IT was sacrament Sabbath in the little Seceder congregation at Blue Mound. Vehicles denoting various degrees of prosperity were beginning to arrive before the white meeting-house that stood in a patch of dog-fennel by the roadside.
The elders were gathered in a solemn, bareheaded group on the shady side of the building, arranging matters of deep spiritual portent connected with the serving of the tables. The women entered the church as they arrived, carrying or leading their fat, sunburned, awe-stricken children, and sat in subdued and reverent silence in the unpainted pews. There was a smell of pine and peppermint and last week’s gingerbread in the room, and a faint rustle of bonnet strings and silk mantillas as each newcomer moved down the aisle ; but there was no turning of heads or vain, indecorous curiosity concerning arrivals on the part of those already in the pews.
Outside, the younger men moved about slowly in their creased black clothes, or stood in groups talking covertly of the corn planting which had begun ; there was an evident desire to compensate by lowered voices and lack of animated speech for the manifest irreverence of the topic.
Marg’et Ann and her mother came in the farm wagon, that the assisting minister, the Rev. Samuel McClanahan, who was to preach the “ action sermon, ” might ride in the buggy with the pastor. There were four wooden chairs in the box of the wagon, and the floor was strewn with sweet-scented timothy and clover. Mrs. Morrison and Miss Nancy McClanahan, who had come with her brother from Cedar Township to communion, sat in two of the chairs, and Marg’et Ann and her younger sister occupied the others. One of the boys sat on the high spring seat with his brother Laban, who drove the team, and the other children were distributed on the hay between their elders.
Marg’et Ann wore her mother’s changeable silk made over and a cottage bonnet with pink silk strings and skirt and a white ruche with a wreath of pink flowers in the face trimming. Her brown hair was combed over her ears like a sheet of burnished bronze and held out by puff combs, and she had a wide, embroidered collar, shaped like a halo, fastened by a cairngorm in a square setting of gold.
Miss Nancy McClanahan and her mother talked in a subdued way of the fast day services, and of the death of Squire Davidson, who lived the other side of the creek, and the probable resuit of Esther Jane Skinner’s trouble with her chest. There was a tacit avoidance of all subjects pertaining to the flesh except its ailments, but there was no long-faced hypocrisy in the tones or manner of the two women. Marg’et Ann listened to them and watched the receding perspective of the corn rows in the brown fields. She had her token tied securely in the corner of her handkerchief, and every time she felt it she thought regretfully of Lloyd Archer. She had hoped he would make a confession of faith this communion, but he had not come before the session at all. She knew he had doubts concerning close communion, and she had heard him say that certain complications of predestination and free will did not appear reasonable to him. Marg’et Ann thought it very daring of him to exact reasonableness of those in spiritual high places. She would as soon have thought of criticising the Creator for making the sky blue instead of green as for any of His immutable decrees as set forth in the Confession of Faith. It did not prevent her liking Lloyd Archer that her father and several of the elders whom he had ventured to engage in religions discussion pronounced him a dangerous young man, but it made it impossible for her to marry him. So she had been quite anxious that he should see his way clear to join the church.
They had talked about it during intermission last Sabbath; but Marg’et Ann, having arrived at her own position by a process of complete self-abnegation, found it hard to know how to proceed with this stalwart sinner who insisted upon understanding things. It is true he spoke humbly enough of himself, as one who had not her light, but Marg’et Ann was quite aware that she did not believe the Catechism because she understood it. She had no doubt it could be understood, and she thought regretfully that Lloyd Archer would be just the man to understand it if he would study it in the right spirit. Just what the right spirit was she could not perhaps have formulated, except that it was the spirit that led to belief in the Catechism. She had hoped that he would come to a knowledge of the truth through the ministrations of the Rev. Samuel McClanahan, who was said to be very powerful in argument; but he had found fault with Mr. McClanahan’s logic on fast day in a way that was quite disheartening, and he evidently did not intend to come forward this communion at all. Her father had spoken several times in a very hopeless manner of Lloyd’s continued resistance of the Holy Spirit, and Marg’et Ann thought with a shiver of Squire Atwater, who was an infidel, and was supposed by some to have committed the unpardonable sin. She remembered once when she and one of the younger boys had gone into his meadow for wild strawberries he had come out and talked to them in a jovial way, and when they were leaving, had patted her little brother’s head, and told him, with a great, corpulent laugh, to “ ask his father how the devil could be chained to the bottomless pit. ” She did not believe Lloyd could become like that, but still it was dangerous to resist the Spirit.
Miss Nancy McClanahan had a bit of mint between the leaves of her psalm book, and she smelled it now and then in a niggardly way, as if the senses should be but moderately indulged on the Sabbath. She had on black netted mitts which left the enlarged knuckles of her hands exposed, and there was a little band of Guinea gold on one of her fingers, with two almost obliterated hearts in loving juxtaposition. Marg’et Ann knew that she had been a hardworking mother to the Rev. Samuel’s family ever since the death of his wife, and she wondered vaguely how it would seem to take care of Laban’s children in case Lloyd should fail to make his peace with God.
When they drove to the door of the meeting-house, Archibald Skinner came down the walk to help them dismount. Mrs. Morrison shook hands with him kindly and asked after his sister’s cough, and whether his Grandfather Elliott was still having trouble with his varicose veins. She handed the children to him one by one, and he lifted them to the ground with an easy swing, replacing their hats above their tubular curls after the descent, and grinning goodnaturedly into their round, awe-filled, freckled countenances.
Miss Nancy got out of the wagon backwards, making a maidenly effort to keep the connection between the hem of her black silk skirt and the top of her calf-skin shoes inviolate, and brushing the dust of the wagon wheel from her dress carefully after her safe arrival in the dog-fennel. Marg’et Ann ignored the chair which had been placed beside the wagon for the convenience of her elders, and sprang from the wheel, placing her hands lightly in those of the young man, who deposited her safely beside her mother and turned toward her sister Rebecca with a blush that extended to the unfreckled spaces of his hairy, outstretched hands, and explained his lively interest in the disembarkation of the family.
Laban drove the team around the corner to a convenient hitching-place, and the women and children went up the walk to the church door. Mrs. Morrison stopped a moment on the step to remove the hats of the younger boys, whose awe of the sanctuary seemed to have deprived them of volition, and they all proceeded down the aisle to the minister’s pew.
The pastor and the Rev. Samuel McClanahan were already in the pulpit, their presence there being indicated by two tufts of hair, one black and the other sandy, which arose above the high reading-desk; and the elders having filed into the room and distributed themselves in the ends of the various wellfilled pews, the young men and boys followed their example, the latter taking a sudden start at the door and projecting themselves into their places with a concentration of purpose that seemed almost apoplectic in its results.
There was a deep, premonitory stillness, broken only by the precentor, who covertly struck his tuning-fork on the round of his chair, and held it to his ear with a faint, accordant hum; then the minister arose and spread his hands in solemn invocation above the little flock.
“ Let us pray.”
Every one in the house arose. Even old Mrs, Groesbeck, who had sciatica, allowed her husband and her son Ebenezer to assist her to her feet, and the children who were too small to see over the backs of the pews slipped from their seats and stood in downcast stillness within the high board inclosures.
After the prayer, Mr. Morrison read the psalm. It was Rouse’s version : —
Go up, they said to me.
Jerusalem, within thy gates
Our feet shall standing be.
Jerus’lem as a city is
Compactly built together.
Unto that place the tribes go up,
The tribes of God go thither.”
The minister read it all and “lined out ” the first couplet. Then the precentor, a tall, thin man, whose thinness was enveloped but not alleviated by an alpaca coat, struck his tuning-fork more openly and launched into the highly rarefied atmosphere of China, being quite alone in his vocal flight until the congregation joined him in the more accessible regions of the second line.
Marg’et Ann shared her psalm book with Laban, who sat beside her. He had hurt His thumb shelling seed corn, and his mother had made him a clean thumb-stall for Sabbath. It was with this shrouded member that he held the edge of the psalm book awkwardly. Laban’s voice was in that uncertain stage in which its vagaries astonished no one so much as its owner, but he joined in the singing. “Let all the people praise Thee ” was a command not to be lightly set aside for worldly considerations of harmony and fitness, and so Laban sang, his callow and ill-adjusted soul divided between fears that the people would hear him and that the Lord would not.
Marg’et Ann listened for Lloyd Archer’s deep bass voice in the Amen corner.
She wished his feet were standing within the gates of Jerusalem, as he so resonantly announced that they would be. But whatever irreverence there might be in poor Laban refusing to sing what he did not dream of doubting, there was no impiety to these devout souls in Lloyd Archer’s joining with them in the vocal proclamation of things concerning which he had very serious doubts. Not that Jerusalem, either new or old, was one of these things; the young man himself was not conscious of any heresy there; he believed in Jerusalem, in the church militant upon earth and triumphant in heaven, and in many deeper and more devious theological doctrines as well. Indeed, his heterodoxy was of so mild a type that, viewed by the incandescent light of to-day, which is not half a century later, it shines with the clear blue radiance of flawless Calvinism.
If the tedious “lining out,” traditionally sacred, was quite unreasonable and superfluous, commemorating nothing but the days of hunted Covenanters and few psalm books and fewer still who were able to read them, perhaps the remembrance of these things was as conducive to thankfulness of heart as David’s recital of the travails and triumphs of ancient Israel. Certain it is that profound gratitude to God and devotion to duty characterized the lives of most of these men and women who sang the praises of their Maker in this halting and unmusical fashion.
Marg’et Ann sang in a high and somewhat nasal treble, compassing the extra feet of Mr. Rouse’s doubtful version with skill, and gliding nimbly over the gaps in prosody by the aid of his dextrously elongated syllables.
Some of the older men seemed to dwell upon these peculiarities of versification as being distinctively ecclesiastical and therefore spiritually edifying, and brought up the musical rear of such couplets with long-drawn and profoundly impressive “ shy-un’s ” and “ i-tee’s; ” but these irregularities found little favor in the eyes of the younger people, who had attended singing school and learned to read buckwheat notes under the direction of Jonathan Loomis, the precentor.
Marg’et Ann listened to the Rev. Mr. McClanahan’s elaborately divided discourse, wondering what piece of the logical puzzle Lloyd would declare to be missing; and she glanced rather wistfully once or twice toward the Amen corner where the young man sat, with his head thrown back and his eager eyes fixed upon the minister’s face.
When the intermission came, she ate her sweet cake and her triangle of dried apple pie with the others, and then walked toward the graveyard behind the church. She knew that Lloyd would follow her, and she prayed for grace to speak a word in season.
The young man stalked through the tall grass that choked the path of the little inclosure until he overtook her under a blossoming crab-apple tree.
He had been “ going with ” Marg’et Ann more than a year, and there was generally supposed to be an understanding between them.
She turned when he came up, and put out her hand without embarrassment, but she blushed as pink as the crab-apple bloom in his grasp.
They talked a little of commonplace things, anti Marg’et Ann looked down and swallowed once or twice before she said gravely, —
舠 I hoped you’d come forward this sacrament, Lloyd.”
The young man’s brow clouded.
“ I’ve told you I can’t join the church without telling a lie, Marg’et Ann. You would n’t want me to tell a lie,” he said, flushing hotly.
She shook her head, looking down, and twisting her handkerchief into a ball in her hands.
“ I know you have doubts about some things; but I thought they might be removed by prayer. Have you prayed earnestly to have them removed ? ” She looked up at him anxiously.
“ I’ve asked to be made to see things right, ” he replied, choking a little over this unveiling of his holy of holies; “but I don’t seem to be able to see some things as you do.”
She pondered an instant, looking absently at the headstone of “ Hephzibah, ” who was the later of Robert McCoy’s two beloved wives, then she said, with an effort, for these staid descendants of Scottish ancestry were not given to much glib talking of sacred things: —
“ I suppose doubts are sent to try our faith; but we have the promise that they will be removed if we ask in the right spirit. Are you sure you have asked in the right spirit, Lloyd ? ”
“ I have prayed for light, but I have n’t asked to have my doubts removed, Marg’et Ann ; I don’t know that I want to believe what doesn’t appear reasonable to me.”
The girl lifted a troubled, tremulous face to his.
“ That isn’t the right spirit, Lloyd, — you know it isn’t. How can God remove your doubts if you don’t want him to ? ”
The young man reached up and broke off a twig of the round, pink crab-apple buds and rolled the stem between his work-hardened hands.
“ I’ve asked for light, ” he repeated, “ and if when it comes I see things different, I ’ll say so; but I can’t want to believe what I don’t believe, and I can’t pray for what I don’t want.”
The triangle of Marg’et Ann’s brow between her burnished satin puffs of hair took on two upright, troubled lines. She unfolded her handkerchief nervously, and her token fell with a ringing sound against tired Hephzibah’s gravestone and rolled down above her patiently folded hands.
Lloyd stooped and searched for it in the grass. When he found it he gave it to her silently, and their hands met. Poor Marg’et Ann! No hunted Covenanter amid Scottish heather was more a martyr to his faith than this rosecheeked girl amid Iowa cornfields. She took the bit of flattened lead and pressed it between her burning palms.
“ I hope you won’t get hardened in unbelief, Lloyd,” she said soberly.
The congregation was drifting toward the church again, and the young people turned. Lloyd touched the iridescent silk of her wide sleeve.
“ You ain’t a-going to let this make any difference between you and me, are you, Marg’et Ann? ” he pleaded.
“ I don’t know,” wavered the girl. “ I hope you ’ll be brought to a sense of your true condition, Lloyd.” She hesitated, smoothing the sheen of her skirt. “ It would be an awful cross to father and mother.”
The young man fell behind her in the narrow path, and they walked to the church door in unhappy silence.
Inside, the elders had accomplished the spreading of the tables with slowmoving, awkward reverence. The spotless drapery swayed a little in the afternoon breeze, and there was a faint fruity smell of communion wine in the room.
The two ministers and some of the older communicants sat with bowed heads, in deep spiritual isolation.
The solemn stillness of self-examination pervaded the room, and Marg’et Ann went to her seat with a vague stirring of resentment in her heart toward the Rev. Samuel McClanahan, who, with all his learning, could not convince this one lost sheep of the error of his theological way. She put aside such thoughts, however, before the serving of the tables, and walked humbly down the aisle behind her mother, singing the one hundred and sixteenth psalm to the quaint rising and falling cadences of Dundee.
Once, while the visiting pastor addressed the communicants, she thought how it would simplify matters if Lloyd were sitting opposite her, and then caught her breath as the minister adjured each one to examine himself, lest eating and drinking unworthily he should eat and drink damnation to himself.
It was almost sunset when the service ended, and as the Morrisons drove into the lane the smell of jimson-weed was heavy on the evening air, and they could hear the clank of the cow bells in the distance.
Marg’et Ann went to her room to lay aside her best dress and get ready for the milking, and Mrs. Morrison and Rebecca made haste to see about supper.
Miss Nancy McClanahan walked about the garden in her much made-over black silk, and compared the progress of Mrs. Morrison’s touch-me-nots and fouro’clocks with her own, nipping herself a sprig of tansy from the patch under the Bowerly apple tree.
She shared Marg’et Ann’s room that night, and after she had taken off her lace head-dress and put a frilled nightcap over her lonesome little knot of gray hair and said her prayers, she composed herself on her pillow with a patient sigh, and lay watching Marg’et Ann crowd her burnished braids into her close-fitting cap without speaking; but after the light was out, and her companion had lain down beside her, the old maid placed her knotted hand on the girl’s more shapely one, and said: —
“ There’s worse things than living single, Marg’et Ann, and then again I suppose there ’s better. Of course every girl has her chances, and the people we make sacrifices for don’t always seem quite as grateful as we calculated they ’d be. I ’m not repinin’, but I sometimes think if I had my life to live over again I ’d do different.”
Marg’et Ann pressed the knotted fingers, that felt like a handful of hickory nuts, and touched the little circle with its two worn-out hearts, but she said nothing.
She had heard that the Rev. Samuel McClanahan was going to marry the youngest Groesbeck girl, now that his children were “ getting well up out of the way, ” and she knew that her mother had been telling Miss Nancy something about her own love affair with Lloyd Archer.
Whatever Mrs. Morrison may have confided to Miss Nancy McClanahan concerning Marg’et Ann and her lover must have been entirely suppositional and therefore liable to error; for the confidence between parent and child did not extend into the mysteries of love and marriage, nor would the older woman have dreamed of intruding upon the sacred precinct of her daughter’s feelings toward a young man. She had remarked once or twice to her husband that she was afraid sometimes that there was something between Lloyd Archer and Marg’et Ann; but whether this something was a barrier or a bond she left the worthy minister to divine.
That he had decided upon the latter was evidenced, perhaps, by his reply that he hoped not, and his fear, which he had expressed before, that Lloyd was getting more and more settled in habits of unbelief; and Mrs. Morrison took occasion to remark the next day in her daughter’s hearing that she would hate to have a child of hers marry an unbeliever.
Marg’et Ann did not, however, need any of these helps to an understanding of her parents’ position. She knew too well the danger that was supposed to threaten him who indulged in vain and unprofitable questionings, and she had too often heard the vanity of human reason proclaimed to feel any pride in the readiness with which Lloyd had answered Squire Wilson in the argument they had on foreordination at Hiram Graham’s infare. Indeed, she had felt it a personal rebuke when her father had said on the way home that he hoped no child of his would ever set up his feeble intellect against the eternal purposes of God, as Lloyd Archer was doing. Marg’et Ann knew perfectly well that if she married Lloyd in his present unregenerate state she would, in the estimation of her father and mother, be endangering the safety of her own soul, which, though presumably of the elect, could never be conclusively so proved until the gates of Paradise should close behind it.
She pondered on these things, and talked of them sometimes with Lloyd, rather unsatisfactorily, it is true; for that rising theologian bristled with questions which threw her troubled soul into a tumult of fear and uncertainty.
It was this latter feeling, perhaps, which distressed her most in her calmer moments; for it was gradually forcing itself upon poor Marg’et Ann that she must either snatch her lover as a brand from the burning or be herself drawn into the flames.
She had taken the summer school down on Cedar Creek, and Lloyd used to ride down for her on Friday evenings when the creek was high.
Rebecca and Archie Skinner were to be married in the fall, and her mother, who had been ailing a little all summer, would need her at home when Rebecca was gone. Still, this would not have stood in the way of her marriage had everything else been satisfactory; and Lloyd suspected as much when she urged it as a reason for delay.
“ If anybody has to stay at home on your mother’s account, why not let Archie Skinner and Becky put off their wedding awhile ? They ’re younger, and they have n’t been going together near as long as we have,” said Lloyd, in answer to her excuses.
They were riding home on horseback one Friday night, and Lloyd had just told her that Martin Prather was going back to Ohio to take care of the old folks, and would rent his farm very reasonably.
Marg’et Ann had on a slat sunbonnet which made her profile about as attractive as an “ elbow ” of stovepipe, but it had the advantage of hiding the concern that Lloyd’s questioning brought into her face. It could not, however, keep it out of her voice.
“ I don’t know, Lloyd,” she began hesitatingly; then she turned toward him suddenly, and let him see all the pain and trouble and regret that her friendly headgear had been sheltering. “ Oh, I do wish you could come to see things different! ” she broke out tremulously.
The young man was quiet for an instant, and then said huskily, “I just thought you had something like that in your mind, Marg’et Ann. If you’ve concluded to wait till I join the church we might as well give it up. I don’t believe in close communion, and I can’t see any harm in occasional hearing, and I haven’t heard any minister yet that can reconcile free will and election; the more I think about it the less I believe; I think there is about as much hope of your changing as there is of me. I don’t see what all this fuss is about, anyway. Arch Skinner isn’t a church member! ”
It was hard for Marg’et Ann to say why Archie Skinner’s case was considered more hopeful than Lloyd’s. She knew perfectly well, and so did her lover, for that matter, but it was not easy to formulate.
“Ain’t you afraid you ’ll get to believing less and less if you go on arguing, Lloyd ? ” she asked, ignoring Archie Skinner altogether.
“ I don’t know,” said Lloyd somewhat sullenly.
They were riding up the lane in the scant shadow of the white locust trees. The corn was in tassel now, and rustled softly in the fields on either side. There was no other sound for awhile. Then Marg’et Ann spoke.
“ I ’ll see what father thinks ” —
“ No, you won’t, Marg’et Ann,” broke in Lloyd obstinately. “I think a good deal of your father, but I don’t want to marry him; and I don’t ask you to promise to marry the fellow I ought to be, or that you think I ought to be; I ’ve asked you to marry me, I don’t care what you believe, and I don’t care what your father thinks; I want to know what you think.”
Poor Lloyd made all this energetic avowal without the encouragement of a blush or a smile, or the discouragement of a frown or a tear. All this that a lover watches for anxiously was hidden by a wall of slats and green-checked gingham.
She turned her tubular head covering toward him presently, however, showing him all the troubled pink prettiness it held, and said very genuinely through her tears, —
“ Oh, Lloyd, you know well enough what I think! ”
They had reached the gate, and it was a very much mollified face which the young man raised to hers as he helped her to dismount.
“ Your father and mother wouldn’t stand in the way of our getting married, would they ? ” he asked, as she stood beside him.
“ Oh no, they would n’t stand in the way,” faltered poor Marg’et Ann.
How could she explain to this muscular fellow, whose pale-faced mother had no creed but what Lloyd thought or wanted or liked, that it was their unspoken grief that made it hard for her ? How shall any woman explain her family ties to any man ?
Marg’et Ann did not need to consult her father. He looked up from his writing when she entered the door.
“ Was that Lloyd Archer, Marg’et Ann ? ” he asked kindly.
“ Yes, sir.”
“ I’d a little rather you would n’t go with him. He seems to be falling into a state of mind that is likely to end in infidelity. It troubles your mother and me a good deal.”
Marg’et Ann went into the bedroom to take off her riding skirt, and she did not come out until she was sure no one could see that she had been crying.
Mrs. Morrison continued to complain all through the fall; at least so her neighbors said, although the good woman had never been known to murmur; and Marg’et Ann said nothing whatever about her engagement to Lloyd Archer.
Late in October Archie Skinner and Rebecca were married and moved to the Martin Prather farm, and Lloyd, restless and chafing under all this silence and delay, had no longer anything to suggest when Marg’et Ann urged her mother’s failing health as a reason for postponing their marriage.
Before the crab-apples bloomed again Mrs. Morrison’s life went out as quietly as it had been lived. There was a short, sharp illness at the last, and in one of the pauses of the pain the sick woman lay watching her daughter, who was alone with her.
“ I’m real glad there was nothing between you and Lloyd Archer, Marg’et Ann, ” she said feebly ; “ that would have troubled me a good deal. You ’ll have your father and the children to look after. Nancy Helen will be coming up pretty soon, and be some help ; she grows fast. You ’ll have to manage along as best you can.”
The girl’s sorely troubled heart failed her. Her eyes burned and her throat ached with the effort of self-control. She buried her face in the patchwork quilt beside her mother’s hand. The woman stroked her hair tenderly.
“ Don’t cry, Marg’et Ann, ” she said, “ don’t cry. You ’ll get on. It ’s the Lord’s will.”
The evening after the funeral Lloyd Archer came over, and Marg’et Ann walked up the lane with him. She was glad to get away from the Sabbath hush of the house, which the neighbors had made so pathetically neat, — taking up the dead woman’s task where she had left it, and doing everything with scrupulous care, as if they feared some vision of neglected duty might disturb her rest.
The frost was out of the ground and the spring ploughing had begun. There was a smell of fresh earth from the furrows, and a red-bud tree in the thicket was faintly pink.
Lloyd was silent and troubled, and Marg’et Ann could not trust her voice. They walked on without speaking, and the dusk was deepening before they turned to go back. Marg’et Ann had thrown a little homespun shawl over her head, for there was a memory of frost in the air, but it had fallen back and Lloyd could see her profile with its new lines of grief in the dim light.
“ It don’t seem right, Marg’et Ann, ” he began in a voice strained almost to coldness by intensity of feeling.
“ But it is right, — we know that, Lloyd, ” interrupted the girl; then she turned and threw both arms about his neck and buried her face on his shoulder. “Oh, Lloyd, I can’t bear it — I can’t bear it alone — you must help me to be — to be — reconciled! ”
The young man laid his cheek upon her soft hair. There was nothing but hot unspoken rebellion in his heart. They stood still an instant, and then Marg’et Ann raised her head and drew the little shawl up and caught it under her quivering chin.
“We must go in,” she said staidly, choking back her sobs.
Lloyd laid his hands on her shoulders and drew her toward him again.
“Is there no help, Marg’et Ann? ” he said piteously, looking into her tearstained face. In his heart he knew there was none. He had gone over the ground a thousand times since he had seen her standing beside her mother’s open grave with the group of frightened children clinging to her.
In straits a present aid ;
Therefore, although the earth remove,
We will not be afraid,”
repeated the girl, her sweet voice breaking into a whispered sob at the end. They walked to the step and stood there for a moment in silence.
The minister opened the door.
“ Is that you, Marg’et Ann,” he asked. “ I think we’d better have worship now; the children are getting sleepy.”
Almost a year before patient, tireless Esther Morrison’s eternal holiday had come, a man, walking leisurely along an empty mill-race, had picked up a few shining yellow particles, holding in his hand for an instant the destiny of half the world. Every restless soul that could break its moorings was swept westward on the wave of excitement that followed. Blue Mound felt the magnetism of those bits of yellow metal along with the rest of the world, and wild stories were told at singing school and in harvest fields of the fortunes that awaited those who crossed the plains.
Lloyd Archer, eager, restless, and discontented, caught the fever among the first. Marg’et Ann listened to his plans, heartsore and helpless. She had ceased to advise him. There was a tacit acknowledgment on her part that she had forfeited her right to influence his life in any way. As for him, unconsciously jealous of the devotion to duty that made her precious to him and unable to solve the problem himself, he yet felt injured that she could not be true to him and to his ideal of her as well. If she had left the plain path and gone with him into the byways, his heart would have remained forever with the woman he had loved, and not with the woman who had so loved him; and yet he sometimes urged her to do this thing, so strange a riddle is the “way of a man with a maid.舡
Lloyd had indulged a hope which he could not mention to any one, least of all to Marg’et Ann, that the minister would marry again in due season. But nothing pointed to a fulfillment of this wish. The good man seemed far more interested in the abolition of slavery in the South than in the release of his daughter from bondage to her own flesh and blood, Lloyd said to himself, with the bitterness of youth. Indeed, the household had moved on with so little change in the comfort of its worthy head that a knowdedge of Lloyd’s wishes would have been quite as startling to the object of them as the young man’s reasons for their indulgence.
The gold fever had seemed to the minister a moral disorder, calling for spiritual remedies, which he had not failed to administer in such quantity and of such strength as corresponded with the religious therapeutics of the day.
Marg’et Ann hinted of this when her lover came to her with his plans.
She was making soap, and although they stood on the windward side of the kettle, her eyes were red from the smoke of the hickory logs.
“ Do you think it is just right, Lloyd ? ” she asked, stirring the unsavory concoction slowly with a wooden paddle. “Isn’t it just a greed for gold, like gambling? ”
Lloyd put both elbows on the top of the ash hopper and looked at her laughingly. He had on a straw hat lined with green calico, and his trousers were of blue jeans, held up by “ galluses ” of the same; but he was a handsome fellow, with sound white teeth and thick, curling locks.
“ I don’t know as a greed for gold is any worse than a greed for corn, ” he said, trying to curb his voice into seriousness.
“ But corn is useful — it is food — and, besides, you work for it.” Marg’et Ann pushed her sunbonnet back and looked at him anxiously.
“ Well, I ’ve planted a good deal more corn than I expect to eat this year, and I was calculating to sell some of it for gold, — you would n’t think that was wrong, would you, Marg’et Ann ? ”
“ No, of course not; but some one will eat it, —it’s useful,” maintained the girl earnestly.
“ I have n’t found anything more useful than money yet, ” persisted the young man good-naturedly; “but if I come home from California with two or three bags full of gold, I ’ll buy up a township and raise corn by the wholesale, — that ’ll make it all right, won’t it? ”
Marg’et Ann laughed in spite of herself.
“ You’re such a case, Lloyd,” she said, not without a note of admiration in her reproof.
When it came to the parting there was little said. Marg’et Ann hushed her lover’s assurances with her own, given amid blinding tears.
“ I’ll be just the same, Lloyd, no matter what happens, but I can’t let you make any promises; it wouldn’t be right. I can’t expect you to wait for me. You must do whatever seems right to you; but there won’t be any harm in my loving you, — at least as long as you don’t care for anybody else.”
The young man said what a young man usually says when he is looking into trustful brown eyes, filled with tears he has caused and cannot prevent, and at the moment, in the sharp pain of parting, the words of one were not more or less sincere than those of the other.
The years that followed moved slowly, weighted as they were with hard work and monotony for Marg’et Ann, and by the time the voice of the corn had changed three times from the soft whispering of spring to the hoarse rustling of autumn, she felt herself old and tired.
There had been letters and messages and rumors, more or less reliable, repeated at huskings and quiltings, to keep her informed of the fortunes of those who had crossed the plains, but her own letters from Lloyd had been few and unsatisfactory. She could not complain of this strict compliance with her wishes, but she had not counted upon the absence of her lover’s mother, who had gone to Ohio shortly after his departure and decided to remain there with a married daughter. There was no one left in the neighborhood who could expect to hear directly from Lloyd, and the reports that came from other members of the party he had joined told little that poor Marg’et Ann wished to know, beyond the fact that he was well and had suffered the varying fortunes of other gold-hunters.
There were moments of bitterness in which she tried to picture to herself what her life might have been if she had braved her parents’ disapproval and married Lloyd before her mother’s death; but there was never a moment bitter enough to tempt her into any neglect of present duty. The milking, the butter-making, the washing, the spinning, all the relentless hard work of the women of her day, went on systematically from the beginning of the year to its end, and the younger children came to accept her patient ministrations as unquestioningly as they had accepted their mother’s.
She wondered sometimes at her own anxiety to know that Lloyd was true to her, reproaching herself meanwhile with puritanic severity for such unholy selfishness ; but she discussed the various plaids for the children’s flannel dresses with Mrs. Skinner, who did the weaving, and cut and sewed and dyed the rags for a new best room carpet with the same conscientious regard for art in the distribution of the stripes which was displayed by all the women of her acquaintance ; indeed, there was no one among them all whose taste in striping a carpet, or in “piecing and laying out a quilt,” was more sought after than Marg’et Ann’s.
“ She always was the old-fashionedest little thing, ” said Grandmother Elliott, who had been a member of Mr. Morrison’s congregation back in Ohio. “I never did see her beat. ” The good old lady’s remark, which was considered highly commendatory, and had nothing whatever to do with the frivolities of changing custom, was made at a quilting at Squire Wilson’s, from which Marg’et Ann chanced to be absent.
“ It ’s a pity she don’t seem to get married,” said Mrs. Barnes, who was marking circles in the white patches of the quilt by means of an inverted teacup of flowing blue; “she’s the kind of a girl I’ d’ a’ thought young men would ’a’ took up with.”
“Marg’et Ann never was much for the boys, ” said Grandmother Elliott, disposed to defend her favorite, “and dear knows she has her hands full; it’s quite a chore to look after all them children. ”
The women maintained a charitable silence. The ethics of their day did not recognize any womanly duty inconsistent with matrimony. “A disappointment ” was considered the only dignified reason for remaining single. Grandmother Elliott felt the weakness of her position.
“I ’m sure I don’t see how her father would get on,” she protested feebly; “he ain’t much of a hand to manage.”
“If Marg’et Ann was to marry, her father would have to stir round and get himself a wife,” said Mrs. Barnes, with cheerful lack of sentiment, confident that her audience was with her.
“I ’ve always had a notion Marg’et Ann thought a good deal more of Lloyd Archer than she let on, — at least more than her folks knew anything about, ” asserted Mrs. Skinner, stretching her plump arm under the quilt and feeling about carefully. “I should n’t wonder if she ’d had quite a disappointment.”
“ I would have hated to see her marry Lloyd Archer, ” protested Grandmother Elliott; “she’s a sight too good for him; he’s always had queer notions.”
“Well, I should ’a’ thought myself she could ’a’ done better, ” admitted Mrs. Barnes, “but somehow she has n’t. I tell ’Lisha it’s more of a disgrace to the young man than it is to her.”
Evidently this discussion of poor Marg’et Ann’s dismal outlook matrimonially was not without precedent.
One person was totally oblivious to the facts and all surmises concerning them. Theoretically, no doubt, the good minister esteemed it a reproach that any woman should remain unmarried ; but there are theories which refinement finds it easy to separate from daily life, and no thought of Marg’et Ann’s future intruded upon her father’s deep and daily increasing distress over the wrongs of human slavery. Marg’et Ann was conscious sometimes of a change in him; he went often and restlessly to see Squire Kirkendall, who kept an underground railroad station, and not infrequently a runaway negro was harbored at the Morrisons’. Strange to say, these frightened and stealthy visitors, dirty and repulsive though they were, excited no fear in the minds of the children, to whom the slave had become almost an object of reverence.
Marg’et Ann read her first novel that year, — a story called Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which appeared in the National Era, — read it and wept over it, adding all the intensity of her antislavery training to the enjoyment of a hitherto forbidden pleasure. She did not fail to note her father’s eagerness for the arrival of the paper; and recalled the fact that he had once objected to her reading Pilgrim’s Progress on the Sabbath.
“ It’s useful, perhaps, ” he had said, “ useful in its way and in its place, but it is fiction nevertheless.”
There were many vexing questions of church discipline that winter, and the Rev. Samuel McClanahan rode over from Cedar Township often and held long theological discussions with her father in the privacy of the best room. Once Squire Wilson came with him, and as the two visitors left the house Marg’et Ann heard the Rev. Samuel urging upon the elder the necessity of “ holding up Brother Morrison’s hands.”
It was generally known among the congregation that Abner Kirkendall had been before the session for attending the Methodist Church and singing an uninspired hymn in the public worship of God, and it was whispered that the minister was not properly impressed with the heinousness of Abner’s sin. Then, too, Jonathan Loomis, the precentor, who had at first insisted upon lining out two lines of the psalm instead of one, and had carried his point, now pushed his dangerous liberality to the extreme of not lining out at all. The first time he was guilty of this startling innovation, “ Rushin’ through the sawm, ” as Uncle John Turnbull afterwards said, “ without deegnity, as if it were a mere human cawmposeetion, ” two or three of the older members arose and left the church; and the presbytery was shaken to its foundations of Scotch granite when Mr. Morrison humbly acknowledged that he had not noticed the precentor’s bold sally, until Brother Turnbull’s departure attracted his attention.
It is true that the minister had preached most acceptably that day from the ninth and twelfth verses of the thirty-fifth chapter of Job: “ By reason of the multitude of oppressions they make the oppressed to cry : they cry out by reason of the arm of the mighty. . . . There they cry, but none giveth answer, because of the pride of evil men.” And it is possible that the zeal for freedom that burned in his soul was rather gratified than otherwise by Jonathan’s bold singing of the prophetic psalm: — “ He out of darkness did them bring
And from Death’s shade them take,
Those bands wherewith they had been bound
Asunder quite he brake.
Praise for His goodness then,
And for His works of wonder done
Unto the sons of men.”
But such absorbing enthusiasm even in a good cause argued a doctrinal laxity which could not pass unnoticed.
舠 A deegnifyin’ of the creature above the Creator, the sign above the thing seegnified,” Uncle Johnnie Turnbull urged upon the session, smarting from the deep theological wound he had suffered at Jonathan’s hands.
A perceptible chill crept into the ecclesiastical atmosphere which Marge’t Ann felt without thoroughly comprehending.
Nancy Helen was sixteen now, and Marg’et Ann had taught the summer school at Yankee Neck, riding home every evening to superintend the younger sister’s housekeeping.
Laban had emerged from the period of unshaven awkwardness, and was going to see Emeline Barnes with ominous regularity.
There was nothing in the affairs of the household to trouble Marg’et Ann but her father’s ever increasing restlessness and preoccupation. She wondered if it would have been different if her mother had lived. There was no great intimacy between the father and daughter, but the girl knew that the wrongs of the black man had risen like a dense cloud between her father and what had once been his highest duty and pleasure.
She was not, therefore, greatly surprised when he said to her one day, more humbly than he was wont to speak to his children: —
“ I think I must try to do something for those poor people, child; it may not be much, but it will be something. The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few.”
“What will you do, father? ” Marg’et Ann asked the question hesitatingly, dreading the reply. The minister looked at her with anxious eagerness. He was glad of the humble acquiescence that obliged him to put his half-formed resolution into words.
“ If the presbytery will release me from my charge here, I may go South for awhile. Nancy Helen is quite a girl now, and with Laban and your teaching you could get on. They are bruised for our iniquities, Marg’et Ann, — they are our iniquities, indirectly, child.”
He got up and walked across the ragcarpeted floor. Marg’et Ann sat still in her mother’s chair, looking down at the stripes of the carpet, — dark blue and red and “hit or miss; ” her mother had made them so patiently; it seemed as if patience were always under foot for heroism to tread upon. She fought with the ache in her throat a little. The stripes on the floor were beginning to blur when she spoke.
“ Is n’t it dangerous to go down there, father, for people like us, — for Abolitionists, I mean; I have heard that it was.”
“Dangerous! ” The preacher’s face lighted with the faint, prophetic joy of martyrdom; poor Marg’et Ann had touched the wrong chord. “It cannot be worse for me than it is for them, — I must go,” he broke out impatiently; “ do not say anything against it, child! ”
And so Marg’et Ann said nothing.
Really there was not much time for words. There were many stitches to be taken in the threadbare wardrobe, concerning which her father was as ignorant and indifferent as a child, before she packed it all in the old carpet sack and nerved herself to see him start.
He went away willingly, almost cheerfully. Just at the last, when he came to bid the younger children good-by, the father seemed for an instant to rise above the reformer. No doubt their childish unconcern moved him.
“ We must think of the families that have been rudely torn apart. Surely it ought to sustain us, — it ought to sustain us, ” he said to Laban as they drove away.
Two days later they carried him home, crippled for life by the overturning of the stage near Cedar Creek.
He made no complaint of the drunken driver whose carelessness had caused the accident and frustrated his plans; but once, when his eldest daughter was alone with him, he looked into her face and said, absently, rather than to her, —
“ Patience, patience ; I doubt not the Lord’s hand is in it.”
And Marg’et Ann felt that his purpose was not quenched.
In the spring Lloyd Archer came home. Marg’et Ann had heard of his coming, and tried to think of him with all the intervening years of care and trial added; but when she saw him walking up the path between the flowering almonds and snowball bushes, all the intervening years faded away, and left only the past that he had shared, and the present.
She met him there at her father’s bedside and shook hands with him and said, “ How do you do, Lloyd ? Have you kept your health ? ” as quietly as she would have greeted any neighbor. After he had spoken to her father and the children she sat before him with her knitting, a very gentle, self-contained Desdemona, and listened while he told the minister stories of California, mentioning the trees and fruits of the Bible with a freedom and familiarity that savored just enough of heresy to make him seem entirely unchanged.
When Nancy Helen came into the room he glanced from her to Marg’et Ann; the two sisters had the same tints in hair and cheek, but the straight, placid lines of the elder broke into waves and dimples in the younger. Nancy Helen shook hands in a limp, half-grown way, blushingly conscious that her sleeves were rolled up, and that her elders were maturely indifferent to her sufferings; and Lloyd jokingly refused to tell her his name, insisting that she had kissed him good-by and promised to be his little sweetheart when lie came back.
Marg’et Ann was knitting a great blue and white sock for Laban, and after she had turned the mammoth heel she smoothed it out on her lap, painstakingly, conscious all the time of a tumultuous, unreasonable joy in Lloyd’s presence, in the sound of his voice, in his glance, which assured her so unmistakably that she had a right to rejoice in his coming.
She did not see her lover alone for several days. When she did, he caught her hands and said, “Well, Marg’et Ann ? ” taking up the unsettled question of their lives where they had left it. And Marg’et Ann stood still, with her hands in his, looking down at the snow of the fallen locust-bloom at her feet, and said,—
“When father is well enough to begin preaching again, then I think — perhaps — Lloyd ” —
But Lloyd did not wait to hear what she thought, nor trouble himself greatly about the “perhaps.”
The minister’s injuries were slow to mend. They were all coming to understand that His lameness would be permanent, and there was on the part of the older children a tense, pained curiosity concerning their father’s feeling on the subject, which no word of his had thus far served to relieve. There was a grave shyness among them concerning their deepest feelings, which was, perhaps, a sense of the inadequacy of expression rather than the austerity it seemed. Marg’et Ann would have liked to show her sympathy for her father, and no doubt it would have lightened the burdens of both; but any betrayal of filial tenderness beyond the dutiful care she gave him would have startled the minister, and embarrassed them both. Life was a serious thing to them only by reason of its relation to eternity ; a constant underrating of this world had made them doubtful of its dignity. Marg’et Ann felt it rather light-minded that she should have a lump in her throat whenever she thought of her father on crutches for the rest of his life. She wondered how Laban felt about it, but it was not likely that she would ever know. Laban had made the crutches himself, a rude, temporary pair at first, but he was at work on others now that were more carefully made and more durable; and she knew from this and the remarks of her father when he tried them that they both understood. It was not worth while to talk about it of course, and yet the household had a dull ache in it that a little talking might have relieved.
Marg’et Ann had begged Lloyd not to speak to her father until the latter was “up and about.” It seemed to her unkind to talk of leaving him when he was helpless, and Lloyd was very patient now, and very tractable, working busily to get the old place in readiness for his bride.
Mr. Morrison sat at his table, reading, or writing hurriedly, or gazing absently out into the June sunshine. He was sitting thus one afternoon, tapping the arms of his chair nervously with his thin fingers, when Marg’et Ann brought her work and sat in her mother’s chair near him. It was not very dainty work, winding a mass of dyed carpet rags into a huge, maddercolored ball, but there were delicate points in its execution which a restless civilization has hurried into oblivion along with the other lost arts, and Marg’et Ann surveyed her ball critically now and then, to be sure that it was not developing any slovenly one-sidedness under her deft hands. The minister’s crutches leaned against the arm of his painted wooden chair with an air of mute but patient helpfulness. Marg’et Ann had cushioned them with patchwork, but he had walked about so much that she already noted the worn places beginning to show under the arms of his faded dressing-gown. He leaned forward a little and glanced toward her, his hand on them now, and she put down her work and went to his side. He raised himself by the arms of his chair, sighing, and took the crutches from her patient hand.
“ I am not of much account, child, — not of much account, ” he said wearily.
Marg’et Ann colored with pain. She felt as a branch might feel when the trunk of the tree snaps.
“ I’m sure you ’re getting on very well, father; the doctor says you ’ll be able to begin preaching again by fall,”
The minister made his way slowly across the room and stood a moment in the open door; then he retraced his halting steps with their thumping wooden accompaniment and seated himself slowly and painfully again. One of the crutches slid along the arm of the chair and fell to the floor. Marg’et Ann went to pick it up. His head was still bowed and his face had not relaxed from the pain of moving. Standing a moment at his side and looking down at him, she noticed how thin and gray his hair had become. She turned away her face, looking out of the window and battling with the cruelty of it all. The minister felt the tenderness of her silent presence there, and glanced up.
“ I shall not preach any more, Marg’et Ann, at least not here, not in this way. If I might do something for those down-trodden people, — but that is perhaps not best. The Lord knows. But I shall leave the ministry for a time, — until I see my way more clearly.”
His daughter crossed the room, stooping to straighten the braided rug at his feet as she went, and took up her work again. Certainly the crimson ball was a trifle one-sided, or was it the unevenness of her tear-filled vision ? She unwound it a little to remedy the defect as her father went on.
“ Things do not present themselves to my mind as they once did. I have not decided just what course to pursue, but it would certainly not be honorable for me to occupy the pulpit in my present frame of mind. You’ve been a very faithful daughter, Marg’et Ann,” he broke off, “a good daughter.”
He turned and looked at her sitting there winding the great ball with her trembling fingers; her failure to speak did not suggest any coldness to either of them; response would have startled him.
“ I have thought much about it,” he went on. “ I have had time to think under this affliction. Nancy Helen is old enough to be trusted now, and when Laban marries he will perhaps be willing to rent the land. No doubt you could get both the summer and winter schools in the district; that would be a great help. The congregation has not been able to pay much, but it would be a loss ” —
He faltered for the first time; there was a shame in mentioning money in connection with his office.
“ I have suffered a good deal of distress of mind, child, but doubtless it is salutary — it is salutary. ”
He reached for his crutches again restlessly, and then drew back, remembering the pain of rising.
Marg’et Ann had finished the ball of carpet rags and laid it carefully in the box with the others. She had taken great pains with the coloring, thinking of the best room in her new home, and Lloyd had a man’s liking for red.
And now the old question had come back; it was older than she knew. Doubtless it was right that men should always have opinions and aspirations and principles, and women only ties and duties and heartaches. It seemed cruel, though, just now. She choked back the throbbing pain in her throat that threatened to make itself seen and heard.
“ Of course I must do right, Marg’et Ann.”
Her father’s voice seemed almost pleading.
Of course he must do right. Marg’et Ann had not dreamed of anything else. Only it was a little hard just now.
She glanced at him, leaning forward in his chair with the crutches beside him. He looked feeble about the temples and his patched dressing-gown hung loose in wrinkles. She crossed the room and stood beside him. Of course she would stay with him. She did not ask herself why. She did not reason that it was because motherhood underlies wifehood and makes it sweet and sufficing; makes every good woman a mother to every dependent creature, be it strong or weak. I doubt if she reasoned at all. She only said : —
“ Of course you will do right, father, and I will see about the school; I think I can get it. You must not worry; we shall get on very well.”
Out in the June sunshine Lloyd was coming up the walk with Nancy Helen. She had been gathering wild strawberries in the meadow across the lane, and they had met at the gate. Her sunbonnet was pushed back from her crinkly hair, and her cheeks were stained redder than her finger tips by Lloyd’s teasing.
Marg’et Ann looked at them and sighed.
After her brother’s return from presbytery Miss Nancy McClanahan borrowed her sister-in-law’s horse and rode over to visit the Morrisons. It was not often that Miss Nancy made a trip of this kind alone, and Marg’et Ann ran down the walk to meet her, rolling down her sleeves and smoothing her hair.
Miss Nancy took the girl’s soft cheeks in her hands and drew them into the shadow of her cavernous sunbonnet for a withered kiss.
“ I want to see your father, Margie,” she whispered, and the gentle constraint of spiritual things came into Marg’et Ann’s voice as she answered: —
“ He’s in the best room alone; I moved him in there this morning to he out of the sweeping. You can go right in. ”
She lingered a little, hoping her old friend’s concern of soul might not have obscured her interest in the salt-rising bread, which had been behaving untow ardly of late ; but Miss Nancy turned her steps in the direction of the best room and Marg’et Ann opened the door for her, saying, —
“ It’s Miss McClanahan, father.”
The minister looked up, wrinkling his forehead in the effort to disentangle himself from his thoughts. The old maid crossed the room toward him with her quick, hitching step.
“Don’t try to get up, Joseph,” she said, as he laid his hand on his crutches; “ I ’ll find myself a chair.”
She sat down before him, crossing her hands in her lap. The little worn band of gold was not on her finger, but there was a smooth white mark where it had been,
“Samuel got home from presbytery yesterday; he told me what was before them. I thought I ’d like to have a little talk with you.”
Her voice trembled as she stopped. A faint color showed itself through the silvery stubble on the minister’s cheeks; he patted the arms of his chair nervously.
“ I’m hardly prepared to discuss my opinions. They are vague, very vague, at best. I should be sorry to unsettle the faith ” —
“ I don’t care at all about your opinions, ” Miss Nancy interrupted, pushing his words away with both hands; “ I only wanted to speak to you about Marg’et Ann.”
“Marg’et Ann! ” The minister’s relief breathed itself out in gentle surprise.
“Yes, Marg’et Ann. I think it’s time somebody was thinking of her, Joseph.” Miss Nancy leaned forward, her face the color of a withered rose. “ She ’s doing over again what I did.
Perhaps it was best for you. I believe it was, and I don’t want you to say a word — you must n’t — but I can speak, and I’m not going to let Marg’et Ann live my life if I can help it.”
“ I don’t understand you, Nancy.”
The minister laid his hands on his crutches and refused to be motioned back into his chair. He stood before her, looking down anxiously into her thin, eager face.
“ I know you don’t. Esther never understood, either. You did n’t know that Marg’et Ann gave up Lloyd Archer because he had doubts, but I knew it. I wanted to speak then, but I could n’t — to her—Esther — and now you don’t know that she’s going to give him up again because you have doubts, Joseph. That ’s the way with women. They have no principles, only to do the hardest thing. But I know what it means to work and worry and pinch and have nothing in the end, not even troubles of your own, — they would be some comfort. And I ’m going to save Marg’et Ann from it. I ’m going to come here and take her place. I ’ve got a little something of my own, you know; I always meant it for her.”
She stopped, looking, at him expectantly. The minister turned away, rubbing his hands up and down his polished crutches. There was a soft, troubled light in his eyes.
“Why, Nancy! ”
His companion got up and moved a step backward. Her cheeks flushed a pale, faded red.
“ Oh no,” she said, with a quick, impatient movement of her head, “ not that, Joseph; that died years ago, — you are the same to me as other men, excepting that you are Marg’et Ann’s father. It ’s for her. It’s the only way I can live my life over again, by letting her live hers. I don’t know that it will be any better; but she will know, she will have a certainty in place of a doubt. I don’t know that my life would have been any better; I know yours would not, and anyway it ’s all over now. I know I can get on with the children, and I don’t think people will talk. I hope you ’re not going to object, Joseph. We ’ve always been very good friends.”
He shook his head slowly.
“ I don’t see how I can, Nancy. It ’s very good of you. Perhaps,” he added, looking at her with a wistful desire for contradiction, “ perhaps I’ve been a little selfish about Marg’et Ann.”
“ I don’t think you meant to be, Joseph,” said the old maid soothingly; “ when anybody’s so good as Marg’et Ann she does n’t call for much grace in the people about her. I think it’s a duty we owe to other people to have some faults.”
Outside the door Marg’et Ann still lingered, with her anxiety about the bread on her lips and the shadow of much serving in her soft eyes. Miss Nancy stopped and drew her favorite into the shelter of her gaunt arms.
“ I’m coming over next week to help you get ready for the wedding, Margie,” she said, “ and I ’m going to stay when you ’re gone and look after things. They don’t need me at Samuel’s now, and I ’ll be more comfortable here. I’ve got enough to pay a little for my board the rest of my life, and I don’t mean to work very hard, but I can show Nancy Helen and keep the run of things. There, don’t cry. We ’ll go and look at the sponge now. I guess you’d better ride over to Yankee Neck this afternoon, and tell them you don’t want the winter school, — there, there.”
Margaret Collier Graham.