Uncle Davy

Mary E. Wilkins, in Atlanta Constitution.

From Warwick Dispatch February 3, 1892

“Where's Uncle Davy?” asked Sarah Cobb of her mother. She had run over bareheaded and came hastily in the north door; her hands were all purple with grape juice; she had been making grape jelly.

“He's out under the butternut tree. Why?”

“Oh, Car'line's run away again. I tied her up just as strong as I knew how to the front gate with a piece of clothes-line, and gave her two cookies and her doll, to keep her amused while I made the grape jelly, I don't see how in the world she untied that knot. Davy's got to go an hunt her up.”

“He'll go,” said Mrs. Whitman. “He 'most cried 'cause you tied her up the other day. He told me he thought Sarah was too bad. He jest sets his eyes by Car'line. Davy, Davy!”

Mrs. Whitman stood in the door and called loudly, but she had to call several times before Davy heard. He was very busy, indeed, gathering in his winter store of butternuts. He had been working hard all the forenoon, and had gathered two bushels, and was well on towards a third. His brown eyes gleamed with a steady radiance under his old straw hat; his fingers flew. The provident instinct of the squirrel and bee were upon him; he was laying in his little winter store like them, and took a genuine thrifty delight in it. Then, too, he had another object in working fast; he wanted to get the butternuts all gathered by 5 o'clock, because he was going to a party that evening. It was his first evening party, and he was full of delightful, vague anticipations. He was going to wear his best clothes, and he meditated asking his mother for a little of her hair oil with bergamot in it to put on his hair; he was also going to blacken his shoes very particularly. Davy had planned to go in the house about 5 o'clock and commence his preparations, and it was about a quarter before 5 o'clock when he heard his mother's voice calling him.

He obeyed rather hesitatingly. “I shan't get the but'nuts pieced before it's time to black my shoes,” he thought, as he went over the dry October grass to the house. Davy was only twelve years old, and small for his age, although he was an uncle.

His mother and his married sister, Sarah, little Caroline's mother, were waiting for him in the door. “You must go right off and hunt up Car'line; she's run away,” his mother called out, as he came in sight. “Don't stop a minute.” Sarah was almost crying. “Here 'tis almost 5 o'clock,” she exclaimed, “an' that little bit of a thing! Go right off, Davy.”

Davy looked startled, then inquired “Which way do you s'pose she went?”

“Oh, dear, I don't know! I was out in the kitchen making grape jelly. I didn't see her. I didn't know how long she's been gone. Oh, dear!”

“I'll tell you what to do,” said Mrs. Whitman with the air of a managing general. She was not a very old woman, although her hair was gray and she covered it with a high blackcap and a severe black front piece. She always wore a large, stiffly-starched apron. “Sarah and I will go up the road,” said she, “an' you, Davy, go down. An' don't you take Towser, because that last time Car'line run away, an' you took him to track her, he tracked a woodchuck instead, an' you went a wild goose chase for two hours. That dog ain't the kind that tracks folks, an' I don't want you to lose any time foolin' with him. It's gettin' dark. You shut Towser up in the barn; then you start. You stop at Mis' Brigg's when you get there and ask if they've seen anything of Car'line, an' you stop at Mis' Smith's an' Mis' Wheelock's an' if they have you keep on till you find her, no matter how far you have to go. Don't you come back without her.”

“I can't see how she untied that knot,” said Sarah. Her pretty face was all streaked with tears and grape juice. Her mother took a corner of her apron and wiped it forcibly as they started up the road. “You keep calm,” she said. “She'll be found.”

Uncle Davy shut Towser in the barn. Then he walked briskly down the road. There was not a house for some distance, but he peered carefully over the stone walls across the fields. Caroline was five years old. She was very fair and chubby, with carefully brushed, reddish curls and a little blue ribbon to keep them out of her eyes. She always wore a nice little white tire in the afternoon. Davy strained his eyes for a glimpse of that white tire and those shining curls among the bright October undergrowth. The road was very dusty. He kicked up a white cloud as he walked. “Shan't have any time to black my shoes,” he thought, woefully. Uncle Davy was a very particular boy, and needed a great deal of time for everything.

When he reached the Briggs house there was still no sign of Caroline. He went around to the side door and found it open and Mrs. Briggs sitting there mending a coat. She was a large woman and seemed to quite fill up the doorway.

“Have you seen anything of Car'line?” asked Davy, standing before her.

“Car'line,” repeated Mrs. Briggs.

“Yes, Car'line, Sarah's little girl. She's run away, and I'm tryin' to find her.”

“When did she go?”

“I don't know — a little while ago.”

“Well, I declare,” said Mrs. Briggs, “I dun know but I did see her. There was a little mite of a thing run by a little while ago in a white tire an' I wondered who she was. I'd just come out here with this old coat of Mr. Briggs's to mend. I didn't want to get any dirt around in the sittin' room. I guess 'twas her fast enough.”

“Which way was she goin'?” asked Davy, eagerly.

“Oh, she was goin' down the road. She couldn't have gone back, 'cause I've been sittin' here every minute, an' I should have seen her. I ain't been in the house but once to get a spool of thread, and then I wan't gone long 'nough for a mouse to get past. You keep right on an' you'll find her.”

Uncle Davy was out of the yard before the last words were out of Mrs. Briggs's mouth. He hurried up the road, looking more hopefully for that little white tire — it seemed to him that he must see it. Many a time had he pursued his little niece Caroline when she had run away, and had always found her easily.

Caroline, although she had a venturesome spirit, never ran very far. But tonight it began to seem as if she had. Her Uncle Davy reached the Smith house and went to the door to inquire. But the door was locked and all the curtains were drawn; the Smiths were evidently all away.

Davy kept on to the Wheelock house; that was a quarter of a mile farther; there was still no sign of that little white tire. He ran through the weedy yard to the door and knocked. Nobody answered, although he could see quite distinctly the motion of a rocking chair beyond the kitchen window, and knew there was somebody at home.

He knocked again louder; nobody came. He could still see the tall back of the rocking chair sway. Finally he went boldly to the window and pounded on it; a startled face turned toward him from the calico back of the rocking chair; then somebody went across the floor, and the door was opened. “Who is it?” asked a gentle, drawling voice. Mrs. Wheelock was very tall and pale, with pale sweeps of hair over her ears, and a mildly bewildered, spectacled face.

“It's Davy Whitman,” replied Davy. “Have you seen Car'line?”

“What?” Mrs. Wheelock was not deaf, but she was as slow of comprehension as a heavy sleeper.

“My sister Sarah's little girl has run away. Have you seen her go by here?”

“No, I dun know as I have,” repeated Mrs. Wheelock, slowly, while her look of bewilderment deepened. “I ain't been settin' to the window sense dinner. When did —.” But Davy was gone, and she stood staring after him. She stood there quite a while before she went back to her rocking-chair. The Wheelock house was the last in that direction for a mile. Davy walked on about half a mile, then he stopped before a narrow lane that led over through the fields to the woods. “I'm 'fraid she went into the woods. I'm a goin' up the lane,” he said. “I'm 'fraid she went into the woods.”

The dusk was increasing fast; however, the full moon was rising, and it would be still light enough to see the white tire a long way ahead. Davy trudged on. He emerged from the lane into a cart path through the woods. It was darker there. He called all the time at short intervals. “Car'line? Car'line! Here's Uncle Davy! Car'line!”

But there was no sound in response. Davy's voice grew husky as he went on; it seemed to him he was walking miles, but he did not know how many. It was now quite dark except for the moon, but that lighted the open spaces quite brightly. He had had a plan of taking a circuit through the woods and coming out in a point further down on the road. He knew there was a path, but somehow he had missed it, and did not come out, although he was constantly expecting to.

At last he sat down on a rock in an open space to rest a minute. “I've just got to,” he said to himself. His legs trembled under him and he was panting for breath.

In a few minutes he called again: “Car'line, Car'line, Car'line! Here's Uncle Davy! Where be you, Car'line?” but he could scarcely speak. Davy was a slender boy, and, besides, he was worn by anxiety for Caroline, of whom he was very fond, and agitated, too, by a secret remorse.

He put his head down on his knees and groaned. He had completely forgotten the party, even the blacked shoes, the best clothes, the bergamot hair oil. “I ain't never goin' home without her, anyhow,” he said, but his voice was little more than a whisper. The sharp notes of the autumn insects ran together in his ears. Uncle Davy had not found Caroline, but he was so worn out that he fell asleep.

It was a long time after that when a cold nose and a sharp bark awakened him. It was Towser, who for once had tracked folks instead of woodchucks. Davy sat up straight and everything came back to him. He heard noises and saw lights moving through the trees. “They're after Car'line,” he thought with a pang, “they ain't found her yet.”

Davy staggered to his feet, there was a crash through the underbrush, and his father took him by the arm. “Here he is!” he shouted, and there was a glad shout in response. Then Sarah's husband and Mr. Briggs came up.

“Ain't you found her yet?” panted Davy half sobbing.

“Found who?” cried her father shaking him.


“Car'line — she was found all right. She wan't lost. She didn't run far. She went back to the house whilst her mother was gone, an' Sarah found her eatin' grape jelly when she got back. She'd eat a whole tumbler, but I guess it won't hurt her any. It's you we're huntin' for. It's 12 o'clock at night. What did you come in here for?”

“I was huntin' for Car'line.” Davy was so tired and bewildered now that he was crying like a baby, although he was twelve years old. His father grasped his little cold hand fast and pulled him along. “Well, there's no use standin' talkin',” said he. “You'd better get home. Mother's got some supper waitin' for you. Mr. Briggs's team is down here a little piece; so it won't take long, and you won't have to walk.”

Davy would not have walked far. Sarah's husband took hold of his other hand, and he and his father nearly carried him between them to Mr. Briggs's wagon, which was tied under an oak tree. “It's lucky he ain't no older,” said Mr. Briggs, as he got in, “or he'd got his death with rheumatiz, sleeping out there side of that swamp.”

Davy fell asleep again as soon as the wagon was under way. He never knew how he got home nor how his father pulled off his little damp jacket and wrapped him in his own coat, but the flash of lights in his face and his mother's voice awakened him thoroughly when he got home. Sarah was over at her mother's waiting, and Car'line had been put to bed on the sitting room lounge. Sarah hugged him and cried, but his mother hurried him into the bedroom and took off his damp clothes and rolled him in hot blankets, then he sat out by the kitchen stove with his feet in the oven and drank a great bowl of ginger tea and ate a plate of milk toast, of which he was especially fond. Everybody stood around him and petted him.

“They didn't have the party to-night,” said his mother, “they were so upset about you. They're going to have it tomorrow night, so you won't lose that.”

Sarah leaned over and stroked Davy's little damp head lovingly. “To think of Uncle Davy's going out to find Car'line an' staying out till midnight,” she said, tearfully. “Sister'd never forgive herself if anything had happened to him.”

Uncle Davy looked up at her suddenly, his honest face gleaming out of the folds of the blanket. “You mustn't feel so bad, Sarah,” said he. “I untied Car'line.”