The Last Laugh: The Diplomatic Mission

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From one point of view, the Plumtree Crossing diplomatic mission to the quarreling Carmichaels did achieve its objective.

“You can do something every day to make other people happy… just by minding your own business.”

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astound the rest.”
Mark Twain

Well sir, them big ol’ Canada honkers is settlin’ in amongst the dried stalks over in Lafe Higgins’ cornfield again … which means thet we’re already hip deep into another holiday season. (In fact, Lafe were ollin’ up his 10-gauge jist the other day, an’ allowed he was “rememberin’ the goose of Christmas past an’ fixin’ to secure the goose of Christmas yet to come.”) 

Now I don’t reckon thet the holidays pass much different here in Barren County than they do in yer neck of the woods. They’s always a fair piece of eatin’ to be done (as well as a taste er two of liquid refreshment to be got on the outside of), a larger than usual helpin’ of hospitality and neighborliness makin’ the rounds (which seems to sit better with some folks than it does with others) … an’ somehow they’s always a few ne’er-do-wells who seem dead set on not keepin’ to the spirit of the season a-tall!

Take last year, fer example. The weather around Plumtree Crossin’ were already middlin’ cold come early December (which meant Doc had to treat the usual number of greenhorn deer hunters whose fingers had froze fast to their triggers), an’ the signs of preparation fer the comin’ holiday festivities was thicker’n ticks on a longhaired dog!

Sadie McCannon were in the third week of agin’ her fruitcakes, fer instance (an’ Cleedy claimed thet each one of them confections had soaked up a good quart of three-dollar rum!), whilst most of the young’uns was makin’ treks to the Jarvis Brothers’ woods to fetch home sackfuls of caribou moss fer makin’ wreaths and such … an’ boxes of glass ornyments– lookin’ all the prettier fer the fact thet the paint were chippin’ offen most of ’em–was bein’ unpacked in enny number of households.

They was little sign of such frivolity at the Carmichael domicile, howev’r. It seems thet August an’ Olive was nigh onto two weeks into the downright nastiest fight of their lawfully wedded career. Folks who’d had the nerve to venture close enough claimed they wasn’t a unbroken winder in the dwelling en-nymore, an’ the screamin’ an cussin’ issuin’ from therein had melted the snow fer a good 10 feet in all directions.

Matter of fact, it were sorta hard fer ennyone in the Crossin’ to really warm up to the mood of the season whilst waltin’ fer a survivor to stagger away from the Carmichaels’ calamity. So, in the spirit of charity an’ brotherly love, the ol’ loafers down at the Gen’ral Store decided to choose up a kind of diplomatic mission to visit the combatants an’–iffen a lastin’ peace proved to be impossible–at least call fer a holiday cease-fire.

Now them fellers is about as full of the milk of human kindness as ennyone you’d care to name. They ain’t a fool amongst ’em, on the other hand, so nobody were persackly volunteerin’ to get within Dutch-oven-throwin’ range of ol’ Olive. In fact, the whole merciful campaign mighta been scrapped right there iffen Purvis Jacobs hadn’t pointed out a fair way to choose up a team of heroes.

It were short work to pull a set of bristles from the backroom broom, an’–after they was cut to length–young Billy Parsons (who, it’d been agreed, were too young to be faced with the dangerous task at hand) arranged ’em in his fist an’ let the fellers draw away.

Ott Bartlett, Newt Blanchard, an’ Doc Thromberg drew short straws, an’ amidst a good bit of regalin’ from the boys who was stayin’ behind (but after a few pulls on a jug of Pur-vis’s distilled courage), the three worthies dragged on their coats, boots, an’ hats an’ set out with a fair-to-middlin’ show of determination.

Meantime, the feud at the Carmichael place had sorta run outta steam. Fact is, both Olive an’ August was jist too tuckered to tilt ennymore an’–as often happens–was discoverin’, in the aftermath of their battle, thet they kinda cared fer each other! O’course, the reconciliation didn’t come about all at once. They was a good bit of growlin’ an’ circlin’ afore the fight wound down to brawlin’ level.

But wind down it did, to the point where the combatin’ couple got to sharin’ a bottle of dandylion wine (though they was both still wipin’ off the bottleneck afore sippin’) an’ remlnlscin’ about their courtship some years before.

“Fer all the fact thet you’ve gone to hell in a handbasket since,” said Olive, givin’ her spouse a friendly elbow in the ribs, “you usta be a romantic cuss back in them days.”

“You ain’t held up no better’n a three-day fish yerself,” August replied, “but I will allow as how you was a real eyeful when we was acourtin’.”

“Why you sweet talkin’ ol’ fool! Tell me–as they don’t seem to be a single calendar still hangin’ on the walls–ain’t it nigh onto the annyversary of the evenin’ when you proposed to me?”

“You jist might be right. An’ say–though we have had a spat er two since–weren’t thet a night to remember?”

“They’s no denyin’ it was. As I recall, you got so excited when I said ‘yes’ thet you stalked out into the snow an’ fired off yer shotgun to kinda announce the news to the whole town!”

“Thet I did, an’ I’ve half a mind to do it again right now in honor of our makin’ up an ‘ startin’ anew!”

“Well, half a mind’s more’n I woulda credited you with on many an occasion, but you kin be a lovin’ man, August. Why don’t you go an’ git thet gun!”

An’ so, whilst her husband rummaged through the rubble tryin’ to find his ol’ double-twelve an’ a few shells, Olive strolled out into the cold evenin’ air with thoughts of romance playin’ through her mind.

Ott, Doc, an’ Newt hadn’t made enny too good time in their advance on the Carmichael household. I suppose the low rate of speed were primarily due to the snow bein’ a good two feet deep (an’ to the disorientin’ effects of the liquid fortification the fellers had shared prior to embarkin’), but I also figger the prospect of facin’ a brace of fightin’ mad Carmichaels did add a little lead to each member of the party’s boots.

As the boys rounded the corner of August an’ Olive’s house, howev’r (steppin’ over the debris as they went), they was faced with a sight what stung ’em into immediate action.

August were barely out the door–with his shotgun cradled under his arm–when ol’ Ott hit him with a very passable (fer an 80-year-old) flyin’ tackle. “Don’t shoot her, man,” the rescuer bellered, “I know she’s a mean-hearted, ugly shrew … but you cain’t kill her, none the less!”

Meanwhiles, Olive–who had her back to the house an’ was admirin’ the moonlight on the snow–were surprised by Newt Blanchard an’ Doc Thromberg, who come runnin’ up to her an’ yellin’, “Duck, Olive, thet dang fool of a husband of yourn is fixin’ to blow yer head clean off!”

Now I’ve heard folks say thet hell has no fury like a woman scorned, but I kin flat guarantee you there ain’t a scorned woman ennywheres what’s fury wouldn’t pale next to thet of a pair of Carmichaels whose first moment of wedded bliss in a good three years has jist been interrupted by a trio of misguided–though well-meanin’–ol’ codgers.

It was all thet Ott, Newt, an’ Doc could do to git away from there with their hairs on top an’ their hides outside. Howev’r, August an’ Olive’s feud had been settled (though through no efforts of the would-be peacemakers), an’–after the boys had nursed their bruises in front of a potbellied stove, sipped a little more from Purvis’s jug of corn squeezin’s, an’ watched the goose-down-sized flakes of a new snowfall siftin’ through the pines outside the winder–they agreed thet a peaceful Christmas had been secured fer Plumtree Crossin’ after all.

An’ thet jist happens to be persackly what most ev’ryone here in Barren County wishes fer you an’ youm.

“You cannot run away from a weakness. You must sometimes fight it out or perish. And if that be so, why not now, and where you stand?”
Louis Stevenson

“In a false quarrel there is no true valor.”

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