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"The grace of God, I hope," said I, meditatively. “Or it might be that mushroom courage which springs up to the help of most people in an emergency; yet is neither Divine inspiration nor strength of will. At least, I am by no means certain that it was not that, in my case."
Mrs. Divine looked a mute inquiry.
"It never happened to me to officiate as chaplain for a 'tableful of men' more than once," I answered, “though I have done it, several times, in the presence of a masculine, or two; who, by reason of his youth or irreligion, could not be expected to say grace himself. That once was in Michigan. Travelling in a sparsely settled portion of the State, it befell me to stop for a night at the house of a devout Methodist sister; who, having satisfied herself that I was not altogether a 'dweller in the tents of Kedar,'-to use her own expression,-entertained me with a lengthy account of her religious experience, and beset me with questions of doctrine and duty. Among other things she bewailed herself that the family meals were eaten unblessed, as she was a widow, and none of her sons 'converted.' 'For, of course, I could not ask a blessing myself,' she concluded. Why not?' said I, 'I do not see the impropriety.' 'But I have five grown up sons and two farm hands; they would laugh at me!' 'I think not,' said I; 'certainly not, when they were once accustomed to it.' 'Would you do it, in my place?' Without a doubt.' And I thought no more of the matter until, at the table, with the five stalwart sons on the one hand, and the farm hands and female 'help' on the other, I was called upon by my hostess to 'ask a blessing.' I confess I was slightly disconcerted, for an instant; but I said the grace composedly enough, nevertheless, and the five unconverted sons did not laugh."
"And that reminds me," said Mrs. Divine, "of an incident—a pretty little incident-in one of Sir Walter Scott's novels, I think it's in 'Redgauntlet.' It's your turn to look surprised now; but, really, it's the only book where I
ever read of a lady's saying grace before men,—and I've read a good many books in my day."
There was no doubt she had. Her talk was full of chance allusions, and odd scraps of information, that showed a confirmed, though desultory, habit of reading. Yet the desultoriness was probably less a matter of choice than a necessity of the case, for the family library contains little beside a heap of old almanacs and newspapers, yellow as ancient parchment, a set of Hannah More's works, that might have crossed the Atlantic with the first Divine that settled in America,-a "Scott's Commentary," well thumbed, a "Josephus," a "Pilgrim's Progress," minus one cover and some leaves,-a "History of the United States," and the "Statutes of Connecticut." So that Mrs. Divine must have satisfied, or appeased, her intellectual hunger with such miscellaneous books as chance has flung within her reach.
She presided at her tea-table in the most cheery, hearty, and informal way; often beginning a sentence in her chair, and finishing it, in a raised voice, from the pantry, whither she had strayed in search of a knife or spoon, or an additional viand wherewith to allure my slow appetite. Opposite to her sat an upright, angular, severe figure, which I took to belong to the respectable sisterhood of old maids, until it was introduced to me as Mrs. Prescott, a widowed daughter of the house; my own vis-a-vis being the only child of the same, Alice Prescott,-a shy, blue-eyed maiden, who never once ventured to look me in the face, and only answered me, when I spoke to her, in nervous monosyllables. The "men folks," I was informed, would sup later; and would have laughed to scorn an invitation to satisfy their labor-whetted appetites with the cates and dainties whereon we had feasted. "No, indeed," said Mrs. Divine. "The cold boiled pork and beef and potatoes, left from dinner, with plenty of bread and butter and apple pie, is what they want."
Tea over, I was kindly advised to prepare for the night's vigil, by getting an hour's rest. So I underwent a kind of figurative burial in a huge heap of downy feathers, let my head sink into a soft unsubstantiality of pillow; and, while listening to a rambling talk between Bona and Mala, slid into a confused and stifled sleep, perturbed with dreams of a time and a person that it is the business of my waking hours to forget.
A little before nine, I rose, donned a loose, thick wrapper, best adapted of anything in my wardrobe to the chill watches of a night near the end of May, up here among the hilltops (yet not without misgivings lest its bright hue and flowered border should seem incongruous with the place where my watch was to be kept), and went down to the kitchen. It was a cheery picture upon which I entered. The weather was still cool enough for an evening fire on the hearth, and its dancing blaze reddened the dingy walls and the dark oaken ceiling, played at hide-and-seek with the shadows in the corners, laughed at its own reflection in the pewter plates of the dresser, and lit up with a ruddy glow the sun-browned, strong-featured faces around it. Mrs. Divine sat at one corner of the hearthstone, mending certain coarse garments by the light of a tallow candle; -the candlestick being upheld by a quaint, primitive piece of furniture which she called a "candle-stand;" consisting of an upright post, on three legs, with a cross-bar at top, capable of being raised or lowered at pleasure; to one end of which cross-bar the candlestick was hung, and to the other the snuffers. Opposite to her sat a white haired, dreamy-visaged personage, known universally as "Uncle True,"-who merits a more extended description, and shall get it in some future epistle. In a shadowed corner, Mrs. Prescott sat and knitted with the grim energy that characterizes all her movements; and by the table, two young men were amusing themselves with a game of checkers. But all these were subordinate to the central figure of the
picture, Farmer Divine himself; in a wide arm-chair; shirt-sleeved and loose-vested; with the full light of the fire shed upon his large, portly frame, and good-humored, intelligent face; and talking cheerily in a loud, hearty voice, that had not a trace of insincerity nor of reticence in it. Obviously, the farmer kept open house, open heart, open mind; whoever would, might enter and partake freely of such entertainment as was to be found. Nothing would be concealed, nothing made to show falsely, nothing tricked out in unaccustomed finery. Sundays and weekdays the fare would be the same,―never delicate, nor luscious, nor high-seasoned; but always substantial and wholesome; and offered with a simple heartiness that would be better than any studied refinements of courtesy.
He rose, and greeted me cordially, taking my hand in his broad, brown palm-where it looked as pale and unsubstantial as if it had been cut out of French paper-and smiling down upon it from his noble altitude of six feet, with a half amused, half pitying expression.
"It's high time you came to Shiloh, Miss Frost," said he. "A little longer stay in that smoky Sodom, where you come from " (pointing over his shoulder with his thumb), “would have made you something like the old woman that dried up and blew away. But do you s'pose you can put up with our plain country ways?”
"Better than you can put up with my lazy city habits, I suspect. For example, I never rose at five o'clock in my life. I hope Mrs. Divine will not think it too much trouble to give me my bread and milk a little later, for the present."
"Bread and milk!" exclaimed Mrs. Divine, "you can have that at any hour in the day you like, by just stepping into the pantry and helping yourself. But your breakfast will be ready when you're ready for it, and not a minute before. I can clap down a bit of chicken to the fire whenever it's wanted."
"Thank you; I will try not to tax your indulgence long. Mr. Divine, is it far to the Warrens?"
"Oh, no, only a step-the first house beyond the church -you can't miss it. But as you're a stranger in these parts, mayhap you wouldn't like to go alone; Alice shall go with you."
"But Alice will have to return alone.”
"Well, where's the harm?"
Why, is it the custom here for ladies to go about by themselves, in the evening? Are there no thieves or desperadoes about?”
"None that trouble anything but the henhouse. Why, you might walk off for two mile, or more, without meeting anything worse than Bill Somers's old white horse, that Mis' Burns took for a ghost the other night, and was fright ened clear out of her wits." And the farmer chuckled inwardly.
Then I will not trouble Miss Alice, thank you. I shall really enjoy finding my way by myself. There will be a pleasant spice of adventure about it. But, Mrs. Divine, I should like more minute travelling directions, in a way. What sort of people are the Warrens?"
"Poor folks enough, I guess. But people think they've seen better days. They're new comers here-that is, they've only lived here going on three year."
"I do not mean that. I merely want to know if there are any domestic or individual pitfalls to be avoided."
"Oh! Well, Mrs. Warren's one of the prettiest " (pretty being here used in its New England signification of pleasant, agreeable) “little women in the world-you can't miss your way with her. But her husband's a pitfall, sure enough only I don't see how you're to keep clear of him. He likes to talk, when the fit's on; and he's got a special gift of talking to little purpose, or to evil purpose. He's an infidel, Miss Frost-and that's saying enough that's bad about a neighbor, for once."
The farmer followed me to the door, with the instinct of