Page images

Here's some old linen, an' salve, for doin' up cuts and bruises; I git a chance to use them, on myself or some body else, abeout every week. An' here's the last newspaper, to read in the shade when I get tired o' choppin'. An' now,"-shutting up the drawer,-"I'm agoin' to cut up that log, over yonder, an' you can see how I manage.'

[ocr errors]

So saying, Uncle True stuck his axe through some leather straps at the side of his chair, raised himself slowly, by a firm grasp of its arms, and turned about, shifting hands, as he did so, from one side to the other. Then he lifted it by the arms, set it forward a step, dragged one foot after the other slowly up to it, set it forward again, and so proceeded until he reached the point indicated; when he twisted himself into it, resumed his axe, and set to work.

I looked on with interest; and something like pity must have shown itself in my face, also, for the old man, after looking at me keenly, once or twice, said quietly, "It's a dull sort of a life to lead, may be you think; but it isn't quite a useless one, you see. And I've grown so wonted to it, that I guess I shouldn't care to have it any different, now, if I could.”

I recalled Mr. Warren's emphatic assertion, "Life is sweet to them all," and felt its truth. Yet, what a dissimilarity in the two men! Uncle True's placid, sensible face, was full of the glow of a kindly and contented spirit, shining through the dusk and rigor of its circumstances like sunbeams struggling through a dusty, discolored window, pane. The little light in Mr. Warren's face resembled rather the chill reflection of sunbeams from ice; which freezes all the harder to-day because it thawed a little yesday.

Entering the front gate, I discovered Mrs. Prescott, sitting in a low, lilac-shaded doorway, opening directly into the parlor, or, as Mrs. Divine oddly enough calls it, the "out-room. It is a large, low-studded room, covered

[ocr errors]

with a carpet of domestic manufacture, and filled with an odd mixture of antique and modern furniture; the stiff and angular arrangement of which, shutting out every genial and hospitable grace, as well as the exquisite neatness in which it is kept, being, evidently, a work after Mrs. Prescott's own heart. Surmising that this stronghold of the family dignity had been opened in my honor, and conscious, withal, that I owed the lady some civility, in atonement for my rude speech of the morning, I went to her at


"Mrs. Prescott, is there any rector to the little church on the hill yonder?"

She looked up with the first gleam of real interest that I had seen on her chronically dissatisfied face.

"No, there ain't any now," answered she, "but I hope there will be before long. There's a minister coming to preach here next Sunday, and if he gets encouragement enough, he'll stay."

"Then the parish has not given him a call!" said I, with a little natural surprise at this way of doing things. “A call! Land's sakes, no,-I wish they had! But there ain't life enough in them for that. He'll get no call, unless it's from the Ladies' Sewing Society; or, I might as well say, right out, from me and Esther Volger, for we have to drive 'em up to do all that is done. We went to the Bishop, and got him to promise us that he would send this man here; and we obligated ourselves to see that he got enough to support him, somehow. Of course, when the men find out that a minister's really coming, they'll get together and auctioneer off the pews; and then the ladies, by dint of sewing societies, and tea-parties, and fairs, must make up the rest."

"Has the parish always been so feeble, or so torpid? I inquired.

[ocr errors]

"Oh! dear, no; once it was strong enough. You see, it was a split-off from the old church (that's up street, five

miles away); and it took some of the best and most influential men of that parish,-father among the rest. But most of them died years ago, and their sons didn't fill their places (seems to me none of them do, now-a-days!); or their property was divided and sold, and the new owners didn't care for the church. Then father met with heavy losses, and had to sell out his old, fine place upon the Hill (this is mother's property);-and so the parish began to run down, and it's kept going down hill ever since, till there isn't a man left in it worth his salt. To be sure father 'll do all he can, but he's got to be old, you see, and has pretty much done with active life, in the world and in the Church. And if it wasn't for the women, the parish would be dead as a door-nail, in no time!"

Which it never would be, I thought, as long as Mrs. Prescott remained to galvanize it into any spasmodic, intermittent life, with her energy and acidity. And I found, thereafter, that she was truly the mainspring of the parish, without which it must have gone to irremediable ruin. Not that she was a popular or discreet leader, for her sharp philippics and stinging comments, while they penetrated some obtuse consciences, and stirred their owners up to sluggish good works, mortally offended others, and drove them into greater apathy or dogged opposition. Nevertheless, she fought on, exhibiting genuine courage, perseverance, and self-sacrifice, and achieving something for Christ and His Church, which is put down to her credit, doubtless, against the day when the books are opened.

"And the clergyman that is coming next Sunday, who is he?" inquired I..

"Oh! he's a Mr. Taylor,-just ordained, I believe, though he's not a young man; he has a wife and family. He seems like a downright, earnest, zealous, wide-awake sort of a man, and I hope he'll shake up this valley of dry bones a little. By the way, Miss Frost, won't you join our Sewing Society? We need all the help we can get."

MALA. Sewing Society! Nursery of gossip, and hotbed of malice and all uncharitableness! In the name of Common Sense, tell her you must respectfully decline.

BONA. You need not gossip, nor bear malice, nor deal uncharitably. Take care that your own motives are right, and do not judge your neighbors. If no good work is to be commenced, or carried on, until the workers and the system are cleansed from all evil, where, on this earth, are you to find a place to begin ?

MALA. To be sure, it might afford you amusement to go. It must be a rare place to study character.

BONA. Nay, if you are going for that object mainly, you had better decline.

I (peevishly). Was ever poor mortal bothered with such a pair of contradictory advisers! You change your places so quickly that I do not know one from the other, nor which to follow. (Then, aloud, to Mrs. Prescott). I cannot promise to join, until I am more certain that I can do good by becoming a member. But I will go once, if you wish, and see what it is like.

"Well, it meets to-morrow," she answered. "It don't generally meet on Saturday, but it will this week, on account of Mr. Taylor's coming. We must get together, and find out what sort of a support we can promise him. And I shall certainly call you, to go along."

That evening, Leo once more accompanied me to the dwelling of the Warrens, and waited patiently at the gate while I made a brief visit within. The white, waxen maiden still slept her untroubled sleep, in the room where Death had given her the kiss of peace; the father sat apart, silent, morose, wrapped in grief and in gloom; the mother received me with sad, gentle composure. She told me that the funeral was fixed for the coming Sunday, at the usual hour of afternoon service;-an appointment that seemed strange to me, though I heard it without comment,-seeing, from her

manner, that it must be in accordance with the Shiloh practice.

Then, through moonlight and shadow-shadows ourselves!-Leo and I went silently home.

And the morning and the evening were the second day!

« PreviousContinue »