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A TALE OF THE IMAGINATION.
It is strange how fast any little comfort or convenience grows popular and makes its way among a people, after it first becomes known; and how soon it ceases to be a luxury, and becomes one of the necessaries of life.
Various things of this class will at once suggest themselves; but the one which we have in mind at this time particularly, is the common article of stoves. Five and twenty years since, or thereabouts,-our memory not serving us for that length of time, we cannot pretend to particularity in dates,--the only idea of stoves had its reality in a huge, cumbrous, ill-shaped mass of iron, in which a roaring fire was built for warming up some great barn of a building; and doubtless there are many anong us who remember when even these were first introduced into our court rooms and other public rooms, instead of wide-yawning, open fire-places, and into our houses of public worship, instead of the still less pleasant accommodation of nothing at all.
Our forefathers, and indeed we might almost say our fathers, had queer notions about some things—as who has not ?-and one of their peculiarities seems to have been a taste (for we cannot suppose it could have been a love) for discomfort in matters pertaining to houses of public worship. Some samples of their hand yet remain, and most of us have seen, in the older country towns, these relics of a generation, now nearly gone, with their steep roofs and tapering spires, and their high open walls, through whose scanty plastering the whistling wind found many an entering place; their rows of galleries piled tier on tier, often as high as two or three, apparently for the express purpose of being out of the way of the minister's voice, and sor the boys to be out of sight of the tithingmen and the older members of the congregation, where they could carry on their Sunday pranks, eat their chestnuts, and swap their jack-knives, undisturbing and undisturbed. Then there was the narrow old oaken seats-perhaps we might find samples of these not far from college grounds--selected from the very hardest logs, with the straight high backs, and moulding projecting an inch from the top, rendering it alike impossible to listen or to sleep. Add to this a raw March day, with the wind howling through the belfry, rocking the old steeple to and fro, and causing it to creak and groan as if in constant agony at the prospect of a fall; while the cold blast, finding its way through every nook and cranny of the house, caused the old men to look more solemn than usual, and their noses io assume a tint of most unbecoming blue, and the young men to thrust their hands deep into their side pockets, and try to create a little circulation by kicking their feet together, noiselessly as possible, under the bench; while the few females who had ventured out, would sit with that demure countenance and staid composure with which a woman seems to have the power of enduring any degree of cold, though her feet are in torments all the while; then add to this an hour and a half of the driest metaphysics,
delivered in a hum-drum tone, and we can form some notion of our grandfathers' beau ideal of religious worship. All these things, and many others, they looked upon, perhaps not exactly as so many enjoyments and pleasures, but as crosses to be borne, and rather than en. deavor to palliate one of these grievances, or shrink from one of these burdens, they would have parted with a right eye or a right arm. Cold houses and dry sermons were a part of their creed, and a part which they were likely to adhere to with as much pertinacity as to many
doctrines now considered of more importance.
Those days and those men have passed away, but our object being simply to relate a story, we cannot stop for reflections upon that just now.
Some twenty years ago, or perhaps rather more, in one of the interior towns of New England, rather a shrewd old minister, the Rev. Mr. W. was setiled over such a congregation that worship in such a house as the one we have been describing. They were a few years behind some of the larger towns in their neighborhood, not more than six or eight, perhaps, but they were of that old stamp of iron faced men, who all had wills of their own; who looked upon all new-sangled notions of comfort and taste, especially when they concerned matters of religious worship, as nothing more nor less than temptations of the father of evil and sinful devices, to draw away the souls of believers; and they thought that that man's piety must be in a low state indeed, who could not sit for two hours of the coldest Sunday in the year, on the hardest of boards, and never let a murmur escape his lips. It may be readily supposed then, that though they were not much behind the rest of their neighbors, the little distance which there was they would strongly maintain, and would be very jealous of any thing which would tend to decrease their rearage.
At the time that Mr. W. was settled among them, their house was as old and as cold as the most zealous of them could desire ; and though it was not yet very late in the season, there was every prospect of a pretty severe winter. Mr. W. had but recently left one of the large towns near the sea-board, where conveniences of all sorts were more plenty and more prized, and the thoughts of the warm and comfortable church where he had been accustomed to preach, and of the cold Sundays in th
old church which he saw he was doomed to encounter, made him resolve, in spite of all the opposition with which he knew he should meet, to have the old house as comfortable as a couple of stoves would make it, before the winter set in. Having acquainted his wife with his plans, his first point of attack was, of course, the women and the deacons. No opportunity was lost of magnifying the horrors of the coming winter, the dilapidated condition of the "Old Meeting-House,” the discomforts and dangers of chills and cold feet; while many well planned hints were dropped about the comfortable church in N., a due proportion of which comfort was ascribed to a couple of excellent stoves; and, at last, after circling round and round like a Pawnee warrior in pursuit of a buffalo, or a hawk about to seize upon a chicken, the attack was finally made by insinuating, in the most delicate manner
“ What a fine plan it would be to warm up the old meeting-house for the coming winter!" The ladies gave way without much resistancea natural taste for novelty, and a vivd recollection of cold feet and blue noses carrying the day against old prejudices. But with the Deacons it was altogether a different matter. They fought a hard battle, and although they finally yielded—for who could withstand the joint forces of the women and the clergy ?—they were resolved to die hard, if at all.
A conversation which occurred about this time, may serve to throw some light on the matter.
“ Good morning, Deacon H.," said Mr. W., “ how's your health this cold weather ? Prospect of a hard winter, Deacon. I'm afraid it will be a bad time for our old people—they ought to take 'special care of themselves—very few of them would bear a severe cold, I'm afraid."
“Well, Mr. W., I think it will be a pretty hard winter, and no doubt some of us old people will be gone before another—but it's what we must expect."
“Don't you think, Deacon H., that consumptions are becoming more frequent than formerly? I'm sure they are, and I've often thought that we didn't take pains enough to guard against colds in various ways. By the way, Deacon, what do you think of getting stoves for the meeting-house, this winter ? I've been speaking to Mr. G. about it, and I rather think he is in favor of the plan ?"
“ Whew! whew! Mr. W. Stoves in the meeting-house! what on airth do we want of stoves there? No, sir, I hope we shan't, indeed : thank heaven, I think enough of going to church yet, to sit without a fire, if I don't think enough of the preaching. No, sir; what would my father or grandfather have said, or your father either, Mr. W., if they had thought we should put stoves in the meeting-house. No, indeed; I'm a pretty old man, Mr. W., but I hope I shall be allowed to worship God in the good old way, for the little while I remain. So none of your new-fangled notions for me, Mr. W.” (Exit Mr. W.)
(Deacon, solus.) “Stoves in the meeting-house, indeed! Well, things have come to a pretty pass. Humph, I wonder what we shall have next. Folks'll get pretty soon so that they can't go out doors at all, and they'll have all creation roofed over to keep the cold out; but they won't get stoves while I live.”
The old Deacon, however, was doomed to disappointment. The women ruled, and with the assistance of two or three members of the congregation, whom Mr. W. had brought over, by various motives, to
of thinking, the money was advanced and the stoves purchased. The battle, however, was but half fought; the stoves were placed in the church, and the pipes fixed; but knowing looks were passed from face to face, and many a wink and grave shake of the head spoke plainly the opposition with which they were yet destined to meet.
Many a joke was cracked about making a smoke-house of the church, many a knowing remark made about the new plan of taking weekly sweats; some suggested that fire in the stoves was to supply the place of warınth in the sermon. Some of the more bold even hinted that Mr. W. was making the church, instead of a heaven upon earth, a place of a very different character.
However, Sunday morning came, and a snapping cold morning it was : the frost lay thick and crisp upon the grass : the ponds and pools were skimmed with a coat of ice, and the cold wind went whistling round the corners and through the key-holes and doors in its most chilling style. Many of the faint-hearted began to relent and to repent of their sport, and to think that a stove in church might be a very good thing, after all ; while the ladies and the few gentlemen who had favored the stoves, were glad that they should make their first appearance under such favorable circumstances.
Meanwhile, Mr. W., who was something of a wag in his way, and had resolved to have some sport in return for all his trouble, was quietly waiting the issue of his plans. He had made a confidant of the sexton, and had got matters nicely arranged, and was therefore not peculiarly sorry himself to see a pretty cool morning. At the usual time the sexton proceeded to the church and rang the bell, but, according to previous orders, he made no fire in the stoves; and, after having placed two or three huge portentous looking armfuls of wood before them, and scattered a little cold ashes round the door of each, he left them to act their own part in the matter.
The second bell rang, and the people soon assembled. Mr. W. took his place. Many a side glance was cast at the stoves, and the huge piles of wood, but no one approached them. For a time, all went on quiet. But old Deacon H., who sat up in the corner, looked askance all the while, and at length, with a dreadful long breath, the Deacon unbuttoned one after another the buttons of his great coat, and after having laid it slowly aside, deliberately proceeded to fan himself with his huge flap hat, at the same time looking violently at the stoves, as much as to say, “I wish they were at the bottom of the sea." All this was not lost
upon the anti-have-stoves-in-the-meeting-house-party, men, women, and children, and soon a very respectable assemblage of hats, fans, and handkerchiefs, might be seen in motion, in various parts of the house; coats were unbuttoned and laid aside, and at last, to cap the climax, a window was raised and a cool breeze went whistling through the house, apparently to the great relief of the melting occupants. Meanwhile, an acute observer might have seen a curious twinkle in the Parson's eye, and a strange puckering in the corner of his mouth, but nothing more was apparent, except that he preached louder and harder than usual ; and down in the lower corner there sat the sexton, with a face of unusual length, never taking his eyes off the minister, but apparently drinking in every syllable of his discourse with the deepest interest.
However, they made out to endure it through without melting, and service being ended, Mr. W. addressed the Deacon in his usual bland manner, as he descended from the pulpit, while the rest of the congregation, hot or cold, made the best of their way out of the house.
“Well, Deacon H., I hope you found the house warm and comfortable this morning."
“Warm and comfortable with a witness. Didn't I tell you how 'twould be, Mr. W.? Warm and comfortable! I've caught my death of cold, and so has half the congregation, I've no doubt ; and my poor