The Mate of the Daylight
Main Contents & Search
A New Parishioner
Sarah Orne Jewett
"A New Parishioner" appeared in Atlantic Monthly (51:475-493) in April 1883 and was collected in The Mate of the Daylight in 1883. This text contains the relatively few changes made as it was prepared for the book publication of The Mate of the Daylight.
> The few typographical changes between the texts have been made, but are not marked.
> Text that Jewett deleted for the book appears in [brackets in red.]
> Text that Jewett added for the book appears in [brackets in blue.]
> When hyphens have been added or removed, the original text is followed by bracketed text showing how it was changed for the book.
A New Parishioner
It was about half past [ half-past ] ten o'clock in the forenoon, and the time of year was late September. Miss Lydia Dunn was busy in her kitchen, where the faded sunlight lay across the floor, and the after-breakfast work was beginning to give way to the preparations for dinner. Miss Dunn had lived alone through a good many years, but, to use her own favorite remark, she always treated herself as if she were a whole family.
"I found myself living at the pantry shelves, quick as mother died," she said. "It didn't seem to be worth while to set a table and get a lot of dishes about just for one. I got so I stopped the baker every time he come by, and the end of it was I didn't eat any oftener than I could help. I took to being low in my mind, and thought I wa'n't ever going to be any more use in the world; and I was always reading some yaller old sermon books, that I never should if I had been well; it seemed as if they had been laying about the house hoping to get a chance to gnaw somebody, for they worked me up dreadfully. Mother and I had lived together so long that I missed her, - seemed as if I couldn't never get used to living alone; but at last it come to me what part o' the trouble was, and I set right to, and from that day to this I've given myself three good regular meals every day. I tell you, you must feed folks same as you do creaturs, if you want to get any kind o' work out of 'em."
It was certainly a blessing to other people that Miss Dunn had come to this wise decision, for, after the death of her mother, who had needed all her daughter's care in the later years of her life, she had always been more than ready to use her freedom and strength and good sense in other people's behalf. She had a great deal of sound discretion, and a quick insight into men and things on which she valued herself not a little, as well she might. If she had been bad-tempered she would have been feared, for she had a quick wit and a bitter impatience with shiftiness and deceit; but her bark was worse than her bite, and one after another of her neighbors and townspeople were helped by her over hard places in their lives, and every year they grew more strongly attached to her. It is true that she was often thought a little hard, and that she gained the ill-will of some of her associates [ , ] whose lives were not wholly spent in following the paths of rectitude. She sometimes felt sorry that there was nobody who belonged to her, or who really loved her because they were of the same flesh and blood. It is a rare thing to find a woman of her age in a New England village who has no near relations; for when there was less intercourse with the rest of the world than nowadays, and families were larger, the people were apt to be closely connected by frequent intermarriages, and it made a community of interest and a clannishness which had many advantages in spite of its defects. Now that the young people go from the farming communities to the shops and factories of the larger towns, they are surer to marry strangers and foreigners than their old schoolmates and playmates, and the state of society in these latter days in such a town as Walton is pretty well disintegrated.
Miss Dunn's grandfather had been the minister of Walton for forty years. That of itself gave her a right to assert herself in parish matters, and her inherited love of reading and thinking helped her to look oftener at the principles and causes of things than at their incidents and effects. The elder people of the town still turned back with reverence to the deeds and opinions of old Parson Dunn, and gave an honored place in their councils to his upright and straightforward granddaughter.
On this Friday morning she felt uncommonly well and active, and had been scurrying about her house ever since she had waked, sweeping and dusting, and putting things to rights generally. She remembered her mother's saying that all out-doors always seemed to try to get under cover before cold weather, and she angrily threw away the collections of dust and lint which she swept up in one room after another. When she had finished her own room she came out, bringing the broom and dustpan [ dust-pan ] and duster all at once, and before she began to get dinner she stood for a minute before the small glass in the case of the kitchen clock. The big gingham handkerchief was still tied over her head, to keep the dust off, and she took a good look at herself.
"You're getting along in years, that's a fact, Lyddy Dunn," said she, good-naturedly; and then she sighed, and put away the handkerchief in its drawer, and went forward with some preparations for dinner.
The house in which she lived was one that her grandfather had bought in his last days, and in which his son had lived after him. There was no village in Walton, at least in that part of it, but farm joined farm, and there was no waste land. The main road of the town traversed a long ridge from end to end; the old church stood at the very top, blown by all the winds of heaven, like a ship on the high seas, and on the southern slope, close at the road-side, was Miss Dunn's house.
The front of it faced the south, and the front door opened into a prim little garden, where some sheltered hollyhocks and china asters still lingered; beyond was an orchard, where many of the old trees had died or been blown down, and had been replaced by [ the ] young ones. The leaves were falling fast now, but nothing held on better than the apple and lilac-leaves, and these were growing browner, and rustling louder when the wind blew, day by day. Miss Dunn was very fond of her house. The main part of it had two rooms on each floor; but the lower roof of it, that covered the big kitchen and down-stairs bedroom and the great kitchen-chamber, was older than the other, and was gambrel-shaped, and had for its centre an enormous chimney, that was, as it should be, the warm heart of the house.
The outer kitchen door opened to the road in a most hospitable fashion, and some smooth gray flagstones, like a stray bit of sidewalk, led along under the kitchen windows as far as the front gate. Miss Dunn suddenly bethought herself to sweep these, and [ fetched ] [ brought ] her second-best broom. There was a pleasant fragrance of faded leaves in the air; the sunshine was very warm, and the maple leaves seemed to have fallen too soon on the thick green grass, which still looked as fresh as if it were June. In the lowlands far below [ , ] there was a most lovely blur and haze with the misty air and the colors of the trees; the sky was cloudless but a little dim, and the snowberry bushes rustled so over the fence, in the breeze that came past the corner of the house, that our friend looked around at them as if somebody had spoken. A little stick, that was shaped like some thin, twisted mockery of a human being, was lying against the kitchen door-step, as if it had tried to climb in and had failed; and Lydia Dunn stooped to pick it up, and perched it on the outside window-sill, where it stood with one foot crooked into the little staple to which the blind was sometimes hooked, and seemed to look into the kitchen wistfully.
Miss Dunn smiled as she looked at it, and had a feeling flit over her that something was going to happen; there was an uncanny look about the strange bit of a lilac bush. She caught the sound of an approaching footstep, and as quick as one of the leaves that were flittering about at her feet she went back into the house again. She knew well enough the familiar figure that was still some distance away down the road, and was sure that she was to have a visit. She was much attached to Jonas Phipps, and quite dependent on his assistance in her housekeeping, but she always felt a little antagonistic and on the off-side of things when he first made his appearance.
"Of course he must put into port here for his dinner, when I've had a busy forenoon!" she said angrily, and began to change the kettles about on the stove; and she whisked the tea-kettle over to the sink as if she were putting it in jail for its sins, but it went on singing cheerfully, as if it had a good conscience.
Presently the latch clicked, and Mr. Jonas Phipps came in at the door, closing it softly after him; and as he felt at once that unmistakable lack of welcome which was not unusual, he dropped his hat on the floor beside the chair he dropped himself into, and took a long breath to show that he was much fatigued. He was a lame man, and there was something appealing about him, as well as something indescribably shrewd and quick, - the helplessness of a wounded and hampered fox or other cunning creature, that has not the physical strength to make the best use of its instincts.
"There, do spudge up a little, Jonas," said Miss Lydia, moving to and fro about the kitchen as fast as she could. "You remind me of an old limp calico bag that's hung up against the wall, - nothing to take out of it, and every chance to put in."
Jonas brightened up at once, and sat erect, as if his hostess had furnished him with a backbone.
"You always have your joke," said he, chuckling. "Ain't nothing I could do for you to-day, I expect?"
"I'm about out of kindling wood," said Miss Dunn [ , ] doubtfully. "I suppose you know that as well as I do. I thought you were going to get Otis's boy to help you, and cut me up a good lot of small wood some time this week. You'd better stop, now you're here, - though to-morrow will do just as well, and you can come earlier in the forenoon."
"To-morrow and Monday - I've got to be off both them days," said Jonas, not without pride. "You'll have to take me when you can git me, for once;" and putting on his much-battered hat he shuffled toward the door that led out to the woodshed. "Have you heard - I [ spose ] [ s'pose ] you have - that Henry Stroud, old Ben Stroud's oldest son, has come back, and is stopping over to Whitehouse's tavern? He was over here driving about yesterday afternoon, and he stopped to have some talk with me. I had an errand over Donnell's way to help him get in his cabbages, but they'd got them all in before I got there. I thought it was Thursday he wanted me, but when I got there he said it was Wednesday;" and Jonas was silent, as if he wished to respectfully give place to the scolding Miss Dunn commonly furnished him with at such confessions of his laziness.
But she merely laughed, and then asked, "What's he here for? He can't think that anybody is in distress to see him."
"I don't know what he come for, unless he wanted to look round his old haunts. He bespoke me to go up to his father's place with him to set things to rights in the burying lot. I told him I wasn't much of a hand for such things now, 'count of my lameness, but I'd do what I could. He was real friendly and free-spoken, and knowed me right away. Him and me's about of an age, - sixty-two in the month of January next;" and Jonas went slowly out to the woodshed, and began to chop the large sticks of pine into kindlings with leisurely blows, as if there were no hurry about either that or anything else.
"Well, I do declare!" said Miss Lydia Dunn. "I wonder what will happen next!" She longed to question Jonas further, but she did not; and later, when the soup that she had been warming for her own dinner was in readiness to be eaten, she carried out a comfortable bowlful to him, and set it down without a word.
"Now I call that real clever of ye," said Mr. Phipps. "I was just 'lowing I'd better be getting home to my dinner," - which was a great lie, since he had been sniffing the fragrance of the soup and expecting this provision eagerly for at least half an hour.
"I suppose Henry Stroud must have aged a good deal?" she asked, lingering for a minute in the doorway.
"Not so much as you might suppose, seeing he's been gone thirty-five years, - no, forty years it must be, or rising forty. It was the fall after his father died, and Henry was out of his time the spring before. Well, he's got the ginooine Stroud looks; he's featured for all the world like the old man. I know it was forty years sence he died, and because that was the year we moved over to the Ashby place, - fork of the roads as you go to Knowles's mills. The house is been gone this gre't while."
"There, your soup'll all get cold, Jonas," said Miss Dunn, impatiently [ , ] and at once retreated to the kitchen, fearing that the accounts of the changes of residence of the Phipps family might otherwise be continued all the rest of the afternoon. Jonas liked nothing better than to tell long stories, involving infinite ramblings and details, to any audience he was able to muster.
That evening Miss Dunn stood looking out of the window down the road, noticing the lights in the houses. She always had a fancy for sitting a while in the twilight, after supper, which came early at this time of year, when the days were growing so short; and before she lit her lamp she liked to take a survey of the neighborhood and of the sky. The stars were bright and the weather was satisfactory, but from one of the three houses which were in sight there was an unusual radiance, and our friend saw at once, to her surprise, that there was a lamp in the best parlor. Nothing could be more amazing than this, and at first Miss Dunn thought that some member of the family had gone into the room on an errand, it being used as to its closet for a treasure chamber.
"I hope that old Mr. Singer hasn't been taken with one of his bad ill turns," she said to herself, anxiously. "I know they always keep some spirit in that closet." But the light shone steadily on [ , ] like a beacon, until there was no room for doubt that the Singers had company to tea.
At last Miss Dunn composed herself to her evening's work of knitting and reading together, and resolutely drew and bolted the close shutters and lighted the lamp. She was very fond of reading, but there was only a small harvest of books to be reaped in Walton, and she was just then working her way through a dull memoir of an injudicious and unhappy man who had mistaken his calling and tried to preach. The book was written by some one who ought to have profited by this sad example; and Miss Dunn, who knew a good book when she saw it, but would usually rather have a dull one than none at all, soon read the less and knitted the more, until the leaves of the volume fluttered up unheeded, and she lost her place without observing it. She really had too much to think about, herself, to give her mind to other people's thoughts. Her excitements and pleasures were like the pasturage that sheep find near the sea; like those delicious nibbles close to the rocks, which have a flavor that no inland field can give to its plentiful grass blades. Henry Stroud had come back. He had once shown a great liking for her, when they were boy and girl, which she had disdained and her family disapproved. More than this, which was a half-forgotten memory, at that very moment an unknown company was assembled under her neighbor's roof. What dismal tale of a life that had made its failures through stupidity could wile her mind from such diversions? It was difficult to even guess at the reasons that had led to Mr. Stroud's return. His history was little known to his old acquaintances, except that at one time he had been very rich in South America, and had afterwards failed in his business. And after saying to the subject of the memoir that he was an old dromedary, if ever there was one, Miss Lydia Dunn gave herself up to reflection, until she was so sleepy that she could hardly stumble off to bed. The lights were not out even then at the Singers'.
Early the next morning, Mary Ann Singer came up the road with a little pitcher to borrow some yeast, and Miss Lydia gave her a cordial welcome.
"We're sort of behindhand this forenoon," the visitor said, "for we had company last night."
"I noticed the best room was lighted up," said Miss Dunn, with the full expectation of hearing all about it.
"You see, just before tea we saw a buggy drive up, and a stranger come in and asked to see the folks. I thought he was an agent or something, but it was a Mr. Stroud, who used to live here when he was a boy. He has been most all over the world, and he's come back to see the old place. I just wish you could have heard him talk; it was splendid. He says he don't know but he may settle here, - for summers, at any rate. His health's broke down, being in hot climates, and he said two or three times he didn't mean to do any more business. I guess he's rich; he looked as if he had means. He inquired for you, and said he was going to call and see you."
"Much obliged to him," said Miss Dunn [ , ] grudgingly.
"He's stopping over to Whitehouse's tavern," said Mary Ann. "I never saw anything better than the clothes he had on, and everything about him spoke of wealth. He said he had been to see the minister, and he meant to do something for the church, on account of his mother's being a member."
"More 'n ever his father was," said Miss Dunn. "I ain't going to say anything 'gainst Henry Stroud without having seen him these forty years; but he wa'n't much thought of as a young fellow, and his father cheated my poor old grandfather out of about all he had, except this place. I don't like the breed; but then, as I say, I ain't going to run a man down I don't know."
"He seemed to be religious," said Mary Ann, who was unwilling to have the glory of her guest tarnished in this way; and Miss Dunn responded that religion ought to make some difference, if it was the real kind; after which young and inexperienced Miss Singer went away with the yeast, somewhat crestfallen.
"Guess they must be going to bake Sunday, if they haven't got their bread a-going yet," thought Miss Dunn. "I'd 'a' put it to rise after he went off, last night, if it had been me; but I suppose they were all so betwattled they didn't know which end they was on. I should think it would be a lesson to 'em to air out that south setting-room once or twice a month. Between being scared of the dust in the summer and not using it after the cold weather [ come ] [ comes ], the air don't get changed three times a year. And come to heat it up with an air-tight stove!"
The next day being Sunday, and the weather being fair, there was an unusually large congregation in the church; and the news of the stranger's coming having flown far and wide, all eyes were ready to follow him, as he walked up the aisle behind the minister to the parsonage pew. The minister's wife betrayed a consciousness of being in unaccustomed society; and when the guest and the parson both waited to usher her into the pew, it was most annoying to stumble and almost fall over the crickets, on the way to her seat. Her face was very red, as she picked herself up, and even the children all looked that way as they heard the loud and sudden noise.
Mr. Stroud listened intently to the sermon. He was a good-looking man, but he had a difficulty in looking you straight in the eyes, and he was dressed in a way that his former townspeople could not fail to admire. And when the service was over, and the Sunday-school was assembled, Mr. Peckham, the minister, called upon Brother Stroud to lead in prayer; and Brother Stroud prayed long and eloquently, greatly to the approval of his hearers. It was really very pleasant to find that a man so distinguished in his appearance had so good a memory for his old friends. He seemed to remember everybody who remembered him, and was always ready to remind his old acquaintances of things that had happened before he went away, while he spoke of the departed members of the parish to their living connections with much interest and sympathy. On that first Sunday there was a great loitering about and hand-shaking; in fact, there was not the usual hurry to get the horses unfastened and to start for home. Miss Dunn said to herself often, in those first days, that she could understand the young folks running after him, but she should think the old ones, that had known him root and branch, would rather wait a while. She could not explain even to herself the feeling of antipathy that rushed over her at the first sight of him. She grudged all the deference and civilities that were shown him, and yet she was obliged to acknowledge that he deserved consideration, and that he was fine-looking and had a good manner, - "a way with him," most of the people said. He seemed disposed to be very friendly and generous. The young people admired him a good deal, and from the very first he received great attention and hospitality.
Mr. Peckham was more delighted with this new parishioner than any one else, for he saw in him the promise of help for some of his cherished projects. His predecessor had been an old-school parson, preaching sound and harmless sermons twice on every Sunday; exchanging with his brother ministers with due regularity and suitable infrequency. Old Mr. Duncan had been much loved and respected. The joys and sorrows of his congregation rarely were disconnected from him; for he was a cheerful soul, [ and ] most fatherly and kind, and was not instinctively set aside entirely to the performance of ecclesiastical rites and ceremonies. Under his care the church and parish existed in a most comfortable fashion, and the average of things was kept up year after year. It was somewhat of a shock to the parishioners to find that Mr. Peckham considered all these years unfruitful, and the revival which followed his teachings, or led them, in the first winter of his settlement, seemed to cast blame, by contrast, on the orderly progress of the former additions to the church membership. Mr. Peckham was an earnest, excitable, self-denying little man, though his self-denials were often in furtherance of his own selfish ends. He was ambitious and ascetic, and he was apt to be dyspeptic and low in his mind, which he and his parishioners occasionally mistook for anxiety and discouragement over the wickedness and willfulness of this world in general. He liked to have a good deal going on, though he bewailed the exhaustive nature of a clergyman's work; and just now he was trying hard to get the people of his parish to build a vestry, or small chapel-like building, for the benefit of the Sunday-school and of evening meetings.
But the slow old farmers were not disposed to move in a hurry. They were too tired and sleepy to go to any meetings after dark, especially when they lived far from the church, as most of them did; and unless there was something that really promised a sufficient reward of excitement and interest, they held their evening meetings at home. They had an unexpressed conviction that the large attendance at the revival meetings of the winter before could not be expected to last, though Mr. Peckham were never so eloquent. One old man, who was rarely absent from his pew on Sundays, from one end of the year to the other, said impressively to his neighbor, as they unfastened their horses from the long, well-gnawed hitching-rail at the back of the church, "I don't see, Silas, why there's any need we should build a second-sized meetin'-house, for the good o' the six or eight women folks who goes reg'lar to the evening meetin's. There's double the expense for heatin' the two buildin's every Sunday, and long 's they always had the Sabbath-school in the meetin'-house, I don't see why they can't continue," - which was very old-fogyish doctrine to the minds of some young people, and particularly to the mind of Mr. Peckham.
Sometimes the minister had felt himself to be unappreciated and mistaken, because his people balked like unruly horses, and would not follow him in the carrying out of his cherished plans, and so he welcomed this sympathetic and apparently rich stranger with open arms. He could not resist saying that it was sometimes hard for a man who had had a wider outlook over the world to suit himself to the limited ideas of a country parish. If the truth were known, he had been born and brought up in much the same sort of a community; but he had been a fly on the wheel of a large theological school, and imagined himself to be the possessor of a far greater knowledge of the world and of human nature than is apt to fall to the lot of most men, especially clergymen. It is a strange fact that the training of that profession aims so seldom at a practical acquaintance and understanding with the fellow-creatures whom it is empowered to direct and advise. The theories which are laid down in books are often as dangerous for the clergyman to follow as for the physician.
Mr. Stroud had accepted an invitation to spend a few days at the parsonage, and that evening he opened his heart to the minister in a gratifying way, and spoke freely of his aims and projects.
"I have been a busy man until this last summer," he said; "but I have had a serious illness, and my physicians ordered me to free myself from all business cares. As I have told you, I am alone in the world; and having to leave New Orleans for a colder climate, I did not know at first which way to turn. I have always had an inclination to return to my boyhood's home, if merely to pay a visit to the hills and fields, and I must confess that I was quite unprepared for the affection that overcame me at the sight of the old places and faces. I do not think that I have much time to live, and I have made up my mind to stay here and make it my home for the present, at any rate. I have had an eventful life, and the repose of such a place as this is eminently soothing. I am much touched by the interest that my coming seems to have aroused, and I shall take pleasure in trying to prove myself a friend to these good neighbors, and a worthy member of your church and parish."
There was a good deal of dignity about Mr. Stroud, and a deep tone of humility and pathos when he spoke of his loneliness, and of his almost ended life, and his desire to make the most of his last days, which [ almost ] [ nearly ] overcame the little minister, and he grasped his new parishioner's hand.
"I foresee a strong helper in you, my dear sir," he said softly, "in the good work I am trying to do. I hope you will command my services as pastor and friend." And a league was formed between them.
As the autumn days went on, Mr. Stroud became a familiar sight, as he drove or walked slowly along the country roads. His expedition with Jonas Phipps to the family burying-ground on the old Stroud farm had resulted in his spending much money in the fencing and grading of it, and the broken and fallen stones were replaced or put to rights carefully. It happened that the present owners of the farm had built a new house, and were living more comfortably than most people in Walton, and the arrangement was made that Mr. Stroud should go there to board. Mrs. West, the farmer's wife, was much courted and questioned by her acquaintances; and being a somewhat sentimental soul, as well as a lover of a good story, she had many an interesting fact to communicate. All the neighbors knew how many newspapers Mr. Stroud took, and how many letters he had to answer; what beautiful shirts he wore, and how he gave next to no trouble, and hardly ever could bear to speak of his wife, and that he liked dinner of boiled fowls better than most anything, and every day went down to the burying lot, as if it were all he had in the world. In society he was a very agreeable man; he talked well, though he was rather pompous, and it became the fashion to defer to him upon any questions of the outside world's affairs.
Everybody followed this leader but Miss Lydia Dunn. Strange to say, she liked him less and less; she was prejudiced to an unwarrantable degree. It made no difference to her that he made long and eloquent prayers; that he was going to give a new library to the Sunday-school, and had spoken of her as the proper person to select it in company with the minister. He had called upon her within a week or two of his arrival in town, and from the minute she gave him the first steady look out of her sharp-sighted eyes, and he turned away, a little embarrassed, to admire the view from the windows, she would join in none of the praise of him with which the air was filled, and listened to the petty gossip about his acts and affairs with an ill-concealed impatience. She doubted him, she did not know why. She reproached herself, and fought the feeling she had toward him most bitterly at first; but it was of no use. She feared that the townspeople thought she cherished the old grudge against the name, and hated him for his father's sins; but dislike and distrust him she certainly did, and she could not deceive other people or herself.
It is unnecessary to say that she was in the minority, for all Walton treated him like a king. His money seemed to be at everybody's service, when it suited his pleasure to hear the hints with which his ears were filled. He helped one farmer to lift a mortgage, with which the recklessness of a dissipated son had burdened him; he visited more than one poor old soul, and left a bank-note in her hand when he said good-by. He found a cousin of his mother living alone, very feeble and poor, in a dilapidated house in a distant part of the town; and he had the house repaired, and hired a strong young woman to take care of things, with the assurance that he would be responsible for all bills. He came forward liberally with his subscription to every good work that was undertaken, whether religious or secular, and people began to wonder how Walton had ever got on without him.
The announcement of his crowning piece of generosity came just before Thanksgiving. Jonas Phipps, whom Miss Lydia Dunn had carefully engaged to come early on the Monday morning to aid her in the severer duties of house-keeping, came loitering down the hill about eleven o'clock, as if nobody in the world were in the least hurry. Miss Lydia had been in a blazing rage with him for at least three hours, and received him in ominous silence; but he sat down, and dropped his hat beside him, and began to rub his lame leg diligently.
"I do' know 's I'm going to be good for anything this winter," he whined dolefully; and Miss Dunn snapped him up with exceeding promptness: -
"Folks would be astonished if you was!"
"I hoped you wouldn't lay it up against me for my being late this morning," he apologized. "I should ha' got here before eight, but they hailed me from the parsonage. Mr. Stroud, he was there a'ready, and they said they were going to run the lines for the new vestry as soon as the men come from Walpole."
"What new vestry?" asked Miss Lydia, coming out from the pantry with a dish in her hand, ready to forget all private grievances in hearing this interesting news.
"Then you ain't heard that Mr. Stroud is going to build one? Well, I was only acquainted with the facts this morning. I found I could be o' some use, and I s'posed you wouldn't be very particular about having of me round until you were about through with the washing."
"Don't you know I never wash the Monday of Thanksgiving week?" and Miss Dunn stood ready again to fight her own battles. "You know just as well as I do that I wanted you here early, and now I've been so put back in my work that I'm ready to say I don't want you to show yourself inside my doors again. I can't be so bothered and fretted. You're worse than ever you were, and there's no disguising it."
Jonas gave a heavy sigh. "It's going to be a real ornamental building, I heard some of 'em say. It'll set in the far corner of the lot, between them two balm-o'-Gilead trees. Mr. Stroud was saying he should have liked to get into it this winter, but winter plastering is always a-cracking. They're going to haul the stone for the foundation from Beckett's quarry, and they'll do that right off. They'll be getting jealous of us over to Raynham. Gives like a prince, don't he? I tell you, we're awful fortunate to have such a man come among us. Mis' Peckham was saying yesterday, when I was over to the parsonage, that he'd give some kind of a hint to the minister about a new communion service."
"The old one's good enough," barked Miss Dunn. "I ain't one that wants to do away with all the old associations. And, for my part, I don't like to see anybody too good. My father always used to say, 'When you see anybody too good, look out for 'em.' I don't know anything against Henry Stroud, but he ain't got the mean Stroud look out of his face, if he has got rich and pious."
"I thought 't was right to go accordin' to Scriptur'; 'By their works ye shall know 'em,'" Jonas suggested with considerable spirit; but he was doomed to have his loyalty quenched, for Miss Dunn retorted that he had better be meditating on that verse for his own good.
"But I ought to be ashamed of twitting you or throwing disrepute on anybody," said the good woman. "And I tell you honest, Jonas, I wish I had a more Christian feeling about that man. I know folks says it's jealousy, and that I ain't able to forget his father's cheating my grandfather; but if I'd liked him, and believed he was a straightforward man, I never would have thought of keeping any old grievances. There ain't any of us but has lived down some of our old sins we're ashamed to think of now, and it's fair to look at a man as he is, and not go raking up old matters. It seems to me as if he was kind of buying his way into heaven out of his pocket, and as if he liked to be king of his company, and the big man of the place, now he's come back to it. I don't like the looks of him; but as for the good he does, that'll stay after him."
"You always do have good judgment," said Jonas. "I can't say I got the measure of him the first time I see him. He had a kind of meaching cast o' countenance, though you can't tell by the looks of a toad how far he'll jump. But when you come to see how he spends his money right and left, and the good he does with it, and hear how he leads in prayer, I don't see how anybody can speak agin him. Miss Singer said it fetched the tears right out o' her eyes to hear him lamenting his sins as he does in the evening meeting, as if he was the wickedest man there."
"Perhaps he's only telling the truth," said Miss Dunn, and Jonas rose in indignation.
"I don't see how you can talk so on-Christian!" he said. "But there," he added, in a milder tone, "we all have our feelin's about such things, and I do' know but what it's as well to be honest about 'em." Jonas could not help being mindful of Miss Dunn's kindness and generosity and patience, which had lasted year in and year out; for his slender fortunes would be slenderer still without her assistance. He and his mother, a very old and almost helpless woman, lived in a house that was one of the most ancient and shiftlessly kept of any in that region, and Jonas hardly ever descended the hill toward it from Miss Dunn's without some plate or basket of food, or other help to the housekeeping. Beside this lame man and the woman of nearly ninety years, there was a little orphan niece of Jonas's, who was growing up under that cheerless roof. There were so few really poor people in Walton that great capital was made of these; and the sewing society sewed for them, and the church, of which old Mrs. Phipps had been a somewhat unsatisfactory member, paid their rent, and some bills beside. Miss Dunn did not believe in making dependents and paupers of them. She insisted that people should work when they could, and be paid for it, and unless Jonas rendered her some service she had nothing to give him, though he hung round despairingly, and rubbed his knee with no end of devotion and apparent distraction of pain.
As the cold weather came on, it was told sadly from one parishioner to another that Mr. Stroud's health was failing, and he really did look feeble and old. The people with whom he made his home gave dismal accounts of his sufferings from bad attacks of pain, and every Sunday, when he took his seat in church, pitying eyes followed him. The stories of his generosities still went on. He met the Phipps child going home from school, one November day, and took her into his wagon and drove her to the Walton store, where he bought her a hood and mittens, and some cloth for a dress, and a big shawl, which never could be folded small enough for her, or so that the corner of it would not trail on the ground and gather little sticks. He gave the minister an encyclopędia and a new winter overcoat, and the Sunday-school library was promised, and was to be Mr. Stroud's Christmas present to the Sunday-school. The old deacons, who had been for many years chief authorities in parish matters, - without whose slow consent nothing had heretofore been done, - found themselves ignored and completely set aside. Everything was to be done as Mr. Stroud and the minister saw fit. The deacons, no doubt, felt a certain sorrow at their degradation, but they could only swim with the stream, and express their thankfulness for the zeal of the brother who had come among them.
Everybody drifted with this current but Miss Dunn, and at last her antagonistic feeling became a cause of great sorrow to her. She searched her heart for the sin of envy and malice, but with all her prayer and penance she could cultivate no better charity toward her neighbor. It was curious that, in spite of wind and rain, the crooked little twig still clung to her kitchen window-sill, and looked in at her every morning as she opened the shutter. It seemed as if it held a dwarfed and wretched soul within its ragged bark; and our friend connected it in her thoughts, she could not tell why, with the stranger and his coming. She felt that she ought to be charitable, and that it was wicked to hate without cause; but Mr. Stroud was still outside the pale of her affections, and the lilac twig that looked like a man still clung outside the window, in the cold. She could not throw it away, but she wished every morning that it might have blown away in the night, and so have freed her from its haunting unpleasantness. She had not believed before that she was superstitious, and altogether this was a troubled time in her life; but the days grew shorter and shorter, the stones for the foundation of the vestry went crawling up the long hill, load after load, and she filled her cellar fuller of provisions than ever, and set her face resolutely toward getting through another long, hard Walton winter.
It was curious that Mr. Stroud seemed eager to be friendly with Miss Dunn. He treated her with great respect and deference, and appeared to take no notice of her abrupt and slighting manner toward him, though many of the lookers-on accused her of disgraceful rudeness. She said to herself many times that she would treat him civilly; but she did not always succeed, and she became conscious that the new parishioner was anxious to gain her good will, in spite of it. His manner toward her was called long-suffering and really Christian by his admirers; and, if the truth must be told, Miss Dunn became unpopular with her neighbors, and felt herself to be alone on the losing side, a most unhappy minority of one. She would not have believed that some of the people who had always been her friends could have thrown off the old ties so easily; and it hurt her pride not a little, for she had always been a person of great consequence and influence, and had been faithful and dutiful to the very utmost. She was often slighted and set aside, in these autumn days, and her opinions were seldom sought or listened to. She would have been more than human if she had not remembered how well she had served her towns-folk in their hours of need, and had carried a kind heart and ready hand to help in their days of pleasuring, year after year. She felt very sorry when the thought came to her that her friends were suspecting her of jealousy.
Mr. Stroud had been very friendly and talkative when he had called upon Miss Dunn, soon after he came to Walton, and she had received him with more show of interest than she was able to muster afterward. He did not repeat the visit until one afternoon in the middle of December, when, with much surprise, she saw him drive up to the fence, and after fastening his horse, cover him up carefully, as if he meant to make a long call. Luckily the sitting-room was well warmed already from the kitchen, and Miss Lydia had time to touch a match to the pine-cone kindlings of the fire that was laid in the Franklin stove; and by the time she had somewhat stiffly ushered in her guest, he could have thought the fire was already half an hour old.
They talked about the weather, and how the snow kept off, and about an old person in the neighborhood who was near death, and with whom Miss Dunn had been watching; and at last there fell an awkward silence, and the longer it continued the harder it became to say anything.
"I have been much pained at discovering that my father was much in fault toward your family," said Mr. Stroud at last, with a good deal of effort. "I wish I had known it sooner; but you will easily understand that, leaving home early in life as I did, and forming new associations, I knew nothing of it. I am anxious now to make restitution. I should have done so years ago if I had known. I cannot say how deeply I regret the disgrace" - and the visitor looked pained and troubled; and as he seemed to feel so keenly the shadow that rested on his name, Miss Dunn's kind heart came to his rescue.
"I should let bygones be bygones, if I was you," she said. "And your mother, you know, was a most excellent woman; as good a neighbor as there was in Walton. Yes, your father got my grandfather to sign for him, and made promises to him that he knew was lies. It was very hard on the poor old gentleman, but I don't put it down against you, and I don't want you to think there's any account between us. I've got enough to carry me through [ , ] unless something extra should happen. You've been doing for the good of the parish, and so we'll say no more about it."
But Mr. Stroud met this generous speech - generous in other ways than in its refusal of the payment of a debt - in a cold-hearted way.
"You are very kind," he said, "but I shall insist upon paying you the amount of the principal, - the original sum that your grandfather lost. I should be glad to include the interest also, but I fear I am not able at this time, without impairing some good work that I have hoped to do" - he was about to add "in other directions," but checked himself in time. "I will make restitution to you so far as I can," and the visitor leaned his head on his hand, and gave a heavy sigh. It was very still in the little sitting-room; the fire had passed the ardor of its youth, and the pine-cones and crow-sticks having snapped and crackled away up the chimney, the sound walnut and maple sticks were now burning lazily but steadily. The picture of old Parson Dunn looked down solemnly from the wall, and for a minute his granddaughter felt inadequate to the occasion.
"If it is to satisfy your own feelings and conscience," she said at last, "I shall put no bar in your way; but I see no use in it and no need of it. I will tell people that you offered to do it, and that I refused to take it, and" -
"I care nothing for the praise of men." The guest flushed, and was somewhat nettled at this, and Miss Lydia felt that she had spoken unkindly in her frankness. She did not know how to soften her speech, and said nothing; wishing more and more that Mr. Stroud would end this quixotic business call, and go away.
She took a good look at him, and was shocked to see how much he was changed and how ill he looked. Her long experience in taking care of sick people had made her eyes quick to see the signs of disease, and she felt a thrill of pity for him and shame for her own uncharitableness, and spoke again, more kindly than before: -
"I want you should let bygones be bygones, Mr. Stroud."
"You are most considerate," he answered; "but I came prepared to give you my note for the six thousand dollars, with six per cent. interest from date. If I am living, I will pay it within a year; if not, you will look to my executors;" and with a most impressive and solemn manner he drew a folded paper from his pocket. Miss Dunn looked at him and looked at the paper; she did not know whether to laugh or cry.
She urged him to stay to tea, when, after a few minutes, he rose from his chair and made ready to go. He looked about the room, and appeared to be struck by its old-fashioned comfort and warm, plain snugness. "You have a most enviable home," he said, in a way that instantly suggested his being only a boarder in Walton, and a sick man at that. Miss Dunn stood by the kitchen window, and watched him climb, with a good deal of effort, into his carriage, and afterward watched the wagon far down the hill and out of sight. Then she sat down, and looked at the note which she been holding fast in her hand. "Lord forgive me for my wickedness," she said, "but I can't like that man, and I never want to touch his money." She went into the front room, and laid the bit of paper on the table, and sat down again and looked at it. "He lied when he said he didn't know about it," she told herself indignantly. "He was a boy of sixteen or seventeen when it happened, and nobody talked of anything else." But she thought for the hundredth time that if he were a cheat, somebody ought to have distrusted him beside herself; and after all, what had he done but good since he came to Walton?
For the next day or two it must be confessed that Miss Dunn's heart was greatly softened toward the new parishioner. She thought of him a great deal, as she went about her work, and she kept herself awake nearly the whole of one night, - a thing which seldom happened in connection with her own affairs, though she had lost many a night's rest in the interest of other people. She said to herself [ over and over again ] [ over over and again ] that she had no right to sit in judgment, and that she was simply finding fault with the man for being himself and doing things in his own way. "I might as well blame the cat because she isn't a dog," she told herself. "I ought to wait, any way, until Henry Stroud does one piece of mischief here in Walton." And little by little, in spite of her instinct, which continued its quiet warning, she persuaded herself first into toleration, and then into pity and interest. For would not she be very well off as to money, since this late repayment of a debt had changed her carefully managed provision into a comfortable property, and was not Henry Stroud the cause of the difference? She had been richer than many of her neighbors, but she had often been anxious lest the end of the year might find her in debt; and the off-years of the apple orchard [ , ] and the drought that lessened her hay-crop [ , ] forced her to self-denials and economies most trying to her generous nature. Then the thought of the man's illness and failing health would haunt her, and she wished she had a chance to suggest some simple remedies that would be likely to make him more comfortable. His loneliness appealed to her sympathy, for she knew the hardships of it only too well, though the fact remained that nothing had ever tempted her to invite another solitary woman to share her home.
On the second day, while the note still lay untouched on the sitting-room table, and when she felt more shaken and tired than was usual with her, even at her busiest seasons, she stood late in the morning at the kitchen door. The day was uncommonly mild for the season, and the house had seemed a little lonely. For a wonder, none of the neighbors had been in; not even Jonas Phipps had strayed along; and she had not spoken to any one all the day before [ , ] [ ; ] indeed, since she had parted from Mr. Stroud himself. She leaned against the door, and looked up and down the road. She would really have liked to see somebody coming, with whom she could exchange greetings; but nobody was in sight, up the hill or down, and she gave a little sigh, and then bestowed her attention upon the bits of leaves and little sticks that the wind of the night before had swept off the grass to the flagstones, and had piled against the doorstep. She thought it looked untidy, and briskly went in again to get her broom with which to set the disorders to rights. It was time to take something out of the oven, and this made a little delay; and when she returned to the outer world she saw a wagon approaching, and saw also that its driver was Mr. Stroud.
Her first impulse was to dart back into the kitchen, but it was quite too late for that, and she returned the salutation with considerable friendliness. Mr. Stroud half checked his horse, and there was a moment of awkwardness, which Miss Dunn ended by speaking in flattering terms of the weather.
"Won't you get out and come in?" she asked, being possessed by a sense of great obligation; and added, "I've just taken a pan of gingerbread out of the oven; perhaps you would relish a piece. It's what my grandmother used to call betwixt hay and grass, as to dinner and breakfast."
Mr. Stroud seemed pleased by this unwonted show of hospitality, and turned his horse toward the hitching-post at once, while his hostess' heart misgave her at the thought of her fireless sitting-room, and the litter of pans and dishes that possessed the kitchen table. But her guest appeared unconscious of any lack of dignity in his reception, and took the rocking-chair by the front window, and proceeded to eat two large pieces of the hot gingerbread, [ that ] [ which ] must have seriously impaired his appetite for dinner. He looked entirely out of place in the kitchen, however, and made Miss Dunn somewhat uncomfortable; it would have suited her much better if she could have asked him into the sitting-room, but, contrary to her usual custom, she had kept the door shut all the morning.
They talked about nothing that was very interesting, with a good deal of earnestness. Miss Dunn had a little feeling of embarrassment, which was doubled when Mr. Stroud, after having declined further supplies of gingerbread, said in a pointed way, "I have enjoyed thinking of my visit here the day before yesterday."
"I'm sure I was pleased to see you," untruthfully responded Miss Lydia.
"I think you have a very pleasant home; it is a thing for which we cannot be too grateful to a kind Providence," and he sighed heavily.
Miss Dunn had been afraid that he would make some allusion to the note for six thousand dollars, and showed her gratitude at being spared that by saying, "How is your health, Mr. Stroud? Seems to me you have picked up a little."
But Mr. Stroud sighed again, and shook his head sadly. "I don't seem to have gained," he said.
"I know of some excellent teas for your complaints," she suggested. "Folks laugh nowadays at some o' the old-fashioned remedies, but I must say I like 'em as well as any. I don't think they've had their day yet."
"I should be very grateful for help," said the guest, "and I wish I could thank you for your sympathy;" and he gave her a look that said so much that it set Miss Lydia's heart into a great flutter; but the next minute she flushed, and was angry with herself for being such a fool, and the old feeling of dislike and distrust crept over her, surely and suddenly.
If Jonas Phipps had been the angel Gabriel, she could not have been more grateful to him for his friendship and assistance in paying her a morning visit at that particular moment, and she offered him the plate of gingerbread with a feeling of real affection.
Jonas selected the largest piece, and disappeared through the woodshed door, by which he had entered; and Mr. Stroud also took his departure, after making some further expressions of his gratitude. Miss Dunn's brain was in a whirl, but she sought Jonas, and offered him rebuke after rebuke, until he left some long-neglected wood-splitting in self-defense, and went limping away with a piece of board and two stakes and the axe, to mend a broken place in the far corner of the orchard fence; and there he dwelt in unmolested safety until dinner-time.
That afternoon Miss Dunn went out on an errand of mercy to an invalid neighbor, who lived a mile or two away, and did not allow herself to think about her own affairs in peace until she sat down alone, after supper. Then there was nothing else to be done, and she began to feel very much upset. There was an unmistakable meaning and intention quite separate from any words that Mr. Stroud had said to her that morning, and she was both angry and pleased together. She could not fight down the certainty that she was no longer young, and that she was quite alone in the world; that it would be a blessed thing to have some one near her who loved her dearly and would take care of her. It would make life a great deal more interesting if she were doing her round of every-day work for somebody else's sake, as well as her own. It would be a great victory won from certain members of the parish, also single women, if she became the wife of Mr. Stroud; and she was not without ambition. But, on the other hand, though he was the greatest man in Walton, he was still a Stroud; and she smiled grimly as she thought that some of her own ancestors would be disturbed in their graves at the thought of her marrying one of that family. And it was a doubtful question whether she was wise in undertaking the care of a sick man; for, in spite of her skill in nursing, he might not be going to spend much more time in this world. At last she rose impatiently, and marched off to bed, and said to herself the last thing before she went to sleep, "I guess I'd better wait until I've heard more about it, before I begin to worry myself; but he needn't think I'm going to run after him the way some folks have."
She was almost ashamed when she found herself thinking about the new parishioner the first thing in the morning, and called herself an old fool; but there was, after all, satisfaction in the thought of his admiration of her gingerbread, and she recalled some ignominious failure that Mrs. West, his present hostess, had made in the cake line at a parish supper, not long before, and she wondered if the poor man were often treated to such cooking as that. She went into the front room and took up the bit of paper which he had given her, and smoothed it out, and looked at the clerkish, regular writing with interest. "I dare say he would have to go to New York and round on business," she told herself, and then thought with awe and satisfaction of his wealth. "I always did think I should like traveling," she said; and then was so angry with herself, that if Jonas had appeared at that moment it would have fared cruelly hard with him.
But a little later in the day the tide of her feeling turned, for Jonas came bravely in to offer his congratulations for her good fortune. Miss Dunn had not spoken of Mr. Stroud's repayment of the old debt to any one. She had known that it would be right and just, and had been girding up her strength to the fray. Somebody else had been before her, and it must have been none other than her benefactor himself. It will easily be imagined how the story of this great piece of generosity flew from house to house, and Jonas said that everybody knew of it all over town, in answer to Miss Lydia's startled inquiry. This [ spoilt ] [ spoiled ] everything, and the new growth of interest was crushed, and the world was seen to be the same world as before, only more in shadow than ever, while our friend hardly knew why she was so provoked and disappointed. She said to herself that it was no use to go against your nature, and she knew what sort of a man he was the first time she set eyes on him; if other folks didn't, the worst was their own. But she went about the house drearily, and Jonas, who was promptly dismissed, though he was sure she wished him to fill a certain water hogshead from the orchard spring, reported at the next neighbor's that Miss Lyddy was taking her prosperity dreadful hard. For his part, he wondered whether she was kind of mortified, or whether she was scared to stay alone with so much money in the house.
It was a great relief on the next day, which was Sunday, that there was so deep a fall of snow that even so constant and devoted a church-goer as our heroine was obliged to stay at home. Though she was glad of this excuse from facing her accusing neighbors, they felt it to be a loss of entertainment; and perhaps it was for the satisfaction of these deferred hopes of seeing her come into church that the Wednesday evening meeting was uncommonly well attended. It was a clear, bright night, and the Sunday's snow was trodden into capital sleighing, and as good walking as can ever be in country roads. It was a long while since the moon had had to light so many Walton people to the Wednesday meeting, and it was for anything but to say their prayers together.
The new parishioner sat in his accustomed seat near the pulpit, and Miss Dunn sat in her old family pew, which was on the side and faced the congregation. She would not have sat anywhere else for untold gold, and she made so much effort to look unconcerned that her cheeks were red with excitement, and her hands shook when she held the hymn-book. Mr. Peckham spoke with great feeling of his pleasure at meeting so large a congregation, and Mr. Stroud prayed, and two women made an ostentatious use of their pocket-handkerchiefs for several minutes afterward. The old deacons followed in their turn, the hymns were sung, and the meeting was possessed of a good deal more fervor than usual. Mr. Peckham had read a few verses from the book of the Revelation, and was explaining them earnestly. Miss Dunn had felt as if this meeting were to be in some way personal and condemnatory of herself; but as the hour went on she quite recovered her self-possession, and the horrors of her position as regarded Walton society became much less.
At the last of the evening, while Mr. Stroud himself was speaking, she heard the door of the church open, and looking around she saw two men come quickly in and seat themselves in the pew nearest the door. From her own pew at the side of the church she could look up and down the aisle, and she saw these strangers give a little nod at each other, and look amused as they listened to the speaker. She loitered in her pew for a few minutes after the meeting was over, as was her habit, and spoke to one and another of her friends as usual. She had a great anxiety not to do anything uncommon, and when she was half-way down the aisle she felt herself to have regained her equilibrium. Old Mrs. Bangs, who was waiting by the stove for the deacon to get his horse ready, and bring him round from the rail to the church door, caught at her sleeve as she went by, and after speaking about the meeting and some general matters added bluntly, "Well Lyddy, you can't say anything against Mr. Stroud, now. I'm sure he has done handsome by you."
"I've never meant to say anything against him," answered Miss Dunn; "but I think he was foolish to do what he has. I tried to persuade him out of it, I'm sure." And just at this moment Mr. Stroud and the minister came by, [ and ] [ when ] Miss Dunn, who had for a few moments forgotten the two strangers, noticed [ just then ] [ with surprise ] that they were still in the pew next the door.
One of them stepped forward and spoke to Mr. Stroud, who looked disturbed and shocked. He leaned back against the [ pew ] [ wall ], and acted as if he were much in despair. The two men watched him, and seemed to be waiting, and it was only a minute before he turned to Mr. Peckham, and said, - Miss Dunn being so near that she heard every word, - "I find I must take a long, cold journey to-night. My presence is needed in New York, and I must go at once to catch the train at Walpole."
Mr. Peckham expressed his sorrow for this, his friend being so feeble and sensitive to cold. He said a good deal in trying to urge him to wait until morning; but after one look at the grim messengers, Mr. Stroud politely waived the arguments, and buttoned up his overcoat and went out into the moonlight night. One of the strangers got into the sleigh with him, and the other followed alone; and that was the last that was seen of the New Parishioner, and the last of his illustrious reign in Walton.
"My conscience!" said Jonas Phipps, one day early in the spring, when he made his first appearance at Miss Dunn's after a long illness. "How come you to see through that cheat, when all the rest of us was so taken in? I don't know 's Mr. Peckham is ever going to git over it. We all took him to be spending money by the fistful, and most of it was nothing but givin' his note and saying 'Charge it to me,' as if he was the great Lord Gull. Nobody had any kind of doubt but what his pockets was lined with money. Not but what it wa'n't a kind of dreadful thing that he should ha' died all alone in his bed over there to Walpole. I s'pose 't was that long ride in the cold and his being upset by the officers pouncing on to him so, - right in the meeting-house. He did spend some honest money though: I can think o' four or five hundred dollars he left in one place and another whilst he was here."
Miss Dunn said nothing, and after reflecting a while Jonas went on: -
"He was gifted in prayer more than most, now, wasn't he? I think, being a sick man, and knowing it, after he defaulted down South there, he thought he would be as religious as he could while he had time. He must have felt as safe here as anywhere. They pronounced his name different down South, you know. Strude they called it; and somebody was telling me folks thought it was likely he'd been going under another name, any way. Land! there's all that foundation stone for the vestry laying up there on the meetin' house yard. I wonder when they're going to raise. And the parish's got to pay for that new library he gave it for a Christmas present. Run an awful rig, didn't he? [ I was surprised when they told me his wife had left him, 'stead of her being dead, as we thought all along. ] I've sometimes thought he was a little sprung. How he did strut about, and all the women made everything of him but you," said Jonas, trying to turn a pretty compliment to Miss Dunn's discretion. "I wonder who paid the bills for his funeral? Nobody seemed to know at the time."
"It was just as well if they didn't," said Lydia Dunn, looking a little conscious. "Now, Jonas Phipps, we've both got work to do, and lives to live, and that poor creature's gone to his last account; we haven't any business with him, as I know of. He couldn't help being a Stroud, and the sins he could help he's had a chance to be ashamed of before this. For my part, I don't want to hear another thing about him. But I do thank my stars I never made a fool of myself, and I wish others, for their sakes, could say as much. I guess I had trouble o' mind enough to last me one while. I don't know as some folks knows what honesty is: you might as well blame a black and white cat for not being a good mouser."
"How's that little gray cat turned out, you started to raise along in the winter?" interrupted Jonas[ , ] earnestly; and Miss Dunn replied, not without a smile, that she seemed to be a likely kitten.
"Any way, folks thinks a sight of your opinion," said Jonas again. "And mother, she sticks to it you did me a sight more good than the doctor. She says I never should ha' pulled through if it hadn't been for the time you spent a-watching of me, and them things you recommended. I guess everybody has to allow that in the long run you've done more good than Stroud," and grateful Mr. Phipps rubbed his eyes with his coat sleeve. "I told the minister so last time he come to see me. 'Rising sixty year,' says I, 'she's been doing of good works!'" But at this Miss Lydia looked displeased. "He's dreadful ashamed, now, about having took up with Stroud so. 'Talk's cheap,' says I to Mr. Peckham, 'and Stroud was great on talk.'"
"Now, Jonas Phipps," said Miss Lydia, "there was nobody who kept round Henry Stroud any closer than you did. You always were telling me how rich he was, and how much he gave away, and everything he'd been doing, and what an addition he was to the place."
"It did look like it for a time," said Jonas[ , ] humbly. "Even you would ha' liked him if you could, but your good judgment wouldn't allow. Seems dreadful dull since I got about again, not hearing anything about his goin's-on. Asa Singer was telling of me, as I come up the hill, - he called me in to get me to try a bar'l of cider they'd just tapped for spring use, he said there wa'n't an apple in it but what was sound, and it did go to the right spot, I tell ye, - Asa was telling of me that a bill come from somewheres South only yesterday. I wonder what he'd 'a' done if he hadn't died; they all say he hadn't much money by him."
Miss Dunn felt a sense of nearness to the edge of a precipice. She often remembered, in these days, that she had taken at least one step in a most dangerous direction. She had called herself names all winter long, and felt like a hypocrite when people complimented her on her superior discretion. It is a most humiliating thing to lose one's self-respect, and she never could forget that for a few hours she had been in peril of defeat, and of being bought over, like the rest. She had allowed herself to glance at the temptation, and she could make no excuse for herself. The Lord had made her a woman, to be sure, but she need not have been a silly one.
Jonas went on with his reflections: "I can't believe but what he'd done better if he'd had a longer chance. He was a great hand for a meeting, and he seemed to want to do well by everybody; but they say he'd had to clear out from three or four places running, and some thinks he may have got the money he spent here by gambling."
"It's no kind of use to make a man out worse than he is," said Miss Dunn [ , ] angrily, "and for my part I am sick to death of hearing about Henry Stroud. I hoped it had blown over a little, but I suppose it's natural you should want to take your turn at it. First, folks was all pecking at me because I wouldn't bow down and worship him, and now they want me to throw rocks at his tomb-stone. They go just like a pack of sheep over a stone wall; one gets her nose over, and all the rest think they've got to die if they don't follow. He's gone to his last account, and we'd better let him alone."
It was easy enough to say this, but the subject continued to be an interesting one, and provoked frequent discussions for many months afterward, in that neighborhood. It was some time before the residents of surrounding towns could resist asking such Walton people as ventured to stray away from home what had become of the great man they used to have over there, or if they had moved into the new vestry yet.
As for the twig at the window, the outer blind got loose one windy winter night, and struck against it and set it free, and it was blown along the frozen snow far down the hill and out of sight; and in the morning Miss Dunn felt lighter-hearted, because she missed it from its place. It seemed to her that she was growing old and notional. She had felt as young as ever until that winter, for her girlhood had been a dutiful and quiet one. It was fortunate that she found so much to do inside her house and out, and everybody said that her front yard was the handsomest in Walton that summer; the flowers bloomed in great splendor, and her two best china vases from the parlor mantel-piece were filled for the adornment of the pulpit Sunday after Sunday. Even Jonas Phipps did not suspect, as he toiled in her company, that sad thoughts often assailed her, and could not be driven away either by a double diligence in her solitary housekeeping, or by her painstaking care that the garden pinks and lilies should be untroubled by weeds.
Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe College
The Mate of the Daylight
Main Contents & Search