A Gentle Communist

— Main Street, in Derby township, was so carefully guarded by the spreading branches of giant shade-trees that it was difficult to distinguish the unpretending home of Tabitha Treadwell from the more stately mansions of her neighbors. It required no close inspection, after the gateway was passed, to discern a certain air of neglect clinging to her front yard, and making even her yearly crop of turnips a somewhat problematical result from the unkempt garden in the rear.

Nothing within doors breathed of disorder. Even the cooking-stove looked impertinently bright, and at three stated periods each day a wholesome and abundant variety of wellcooked food was served to a lonely woman, unless indeed it so happened that a guest was present. It was a queer dwarfed maid, of uncertain age and equally uncertain temper, who possessed such domestic skill, and it was a smooth-cheeked, plump little Quakeress, about sixty, but simulating forty, to whom her achievements were offered.

Tabitha was born in the rubble-stone annex, and had seen one after another of her family laid beneath the greensward at the base of the hill ; but no more surely were these individuals buried than the hopes and fortune of their survivor. One thing alone remained to sustain the cheerful, rotund matron, and that was her invincible belief in the duty of others to provide for her. There had been times and seasons when some rash Friend had felt it right to remind the good dame that her own hands were made for activity ; but Tabitha always responded that she was not disposed to break down the excellent health with which the Lord had blessed her ; and indeed, how otherwise would the dwarf Johanna be provided for ?— forgetting to add that the wages for her handmaid were the never-failing result of certain quarterly visits that the contented mistress paid to some of her well-to-do neighbors.

The particular resort of this odd householder was to her immediate companion in meeting, the owner of a beautiful homestead near by. Her own garden might remain uncared for, but certainly her table would be well supplied with seasonable vegetables. For fruit she confessed a peculiar fondness, and the best varieties always appeared before her in plenty. As to fresh eggs and poultry, no fowls had she ever reared, but it was a frequent subject of her remark to others that she believed in a community of interests, and therefore carefully saved the household scraps to carry across the garden to the prolific hens of Friend Jonathan Biddle. It is necessary to state, however, that the daughters of Friend Biddle were sometimes disposed to find fault with this unconventional method of getting one’s living ; but they were always reprimanded by their gentle mother, whose open hand was never drawn back from the needy. She had, moreover, a keen sense of hummor, and, with all her meekness, enjoyed many a quiet smile at Tabitha ’s eccentricities.

It so happened that, during a peculiarly warm season, the large house was filled with guests, and on more than one occasion Mercy Biddle asked for a little extra help from Johanna. She gave it, indeed, and very good help it was ; but instead of accommodating her neighbor at an early hour in the morning, Johanna did not appear until all the household work had been done in the most particular manner at home.

Friend Biddle mildly inquired whether she could not come sooner in the day, and was confronted by Tabitha in fresh and spotless linen.

“ Thee must not forget, Mercy, that those who are not blessed with thy portion of worldly goods are as liable to distress of mind when their domestic affairs are neglected.”

That very afternoon, Tabitha came in person to say that she wished to be taken in the Biddles’ carriage to call upon a sick woman ; adding with some severity, when her request was granted, “ It is only right, Mercy, that I remind thee that thy material possessions are but loaned thee, and that the Lord who lends also wishes thee to bestow freely.” And as the carriage deposited the calm woman at the door again, she thanked the good neighbor by alluding to her desire to have a drive frequently, since her appetite seemed increased thereby.

It would be unjust to suppose that Tabitha was a selfish person. Many there be in Derby township to-day who can recall her exceeding goodness in time of distress. Was there a sick woman with a family of little children ? Tabitha took the flock to her home and gave them all a romp in Friend Biddle’s orchard; sending them back to their parents at last with well-filled baskets. Who was it that might be summoned in a moment to help out in entertaining, or to fill a vacancy in a board meeting? Always Tabitha Treadwell : and she served in the most satisfactory manner. If a Friend had a “ minute ” to visit certain localities and speak to family gatherings, Tabitha was deputed to accompany her. Indeed, it was the impression her cheery presence made upon strangers that the families talked about most, after the preacher and her companion had left them. Everybody remembered her, too, for one of many peculiarities. She could not make a bed. True, she apologized on the occasion of each visit, mentioning Johanna’s dexterity in this labor, as if the lustre of the dwarf’s domestic glory was reflected upon her mistress. Of course the bed was made chiefly by the preaching Friend, but no one thought the worse of Tabitha.

She was very hospitable ; her spare chamber was frequently put at the service of those who were pressed with too much company. Did a carriage - load arrive unexpectedly to dine, she greeted them warmly : “Glad indeed to see thee and thine. Inconvenience me ? Oh dear, no ! Fortunately we have a roast to-day.” The roast generally turned out to be of two or three pounds, flanked by an extra portion of vegetables hastily gathered in the communistic way.

The Friend who sold her a winter’s supply of fuel contented himself with the payment implied in her trite remark, “Those who give to the poor are lending to the Lord, Samuel.” The fishermen knew that a fresh bass or a string of perch would be well received, and counted only on her smile ; and it is a question whether smiles ought not to go further in the coinage of worldly favor than they do. She was as careful in her choice of golden butter balls, and as particular in her charges to the dairyman regarding the quality of his cream served daily, as though she paid a premium on his wares, instead of expecting a considerable reduction.

Her wardrobe was steadily replenished. To quote her oft - repeated saying, “ It is poor economy to allow one’s garments to run short ; better to add a little continually.” And how was this economy practiced ? By a timely mention : “ I trust I do not offend Friends by wearing this bonnet, which is somewhat soiled.” Or, more pointedly, “ Mercy, why does thee permit me to appear at meeting in a gown that thee would hesitate to wear ?” And immediately the new dress and the new bonnet were forthcoming.

Did one of Friend Biddle’s daughters remonstrate against a lavish expenditure in this direction, the good mother mollified her by answering, “ Perhaps thee does not realize what it would be to have nothing of thy very own.”

Then, too, Tabitha was so dainty in her ways, so irreproachably “ Friendly ” in all the bearing of her garments, that it was an æsthetic delight to watch her walk into meeting. More than once she was mistaken for the proprietor of the establishment whose benefits she enjoyed, and without the faintest embarrassment she would say, “ Yes, my lot has fallen in pleasant places. Mercy and I take great comfort in the gifts of our Creator.”

Perhaps the most serious trial that her neighbor ever passed through with her was in regard to a certain new variety of raspberry, then very valuable, and of which Jonathan Biddle had procured a half dozen roots. These he had cultivated with extreme care, and had watched and patiently awaited the ripening of a few clusters of delicious-looking fruit. He had destined them for the refreshment of a certain Friend, many years an invalid, and he had already spoken to his own household in reference to this disposition. It must have been a trial, therefore, when the good man, wandering through his garden after tea, one evening, saw Tabitha Treadwell calmly gathering the reward of his horticultural labors. As he related the story to Mercy, Jonathan admitted that a strain of impatience crept into his voice as he discovered his loss.

“ Tabitha,” he said, “ I can but think thee is taking great liberty in my garden.”

The plump face, rosy with health and exercise, turned full upon him, and the calm voice responded, “ The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof ;” then Tabitha continued to gather the berries, and Jonathan found his immediate way back to the house. Later in the evening he made a call upon the invalid for whom the fruit was originally destined, and, to his surprise, saw on a stand beside the bed a clear glass bowl filled with the choice product of his bushes.

“ Look, Jonathan,” said the sick man with a pleased air, “ behold the result of a kindly thought in the mind of Tabitha Treadwell. I had not realized how varied is the handiwork of the Creator in this direction. I must beg thee to taste these berries ; ” and the aggrieved man partook of his own fruit, and extolled its excellence. Then he walked home with a humble heart, querying within himself what possible difference it could make who bore the present to the poor invalid.

“ Tabitha’s thought was as kindly as my own,” he murmured, “ and I rejoice that the Spirit of the Lord turned my wrath into an occasion of blessing.”