Kate Douglas Wiggin
Part 2 out of 4
he hed a deceivin' tongue. If it hed n't be'n for me, that Claude in Gard'ner
would 'a' run away with my brother's fust wife; an' I'll tell ye jest how I
contrived to put a spoke in his wheel."
But Mrs. Wiley, being already somewhat familiar with the circumstances, had
taken her candle and retired to her virtuous couch.
Rose Sees the World
Was this the world, after all? Rose asked herself; and, if so, what was amiss
with it, and where was the charm, the bewilderment, the intoxication, the
She had been glad to come to Boston, for the last two weeks in Edgewood had
proved intolerable. She had always been a favorite heretofore, from the days
when the boys fought for the privilege of dragging her sled up the hills, and
filling her tiny mitten with peppermints, down to the year when she came home
from the Wareham Female Seminary, an acknowledged belle and beauty. Suddenly
she had felt her popularity dwindling. There was no real change in the
demeanor of her acquaintances, but there was a certain subtle difference of
atmosphere. Everybody sympathized tacitly with Stephen, and she did not
wonder, for there were times when she secretly took his part against herself.
Only a few candid friends had referred to the rupture openly in conversation,
but these had been blunt in their disapproval.
It seemed part of her ill fortune that just at this time Rufus should be
threatened with partial blindness, and that Stephen's heart, already sore,
should be torn with new anxieties. She could hardly bear to see the doctor's
carriage drive by day after day, and hear night after night that Rufus was
unresigned, melancholy, half mad; while Stephen, as the doctor said, was
brother, mother, and father in one, as gentle as a woman, as firm as
These foes to her peace of mind all came from within; but without was the
hourly reproach of her grandmother, whose scorching tongue touched every
sensitive spot in the girl's nature and burned it like fire.
Finally a way of escape opened. Mrs. Wealthy Brooks, who had always been
rheumatic, grew suddenly worse. She had heard of a "magnetic" physician in
Boston, also of one who used electricity with wonderful effect, and she
announced her intention of taking both treatments impartially and alternately.
The neighbors were quite willing that Wealthy Ann Brooks should spend the
deceased Ezra's money in any way she pleased,--she had earned it, goodness
knows, by living with him for twenty-five years,--but before the day for her
departure arrived her right arm and knee became so much more painful that it
was impossible for her to travel alone.
At this juncture Rose was called upon to act as nurse and companion in a
friendly way. She seized the opportunity hungrily as a way out of her present
trouble; but, knowing what Mrs. Brooks's temper was in time of health, she
could see clearly what it was likely to prove when pain and anguish wrung the
Rose had been in Boston now for some weeks, and she was sitting in the Joy
Street boarding-house,--Joy Street, forsooth! It was nearly bedtime, and she
was looking out upon a huddle of roofs and back yards, upon a landscape filled
with clothes-lines, ash-barrels, and ill-fed cats. There were no sleek country
tabbies, with the memory in their eyes of tasted cream, nothing but city-born,
city-bred, thin, despairing cats of the pavement, cats no more forlorn than
She had "seen Boston," for she had accompanied Mrs. Brooks in the horse-cars
daily to the two different temples of healing where that lady worshiped and
offered sacrifices. She had also gone with Maude Arthurlena to Claude
Merrill's store to buy a pair of gloves, and had overheard Miss Dix (the
fashionable "lady assistant" before mentioned) say to Miss Brackett of the
ribbon department, that she thought Mr. Merrill must have worn his blinders
that time he stayed so long in Edgewood. This bit of polished irony was
unintelligible to Rose at first, but she mastered it after an hour's
reflection. She was n't looking her best that day, she knew; the cotton
dresses that seemed so pretty at home were common and countrified here, and
her best black cashmere looked cheap and shapeless beside Miss Dix's
brilliantine. Miss Dix's figure was her strong point, and her dressmaker was
particularly skillful in the arts of suggestion, concealment, and revelation.
Beauty has its chosen backgrounds. Rose in white dimity, standing knee deep in
her blossoming brier bushes, the river running at her feet, dark pine trees
behind her graceful head, sounded depths and touched heights of harmony
forever beyond the reach of the modish Miss Dix, but she was out of her
element and suffered accordingly.
Rose had gone to walk with Claude one evening when she first arrived. He had
shown her the State House and the Park Street Church, and sat with her on one
of the benches in the Common until nearly ten. She knew that Mrs. Brooks had
told her nephew of the broken engagement, but he made no reference to the
matter, save to congratulate her that she was rid of a man who was so clumsy,
so dull and behind the times, as Stephen Waterman, saying that he had always
marveled she could engage herself to anybody who could insult her by offering
her a turquoise ring.
Claude was very interesting that evening, Rose thought, but rather gloomy and
unlike his former self. He referred to his grave responsibilities, to the
frail health of Maude Arthurlena, and to the vicissitudes of business. He
vaguely intimated that his daily life in the store was not so pleasant as it
had been formerly; that there were "those" (he would speak no more plainly)
who embarrassed him with undesired attentions, "those" who, without the
smallest shadow of right, vexed him with petty jealousies.
Rose dared not ask questions on so delicate a topic, but she remembered in a
flash Miss Dix's heavy eyebrows, snapping eyes, and high color. Claude seemed
very happy that Rose had come to Boston, though he was surprised, knowing what
a trial his aunt must be, now that she was so helpless. It was unfortunate,
also, that Rose could not go on excursions without leaving his aunt alone, or
he should have been glad to offer his escort. He pressed her hand when he left
her at her door, telling her she could never realize what a comfort her
friendship was to him; could never imagine how thankful he was that she had
courageously freed herself from ties that in time would have made her
wretched. His heart was full, he said, of feelings he dared not utter; but in
the near future, when certain clouds had rolled by, he would unlock its
treasures, and then--but no more tonight: he could not trust himself.
Rose felt as if she were assuming one of the characters in a mysterious
romance, such as unfolded itself only in books or in Boston; but thrilling as
it was, it was nevertheless extremely unsatisfactory.
Convinced that Claude Merrill was passionately in love with her, one of her
reasons for coming to Boston had been to fall more deeply in love with him,
and thus heal some, at least, of the wounds she had inflicted. It may have
been a foolish idea, but after three weeks it seemed still worse,--a useless
one; for after several interviews she felt herself drifting farther and
farther from Claude; and if he felt any burning ambition to make her his own,
he certainly concealed it with admirable art. Given up, with the most
offensive magnanimity, by Stephen, and not greatly desired by Claude,--that
seemed the present status of proud Rose Wiley of the Brier Neighborhood.
It was June, she remembered, as she leaned out of the open window; at least it
was June in Edgewood, and she supposed for convenience' sake they called it
June in Boston. Not that it mattered much what the poor city prisoners called
it. How beautiful the river would be at home, with the trees along the banks
in full leaf! How she hungered and thirsted for the river,--to see it sparkle
in the sunlight; to watch the moonglade stretching from one bank to the other;
to hear the soft lap of the water on the shore, and the distant murmur of the
falls at the bridge! And the Brier Neighborhood would be at its loveliest, for
the wild roses were in blossom by now. And the little house! How sweet it must
look under the shade of the elms, with the Saco rippling at the back! Was poor
Rufus still lying in a darkened room, and was Stephen nursing him,
--disappointed Stephen, dear, noble old Stephen?
Gold and Pinchbeck
Just then Mrs. Brooks groaned in the next room and called Rose, who went in to
minister to her real needs, or to condole with her fancied ones, whichever
course of action appeared to be the more agreeable at the moment.
Mrs. Brooks desired conversation, it seemed, or at least she desired an
audience for a monologue, for she recognized no antiphonal obligations on the
part of her listeners. The doctors were not doing her a speck of good, and she
was just squandering money in a miserable boarding-house, when she might be
enjoying poor health in her own home; and she did n't believe her hens were
receiving proper care, and she had forgotten to pull down the shades in the
spare room, and the sun would fade the carpet out all white before she got
back, and she did n't believe Dr. Smith's magnetism was any more use than a
cat's foot, nor Dr. Robinson's electricity any better than a bumblebee's buzz,
and she had a great mind to go home and try Dr. Lord from Bonnie Eagle; and
there was a letter for Rose on the bureau, which had come before supper, but
the shiftless, lazy, worthless landlady had forgotten to send it up till just
The letter was from Mite Shapley, but Rose could read only half of it to Mrs.
Brooks, little beside the news that the Waterman barn, the finest barn in the
whole township, had been struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Stephen
was away at the time, having taken Rufus to Portland, where an operation on
his eyes would shortly be performed at the hospital, and one of the neighbors
was sleeping at the River Farm and taking care of the cattle; still the house
might not have been saved but for one of Alcestis Crambry's sudden bursts of
common sense, which occurred now quite regularly. He succeeded not only in
getting the horses out of the stalls, but gave the alarm so promptly that the
whole neighborhood was soon on the scene of action. Stephen was the only man,
Mite reminded Rose, who ever had any patience with, or took any pains to
teach, Alcestis, but he never could have expected to be rewarded in this
practical way. The barn was only partly insured; and when she had met Stephen
at the station next day, and condoled with him on his loss, he had said: "Oh,
well, Mite, a little more or less does n't make much difference just now."
"The rest would n't interest you, Mrs. Brooks," said Rose, precipitately
preparing to leave the room.
"Something about Claude, I suppose," ventured that astute lady. "I think Mite
kind of fancied him. I don't believe he ever gave her any real encouragement;
but he'd make love to a pump, Claude Merrill would, and so would his father
before him. How my sister Abby made out to land him we never knew, for they
said he'd proposed to every woman in the town of Bingham, not excepting the
wooden Indian girl in front of the cigar-store, and not one of 'em but our
Abby ever got a chance to name the day. Abby was as set as the everlastin'
hills, and if she'd made up her mind to have a man he could n't wriggle away
from her nohow in the world. It beats all how girls do run after these
slick-haired, sweet-tongued, Miss Nancy kind o' fellers, that ain't but little
good as beaux an' worth less than nothing as husbands."
Rose scarcely noticed what Mrs. Brooks said, she was too anxious to read the
rest of Mite Shapley's letter in the quiet of her own room.
Stephen looks thin and pale [so it ran on], but he does not allow anybody
to sympathize with him. I think you ought to know something that I have n't
told before for fear of hurting your feelings; but if I were in your place
I'd like to hear everything, and then you'll know how to act when you come
home. Just after you left, Stephen ploughed up all the land in front of
your new house,--every inch of it, all up and down the road, between the
fence and the front doorstep,--and then he planted corn where you were
going to have your flower-beds. He has closed all the blinds and hung a "To
Let" sign on the large elm at the gate. Stephen never was spiteful in his
life, but this looks a little like spite. Perhaps he only wanted to save
his self-respect and let people know that everything between you was over
forever. Perhaps he thought it would stop talk once and for all. But you
won't mind, you lucky girl, staying nearly three months in Boston! [So
Almira purled on in violet ink, with shaded letters.] How I wish it had
come my way, though I'm not good at rubbing rheumatic patients, even when
they are _his_ aunt. Is _he_ as devoted as ever? And when will _it_ be? How
do you like the theater? Mother thinks you won't attend; but, by what he
used to say, I am sure church members in Boston always go to amusements.
Your loving friend,
P.S. They say Rufus's doctor's bills here, and the operation and hospital
expenses in Portland, will mount up to five hundred dollars. Of course
Stephen will be dreadfully hampered by the toss of his barn, and maybe he
wants to let your house that was to be, because he really needs money. In
that case the dooryard won't be very attractive to tenants, with corn
planted right up to the steps and no path left! It's two feet tall now, and
by August (just when you were intending to move in) it will hide the front
windows. Not that you'll care, with a diamond on your engagement finger!
The letter was more than flesh and blood could stand, and Rose flung herself
on her bed to think and regret and repent, and, if possible, to sob herself to
She knew now that she had never admired and respected Stephen so much as at
the moment when, under the reproach of his eyes, she had given him back his
ring. When she left Edgewood and parted with him forever she had really loved
him better than when she had promised to marry him.
Claude Merrill, on his native Boston heath, did not appear the romantic,
inspiring figure he had once been in her eyes. A week ago she distrusted him;
tonight she despised him.
What had happened to Rose was the dilation of her vision. She saw things under
a wider sky and in a clearer light. Above all, her heart was wrung with pity
for Stephen--Stephen, with no comforting woman's hand to help him in his sore
trouble; Stephen, bearing his losses alone, his burdens and anxieties alone,
his nursing and daily work alone. Oh, how she felt herself needed! Needed!
that was the magic word that unlocked her better nature. "Darkness is the time
for making roots and establishing plants, whether of the soil or of the soul,"
and all at once Rose had become a woman: a little one, perhaps, but a whole
woman--and a bit of an angel, too, with healing in her wings. When and how had
this metamorphosis come about? Last summer the fragile brier-rose had hung
over the river and looked at its pretty reflection in the placid surface of
the water. Its few buds and blossoms were so lovely, it sighed for nothing
more. The changes in the plant had been wrought secretly and silently. In some
mysterious way, as common to soul as to plant life, the roots had gathered in
more nourishment from the earth, they had stored up strength and force, and
all at once there was a marvelous fructifying of the plant, hardiness of
stalk, new shoots everywhere, vigorous leafage, and a shower of blossoms.
But everything was awry: Boston was a failure; Claude was a weakling and a
flirt; her turquoise ring was lying on the river-bank; Stephen did not love
her any longer; her flower-beds were ploughed up and planted in corn; and the
cottage that Stephen had built and she had furnished, that beloved cottage,
was to let.
She was in Boston; but what did that amount to, after all? What was the State
House to a bleeding heart, or the Old South Church to a pride wounded like
At last she fell asleep, but it was only by stopping her ears to the noises of
the city streets and making herself imagine the sound of the river rippling
under her bedroom windows at home. The backyards of Boston faded, and in their
place came the banks of the Saco, strewn with pine-needles, fragrant with wild
flowers. Then there was the bit of sunny beach, where Stephen moored his boat.
She could hear the sound of his paddle. Boston lovers came a-courting in the
horse-cars, but hers had floated downstream to her just at dusk in a birch-
bark canoe, or sometimes, in the moonlight, on a couple of logs rafted
But it was all over now, and she could see only Stephen's stern face as he
flung the despised turquoise ring down the river-bank.
A Country Chevalier
it was early in August when Mrs. Wealthy Brooks announced her speedy return
from Boston to Edgewood.
"It's jest as well Rose is comin' back," said Mr. Wiley to his wife. "I never
favored her goin' to Boston, where that rosy-posy Claude feller is. When he
was down here he was kep' kind o' tied up in a box-stall, but there he's
caperin' loose round the pastur'."
"I should think Rose would be ashamed to come back, after the way she's
carried on," remarked Mrs. Wiley, "but if she needed punishment I guess she's
got it bein' comp'ny-keeper to Wealthy Ann Brooks. Bein' a church member in
good an' reg'lar standin', I s'pose Wealthy Ann'll go to heaven, but I can
only say that it would be a sight pleasanter place for a good many if she did
"Rose has be'n foolish an' flirty an' wrong-headed," allowed her grandfather;
"but it won't do no good to treat her like a hardened criminile, same's you
did afore she went away. She ain't hardly got her wisdom teeth cut, in love
affairs! She ain't broke the laws of the State o' Maine, nor any o' the ten
commandments; she ain't disgraced the family, an' there's a chance for her to
reform, seein' as how she ain't twenty year old yet. I was turrible wild an'
hot-headed myself afore you ketched me an' tamed me down."
"You ain't so tame now as I wish you was," Mrs. Wiley replied testily.
"If you could smoke a clay pipe 't would calm your nerves, mother, an' help
you to git some philosophy inter you; you need a little philosophy turrible
"I need patience consid'able more," was Mrs. Wiley's withering retort.
"That's the way with folks," said Old Kennebec reflectively, as he went on
peacefully puffing. "If you try to indoose 'em to take an int'rest in a
bran'-new virtue, they won't look at it; but they 'll run down a side street
an' buy half a yard more o' some turrible old shop-worn trait o' character
that they've kep' in stock all their lives, an' that everybody's sick to death
of. There was a man in Gard'ner--"
But alas! the experiences of the Gardiner man, though told in the same
delightful fashion that had won Mrs. Wiley's heart many years before, now fell
upon the empty air. In these years of Old Kennebec's "anecdotage," his pipe
was his best listener and his truest confidant.
Mr. Wiley's constant intercessions with his wife made Rose's home-coming
somewhat easier, and the sight of her own room and belongings soothed her
troubled spirit, but the days went on, and nothing happened to change the
situation. She had lost a lover, that was all, and there were plenty more to
choose from, or there always had been; but the only one she wanted was the one
who made no sign. She used to think that she could twist Stephen around her
little finger; that she had only to beckon to him and he would follow her to
the ends of the earth. Now fear had entered her heart. She no longer felt
sure, because she no longer felt worthy, of him, and feeling both uncertainty
and unworthiness, her lips were sealed and she was rendered incapable of
making any bid for forgiveness.
So the little world of Pleasant River went on, to all outward seeming, as it
had ever gone. On one side of the stream a girl's heart was longing, and
pining, and sickening, with hope deferred, and growing, too, with such
astonishing rapidity that the very angels marveled! And on the other, a man's
whole vision of life and duty was widening and deepening under the fructifying
influence of his sorrow.
The corn waved high and green in front of the vacant riverside cottage, but
Stephen sent no word or message to Rose. He had seen her once, but only from a
distance. She seemed paler and thinner, he thought,--the result, probably, of
her metropolitan gayeties. He heard no rumor of any engagement and he wondered
if it were possible that her love for Claude Merrill had not, after all, been
returned in kind. This seemed a wild impossibility. His mind refused to
entertain the supposition that any man on earth could resist falling in love
with Rose, or, having fallen in, that he could ever contrive to climb out. So
he worked on at his farm harder than ever, and grew soberer and more careworn
daily. Rufus had never seemed so near and dear to him as in these weeks when
he had lived under the shadow of threatened blindness. The burning of the barn
and the strain upon their slender property brought the brothers together
shoulder to shoulder.
"If you lose your girl, Steve," said the boy, "and I lose my eyesight, and we
both lose the barn, why, it'll be us two against the world, for a spell!"
The "To Let" sign on the little house was an arrant piece of hypocrisy.
Nothing but the direst extremity could have caused him to allow an alien step
on that sacred threshold. The ploughing up of the flower-beds and planting of
the corn had served a double purpose. It showed the too curious public the
finality of his break with Rose and her absolute freedom; it also prevented
them from suspecting that he still entered the place. His visits were not
many, but he could not bear to let the dust settle on the furniture that he
and Rose had chosen together; and whenever he locked the door and went back to
the River Farm, he thought of a verse in the Bible: "Therefore the Lord God
sent him forth from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was
It was now Friday of the last week in August.
The river was full of logs, thousands upon thousands of them covering the
surface of the water from the bridge almost up to the Brier Neighborhood. The
Edgewood drive was late, owing to a long drought and low water; but it was to
begin on the following Monday, and Lije Dennett and his under boss were
looking over the situation and planning the campaign. As they leaned over the
bridge-rail they saw Mr. Wiley driving clown the river road. When he caught
sight of them he hitched the old white horse at the corner and walked toward
them, filling his pipe the while in his usual leisurely manner. "We're not
busy this forenoon," said Lije Dennett. "S'pose we stand right here and let
Old Kennebec have his say out for once. We've never heard the end of one of
his stories, an' he's be'n talkin' for twenty years."
"All right," rejoined his companion, with a broad grin at the idea. "I'm
willin', if you are; but who's goin' to tell our fam'lies the reason we've
deserted 'em? I bate yer we shan't budge till the crack o' doom. The road
commissioner'll come along once a year and mend the bridge under our feet, but
Old Kennebec'll talk straight on till the day o' jedgment."
Mr. Wiley had one of the most enjoyable mornings of his life, and felt that
after half a century of neglect his powers were at last appreciated by his
He proposed numerous strategic movements to be made upon the logs, whereby
they would move more swiftly than usual. He described several successful
drives on the Kennebec, when the logs had melted down the river almost by
magic, owing to his generalship; and he paid a tribute, in passing, to the
docility of the boss, who on that occasion had never moved a single log
without asking his advice.
From this topic he proceeded genially to narrate the life-histories of the
boss, the under boss, and several Indians belonging to the crew,--histories in
which he himself played a gallant and conspicuous part. The conversation then
drifted naturally to the exploits of river-drivers in general, and Mr. Wiley
narrated the sorts of feats in log-riding, pick-pole-throwing, and the
shooting of rapids that he had done in his youth. These stories were such as
had seldom been heard by the ear of man; and, as they passed into circulation
instantaneously, we are probably enjoying some of them to this day.
They were still being told when a Crambry child appeared on the bridge,
bearing a note for the old man. Upon reading it he moved off rapidly in the
direction of the store, ejaculating: "Bless my soul! I clean forgot that
saleratus, and mother's settin' at the kitchen table with the bowl in her lap,
waitin' for it! Got so int'rested in your list'nin' I never thought o' the
The connubial discussion that followed this breach of discipline began on the
arrival of the saleratus, and lasted through supper; and Rose went to bed
almost immediately afterward for very dullness and apathy. Her life stretched
out before her in the most aimless and monotonous fashion. She saw nothing but
heartache in the future; and that she richly deserved it made it none the
easier to bear.
Feeling feverish and sleepless, she slipped on her gray Shaker cloak and stole
quietly downstairs for a breath of air. Her grandfather and grandmother were
talking on the piazza, and good humor seemed to have been restored. "I was
over to the tavern tonight," she heard him say, as she sat down at a little
distance. "I was over to the tavern tonight, an' a feller from Gorham got to
talkin' an' braggin' 'bout what a stock o' goods they kep' in the store over
there. 'An',' says I, 'I bate ye dollars to doughnuts that there hain't a darn
thing ye can ask for at Bill Pike's store at Pleasant River that he can't go
down cellar, or up attic, or out in the barn chamber an' git for ye.' Well,
sir, he took me up, an' I borrered the money of Joe Dennett, who held the
stakes, an' we went right over to Bill Pike's with all the boys follerin' on
behind. An' the Gorham man never let on what he was going to ask for till the
hull crowd of us got inside the store. Then says he, as p'lite as a basket o'
chips, 'Mr. Pike, I'd like to buy a pulpit if you can oblige me with one.'
"Bill scratched his head an' I held my breath. Then says he, "Pears to me I'd
ought to hev a pulpit or two, if I can jest remember where I keep 'em. I don't
never cal'late to be out o' pulpits, but I'm so plagued for room I can't keep
'em in here with the groc'ries. Jim (that's his new store boy), you jest take
a lantern an' run out in the far corner o' the shed, at the end o' the hickory
woodpile, an' see how many pulpits we've got in stock!' Well, Jim run out, an'
when he come back he says, 'We've got two, Mr. Pike. Shall I bring one of 'em
"At that the boys all bust out laughin' an' hollerin' an' tauntin' the Gorham
man, an' he paid up with a good will, I tell ye!"
"I don't approve of bettin'," said Mrs. Wiley grimly, "but I'll try to
sanctify the money by usin' it for a new wash-boiler."
"The fact is," explained Old Kennebec, somewhat confused, "that the boys made
me spend every cent of it then an' there."
Rose heard her grandmother's caustic reply, and then paid no further attention
until her keen ear caught the sound of Stephen's name. It was a part of her
unhappiness that since her broken engagement no one would ever allude to him,
and she longed to hear him mentioned, so that perchance she could get some
inkling of his movements.
"I met Stephen tonight for the first time in a week," said Mr. Wiley. "He kind
o' keeps out o' my way lately. He's goin' to drive his span into Portland
tomorrow mornin' and bring Rufus home from the hospital Sunday afternoon. The
doctors think they've made a success of their job, but Rufus has got to be
bandaged up a spell longer. Stephen is goin' to join the drive Monday mornin'
at the bridge here, so I'll get the latest news o' the boy. Land! I'll be
turrible glad if he gets out with his eyesight, if it's only for Steve's sake.
He's a turrible good fellow, Steve is! He said something tonight that made me
set more store by him than ever. I told you I hed n't heard an unkind word
ag'in' Rose sence she come home from Boston, an' no more I hev till this
evenin'. There was two or three fellers talkin' in the post-office, an' they
did n't suspicion I was settin' on the steps outside the screen door. That Jim
Jenkins, that Rose so everlastin'ly snubbed at the tavern dance, spoke up, an'
says he: 'This time last year Rose Wiley could 'a' hed the choice of any man
on the river, an' now I bet ye she can't get nary one.'
"Steve was there, jest goin' out the door, with some bags o' coffee an' sugar
under his arm.
"'I guess you're mistaken about that,' he says, speakin' up jest like
lightnin'; 'so long as Stephen Waterman's alive, Rose Wiley can have him, for
one; and that everybody's welcome to know.'
"He spoke right out, loud an' plain, jest as if he was readin' the Declaration
of Independence. I expected the boys would everlastin'ly poke fun at him, but
they never said a word. I guess his eyes flashed, for he come out the screen
door, slammin' it after him, and stalked by me as if he was too worked up to
notice anything or anybody. I did n't foller him, for his long legs git over
the ground too fast for me, but thinks I, 'Mebbe I'll hev some use for my
lemonade-set after all.'"
"I hope to the land you will," responded Mrs. Wiley, "for I'm about sick o'
movin' it round when I sweep under my bed. And I shall be glad if Rose an'
Stephen do make it up, for Wealthy Ann Brooks's gossip is too much for a
Christian woman to stand."
Where was the pale Rose, the faded Rose, that crept noiselessly down from her
room, wanting neither to speak nor to be spoken to? Nobody ever knew. She
vanished forever, and in her place a thing of sparkles and dimples flashed up
the stairway and closed the door softly. There was a streak of moon-shine
lying across the bare floor, and a merry ghost, with dressing-gown held
prettily away from bare feet, danced a gay fandango among the yellow
moonbeams. There were breathless flights to the open window, and kisses thrown
in the direction of the River Farm. There were impressive declamations at the
looking-glass, where a radiant creature pointed to her reflection and
whispered, "Worthless little pig, he loves you, after all!"
Then, when quiet joy had taken the place of mad delight, there was a swoop
down upon the floor, an impetuous hiding of brimming eyes in the white
counterpane, and a dozen impassioned promises to herself and to something
higher than herself, to be a better girl.
The mood lasted, and deepened, and still Rose did not move. Her heart was on
its knees before Stephen's faithful love, his chivalry, his strength. Her
troubled spirit, like a frail boat tossed about in the rapids, seemed entering
a quiet harbor, where there were protecting shores and a still, still evening
star. Her sails were all torn and drooping, but the harbor was in sight, and
the poor little weather-beaten craft could rest in peace.
A period of grave reflection now ensued, under the bedclothes, where one could
think better. Suddenly an inspiration seized her, an inspiration so original,
so delicious, and above all so humble and praiseworthy, that it brought her
head from her pillow, and she sat bolt upright, clapping her hands like a
"The very thing!" she whispered to herself gleefully. "It will take courage,
but I'm sure of my ground after what he said before them all, and I'll do it.
Grandma in Biddeford buying church carpets, Stephen in Portland--was ever such
The same glowing Rose came downstairs, two steps at a time, next morning, bade
her grandmother goodbye with suspicious pleasure, and sent her grandfather
away on an errand which, with attendant conversation, would consume half the
day. Then bundles after bundles and baskets after baskets were packed into the
wagon,--behind the seat, beneath the seat, and finally under the lap-robe. She
gave a dramatic flourish to the whip, drove across the bridge, went through
Pleasant River village, and up the leafy road to the little house, stared the
"To Let" sign scornfully in the eye, alighted, and ran like a deer through the
aisles of waving corn, past the kitchen windows, to the back door.
"If he has kept the big key in the old place under the stone, where we both
used to find it, then he has n't forgotten me--or anything," thought Rose.
The key was there, and Rose lifted it with a sob of gratitude. It was but five
minutes' work to carry all the bundles from the wagon to the back steps, and
another five to lead old Tom across the road into the woods and tie him to a
tree quite out of the sight of any passer-by.
When, after running back, she turned the key in the lock, her heart gave a
leap almost of terror, and she started at the sound of her own footfall.
Through the open door the sunlight streamed into the dark room. She flew to
tables and chairs, and gave a rapid sweep of the hand over their surfaces.
"He has been dusting here,--and within a few days, too," she thought
The kitchen was perfection, as she always knew it would be, with one door
opening to the shaded road and the other looking on the river; windows, too,
framing the apple-orchard and the elms. She had chosen the furniture, but how
differently it looked now that it was actually in place! The tiny shed had
piles of split wood, with great boxes of kindlings and shavings, all in
readiness for the bride, who would do her own cooking. Who but Stephen would
have made the very wood ready for a woman's home-coming; and why had he done
so much in May, when they were not to be married until August? Then the door
of the bedroom was stealthily opened, and here Rose sat down and cried for joy
and shame and hope and fear. The very flowered paper she had refused as too
expensive! How lovely it looked with the white chamber set! She brought in her
simple wedding outfit of blankets, bed-linen, and counterpanes, and folded
them softly in the closet; and then for the rest of the morning she went from
room to room, doing all that could remain undiscovered, even to laying a fire
in the new kitchen stove.
This was the plan. Stephen must pass the house on his way from the River Farm
to the bridge, where he was to join the river-drivers on Monday morning. She
would be out of bed by the earliest peep of dawn, put on Stephen's favorite
pink calico, leave a note for her grandmother, run like a hare down her side
of the river and up Stephen's, steal into the house, open blinds and windows,
light the fire, and set the kettle boiling. Then with a sharp knife she would
cut down two rows of corn, and thus make a green pathway from the front
kitchen steps to the road. Next, the false and insulting "To Let" sign would
be forcibly tweaked from the tree and thrown into the grass. She would then
lay the table in the kitchen, and make ready the nicest breakfast that two
people ever sat down to. And oh, would two people sit down to it; or would one
go off in a rage and the other die of grief and disappointment?
Then, having done all, she would wait and palpitate, and palpitate and wait,
until Stephen came. Surely no property-owner in the universe could drive along
a road, observe his corn leveled to the earth, his sign removed, his house
open, and smoke issuing from his chimney, without going in to surprise the
rogue and villain who could be guilty of such vandalism.
And when he came in?
Oh, she had all day Sunday in which to forecast, with mingled dread and
gladness and suspense, that all-important, all-decisive first moment! All day
Sunday to frame and unframe penitent speeches. All day Sunday! Would it ever
be Monday? If so, what would Tuesday bring? Would the sun rise happy on Mrs.
Stephen Waterman of Pleasant River, or miserable Miss Rose Wiley of the Brier
The Dream Room
Long ago, when Stephen was a boy of fourteen or fifteen, he had gone with his
father to a distant town to spend the night. After an early breakfast next
morning his father had driven off for a business interview, and left the boy
to walk about during his absence. He wandered aimlessly along a quiet side
street, and threw himself down on the grass outside a pretty garden to amuse
himself as best he could.
After a few minutes he heard voices, and, turning, peeped through the bars of
the gate in idle, boyish curiosity. It was a small brown house; the kitchen
door was open, and a table spread with a white cloth was set in the middle of
the room. There was a cradle in a far corner, and a man was seated at the
table as though he might be waiting for his breakfast.
There is a kind of sentiment about the kitchen in New England, a kind of
sentiment not provoked by other rooms. Here the farmer drops in to spend a few
minutes when he comes back from the barn or field on an errand. Here, in the
great, clean, sweet, comfortable place, the busy housewife lives, sometimes
rocking the cradle, sometimes opening and shutting the oven door, sometimes
stirring the pot, darning stockings, paring vegetables, or mixing goodies in a
yellow bowl. The children sit on the steps, stringing beans, shelling peas, or
hulling berries; the cat sleeps on the floor near the wood-box; and the
visitor feels exiled if he stays in sitting-room or parlor, for here, where
the mother is always busy, is the heart of the farmhouse.
There was an open back door to this kitchen, a door framed in morning-glories,
and the woman (or was she only girl?) standing at the stove was pretty,--oh,
so pretty in Stephen's eyes! His boyish heart went out to her on the instant.
She poured a cup of coffee and walked with it to the table; then an
unexpected, interesting thing happened--something the boy ought not to have
seen, and never forgot. The man, putting out his hand to take the cup, looked
up at the pretty woman with a smile, and she stooped and kissed him.
Stephen was fifteen. As he looked, on the instant he became a man, with a
man's hopes, desires, ambitions. He looked eagerly, hungrily, and the scene
burned itself on the sensitive plate of his young heart, so that, as he grew
older, he could take the picture out in the dark, from time to time, and look
at it again. When he first met Rose, he did not know precisely what she was to
mean to him; but before long, when he closed his eyes and the old familiar
picture swam into his field of vision, behold, by some spiritual chemistry,
the pretty woman's face had given place to that of Rose!
All such teasing visions had been sternly banished during this sorrowful
summer, and it was a thoughtful, sober Stephen who drove along the road on
this mellow August morning. The dust was deep; the goldenrod waved its
imperial plumes, making the humble waysides gorgeous; the river chattered and
sparkled till it met the logs at the Brier Neighborhood, and then, lapsing
into silence, flowed steadily under them till it found a vent for its spirits
in the dashing and splashing of the falls.
Haying was over; logging was to begin that day; then harvesting; then wood-
cutting; then eternal successions of ploughing, sowing, reaping, haying,
logging, harvesting, and so on, to the endless end of his days. Here and there
a red or a yellow branch, painted only yesterday, caught his eye and made him
shiver. He was not ready for winter; his heart still craved the summer it had
Hello! What was that? Corn-stalks prone on the earth? Sign torn down and lying
flat in the grass? Blinds open, fire in the chimney?
He leaped from the wagon, and, flinging the reins to Alcestis Crambry, said,
"Stay right here out of sight, and don't you move till I call you!" And
striding up the green pathway, he flung open the kitchen door.
A forest of corn waving in the doorway at the back, morning-glories clambering
round and round the window-frames, the table with shining white cloth, the
kettle humming and steaming, something bubbling in a pan on the stove, the
fire throwing out sweet little gleams of welcome through the open damper. All
this was taken in with one incredulous, rapturous twinkle of an eye; but
something else, too: Rose of all roses, Rose of the river, Rose of the world,
standing behind a chair, with her hand pressed against her heart, her lips
parted, her breath coming and going! She was glowing like a jewel--glowing
with the extraordinary brilliancy that emotion gives to some women. She used
to be happy in a gay, sparkling way, like the shallow part of the stream as it
chatters over white pebbles and bright sands. Now it was a broad, steady, full
happiness like the deeps of the river under the sun.
"Don't speak, Stephen, till you hear what I have to say. It takes a good deal
of courage for a girl to do as I am doing; but I want to show how sorry I am,
and it's the only way." She was trembling, and the words came faster and
faster. "I've been very wrong and foolish, and made you very unhappy, but I
have n't done what you would have hated most. I have n't been engaged to
Claude Merrill; he has n't so much as asked me. I am here to beg you to
forgive me, to eat breakfast with me, to drive me to the minister's and marry
me quickly, quickly, before anything happens to prevent us, and then to bring
me home here to live all the days of my life. Oh, Stephen dear, honestly,
honestly, you have n't lost anything in all this long, miserable summer. I've
suffered, too, and I'm better worth loving than I was. Will you take me back?"
Rose had a tremendous power of provoking and holding love, and Stephen of
loving. His was too generous a nature for revilings and complaints and
The shores of his heart were strewn with the wreckage of the troubled summer,
but if the tide of love is high enough, it washes such things out of
remembrance. He just opened his arms and took Rose to his heart, faults and
all, with joy and gratitude; and she was as happy as a child who has escaped
the scolding it richly deserves, and who determines, for very thankfulness'
sake, never to be naughty again.
"You don't know what you've done for me, Stephen," she whispered, with her
face hidden on his shoulder. "I was just a common little prickly rosebush when
you came along like a good gardener and 'grafted in' something better; the
something better was your love, Stephen dear, and it's made everything
different. The silly Rose you were engaged to long ago has disappeared
somewhere; I hope you won't be able to find her under the new leaves."
"She was all I wanted," said Stephen.
"You thought she was," the girl answered, "because you did n't see the
prickles, but you'd have felt them some time. The old Rose was a selfish
thing, not good enough for you; the new Rose is going to be your wife, and
Rufus's sister, and your mother's daughter, all in one."
Then such a breakfast was spread as Stephen, in his sorry years of bachelor
existence, had forgotten could exist; but before he broke his fast he ran out
to the wagon and served the astonished Alcestis with his wedding refreshments
then and there, bidding him drive back to the River Farm and bring him a
package that lay in the drawer of his shaving-stand,--a package placed there
when hot youth and love and longing had inspired him to hurry on the marriage
"There's an envelope, Alcestis," he cried, "a long envelope, way, way back in
the corner, and a small box on top of it. Bring them both and my wallet too,
and if you find them all and get them to me safely you shall be bridesmaid and
groomsman and best man and usher and maid of honor at a wedding, in less than
an hour! Off with you! Drive straight and use the whip on Dolly!"
When he re-entered the kitchen, flushed with joy and excitement, Rose put the
various good things on the table and he almost tremblingly took his seat,
fearing that contact with the solid wood might wake him from this entrancing
"I'd like to put you in your chair like a queen and wait on you," he said with
a soft boyish stammer; "but I am too dazed with happiness to be of any use."
"It's my turn to wait upon you, and I--Oh! how I love to have you dazed," Rose
answered. "I'll be at the table presently myself; but we have been
housekeeping only three minutes, and we have nothing but the tin coffee-pot
this morning, so I'll pour the coffee from the stove."
She filled a cup with housewifely care and brought it to Stephen's side. As
she set it down and was turning, she caught his look,--a look so full of
longing that no loving woman, however busy, could have resisted it; then she
stooped and kissed him fondly, fervently.
Stephen put his arm about her, and, drawing her down to his knee, rested his
head against her soft shoulder with a sigh of comfort, like that of a tired
child. He had waited for it ten years, and at last the dream room had come
THE OLD PEABODY PEW
A Christmas Romance of a Country Church
To a certain handful of dear New England women of names unknown to the world,
dwelling in a certain quiet village, alike unknown:--
We have worked together to make our little corner of the great universe a
pleasanter place in which to live, and so we know, not only one another's
names, but something of one another's joys and sorrows, cares and burdens,
economies, hopes, and anxieties.
We all remember the dusty uphill road that leads to the green church common.
We remember the white spire pointing upward against a background of blue sky
and feathery elms. We remember the sound of the bell that falls on the Sabbath
morning stillness, calling us across the daisy-sprinkled meadows of June, the
golden hayfields of July, or the dazzling whiteness and deep snowdrifts of
December days. The little cabinet-organ that plays the Doxology, the
hymn-books from which we sing "Praise God from whom all blessings flow," the
sweet freshness of the old meeting-house, within and without,--how we have
toiled to secure and preserve these humble mercies for ourselves and our
There really is a Dorcas Society, as you and I well know, and one not unlike
that in these pages; and you and I have lived through many discouraging,
laughable, and beautiful experiences while we emulated the Bible Dorcas, that
woman "full of good works and alms deeds."
There never was a Peabody Pew in the Tory Hill Meeting-House, and Nancy's love
story and Justin's never happened within its century-old walls, but I have
imagined only one of the many romances that have had their birth under the
shadow of that steeple, did we but realize it.
As you have sat there on open-windowed Sundays, looking across purple
clover-fields to blue distant mountains, watching the palm-leaf fans swaying
to and fro in the warm stillness before sermon time, did not the place seem
full of memories, for has not the life of two villages ebbed and flowed
beneath that ancient roof? You heard the hum of droning bees and followed the
airy wings of butterflies fluttering over the grave-stones in the old
churchyard, and underneath almost every moss-grown tablet some humble romance
lies buried aud all but forgotten.
If it had not been for you, I should never have written this story, so I give
it back to you tied with a sprig from Ophelia's nosegay; a sprig of "rosemary,
that's for remembrance."
K. D. W.
The Old Peabody Pew
Edgewood, like all the other villages along the banks of the Saco, is full of
sunny slopes and leafy hollows. There are little, rounded, green-clad hillocks
that might, like their scriptural sisters, "skip with joy"; and there are
grand, rocky hills tufted with gaunt pine trees--these leading the eye to the
splendid heights of a neighbor State, where snow-crowned peaks tower in the
blue distance, sweeping the horizon in a long line of majesty.
Tory Hill holds its own among the others for peaceful beauty and fair
prospect, and on its broad, level summit sits the white-painted Orthodox
Meeting-House. This faces a grassy common where six roads meet, as if the
early settlers had determined that no one should lack salvation because of a
difficulty in reaching its visible source.
The old church has had a dignified and fruitful past, dating from that day in
1761 when young Paul Coffin received his call to preach at a stipend of fifty
pounds sterling a year; answering "that never having heard of any Uneasiness
among the people about his Doctrine or manner of life, he declared himself
pleased to Settle as Soon as might be Judged Convenient."
But that was a hundred and fifty years ago, and much has happened since those
simple, strenuous old days. The chastening hand of time has been laid somewhat
heavily on the town as well as on the church. Some of her sons have marched to
the wars and died on the field of honor; some, seeking better fortunes, have
gone westward; others, wearying of village life, the rocky soil, and rigors of
farm-work, have become entangled in the noise and competition, the rush and
strife, of cities. When the sexton rings the bell nowadays, on a Sunday
morning, it seems to have lost some of its old-time militant strength,
something of its hope and courage; but it still rings, and although the Davids
and Solomons, the Matthews, Marks, and Pauls of former congregations have left
few descendants to perpetuate their labors, it will go on ringing as long as
there is a Tabitha, a Dorcas, a Lois, or a Eunice left in the community.
This sentiment had been maintained for a quarter of a century, but it was now
especially strong, as the old Tory Hill Meeting-House had been undergoing for
several years more or less extensive repairs. In point of fact, the still
stronger word, "improvements," might be used with impunity; though whenever
the Dorcas Society, being female, and therefore possessed of notions regarding
comfort and beauty, suggested any serious changes, the finance committees,
which were inevitably male in their composition, generally disapproved of
inaking any impious alterations in a tabernacle, chapel, temple, or any other
building used for purposes of worship. The majority in these august bodies
asserted that their ancestors had prayed and sung there for a century and a
quarter, and what was good enough for their ancestors was entirely suitable
for them. Besides, the community was becoming less and less prosperous, and
church-going was growing more and more lamentably uncommon, so that even from
a business standpoint, any sums expended upon decoration by a poor and
struggling parish would be worse than wasted.
In the particular year under discussion in this story, the valiant and
progressive Mrs. Jeremiah Burbank was the president of the Dorcas Society, and
she remarked privately and publicly that if her ancestors liked a smoky
church, they had a perfect right to the enjoyment of it, but that she did n't
intend to sit through meeting on winter Sundays, with her white ostrich
feather turning gray and her eyes smarting and watering, for the rest of her
Whereupon, this being in a business session, she then and there proposed to
her already hypnotized constituents ways of earning enough money to build a
new chimney on the other side of the church.
An awe-stricken community witnessed this beneficent act of vandalism, and,
finding that no thunderbolts of retribution descended from the skies, greatly
relished the change. If one or two aged persons complained that they could not
sleep as sweetly during sermon-time in the now clear atmosphere of the church,
and that the parson's eye was keener than before, why, that was a mere detail,
and could not be avoided; what was the loss of a little sleep compared with
the discoloration of Mrs. Jere Burbank's white ostrich feather and the
smarting of Mrs. Jere Burbank's eyes?
A new furnace followed the new chimney, in due course, and as a sense of
comfort grew, there was opportunity to notice the lack of beauty. Twice in
sixty years had some well-to-do summer parishioner painted the interior of the
church at his own expense; but although the roof had been many times
reshingled, it had always persisted in leaking, so that the ceiling and walls
were disfigured by unsightly spots and stains and streaks. The question of
shingling was tacitly felt to be outside the feminine domain, but as there
were five women to one man in the church membership, the feminine domain was
frequently obliged to extend its limits into the hitherto unknown. Matters of
tarring and waterproofing were discussed in and out of season, and the very
school-children imbibed knowledge concerning lapping, over-lapping, and
cross-lapping, and first and second quality of cedar shingles. Miss Lobelia
Brewster, who had a rooted distrust of anything done by mere man, created
strife by remarking that she could have stopped the leak in the belfry tower
with her red flannel petticoat better than the Milltown man with his
new-fangled rubber sheeting, and that the last shingling could have been more
thoroughly done by a "female infant babe"; whereupon the person criticized
retorted that he wished Miss Lobelia Brewster had a few infant babes to "put
on the job he'd like to see 'em try." Meantime several male members of the
congregation, who at one time or another had sat on the roof during the
hottest of the dog-days to see that shingling operations were conscientiously
and skillfully performed, were very pessimistic as to any satisfactory result
ever being achieved.
"The angle of the roof--what they call the 'pitch'--they say that that's
always been wrong," announced the secretary of the Dorcas in a business
"Is it that kind of pitch that the Bible says you can't touch without being
defiled? If not, I vote that we unshingle the roof and alter the pitch!" This
proposal came from a sister named Maria Sharp, who had valiantly offered the
year before to move the smoky chimney with her own hands, if the "menfolks"
But though the incendiary suggestion of altering the pitch was received with
applause at the moment, subsequent study of the situation proved that such a
proceeding was entirely beyond the modest means of the society. Then there
arose an ingenious and militant carpenter in a neighboring village, who
asserted that he would shingle the meeting-house roof for such and such a sum,
and agree to drink every drop of water that would leak in afterward. This was
felt by all parties to be a promise attended by extraordinary risks, but it
was accepted nevertheless, Miss Lobelia Brewster remarking that the rash
carpenter, being already married, could not marry a Dorcas anyway, and even if
he died, he was not a resident of Edgewood, and therefore could be more easily
spared, and that it would be rather exciting, just for a change, to see a man
drink himself to death with rain-water. The expected tragedy never occurred,
however, and the inspired shingler fulfilled his promise to the letter, so
that before many months the Dorcas Society proceeded, with incredible
exertion, to earn more money, and the interior of the church was neatly
painted and made as fresh as a rose. With no smoke, no rain, no snow nor
melting ice to defile it, the good old landmark that had been pointing its
finger Heavenward for over a century would now be clean and fragrant for years
to come, and the weary sisters leaned back in their respective rocking-chairs
and drew deep breaths of satisfaction.
These breaths continued to be drawn throughout an unusually arduous haying
season; until, in fact, a visitor from a neighboring city was heard to remark
that the Tory Hill Meeting-House would be one of the best preserved and
pleasantest churches in the whole State of Maine, if only it were suitably
This thought had secretly occurred to many a Dorcas in her hours of
pie-making, preserving, or cradle-rocking, but had been promptly extinguished
as flagrantly extravagant and altogether impossible. Now that it had been
openly mentioned, the contagion of the idea spread, and in a month every sort
of honest machinery for the increase of funds had been set in motion: harvest
suppers, pie sociables, old folks' concerts, apron sales, and, as a last
resort, a subscription paper, for the church floor measured hundreds of square
yards, and the carpet committee announced that a good ingrain could not be
purchased, even with the church discount, for less than ninety-seven cents a
The Dorcases took out their pencils, and when they multiplied the surface of
the floor by the price of the carpet per yard, each Dorcas attaining a result
entirely different from all the others, there was a shriek of dismay,
especially from the secretary, who had included in her mathematical operation
certain figures in her possession representing the cubical contents of the
church and the offending pitch of the roof, thereby obtaining a product that
would have dismayed a Croesus. Time sped and efforts increased, but the
Dorcases were at length obliged to clip the wings of their desire and content
themselves with carpeting the pulpit and pulpit steps, the choir, and the two
aisles, leaving the floor in the pews until some future year.
How the women cut and contrived and matched that hardly-bought red ingrain
carpet, in the short December afternoons that ensued after its purchase; so
that, having failed to be ready for Thanksgiving, it could be finished for the
They were sewing in the church, and as the last stitches were being taken,
Maria Sharp suddenly ejaculated in her impulsive fashion :--
"Would n't it have been just perfect if we could have had the pews repainted
before we laid the new carpet!"
"It would, indeed," the president answered; "but it will take us all winter to
pay for the present improvements, without any thought of fresh paint. If only
we had a few more men-folks to help along!"
"Or else none at all!" was Lobelia Brewster's suggestion. "It's havin' so few
that keeps us all stirred up. If there wa'n't any anywheres, we'd have women
deacons and carpenters and painters, and get along first rate; for somehow the
supply o' women always holds out, same as it does with caterpillars an' flies
Everybody laughed, although Maria Sharp asserted that she for one was not
willing to be called a caterpillar simply because there were too many women in
"I never noticed before how shabby and scarred and dirty the pews are," said
the minister's wife, as she looked at them reflectively.
"I've been thinking all the afternoon of the story about the poor old woman
and the lily," and Nancy Wentworth's clear voice broke into the discussion.
"Do you remember some one gave her a stalk of Easter lilies and she set them
in a glass pitcher on the kitchen table? After looking at them for a few
minutes, she got up from her chair and washed the pitcher until the glass
shone. Sitting down again, she glanced at the little window. It would never
do; she had forgotten how dusty and blurred it was, and she took her cloth and
burnished the panes. Then she scoured the table, then the floor, then
blackened the stove before she sat down to her knitting. And of course the
lily had done it all, just by showing, in its whiteness, how grimy everything
The minister's wife, who had been in Edgewood only a few months, looked
admiringly at Nancy's bright face, wondering that five-and-thirty years of
life, including ten of school-teaching, had done so little to mar its
"The lily story is as true as the gospel!" she exclaimed, "and I can see how
one thing has led you to another in making the church comfortable. But my
husband says that two coats of paint on the pews would cost a considerable
"How about cleaning them? I don't believe they've had a good hard washing
since the flood." The suggestion came from Deacon Miller's wife to the
"They can't even be scrubbed for less than fifteen or twenty dollars, for I
thought of that and asked Mrs. Simpson yesterday, and she said twenty cents a
pew was the cheapest she could do it for."
"We've done everything else," said Nancy Wentworth, with a twitch of her
thread; "why don't we scrub the pews? There's nothing in the Orthodox creed to
forbid, is there?"
"Speakin' o' creeds," and here old Mrs. Sargent paused in her work, "Elder
Ransom from Acreville stopped with us last night, an' he tells me they recite
the Euthanasian Creed every few Sundays in the Episcopal Church. I did n't
want him to know how ignorant I was, but I looked up the word in the
dictionary. It means easy death, and I can't see any sense in that, though
it's a terrible long creed, the Elder says, an' if it's any longer 'n ourn, I
should think anybody _might_ easy die learnin' it!"
"I think the word is Athanasian," ventured the minister's wife.
"Elder Ransom's always plumb full o' doctrine," asserted Miss Brewster,
pursuing the subject. "For my part, I'm glad he preferred Acreville to our
place. He was so busy bein' a minister, he never got round to bein' a human
creeter. When he used to come to sociables and picnics, always lookin' kind o'
like the potato blight, I used to think how complete he'd be if he had a
foldin' pulpit under his coat-tails; they make foldin' beds nowadays, an' I
s'pose they could make foldin' pulpits, if there was a call."
"Land sakes, I hope there won't be!" exclaimed Mrs. Sargent. "An' the Elder
never said much of anything either, though he was always preachin'! Now your
husband, Mis' Baxter, always has plenty to say after you think he's all
through. There's water in his well when the others is all dry!"
"But how about the pews?" interrupted Mrs. Burbank. "I think Nancy's idea is
splendid, and I want to see it carried out. We might make it a picnic, bring
our luncheons, and work all together; let every woman in the congregation come
and scrub her own pew."
"Some are too old, others live at too great a distance," and the minister's
wife sighed a little; "indeed, most of those who once owned the pews or sat in
them seem to be dead, or gone away to live in busier places."
"I've no patience with 'em, gallivantin' over the earth," and here Lobelia
rose and shook the carpet threads from her lap. "I should n't want to live in
a livelier place than Edgewood, seem's though! We wash and hang out Mondays,
iron Tuesdays, cook Wednesdays, clean house and mend Thursdays and Fridays,
bake Saturdays, and go to meetin' Sundays. I don't hardly see how they can do
any more'n that in Chicago!"
"Never mind if we have lost members!" said the indomitable Mrs. Burbank. "The
members we still have left must work all the harder. We'll each clean our own
pew, then take a few of our neighbors', and then hire Mrs. Simpson to do the
wainscoting and floor. Can we scrub Friday and lay the carpet Saturday? My
husband and Deacon Miller can help us at the end of the week. All in favor
manifest it by the usual sign. Contrary-minded? It is a vote."
There never were any contrary-minded when Mrs. Jere Burbank was in the chair.
Public sentiment in Edgewood was swayed by the Dorcas Society, but Mrs.
Burbank swayed the Dorcases themselves as the wind sways the wheat.
The old meeting-house wore an animated aspect when the eventful Friday came, a
cold, brilliant, sparkling December day, with good sleighing, and with energy
in every breath that swept over the dazzling snowfields. The sexton had built
a fire in the furnace on the way to his morning work--a fire so economically
contrived that it would last exactly the four or five necessary hours, and not
a second more. At eleven o'clock all the pillars of the society had assembled,
having finished their own household work and laid out on their respective
kitchen tables comfortable luncheons for the men of the family, if they were
fortunate enough to number any among their luxuries. Water was heated upon
oil-stoves set about here and there, and there was a brave array of
scrubbing-brushes, cloths, soap, and even sand and soda, for it had been
decided and manifested-by-the-usual-sign-and-no-contrary-minded-and-it-was-
-a-vote that the dirt was to come off, whether the paint came with it or not.
Each of the fifteen women present selected a block of seats, preferably one in
which her own was situated, and all fell busily to work.
"There is nobody here to clean the right-wing pews," said Nancy Wentworth, "so
I will take those for my share."
"You're not making a very wise choice, Nancy," and the minister's wife smiled
as she spoke. "The infant class of the Sunday-School sits there, you know, and
I expect the paint has had extra wear and tear. Families don't seem to occupy
those pews regularly nowadays."
"I can remember when every seat in the whole church was filled, wings an'
all," mused Mrs. Sargent, wringing out her washcloth in a reminiscent mood.
"The one in front o' you, Nancy, was always called the 'deef pew' in the old
times, and all the folks that was hard o' hearin' used to congregate there."
"The next pew has n't been occupied since I came here," said the minister's
"No," answered Mrs. Sargent, glad of any opportunity to retail neighborhood
news. "'Squire Bean's folks have moved to Portland to be with the married
daughter. Somebody has to stay with her, and her husband won't. The 'Squire
ain't a strong man, and he's most too old to go to meetin' now. The youngest
son just died in New York, so I hear."
"What ailed him?" inquired Maria Sharp.
"I guess he was completely wore out takin' care of his health," returned Mrs.
Sargent. "He had a splendid constitution from a boy, but he was always afraid
it would n't last him. The seat back o' 'Squire Bean's is the old Peabody
pew--ain't that the Peabody pew you're scrubbin', Nancy?"
"I believe so," Nancy answered, never pausing in her labors. "It's so long
since anybody sat there, it's hard to remember."
"It is the Peabodys', I know it, because the aisle runs right up facin' it. I
can see old Deacon Peabody settin' in this end same as if 't was yesterday."
"He had died before Jere and I came back here to live," said Mrs. Burbank.
"The first I remember, Justin Peabody sat in the end seat; the sister that
died, next, and in the corner, against the wall, Mrs. Peabody, with a crape
shawl and a palmleaf fan. They were a handsome family. You used to sit with
them sometimes, Nancy; Esther was great friends with you."
"Yes, she was," Nancy replied, lifting the tattered cushion from its place and
brushing it; "and I with her. What is the use of scrubbing and carpeting, when
there are only twenty pew-cushions and six hassocks in the whole church, and
most of them ragged? How can I ever mend this?"
"I should n't trouble myself to darn other people's cushions!" This
unchristian sentiment came in Mrs. Miller's ringing tones from the rear of the
"I don't know why," argued Maria Sharp. "I'm going to mend my Aunt Achsa's
cushion, and we haven't spoken for years; but hers is the next pew to mine,
and I'm going to have my part of the church look decent, even if she is too
stingy to do her share. Besides, there are n't any Peabodys left to do their
own darning, and Nancy was friends with Esther."
"Yes, it's nothing more than right," Nancy replied, with a note of relief in
her voice, "considering Esther."
"Though he don't belong to the scrubbin' sex, there is one Peabody alive, as
you know, if you stop to think, Maria; for Justin's alive, and livin' out West
somewheres. At least, he's as much alive as ever he was; he was as good as
dead when he was twenty-one, but his mother was always too soft-hearted to
There was considerable laughter over this sally of the outspoken Mrs. Sargent,
whose keen wit was the delight of the neighborhood.
"I know he's alive and doing business in Detroit, for I got his address a week
or ten days ago, and wrote, asking him if he'd like to give a couple of
dollars toward repairing the old church."
Everybody looked at Mrs. Burbank with interest.
"Has n't he answered?" asked Maria Sharp. Nancy Wentworth held her breath,
turned her face to the wall, and silently wiped the paint of the wainscoting.
The blood that had rushed into her cheeks at Mrs. Sargent's jeering reference
to Justin Peabody still lingered there for any one who ran to read, but
fortunately nobody ran; they were too busy scrubbing.
"Not yet. Folks don't hurry about answering when you ask them for a
contribution," replied the president, with a cynicism common to persons who
collect funds for charitable purposes. "George Wickham sent me twenty-five
cents from Denver. When I wrote him a receipt, I said thank you same as Aunt
Polly did when the neighbors brought her a piece of beef: 'Ever so much
obleeged, but don't forget me when you come to kill a pig.'--Now, Mrs. Baxter,
you shan't clean James Bruce's pew, or what was his before he turned Second
Advent. I'll do that myself, for he used to be in my Sunday-School class."
"He's the backbone o' that congregation now," asserted Mrs. Sargent, "and they
say he's goin' to marry Mrs. Sam Peters, who sings in their choir, as soon as
his year is up. They make a perfect fool of him in that church."
"You can't make a fool of a man that nature ain't begun with," argued Miss
Brewster. "Jim Bruce never was very strong-minded, but I declare it seems to
me that when men lose their wives, they lose their wits! I was sure Jim would
marry Hannah Thompson that keeps house for him. I suspected she was lookin'
out for a life job when she hired out with him."
"Hannah Thompson may keep Jim's house, but she'll never keep Jim, that's
certain!" affirmed the president; "and I can't see that Mrs. Peters will
better herself much."
"I don't blame her, for one!" came in no uncertain tones from the left-wing
pews, and the Widow Buzzell rose from her knees and approached the group by
the pulpit. "If there's anything duller than cookin' three meals a day for
yourself, and settin' down and eatin' 'em by yourself, and then gettin' up and
clearin' 'em away after yourself, I'd like to know it! I should n't want any
good-lookin', pleasant-spoken man to offer himself to me without he expected
to be snapped up, that's all! But if you've made out to get one husband in
York County, you can thank the Lord and not expect any more favors. I used to
think Tom was poor comp'ny and complain I could n't have any conversation with
him, but land, I could talk at him, and there's considerable comfort in that.
And I could pick up after him! Now every room in my house is clean, and every
closet and bureau drawer, too; I can't start drawin' in another rug, for I've
got all the rugs I can step foot on. I dried so many apples last year I shan't
need to cut up any this season. My jelly and preserves ain't out, and there I
am; and there most of us are, in this village, without a man to take steps for
and trot 'round after! There's just three husbands among the fifteen women
scrubbin' here now, and the rest of us is all old maids and widders. No wonder
the men-folks die, or move away, like Justin Peabody; a place with such a mess
o' women-folks ain't healthy to live in, whatever Lobelia Brewster may say."
Justin Peabody had once faithfully struggled with the practical difficulties
of life in Edgewood, or so he had thought, in those old days of which Nancy
Wentworth was thinking when she wiped the paint of the Peabody pew. Work in
the mills did not attract him; he had no capital to invest in a stock of goods
for store-keeping; school-teaching offered him only a pittance; there remained
then only the farm, if he were to stay at home and keep his mother company.
"Justin don't seem to take no holt of things," said the neighbors.
"Good Heavens!" It seemed to him that there were no things to take hold of!
That was his first thought; later he grew to think that the trouble all lay in
himself, and both thoughts bred weakness.
The farm had somehow supported the family in the old Deacon's time, but Justin
seemed unable to coax a competence from the soil. He could, and did, rise
early and work late; till the earth, sow crops; but he could not make the rain
fall nor the sun shine at the times he needed them, and the elements, however
much they might seem to favor his neighbors, seldom smiled on his enterprises.
The crows liked Justin's corn better than any other in Edgewood. It had a
richness peculiar to itself, a quality that appealed to the most jaded palate,
so that it was really worth while to fly over a mile of intervening fields and
pay it the delicate compliment of preference.
Justin could explain the attitude of caterpillars, worms, grasshoppers, and
potato-bugs toward him only by assuming that he attracted them as the magnet
in the toy boxes attracts the miniature fishes.
"Land o' liberty! look at 'em congregate!" ejaculated Jabe Slocum, when he was
called in for consultation. "Now if you'd gone in for breedin' insecks, you
could be as proud as Cuffy an' exhibit 'em at the County Fair! They'd give yer
prizes for size an' numbers an' speed, I guess! Why, say, they're real crowded
for room--the plants ain't give 'em enough leaves to roost on! Have you tried
"It acts like a tonic on them," said Justin gloomily.
"Sho! you don't say so! Now mine can't abide the sight nor smell of it. What
'bout Paris green?"
"They thrive on it; it's as good as an appetizer."
"Well," said Jabe Slocum, revolving the quid of tobacco in his mouth
reflectively, "the bug that ain't got no objection to p'ison is a bug that's
got ways o' thinkin' an' feelin' an' reasonin' that I ain't able to cope with!
P'r'aps it's all a leadin' o' Providence. Mebbe it shows you'd ought to quit
farmin' crops an' take to raisin' live stock!"
Justin did just that, as a matter of fact, a year or two later; but stock that
has within itself the power of being "live" has also rare qualification for
being dead when occasion suits, and it generally did suit Justin's stock. It
proved prone not only to all the general diseases that cattle-flesh is heir
to, but was capable even of suicide. At least, it is true that two valuable
Jersey calves, tied to stakes on the hillside, had flung themselves violently
down the bank and strangled themselves with their own ropes in a manner which
seemed to show that they found no pleasure in existence, at all events on the
These were some of the little tragedies that had sickened young Justin Peabody
with life in Edgewood, and Nancy Wentworth, even then, realized some of them
and sympathized without speaking, in a girl's poor, helpless way.
Mrs. Simpson had washed the floor in the right wing of the church and Nancy
had cleaned all the paint. Now she sat in the old Peabody pew darning the
forlorn, faded cushion with gray carpet-thread; thread as gray as her own
The scrubbing-party had moved to its labors in a far corner of the church, and
two of the women were beginning preparations for the basket luncheons. Nancy's
needle was no busier than her memory. Long years ago she had often sat in the
Peabody pew, sometimes at first as a girl of sixteen when asked by Esther, and
then, on coming home from school at eighteen, "finished," she had been invited
now and again by Mrs. Peabody herself, on those Sundays when her own invalid
mother had not attended service.
Those were wonderful Sundays--Sundays of quiet, trembling peace and maiden
Justin sat beside her, and she had been sure then, but had long since grown to
doubt the evidence of her senses, that he, too, vibrated with pleasure at the
nearness. Was there not a summer morning when his hand touched her white lace
mitt as they held the hymn-book together, and the lines of the
Rise, my soul, and stretch thy wings,
Thy better portion trace,
became blurred on the page and melted into something indistinguishable for a
full minute or two afterward? Were there not looks, and looks, and looks? Or
had she some misleading trick of vision in those days? Justin's dark, handsome
profile rose before her: the level brows and fine lashes; the well-cut nose
and lovable mouth--the Peabody mouth and chin, somewhat too sweet and pliant
for strength, perhaps. Then the eyes turned to hers in the old way, just for a
fleeting glance, as they had so often done at prayer-meeting, or sociable, or
Sunday service. Was it not a man's heart she had seen in them? And oh, if she
could only be sure that her own woman's heart had not looked out from hers,
drawn from its maiden shelter in spite of all her wish to keep it hidden!
Then followed two dreary years of indecision and suspense, when Justin's eyes
met hers less freely; when his looks were always gloomy and anxious; when
affairs at the Peabody farm grew worse and worse; when his mother followed her
husband, the old Deacon, and her daughter Esther to the burying-ground in the
churchyard. Then the end of all things came, the end of the world for Nancy:
Justin's departure for the West in a very frenzy of discouragement over the
narrowness and limitation and injustice of his lot; over the rockiness and
barrenness and unkindness of the New England soil; over the general bitterness
of fate and the "bludgeonings of chance."
He was a failure, born of a family of failures. If the world owed him a
living, he had yet to find the method by which it could be earned. All this he
thought and uttered, and much more of the same sort. In these days of humbled
pride self was paramount, though it was a self he despised. There was no time
for love. Who was he for a girl to lean upon?--he who could not stand erect
He bade a stiff goodbye to his neighbors, and to Nancy he vouchsafed little
more. A handshake, with no thrill of love in it such as might have furnished
her palm, at least, some memories to dwell upon; a few stilted words of
leave-taking; a halting, meaningless sentence or two about his "botch" of
life--then he walked away from the Wentworth doorstep. But halfway down the
garden path, where the shriveled hollyhocks stood like sentinels, did a wave
of something different sweep over him--a wave of the boyish, irresponsible
past when his heart had wings and could fly without fear to its mate--a wave
of the past that was rushing through Nancy's mind, wellnigh burying her in its
bitter-sweet waters. For he lifted his head, and suddenly retracing his steps,
he came toward her, and, taking her hand again, said forlornly: "You 'll see
me back when my luck turns, Nancy."
Nancy knew that the words might mean little or much, according to the manner
in which they were uttered, but to her hurt pride and sore, shamed
woman-instinct, they were a promise, simply because there was a choking sound
in Justin's voice and tears in Justin's eyes. "You 'll see me back when my
luck turns, Nancy"; this was the phrase upon which she had lived for more than
ten years. Nancy had once heard the old parson say, ages ago, that the whole
purpose of life was the growth of the soul; that we eat, sleep, clothe
ourselves, work, love, all to give the soul another day, month, year, in which
to develop. She used to wonder if her soul could be growing in the monotonous
round of her dull duties and her duller pleasures. She did not confess it even
to herself; nevertheless she knew that she worked, ate, slept, to live until
Justin's luck turned. Her love had lain in her heart a bird without a song,
year after year. Her mother had dwelt by her side and never guessed; her
father, too; and both were dead. The neighbors also, lynx-eyed and curious,
had never suspected. If she had suffered, no one in Edgewood was any the
wiser, for the maiden heart is not commonly worn on the sleeve in New England.
If she had been openly pledged to Justin Peabody, she could have waited twice
ten years with a decent show of self-respect, for long engagements were viewed
rather as a matter of course in that neighborhood. The endless months had gone
on since that gray November day when Justin had said goodbye. It had been just
before Thanksgiving, and she went to church with an aching and ungrateful
heart. The parson read from the eighth chapter of St. Matthew, a most
unexpected selection for that holiday. "If you can't find anything else to be
thankful for," he cried, "go home and be thankful you are not a leper!"
Nancy took the drastic counsel away from the church with her, and it was many
a year before she could manage to add to this slender store anything to
increase her gratitude for mercies given, though all the time she was
outwardly busy, cheerful, and helpful.
Justin had once come back to Edgewood, and it was the bitterest drop in her
cup of bitterness that she was spending that winter in Berwick (where, so the
neighbors told him, she was a great favorite in society, and was receiving
much attention from gentlemen), so that she had never heard of his visit until
the spring had come again. Parted friends did not keep up with one another's
affairs by means of epistolary communication, in those days, in Edgewood; it
was not the custom. Spoken words were difficult enough to Justin Peabody, and
written words were quite impossible, especially if they were to be used to
define his half-conscious desires and his fluctuations of will, or to recount
his disappointments and discouragements and mistakes.
It was Saturday afternoon, the 24th of December, and the weary sisters of the
Dorcas band rose from their bruised knees and removed their little stores of
carpet-tacks from their mouths. This was a feminine custom of long standing,
and as no village dressmaker had ever died of pins in the digestive organs, so
were no symptoms of carpet-tacks ever discovered in any Dorcas, living or
dead. Men wondered at the habit and reviled it, but stood confounded in the
presence of its indubitable harmlessness.
The red ingrain carpet was indeed very warm, beautiful, and comforting to the
eye, and the sisters were suitably grateful to Providence, and devoutly
thankful to themselves, that they had been enabled to buy, sew, and lay so
many yards of it. But as they stood looking at their completed task, it was
cruelly true that there was much left to do.
The aisles had been painted dark brown on each side of the red strips leading
from the doors to the pulpit, but the rest of the church floor was "a thing of
shreds and patches." Each member of the carpet committee had paid (as a matter
of pride, however ill she could afford it) three dollars and sixty-seven cents
for sufficient carpet to lay in her own pew; but these brilliant spots of
conscientious effort only made the stretches of bare, unpainted floor more
evident. And that was not all. Traces of former spasmodic and individual
efforts desecrated the present ideals. The doctor's pew had a pink-and-blue
Brussels on it; the lawyer's, striped stair-carpeting; the Browns from
Deerwander sported straw matting and were not abashed; while the Greens, the
Whites, the Blacks, and the Grays displayed floor coverings as dissimilar as
"I never noticed it before!" exclaimed Maria Sharp, "but it ain't Christian,
that floor! it's heathenish and ungodly!"
"For mercy's sake, don't swear, Maria," said Mrs. Miller nervously. "We've
done our best, and let's hope that folks will look up and not down. It is n't
as if they were going to set in the chandelier; they'll have something else to
think about when Nancy gets her hemlock branches and white carnations in the
pulpit vases. This morning my Abner picked off two pinks from a plant I've
been nursing in my dining-room for weeks, trying to make it bloom for
Christmas. I slapped his hands good, and it's been haunting me ever since to
think I had to correct him the day before Christmas.--Come, Lobelia, we must
"One thing comforts me," exclaimed the Widow Buzzell, as she took her hammer
and tacks preparatory to leaving; "and that is that the Methodist
meetin'-house ain't got any carpet at all."
"Mrs. Buzzell, Mrs. Buzzell!" interrupted the minister's wife, with a smile
that took the sting from her speech. "It will be like punishing little Abner
Miller; if we think those thoughts on Christmas Eve, we shall surely be
"And anyway," interjected Maria Sharp, who always saved the situation, "you
just wait and see if the Methodists don't say they'd rather have no carpet at
all than have one that don't go all over the floor. I know 'em!" and she put
on her hood and blanket-shawl as she gave one last fond look at the
"I'm going home to get my supper, and come back afterward to lay the carpet in
my pew; my beans and brown bread will be just right by now, and perhaps it
will rest me a little; besides, I must feed 'Zekiel."
As Nancy Wentworth spoke, she sat in a corner of her own modest rear seat,
looking a little pale and tired. Her waving dark hair had loosened and fallen
over her cheeks, and her eyes gleamed from under it wistfully. Nowadays
Nancy's eyes never had the sparkle of gazing into the future, but always the
liquid softness that comes from looking backward.
"The church will be real cold by then, Nancy," objected Mrs. Burbank.--
"Good-night, Mrs. Baxter."
"Oh, no! I shall be back by half-past six, and I shall not work long. Do you
know what I believe I'll do, Mrs. Burbank, just through the holidays?
Christmas and New Year's both coming on Sunday this year, there'll be a great
many out to church, not counting the strangers that'll come to the special
service tomorrow. Instead of putting down my own pew carpet that'll never be
noticed here in the back, I'll lay it in the old Peabody pew, for the red
aisle-strip leads straight up to it; the ministers always go up that side, and
it does look forlorn."
"That's so! And all the more because my pew, that's exactly opposite in the
left wing, is new carpeted and cushioned," replied the president. "I think
it's real generous of you, Nancy, because the Riverboro folks, knowing that
you're a member of the carpet committee, will be sure to notice, and think
it's queer you have n't made an effort to carpet your own pew."
"Never mind!" smiled Nancy wearily. "Riverboro folks never go to bed on
Saturday nights without wondering what Edgewood is thinking about them!"
The minister's wife stood at her window watching Nancy as she passed the
"How wasted! How wasted!" she sighed. "Going home to eat her lonely supper and
feed 'Zekiel.... I can bear it for the others, but not for Nancy .... Now she
has lighted her lamp,... now she has put fresh pine on the fire, for new smoke
comes from the chimney. Why should I sit down and serve my dear husband, and
Nancy feed 'Zekiel?"
There was some truth in Mrs. Baxter's feeling. Mrs. Buzzell, for instance, had
three sons; Maria Sharp was absorbed in her lame father and her Sunday-School
work; and Lobelia Brewster would not have considered matrimony a blessing,
even under the most favorable conditions. But Nancy was framed and planned for
other things, and 'Zekiel was an insufficient channel for her soft, womanly
sympathy and her bright activity of mind and body.
'Zekiel had lost his tail in a mowing-machine; 'Zekiel had the asthma, and the
immersion of his nose in milk made him sneeze, so he was wont to slip his paw
in and out of the dish and lick it patiently for five minutes together. Nancy
often watched him pityingly, giving him kind and gentle words to sustain his
fainting spirit, but tonight she paid no heed to him, although he sneezed
violently to attract her attention.
She had put her supper on the lighted table by the kitchen window and was
pouring out her cup of tea, when a boy rapped at the door. "Here's a paper and
a letter, Miss Wentworth," he said. "It's the second this week, and they think
over to the store that that Berwick widower must be settin' up and takin'
She had indeed received a letter the day before, an unsigned communication,
consisting only of the words,--
Second Epistle of John. Verse x2.
She had taken her Bible to look out the reference and found it to be:--
Having many tilings to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink:
but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be
The envelope was postmarked New York, and she smiled, thinking that Mrs.
Emerson, a charming lady who had spent the summer in Edgewood, and had sung
with her in the village choir, was coming back, as she had promised, to have a
sleigh ride and see Edgewood in its winter dress. Nancy had almost forgotten
the first letter in the excitements of her busy day, and now here was another,
from Boston this time. She opened the envelope and found again only a sipgle
sentence, printed, not written. (Lest she should guess the hand, she
Second Epistle of John. Verse 5.--
And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment
unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one
Was it Mrs. Emerson? Could it be--any one else? Was it? No, it might have
been, years ago; but not now; not now!--And yet; he was always so different
from other people; and once, in church, he had handed her the hymn-book with
his finger pointing to a certain verse.
She always fancied that her secret fidelity of heart rose from the fact that
Justin Peabody was "different." From the hour of their first acquaintance, she
was ever comparing him with his companions, and always to his advantage. So
long as a woman finds all men very much alike (as Lobelia Brewster did, save
that she allowed some to be worse!), she is in no danger. But the moment in
which she perceives and discriminates subtle differences, marveling that there
can be two opinions about a man's superiority, that moment the miracle has
And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment
unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one
No, it could not be from Justin. She drank her tea, played with her beans
abstractedly, and nibbled her slice of steaming brown bread.
Not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee.
No, not a new one; twelve, fifteen years old, that commandment!
That we love one another.
Who was speaking? Who had written these words? The first letter sounded just
like Mrs. Emerson, who had said she was a very poor correspondent, but that
she should just "drop down" on Nancy one of these days; but this second letter
never came from Mrs. Emerson.--Well, there would be an explanation some time;
a pleasant one; one to smile over, and tell 'Zekiel and repeat to the
neighbors; but not an unexpected, sacred, beautiful explanation, such a one as
the heart of a woman could imagine, if she were young enough and happy enough
to hope. She washed her cup and plate; replaced the uneaten beans in the brown
pot, and put them away with the round loaf, folded the cloth (Lobelia Brewster
said Nancy always "set out her meals as if she was entertainin' company from
Portland"), closed the stove dampers, carried the lighted lamp to a safe
corner shelf, and lifted 'Zekiel to his cushion on the high-backed rocker,
doing all with the nice precision of long habit. Then she wrapped herself
warmly, and locking the lonely little house behind her, set out to finish her
work in the church.
At this precise moment Justin Peabody was eating his own beans and brown bread
(articles of diet of which his Detroit landlady was lamentably ignorant) at
the new tavern, not far from the meeting-house.
It would not be fair to him to say that Mrs. Burbank's letter had brought him
back to Edgewood, but it had certainly accelerated his steps.
For the first six years after Justin Peabody left home, he had drifted about
from place to place, saving every possible dollar of his uncertain earnings in
the conscious hope that he could go back to New England and ask Nancy
Wentworth to marry him. The West was prosperous and progressive, but how he
yearned, in idle moments, for the grimmer and more sterile soil that had given
Then came what seemed to him a brilliant chance for a lucky turn of his
savings, and he invested them in an enterprise which, wonderfully as it
promised, failed within six months and left him penniless. At that moment he
definitely gave up all hope, and for the next few years he put Nancy as far as
possible out of his mind, in the full belief that he was acting an honorable
part in refusing to drag her into his tangled and fruitless way of life. If
she ever did care for him,--and he could not be sure, she was always so shy,--
she must have outgrown the feeling long since, and be living happily, or at
least contentedly, in her own way. He was glad in spite of himself when he
heard that she had never married; but at least he had n't it on his conscience
that _he_ had kept her single!
On the 17th of December, Justin, his business day over, was walking toward the
dreary house in which he ate and slept. As he turned the corner, he heard one
woman say to another, as they watched a man stumbling sorrowfully down the
street: "Going home will be the worst of all for him--to find nobody there!"
That was what going home had meant for him these ten years, but he afterward
felt it strange that this thought should have struck him so forcibly on that
particular day. Entering the boarding-house, he found Mrs. Burbank's letter
with its Edgewood postmark on the hall table, and took it up to his room. He
kindled a little fire in the air-tight stove, watching the flame creep from
shavings to kindlings, from kindlings to small pine, and from small pine to
the round, hardwood sticks; then when the result seemed certain, he closed the
stove door and sat down to read the letter. Whereupon all manner of strange
things happened in his head and heart and flesh and spirit as he sat there
alone, his hands in his pockets, his feet braced against the legs of the
It was a cold winter night, and the snow and sleet beat against the windows.
He looked about the ugly room: at the washstand with its square of oilcloth in
front and its detestable bowl and pitcher; at the rigors of his white iron
bedstead, with the valley in the middle of the lumpy mattress and the darns in
the rumpled pillowcases; at the dull photographs of the landlady's hideous
husband and children enshrined on the mantelshelf; looked at the abomination
of desolation surrounding him until his soul sickened and cried out like a
child's for something more like home. It was as if a spring thaw had melted
his ice-bound heart, and on the crest of a wave it was drifting out into the
milder waters of some unknown sea. He could have laid his head in the kind lap
of a woman and cried: "Comfort me! Give me companionship or I die!"
The wind howled in the chimney and rattled the loose window-sashes; the snow,
freezing as it fell, dashed against the glass with hard, cutting little blows;
at least, that is the way in which the wind and snow flattered themselves they
were making existence disagreeable to Justin Peabody when he read the letter;
but never were elements more mistaken.
It was a June Sunday in the boarding-house bedroom; and for that matter it was
not the boarding-house bedroom at all: it was the old Orthodox church on Tory
Hill in Edgewood. The windows were wide open, and the smell of the purple
clover and the humming of the bees were drifting into the sweet, wide spaces
within. Justin was sitting in the end of the Peabody pew, and Nancy Wentworth
was beside him; Nancy, cool and restful in her white dress; dark-haired Nancy
under the shadow of her shirred muslin hat.
Rise, my soul, and stretch thy wings,
Thy better portion trace.
The melodeon gave the tune, and Nancy and he stood to sing, taking the book
between them. His hand touched hers, and as the music of the hymn rose and
fell, the future unrolled itself before his eyes: a future in which Nancy was
his wedded wife; and the happy years stretched on and on in front of them
until there was a row of little heads in the old Peabody pew, and mother and
father could look proudly along the line at the young things they were
bringing into the house of the Lord.
The recalling of that vision worked like magic in Justin's blood. His soul
rose and stretched its wings and "traced its better portion" vividly, as he
sprang to his feet and walked up and down the bedroom floor. He would get a
few days' leave and go back to Edgewood for Christmas, to join, with all the
old neighbors, in the service at the meetinghouse; and in pursuance of this
resolve, he shook his fist in the face of the landlady's husband on the
mantelpiece and dared him to prevent.
He had a salary of fifty dollars a month, with some very slight prospect of an
increase after January. He did not see how two persons could eat, and drink,
and lodge, and dress on it in Detroit, but he proposed to give Nancy Wentworth
the refusal of that magnificent future, that brilliant and tempting offer. He
had exactly one hundred dollars in the bank, and sixty or seventy of them
would be spent in the journeys, counting two happy, blessed fares back from
Edgewood to Detroit; and if he paid only his own fare back, he would throw the
price of the other into the pond behind the Wentworth house. He would drop
another ten dollars into the plate on Christmas Day toward the repairs on the
church; if he starved, he would do that. He was a failure. Everything his hand
touched turned to naught. He looked himself full in the face, recognizing his
weakness, and in this supremest moment of recognition he was a stronger man
than he had been an hour before. His drooping shoulders had straightened; the
restless look had gone from his eyes; his somber face had something of repose
in it, the repose of a settled purpose. He was a failure, but perhaps if he
took the risks (and if Nancy would take them--but that was the trouble, women
were so unselfish, they were always willing to take risks, and one ought not
to let them!), perhaps he might do better in trying to make a living for two
than he had in working for himself alone. He would go home, tell Nancy that he
was an unlucky good-for-naught, and ask her if she would try her hand at
making him over.
These were the reasons that had brought Justin Peabody to Edgewood on the
Saturday afternoon before Christmas, and had taken him to the new tavern on
Tory Hill, near the meeting-house.
Nobody recognized him at the station or noticed him at the tavern, and after
his supper he put on his overcoat and started out for a walk, aimlessly hoping
that he might meet a friend, or failing that, intending to call on some of his
old neighbors, with the view of hearing the village news and securing some
information which might help him to decide when he had better lay himself and
his misfortunes at Nancy Wentworth's feet. They were pretty feet! He
remembered that fact well enough under the magical influence of familiar
sights and sounds and odors. He was restless, miserable, anxious,
homesick--not for Detroit, but for some heretofore unimagined good; yet, like
Bunyan's shepherd boy in the Valley of humiliation, he carried "the herb
called Heartsease in his bosom," for he was at last loving consciously.
How white the old church looked, and how green the blinds! It must have been
painted very lately: that meant that the parish was fairly prosperous. There
were new shutters in the belfry tower, too; he remembered the former open
space and the rusty bell, and he liked the change. Did the chimney use to be
in that corner? No; but his father had always said it would have drawn better
if it had been put there in the beginning. New shingles within a year: that
was evident to a practiced eye. He wondered if anything had been done to the
inside of the building, but he must wait until the morrow to see, for, of
course, the doors would be locked. No; the one at the right side was ajar. He
opened it softly and stepped into the tiny square entry that he recalled so
well--the one through which the Sunday-School children ran out to the steps
from their catechism, apparently enjoying the sunshine after a spell of
orthodoxy; the little entry where the village girls congregated while waiting
for the last bell to ring--they made a soft blur of pink and blue and buff, a
little flutter of curls and braids and fans and sun-shades, in his mind's eye,
as he closed the outer door behind him and gently opened the inner one. The
church was flooded with moon-light and snowlight, and there was one lamp
burning at the back of the pulpit; a candle, too, on the pulpit steps. There
was the tip-tap-tip of a tack-hammer going on in a distant corner. Was
somebody hanging Christmas garlands? The new red carpet attracted his notice,
and as he grew accustomed to the dim light, it carried his eye along the aisle
he had trod so many years of Sundays, to the old familiar pew. The sound of
the hammer ceased, and a woman rose from her knees. A stranger was doing for
the family honor what he ought himself to have done. The woman turned to shake
her skirt, and it was Nancy Wentworth. He might have known it. Women were
always faithful; they always remembered old land-marks, old days, old friends,
old duties. His father and mother and Esther were all gone; who but dear Nancy
would have made the old Peabody pew right and tidy for the Christmas festival?
Bless her kind, womanly heart!
She looked just the same to him as when he last saw her. Mercifully he seemed
to have held in remembrance all these years not so much her youthful bloom as
her general qualities of mind and heart: her cheeriness, her spirit, her
unflagging zeal, her bright womanliness. Her gray dress was turned up in front
over a crimson moreen petticoat. She had on a cozy jacket, a fur turban of
some sort with a red breast in it, and her cheeks were flushed from exertion.
"Sweet records, and promises as sweet," had always met in Nancy's face, and
either he had forgotten how pretty she was, or else she had absolutely grown
prettier during his absence.
Nancy would have chosen the supreme moment of meeting very differently, but
she might well have chosen worse. She unpinned her skirt and brushed the
threads off, smoothed the pew cushions carefully, and took a last stitch in
the ragged hassock. She then lifted the Bible and the hymn-book from the rack,
and putting down a bit of flannel on the pulpit steps, took a flatiron from an
oil-stove, and opening the ancient books, pressed out the well-thumbed leaves
one by one with infinite care. After replacing the volumes in their accustomed
place, she first extinguished the flame of her stove, which she tucked out of
sight, and then blew out the lamp and the candle. The church was still light
enough for objects to be seen in a shadowy way, like the objects in a dream,
and Justin did not realize that he was a man in the flesh, looking at a woman;
spying, it might be, upon her privacy. He was one part of a dream and she
another, and he stood as if waiting, and fearing, to be awakened.
Nancy, having done all, came out of the pew, and standing in the aisle, looked
back at the scene of her labors with pride and content. And as she looked,
some desire to stay a little longer in the dear old place must have come over
her, or some dread of going back to her lonely cottage, for she sat down in
Justin's corner of the pew with folded hands, her eyes fixed dreamily on the
pulpit and her ears hearing:--
Not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had
from the beginning.
Justin's grasp on the latch tightened as he prepared to close the door and
leave the place, but his instinct did not warn him quickly enough, after all,
for, obeying some uncontrollable impulse, Nancy suddenly fell on her knees in
the pew and buried her face in the cushions. The dream broke, and in an
instant Justin was a man--worse than that, he was an eavesdropper, ashamed of
his unsuspected presence. He felt himself standing, with covered head and feet
shod, in the holy temple of a woman's heart.
But his involuntary irreverence brought abundant grace with it. The glimpse
and the revelation wrought their miracles silently and irresistibly, not by
the slow processes of growth which Nature demands for her enterprises, but
with the sudden swiftness of the spirit. In an instant changes had taken place
in Justin's soul which his so-called "experiencing religion" twenty-five years
back had been powerless to effect. He had indeed been baptized then, but the
recording angel could have borne witness that this second baptism fructified
the first, and became the real herald of the new birth and the new creature.
Justin Peabody silently closed the inner door, and stood in the entry with his
head bent and his heart in a whirl until he should hear Nancy rise to her
feet. He must take this Heaven-sent chance of telling her all, but how do it
without alarming her?
A moment, and her step sounded in the stillness of the empty church.
Obeying the first impulse, he passed through the outer door, and standing on
the step, knocked once, twice, three times; then, opening it a little and
speaking through the chink, he called, "Is Miss Nancy Wentworth here?"
"I'm here!" in a moment came Nancy's answer; and then, with a little wondering
tremor in her voice, as if a hint of the truth had already dawned: "What's
"You're wanted, Nancy, wanted badly, by Justin Peabody, come back from the
The door opened wide, and Justin faced Nancy standing halfway down the aisle,
her eyes brilliant, her lips parted. A week ago Justin's apparition
confronting her in the empty meeting-house after nightfall, even had she been
prepared for it as now, by his voice, would have terrified her beyond measure.
Now it seemed almost natural and inevitable. She had spent these last days in
the church where both of them had been young and happy together; the two
letters had brought him vividly to mind, and her labor in the old Peabody pew
had been one long excursion into the past in which he was the most prominent
and the best-loved figure.
"I said I'd come back to you when my luck turned, Nancy."
These were so precisely the words she expected him to say, should she ever see
him again face to face, that for an additional moment they but heightened her
sense of unreality.
"Well, the luck hasn't turned, after all, but I could n't wait any longer.
Have you given a thought to me all these years, Nancy?"
"More than one, Justin." For the very look upon his face, the tenderness of
his voice, the attitude of his body, outran his words and told her what he had
come home to say, told her that her years of waiting were over at last.
"You ought to despise me for coming back again with only myself and my empty
hands to offer you."
How easy it was to speak his heart out in this dim and quiet place! How
tongue-tied he would have been, sitting on the black hair-cloth sofa in the
Wentworth parlor and gazing at the open soapstone stove!
"Oh, men are such fools!" cried Nancy, smiles and tears struggling together in
her speech, as she sat down suddenly in her own pew and put her hands over her
"They are," agreed Justin humbly; "but I've never stopped loving you, whenever
I've had time for thinking or loving. And I was n't sure that you really cared
anything about me; and how could I have asked you when I had n't a dollar in
"There are other things to give a woman besides dollars, Justin."
"Are there? Well, you shall have them all, every one of them, Nancy, if you
can make up your mind to do without the dollars; for dollars seem to be just
what I can't manage."
Her hand was in his by this time, and they were sitting side by side, in the
cushionless, carpetless Wentworth pew. The door stood open; the winter moon
shone in upon them. That it was beginning to grow cold in the church passed
unnoticed. The grasp of the woman's hand seemed to give the man new hope and
courage, and Justin's warm, confiding, pleading pressure brought balm to
Nancy, balm and healing for the wounds her pride had suffered; joy, too,
half-conscious still, that her life need not be lived to the end in unfruitful
solitude. She had waited, "as some gray lake lies, full and smooth, awaiting
the star below the twilight."
Justin Peabody might have been no other woman's star, but he was Nancy's!
"Just you sitting beside me here makes me. feel as if I'd been asleep or dead
all these years, and just born over again," said Justin. "I've led a
respectable, hard-working, honest life, Nancy," he continued, "and I don't owe
any man a cent; the trouble is that no man owes me one. I've got enough money
to pay two fares back to Detroit on Monday, although I was terribly afraid you
would n't let me do it. It'll need a good deal of thinking and planning,
Nancy, for we shall be very poor."
Nancy had been storing up fidelity and affection deep, deep in the hive of her
heart all these years, and now the honey of her helpfulness stood ready to be
"Could I keep hens in Detroit?" she asked. "I can always make them pay."
"Hens--in three rooms, Nancy?"
Her face fell. "And no yard?"
A moment's pause, and then the smile came. "Oh, well, I've had yards and hens
for thirty-five years. Doing without them will be a change. I can take in
"No, you can't, Nancy. I need your backbone and wits and pluck and ingenuity,
but if I can't ask you to sit with your hands folded for the rest of your
life, as I'd like to, you shan't use them for other people. You're marrying me
to make a man of me, but I'm not marrying you to make you a drudge."
His voice rang clear and true in the silence, and Nancy's heart vibrated at
"O Justin, Justin! there's something wrong somewhere," she whispered, "but
we'll find it out together, you and I, and make it right. You're not like a
failure. You don't even look poor, Justin; there is n't a man in Edgewood to
compare with you, or I should be washing his dishes and darning his stockings
this minute. And I am not a pauper! There'll be the rent of my little house
and a carload of my furniture, so you can put the three-room idea out of your
mind, and your firm will offer you a larger salary when you tell them you have
a wife to take care of. Oh, I see it all, and it is as easy and bright and
happy as can be!"
Justin put his arm around her and drew her close, with such a throb of
gratitude for her belief and trust that it moved him almost to tears. There
was a long pause; then he said:--
"Now I shall call for you tomorrow morning after the last bell has stopped
ringing, and we will walk up the aisle together and sit in the old Peabody
pew. We shall be a nine days' wonder anyway, but this will be equal to an
announcement, especially if you take my arm. We don't either of us like to be
stared at, but this will show without a word what we think of each other and
what we've promised to be to each other, and it's the only thing that will
make me feel sure of you and settled in my mind after all these mistaken
years. Have you got the courage, Nancy?"
"I should n't wonder! I guess if I've had courage enough to wait for you, I've
got courage enough to walk up the aisle with you and marry you besides!" said
Nancy.--"Now it is too late for us to stay here any longer, and you must see
me only as far as my gate, for perhaps you have n't forgotten yet how
interested the Brewsters are in their neighbors."
They stood at the little Wentworth gate for a moment, hand close clasped in
hand. The night was clear, the air was cold and sparkling, but with nothing of
bitterness in it, the sky was steely blue, and the evening star glowed and
burned like a tiny sun. Nancy remembered the shepherd's song she had taught
the Sunday-School children, and repeated softly: --
For I my sheep was watching
Beneath the silent skies,
When sudden, far to eastward,
I saw a star arise;
Then all the peaceful heavens
With sweetest music rang,
And glory, glory, glory!
The happy angels sang.
So I this night am joyful,
Though I can scarce tell why,
It seemeth me that glory
Hath met us very nigh;
And we, though poor and humble,
Have part in heavenly plan,
For, born tonight, the Prince of Peace
Shall rule the heart of man.
Justin's heart melted within him like wax to the woman's vision and the
"Oh, Nancy, Nancy!" he whispered. "If I had brought my bad luck to you long,
long ago, would you have taken me then, and have I lost years of such
happiness as this?"
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