I just finished doing a bit of rewriting and revision to Chapter 3 in Wythe’s End. This is another favorite chapter that gives a glimpse into the personalities of several of the family members. I like the gentle humor and the patient understanding of the mother in this scene.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Chapter 3 Littie Pye Smokes a Pipe
(May) Several of the men in the Wythe family smoke pipes; Littie Pye decides that she wants to smoke a pipe
Early spring is always a welcome break from winter at Wythe’s End. The skies are often blue and clear although there air might be a bit chilly with the breezes blowing off the ocean. Still, the flowers start blooming and it really does begin to feel like spring.
The family, or at least those who felt so inclined, liked to sit on the veranda in the late afternoon and have tea. Qwerty Gran always said it was the civilized thing to do. At four o’clock every afternoon tea was served either on the veranda in the warm months or in the long parlor if the weather was wet and nasty.
Tea might consist of crisp, freshly baked pastries that Mrs. Goossens had made or small sandwiches made with meat spreads and cheese. And, of course, there was the perennial pot of tea waiting to be poured for anyone who wanted it. For the younger Wythes there was always an ice cold glass of milk or seltzer water mixed with cranberry juice and a slice of lemon.
As Qwerty Gran, Mab, the Aunts, and we four youngsters settled in on the veranda, Mrs. Goossens brought the tea tray out and set it near Qwerty Gran so that she could pour out the tea. Sandwiches and cookies were passed around. My brother, sister and I had only just gotten home from school and, after the forty-five minute ride back to Wythe’s End from Meequock, which was the town farther up Cape Haddock at the end of Meequock Pond, we were famished.
For some reason all the uncles, Pab, Gramps, and Pabby were off doing something else and didn’t join us for tea.
“Why did eleven-times-great grandfather Josiah miss the boat?” Littie Pye asked again stuffing a cucumber and tomato sandwich into her mouth.
“Littie Pye,” said Mab. “Don’t cram the entire sandwich into your mouth all at once. Take smaller bites, savor the flavors and try to appear a bit more ladylike. No one enjoys sitting down to tea with a little miss piggy, now do they?”
Littie Pye shook her head and stuffed another sandwich into her mouth.
“Why did eleven-times-great Josiah miss getting his family on the Mayflower?” demanded Thaddeus. “Jane Childress says we’re not true Boston Brahmins because our family did NOT come over on the Mayflower.” He crossed his arms across his chest emphatically. “She says we’re odd.”
“We’re not odd,” declared Littie Pye. “We’re just different. We read. And our ancestors DID come over on the Sunflower six months later. So we ARE Brahmins.”
“No, we’re not,” insisted Thaddeus. “In order to be a true Boston Brahmin you have to be able to trace your ancestors back to the Mayflower, not the Sunflower.”
Qwerty Gran and Mab stared out to sea, doing their best to ignore the discussion that was now swirling around the veranda.
The fact that eleven-times-great grandfather Josiah Wythe had missed boarding the Mayflower was something our family did not like to discuss. Apparently, it was the bane of the Wythe family’s existence in Boston and had become so intolerable that six-times-great grandfather Phineas Thaddeus moved the family from Boston to Cape Haddock.
Even though the Wythes arrived in Plymouth only a few months later on the Sunflower our family simply wasn’t considered true Boston blue blood.
“It is interesting,” I said. “That from everything we know eleven-times-great grandfather and his family were waiting on the dock to board the Mayflower. But why didn’t they go on board?
“Mrs. Pinkerton says that only the very aristocratic and landed gentry were allowed onto the Mayflower,” Littie Pye said matter-of-factly. “Most likely eleven-times-great grandfather Josiah didn’t have enough to pay for everyone to get onboard the Mayflower. And if everyone couldn’t make the crossing, no one would go. That’s what I think.”
“That’s crazy,” said Thaddeus, reaching for his glass of seltzer and cranberry juice. “James Braddock says that he heard from his grandfather that eleven-times-great grandfather Josiah was a criminal and that the police, or whoever made arrests back then, caught him just before he and his family could board the Mayflower.”
Throughout the discussion our youngest brother, Leaky Lou, quietly ate his cookie and sipped his milk. He was the most well behaved three year old I’ve ever known and the most civilized. Leaky Lou watched Qwerty Gran intently, never taking his eyes off her.
I noticed that Qwerty Gran never took her eyes off the water and seemed to be fascinated by a boat passing by off in the distance.
“I’m certain there was a perfectly good, sensible reason that the early Wythes missed the boat,” said Mab diplomatically. “And at this point in time, what does it really matter? Do any of you feel deprived because we cannot trace our ancestors back to the Mayflower?”
“I do,” grunted Littie Pye. “I feel deprived. And I feel disgruntled.”
Mab and Qwerty Gran and the Aunts smiled. Littie Pye’s vocabulary could be surprising at times for an eight year old. And she never backed down from her opinions.
“Let’s change the subject, shall we?” said Qwerty Gran taking a sip of her tea.
“It’s the dark, deep family secret,” whispered Aunt Pru to Littie Pye.
“You mean, deep, dark family secret, dear,” corrected Aunt Que.
“Probably,” said Aunt Pru, not rising to the bait in discussing literary correctness. She focused her attention back on Littie Pye. “And secrets are meant to remain secret. I don’t think we’ll ever know why the Wythes missed the boat. But, here we are, happy as clams in the mud, living in a beautiful house by the sea. How can you possibly feel disgruntled.”
“Hmphf!” grunted Littie Pye. “I just do. Come on, Leaky, let’s go see what Pab is doing in the chicken house. There might be eggs to gather!”
Littie Pye grabbed Leaky Lou by the hand and swept him off the veranda, down the steps, and disappeared through the carriageway.
The conversation started me thinking once more about this deep, dark family secret. Qwerty Gran and Mab and the Aunts could pretend that not being able to claim a connection to the first settlers to come across the Atlantic on the Mayflower didn’t bother them, but it did. It bothered us all.
If secrets are meant to be kept secret, they are also meant to be discovered. And I was going to find out what our family secret was one way or another.
I excused myself and decided to take a walk and enjoy the afternoon and try not to think about this secret that no one even knew what it was. It was a conundrum as Gramps liked to say.
It was cooler under the Gallery that crossed over the carriageway. I headed toward the garage. The chicken coop was a tidy attachment to the garage where Pab kept his hens and rooster. The rooster’s name was named Ebenezer. Pab said he always loved reading Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and had named the rooster after Ebenezer Scrooge.
Ebenezer was a beauty. He was large, majestic, and looked like the roosters you see in children’s picture books– glossy black tail feather that shimmered blue and green in the sunlight. Reddish brown back feathers that melded into the lighter reddish feathers on his neck. His red comb stood upright and spiky. The wattles under his beak sagged and wobbled whenever he shook his head. He had piercing yellow brown eyes that could stop you dead in your tracks if he was in a foul mood.
All in all he was magnificent.
I could see Pab fussing about inside the chicken coop, raking out the old cedar shavings in preparation for putting fresh ones down for the chickens. Littie Pye and Leaky Lou were nowhere to be seen.
Pab puffed on his pipe contentedly, humming to himself and didn’t see me approach.
“Where’s Littie Pye and Leaky?” I asked him through the open window.
“No idea,” said Pab. “Haven’t seen them all afternoon. Are they missing?”
“No, not really,” I said. “I thought they might have come down to play with the chickens and give you a hand cleaning out the coop. Littie Pye thought there might be a few eggs to gather.”
“Nope,” said Pab, leaning on the rake. “They’re not here. And I’ve gathered the few eggs and set them over there.” He gestured to a basket sitting on top of the nesting boxes.
“I’ll see you at dinner,” I said and walked toward the work shop.
I thought it was odd that Littie Pye and Leaky weren’t with Pab in the chicken coop. When Littie Pye said she was going to do something or go somewhere, she usually meant it.
I headed down to the train shed, thinking that they might have decided to see what Uncle Itchy, Gramps, and Pabby were up to. If the men missed tea on the veranda it usually meant they were occupied with some mechanical problem with The Flying Orcadian.
From inside the train shed I could hear them discussing something about the steam value not closing properly and should be tightened.
I poked my head through the door and asked “Have any of you seen Littie Pye and Leaky?”
“No, they’re not down here,” said Gramps. “What have they gotten into now?”
I laughed and said, “I don’t think they’ve gotten into anything. Just wondered if they had wandered down here hoping to get you to fire up the engine and take them for a ride.”
“If we see them, we’ll tell them that you’re looking for them,” said Grumps.
And the three men continued working on the engine blissfully absorbed in all things train.
I was beginning to get a bit worried. Littie Pye could get some odd ideas and her eagerness to have Leaky go with her seemed a little strange, now that I came to think about it.
“All right,” I thought. “She’s up to something, no doubt about it.”
A little girl could easily make herself scarce on two hundred acres of land. Or, if she had gone inside she could just as easily hide in one of the secret passages or rooms and no one would know where she was. And on more than one occasion she had locked Leaky away somewhere, telling him that she would come back for in a bit.
With Littie Pye “a bit” could stretch into an hour or more. Thankfully, Leaky never panicked and usually fell asleep while he waited to be retrieved.
“Littie Pye!” I called. “Where are you?”
To be on the safe side I decided to check the smaller outbuildings, just in case. Mab and Pab say that I’m like a mother hen the way I worry about everything and everyone all the time. It’s in my nature to worry.
As I walked past the wood shed I smelled pipe tobacco wafting through the air. Uncle Myles or Uncle Bertram must have come over to get something or talk to Russ, I thought. I headed toward where the smoke was drifted through the air.
Then I heard coughing, a lot of coughing.
When I turned the corner I stopped in my tracks not believing my eyes. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing.
Leaky Lou sat on a small pile of wood that Russ had been cutting into firewood. He sat perfectly still watching intently as Littie Pye coughed a bit more and then tried puffing on the pipe she held in both hands. As she tried to suck in the fragrant tobacco smoke she coughed even more and gasped for air. Her face was turning slightly blue, then red, from the exertion of coughing,
“Littie Pye,” I said quietly so as to not make her choke in addition to coughing. “What in the world are you doing?”
Littie Pye’s eye widened and her face disappeared behind a bluish cloud of pipe smoke. Leaky Lou never took his eyes off his sister. He seemed fascinated by what she was doing.
“Littie, are you all right?”
She nodded her head vigorously but couldn’t speak.
“Give me that pipe before you burn the wood shed down.” I said firmly. “And you know you’re not supposed to play with matches. If Mab or Pab or anyone else had caught you, you’d be in deep trouble. You know that, right?”
She nodded again, more slowly this time.
“You won’t tell, will you?” she asked once she was able to suck in enough air so that she could get the words out.
“That depends,” I said. “If you will promise me that you’ll never do this again. What in the world were you thinking?”
“All the men in our family smoke pipes and I decided it was time for a woman to smoke one, too,” she said with the firm conviction of an eight year old who was a bit too precocious at times.
“Woman?” I teased. “Where’s the woman that was going to be the first one to smoke a pipe in the family?”
Littie Pye glared at me. I thought for a minute that she might start to cry. But that was not Littie Pye’s style at all.
“You know I was talking about myself,” she said. “I may not be a woman, but I’m a girl. And that’s close enough. Mab, Qwerty Gran, the Aunts and even Brynnie or Mrs. Goossens would never try smoking a pipe. So I knew if a woman, I mean girl, was going to do it, it had to be me.”
You have to give her credit for reasoning an idea through.
“Well, how was it?” I asked. “Smoking the pipe, I mean. You certainly didn’t seem to be enjoying it and were coughing quite a bit. I’m surprised no one else heard you or smelled the pipe smoke.”
“It’s awful!” said Littie Pye. “And it’s not easy to hold the pipe and try to light it with a match and suck on the end all at the same time. That’s why I brought Leaky Lou with me. He holds the pipe for me while I light it and suck on the end to make it burn.”
“I see,” I said seriously. “Littie, you do see how dangerous this is. What if you had dropped the match and started a fire? What would you have done then?”
“I would have screamed for Russ,” she said without hesitation. “He’d save us and he wouldn’t tell anyone either. Now are you going to tell on me?”
“No, of course, I won’t,” I said. “But I want your solemn promise right here that you will never do this again. Promise.”
“Cross my heart and hope to die if I should lie,” she said. “I promise I won’t ever do this again. And neither will Leaky.”
I reached out and took the still warm pipe from her small hand. The tobacco was unburnt for the most part.
“Doesn’t look like you had much success lighting the tobacco,” I said. “You know how all the men are always packing the tobacco in just right so that it can ‘breathe’. Uncle Myles says that it takes practice to tamp down the tobacco just right so that it will burn, but not burn too hot.”
Littie Pye nodded her head again. Leaky Lou sat quietly listening to the conversation as if he was taking in every word. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he took the pipe from my hand and knew exactly how to tamp down the tobacco, light it, and sit there puffing away on it like a seasoned pro.
I turned the pipe over in my hand. “Whose pipe is this, anyway?” I asked.
“It’s one of Pab’s old pipes that he doesn’t smoke very often anymore,” Littie Pye said. “I thought he wouldn’t miss it if I borrowed it.”
The smell of the pipe tobacco brought to mind all the times we sat in the libraries with the uncles puffing away filling the room with the bluish fragrant haze of smoke. Pab said that I was too young to take up pipe smoking and that I could start after I turned twenty-one. I had reminded him that he and Uncle Myles said they started smoking a pipe when they were at Harvard. And if they were smoking a pipe when they were undergraduates they were certainly not twenty-one years old yet.
“I’ll tell you what, Littie,” I said conspiratorially. “What if we try smoking the pipe together, you and me. Leaky won’t tell anyone, will you, Leaky?” Leaky shook his head solemnly. He never spoke but the could nod or shake his head to let us know that he understood whatever we said to him.
Littie Pye’s eyes lit up with anticipation. “Oh, Phin!” she cried. “You are as bad as I am. I like it that we can be bad together and not get into any trouble.”
“Tell you what,” I said. “Poke your head around the woodshed to make certain nobody is around or might see us. If they smell the pipe smoke they’ll just think it’s one of the men and not think anything of it.”
Littie Pye nodded her head and scooted off to scope out the area around the woodshed.
“Leaky, you have to promise that you won’t say a word to anyone, all right?” I said. Not that I expected an answer but since he was here I wanted to make him feel part of the pipe smoking conspiracy.
Leaky Lou shook his head solemnly from side to side.
Littie Pye had circled the woodshed and came gasping around the corner to where Leaky Lou and I waited.
“All clear,” she said breathlessly. “I didn’t see anyone and I don’t think anyone knows we’re here.”
“All right,” I said. “Let’s light this thing and I’ll show you how it’s really done.”
I sat on a large upturned block of wood not yet split by Russ. Littie Pye and Leaky Lou watched me intently, not daring to blink for fear of missing something important in the pipe smoking ritual. Even though they had seen all the men in the family stuff and light their pipes countless times and contentedly puff away and blowing smoke from the corners of their mouths, it was a novelty to see me performing the ritual.
I must confess that I had no clearidea exactly how the ritual was done. I could only try to imitate what I had seen Pab, Gramps, Pabby, and the uncles do thousands of time.
“Littie, where’s the tobacco?” I asked. “I think we should start with a fresh bunch.”
Littie Pye reached into the pocket of her dress and pulled out a tangle of shredded pipe tobacco and handed it to me.
“Matches?” I asked. Again she reached into her pocket and took out a small box of wooden matches. “Don’t you ever let me catch you with matches again, understand.”
“Yes,” she said. “Quit stalling and put the tobacco into the pipe. You will know exactly how to do it and maybe it won’t be so difficult.”
I knocked the partially burned tobacco out of the pipe bowl and carefully stuffed the cherry scented tobacco that Littie Pye had ‘borrowed’ into the pipe bowl. I wasn’t certain how much I should put in and how much tamping I should do. But, I did what I had seen Pab and Uncle Myles do and it seemed to be right. I stuck the mouthpiece in my mouth, trying to hold it in my teeth, but the pipe jiggled up and down forcing me to hold it steady with one hand.
“I see what you mean about trying to hold the pipe and strike a match at the same time,” I told Littie Pye.
“I know,” she said in a hushed voice. “I don’t know how they do it with one hand and not set the house on fire.”
After a few tries I managed to hold the pipe steady in my mouth while I took out a match and struck it on the side of the matchbox. The match flared up in a bright flame and Leaky Lou clapped his hands as if I had performed a magic trick and had made fire.
Slowly, I brought the match flame to the bowl of the pipe and held it against the tobacco. I took a few exploratory puffs but the tobacco didn’t seem to light.
“Try pressing the match a bit more into the tobacco,” urged Littie Pye. “And suck real hard to pull air through the pipe and make the tobacco burn.”
She sounded like an expert. It made sense. I struck another match and pressed it against the tobacco and at the same time took a deep draw on the pipe. My mouth filled with burning smoke and slid down my throat. I started coughing and sputtering from the surprise and bitterness of the taste of the tobacco.
“See,” said Littie Pye triumphantly. “Not so easy, is it? Try taking not such a deep breath on the pipe and see if that works.”
Again I struck a match and held it against the tobacco. This was trickier than the looked I had to admit. Slowly I tried an experimental sucking on the pipe, not quite as hard as what I had done previously. I felt the hot smoke fill my mouth, but didn’t let it slide down my throat. I waited a few moments and then let the smoke escape from my lips.
Littie Pye was delighted. “You did it! You did it! Do it again and then let me try.”
I held the pipe with my right hand and tried a few more experimental puffs. I was beginning to get the hang of it and the tobacco seemed to have caught.
Littie Pye reached for the pipe eager for her turn at the ritual of puffing on it. I handed the pipe to her and said, “Don’t suck too hard on the mouthpiece. Just suck hard enough to feel the smoke come into your mouth. And don’t swallow any of the smoke or you’ll start coughing again. Got it?”
She nodded vigorously. Miraculously, the pipe was still lit as she placed it between her lips. Carefully, she slowly sucked on the end, but didn’t start coughing.
“Let the smoke out from the corner of your mouth,” I said. “But don’t drop the pipe.”
Littie Pye did as she was told and the bluish smoke rose from both ends of her mouth. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“You look like a little dragon smoking at the mouth,” I said.
Little Pye laughed, too and sputtered as a bit of smoke slid down her throat.
Leaky Lou found our attempts at pipe smoking fascinating and never made a sound. His small hands seemed to mimicking our gestures as he held and lit his own imaginary pipe.
For the next few minutes Littie Pye and I handed the pipe back and forth, not puffing very much, but we managed to keep the pipe lit.
“I’m starting to feel a bit lightheaded,” Littie Pye said.
“Me, too,” I replied. “I think the tobacco is a bit strong.
“WHAT on earth are you two children doing?” said a voice behind us in shocked consternation at catching us smoking the pipe behind the woodshed.
It was Mab. And she didn’t sound too pleased to have discovered our illicit activity behind the woodshed.
“Honestly, Phin!” she said, as if unable to believe her eyes. “I would like an explanation as to just what you think you’re doing. And letting Littie Pye smoke a pipe! Have you lost your mind?”
Mab had startled us so much that Littie Pye tumbled off the log she was sitting on, sputtering and coughing from the burning smoke in her throat and the lightheadedness we were experiencing.
“Mab, don’t blame, Phin,” Littie Pye said. “It was all my idea. And Phin just sort of got caught up in it with me.”
“I see,” said Mab, her tone softening a bit. Littie Pye was never one to skirt blame or fault when she knew she was in the wrong. “And Leaky, has he been smoking the pipe, too?”
Now I knew that Mab wasn’t as mad as she pretended to be. Whenever she made a comment like that it meant she could see the humor in a situation.
“I’m still waiting for an explanation, “ said Mab, looking first at me then at Little Pye.
Littie Pye calmly explained why she had decided to try smoking the pipe and how she had been caught by me.
“I’ve already given Phin my solemn word that I will never ever do this again and I will never ever strike another match so long as I live,” said Littie Pye in her most serious and sincere voice.
“And you will keep your solemn word, Littie?” asked Mab. “Will you give it to me as well that you will never ever play with matches or try smoking a pipe again?”
“I do,” said Littie Pye, raising her right hand and sounding as if she was on the witness stand in a courtroom and was solemnly swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help her God.
“I believe you,” said Mab. “Now, Phin, hand me that pipe.”
I handed the pipe to Mab and expected her to round on me again for being so irresponsible in hiding behind the woodshed smoking a pipe with my little sister and brother.
“Is there any more tobacco left?” Mab asked us.
Littie Pye reached into her pocket again and pulled out another clump of tangled tobacco.
To our surprise and amazement Mab knocked the burnt tobacco out of the pipe and began to refill it with the fresh tobacco. Littie Pye and I looked at one another incredulously. What was Mab doing? Was she going to make us smoke the pipe again to teach us a lesson and make us really choke on the strong smoke?
“Phin, hand me that box of matches, please,” said Mab. “Well, don’t look so stunned,” she said. “Now that we’re here, and we have the pipe and some tobacco, I might as well give it a try. Just don’t you dare tell your father or Gramps or Qwerty Gran. They will truly think I’ve completely lost my mind.”
Littie Pye, Leaky Lou, and I could only stare dumbly at Mab.
“Any words of advice before I give this a try?” Mab asked us.
“Don’t suck too hard,” said Littie Pye.
“And don’t let the smoke slide down your throat,” I added. “It’ll only make you start coughing.
Mab’s eyes sparkled and she nodded.
Then our mother sat down beside us, struck a match and lit the pipe. She tentatively drew in a mouthful of the fragrant smoke and nothing happened. Suddenly her eyes grew wider and she began coughing, smoke billowing out of her mouth.
Littie Pye, Leaky Lou, and I burst out laughing. There was nothing else we could do. Mab continued sputtering and coughing and finally managed to get her breath.
“This is awful,” she said. “I love the smell of pipe tobacco when Brews smokes his pipe. But, it doesn’t taste anything like the wonderful smell.”
Littie Pye and I agreed. And so did Leaky Lou.
“Promise me,” said Mab seriously. “You three will not speak a word about this to anyone.”
We promised again. Leaky Lou even crossed his heart the way he had seen Littie Pye do to show that he was promising not to say a word either.
“All right,” said Mab. “Let’s get back to the house and wash up for dinner. And brush your teeth so that no one can smell pipe tobacco on your breath. This has been quite an experiment,” she said standing up and smoothing down her skirt. “Littie Pye, would you mind poking your head around the corner to make sure no one is out there who might see us sneaking out from behind the woodshed?”
Littie Pye cautiously peered around the corner of the woodshed. “Coast is clear,” she said in a hushed whisper. “Just act normal in case anyone sees us walking up to the house together.”
Mab and I looked at one another and did our best not to laugh.
One by one we stepped out from behind the woodshed walked together as normally as we could back to house. Leaky Lou kept looking behind us to make sure no one was going to sneak up on us and cry out “Caught you!”