

Poor Maddel was barely able to keep her balance with the log in her arms, and she was stunned with terror. It was the work of a minute for strong-armed Caspar to kill it with the butt-end of the whip he still had in his hand. Then Maddel threw herself into his arms, with tears in her eyes.

 

‘I should have been a dead woman but for you, Caspar!’ she gasped. The Lord be thanked you came home when you did! Ill never complain about your boots again.’

 

“Then the men are good for something, are they ?’ said Caspar, somewhat mischievously, as he guided poor shaken Maddel back to the light and safety of the cottage.

 

 

Yes, and so are the girls,” returned his cousin, smiling through her tears. “I heard you through the door, Caspar, girding against us all, I’m so glad you were home, even if you were making a list of my sex’s sins against you.   However, I reckon, when you taste the hare stew and the chestnut cake to-night, you’ll think better of  womankind!”

 

‘Let us both think better of each other,’ suggested Caspar. ‘I always find you perfect, it it wasn’t for your tongue.’

 

“And I shouldn’t like any of the lads so well as you, if it wasn’t for your boots,’ said Maddel, frankly. So they made an agreement to bear and forbear and to be careful of each other’s weak points ; which answered so extremely well, that there was not a high word in the cottage for a whole month.

 

And at the end of that time Caspar put some question to Maddel to which she replied,— ‘ Oh, go along ‘

 

‘I am going, said Caspar;’ only you must come with me.’

 

After some discussion Maddel and Caspar did sally out together, making for the old pastor’s house. They had found out that, after all, they could not live without each other, and so the marriage-day was to be fixed.

 

‘Bear and forbear’ had been such a good motto that all the sharp angles were rubbing off Maddel, and all the blunt parts of Caspar’s character were being sharpened, so that even Father Caspar had noticed the change, which added much to his comfort too.

 

The snake was stuffed and fixed up over the chimney-piece, somewhat to the old father’s wonder, but Caspar and Maddel liked to look at it. They had begun to understand each other from ‘ that day,’ and they dated their happiness from its death.

 

H.A.F. in The Chatterbox, 1877

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