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The Flat-Iron Lot
by [?]

“Mother, here’s Mr. Oldfield.”

It is true that this little old man did exemplify the dignity and restraint of life to such a degree that, had it not been for his one colossal weakness, the town might have condemned him, in good old Athenian fashion. Clock-mending was a legitimate industry; but there were those who felt it to be, in his case, a mere pretext for nosing round and identifying ridiculous old things which nobody prized until Nicholas Oldfield told them it was conformable so to do. Some believed him and some did not; but it was known that a MacDonough’s Victory tea-set drove him to an almost outspoken rapture, and that the mere mention of the Bay Psalm Book (a copy of which he sought with the haggard fervor of one who worships but has ceased to hope) was enough to make him “wild as a hawk.” Old papers, too, drew him by their very mildew; and when his townsfolk were in danger of respecting him too tediously, they recalled these amiable puerilities, drew a breath of relief, and marked his value down.

Many facts in his life were not in the least understood, because he never saw the possibility of talking about them. For example, when at the marriage of his son, Young Nick, he made over the farm, and kept his own residence in the little gambrel-roofed house where he had been born, and his father and grandfather before him, the act was, for a time, regarded somewhat gloomily by the public at large. There were Young Nick and his Hattie, living in the big new house, with its spacious piazza and cool green blinds; there the two daughters were born and bred, and the elder of them was married. The new house had its hired girl and man; and meantime the other Nicholas (nobody ever dreamed of calling him Old Nick) was cooking his own meals, and even, of a Saturday, scouring his kitchen floor. It was easy to see in him the pathetic symbol of a bygone generation relegated to the past. A little wave of sympathy crept to his very feet, and then, finding itself unnoted, ebbed away again. Only one village censor dared speak, saying slyly to Young Nick’s Hattie:–

“Ain’t no room for grandpa in the new house, is there?”

Hattie opened her eyes wide at this discovery, though now she realized that echoes of a like benevolence had reached her ears before. She went home very early from the quilting, and that night she said to her husband, as they sat on the doorstone, waiting for the milk to cool:–

“Nicholas, little things I’ve got hold of, first an’ last, make me conclude folks pity father. Do you s’pose they do?”

Young Nick selected a fat plantain spike, and began stripping the seeds.

“Well, I dunno what for,” said he, after consideration. “Father seems to be pretty rugged.”

Hattie was one of those who find no quicker remedy than that of plentiful speech; and later in the evening, she sped over to the little house, across the dewy orchard. Mr. Oldfield had come home only that afternoon, and now he had drawn up at his kitchen table, which was covered by a hand-woven cloth, beautifully ironed, and set with old-fashioned dishes. He had hot biscuits and apple-pie, and the odor of them rose soothingly to Hattie’s nostrils, dissipating, for a moment, her consciousness of tragedy and wrong. A man could not be quite forlorn who cooked such “victuals,” and sat before them so serenely.

“See here, father,” said she, with the desperation of speaking her mind for the first time to one from whom she had hitherto kept awesomely remote; “when we moved into the new house, I dunno’s there was any talk about your comin’, too. I guess it never entered into our heads you’d do anything but to stick to the old place. An’ now, after it’s all past an’ gone, the neighbors say”–