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´╗┐Title: Hepsey Burke
Author: Westcott, Frank N. (Frank Noyes)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hepsey Burke" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



HEPSEY BURKE

by

FRANK N. WESTCOTT

Illustrated by Frederick R. Gruger



[Illustration: "YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ANYTHING THAT LOOKED LIKE A PARSON, HAVE
YOU? YOU CAN GENERALLY SPOT 'EM EVERY TIME"]


[Illustration]

New York
The H. K. Fly Company
Publishers

Copyright, 1915, by
The H. K. Fly Company.

Copyright, 1915, by
The Red Book Corporation.

Copyright, 1914, by
The Red Book Corporation.



CONTENTS.

 CHAPTER                                                          PAGE
       I Hepsey Burke                                               11
      II Gossip                                                     25
     III The Senior Warden                                          36
      IV Milking                                                    52
       V The Miniature                                              59
      VI The Missionary Tea                                         71
     VII Hepsey Goes A-Fishing                                      85
    VIII An Icebox for Cherubim                                     96
      IX The Rectory                                               111
       X The Bride's Arrival                                       122
      XI Virginia's High Horse                                     130
     XII House Cleaning and Bachelorhood                           137
    XIII The Circus                                                147
     XIV On the Side Porch                                         160
      XV Nickey's Social Ambitions                                 170
     XVI Practical Temperance Reform                               186
    XVII Notice to Quit                                            200
   XVIII The New Rectory                                           212
     XIX Couleur de Rose                                           224
      XX Muscular Christianity                                     238
     XXI Uninvited Guests                                          253
    XXII Hepsey's Diplomacy                                        271
   XXIII Hepsey Calls a Meeting                                    283
    XXIV Omnium Gatherum                                           308



ILLUSTRATIONS.

                                                                  PAGE

 "You haven't seen anything that looked like a parson,
 have you? You can generally spot 'em every time"         Frontispiece

 "I'm blessed if you 'aint sewin' white buttons on with
 black thread. Is anybody dead in the family, or 'aint
 you feelin' well this mornin'?"                                    62

 "Nicholas Burke, what in the name of conscience does
 all this idiotic performance mean, I'd like to know?"              80

 "Oh well, I always believe that two young married
 people should start out by themselves, and then if they
 get into a family row it won't scandalize the parish"             126

 "I 'aint a chicken no more, Mrs. Betty, and I've 'most
 forgot how to do a bit of courtin'"                               140

 "I consider it a shame and a disgrace to the parish to
 have our rector in filthy clothes, drawing stone with a
 lot of ruffians"                                                  248

 "I've got a hunch, Sylvester Bascom, that it'll be you
 that'll have the last word, after all"                            280

 "Hepsey Burke, for all your molasses and the little bit
 of vinegar you say you keep by you, 'There are no flies
 on you' as Nickey would put it"                                   308



[Illustration]

CHAPTER I

HEPSEY BURKE


The noisy, loose-jointed train pulled out of the station, leaving
behind it a solitary young man, enveloped in smoke and cinders. In the
middle of the platform stood a little building with a curb roof,
pointed at both ends like a Noah's Ark; and the visitor felt that if
he could only manage to lift up one side of the roof he would find the
animals "two by two," together with the cylindrical Noah and the rest
of his family. There was no one in sight but the station-master, who
called out from the ticket office:

"Did you want to go to the village? The 'bus won't be down till the
next train: but maybe you can ride up on the ice wagon."

"Thanks," the stranger replied. "I think I'll wait for the 'bus, if
it's not too long."

"Twenty minutes or so, if Sam don't have to collect the passengers
goin' West, and wait for a lot o' women that forget their handbags and
have to get out and go back after 'em."

The new arrival was good to look at--a handsome, well-built fellow of
about twenty-five, dressed in a gray suit which was non-committal as
to his profession, with a clean-shaven face which bore the
unmistakable stamp of good breeding and unlimited good-nature. He
tilted his suit-case on end and sat down on it; then he filled his
briar pipe, crossed his legs, and looked about to take stock of the
situation. He gazed about curiously; but there was nothing of any
special interest in sight, except, painfully conspicuous on the face
of a grass terrace, the name of the village picked out in large
letters composed of oyster-shells and the bottoms of protruding beer
bottles stuck in the ground. The stranger found himself wondering
where a sufficient number of bottles could be found to complete such
an elaborate pattern. The only other marked feature of the landscape
in the way of artistic decoration was the corrugated base of an old
stove, painted white, which served as a flower vase. From this grew a
huge bunch of scarlet geraniums, staring defiantly, and seeming fairly
to sizzle in the hot, vibrant atmosphere, which was as still as the
calm of a moon-lit night.

As the man on the suit-case gazed about him at the general air of
dilapidation and neglect characteristic of a country town on the down
grade, and recalled the congenial life of the city which he had left,
with all its busy competition, with all its absorbing activities, the
companionship of the men he loved, and the restful, inspiring intimacy
with a certain young woman, he felt, for the moment, a pang of
homesickness. If the station were a sample of the village itself, then
life in such a place must be deadening to every finer sensibility and
ambition; it must throw a man back on himself and make him morbid.

The momentary depression was relieved by the station-master, who
suddenly appeared at the door of the Ark and called out:

"Here comes Hepsey Burke. Maybe she'll take you up; that'll be a dum
sight more comfortable than Lipkin's 'bus."

There was nothing to be seen but a cloud of dust, advancing with the
rapidity of a whirlwind along the highway, from which there gradually
emerged a team and a "democrat," containing a woman, a boy about
fourteen, and a middle-aged man.

As the turn-out drew up, the man took the reins from Mrs. Burke, who
jumped out of the wagon with remarkable agility for one of her size
and years, and, nodding to the station-master, came on to the
platform.

Hepsey Burke was rather stout; and the lines from her nose to the
corners of her mouth, and the wisps of gray hair which had blown about
her face, indicated that she had passed the meridian of life. At first
glance there was nothing striking about her appearance; but there was
a subtle expression about the mouth, a twinkle about the large gray
eyes behind the glasses she wore, that indicated a sense of humor
which had probably been a God-send to her. She was strong and well,
and carried with her an air of indomitable conviction that things
worked themselves out all right in the long run.

The boy was obviously her son, and in spite of his overalls and frayed
straw hat, he was a handsome little chap. He looked at you shyly from
under a crop of curly hair, with half closed eyes, giving you the
impression that you were being "sized up" by a very discriminating
individual; and when he smiled, as he did frequently, he revealed a
set of very white and perfect teeth. When he was silent, there was a
little lifting of the inner brow which gave him a thoughtful look
quite beyond his years; and you were sadly mistaken if you imagined
that you could form a correct impression of Nicholas Burke at the
first interview.

The man wore a sandy beard, but no mustache, and had a downcast,
meekly submissive air, probably the depressing effect of many years of
severe domestic discipline.

Mrs. Burke was evidently surprised to find no one there but the man on
the suit-case; but as he rose and lifted his hat, she hesitated a
moment, exclaiming:

"I beg pardon, but I was lookin' for a parson who was to arrive on
this train. You haven't seen anything that looked like a parson, have
you? You can generally spot 'em every time."

The young man smiled.

"Well, no; I seem to be the only passenger who got off the train; and
though I'm a clergyman, you don't seem to find it easy to 'spot' me."

Mrs. Burke, with a characteristic gesture, pulled her glasses forward
with a jerk and settled them firmly back again on the bridge of her
nose. She surveyed the speaker critically as she questioned:

"But you don't seem to show the usual symptoms--collar buttoned
behind, and all that."

"I am sorry to disappoint you, Madam, but I never travel in clerical
uniform. Can't afford it."

"Well, you've got more sense than most parsons, if I may say so. Maybe
you're the one I'm lookin' for: Mr. Donald Maxwell."

"That is my name, and I am sure you must be Mrs. Burke."

"Sure thing!"--shaking his outstretched hand heartily. "Now you come
right along with me, Mr. Maxwell, and get into the democrat and make
yourself comfortable." They walked round to the front of the station.
"This, Mr. Maxwell, is Jonathan Jackson, the Junior Warden; and this
is my son Nicholas, generally known as Nickey, except when I am about
to spank him. Say, Jonathan, you just h'ist that trunk into the back
of the wagon, and Nickey, you take the parson's suit-case."

The Junior Warden grinned good-naturedly as he shook hands with the
new arrival. But Hepsey continued briskly: "Now, Jonathan, you get
into the back seat with Nickey, and Mr. Maxwell, you sit with me on
the front seat so that I can talk to you. Jonathan means well, but his
talk's limited to crops and symptoms, even if he is an old friend, my
next door neighbor, and the Junior Warden."

Jonathan obeyed orders; and, as he got into the wagon, winked at
Maxwell and remarked:

"You see we have to take a back seat when Hepsey drives; and we have
to hold on with both hands. She's a pacer."

"Don't you let him frighten you, Mr. Maxwell," Hepsey replied.
"Jonathan would probably hold on with both hands if he lay flat on his
back in a ten-acre lot. He's just that fearless and enterprisin'."

Then, starting the horses with a cluck, she turned to Maxwell and
continued:

"I guess I didn't tell you I was glad to see you; but I am. I got your
note tellin' me when you were comin', but I didn't get down to the
station in time, as the men are killin' hogs to-day, and until I get
the in'ards off my hands, I haven't time for anything."

"I am sorry to have put you to the trouble of coming at all. I'm sure
it's very good of you."

"No trouble; not the least. I generally look after the visitin'
parsons, and I'm quite used to it. You can get used to 'most
anything."

Maxwell laughed as he responded:

"You speak as if it weren't always a pleasure, Mrs. Burke."

"Well, I must admit that there are parsons and parsons. They are
pretty much of a lottery, and it is generally my luck to draw blanks.
But don't you worry about that; you don't look a bit like a parson."

"I think that's a rather doubtful compliment."

"Oh, well, you know what I mean. There are three kinds of people in
the world; men, women, and parsons; and I like a parson who is a man
first, and a parson afterwards; not one who is a parson first, and a
man two weeks Tuesday come Michaelmas."

Donald laughed: he felt sure he was going to make friends with this
shrewd yet open-hearted member of his flock. The pace slackened as the
road began a steep ascent. Mrs. Burke let the horses walk up the hill,
the slackened reins held in one hand; in the other lolled the whip,
which now and then she raised, tightening her grasp upon it as if for
use, on second thoughts dropping it to idleness again and clucking to
the horses instead. It was typical of her character--the means of
chastisement held handy, but in reserve, and usually displaced by
other methods of suasion.

As they turned down over the brow of the hill they drove rapidly, and
as the splendid landscape of rolling country, tilled fields and
pasture, stretching on to distant wooded mountains, spread out before
him, Maxwell exclaimed enthusiastically, drawing a deep breath of the
exhilarating air:

"How beautiful it is up here! You must have a delightful climate."

"Well," she replied, "I don't know as we have much climate to speak
of. We have just a job lot of weather, and we take it regular--once
after each meal, once before goin' to bed, and repeat if necessary
before mornin'. I won't say but it's pretty good medicine, at that.
There'd be no show for the doctor, if it wasn't fashionable to invite
him in at the beginnin' and the end of things."

Jonathan, who up to this time had been silent, felt it incumbent to
break into the conversation a bit, and interposed:

"I suppose you've never been up in these parts before?"

"No," Maxwell responded; "but I've always intended to come up during
the season for a little hunting some time. Was there much sport last
year?"

"Well, I can't say as there was, and I can't say _as_ there wasn't.
The most I recollect was that two city fellers shot a guide and
another feller. But then it was a poor season last fall, anyway."

Maxwell gave the Junior Warden a quick look, but there was not a trace
of a smile on his face, and Hepsey chuckled. Keeping her eyes on the
horses as they trotted along at a smart pace over a road none too
smooth for comfortable riding, she remarked casually:

"I suppose the Bishop told you what we wanted in the shape of a
parson, didn't he?"

"Well, he hinted a few things."

"Yes; we're awful modest, like most country parishes that don't pay
their rector more than enough to get his collars laundered. We want a
man who can preach like the Archbishop of Canterbury, and call on
everybody twice a week, and know just when anyone is sick without
bein' told a word about it. He's got to be an awful good mixer, to
draw the young people like a porous plaster, and fill the pews. He
must have lots of sociables, and fairs, and things to take the place
of religion; and he must dress well, and live like a gentleman on the
salary of a book-agent. But if he brings city ways along with him and
makes us feel like hayseeds, he won't be popular."

"That's a rather large contract!" Maxwell replied with a smile.

"Yes, but think what we're goin' to pay you: six hundred dollars a
year, and you'll have to raise most of it yourself, just for the fun
of it."

At this point the Junior Warden interrupted:

"Now, Hepsey, what's the use of upsettin' the young man at the start.
He's----"

"Never mind, Jonathan. I'm tellin' the truth, anyway. You see," she
continued, "most people think piety's at a low ebb unless we're
gettin' up some kind of a holy show all the time, to bring people
together that wouldn't meet anywhere else if they saw each other
first. Then when they've bought a chance on a pieced bed-quilt, or
paid for chicken-pie at a church supper, they go home feelin' real
religious, believin' that if there's any obligation between them and
heaven, it isn't on their side, anyway. Do you think you're goin' to
fill the bill, Mr. Maxwell?"

"Well, I don't know," said Maxwell. "Of course I might find myself
possessed of a talent for inventing new and original entertainments
each week; but I'm afraid that you're a bit pessimistic, Mrs. Burke,
aren't you?"

"No, I'm not. There's a mighty fine side to life in a country parish
sometimes, where the right sort of a man is in charge. The people take
him as one of their family, you know, and borrow eggs of his wife as
easy as of their next door neighbor. But the young reverends expect
too much of a country parish, and break their hearts sometimes because
they can't make us tough old critters all over while you wait. Poor
things! I'm sorry for the average country parson, and a lot sorrier
for his wife."

"Well, don't you worry about me; I'm well and strong, and equal to
anything, I imagine. I don't believe in taking life too seriously;
it's bad for the nerves and digestion. It will be an entirely new
experience for me, and I'm sure I shall find the people interesting."

"Yes, but what if they aren't your kind? I suppose you might find
hippopotamuses interestin' for a while, but that's no reason you
should like to live with 'em. Anyway, don't mind what people say. They
aint got nothin' to think about, so they make up by talkin' about it,
especially when it happens to be a new parson. We've been havin' odds
and ends of parsons from the remnant counter now for six months or
more; and that's enough to kill any parish. I believe that if the
angel Gabriel should preach for us, half the congregation would object
to the cut of his wings, and the other half to the fit of his halo. We
call for all the virtues of heaven, and expect to get 'em for
seven-forty-nine."

"Well--I shall have to look to you and the Wardens to help me out," he
said. "You must help me run things, until I know the ropes."

"Oh! Bascom will run things for you, if you let him do the runnin',"
she replied, cracking her whip. "You'll need to get popular first with
him and his--then you'll have it easy."

Maxwell pondered these local words of wisdom, and recalled the
Bishop's warning that Bascom, the Senior Warden, had not made life
easy for his predecessors, and his superior's exhortation to firmness
and tact, to the end that he, Maxwell, should hold his own, while
taking his Senior Warden along with him. The Senior Warden was
evidently a power in the land.

They had driven about a mile and a half when the wagon turned off the
road, and drew up by a house standing some distance back from it;
getting down, Mrs. Burke exclaimed:

"Welcome to Thunder Cliff, Mr. Maxwell. Thunder Cliff's the name of
the place, you know. All the summer visitors in Durford have names for
their houses; so I thought I'd call my place Thunder Cliff, just to be
in the style."

Jonathan Jackson, who had kept a discreet silence during Hepsey's
pointers concerning his colleague, the Senior Warden, interjected:

"There 'aint no cliff, Hepsey, and you know it. I always tell her, Mr.
Maxwell, 'taint appropriate a bit."

"Jonathan, you 'aint no Englishman, and there's no use pretendin'
that you are. Some day when I have a couple of hours to myself, I'll
explain the whole matter to you. There isn't any cliff, and the house
wants paintin' and looks like thunder. Isn't that reason enough to go
on with? Now, Mr. Maxwell, you come in and make yourself perfectly at
home."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER II

GOSSIP


That afternoon Maxwell occupied himself in unpacking his trunks and
arranging his room. As the finishing touch, he drew out of a leather
case an exquisite miniature of a beautiful girl, which he placed on
the mantelpiece, and at which he gazed for a long time with a wistful
light in his fine gray eyes. Then he threw himself on the lounge, and
pulling a letter from his inner pocket, read:

"Don't worry about expenses, dear. Six hundred is quite enough for
two; we shall be passing rich! You must remember that, although I am a
'college girl,' I am not a helpless, extravagant creature, and I know
how to economize. I am sure we shall be able to make both ends meet.
With a small house, rent free, a bit of ground for a vegetable garden,
and plenty of fresh air, we can accomplish almost anything, and be
supremely happy together. And then, when you win advancement, as of
course you will very soon, we shall appreciate the comforts all the
more from the fact that we were obliged to live the simple life for a
while.

"You can't possibly imagine how I miss you, sweetheart. Do write as
soon as possible and tell me all about Durford. If I could just have
one glimpse of you in your new quarters--but that would only be a
wretched aggravation; so I keep saying to myself 'Some day, some day,'
and try to be patient. God bless you and good-by."

                  *       *       *       *       *

Donald folded the letter carefully, kissed it, and tucked it away in
his pocket. Clasping his hands behind his head, he gazed at the
ceiling.

"I wonder if I'd better tell Mrs. Burke about Betty. I don't care to
pass myself off as a free man in a parish like this. And yet, after
all, it's none of their business at present. I think I'd better wait
and find out if there's any possibility of making her happy here."

There was a knock at the door.

"Talk of angels," murmured Maxwell, and hurriedly returned the
miniature to its case before opening the door to Mrs. Burke, who came
to offer assistance.

"Don't bother to fuss for me," she said as he hastened to remove some
books and clothes from a chair, so that she might sit down. "I only
came up for a moment to see if there was anything I could do. Think
you can make yourself pretty comfortable here? I call this room 'the
prophet's chamber,' you know, because it's where I always put the
visitin' parsons."

"They're lucky," he replied. "This room is just delightful with that
jolly old fireplace, its big dormer windows, and the view over the
river and the hills beyond: I shall be very comfortable."

"Well, I hope so. You know I don't think any livin'-room is complete
without a fireplace. Next to an old friend, a bright wood fire's the
best thing I know to keep one from getting lonesome."

"Yes--that and a good cigar."

"Well, I haven't smoked in some time now," Mrs. Burke replied,
smiling, "so I can't say. What a lot of things you've got!"

"Yes, more than I thought I had."

"I do love to see a man tryin' to put things to rights. He never knows
where anything belongs. What an awful lot of books you've got! I
suppose you're just chuck full of learnin', clean up to your back
teeth; but we won't any of us know the difference. Most city parsons
preach about things that are ten miles over the heads of us country
people. You can't imagine how little thinkin' most of us do up here.
We're more troubled with potato bugs than we are with doubts; and
you'll have to learn a lot about us before you really get down to
business, I guess."

"Yes, I expect to learn more from you than you will from me. That's
one of the reasons why I wanted to come so far out in the country."

"Hm! I hope you won't be disappointed."

Mrs. Burke adjusted her glasses and gazed interestedly about the room
at some pictures and decorations which Maxwell had placed in position,
and inquired:

"Who is the plaster lady and gentleman standin' on the mantelpiece?"

"The Venus de Milo, and the Hermes of Praxiteles."

"Well, you know, I just can't help preferrin' ladies and gentlemen
with arms and legs, myself. I suppose it's real cultivated to learn to
like parts of people done in marble. Maybe when I go down to the city
next fall to buy my trousseau, I'll buy a few plasters myself, to make
the house look more cheerful-like."

Maxwell caught at the word "trousseau," and as Mrs. Burke had spoken
quite seriously he asked:

"Are you going to be married, Mrs. Burke?"

"No such thing! But when a handsome young widow like me lives alone,
frisky and sixty-ish, with six lonesome, awkward widowers in the same
school district, you can never tell what might happen any minute; 'In
time of peace prepare for war,' as the paper says."

Maxwell laughed reassuringly.

"I don't see why you laugh," Mrs. Burke responded, chuckling to
herself. "'Taint polite to look surprised when a woman says she's
a-goin' to get married. Every woman under ninety-eight has
expectations. While there's life there's hope that some man will make
a fool of himself. But unless I miss my guess, you don't catch me
surrenderin' my independence. As long as I have enough to eat and am
well, I'm contented."

"You certainly look the picture of health, Mrs. Burke."

"Oh, yes! as well as could be expected, when I'm just recoverin' from
a visit from Mary Sam."

"What sort of a visitor is that?" asked Maxwell, laughing.

"Mary Sam is my sister-in-law. She spends a month with me every year
on her own invitation. She is what you'd call a hardy annual. She is
the most stingy and narrow-minded woman I ever saw. The bark on the
trees hangs in double box-plaits as compared with Mary Sam. But I got
the best of her last year. While I was cleanin' the attic I came
across the red pasteboard sign with 'Scarlet Fever' painted on it,
that the Board of Health put on the house when Nickey had the fever
three years ago. The very next day I was watchin' the 'bus comin' up
Main Street, when I saw Mary Sam's solferino bonnet bobbin' up and
down inside. Before she got to the house, I sneaked out and pinned up
the sign, right by the front door. She got onto the piazza, bag,
baggage, and brown paper bundles, before she caught sight of it. Then
I wish you could have seen her face: I wouldn't have believed so much
could be done with so few features."

"She didn't linger long?" laughed the parson, who continued arranging
his books while his visitor chatted.

"Linger? Well, not exactly. She turned tail and run lickety-spindle
back for the 'bus as if she had caught sight of a subscription paper
for foreign missions. I heard Jim Anderson, who drives the 'bus,
snicker as he helped her in again; but he didn't give me away. Jim and
I are good friends. But when she got home she wrote to Sally Ramsdale
to ask how Nickey was; and Sally, not bein' on to the game, wrote back
that there was nothin' the matter with Nickey that she knew of. Then
Mary Sam wrote me the impudentest letter I ever got; and she came
right back, and stayed two months instead of one, just to be mean. But
that sign's done good service since. I've scared off agents and tramps
by the score. I always hang it in the parlor window when I'm away from
home."

"But suppose your house caught fire while you were away?"

"Well, I've thought of that; but there's worse things than fire if
your insurance is all right."

Mrs. Burke relapsed into silence for a while, until Maxwell opened a
box of embroidered stoles, which he spread out on the bed for her
inspection.

"My! but aren't those beautiful! I never saw the like before. Where
did you get 'em?"

"They were made by the 'Sisters of St. Paul' in Boston."

Hepsey gazed at the stoles a long time in silence, handling them
daintily; then she remarked:

"I used to embroider some myself. Would you like to see some of it?"

"Certainly, I should be delighted to see it," Donald responded; and
Mrs. Burke went in search of her work.

Presently she returned and showed Maxwell a sample of her
skill--doubtless intended for a cushion-cover. To be sure it was a bit
angular and impressionistic. Like Browning's poems and Turner's
pictures, it left interesting room for speculation. To begin with,
there was a dear little pink dog in the foreground, having convulsions
on purple grass. In the middle-distance was a lay-figure in orange,
picking scarlet apples from what appeared to be a revolving
clothes-horse blossoming profusely at the ends of each beam. A little
blue brook gurgled merrily up the hill, and disappeared down the other
side only to reappear again as a blue streak in an otherwise
crushed-strawberry sky. A pumpkin sun was disappearing behind emerald
hills, shooting up equidistant yellow rays, like the spokes of a
cart-wheel. Underneath this striking composition was embroidered the
dubious sentiment "There is no place like home."

Maxwell examined carefully the square of cross-stitch wool embroidery,
biting his lip; while Hepsey watched him narrowly, chuckling quietly
to herself. Then she laughed heartily, and asked:

"Confess now; don't you think it's beautiful?"

Donald smiled broadly as he replied:

"It's really quite wonderful. Did you do it yourself?"

"To be sure I did, when I was a little girl and we used to work in
wool from samplers, and learn to do alphabets. I'm glad you appreciate
it. If you would like to have me embroider anything for the church,
don't hesitate to ask me." She busied herself examining the stoles
again, and asked:

"How much did these things cost, if you don't mind my askin'?"

"I don't know. They were given to me by a friend of mine, when I
graduated from the Seminary."

"Hm! a friend of yours, eh? She must think an awful lot of you."

Hepsey gave Donald a sharp glance.

"I didn't say it was a lady."

"No, but your eyes and cheeks did. Well, it's none of my business, and
there's no reason that I know of why the Devil should have all the
bright colors, and embroideries, and things. Are you High Church?"

Maxwell hesitated a moment and replied:

"What do you mean by 'High Church?'"

"The last rector we had was awful high." Hepsey smiled with
reminiscent amusement.

"How so?"

"We suspected he didn't wear no pants durin' service."

"How very extraordinary! Is that a symptom of ritualism?"

"Well, you see he wore a cassock under his surplice, and none of our
parsons had ever done that before. The Senior Warden got real stirred
up about it, and told Mr. Whittimore that our rectors always wore
pants durin' service. Mr. Whittimore pulled up his cassock and showed
the Warden that he had his pants on. The Warden told him it was an
awful relief to his mind, as he considered goin' without pants durin'
service the enterin' wedge for Popish tricks; and if things went on
like that, nobody knew where we would land. Then some of the women got
talkin', and said that the rector practiced celibacy, and that some
one should warn him that the parish wouldn't stand for any more
innovations, and he'd better look out. So one day, Virginia Bascom,
the Senior Warden's daughter, told him what was being said about him.
The parson just laughed at Ginty, and said that celibacy was his
misfortune, not his fault; and that he hoped to overcome it in time.
That puzzled her some, and she came to me and asked what celibacy was.
When I told her it was staying unmarried, like St. Paul--my, but
wasn't she mad, though! You ought to have seen her face. She was so
mortified that she wouldn't speak to me for a week. Well, I guess I've
gossiped enough for now. I must go and make my biscuits for supper. If
I can help you any, just call out."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER III

THE SENIOR WARDEN


"It's a fine morning, Mr. Maxwell," Mrs. Burke remarked at breakfast
next day, "and I'm goin' to drive down to the village to do some
shopping. Don't you want to go with me and pay your respects to the
Senior Warden? You'll find him in his office. Then I'll meet you
later, and bring you home--dead or alive!"

Maxwell laughed. "That sounds cheerful, but I should be glad to go."

"I guess you better, and have it over with. He'll expect it. He's
like royalty: he never calls first; and when he's at home he always
has a flag on a pole in the front yard. If he's out of town for the
day, his man lowers the flag. I generally call when the flag's down. I
wish everybody had a flag; it's mighty convenient."

The center of Durford's social, commercial and ecclesiastical life was
the village green, a plot of ground on which the boys played ball, and
in the middle of which was the liberty pole and the band-stand. On one
side of the green was a long block of stores, and on the opposite side
a row of churches, side by side, five in number. There was the Meeting
House, in plain gray; "The First Church of Durford," with a Greek
portico in front; "The Central Church," with a box-like tower and a
slender steeple with a gilded rooster perched on top--an edifice which
looked like a cross between a skating rink and a railroad station; and
last of all, the Episcopal Church on the corner--a small, elongated
structure, which might have been a carpenter-shop but for the little
cross which surmounted the front gable, and the pointed tops of the
narrow windows, which were supposed to be "gothic" and to proclaim the
structure to be the House of God.

Just around the corner was a little tumble-down house known as "The
Rectory." The tall grass and the lowered shades indicated that it had
been unoccupied for some time. Mrs. Burke called Maxwell's attention
to it.

"I suppose you'll be living there some day--if you stay here long
enough; though of course you can't keep house there alone. The place
needs a lot of over-haulin'. Nickey says there's six feet of plaster
off the parlor ceilin', and the cellar gets full of water when it
rains; but I guess we can fix it up when the time comes. That's your
cathedral, on the corner. You see, we have five churches, when we
really need only one; and so we have to scrap for each other's
converts, to keep up the interest. We feed 'em on sandwiches, pickles
and coffee every now and then, to make 'em come to church. Yes,
preachin' and pickles, sandwiches and salvation, seem to run in the
same class, these days."

When they arrived in front of the block, Mrs. Burke hitched her horse,
and left Maxwell to his own devices. He proceeded to hunt up the post
office; and as the mail was not yet distributed, he had to wait some
time, conscious of the fact that he was the center of interest to the
crowd assembled in the room. Finally, when he gained access to the
delivery window, he was greeted by a smile from the postmistress, a
woman of uncertain age, who remarked as she handed him his letters:

"Good morning, Mr. Maxwell. Glad to meet you. I'm a Presbyterian
myself; but I have always made it a point to be nice to everybody. You
seem to have quite a good many correspondents, and I presume you'll be
wantin' a lock box. It's so convenient. You must feel lonesome in a
strange place. Drop in and see mother some day. She's got curvature of
the spine, but no religious prejudices. She'll be right glad to see
you, I'm sure, even though she's not 'Piscopal."

Maxwell thanked her, and inquired the way to the Senior Warden's
office, to which she directed him.

Three doors below the post office was a hallway and a flight of stairs
leading up to Mr. Bascom's sanctum. As he ascended, Maxwell bethought
him of the Bishop's hint that this was the main stronghold for the
exercise of his strategy. The Senior Warden, for some reason or other,
had persistently quarreled with the clergy, or crossed them. What was
the secret of his antagonism? Would he be predisposed in Maxwell's
favor, or prejudiced against him? He would soon discover--and he
decided to let Bascom do most of the talking. Reaching the first
landing, Donald knocked on a door the upper panel of which was filled
with glass, painted white. On the glass in large black letters was
the name: "SYLVESTER BASCOM."

The Senior Warden sat behind a table, covered with musty books and a
litter of letters and papers. In his prime he had been a small man;
and now, well past middle age, he looked as if he had shrunk until he
was at least five sizes too small for his skin, which was sallow and
loose. There was a suspicious look in his deep-set eyes, which made
his hooked nose all the more aggressive. He was bald, except for a few
stray locks of gray hair which were brushed up from his ears over the
top of his head, and evidently fastened down by some gluey cosmetic.
He frowned severely as Maxwell entered, but extended a shriveled, bony
hand, and pointed to a chair. Then placing the tips of his fingers
together in front of his chest, he gazed at Donald as if he were the
prisoner at the bar, and began without any preliminary welcome:

"So you are the young man who is to take charge of the church. It is
always difficult for a city-bred man to adjust himself to the needs
and manners of a country parish. Very difficult, Mr. Maxwell--very
difficult."

Maxwell smiled as he replied:

"Yes, but that is a fault which time will remedy."

"Doubtless. Time has a way of remedying most things. But in the
meantime--in the meantime, lack of tact, self-assertiveness,
indiscretion, on the part of a clergyman may do much harm--much
harm!"

Mr. Maxwell colored slightly as he laughed and replied:

"I should imagine that you have had rather a 'mean time,' from the way
you speak. Your impressions of the clergy seem to be painful."

"Well," the lawyer continued sententiously, "we have had all sorts and
conditions of men, as the Prayer Book says; and the result has not
_always_ been satisfactory--_not_ always satisfactory. But I was not
consulted."

To this, Maxwell, who was somewhat nettled, replied:

"I suppose that in any case the responsibility for the success of a
parish must be somewhat divided between the parson and the people. I
am sure I may count on your assistance."

"Oh yes; oh yes; of course. I shall be very glad to advise you in any
way I can. Prevention is better than cure: don't hesitate to come to
me for suggestions. You will doubtless be anxious to follow in the
good old ways, and avoid extremes. I am a firm believer in expediency.
Though I was not consulted in the present appointment, I may say that
what we need is a man of moderate views who can adjust himself to
circumstances. Tact, that is the great thing in life. I am a firm
believer in tact. Our resources are limited; and a clergyman should be
a self-denying man of God, contented with plain living and high
thinking. No man can succeed in a country parish who seeks the loaves
and fishes of the worldling. Durford is not a metropolis; we do not
emulate city ways."

"No, I should imagine not," Maxwell answered.

The parson gathered that the Senior Warden felt slighted that he had
not been asked by the Bishop to name his appointee; and that if he had
bethought himself to sprinkle a little hay-seed on his clothing, his
reception might have been more cordial.

At this point the door opened and a woman, hovering somewhere between
twenty-five and forty, dressed in rather youthful and pronounced
attire, entered, and seeing Donald exclaimed:

"Oh, papa, I did not know that you were busy with a client. Do excuse
me."

Then, observing the clerical attire of the "client," she came forward,
and extending her hand to Donald, exclaimed with a coy, insinuating
smile:

"I am sure that you must be Mr. Maxwell. I am so glad to see you. I
hope I am not interrupting professional confidences."

"Not in the least," Donald replied, as he placed a chair for her. "I
am very glad to have the pleasure of meeting you, Miss Bascom."

"I heard last night that you had arrived, Mr. Maxwell; and I am sure
that it is very good of you to come and see papa so soon. I hope to
see you at our house before long. You know that we are in the habit of
seeing a good deal of the rector, because--you will excuse my
frankness--because there are so few people of culture and refinement
in this town to make it pleasant for him."

"I am sure that you are very kind," Donald replied. Miss Bascom had
adjusted her tortoise-shell lorgnette, and was surveying Donald from
head to foot.

"Is your wife with you?" she inquired, as one who would say: "Tell me
no lies!"

"No, I am not married."

At once she was one radiant smile of welcome:

"Papa, we must do all we can to make Mr. Maxwell feel at home at
Willow Bluff--so that he will not get lonesome and desert us," she
added genially.

"You're very kind."

"You must come and dine with us very soon and see our place for
yourself. You are staying with Mrs. Burke, I understand."

"Yes."

"How does she impress you?"

"I hardly know her well enough to form any definite opinion of her,
though she has been kindness itself to me."

"Yes, she has a sharp tongue, but a kind heart; and she does a great
deal of good in the village; but, poor soul! she has no sense of
humor--none whatever. Then of course she is not in society, you know.
You will find, Mr. Maxwell, that social lines are very carefully drawn
in this town; there are so many grades, and one has to be careful, you
know."

"Is it so! How many people are there in the town?"

"Possibly eight or nine hundred."

"And how many of them are 'in society'?"

"Oh, I should imagine not more than twenty or thirty."

"They must be very select."

"Oh, we are; quite so."

"Don't you ever get tired of seeing the same twenty or thirty all the
time? I'm afraid I am sufficiently vulgar to like a change, once in a
while--somebody real common, you know."

Miss Bascom raised her lorgnette in pained surprise and gazed at
Donald curiously; then she sighed and tapping her fingers with her
glasses replied:

"But one has to consider the social responsibilities of one's
position, you know. Many of the village people are well enough in
their way, really quite amusing as individuals; but one cannot alter
social distinctions."

"I see," replied Donald, non-committally.

Virginia was beginning to think that the new rector was rather dull in
his perceptions, rather _gauche_, but, deciding to take a charitable
view, she held out her hand with a beaming smile as she said:

"Remember, you are to make Willow Bluff one of your homes. We shall
always be charmed to see you."

When, after their respective shoppings were completed, Maxwell
rejoined Mrs. Burke, and they had started on a brisk trot towards
home, she remarked:

"So you have had a visit with the Senior Warden."

"Yes, and with Miss Bascom. She came into the office while I was
there."

"Hm! Well! She's one of your flock!"

"Would you call Miss Bascom one of my lambs?" asked Donald
mischievously.

"Oh, that depends on where you draw the line. Don't you think she's
handsome?"

"I can hardly say. What do you think about it?"

"Oh, I don't know. When she's well dressed she has a sort of style
about her; but isn't it merciful that we none of us know how we really
do look? If we did, we wouldn't risk bein' alone with ourselves five
minutes without a gun."

"Is that one for Miss Bascom?"

"No, I ought not to say a word against Virginia Bascom. She's a good
sort accordin' to her lights; and then too, she is a disconnection of
mine by marriage--once removed."

"How do you calculate that relationship?"

"Oh, her mother's brother married my sister. She suspected that he was
guilty of incompatibility--and she proved it, and got a divorce. If
that don't make a disconnection of Ginty Bascom, then I don't know
what does. Virginia was born in Boston, though she was brought up
here. It must be terrible to be born in Boston, and have to live up to
it, when you spend your whole life in a place like Durford. But Ginty
does her very best, though occasionally she forgets."

"You can hardly blame her for that. Memory is tricky, and Boston and
Durford are about as unlike as two places well could be."

"Oh, no; I don't blame her. Once she formed a club for woman's
suffrage. She set out to 'form my mind'--as if my mind wasn't pretty
thoroughly formed at this time of day--and get me to protest against
the tyranny of the male sex. I didn't see that the male sex was
troublin' her much; but I signed a petition she got up to send to the
Governor or somebody, asking for the right to vote. There was an
opposition society that didn't want the ballot, and they got up
another petition."

"And you signed that too, I expect," laughed Donald.

"Sure thing, I did. I'm not narrow-minded, and I like to be obliging.
Then she tried what she called slummin', which, as near as I can see,
means walkin' in where you 'aint wanted, because people are poorer
than you are, and leavin' little tracts that nobody reads, and currant
jelly that nobody eats, and clothes that nobody can wear. But an
Irishman shied a cabbage at her head while she was tryin' to convince
him that the bath-tub wasn't really a coal bin, and that his mental
attitude was hindside before.

"Then she got to be a Theosophist, and used to sit in her room
upstairs projecting her astral body out of the window into the back
yard, and pulling it in again like a ball on a rubber string--just for
practice, you know. But that attack didn't last long."

"She seems to be a very versatile young woman; but she doesn't stick
to one thing very long."

"A rolling stone gathers no moss, you know," Mrs. Burke replied.
"That's one of the advantages of bein' a rolling stone. It must be
awful to get mossy; and there isn't any moss on Virginia Bascom,
whatever faults she may have--not a moss."

For a moment Mrs. Burke was silent, and then she began:

"Once Virginia got to climbin' her family tree, to find out where her
ancestors came from. She thought that possibly they might be noblemen.
But I guess there wasn't very much doin' up the tree until she got
down to New York, and paid a man to tell her. She brought back an
illuminated coat of arms with a lion rampantin' on top; but she was
the same old Virginia still. What do I care about my ancestors! It
doesn't make no difference to me. I'm just myself anyway, no matter
how you figure; and I'm a lot more worried about where I'm goin' to,
than where I came from. Virginia's got a book called 'Who's Who,' that
she's always studying. But the only thing that matters, it seems to
me, is Who's What."

"I wonder she hasn't married," remarked Donald, innocently.

"Ah, that's the trouble. She's like a thousand others without no
special occupation in life. She's wastin' a lot of bottled up interest
and sympathy on foolish things. If she'd married and had seven babies,
they would have seen to it that she didn't make a fool of herself.
However, it isn't her fault. She's volunteered to act as Deaconess to
every unmarried parson we've had; and it's a miracle of wonders one of
'em didn't succumb; parsons are such--oh, do excuse me! I mean so
injudicious on the subject of matrimony."

"But, Mrs. Burke, don't you think a clergyman ought to be a married
man?"

"Well, to tell you the truth, t'aint me that's been doin' the thinkin'
along those lines, for most of the parsons we've had. I've been more
of a first aid to the injured, in the matrimonial troubles of our
parish, and the Lord only knows when love-making has got as far as
actual injury to the parties engaged,--well thinkin' 'aint much use.
But there's Ginty for example. She's been worryin' herself thin for
the last five years, doin' matrimonial equations for the clergy. She's
a firm believer in the virtue of patience, and if the Lord only keeps
on sendin' us unmarried rectors, Ginty is goin' to have her day. It's
just naturally bound to come. I 'aint sure whether she's got a right
to be still runnin' with the lambs or not, but that don't matter
much,--old maids will rush in where angels fear to tread."

Maxwell smiled. "Old maids, and old bachelors, are pretty much alike.
I know a few of the latter, that no woman on earth could make into
regular human beings."

"Oh, yes; old bachelors aren't the nicest thing the Lord ever made.
Most of 'em are mighty selfish critters, take 'em as they run; and a
man that's never had a real great love in his life doesn't know what
life is."

"That's quite true," Donald responded, with such warmth that Mrs.
Burke glanced at him suspiciously, and changed her tune, as she
continued:

"Seems to me a parson, or any other man, is very foolish to marry
before he can support a wife comfortably, and lay by somethin' for a
rainy day, though. The last rector had five babies and seventeen cents
to feed 'em with. Yes, there were little olive branches on all four
sides of the table, and under the table too. The Whittimores seemed to
have their quiver full of 'em, as the psalmist says. Mrs. Whittimore
used to say to me, 'The Lord will provide,'--just to keep her courage
up, poor thing! Well, I suppose the Lord did provide; but I had to do
a lot of hustlin', just the same. No sir, if a parson marries, he
better find a woman who has outgrown her short skirts. Young things
dyin' to be martyrs with a good lookin' young parson, are a drug in
the market. Better go slow." And Hepsey looked up at him
significantly.

"Then you think it would be inadvisable to propose to Miss Virginia
immediately, do you?" Donald asked, as if humbly seeking guidance.

"Well, there doesn't seem to be any immediate hurry about it. Now if
you'll open the gate to Thunder Cliff, I'll be much obliged to you. If
I don't get my mind on something less romantic than Virginia, we shall
have to dine off airy fancies--and that won't suit Nickey, for one."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER IV

MILKING


Betty, my love:

I can imagine that just about this time you have finished your dinner,
and are enjoying your after-dinner coffee in the library with your
father. I would give all that I possess, though heaven knows that is
mighty little, to be with you and get you to talk to me, and let me
tell you all that has happened since I left you. But instead of that I
am alone in my room with your picture on the table while I write, and
it is the middle of the evening with us on the farm. I have a bright
wood fire on the hearth, as it's a bit chilly to-night.

To-day I have almost completed my first round of parish visits, and
the experience has been a revelation to me of the mixture of pathetic
narrowness, hardship, and self-denial of the people up here in the
mountains. One minute I am all out of patience with their stupidity,
and the next I am touched to the heart by their patience with
unendurable conditions, and their generosity and kindness to each
other. I hope to be able to adjust my mental equilibrium to the
situation before long and to learn to understand them better; I find
that a country parson must be a man of many accomplishments, and that
I have to learn my profession all over again. Yesterday I called on a
poor shriveled old woman who, I was told, was in trouble. When I asked
her what I could do for her, she brightened up and informed me that
her apple trees were full of worms! So there was nothing for it but to
take off my coat and vest, roll up my sleeves, and burn out the worms.
I must have destroyed about a bushel, more or less. It took most of
the afternoon; but she was pleased, and appeared in church this
morning for the first time in six years.

I have learned a lot about the rotation of crops, helped to dig a
well, and attended a barn dance. I have eaten pickles by the score at
teas given in my honor, rather than offend the hostess; and have had
horrible nights in consequence. Every morning Nickey and I take the
milk down to the creamery before breakfast. I am so tanned that you
would hardly recognize me; and I must confess with shame that I am
never more happy than when I am able to put on my soiled working
clothes and do manual labor on the farm. I suppose it is the contrast
to my former life, and the fact that it takes my thoughts away from
the longing for you.

The men up here seem to think I know mighty little. It's very
humiliating! But since they discovered that I am neither
"'ristocratic" nor "pious," they seem to be friendly enough. I often
find myself wondering if much of the work in the seminary wasn't a
sheer waste of time, when I am brought up against the practical,
commonplace, everyday life of these people. My friend Mrs. Burke has a
fund of common sense and worldly wisdom which is worth more than any
Ph.D. or S.T.D. represents, to help a man to meet the hard facts of
life successfully; and she has been very nice and considerate in
making suggestions to me--always wrapped up in a humor all her own. I
have found it practically impossible to get into touch with the
farmers of the neighborhood without becoming more or less of a farmer
myself, and learning by actual experience what the life is like. One
man was so openly supercilious when he found out that I did not know
how to milk, that Mrs. Burke, who is nothing if not practical, offered
to show me.

I have acquired a suit of overalls, and a wide-brimmed straw hat; and
so, attiring myself in the most orthodox fashion, Mrs. Burke and I
went to the shed yesterday where Louise, the Jersey cow, abides, and I
took my first lesson in milking. Mrs. Burke carefully explained to me
the _modus operandi_ I was to pursue; and so, taking the tin pail
between my knees, I seated myself on the three-legged stool by the
side of Louise, and timidly began operations. She seemed to know by
some bovine instinct that I was a tenderfoot; and although I followed
Mrs. Burke's instructions to the letter, no milk put in its
appearance. Mrs. Burke was highly amused at my perplexity. Finally she
remarked:

"You've got to introduce yourself, and get Louise's confidence before
she'll give down. She thinks that you are too familiar on a short
acquaintance. Now talk to her a bit, and be friendly."

This was somewhat of a poser, as Louise and I really have not much in
common, and I was at a loss where to begin. But something had to be
done, and so I made a venture and remarked:

"Louise, the wind is in the south; and if it doesn't change, we shall
certainly have rain within three days."

This did not seem to have the desired effect. In fact, she ignored my
remark in the most contemptuous fashion. Then Mrs. Burke suggested:

"Get up, and come round where she can see you. No lady wants to be
talked to by a gentleman that's out of sight."

So I got up and went around by her head, fed her some clover, patted
her on the neck, rubbed her nose, and began a little mild, persuasive
appeal:

"Louise, I am really a man of irreproachable character. I am a son of
the Revolution; I held three scholarships in Harvard; and I graduated
second in my class at the General Sem. Furthermore, I'm not at all
accustomed to being snubbed by ladies. Can't you make up your mind to
be obliging?"

Louise sniffed at me inquiringly, gazing at me with large-eyed
curiosity. Then as if in token that she had come to a favorable
conclusion, she ran out her tongue and licked my hand. When I resumed
operations, the milk poured into the pail, and Mrs. Burke was just
congratulating me on my complete success, when, by some accident the
stool slipped, and I fell over backwards, and the whole contents of
the pail was poured on the ground. My! but wasn't I disgusted? I
thought Mrs. Burke would never stop laughing at me; but she was good
enough not to allude to the loss of the milk!

Some day when we are married, and you come up here, I will take you
out and introduce you to Louise, and she will fall in love with you on
the spot.

My most difficult task is my Senior Warden--and it looks as if he
_would not_ make friends, do what I will to "qualify" according to his
own expressed notions of what a country parson should be. But I rather
suspect that he likes to keep the scepter in his own hands, while the
clergy do his bidding. But that won't do for me.

So you see the life up here is interesting from its very novelty,
though I do get horribly lonesome, sometimes. If I had not pledged
myself to the Bishop to stay and work the parish together into
something like an organization, I am afraid I should be tempted to cut
and run--back to you, sweetheart.

And there was a post script:

"I've not said half enough of how much Mrs. Burke's wisdom has taught
and helped me. She is a shrewd observer of human motives, and I
expect she has had a struggle to keep the sweetness of her nature at
the top. She is, naturally, a capable, dominating character; and often
I watch how she forces herself to let persuasiveness take precedence
of combativeness. Her acquired philosophy, as applied to herself and
others, is summed up in a saying she let drop the other day, modified
to suit her needs: 'More flies are caught with molasses than with
vinegar--but keep some vinegar by you!' _Verb. Sap.!_"



[Illustration]

CHAPTER V

THE MINIATURE


It happened that the Reverend Donald Maxwell committed a careless
indiscretion. When he went to his room to prepare for supper, he found
that he had left the miniature of a certain young lady on the
mantelpiece, having forgotten to return it to its hiding-place the
night before. He quickly placed it in its covering and locked it up in
his desk, but not without many misgivings at the thought that Mrs.
Burke had probably discovered it when she put his room in order.

He was quite right in his surmise, for just as she was about to leave
the room she had caught sight of the picture, and, after examining it
carefully, she had exclaimed to herself:

"Hm! Hm! So that's the young woman, is it? In a gilded frame set with
real glass rubies and turquoises. I guessed those letters couldn't
come from his mother. She wouldn't write to him every blessed day;
she'd take a day off now and then, just to rest up a bit. Well, well,
well! So this is what you've been dreaming about; and a mighty good
thing too--only the sooner it's known the better. But I suppose I'll
have to wait for his reverence to inform me officially, and then I'll
have to look mighty surprised! She's got a good face, anyway; but he
ought to wait awhile. Poor soul! she'd just die of loneliness up here.
Well, I suppose it'll be my business to look after her, and I reckon
I'd best take time by the fetlock, and get the rectory in order. It
isn't fit for rats to live in now."

Mrs. Burke's discovery haunted her all day long, and absorbed her
thoughts when she went to bed. If Maxwell was really engaged to be
married, she did not see why he did not announce the fact, and have it
over with. She had to repeat her prayers three times before she could
keep the girl in the gilt frame out of them; and she solved the
problem by praying that she might not make a fool of herself.

The next morning she went over to Jonathan Jackson's house to see what
her friend and neighbor, the Junior Warden, would say about the
matter. He could be trusted to keep silent and assist her to carry out
some provisional plans. She knew exactly what she wished and what she
intended to do; but she imagined that she wanted the pleasure of
hearing some one tell her that she was exactly right.

Jonathan Jackson was precisely the person to satisfy the demand, as
his deceased wife had never allowed him to have any opinion for more
than fifteen minutes at a time--if it differed from hers; and when she
had made a pretense of consulting him, he had learned by long
experience to hesitate for a moment, look judicially wise, and then
repeat her suggestions as nearly as he could remember them. So
Jonathan made a most excellent friend and neighbor, when any crisis or
emergency called for an expert opinion.

Mrs. Burke had been an intimate friend of Sarah Jackson, and just
before Mrs. Jackson died she made Hepsey promise that after she was
gone she would keep a friendly eye on Jonathan, and see that he did
not get into mischief, or let the house run down, or "live just by
eatin' odds and ends off the pantry shelf any old way." Mrs. Jackson
entertained no illusions in regard to her husband, and she trusted
Hepsey implicitly. So, after Mrs. Jackson's mortal departure, Hepsey
made periodic calls on Jonathan, which always gave him much pleasure
until she became inquisitive about his methods of housekeeping; then
he would grow reticent.

"Good morning, Jonathan," Hepsey called, as she presented herself at
the woodshed door, where she caught Jonathan mending some of his
underclothes laboriously.

"Well, I declare," she continued, "I'm blessed if you 'aint sewin'
white buttons on with black thread. Is anybody dead in the family, or
'aint you feelin' well as to your head this mornin'?"

His voice quavered with mingled embarrassment and resentment as he
replied:

"What difference does it make, Hepsey? It don't make no difference, as
long as nobody don't see it but me."

"And why in the name of conscience don't you get a thimble, Jonathan?
The idea of your stickin' the needle in, and then pressin' it against
the chair to make it go through. If that 'aint just like a helpless
man, I wouldn't say."

[Illustration: "I'M BLESSED IF YOU 'AINT SEWIN' WHITE BUTTONS ON WITH
BLACK THREAD. IS ANYBODY DEAD IN THE FAMILY, OR 'AINT YOU
FEELIN' WELL THIS MORNIN'?"]

"Well, of course sewin' 'aint just a man's business, anyway; and when
he has just got to do it----"

"Why don't you let Mary McGuire do it for you? You pay her enough,
certainly, to keep you from becomin' a buttonless orphan."

Mary McGuire, be it said, was the woman who came in by the day, and
cooked for Jonathan, and intermittently cleaned him out of house and
home.

"She don't know much about such things," replied Jonathan
confidentially. "I did let her do it for a while; but when my
buttonholes got tore larger, instead of sewin' 'em up, she just put on
a larger button; and I'd be buttonin' my pants with the covers of
saucepans by now, if I'd let her go on."

"It is curious what helpless critters men are, specially widowers. Now
Jonathan, why don't you lay aside your sewin', and invite me into your
parlor? You aren't a bit polite."

"Well, come along then, Hepsey; but the parlor aint just in apple-pie
order, as you might say. Things are mussed up a bit." He looked at her
suspiciously.

When they entered the parlor Mrs. Burke gazed about in a critical sort
of way.

"Jonathan Jackson, if you don't get married again before long I don't
know what'll become of you," she remarked, as she wrote her name with
the end of her finger in the dust on the center-table. "Why don't you
open the parlor occasionally and let the air in? It smells that musty
in here I feel as if I was attendin' your wife's funeral all over
again."

"Well, of course you know we never did use the parlor much, 'cept
there was a funeral in the family, or you called, or things like
that."

"Thank _you_; but even so, you might put things away occasionally, and
not leave them scattered all over the place."

"What's the use? I never can find anything when it's where it belongs;
but if it's left just where I drop it, I know right where it is when I
want it."

"That's a man's argument. Sakes alive! The least you could do would be
to shut your bureau drawers."

"What's the use shuttin' bureau drawers when you've got to open 'em
again 'fore long?" Jonathan asked. "It just makes so much more
trouble; and there's trouble enough in this world, anyway."

"You wouldn't dare let things go like this when Sarah was livin'."

"No," Jonathan replied sadly, "but there's some advantages in bein' a
widower. Of course I don't mean no disrespect to Sarah, but opinions
will differ about some things. She'd never let me go up the front
stairs without takin' my boots off, so as not to soil the carpet; and
when she died and the relatives tramped up and down reckless like, I
almost felt as if it was wicked. For a fact, I did."

"Well, I always told Sarah she was a slave to dust; I believe that
dust worried her a lot more than her conscience, poor soul. I should
think that Mary McGuire would tidy up for you a little bit once in a
while."

"Well, Mary does the best she knows how. But I like her goin' better
than comin'. The fact is, a man of my age can't live alone always,
Hepsey. It's a change to live this way, till----"

"Oh, heaven save the mark! I can't stay here talkin' all day; but I'll
tidy up a bit before I go, if you don't mind, Jonathan. You go on with
what you call your sewin'."

"Go ahead, Hepsey. You can do anything you like," he replied, beaming
upon her.

Mrs. Burke opened the blinds and windows, shook up the pillows on the
lounge, straightened the furniture, dusted off the chairs and opened
the door to the porch. She made a flying trip to the garden, and
returned with a big bunch of flowers which she placed in a large glass
vase on the mantel. Then she hung Jonathan's dressing gown over the
back of a chair, and put his slippers suggestively near at hand. In a
few moments she had transformed the whole appearance of the room,
giving it a look of homelike coziness which had long been foreign to
it.

"There now, Jonathan! That's better, isn't it?"

Jonathan sighed profoundly as he replied:

"It certainly is, Hepsey; it certainly is. I wonder why a man can't do
that kind of thing like a woman can? He knows somethin's wrong, but he
can't tell what it is."

Hepsey had almost forgotten her errand; but now that her work was done
it came back to her with sudden force; so, puckering up her lips and
scowling severely at the carpet, she began:

"The fact is, Jonathan, I didn't come over here to dust the parlor or
to jolly you. I've come to have a confidential talk with you about a
matter of great importance."

"What is it, Hepsey?"

"Matrimony."

Jonathan started eagerly, and colored with self-conscious
embarrassment; and after clearing his throat, nervously inquired:

"Did you think of contemplatin' matrimony again, Hepsey?--though this
'aint leap year."

"I, contemplate matrimony? Oh, land of Gideon, _no_. It's about some
one else. Don't get scared. I'm no kidnapper!"

"Well, who is it, then?" Jonathan inquired, with a touch of
disappointment.

"My adopted son."

"You don't say! I've heard rumors about Maxwell and Virginia Bascom;
but I didn't take no stock in 'em, knowin' Virginia."

"Virginia hasn't nothin' to do with it."

"Well, who has then, for land's sake!"

"I don't know the girl's name; but I saw her picture on his
mantelpiece yesterday mornin', and I've had my suspicions for some
time."

"Well, I suppose his marryin' 'aint none of our business anyway, be
it?"

"Yes, it is our business; if he's goin' to get married, the rectory's
got to be fixed over a whole lot 'fore it's fit to live in. You know
the Senior Warden won't lift his finger, and you've got to help me do
it."

Jonathan sighed profoundly, knowing from past experience that Hepsey's
word carried more weight than all the vestry.

"I suppose I have, if you say so, Hepsey."

"Yes sir, you've got to help me do it. No decent girl is goin' into
that house as it is, with my consent. It's the worst old rat-trap I
ever saw. I've got the key, and I'm goin' through it this afternoon,
and then I'm goin' to plan what ought to be done."

"But it seems to me you're venturin' some. You don't _know_ they're
goin' to be married."

"No, but all the symptoms point that way, and we've got to be prepared
for it."

"But the people round town seem to think that Virginia has a first
mortgage on the rector already."

"No doubt _she_ thinks she has; but it 'aint true. He's made a
blunder, though, not announcin' his engagement, and I'm goin' to tell
him so the first chance I get. I don't see why he should air his
private affairs all over the town, but if he don't announce his
engagement before long, Virginia Bascom'll make an awful row when he
does."

"Yes, and to the best of my knowledge and belief this'll be her fifth
row."

"Well, you meet me at the rectory at two o'clock sharp."

"But we ought to consult the vestry first," the Junior Warden
cautioned her.

"What for, I'd like to know?"

"'Cause they are the trustees of the property."

"Then why don't they 'tend to the property? The vestry are a lot
of----"

"Sh! Hepsey, be careful. I'll be there, I'll be there!"

Mrs. Burke rose and started for the door; but Jonathan called out to
her:

"Hepsey, can't you stay to dinner? I'd like awful well to have you. It
would seem so nice and homelike to see you sittin' opposite me at the
table."

"Am I to consider this a proposal of marriage, Jonathan?"

"Well, I hadn't thought of it in that light; but if _you_ would, I'd
be mighty thankful."

But Hepsey was beating her retreat.

Jonathan stood for a minute or two in the middle of the room and
looked very sober. Slowly he took off his coat and put on his dressing
gown. Then he sat down, and cautiously put his feet in another chair.
Next he lighted a cigar--gazing about the room as if his late wife
might appear at any moment as an avenging deity, and drag him into the
kitchen where he belonged. But nothing happened, and he began to feel
a realization of his independence. He sat and thought for a long time,
and a mighty hunger of the heart overwhelmed him. Before he knew it, a
tear or two had fallen on the immaculate carpet; and then, suddenly
recollecting himself, he stood up, saying to himself--such is the
consistency of man:

"Sarah was a good soul accordin' to her lights; but she's dead, and I
must confess I'm powerful reconciled. Hepsey Burke's different. I
wonder if----"

But he put he thought away from him with a "get thee behind me"
abruptness, and putting on his coat, went out to water the stock.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER VI

THE MISSIONARY TEA


"Hm!" Mrs. Burke remarked to Maxwell abruptly one day during supper.
"We haven't had a missionary tea since you came, and I think it's high
time we did."

"What sort of a missionary tea do you mean?" the parson inquired.

"Well," Mrs. Burke responded, "our missionary teas combine different
attractions. We get together and look over each other's clothes;
that's the first thing; then some one reads a paper reportin' how
things is goin' in Zanzibar, or what's doin' in Timbuctoo. Then we
look over the old clothes sent in for missionaries, mend 'em up, and
get 'em ready to send off. Then we have tea and cake. I've had my
misgivin' for some time that perhaps we cared more for the tea and
cake than we did for the heathen; but of course I put such a wicked
thought aside. If you value your reputation for piety, don't you ever
speak of a missionary tea here except in a whisper."

"But I suppose the tea helps to get people together and be more
sociable?"

"Certainly. The next best thing to religion is a cup of strong tea and
a frosted cake, to make us country people friends. Both combined can't
be beat. But you ought to see the things that have been sent in this
last week for the missionary box. There's a smoking jacket, two pairs
of golf-trousers, several pairs of mismated gloves, a wonderful lot of
undarned stockings, bonnets and underclothes to burn, two jackets and
a bathin' suit. I wonder what people think missionaries are doin' most
of the time!"

On the day appointed for the missionary tea the ladies were to
assemble at Thunder Cliff at four o'clock; and when Maxwell came home,
before the advent of the first guest, he seemed somewhat depressed;
and Mrs. Burke inquired:

"Been makin' calls on your parishioners?"

"Yes, I have made a few visits."

"Now you must look more cheerful, or somebody'll suspect that you
don't always find parish calls the joy of your life."

"It's so difficult to find subjects of conversation that they are
interested in. I simply couldn't draw out Mrs. Snodgrass, for
instance."

"Well, when you've lived in the country as long as I have, you'll find
that the one unfailin' subject of interest is symptoms--mostly
dyspepsy and liver complaint. If you had known enough to have started
right with Elmira Snodgrass, she would have thawed out at once. Elmira
is always lookin' for trouble as the sparks fly upwards, or
thereabouts. She'd crawl through a barbed wire fence if she couldn't
get at it any other way. She always chews a pill on principle, and
then she calls it a dispensation of Providence, and wonders why she
was ever born to be tormented."

"In that case," laughed Maxwell, "I'd better get some medical books
and read up on symptoms. By the by, is there any particular program
for this missionary meeting, Mrs. Burke?"

"Yes, Virginia Bascom's goin' to read a paper called 'The Christian
Mother as a Missionary in her own Household.' To be sure, Ginty's no
Christian Mother, or any other kind of a mother; but she's as full of
enthusiasm as a shad is of bones. She'd bring up any child while you
wait, and not charge a cent. There goes the bell, so please excuse
me."

The guests were received by Mrs. Burke. Miss Bascom entered the parlor
with a portentous bundle of manuscript under her arm, and greeted
Donald with a radiant smile. Pulling a pansy from a bunch in her
dress, she adjusted it in his buttonhole with the happy shyness of a
young kitten chasing its tail. After the others had assembled, they
formed a circle to inspect the clothing which had been sent in. There
was a general buzz of conversation.

As they were busily going through the garments, Virginia remarked,
"Are all these things to go to the missionaries at Tien Tsin?" and she
adjusted her lorgnette to inspect the heap.

"Yes," Mrs. Burke responded wearily, "and I hope they'll get what
comfort they can out of 'em."

"You don't seem to be very appreciative, Mrs. Burke," Virginia
reproved.

"Well, I suppose I ought to be satisfied," Hepsey replied. "But it
does seem as if most people give to the Lord what they can't use for
themselves any longer--as they would to a poor relation that's worthy,
but not to be coddled by too much charity."

"I think these things are quite nice enough for the missionaries,"
Virginia retorted. "They are thankful for anything."

"Yes, I know," Mrs. Burke replied calmly. "Missionaries and their
families have no business to have any feelings that can't be satisfied
with second-hand clothes, and no end of good advice on how to spend
five cents freely but not extravagantly."

"But don't you believe in sending them useful things?" Virginia asked
loftily.

"So I do; but I'd hate that word 'useful' if I was a missionary's
wife."

"Might I inquire," asked Miss Bascom meekly, "what you would send?"

"Certainly! I'd send a twenty-five-cent scent bag, made of silk and
filled with patchouli-powder," said Hepsey, squarely.

"Well," Virginia added devoutly, "satchet bags may be well enough in
their place; but they won't feed missionaries, or clothe them, or save
souls, you know, Mrs. Burke."

"Did anybody say they would?" Mrs. Burke inquired. "I shouldn't
particularly care to see missionaries clothed in sachet bags myself;
the smell might drive the heathen to desperation. But do we always
limit our spending money to necessary clothes and food? The truth is,
we all of us spend anything we like as long as it goes on our backs,
or down our throats; but the moment it comes to supportin'
missionaries we think 'em worldly and graspin' if they show any
ambition beyond second-hand clothes."

"Do you live up to your preachin', Mrs. Burke?" a little sallow-faced
woman inquired from a dark corner of the room.

"Oh, no; it hits me just as hard as anybody else, as Martin Luther
said. But I've got a proposition to make: if you'll take these things
you brought, back with you, and wear 'em for a week just as they are,
and play you're the missionaries, I'll take back all I've said."

As, however, there was no response to this challenge, the box was
packed, and the cover nailed down.

(It is perhaps no proper part of this story to add, that its opening
on the other side of the world was attended by the welcome and
surprising fragrance of patchouli, emanating from a little silk sachet
secreted among the more workaday gifts.)

The ladies then adjourned to the front piazza, where the supper was
served.

When the dishes had been cleared away, the guests adjusted their
chairs and assumed attitudes of expectant attention while Virginia
stood up and shyly unrolled her manuscript, with a placid,
self-conscious smile on her countenance. She apologized for her youth
and inexperience, with a moving glance towards her pastor, and then
got down to business. She began with the original and striking remark
that it was the chief glory and function of woman to be a home-maker.
She continued with something to the effect that the woman who forms
the character of her children in the sanctity of the home-life rules
the destinies of the world. Then she made a fetching allusion to the
"Mother of the Gracchi," and said something about jewels. Nobody knew
who the "Gracchi" were, but they supposed that they must be some
relatives of Virginia's who lived in Boston.

She asserted that the modern methods of bringing up children were all
wrong. She drew a striking picture of the ideal home in which children
always stood modestly and reverently by their parents' chairs,
consumed with anxiety to be of some service to their elders. They were
always to be immaculately neat in their attire, and gentle in their
ways. The use of slang was quite beneath them.

These ideal children were always to spend their evenings at home in
the perusal of instructive books, and the pursuit of useful knowledge.
Then, when half-past seven arrived, they were to rise spontaneously
and promptly, and bid their parents an affectionate good-night, and
retire to their rooms, where, having said their prayers and recited
the golden text, they were to get into bed.

Portions of Virginia's essay were quite moving. Speaking of the
rewards which good mothers reap, in the virtues and graces of their
dutiful offspring, she said:

"What mother does not feel a thrill of exquisite rapture as she fondly
gazes into the depths of her baby's eyes and sees there the budding
promise of glorious womanhood. What mother does not watch the
development of her little son with wondering pride, as she notes his
manly, simple ways, his gentle reverence, his tender, modest behavior.
What mother----"

Here Virginia came to an abrupt stop, for there was a terrible racket
somewhere overhead on the piazza roof; a rope was suddenly dropped
over the edge of the eaves, and almost immediately a pair of very
immodestly bare legs were lowered into view, followed by the rest of
Nickey Burke's person, attired in his nightshirt. It was the work of a
moment for the nimble boy to slide down the rope onto the ground. But,
as he landed on his feet, finding himself in the august presence of
the missionary circle, he remarked "Gee Whitaker bee's wax!" and
prudently took to his heels, and sped around the house as if he had
been shot out of a gun.

Several segments of the circle giggled violently. The essayist, though
very red, made a brave effort to ignore the highly indecorous
interruption, and so continued with trembling tones:

"What more beautiful and touching thing is there, than the innocent,
unsullied modesty of childhood? One might almost say----"

But she never said it, for here again she was forced to pause while
another pair of immodest legs appeared over the eaves, much fatter and
shorter than the preceding pair. These belonged to Nickey's
boon-companion, the gentle Oliver Wendell Jones. The rest of O. W. J.
followed in due time; and, quite ignorant of what awaited him, he
began his wriggling descent. Most unfortunately for him, the hem of
his nightshirt caught on a large nail in the eaves of the roof; and
after a frantic, fruitless, and fearful effort to disconnect himself,
he hung suspended in the breeze for one awful moment, like a painted
cherub on a Christmas tree, while his mother, recognizing her
offspring, rose to go to his assistance.

Then there was a frantic yell, a terrible ripping sound, and Oliver
Wendell was seen to drop to the ground clad in the sleeves and the
front breadth of his shirt, while the entire back of it, from the
collar down, waved triumphantly aloft from the eaves. Oliver Wendell
Jones picked himself up, unhurt, but much frightened, and very angry:
presenting much the aspect of a punctured tire. Then suddenly
discovering the proximity of the missionary circle and missing the
rear elevation of his shirt about the same time, in the horror and
mortification of the moment, he lost his head entirely.
Notwithstanding the protests of his pursuing mother, without waiting
for his clothes, he fled, "anywhere, anywhere out of the world,"
bawling with wrath and chagrin.

The entire circumference of the missionary circle now burst into roars
of laughter. His mother quickly overtook and captured Oliver, tying
her apron around his neck as a concession to the popular prejudice
against "the altogether." The gravity of the missionary circle was so
thoroughly demoralized that it was impossible to restore order; and
Miss Bascom, in the excess of her mortification, stuffed the rest of
her manuscript, its eloquent peroration undelivered, into her bag.

[Illustration: "NICHOLAS BURKE, WHAT IN THE NAME OF CONSCIENCE DOES ALL
THIS IDIOTIC PERFORMANCE MEAN, I'D LIKE TO KNOW?"]

When the last guest had departed, Mrs. Burke proceeded to hunt up
Nickey, who was dressed and sitting on the top of the corn-crib
whittling a stick. His mother began:

"Nicholas Burke, what in the name of conscience does all this idiotic
performance mean, I'd like to know?"

Nickey closed his knife. Gazing serenely down at his mother, he
replied:

"How'd I know the blamed missionary push was goin' to meet on the
front porch, I'd like to know? Me and Oliver Wendell was just playin'
the house was on fire. We'd gone to bed in the front room, and then I
told Ollie the fire was breakin' out all around us, and the sparks was
flyin', and the stairs was burned away, and there was no way of
'scapin' but to slide down the rope over the roof. I 'aint to blame
for his nightshirt bein' caught on a nail, and bein' ripped off him.
Maybe the ladies was awful shocked; but they laughed fit to split
their sides just the same. Mr. Maxwell laughed louder than 'em all."

Hepsey retired hastily, lest her face should relax its well-assumed
severity.

Maxwell, in the meantime, felt it a part of his duty to console and
soothe the ruffled feelings of his zealous and fluent parishioner, and
to Virginia's pride his offer of escort to Willow Bluff was ample
reparation for the untoward interruption of her oratory. She
delivered into his hands, with sensitive upward glance, the receptacle
containing her manuscript, and set a brisk pace, at which she insured
the passing of the other guests along the road, making visible her
triumph over circumstance and at the same time obviating untimely
intrusion of a tete-a-tete conversation.

"You must have given a great deal of time and study to your subject,"
remarked Maxwell politely.

"It is very near to my heart," responded Virginia, in welling tones.
"Home-life is, to me, almost a religion. Do you not feel, with me,
that it is the most valuable of human qualities, Mr. Maxwell?"

"I do indeed, and one of the most difficult to reduce to a
science,"--she glanced up at him apprehensively, whereupon, lest he
seemed to have erred in fact, he added,--"as you made us realize in
your paper."

"It is so nice to have your appreciation," she gurgled. "Often I feel
it almost futile to try to influence our cold parish audiences; their
attitude is so stolid, so unimaginative. As you must have realized, in
the pulpit, they are so hard to lead into untrodden paths. Let us take
the way home by the lane," she added coyly, leading off the road down
a sheltered by-way.

The lane was rough, and the lady, tightly and lightly shod, stumbled
neatly and grasped her escort's arm for support--and retained it for
comfort.

"What horizons your sermons have spread before us--and, yet,"--she
hesitated,--"I often wonder, as my eyes wander over the congregation,
how many besides myself, really hear your message, really see what
_you_ see."

Her hand trembled on his arm, and Maxwell was a little at a loss,
though anxious not to seem unresponsive to Virginia's enthusiasm for
spiritual vision.

"I feel that my first attention has to be given to the simpler
problems, here in Durford," he replied. "But I am glad if I haven't
been dull, in the process."

"Dull? No indeed--how can you say that! To my life--you will
understand?" (she glanced up with tremulous flutter of eyelids) "--you
have brought so much helpfulness and--and warmth." She sighed
eloquently.

Maxwell was no egotist, and was always prone to see only an impersonal
significance in parish compliments. A more self-conscious subject for
confidences would have replied less openly.

"I am glad--very glad. But you must not think that the help has been
one-sided. You have seconded my efforts so energetically--indeed I
don't know what I could have accomplished without such whole-hearted
help as you and Mrs. Burke and others have given."

To the optimistic Virginia the division of the loaves and fishes of
his personal gratitude was scarcely heeded. She cherished her own
portion, and soon magnified it to a basketful--and soon, again, to a
monopoly of the entire supply. As he gave her his hand at the door of
Willow Bluff, she was in fit state to invest that common act of
friendliness with symbolic significance of a rosy future.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER VII

HEPSEY GOES A-FISHING


Mrs. Burke seemed incapable of sitting still, with folded hands, for
any length of time; and when the stress of her attention to household
work, and her devotion to neighborly good deeds relaxed, she turned to
knitting wash-rags as a sportsman turns to his gun, or a toper to his
cups. She seemed to find more stimulus for thought and more helpful
diversion in the production of one wash-rag than most persons find in
a trip abroad.

One day, not very long after the eventful missionary tea, she was
sitting in her garden, and knitting more rapidly than usual, as she
said to Maxwell:

"What's been the matter with you these last few weeks? You've been
lookin' altogether too sober, and you don't eat nothin' to speak of.
It must be either liver, or conscience, or heart."

Secretly, she strongly suspected a cardiac affection, of the romantic
variety. She intended to investigate.

Donald laughed as he replied:

"Perhaps it's all three together; but I'm all right. There's nothing
the matter with me. Every man has his blue days, you know."

"Yes, but the last month you've had too many; and there must be some
reason for it. There's nothin' so refreshin' as gettin' away from your
best friends, once in a while. I guess you need a change--pinin' for
the city, maybe. Sakes alive! I can't see how folks can live that
way--all crowded up together, like a lot of prisons."

"You don't care to visit in the city, then?"

"Not on your life!"

"But a change is good for everyone. Don't you ever get away from
Durford for a few weeks?"

"Not very often. What with decidin' where to go, and fussin' to get
ready, and shuttin' up the house, it's more trouble than its worth.
Then there's so many things to 'tend to when you get home."

"But don't you ever visit relatives?"

"Not on your life, unless I'm subpoena-ed by the coroner: though of
course we do get together to celebrate a family funeral or a wedding
now and then. Visitin' is no joke, I tell you. No sir, I'm old enough
to know when I'm well off, and home's the best place for me. I want my
own table, and my own bed when it comes night." She paused, and then
remarked meditatively:

"I went down to visit in New York once."

"Didn't you enjoy your visit?" Maxwell inquired. "New York's my
home-city."

"Can't say I did, awful much. You see, I was visitin' Sally
Ramsdale--Sally Greenway that was. They were livin' in an apartment,
ninth floor up. In the first place, I didn't like goin' up stairs in
the elevator. I was so scared, I felt as if the end had come, and I
was bein' jerked to my reward in an iron birdcage with a small kid
dressed in brass buttons. When I got into the hall it was about two
feet wide and darker than Pharaoh's conscience. It had a string of
cells along the side, and one opened into a chimney, and the rest into
nothin' in particular. The middle cell was a dinin' room where we ate
when we could find the way to our mouths. Near as I can recollect,
you got into the parlor through the pantry, back of the servant's
room, by jumpin' over five trunks. You ought to have seen my room. It
looked just like a parlor when you first went in. There was somethin'
lookin' like a cross between an upright piano and writin' desk. Sally
gave it a twist, and it tumbled out into a folding bed. The first
night, I laid awake with my eyes on the foot of that bed expectin' it
to rise and stand me on my head; but it didn't. You took the book of
poems off the center table, gave it a flop, and it was a washstand.
Everything seemed to shut up into something else it hadn't ought to.
It was a 'now you see it, and now you don't see it,' kind of a room;
and I seemed to be foldin' and unfoldin' most of the time. Then the
ceilin' was so low that you could hardly get the cover off the soap
dish. I felt all the while as if I should smother. My! but I was glad
to get home and get a breath of real air."

"Yes," Maxwell replied, "people live more natural and healthful lives
in the country. The advantages of the city aren't an unmixed
blessing."

"That's true enough. That's no way to live. Just think of havin' no
yard but a window box and a fire escape! I'd smother!

"We folks out here in the country 'aint enjoyin' a lot of the
refinements of city life; anyhow we get along, and the funny part
about it is,--it 'aint hard to do, either. In the first place we 'aint
so particular, which helps a lot, and besides, as Jonathan Jackson
used to say,--there's compensations. I had one look at Fifth Avenue
and I'm not sayin' it wasn't all I had heard it was; but if I had to
look at it three hundred and sixty-five days a year I wouldn't trade
it for this.

"Why, some days it rains up here, but I can sit at my window and look
down the valley, to where the creek runs through, and 'way up into the
timber, and the sight of all those green things, livin' and noddin' in
the rain is a long ways from being disheartenin',--and when the sun
shines I can sit out here, in my garden, with my flowers, and watch
the boys playin' down in the meadow, Bascom's Holsteins grazin' over
there on the hill, and the air full of the perfume of growin'
things,--they 'aint got anything like that, in New York."

For a time Mrs. Burke relapsed into silence, while Maxwell smoked his
briar pipe as he lay on the grass near by. She realized that the
parson had cleverly side-tracked her original subject of conversation,
and as she glanced down at him she shook her head with droll
deprecation of his guile.

When she first accused him of the blues, it was true that Maxwell's
look had expressed glum depression. Now, he was smiling, and, balked
of her prey, Mrs. Burke knitted briskly, contemplating other means
drawing him from his covert. Her strategy had been too subtle: she
would try a frontal attack.

"Ever think of gettin' married, Mr. Maxwell?" she inquired abruptly.

For an instant Maxwell colored; but he blew two or three rings of
smoke in the air, and then replied carelessly, as he plucked at the
grass by his side:

"Oh, yes: every fellow of my age has fancied himself in love some time
or other, I suppose."

"Yes, it's like measles, or whoopin'-cough; every man has to have it
sometime; but you haven't answered my question."

"Well, suppose I was in love; a man must be pretty conceited to
imagine that he could make up to a girl for the sacrifice of bringing
her to live in a place like Durford. That sounds horribly rude to
Durford, but you won't misunderstand me."

"No; I know exactly how you feel; but the average girl is just dyin'
to make a great sacrifice for some good-lookin' young fellow, all the
same."

"Ah yes; the _average_ girl; but----"

Maxwell's voice trailed off into silence, while he affected to gaze
stonily into the blue deeps of the sky overhead.

Hepsey had thought herself a pretty clever fisherman, in her day;
evidently, she decided, this particular fish was not going to be easy
to land.

"Don't you think a clergyman is better off married?" she asked,
presently.

Donald knocked the ashes out of his pipe and put it in his pocket,
clasped his hands across his knees, and smiled thoughtfully for a
moment. There was a light in his eyes which was good to see, and a
slight trembling of his lips before he ventured to speak. Then he
sighed heavily.

"Yes, I do, on many accounts. But I think that any parson in a place
like this ought to know and face all the difficulties of the situation
before he comes to a definite decision and marries. Isn't that your
own view? You've had experience of married parsons here: what do you
think?"

"Well, you see the matter is just like this: Every parish wants an
unmarried parson; the vestry 'cause he's cheap, every unmarried woman
'cause he may be a possible suitor; and it's easier to run him than it
is a married man. He may be decent, well-bred and educated. And he
comes to a parcel of ignoramuses who think they know ten times as much
as he does. If he can't earn enough to marry on, and has the good
sense to keep out of matrimony, the people talk about his bein' a
selfish old bachelor who neglects his duty to society. He can't afford
to run a tumble-down rectory like ours. If in the face of all this he
marries, he has to scrimp and stint until it is a question of buyin'
one egg or two, and lettin' his wife worry and work until she's fit
for a lunatic asylum. No business corporation, not even a
milk-peddlin' trust, would treat its men so or expect good work from
'em. Then the average layman seldom thinks how he can help the parson.
His one idea is to be a kicker as long as he can think of anything to
kick about. The only man in this parish who never kicks is paralyzed
in both legs. Yes sir; the parson of the country parish is the parish
goat, as the sayin' is."

Mrs. Burke ceased her tirade, and after a while Maxwell remarked
quietly:

"Mrs. Burke, I'm afraid you are a pessimist."

"I'm no such thing," she retorted hotly. "A pessimist's a man that
sees nothin' but the bad, and says there's no help for it and won't
raise a hand: he's a proper sour-belly. An optimist's a man that sees
nothin' but the good, and says everything's all right; let's have a
good time. Poor fool! The practical man--anyway, the practical
woman--sees both the bad and the good, and says we can make things a
whole lot better if we try; let's take off our coats and hustle to
beat the cars, and see what happens. The real pessimists are your
Bascoms, and that kind: and I guess I pity him more than blame him: he
seems as lonesome as a tooth-pick in a cider-barrel."

"But I thought that Bascom was a wealthy man. He ought to be able to
help out, and raise money enough so that the town could keep a parson
and his wife comfortably."

"Sure thing! But the church isn't supported by tight-fisted wealthy
people. It's the hard-workin' middle class who are willin' to turn in
and spend their last cent for the church. And don't you get me started
on Bascom as you value your life. Maybe I'll swear a blue streak
before I get through: not but what I suppose that even Bascom has his
good points--like a porcupine. But a little emery paper on Bascom's
good points wouldn't hurt 'em very much. They're awful rusty."

"Oh well! Money isn't all there is in life," soothed Maxwell,
smiling.

"No, not quite; but it's a mighty good thing to have in the house.
You'd think so if you had to wear the same hat three summers. I've got
to that time in my life where I can get along very well without most
of the necessities; but I must have a few luxuries to keep me goin'."

"Then you think that a clergyman ought not to marry and bring his wife
to a place like Durford?"

"I didn't say anything of the sort. If you was to get married I'd see
you through, if it broke my neck or Bascom's."

"Do you know, you seem to me a bit illogical?" remarked Maxwell
mildly.

"Don't talk to me about logic! The strongest argument is often the
biggest lie. There are times in your life when you have to take your
fate in both hands and shut your eyes, and jump in the dark. Maybe
you'll land on your feet, and maybe you--won't. But you have got to
jump just the same. That's matrimony--common sense, idiocy, or
whatever you choose to call it.... I never could tell which. It's the
only thing to do; and any man with a backbone and a fist won't
hesitate very long. If you marry, I'll see you through; though of
course you won't stay here long, anyhow."

"You're awfully kind, Mrs. Burke," Maxwell replied, "and I sha'n't
forget your promise--when the time comes for me to take the momentous
step. But I think it would be the wisest thing for me to keep my
heart free for a while; or at any rate, not to get married."

Mrs. Burke looked down at her rector, and smiled broadly at his clever
evasion of the bait she had dangled before him so persistently.

"Well, do as you like; but that reminds me that when next you go to
town you'll need to get a new glass for that miniature of your sister.
You must have dozed off with it in your hands last night and dropped
it. I found it this morning on the floor alongside of your chair, with
the glass broken."

She rose triumphantly, as she knitted the last stitch of the wash-rag.
"Excuse me--I must go and peel the potatoes for dinner."

"I'd offer to contribute to the menu, by catching some fish for you;
but I don't think it's a very good day for fishing, is it, Mrs.
Burke?" asked Maxwell innocently.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER VIII

AN ICEBOX FOR CHERUBIM


As we have seen, when Maxwell began his work in Durford, he was full
of the enthusiasm of youth and inexperience. He was, however, heartily
supported and encouraged in his efforts by all but Sylvester Bascom.
Without being actively and openly hostile, the Senior Warden, under
the guise of superior wisdom and a judicial regard for expediency,
managed to thwart many of his projects. After each interview with
Bascom, Maxwell felt that every bit of life and heart had been pumped
out of him, and that he was very young, and very foolish to attempt
to make any change in "the good old ways" of the parish, which for so
many years had stunted its growth and had acquired the immobility of
the laws of the Medes and Persians.

But there was one parishioner who was ever ready to suggest new
ventures to "elevate" the people, and to play the part of intimate
friend and adviser to her good-looking rector, and that was Virginia
Bascom. For some unknown reason "the people" did not seem to be
acutely anxious thus to be elevated; and most of them seemed to regard
Virginia as a harmless idiot with good intentions, but with positive
genius for meddling in other people's affairs. Being the only daughter
of the Senior Warden, and the leading lady from a social standpoint,
she considered that she had a roving commission to set people right at
a moment's notice; and there were comparatively few people in Durford
on whom she had not experimented in one way or another. She organized
a Browning club to keep the factory girls out of the streets evenings,
a mothers' meeting, an ethical culture society, and a craftman's club,
and, as she was made president of each, her time was quite well
filled.

And now in her fertile brain dawned a brilliant idea, which she
proceeded to propound to the rector. Maxwell was non-committal, for
he felt the matter was one for feminine judgment. Then she decided to
consult Mrs. Burke--because, while Hepsey was "not in society," she
was recognized as the dominant personality among the women of the
village, and no parish enterprise amounted to much unless she approved
of it, and was gracious enough to assist. As Virginia told Maxwell,
"Mrs. Burke has a talent of persuasiveness," and so was "useful in any
emergency." If Mrs. Burke's sympathies could be enlisted on behalf of
the new scheme it would be bound to succeed.

As a matter of fact, Mrs. Burke had heard rumors of this new project
of Virginia's. It always went against the grain with Hepsey to say:
"Don't do it." She was a firm believer in the teaching of experience:
"Experience does it," was her translation of the classic adage.

And so one morning found Virginia sitting opposite Mrs. Burke in the
kitchen at Thunder Cliff, knitting her brows and poking the toe of her
boot with the end of her parasol in an absent-minded way. This was
symptomatic.

"Anything on your mind, Virginia? What's up now?" Mrs. Burke began.

For a moment Virginia hesitated, and then replied:

"I am thinking of establishing a day-nursery to care for the babies of
working women, Mrs. Burke."

Mrs. Burke, with hands on her hips, gazed intently at her visitor,
pushed up her under lip, scowled, and then observed thoughtfully:

"I wonder some one hasn't thought of that before. Who's to take care
of the babies?"

"Mary Quinn and I, with the assistance of others, of course."

"Are you sure that you know which is the business end of a
nursing-bottle? Could you put a safety-pin where it would do the most
good? Could you wash a baby without drownin' it?"

"Of course I have not had much experience," Virginia replied in a
dignified and lofty way, "but Mary Quinn has, and she could teach
me."

"You're thinkin', I suppose, that a day-nursery would fill a long-felt
want, or somethin' like that. Who's goin' to pay the bills?"

"Oh, there ought to be enough progressive, philanthropic people in
Durford to subscribe the necessary funds, you know. It is to be an
auxiliary to the parish work."

"Hm! What does Mr. Maxwell say?"

"Well, he said that he supposed that babies were good things in their
way; but he hadn't seen many in the village, and he didn't quite
realize what help a day-nursery would be to the working women."

"That doesn't sound mighty enthusiastic. Maybe we might get the money;
but who's to subscribe the babies?"

"Why, the working women, of course."

"They can't subscribe 'em if they haven't got 'em. There are mighty
few kids in this town; and if you really want my candid opinion, I
don't think Durford needs a day-nursery any more than it needs an
icebox for cherubim. But then of course that doesn't matter much. When
you goin' to begin?"

"Next Monday. We have rented the store where Elkin's grocery used to
be, and we are going to fit it up with cribs, and all the most
up-to-date conveniences for a sanitary day-nursery."

"Hm! Well, I'll do all I can to help you, of course. I suppose you'll
find babies pushin' all over the sidewalk Monday mornin', comin' early
to avoid the rush. Better get down as early as possible, Virginia."

Virginia departed.

After the furnishing of the incipient nursery had been completed, and
each little crib had a new unbreakable doll whose cheeks were
decorated with unsuckable paint, Virginia and Mary Quinn--invaluable
in undertaking the spadework of all Virginia's parish exploits--gave
an afternoon tea to which all the subscribers and their friends were
invited. But when everything was in readiness for patronage, what few
working women there were in Durford, possessed of the right kind of
babies, seemed strangely reluctant to trust their youthful offspring
to the tender mercies of Virginia Bascom and Mary Quinn.

Consequently, the philanthropic movement, started under such favorable
patronage, soon reached a critical stage in its career, and Mrs. Burke
was called in to contribute some practical suggestions. She responded
to the summons with all due promptness, and when she arrived at the
nursery, she smilingly remarked:

"Hm! But where are the babies? I thought they would be swarming all
over the place like tadpoles in a pool."

"Well, you see," Virginia began, her voice quivering with
disappointment, "Mary Quinn and I have been sitting here four mortal
days, and not a single infant has appeared on the scene. I must say
that the working women of Durford seem strangely unappreciative of our
efforts to help them."

"Well," Mrs. Burke responded, "I suppose day-nurseries without babies
are as incomplete as an incubator without eggs. But after all, it
hardly seems worth while to go out and snatch nursing infants from
their mother's breasts just to fill a long-felt want, does it?
Besides, you might get yourself into trouble."

"I didn't ask you to come and make fun of me," Virginia replied
touchily. "I wanted you to make some suggestions to help us out. If we
don't get any babies, we might just as well close our doors at once. I
should be awfully mortified to have the whole thing a failure, after
all we have done, and all the advertising we have had."

Mrs. Burke sat down and assumed a very judicial expression.

"Well, Ginty dear, I'm awful sorry for you; I don't doubt you done the
best you could. It'd be unreasonable to expect you to collect babies
like mushrooms in a single night. All true reformers are bound to
strike snags, and to suffer because they aint appreciated in their own
day and generation. It's only after we are gone and others take our
places that the things we do are appreciated. You'll have to resign
yourself to fate, Virginia, and wait for what the newspapers call 'the
vindicatin' verdict of prosperity.' Think of all the people that tried
to do things and didn't do 'em. Now there's the Christian
martyrs----"

For some reason Virginia seemed to have a vague suspicion that Hepsey
was still making fun of her; and being considerably nettled, she
interjected tartly:

"I'm not working for the verdict of posterity, and I don't care a flip
for the Christian martyrs. I'm trying to conduct a day-nursery, here
and now; we have the beds, and the equipment, and some money,
and----"

"But you haven't got the babies, Virginia!"

"Precisely, Mrs. Burke. It's simply a question of babies, now or
never. Babies we must have or close our doors. I must confess that I
am greatly pained at the lack of interest of the community in our
humble efforts to serve them."

For some time Hepsey sat in silence; then she smiled as if a bright
idea occurred to her.

"Why not borrow a few babies from the mothers in town, Virginia? You
see, you might offer to pay a small rental by the hour, or take out a
lease which could be renewed when it expired. What is lacking is
public confidence in your enterprise. If you and Miss Quinn could be
seen in the nursery windows dandlin' a baby on each arm, and singin'
lullabies to 'em for a few days, it'd attract attention, inspire
faith in the timid, and public confidence would be restored. The tide
of babies'd turn your way after a while, and the nursery would prove a
howlin' success."

Virginia considered the suggestion and, after deep thought, remarked:

"What do you think we ought to pay for the loan of a baby per hour,
Mrs. Burke?"

"Well, of course I haven't had much experience rentin' babies, as I
have been busy payin' taxes and insurance on my own for some years;
then you see rents have gone up like everything lately. But I should
think that ten cents an afternoon ought to be sufficient. I think I
might be able to hunt up a baby or two. Mrs. Warren might lend her
baby, and perhaps Mrs. Fletcher might add her twins. I'll call on them
at once, if you say so."

Virginia looked relieved, and in a voice of gratitude responded:

"You are really very, very kind."

"Well, cheer up, Virginia; cheer up. Every cloud has its silver
linin'; and I guess we can find some babies somewhere even if we have
to advertise in the papers. Now I must be goin', and I'll stop on the
way and make a bid for the Fletcher twins. Good-by."

When Nicholas Burke learned from his mother of the quest of the
necessary babies, he started out of his own motion and was the first
to arrive on the scene with the spoils of victory, in the shape of the
eighteen-months infant of Mrs. Thomas McCarthy, for which he had been
obliged to pay twenty-five cents in advance, the infant protesting
vigorously with all the power of a well developed pair of lungs. As
Nickey delivered the goods, he remarked casually:

"Say, Miss Virginia, you just take the darn thing quick. He's been
howlin' to beat the band."

"Why, Nickey," exclaimed Virginia, entranced, and gingerly possessing
herself of James McCarthy, "however did you get him?"

"His ma wouldn't let me have him at first; and it took an awful lot of
jollyin' to bring her round. Of course I didn't mean to tell no lies,
but I said you was awful fond of kids. I said that if you only had
Jimmy, it would give the nursery a dandy send-off, 'cause she was so
well known, and Mr. McCarthy was such a prominent citizen. When she
saw me cough up a quarter and play with it right under her nose, I
could see she was givin' in; and she says to me, 'Nickey, you can take
him just this once. I'd like to help the good cause along, and Miss
Bascom, she means well.' Ma's gettin' after the Fletcher twins for
you."

James McCarthy was welcomed with open arms, was washed and dressed in
the most approved antiseptic manner; his gums were swabed with boracic
acid, and he was fed from a sterilized bottle on Pasteurized milk, and
tucked up in a crib with carbolized sheets, and placed close to the
window where he could bask in actinic rays, and inhale ozone to his
heart's content. Thus the passer-by could see at a glance that the
good work had begun to bear fruit.

Mrs. Burke managed to get hold of the Fletcher twins, and as they both
howled lustily in unison, all the time, they added much to the natural
domesticity of the scene and seemed to invite further patronage, like
barkers at a side-show. Mrs. Warren was also persuaded.

Although the village was thoroughly canvassed, Miss Bascom was obliged
to content herself with the McCarthy baby and the Fletcher twins, and
the Warren baby, until, one morning, a colored woman appeared with a
bundle in her arms. As she was the first voluntary contributor of live
stock, she was warmly welcomed, and a great fuss made over the tiny
black infant which gradually emerged from the folds of an old shawl
"like a cuckoo out of its cocoon," as Mary Quinn remarked. This, of
course, was very nice and encouraging, but most unfortunately, when
night came, the mother did not appear to claim her progeny, nor did
she ever turn up again. Of course it was a mere oversight on her part,
but Virginia was much disturbed, for, to her very great embarrassment,
she found herself the undisputed possessor of a coal black baby. She
was horrified beyond measure, and sent at once for Mrs. Burke.

"What shall I do, what shall I do, Mrs. Burke?" she cried. Mrs. Burke
gazed musingly at the writhing black blot on the white and rose
blanket, and suggested:

"Pity you couldn't adopt it, Virginia. You always loved children."

"Adopt it!" Virginia screamed hysterically. "What in the world can you
be thinking of?"

"Well, I can't think of anything else, unless I can persuade Andy
Johnston, the colored man on the farm, to adopt it. He wouldn't mind
its complexion as much as you seem to."

Virginia brightened considerably at this suggestion, exclaiming
excitedly:

"Oh Mrs. Burke, do you really think you could?"

"Well, I don't know. Perhaps so. At any rate, if we offer to help pay
the extra expense, Mrs. Johnston might bring the baby up as her own.
Then they can name it Virginia Bascom Johnston, you see."

Virginia bit her lip, but she managed to control her temper as she
exclaimed quite cheerfully:

"Mrs. Burke, you are so very kind. You are always helping somebody out
of a scrape."

"Don't overpraise me, Virginia. My head's easily turned. The teachin's
of experience are hard--but I guess they're best in the end. Well,
send the poor little imp of darkness round to me to-night, and I'll
see that it has good care."

As a matter of fact, Hepsey had qualms of conscience as to whether she
should not, at the outset, have discouraged the whole baby project;
experience threatened to give its lesson by pretty hard knocks, on
this occasion.

For though the immediate problem was thus easily solved, others
presented themselves to vex the philanthropic Virginia.

When on the tenth day the rental for the Warren baby and the Fletcher
twins fell due, and the lease of James McCarthy expired without
privilege of renewal, the finances of the nursery were at a very low
ebb. It certainly did not help matters much when, towards night, Mary
Quinn called Virginia's attention to the fact that there were
unmistakable signs of a bad rash on the faces of the twins, and very
suspicious spots on the cheeks of the Warren baby. Even the
antiseptic James McCarthy blushed like a boiled lobster, and went
hopelessly back on his sterilized character. Of course the only thing
to be done was to send at once for the doctor, and for the mothers of
the respective infants. When the doctor arrived he pronounced the
trouble to be measles; and when the mothers made their appearance,
Virginia learned something of the unsuspected resources of the English
language served hot from the tongues of three frightened and irate
women. Finally the floor was cleared, and the place closed up for
disinfection.

Just before she left, Virginia dropped into a chair and wept, quite
oblivious of the well-meant consolations of Mary Quinn, sometime
co-partner in "The Durford Day-Nursery for the Children of Working
Women."

"We've done the very best we could, Miss Bascom; and it certainly
isn't our fault that the venture turned out badly. Poor babies!"

At this the sobbing Virginia was roused to one last protest:

"Mary Quinn, if ever you say another word to me about babies, I'll
have you arrested. I just hate babies, and--and everything! Why, there
comes Mr. Maxwell! Say, Mary, you just run and get me a wet towel to
wipe my face with, while I hunt for my combs and do up my back hair.
And then if you wouldn't mind vanishing for a while--I'm sure you
understand--for if ever I needed spiritual consolation and the help of
the church, it is now, this minute."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER IX

THE RECTORY


A few weeks after Donald's conversational duel with Mrs. Burke he
started on a six-weeks' vacation, which he had certainly earned; and
as he busied himself with his packing,--Hepsey assisting,--he
announced:

"When I come back, Mrs. Burke, I probably shall not come alone."

He was strapping up his suit-case when he made this rather startling
announcement, and the effect seemed to send the blood to his head.
Mrs. Burke did not seem to notice his confusion as she remarked
calmly:

"Hm! That's a good thing. Your grandmother can have the room next to
yours, and we'll do all we can to make the old lady comfortable. I'm
sure she'll be a great comfort to you, though she'll get a bit
lonesome at times, unless she's active on her feet."

Donald laughed, as he blushed more furiously and stuttered:

"No, I am not going to bring my grandmother here, and I strongly
suspect that you know what I mean. I'm going to be married."

"So you are going to get married, are you?" Hepsey remarked with due
amazement, as if the suspicion of the fact had never entered her head
before. "Well, I am mighty glad of it. I only wish that I was goin' to
be present to give you away. Yes, I'm mighty glad. She'll make a new
man of you up here, so long as she isn't a new woman."

"No, not in the slang sense of the word; although I think you will
find her very capable, and I hope with all my heart that you'll like
her."

"I'm sure I shall. The question is whether she'll like me."

Hepsey Burke looked rather sober for a moment, and Donald instantly
asserted:

"She can't help liking you."

"We-ell now, I could mention quite a number of people who find it as
easy as rolling off a log to _dis_like, me. But that doesn't matter
much. I have found it a pretty good plan not to expect a great deal of
adoration, and to be mighty grateful for the little you get. Be sure
you let me know when to expect you and your grandmother back."

"Most certainly I shall," he laughed. "It will be in about six weeks,
you know. Good-by, and thank you a thousand times for all your
kindness to me."

There was considerable moisture in Hepsey's eyes as she stood and
watched Maxwell drive down the road. Then wiping her eyes furtively
with one corner of her apron she remarked to herself:

"Well, I suppose I am glad, mighty glad; but somehow it isn't the
jolliest thing in the world to have one's friends get married. They
are never the same again; and in ten times out of six the lady in the
case is jealous of her husband's friends, and tries to make trouble.
It takes a lady saint to share her husband's interests with anybody,
and maybe she 'aint to blame. Well, the next thing in order is to fix
up the rectory in six weeks. The best way to repair that thing is with
a match and some real good kerosene and a few shavings; however, we'll
have to do the best we can. I think I'll set Jonathan Jackson to work
this afternoon, and go around and interview the vestry myself."

Jonathan proved resignedly obedient to Hepsey's demands, but the
vestry blustered and scolded, because they had not been consulted in
the matter, until Hepsey said she would be glad to receive any
contribution they might choose to offer; then they relapsed into
innocuous desuetude and talked crops.

As soon as the repairs were well under way, the whole town was wild
with gossip about Maxwell and Miss Bascom. If he were going to occupy
the rectory, the necessary inference was that he was going to be
married, as he surely would not contemplate keeping bachelor's hall by
himself. At last Virginia had attained the height of her ambition and
captured the rector! Consequently she was the center of interest in
every social gathering, although, as the engagement had not been
formally announced, no one felt at liberty to congratulate her. To any
tentative and insinuating advances in this direction Virginia replied
by non-committal smiles, capable of almost any interpretation; and the
seeker after information was none the wiser.

Mrs. Roscoe-Jones, by virtue of her long intimacy with Hepsey and her
assured social position in Durford's thirty gentry, felt that she was
entitled to some definite information; and so, as they walked back
from church one Wednesday afternoon, she remarked:

"I hear that the parish is going to repair the rectory, and that you
are taking a great interest in it. You must be on very intimate terms
with Mr. Bascom and the vestry!"

"Well, not exactly. Bascom and I haven't held hands in the dark for
some time; but I am going to do what I can to get the house in order
for Mr. Maxwell."

"I wonder where the money is coming from to complete the work? It
seems to me that the whole parish ought to be informed about the
matter, and share in the work; but I suppose Mr. Bascom's shouldering
it all, since there's been no effort to raise money by having a
fair."

"I really don't know much about it as yet, Sarah. Of course Bascom's
charitable work is mostly done in secret, so that nobody ever finds it
out. He is a modest man and wouldn't like to be caught in the act of
signing a check for anybody else. It might seem showy."

"Yes, I understand," Mrs. Roscoe-Jones retorted dryly; "but under the
circumstances, that is----"

"Under what circumstances?" Mrs. Burke inquired quickly.

"Oh, considering that Mr. Bascom is Virginia's father and would want
to make her comfortable, you know----"

"No, I don't know. I'm awful stupid about some things. You must have
discovered that before."

"Now Hepsey, what is the use of beating around the bush like this? You
must know the common gossip of the town, and you must be in Mr.
Maxwell's confidence. What shall I say when people ask me if he is
engaged to Virginia Bascom?"

"Tell 'em you don't know a blessed thing about it. What else can you
tell 'em? You might tell 'em that you tried to pump me and the pump
wouldn't work 'cause it needed packin'."

After this, Mrs. Roscoe-Jones felt that there was nothing left for her
to do but retire from the scene; so she crossed the road.

When Mrs. Burke began the actual work on the rectory she quickly
realized what she had to cope with. The workmen of Durford had a
pleasing habit of accepting all offers of work, and promising
anything, and making a start so as to get the job; and then, having
upset the whole premises, they promptly "lit out" for parts unknown in
order to get another job, and no mortal knew when they would return.
It always seemed promising and hopeful to see a laboring man arrive in
his overalls with his dinner-pail and tools at seven; but when two
hours later he had vanished, not to return, it was a bit discouraging.
Mrs. Burke was not in a very good humor when, arriving at the rectory,
she met Tom Snyder the plumber, at ten-thirty, walking briskly away
from his job. She planted herself squarely across the walk and began:

"Good morning, Thomas; where are you going, if I may ask?"

"I am going back for my tools, Mrs. Burke."

"Excuse me, Thomas, but you were never more mistaken in your life. You
put the kitchen pipes out of business two weeks ago, and you must have
been goin' back for your tools ever since. I suppose you're chargin'
me by the hour for goin' backwards."

Thomas looked sheepish and scratched his head with his dirty fingers.

"No, but I have to finish a little job I begun for Elias Warden on the
hill. I'll be back again right away."

"None of that, Thomas. You're goin' back to the rectory with me now,
and if the job isn't finished by six o'clock, you'll never get your
hands on it again."

The crestfallen Thomas reluctantly turned around and accompanied
Hepsey back to the rectory and finished his work in half an hour.

After much trial and tribulation the rectory was duly repaired,
replastered, and papered. The grass had been cut; the bushes were
trimmed; and the house had been painted. Then Mrs. Burke obtained a
hayrack with a team, and taking Nickey and Jonathan Jackson with her,
made a tour of the parish asking for such furniture as individual
parishioners were willing to give. Late in the afternoon she arrived
at the rectory with a very large load, and the next day Jonathan was
made to set to work with his tools, and she started in with some paint
and varnish, and the result seemed eminently satisfactory to her, even
though her hands were stained, she had had no dinner, and her hair was
stuck to her head here and there in shiny spots. As they were leaving
the house to return home for supper, she scowled severely at Jonathan
as she remarked:

"Jonathan, I do believe you've got more red paint on the top of your
head than you left on the kitchen chairs. Do for mercy sake wash the
end of your nose. I don't care to be seen comin' out of here with you
lookin' like that," she added scathingly.

After that, it was, as Mrs. Burke remarked, just fun to finish the
rectory; and though so much had been given by the people of the
parish, there were many new pieces of furniture delivered, for which
no one could account. As neither Mr. Bascom nor Miss Bascom had sent
anything, and as neither had appeared on the scene, excitement was at
fever heat. Rumor had it that Virginia had gone to the city for a week
or so, to buy her trousseau. Presently the report circulated that
Maxwell was going to bring his bride back with him when he returned
from his vacation.

The day before the one set for Maxwell's arrival Mrs. Burke confessed
the truth, and suggested that the rectory be stocked with provisions,
so that the bride and groom should have something to eat when they
first got home. The idea seemed to please the parish, and provisions
began to arrive and were placed in the cellar, or on the newly painted
pantry shelves, or in the neat cupboards. Mrs. Talbot sent a bushel of
potatoes, Mrs. Peterson a pan of soda biscuit, Mrs. Andrews two loaves
of bread; Mrs. Squires donated a pan of soda biscuit, Mrs. Johnson
some frosted cake, and Mrs. Marlow two bushels of apples. Mrs. Hurd
sent a pan of soda biscuit, Mrs. Waldorf three dozen eggs, and a sack
of flour; Mrs. Freyburg sent a pan of soda biscuit, Mrs. Jones a
boiled ham, Mrs. Orchardson two bushels of turnips and half a pan of
soda biscuit.

Mrs. Burke received the provisions as they arrived, and put them where
they belonged. Just about supper time Mrs. Loomis came with a large
bundle under her arm and remarked to Hepsey:

"I thought I'd bring something nobody else would think of--something
out of the ordinary that perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell would relish."

"I'm sure that was real thoughtful of you, Mrs. Loomis," Hepsey
replied. "What have you got?"

"Well," Mrs. Loomis responded, "I thought I'd bring 'em two pans of my
nice fresh soda biscuit."

Mrs. Burke kept her face straight, and responded cheerfully:

"That was awful nice of you, Mrs. Loomis."

"Oh, that's all right. And if you want any more, just let me know."

Finally, when the door was closed on the last contributor, Mrs. Burke
dropped into a chair and called:

"Jonathan Jackson, come here quick."

Jonathan responded promptly, and anxiously inquired:

"Hepsey, be you ill?"

"No, I'm not sick; but we have ten pans of soda biscuit. They are in
the pantry, down cellar, in the woodshed, on the parlor table. For
mercy's sake take eight pans out to the chickens or stick 'em on the
picket fence. I just loathe soda biscuit; and if any more come I shall
throw 'em at the head of the woman that brings 'em."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER X

THE BRIDE'S ARRIVAL


Next morning, when Nickey brought up the mail, Mrs. Burke looked
anxiously over her letters until she came to the one she was
expecting. She read it in silence.

The gist of the matter was that Maxwell had been married to the nicest
girl in the world, and was looking forward to having Mrs. Burke meet
her, and to have his wife know the woman who had been so supremely
good to him in the parish. He closed by informing her that they were
to return the next day at five P. M., and if it were not asking too
much, he hoped that she would take them in for a few days until they
could find quarters elsewhere. The letter was countersigned by a
pretty little plea for friendship from "Mrs. Betty."

Mrs. Burke replaced the letter and murmured to herself, smiling:

"Poor little dear! Of course they could come and stay as long as they
pleased; but as the rectory is in order, I think that I'll meet them
at the depot, and take them there direct. They'll be much happier
alone by themselves from the start. I'll have supper ready for 'em,
and cook the chickens while they're unpackin' their trunks."

As Mrs. Burke thought it best to maintain a discreet silence as to the
time of their arrival, there was no one but herself to meet them at
the station when the train pulled in. As Maxwell presented his wife to
Mrs. Burke, Hepsey took the girl's two hands in hers and kissed her
heartily, and then, looking at her keenly as the bride blushed under
her searching gaze, she remarked:

"You're a dreadful disappointment, Mrs. Maxwell. I'm afraid it'll take
me a long time to get over it."

"I am horribly sorry to disappoint you so, Mrs. Burke."

Maxwell laughed, while Mrs. Betty looked puzzled.

"Yes," Mrs. Burke continued, "you're a dreadful disappointment. Your
picture isn't half as sweet as you are." Then turning to Maxwell, she
said:

"Why didn't you tell me? Who taught you to pick out just the right
sort of wife, I'd like to know?"

"_She_ did!" Maxwell replied, pointing delightedly to the young woman,
who was still smiling and blushing under Hepsey's inspection.

"But Mrs. Burke," Mrs. Betty interposed, "can't you give me a little
credit for 'picking out' Donald, as you say?"

"Yes; Mr. Maxwell's pretty fine, though I wouldn't want to have you
tell him so, for anything. But I know, because Durford is calculated
to test a man's mettle, if any place ever was. Now Mrs. Betty, if
that's what I'm to call you, if you'll get into the wagon we'll drive
home and have some supper. You must be 'most famished by this time, if
you stop thinkin' about Mr. Maxwell long enough to have an appetite. I
suppose that we might have had a committee of the vestry down here to
bid you welcome to Durford; and Nickey suggested the village band and
some hot air balloons, and that the boys of the parish should pull
the carriage up to the house after they'd presented you with a
magnificent bouquet; but I thought you'd just like to slip in
unnoticed and get acquainted with your parishioners one at a time.
It'd be simply awful to have a whole bunch of 'em thrown at your head
at once; and as for the whole vestry--well, never mind."

They got into the "democrat" and started out at a smart trot, but when
they came to the road which turned toward Thunder Cliff, Mrs. Burke
drove straight across the green.

"Why, where are you going, Mrs. Burke?" Maxwell exclaimed.

"Well, I thought that maybe Mrs. Betty would like to get a sight of
the town before we went home."

When they came to the rectory and turned into the yard, the wonderful
transformation dawned on Maxwell.

"My gracious, what a change! It's perfectly marvelous," he exclaimed.
"Why Mrs. Burke, I believe you've brought us here to live!"

"Right you are, my friend. This is where you belong."

"Well, you certainly do beat the Dutch. Who is responsible for all
this, I'd like to know? But of course it's you."

"Well, I had a hand in it, but so did the whole parish. Now walk right
in and make yourselves at home."

Mrs. Burke enjoyed to the full Maxwell's surprise and delight, as he
and Mrs. Betty explored the house like a couple of very enthusiastic
children. When they got into the china closet and Mrs. Betty found a
silver tea-ball she exclaimed rapturously:

"Look here, Donald! Did you ever see the like of this? Here is a
regular tea-ball. We will have tea every afternoon at four, and Mrs.
Burke will be our guest. How perfectly delightful."

This remark seemed to please Hepsey mightily, as she exclaimed:

"Oh, my, no! Do you want to spoil my nervous system? We are not given
much to tea-balls in Durford. We consider ourselves lucky if we get a
plain old-fashioned pot. Now you get fixed up," she directed, "while I
get supper ready, and I'll stay just this time, if you'll let me, and
then if you can stand it, perhaps you'll ask me again."

Soon they sat down to a little table covered with spotless linen and a
pretty set of white china with gold bands. Maxwell did not say much;
he was still too surprised and delighted.

[Illustration: "OH WELL, I ALWAYS BELIEVE THAT TWO YOUNG MARRIED PEOPLE
SHOULD START OUT BY THEMSELVES, AND THEN IF THEY GET INTO
A FAMILY ROW IT WON'T SCANDALIZE THE PARISH"]

The broiled chickens and the browned potato balls were placed before
Maxwell, who faced Mrs. Betty--Hepsey sitting between them.

"Now this is what I call rich," Maxwell exclaimed as he carved. "I
hadn't the slightest suspicion that we were to come here and find all
these luxuries."

"However did the house get furnished?" chimed in Mrs. Betty.

"Oh well," Mrs. Burke replied, "I always believe that two young
married people should start out by themselves, you know; and then if
they get into a family row it won't scandalize the parish. The only
new thing about the furnishings is paint and varnish. I drove around
and held up the parish, and made them stand and deliver the goods, and
Jonathan Jackson and I touched it up a little; that's all."

"We ought to acknowledge each gift personally," Maxwell said. "You
must tell us who's given what."

"Oh, no you won't. When I took these things away from their owners by
force, I acknowledged them in the politest way possible, so as to save
you the trouble. You're not supposed to know where a thing came
from."

"But there must have been a lot of money spent on the rectory to get
it into shape," Maxwell asserted. "Where did it all come from?"

Mrs. Burke grinned with amusement.

"Why, can't you guess? Of course it was that merry-hearted, generous
old Senior Warden of yours. Who else could it be? If there is anything
you need, just let us know."

"But the house seems to be very completely furnished as it is."

"No, not yet. If you look around you'll see lots of things that aren't
here."

Mrs. Betty quite raved over the salad, made of lettuce, oranges,
walnuts and a mayonnaise dressing. Then there came ice cream and
chocolate sauce, followed by black coffee.

"This is quite too much, Mrs. Burke. You must be a superb cook. I am
horribly afraid you'll have spoiled Donald, so that my cooking will
seem very tame to him," Mrs. Betty remarked.

"Well, never mind, Mrs. Betty. If worst comes to worst there are seven
pans of soda biscuit secreted around the premises somewhere; so don't
be discouraged. There are lots of things you can do with a soda
biscuit, if you know how. Now we'll just clear the table, and wash the
dishes, and put things away."

When about nine o'clock she arose to go, Maxwell took both Hepsey's
hands in his and said quietly:

"Mrs. Burke, I'm more indebted to you than I can possibly say, for all
you have done for us. I wish I knew how to thank you properly, but I
don't."

"Oh, never mind that," Mrs. Burke replied, a mist gathering in her
eyes, "it's been lots of fun, and if you're satisfied I'm more than
pleased." Then, putting her arm around Mrs. Betty's waist, she
continued:

"Remember that we're not payin' this nice little wife of yours to do
parish work, and if people interfere with her you just tell em to go
to Thunder Cliff. Good-by."

She was turning away when suddenly she stopped, an expression of
horror on her face:

"My! think of that now! This was a bride's dinner-party, and I put
yellow flowers on the table, instead of white! What'd city folks say
to that!"



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XI

VIRGINIA'S HIGH HORSE


Mrs. Betty soon succeeded in winning a place for herself in the hearts
of her parishioners, and those who called to look over her "clothes,"
and see if she was going to "put on airs" as a city woman, called
again because they really liked her. She returned the calls with equal
interest, and soon had her part of the parish organization well in
hand.

Maxwell's choice was, in fact, heartily approved--except by Virginia
Bascom and the Senior Warden. The former took the opportunity to
leave cards on an afternoon when all Durford was busily welcoming
Betty at a tea; and was "not at home" when Betty duly returned the
call. Virginia was also careful not to "see" either Betty or her
husband if, by any chance, they passed her when in town.

Of all of which manoeuvres Betty and Donald remained apparently
sublimely unconscious.

As a means of making some return for the good-hearted generosity and
hospitality of the inhabitants, represented by the furniture at the
rectory and many tea-parties under various roof-trees, Mrs. Maxwell
persuaded her husband that they should give a parish party.

So invitations were issued broadcast, and Mrs. Burke was asked to scan
the lists, lest anyone be omitted. China sufficient for the occasion
was supplemented by Hepsey Burke and Jonathan Jackson, and Nickey laid
his invaluable services under contribution to fetch and
carry--organizing a corps of helpers.

The whole adult village,--at least the feminine portion of it,--young
and old, presented themselves at the party, dressed in their best bibs
and tuckers, amusing themselves outdoors at various improvised games,
under the genial generalship of their host; and regaling themselves
within at the tea-tables presided over by Mrs. Betty, whose pride it
was to have prepared with her own hands,--assisted by the
indefatigable Hepsey,--all the cakes and preserves and other
confections provided for the occasion. The whole party was one
whole-hearted, simply convivial gathering--with but a single note to
mar it; and who knows whether the rector, and still less the rector's
wife, would have noticed it, but for Hepsey Burke's subsequent
"boiling over?"

When the games and feast were at full swing, Virginia Bascom's
loud-voiced automobile drove up, and the door-bell pealed. The guests
ceased chattering and the little maid, hired for the occasion, hurried
from the tea-cups to answer the haughty summons. Through the silence
in the tea-room, produced by the overpowering clatter of the bell, the
voice of the little maid,--quite too familiar for the proper formality
of the occasion, in Virginia's opinion,--was heard to pipe out
cheerily:

"Come right in, Miss Virginia; the folks has eat most all the
victuals--but I guess Mrs. Maxwell'll find ye some."

"Please announce 'Miss Virginia Bascom'," droned the lady, ignoring
the untoward levity of the now cowering maid, and followed her to the
door of the room full of guests, where she paused impressively.

"Mrs. Bascom," called the confused maid, through the solemn silence,
as all eyes turned towards the door, "here's,--this is,--I mean Miss
Virginia says Miss Virginia Maxwell----" After which confusing and
somewhat embarrassing announcement the maid summarily fled to the
kitchen, and left Virginia to her own devices.

Betty at once came forward, and quite ignoring the error, smiled a
pleasant welcome.

"Miss Bascom, it is very nice to know you at last. We have been so
unlucky, have we not?"

Virginia advanced rustling, and gave Betty a frigid finger-tip, held
shoulder-high, and cast a collective stare at hostess and guests
through her lorgnette, bowing to Maxwell and ignoring his proffered
handshake.

There was an awkward pause. For once even Betty-the-self-possessed was
at a loss for the necessary tactics.

A hearty voice soon filled the empty spaces: "Hello there, Ginty; I
always did say those auto's was a poor imitation of a street-car; when
they get balky and leave you sticking in the road-side and make you
behind-time, you can't so much as get your fare back and walk. None
but royalty, duchesses, and the four-hundred can afford to risk
losing their cup o' tea in them things."

There was a general laugh at Hepsey's sally, and conversation again
resumed its busy buzzing, and Virginia was obliged to realize that her
entry had been something of a frost.

She spent some minutes drawing off her gloves, sipped twice at a cup
of tea, and nibbled once at a cake; spent several more minutes getting
her hands back into her gloves, fixed a good-by smile on her face,
murmured some unintelligible words to her hostess, and departed,
annoyed to realize that the engine of the awaiting car--kept running
to emphasize her comet-like passage through so mixed an assembly--had
become quite inaudible to the company.

"Such an insult!" stormed the lady, as she returned home in high
dudgeon. "I might have been a nobody, the way they treated me. Dad
shall hear of this; and I'll see that he puts them where they belong.
The impudence! And after his t-treating me s-s-so!" she wept with
chagrin, and malice that betokened no good to the rector and his
little wife.

Even so, it is doubtful if the host and hostess would have permitted
themselves to notice the supercilious rudeness of the leader of
Durford "Society," had Hepsey been able to curb her indignation.

As she and Betty and the little maid, assisted by Donald and Nickey
and his helpers, were clearing up the fragments that remained of the
entertainment, Hepsey broke forth:

"If I don't set that young woman down in her place where she belongs
before I've done, I've missed my guess: 'Please announce Miss Virginia
Bascom,' indeed! If that isn't sauce, I'm the goose."

"Oh never mind, Mrs. Burke," soothed Betty in a low voice; "she'll
soon realize that we're doing things in good old country style, and
haven't brought any city ways with us to Durford. I dare say she
thought----"

"Thought nothin'!" replied the exasperated Hepsey. "I'll thought her,
with her high looks and her proud stomach, as the psalmist says. I'd
like--oh, wouldn't I just like to send up a nice little basket of
these left-over victuals to Ginty, 'with Mrs. Maxwell's regards.'"

She laughed heartily, but Betty was determined not to let herself
dwell on anything so trivial, and soon, by way of changing the
subject, she was putting Nickey up to the idea of forming a boy-scout
corps, which, as she added, could present the village with a
thoroughly versatile organization, both useful and ornamental.

"Gee," remarked Nickey, who quickly saw himself captaining a body of
likely young blades, "that'd be some lively corpse, believe me. When
can we start in, Mrs. Maxwell?"

"You must ask Mr. Maxwell all about that, Nickey," she laughed.

"But not now," interposed his mother. "You come along with me this
minute, and let Mr. Maxwell have a bit of peace; I know how he just
loves these teas. Good night, all!" she called as she departed with
her son under her wing.

"Donald! Wasn't it all fun--and weren't they all splendid?" Betty
glowed.

"More fun than a barrel of Bascoms--monkeys, I mean," he corrected
himself, laughing at Betty's shocked expression.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XII

HOUSE CLEANING AND BACHELORHOOD


Apart from Mrs. Burke, there was no one in the town who so completely
surrendered to Mrs. Maxwell's charms as Jonathan Jackson, the Junior
Warden. Betty had penetration enough to see, beneath the man's rough
exterior, all that was fine and lovable, and she treated him with a
jolly, friendly manner that warmed his heart.

One day she and Mrs. Burke went over to call on Jonathan, and found
him sitting in the woodshed on a tub turned bottom upwards, looking
very forlorn and disconsolate.

"What's the matter, Jonathan? You look as if you had committed the
unpardonable sin," Hepsey greeted him.

"No, it 'aint me," Jonathan replied; "it's Mary McGuire that's the
confounded sinner this time."

"Well, what's Mary been up to now?"

"Mary McGuire's got one of her attacks of house-cleanin' on, and I
tell you it's a bad one. Drat the nuisance."

"Why Jonathan! Don't swear like that."

"Well, I be hanged if I can stand this sort of thing much longer.
Mary, she's the deuce and all, when she once gets started
house-cleanin'."

"Oh dear," Mrs. Betty sympathized. "It's a bother, isnt it? But it
doesn't take so long, and it will soon be over, won't it?"

"Well, I don't know as to that," replied Jonathan disconsolately.
"Mary McGuire seems to think that the whole house must be turned wrong
side out, and every bit of furniture I've got deposited in the front
yard. Now, Mrs. Betty, you just look over there once. There's yards
and yards of clothes-line covered with carpets and rugs and curtains
I've been ordered to clean. It's somethin' beyond words. The whole
place looks as if there was goin' to be an auction, or a rummage sale,
or as if we had moved out 'cause the house was afire. Then she falls
to with tubs of boilin' hot soap-suds, until it fills your lungs, and
drips off the ends of your nose and your fingers, and smells like
goodness knows what."

"Jonathan!" Hepsey reproved.

"Are you exaggerating just the least bit?" echoed Betty.

"No ma'am, I'm not. Words can't begin to tell the tale when Mary gets
the fever on. I thought I noticed symptoms of house-cleanin' last
week. Mary was eyein' things round the house, and givin' me less and
less to eat, and lookin' at me with that cold-storage stare of hers
that means death or house-cleanin'."

"But, Mr. Jackson," Betty pleaded, "your house has to be cleaned
sometimes, you know."

"Sure thing," Jonathan replied. "But there's altogether too much of
this house-cleanin' business goin' on to suit me. I don't see any dirt
anywheres."

"That's because you are a man," Hepsey retorted. "Men never see dirt
until they have to take a shovel to it."

Jonathan sighed hopelessly. "What's the use of bein' a widower," he
continued, "if you can't even have your own way in your own house,
I'd just like to know? I have to eat odds and ends of cold victuals
out here in the woodshed, or anywhere Mary McGuire happens to drop
'em."

"That's tough luck, Mr. Jackson. You just come over to dinner with
Donald and me and have a square meal."

"I'd like to awful well, Mrs. Maxwell, but I dasn't: if I didn't camp
out and eat her cold victuals she'd laid out for me, it'd spoil the
pleasure of house-cleanin' for her. 'Taint as though it was done with
when she's finished, neither. After it's all over, and things are set
to rights, they're all wrong. Some shades won't roll up. Some won't
roll down; why, I've undressed in the dark before now, since one of
'em suddenly started rollin' up on me before I'd got into bed, and
scared the wits out of me. She'll be askin' me to let her give the
furnace a sponge bath next. I believe she'd use tooth-powder on the
inside of a boiled egg, if she only knew how. This house-cleanin'
racket is all dum nonsense, anyhow."

"Why Jonathan! Don't swear like that," Betty exclaimed laughing; "Mr.
Maxwell's coming."

"I said _d-u-m_, Mrs. Betty; I never say nothin' worse than
that--'cept when I lose my temper," he added, safely, examining first
the hone and then the edge of the scythe, as if intending to sharpen
it.

[Illustration: "I AIN'T A CHICKEN NO MORE, MRS. BETTY, AND I'VE 'MOST
FORGOT HOW TO DO A BIT OF COURTIN'"]

Hepsey had gone into the house to inspect for herself the thoroughness
of Mary McGuire's operations; Betty thought the opportunity favorable
for certain counsels.

"The trouble with you is you shouldn't be living alone, like this,
Jonathan. You have all the disadvantages of a house, and none of the
pleasures of a home."

"Yes," he responded, yawning, "it's true enough; but I 'aint a chicken
no more, Mrs. Betty, and I've 'most forgot how to do a bit of
courtin'. What with cleanin' up, and puttin' on your Sunday clothes,
and goin' to the barber's, and gettin' a good ready, it's a
considerable effort for an old man like me."

"People don't want to see your clothes; they want to see you. If you
feel obliged to, you can send your Sunday clothes around some day and
let her look at them once for all. Keeping young is largely a matter
of looking after your digestion and getting plenty of sleep. Its all
foolishness for you to talk about growing old. Why, you are in the
prime of life."

"Hm! Yes. And why don't you tell me that I look real handsome, and
that the girls are all crazy for me. You're an awful jollier, Mrs.
Betty, though I'll admit that a little jollyin' does me a powerful
lot of good now and then. I sometimes like to believe things I know
to a certainty 'aint true, if they make me feel good."

For a moment Betty kept silent, gazing into the kindly face, and then
the instinct of match-making asserted itself too strongly to be
resisted.

"There's no sense in your being a lonesome widower. Why don't you get
married? I mean it."

For a moment Jonathan was too astounded at the audacity of the serious
suggestion to reply; but when he recovered his breath he exclaimed:

"Well, I swan to man! What will you ask me to be doin' next?"

"Oh, I mean it, all right," persisted Mrs. Betty. "Here you've got a
nice home for a wife, and I tell you you need the happiness of a real
home. You will live a whole lot longer if you have somebody to love
and look after; and if you want to know what you will be asking me to
do next, I will wager a box of candy it will be to come to your
wedding."

"Make it cigars, Mrs. Betty; I'm not much on candy. Maybe you're up to
tellin' me who'll have me. I haven't noticed any females makin'
advances towards me in some time now. The only woman I see every day
is Mary McGuire, and she'd make a pan-cake griddle have the blues if
she looked at it."

Mrs. Betty grasped her elbow with one hand, and putting the first
finger of the other hand along the side of her little nose,
whispered:

"What's the matter with Mrs. Burke?"

Jonathan deliberately pulled a hair from his small remaining crop and
cut it with the scythe, as if he had not heard Betty's impertinent
suggestion. But finally he replied:

"There's nothin' the matter with Mrs. Burke that I know of; but that's
no reason why she should be wantin' to marry me."

"She thinks a great deal of you; I know she does."

"How do you know she does?"

"Well, I heard her say something very nice about you yesterday."

"Hm! Did you? What was it?"

"She said that you were the most--the most economical man she ever
met."

"Sure she didn't say I was tighter than the bark on a tree? I guess I
'aint buyin' no weddin' ring on the strength of that. Now, Mrs. Betty,
you just try again. I guess you're fooling me!"

"Oh no, really I'm not. I never was more serious in my life. I mean
just what I say. I know Mrs. Burke really thinks a very great deal of
you, and if you like her, you ought to propose to her. Every moment a
man remains single is an outrageous waste of time."

Jonathan grinned as he retorted:

"Well, no man would waste any time if all the girls were like you.
They'd all be comin' early to avoid the rush. Is Mrs. Burke employin'
your services as a matrimonial agent? Maybe you won't mind tellin' me
what you're to get if the deal pulls off. Is there a rake-off
anywheres?"

Betty laughed, and Jonathan was silent for a while, squinting at the
scythe-edge, first from one angle, then from another, and tentatively
raising the hone as if to start sharpening.

"Well, Mrs. Betty," he said presently, "seein' I can't possibly marry
you, I don't mind tellin' you that I think the next best thing would
be to marry Hepsey Burke. She's been a mighty good friend and neighbor
ever since my wife died; but she wouldn't look at the likes of me.
'Twouldn't be the least use of proposin' to her."

"How do you know it wouldn't? You are not afraid of proposing, are
you?"

"No, of course not; but I can't run over and propose, as I would ask
her to lend me some clothes-line. That'd be too sudden; and courtin'
takes a lot of time and trouble. I guess I 'most forgot how by this
time; and then, to tell you the truth, I always was a bit shy. It took
me near onto five years to work myself up to the sticking point when I
proposed to my first wife."

"Well, now that's easy enough; Mrs. Burke usually sits on the side
porch after supper with her knitting. Why don't you drop over
occasionally, and approach the matter gradually? It wouldn't take long
to work up to the point."

"But how shall I begin? I guess you'll have to give me lessons."

"Oh, make her think you are very lonely. Pity is akin to love, you
know."

"But she knows well enough I'm mighty lonely at times. That won't
do."

"Then make her think that you are a regular daredevil, and are going
to the bad. Maybe she'll marry you to save you."

"Me, goin' to the bad at my age, and the Junior Warden of the church,
too. What are you thinkin' of?"

"It is never too late to mend, you know. You might try being a little
frisky, and see what happens."

"Oh, I know what would happen all right. She'd be over here in two
jerks of a lamb's tail, and read the riot act, and scare me out of a
year's growth. Hepsey's not a little thing to be playin' with."

"Well, you just make a start. Anything to make a start, and the rest
will come easy."

"My, how the neighbors'd talk!"

"Talk is cheap; and besides, in a quiet place like this it's a
positive duty to afford your neighbors some diversion; you ought to be
thankful. You'll become a public benefactor. Now will you go ahead?"

"Mrs. Betty, worry's bad for the nerves, and's apt to produce insomny
and neurastheny. But I'll think it over--yes, I will--I'll think it
over."

Whereupon he suddenly began to whet his scythe with such vim as
positively startled Betty.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIII

THE CIRCUS


The Maxwells were, in fact, effectively stirring up the ambitions of
their flock, routing the older members out of a too easy-going
acceptance of things-as-they-are, and giving to the younger ones
vistas of a life imbued with more color and variety than had hitherto
entered their consciousness. And yet it happened at Durford, on
occasion, that this awakening of new talents and individuality
produced unlocked for complications.

"Oh yes," Hepsey remarked one day to Mrs. Betty, when the subject of
conversation had turned to Mrs. Burke's son and heir, "Nickey means to
be a good boy, but he's as restless as a kitten on a hot Johnny-cake.
He isn't a bit vicious, but he do run his heels down at the corners,
and he's awful wearin' on his pants-bottoms and keeps me patchin' and
mendin' most of the time--'contributing to the end in view,' as
Abraham Lincoln said. But, woman-like, I guess he finds the warmest
spot in my heart when I'm doin' some sort of repairin' on him or his
clothes. It would be easier if his intentions wasn't so good, 'cause I
could spank him with a clear conscience if he was vicious. But after
all, Nickey seems to have a winnin' way about him. He knows every
farmer within three miles; he'll stop any team he meets, climb into
the wagon seat, take the reins, and enjoy himself to his heart's
content. All the men seem to like him and give in to him; more's the
pity! And he seems to just naturally lead the other kids in their
games and mischief."

"Oh well, I wouldn't give a cent for a boy who didn't get into
mischief sometimes," consoled Mrs. Betty.

At which valuation Nickey was then in process of putting himself and
his young friends at a premium. For, about this time, in their efforts
to amuse themselves, Nickey and some of his friends constructed a
circus ring back of the barn: After organizing a stock company and
conducting several rehearsals, the rest of the boys in the
neighborhood were invited to form an audience, and take seats which
had been reserved for them without extra charge on an adjoining lumber
pile. Besides the regular artists there were a number of specialists
or "freaks," who added much to the interest and excitement of the
show.

For example, Sam Cooley, attired in one of Mrs. Burke's discarded
underskirts, filched from the ragbag, with some dried cornstalk gummed
on his face, impersonated the famous Bearded Lady from Hoboken.

Billy Burns, wearing a very hot and stuffy pillow buttoned under his
coat and thrust down into his trousers, represented the world-renowned
Fat Man from Spoonville. His was rather a difficult role to fill
gracefully, because the squashy pillow would persist in bulging out
between his trousers and his coat in a most indecent manner; and it
kept him busy most of the time tucking it in.

Dimple Perkins took the part of the Snake Charmer from Brooklyn, and
at intervals wrestled fearlessly with a short piece of garden hose
which was labeled on the bills as an "Anna Condy." This he wound
around his neck in the most reckless manner possible; it was quite
enough to make one's blood run cold to watch him.

The King of the Cannibal Islands was draped in a buffalo robe, with a
gilt paper crown adorning his head, and a very suggestive mutton-bone
in his hand.

Poor little Herman Amdursky was selected for the Living Skeleton,
because of the spindle-like character of his nethermost limbs. He had
to remove his trousers and his coat, and submit to having his ribs
wound with yards of torn sheeting, in order that what little flesh he
had might be compressed to the smallest possible compass. The result
was astonishingly satisfactory.

The Wild Man from Borneo wore his clothes wrong side out, as it is
well known wild men from Borneo always do; and he ate grass with
avidity. Wry-mouthed and squint-eyed, he was the incarnation of the
cubist ideal.

When all this splendid array of talent issued from the dressing-room
and marched triumphantly around the ring, it was indeed a proud moment
in the annals of Durford, and the applause from the lumber pile could
be heard at least two blocks.

After the procession, the entertainment proper consisted of some high
and lofty tumbling, the various "turns" of the respective stars, and
then, last of all, as a grand finale, Charley, the old raw-boned farm
horse who had been retired on a pension for at least a year, was led
triumphantly into the ring, with Nickey Burke standing on his back!

Charley, whose melancholy aspect was a trifle more abject than usual,
and steps more halting, meekly followed the procession of actors
around the ring, led by Dimple, the Snake Charmer. Nickey's entree
created a most profound sensation, and was greeted with tumultuous
applause--a tribute both to his equestrian feat and to his costume.

Nickey had once attended a circus at which he had been greatly
impressed by the artistic decorations on the skin of a tattooed man,
and by the skill of the bareback rider who had turned somersaults
while the horse was in motion. It occurred to him that perhaps he
might present somewhat of both these attractions, in one character.

Maxwell had innocently stimulated this taste by lending him a book
illustrated with lurid color-plates of Indians in full war paint,
according to tribe.

So Nickey removed his clothes, attired himself in abbreviated red
swimming trunks, and submitted to the artistic efforts of Dimple, who
painted most intricate, elaborate, and beautiful designs on Nickey's
person, with a thick solution of indigo purloined from the laundry.

Nickey's breast was adorned with a picture of a ship under full sail.
On his back was a large heart pierced with two arrows. A vine of full
blown roses twined around each arm, while his legs were powdered with
stars, periods, dashes, and exclamation points in rich profusion. A
triangle was painted on each cheek, and dabs of indigo were added to
the end of his nose and to the lobe of each ear by way of finishing
touches.

When the work was complete, Nickey surveyed himself in a piece of
broken mirror in the dressing-room, and to tell the truth, was
somewhat appalled at his appearance; but Dimple Perkins hastened to
assure him, saying that a dip in the river would easily remove the
indigo; and that he was the living spit and image of a tattooed man,
and that his appearance, posed on the back of Charley, would certainly
bring the house down.

Dimple proved to be quite justified in his statement, so far as the
effect on the audience was concerned; for, as Nickey entered the ring,
after one moment of breathless astonishment, the entire crowd arose as
one man and cheered itself hoarse, in a frenzy of frantic delight. Now
whether Charley was enthused by the applause, or whether the situation
reminded him of some festive horseplay of his youth, one cannot tell.
At any rate, what little life was left in Charley's blood asserted
itself. Quickly jerking the rope of the halter from the astonished
hand of Dimple Perkins, Charley turned briskly round, and trotted out
of the yard and into the road, while Nickey, who had found himself
suddenly astride Charley's back, made frantic efforts to stop him.

As Charley emerged from the gate, the freaks, the regular artists, the
gymnasts, and the entire audience followed, trailing along behind the
mounted tattooed man, and shouting themselves hoarse with
encouragement or derision.

As Charley rose to the occasion and quickened his pace, the heat of
the sun, the violent exercise of riding bareback, and the nervous
excitement produced by the horror of the situation, threw Nickey into
a profuse sweat. The bluing began to run. The decorations on his
forehead trickled down into his eyes; and as he tried to rub off the
moisture with the back of his hand the indigo was smeared liberally
over his face. His personal identity was hopelessly obscured in the
indigo smudge; and the most vivid imagination could not conjecture
what had happened to the boy. It was by no means an easy feat to
retain his seat on Charley's back; it would have been still more
difficult to dismount, at his steed's brisk pace; and Nickey was most
painfully conscious of his attire, as Charley turned up the road which
led straight to the village. At each corner the procession was
reinforced by a number of village boys who added their quota to the
general uproar and varied the monotony of the proceeding by
occasionally throwing a tin can at the rider on the white horse. When
Charley passed the rectory, and the green, and turned into Church
Street, Nickey felt that he had struck rock bottom of shameful
humiliation.

For many years it had been Charley's habit to take Mrs. Burke down to
church on Wednesday afternoons for the five o'clock service; and
although he had been out of commission and docked for repairs for some
time, his subliminal self must have got in its work, and the old habit
asserted itself: to the church he went, attended at a respectful
distance by the Bearded Lady, the Fat Man, the Snake Charmer, the King
of the Cannibal Islands, the Living Skeleton, and the Wild Man from
Borneo, to say nothing of a large and effective chorus of roaring
villagers bringing up the rear.

It really was quite clever of Charley to recall that, this being
Wednesday, it was the proper day to visit the church,--as clever as it
was disturbing to Nickey when he, too, recalled that it was about
time for the service to be over, and that his mother must be somewhere
on the premises, to say nothing of the assembled mothers of the entire
stock company--and the rector, and the rector's wife.

Mrs. Burke, poor woman, was quite unconscious of what awaited her, as
she emerged from the service with the rest of the congregation. It was
an amazed parent that caught sight of her son and heir scrambling off
the back of his steed onto the horse-block in front of the church,
clad in short swimming trunks and much bluing. The freaks, the regular
artists, the gymnasts, and the circus audience generally shrieked and
howled and fought each other, in frantic effort to succeed to Nickey's
place on Charley's back--for Charley now stood undismayed and
immovable, with a gentle, pious look in his soft old eyes.

For one instant, Mrs. Burke and her friends stood paralyzed with
horror; and then like the good mothers in Israel that they were, each
jumped to the rescue of her own particular darling--that is, as soon
as she could identify him. Consternation reigned supreme. Mrs. Cooley
caught the Bearded Lady by the arm and shook him fiercely, just as he
was about to land an uppercut on the jaw of the King of the Cannibal
Islands. Mrs. Burns found her offspring, the Fat Man, lying
dispossessed on his back in the gutter, while Sime Wilkins, the Man
Who Ate Glass, sat comfortably on his stomach. Sime immediately
apologized to Mrs. Burns and disappeared. Next, Mrs. Perkins took the
Snake Charmer by his collar, and rapped him soundly with the piece of
garden hose which she captured as he was using it to chastise the
predatory Wild Man from Borneo. Other members of the company received
equally unlooked-for censure of their dramatic efforts.

Nickey, meantime, had fled to the pump behind the church, where he
made his ablutions as best he could; then, seeing the vestry room door
ajar, he, in his extremity, bolted for the quiet seclusion of the
sanctuary.

To his surprise and horror, he found Maxwell seated at a table looking
over the parish records; and when Nickey appeared, still rather blue,
attired in short red trunks, otherwise unadorned, Donald gazed at him
in mute astonishment. For one moment there was silence as they eyed
each other; and then Maxwell burst into roars of uncontrollable
laughter, which were not quite subdued as Nickey gave a rather
incoherent account of the misfortune which had brought him to such a
predicament.

"So you were the Tattooed Man, were you! Well, I suppose you know
that it's not generally customary to appear in church in red tights;
but as you couldn't help it, I shall have to see what can be done for
you, to get you home clothed and in your right mind. I'll tell you!
You can put on one of the choir boy's cassocks, and skip home the back
way. If anybody stops you tell them you were practising for the choir,
and it will be all right. But really, Nickey, if I were in your place,
the next time I posed as a mounted Tattooed Man, I'd be careful to
choose some old quadruped that couldn't run away with you!"

"Then you aren't mad at me!"

"Certainly not. I'll leave that to my betters! You just get home as
fast as you can."

"Gee! but you're white all right--you know it didn't say nothing in
the book, about what kind of paint to use!"

Maxwell's eyes opened. "What book are you talking about, Nickey?" he
asked.

"The one you let me take, with the Indians in it."

Maxwell had to laugh again. "So that's where the idea for this
'Carnival of Wild West Sports' originated, eh?"

"Yes, sir," Nickey nodded. "Everybody wanted to be the tattooed man,
but seeing as I had the book, and old Charley was my horse, I couldn't
see any good reason why I shouldn't get tattooed. Gee! I'll bet ma
will be mad!"

After being properly vested in a cassock two sizes too large for him,
Nickey started on a dead run for home, and, having reached the barn,
dressed himself in his customary attire. When he appeared at supper
Mrs. Burke did not say anything; but after the dishes were washed she
took him apart and listened to his version of the affair.

"Nicholas Burke," she said, "if this thing occurs again I shall punish
you in a way you won't like."

"Well, I'm awfully sorry," said Nickey, "but it didn't seem to feaze
Mr. Maxwell a little bit. He just sat and roared as if he'd split his
sides. I guess I 'aint goin' to be put out of the church just yet,
anyway."

Mrs. Burke looked a bit annoyed.

"Never mind about Mr. Maxwell. _You_ won't laugh if anything like this
occurs again, I can tell you," she replied.

"Now, ma," soothed Nickey, "don't you worry about it occurrin' again.
You don't suppose I did it on purpose, do you? Gosh no! I wouldn't get
onto Charley's back again, with my clothes off, any more than I'd sit
on a hornet's nest. How'd you like to ride through the town with
nothin' on but your swimmin' trunks and drippin' with bluin water,
I'd like to know?"

Mrs. Burke did not care to prolong the interview any further, so she
said in her severest tones:

"Nicholas Burke, you go to bed instantly. I've heard enough of you and
seen enough of you, for one day."

Nickey went.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIV

ON THE SIDE PORCH


In the evening, after his work was done, a day or two after his talk
with Mrs. Maxwell, Jonathan went into the house and took a long look
at himself in the glass, with the satisfactory conclusion that he
didn't look so old after all. Why shouldn't he take Mrs. Betty's
advice and marry? To be sure, there was no fool like an old fool, but
no man could be called a fool who was discriminating enough, and
resourceful enough, to win the hand of Hepsey Burke. To his certain
knowledge she had had plenty of eligible suitors since her husband's
death. She was the acknowledged past-master of doughnuts; and her
pickled cucumbers done in salad oil were dreams of delight. What more
could a man want?

So he found that the question was deciding itself apparently without
any volition whatever on his part. His fate was sealed; he had lost
his heart and his appetite to his neighbor. Having come to this
conclusion, it was wonderful how the thought excited him. He took a
bath and changed his clothes, and then proceeded to town and bought
himself a white neck-tie, and a scarf-pin that cost seventy-five
cents. He was going to do the thing in the proper way if he did it at
all.

After supper he mustered sufficient courage to present himself at the
side porch where Mrs. Burke was knitting on a scarlet sweater for
Nickey.

"Good evenin', Hepsey," he began. "How are you feelin' to-night?"

"Oh, not so frisky as I might, Jonathan; I'd be all right if it
weren't for my rheumatiz."

"Well, we all have our troubles, Hepsey; and if it isn't one thing
it's most generally another. You mustn't rebel against rheumatiz. It's
one of those things sent to make us better, and we must bear up
against it, you know."

Hepsey did not respond to this philosophy, and Jonathan felt that it
was high time that he got down to business. So he began again:

"It seems to me as if we might have rain before long if the wind don't
change."

"Shouldn't be surprised, Jonathan. One--two--three--four--" Mrs. Burke
replied, her attention divided between her visitor and her sweater.
"Got your hay all in?"

"Yes, most of it. 'Twon't be long before the long fall evenin's will
be comin' on, and I kinder dread 'em. They're awful lonesome,
Hepsey."

"Purl two, knit two, an inch and a half--" Mrs. Burke muttered to
herself as she read the printed directions which lay in her lap, and
then she added encouragingly:

"So you get lonesome, do you, Jonathan, durin' the long evenin's, when
it gets dark early."

"Oh, awful lonesome," Jonathan responded. "Don't you ever get lonesome
yourself, Hepsey?"

"I can't say as it kept me awake nights. 'Tisn't bein' alone that
makes you lonesome. The most awful lonesomeness in the world is bein'
in a crowd that's not your kind."

"That's so, Hepsey. But two isn't a crowd. Don't you think you'd like
to get married, if you had a right good chance, now?"

Hepsey gave her visitor a quick, sharp glance, and inquired:

"What would you consider a right good chance, Jonathan?"

"Oh, suppose that some respectable widower with a tidy sum in the bank
should ask you to marry him; what would you say, Hepsey?"

"Can't say until I'd seen the widower, to say nothin' of the bank
book--one, two, three, four, five, six--"

Jonathan felt that the crisis was now approaching; so, moving his
chair a little nearer, he resumed excitedly:

"You've seen him, Hepsey; you've seen him lots of times, and he don't
live a thousand miles away, neither."

"Hm! Must be he lives in Martin's Junction. Is he good lookin',
Jonathan?"

"Oh, fair to middlin'. That is--of course--I well--I--I should think
he was; but tastes differ."

"Well, you know I'm right particular, Jonathan. Is he real smart and
clever?"

"I don't know as--I ought to--to--say, Hepsey; but I rather guess he
knows enough to go in when it rains."

"That's good as far as it goes. The next time you see him, you tell
him to call around and let me look him over. Maybe I could give him a
job on the farm, even if I didn't want to marry him."

"But he doesn't want any job on the farm, Hepsey. He just wants you,
that's all."

"How do you know he does? Did he ever tell you?"

"Hepsey Burke, don't you know who I'm alludin' at? Haven't you ever
suspected nothin'?"

"Yes, I've suspected lots of things. Now there's Jack Dempsey. I've
suspected him waterin' the milk for some time. Haven't you ever
suspected anythin' yourself, Jonathan?"

"Well, I guess I'm suspectin' that you're tryin' to make a fool of me,
all right."

"Oh no! Fools come ready-made, and there's a glut in the market just
now; seven--eight--nine--ten; no use makin' more until the supply's
exhausted. But what made you think you wanted to marry? This is so
powerful sudden."

Now that the point was reached, Jonathan got a little nervous: "To--to
tell you the truth, Hepsey," he stuttered, "I was in doubt about it
myself for some time; but bein' as I am a Christian man I turned to
the Bible for light on my path."

"Hm! And how did the light shine?"

"Well, I just shut my eyes and opened my Bible at random, and put my
finger on a text. Then I opened my eyes and read what was written."

"Yes! What did you find?"

"I read somethin' about 'not a man of them escaped save six hundred
that rode away on camels.'"

"Did that clear up all your difficulties?"

"No, can't say as it did. But those words about 'no man escapin''
seemed to point towards matrimony as far as they went. Then I tried a
second time."

"Oh did you? I should think that six hundred camels would be enough
for one round-up. What luck did you have the second time?"

"Well, I read, 'Moab is my wash pot, over Edom will I cast out my
shoe.' You've seen 'em cast shoes at the carriages of brides and
grooms, haven't you, Hepsey? Just for luck, you know. So it seemed to
point towards matrimony again."

"Say, Jonathan, you certainly have a wonderful gift for interpretin'
Scripture."

"Well, Scripture or no Scripture, I want you, Hepsey."

"Am I to understand that you're just fadin' and pinin' away for love
of me? You don't look thin."

"Oh, we 'aint neither of us as young as we once was, Hepsey. Of course
I can't be expected to pine real hard."

"I'm afraid it's not the real thing, Jonathan, unless you pine. Don't
it keep you awake nights, or take away your appetite, or make you want
to play the banjo, or nothin'?"

"No, Hepsey; to tell you the plain truth, it don't. But I feel awful
lonesome, and I like you a whole lot, and I--I love you as much as
anyone, I guess."

"So you are in love are you, Jonathan. Then let me give you some good
advice. When you're in love, don't believe all you think, or half you
feel, or anything at all you are perfectly sure of. It's dangerous
business. But I am afraid that you're askin' me because it makes you
think that you are young and giddy, like the rest of the village boys,
to be proposin' to a shy young thing like me."

"No, Hepsey; you aren't no shy young thing, and you haven't been for
nigh on forty years. I wouldn't be proposin' to you if you were."

"Jonathan, your manners need mendin' a whole lot. The idea of
insinuatin' that I am not a shy young thing. I'm ashamed of you, and
I'm positive we could never get along together."

"But I can't tell a lie about you, even if I do want to marry you.
You don't want to marry a liar, do you?"

"Well, the fact is, Jonathan, polite lyin's the real foundation of all
good manners. What we'll ever do when we get to heaven where we have
to tell the truth whether we want to or not, I'm sure I don't know.
It'll be awful uncomfortable until we get used to it."

"The law says you should tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothin'
but the truth," persisted the literal wooer.

"Now, see here, Jonathan. Would you say that a dog's tail was false
and misleadin' just because it isn't the whole dog?"

This proposition was exceedingly confusing to Jonathan's intelligence,
but after careful consideration he felt obliged to say "No."

"Of course you wouldn't," Mrs. Burke continued triumphantly, quickly
following up her advantage. "You see a dog's tail couldn't be
misleading, 'cause the dog leads the tail, and not the tail the dog.
Any fool could see that."

Jonathan felt that he had been tricked, although he could not see just
how the thing had been accomplished; so he began again:

"Now Hepsey, we're wanderin' from the point, and you're just talkin'
to amuse yourself. Can't you come down to business? Here I am a
widower, and here you are a widowess, and we're both lonesome, and
we----"

"Who told you I was lonesome, I'd like to know?"

"Well, of course you didn't, 'cause you never tell anything to anyone.
But I guessed you was sometimes, from the looks of you."

Hepsey bent her head over her work and counted stitches a long time
before she looked up. Then she remarked slowly:

"There's an awful lot of sick people in the world, and I'm mighty
sorry for 'em; but they'll die, or they'll get well. I guess I'm more
sorry for people who have to go on livin', and workin' hard, when
they're just dyin' for somebody to love 'em, and somebody to love,
until the pain of it hurts like a wisdom tooth. No, I can't afford to
be lonesome much, and that's a fact. So I just keep busy, and if I get
too lonesome, I just go and jolly somebody that's lonesomer than I am,
and we both feel better; and if I get lonely lyin' awake at night, I
light a lamp and read Webster's Dictionary. Try it, Jonathan; it's a
sure anti-doubt."

"There you go again, tryin' to change the subject, just when I thought
you was goin' to say somethin'."

"But you don't really want to marry me. I'm not young, and I'm not
interestin': one or the other you've just got to be."

"You're mighty interestin' to me, Hepsey, anyway; and--and you're
mighty unselfish."

"Well, you needn't throw that in my face; I'm not to blame for bein'
unselfish. I've just had to be, whether I wanted or not. It's my
misfortune, not my fault. Lots of people are unselfish because they're
too weak to stand up for their own rights." She paused--and then
looked up at him, smiling whimsically, and added: "Well, well,
Jonathan; see here now--I'll think it over, and perhaps some day
before--_go 'way_, you horrid thing! Let go my hand, I tell you.
There! You've made me drop a whole row of stitches. If you don't run
over home right now, before you're tempted to do any more flirtin,
I'll--I'll hold you for breach of promise."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XV

NICKEY'S SOCIAL AMBITIONS


To Nickey, the Maxwells were in the nature of a revelation. At his
impressionable stage of boyhood, and because of their freedom from
airs and graces of any kind, he was quick to notice the difference in
type--"some class to them; not snobs or dudes, but the real thing," as
he expressed it. His ardent admiration of Donald, and his adoration of
Mrs. Betty, gave him ambition to find the key to their secret, and to
partake of it.

He was too shy to speak of it,--to his mother last of all, as is the
nature of a boy,--and had to rely on an observant and receptive mind
for the earlier steps in his quest. When Maxwell boarded with them,
Nickey had discovered that he was won't to exercise with dumb-bells
each morning before breakfast. The very keenness of his desire to be
initiated, held him silent. A visit to the town library, on his
mother's behalf, chanced to bring his eyes--generally oblivious of
everything in the shape of a book--upon the title of a certain volume
designed to instruct in various parlor-feats of physical prowess.

The book was borrowed from the librarian,--a little shamefacedly. The
next morning Mrs. Burke was somewhat alarmed at the noise which came
from Nickey's room, and when there was a crash as if the chimney had
fallen, she could stand it no longer, and hurried aloft. Nickey stood
in the middle of the floor, clad in swimming trunks, gripping a large
weight (purloined from the barn) in either hand, very red in the face,
and much out of breath.

As the door unexpectedly opened he dived for bed and pulled the
clothes under his chin.

"Land Sakes!" Hepsey breathed, aghast. "What's all this about? If
there's a nail loose in the flooring I can lend you a hammer for the
asking," and she examined several jagged dents in the boards.

"Say ma," urged Nickey in moving tones. "If I'd a pair of dumb-bells
like Mr. Maxwell's, I c'd hold onto 'em. I've pretty near smashed my
feet with them things--gosh darn it," he added ruefully, nursing the
bruised member under the clothes.

"I guess you can get 'em, next time you go to Martin's Junction; but
if it's exercise you want," his parent remarked unsympathetically,
"there's plenty of kindlin' in the woodshed wants choppin'."

She retired chuckling to herself, as she caught a glimmer of what was
working in her son's mind.

The "reading habit" having been inculcated by this lucky find at the
library, it was not long before Nickey acquired from the same source a
veritable collection of volumes on the polite arts and crafts--"The
Ready Letter-Writer"; "Manners Maketh Man"; "Seven Thousand Errors of
Speech;" "Social Culture in the Smart Set," and the like.

Nickey laboriously studied from these authorities how to enter a ball
room, how to respond to a toast at a dinner given in one's honor, how
to propose the health of his hostess, and how to apologize for
treading on a lady's train.

In the secrecy of his chamber he put into practice the helpful
suggestions of these invaluable manuals. He bowed to the washstand,
begged the favor of the next dance from the towel rack, trod on the
window shade and made the prescribed apology. Then he discussed the
latest novel at dinner with a distinguished personage; and having
smoked an invisible cigar, interspersed with such wit as accords with
walnuts and wine, after the ladies had retired, he entered the
drawing-room, exchanged parting amenities with the guests, bade his
hostess good night, and gracefully withdrew to the clothes-press.

Several times Hepsey caught glimpses of him going through the dumb
show of "Social Culture in the Smart Set," and her wondering soul was
filled with astonishment at his amazing evolutions. She found it in
her heart to speak of it to Mrs. Betty and Maxwell, and ask for their
interpretation of the matter.

So, one day, during this seizure of feverish enthusiasm for
self-culture, Hepsey and Nickey received an invitation to take supper
at the rectory. Nevertheless, Mrs. Burke thought it prudent to give
her son some good advice in regard to his behavior. She realized,
perhaps, that a book is good so far as it goes, but is apt to ignore
elementals. So she called him aside before they started:

"Now, Nickey, remember to act like a gentleman, especially at the
table; you must try to do credit to your bringin' up."

"Yes, I'll do my level best if it kills me," the boy replied.

"Well, what do you do with your napkin when you first sit down to the
table?"

"Tie it 'round my neck, of course!"

"Oh, no, you mustn't do anything of the sort; you must just tuck it in
your collar, like any gentleman would. And when we come home what are
you goin' to say to Mrs. Maxwell?"

"Oh, I'll say, 'I'll see you later.'"

"Mercy no! Say, 'I've had a very nice time.'"

"But suppose I didn't have a nice time,--what'd I say?"

For a moment Hepsey struggled to reconcile her code of ethics with her
idea of good manners, and then replied:

"Why say, 'Mrs. Maxwell, it was awfully good of you to ask me,' and I
don't believe she'll notice anything wrong about that."

"Hm!" Nickey retorted scornfully. "Seems pretty much like the same
thing to me."

"Oh no! Not in the least. Now what will you wear when we go to the
rectory?"

"My gray suit, and tan shoes, and the green tie with the purple spots
on it."

"Who'll be the first to sit down to the table?"

"Search me--maybe I will, if there's good eats."

"Nonsense! You must wait for Mrs. Maxwell and the rector to be seated
first."

"Well," Nickey exclaimed in exasperation, "I'm bound to make some
horrible break anyway, so don't you worry, ma. It seems to me from
what them books say, that when you go visitin' you've got to tell lies
like a sinner; and you can't tell the truth till you get home with the
door shut. I never was good at lyin'; I always get caught."

"It isn't exactly lyin', Nickey; its just sayin' nice things, and
keepin' your mouth shut about the rest. Now suppose you dropped a fork
under the table, what'd you say?"

"I'd say ''scuse me, Mrs. Maxwell, but one of the forks has gone, and
you can go through my clothes if you want to before I go home.'"

"Hm!" Hepsey remarked dryly, "I guess the less you say, the better."

Arrived at the rectory, Nickey felt under some restraint when they
first sat down to the supper table; but under the genial manner of
Mrs. Maxwell he soon felt at his ease, and not even his observant
mother detected any dire breach of table etiquette. His conversation
was somewhat spare, his attention being absorbed and equally divided
between observation of his host and consumption of the feast set
before him. With sure tact, Mrs. Betty--though regarding Nickey as the
guest of honor--that evening--deferred testing the results of his
conversational studies until after supper: one thing at once, she
decided, was fair play.

After the meal was over, they repaired together to the parlor, and
while Hepsey took out her wash-rag knitting and Maxwell smoked his
cigar, Mrs. Betty gave Nickey her undivided attention.

In order to interest the young people of the place in the missionary
work of the parish, Mrs. Betty had organized a guild of boys who were
to earn what they could towards the support of a missionary in the
west. The Guild had been placed under the fostering care and
supervision of Nickey as its treasurer, and was known by the name of
"The Juvenile Band of Gleaners." In the course of the evening Mrs.
Maxwell took occasion to inquire what progress they were making,
thereby unconsciously challenging a somewhat surprising recountal.

"Well," Nickey replied readily, "we've got forty-six cents in the
treasury; that's just me, you know; I keep the cash in my pants
pocket."

Then he smiled uneasily, and fidgeted in his chair.

There was something in Nickey's tone and look that excited Mrs.
Betty's curiosity, and made his mother stop knitting and look at him
anxiously over her glasses.

"That is very good for a start," Mrs. Betty commended. "How did you
raise all that, Nickey?"

For a moment Nickey colored hotly, looked embarrassed, and made no
reply. Then mustering up his courage, and laughing, he began:

"Well, Mrs. Maxwell, it was just like this. Maybe you won't like it,
but I'll tell you all the same. Bein' as I was the president of the
Juv'nul Band of Gleaners, I though I'd get the kids together, and
start somethin'. Saturday it rained cats and dogs, so Billy Burns, Sam
Cooley, Dimple Perkins and me, we went up into the hay loft, and I
said to the kids, 'You fellows have got to cough up some dough for the
church, and----'"

"Contribute money, Nickey. Don't be slangy," his mother interjected.

"Well I says, 'I'm runnin' the Juv'nals, and you've got to do just
what I say. I've got a dandy scheme for raisin' money and we'll have
some fun doin' it, or I miss my guess.' Then I asked Sam Cooley how
much money he'd got, and Sam, he had forty-four cents, Billy Burns had
fifty-two cents, and Dimple had only two. Dimp never did have much
loose cash, anyway. But I said to Dimp, 'Never mind, Dimp; you aint
to blame. Your dad's an old skinflint. I'll lend you six to start off
with.' Then I made Billy Burns sweep the floor, while Sam went down to
the chicken yard and caught my bantam rooster, Tooley. Then I sent
Dimp after some chalk, and an empty peach basket, and a piece of cord.
Then we was ready for business.

"I marked a big circle on the barn floor with the chalk, and divided
it into four quarters with straight lines runnin' through the middle.
Then I turned the peach basket upside down, and tied one end of the
string on the bottom, and threw the other end up over a beam overhead,
so I could pull the basket off from the floor up to the beam by the
string. You see," Nickey illustrated with graphic gestures, "the
basket hung just over the middle of the circle like a bell. Then I
took the rooster and stuck him under the basket. Tooley hollered and
scratched like Sam Hill and----"

"For mercy sake, Nickey! What will you say next?"

"Say, ma, you just wait and see. Well, Tooley kicked like everything,
but he had to go under just the same. Then I said to the kids to sit
around the circle on the floor, and each choose one of the four
quarters for hisself,--one for each of us. 'Now,' I said, 'you must
each cough up----'"

"Nicholas!"

"Oh ma, do let me tell it without callin' me down every time. 'You
kids must hand out a cent apiece and put it on the floor in your own
quarter. Then, when I say ready, I'll pull the string and raise the
basket and let Tooley out. Tooley'll get scared and run. If he runs
off the circle through my quarter, then the four cents are mine; but
if he runs through Dimp's quarter, then the four cents are Dimp's.'

"It was real excitin' when I pulled the string, and the basket went
up. You'd ought to 've been there, Mrs. Maxwell. You'd have laughed
fit to split----"

"Nicholas Burke, you must stop talkin' like that, or I'll send you
home," reproved Mrs. Burke, looking severely at her son, and with
deprecating side-glances at his audience.

"Excuse me, ma. It will be all over in a minute. But really, you'd
have laughed like sin--I mean you'd have just laughed yourself sick.
Tooley was awful nervous when the basket went up. For a minute he
crouched and stood still, scared stiff at the three kids, all yellin'
like mad; then he ducked his head and bolted off the circle through my
quarter and flew up on a beam. I thought the kids would bust."

Mrs. Burke sighed heavily.

"Well, burst, then. But while they were laughin' I raked in the cash.
You see I just had to. I won it for fair. I'd kept quiet, and that's
why Tooley come across my quarter."

Mrs. Maxwell was sorting over her music, while Maxwell's face was
hidden behind a paper. Mrs. Burke was silent through despair. Nickey
glanced furtively at his hearers for a moment and then continued:

"Yes, the kids was tickled; but they got awful quiet when I told them
to fork over another cent apiece for the jack-pot."

"What in the name of conscience is a jack-pot?" Hepsey asked.

Donald laughed and Nickey continued:

"A jack-pot's a jack-pot; there isn't no other name that I ever heard
of. We caught Tooley and stuck him under the basket, and made him do
it all over again. You see, every time when Tooley got loose, the kids
all leant forward and yelled like mad; but I just kept my mouth shut,
and leaned way back out of the way so that Tooley'd run out through my
quarter. So I won most all the time."

There was a pause, while Nickey looked a bit apprehensively at his
audience. But he went on gamely to the end of the chapter.

"Once Tooley made a bolt in a straight line through Dimp's quarter,
and hit Dimp in the mouth, and bowled him over like a nine-pin. Dimp
was scared to death, and howled like murder till he found he'd scooped
the pot; then he got quiet. After we made Tooley run ten times, he
struck work and wouldn't run any more; so we just had to let him go;
but I didn't care nothn' about that, 'cause you see I had the kids'
cash in my pants pocket, and that was what I was after. Well, sir,
when it was all over, 'cause I'd busted the bank----"

"Nicholas Burke, I am ashamed of you."

"Never mind, ma; I'm most through now. When they found I'd busted the
bank, they looked kind of blue, and Dimp Perkins said it was a skin
game, and I was a bunco steerer."

"What did you say to that?" Donald inquired.

"Oh, I just said it was all for religion, it was church money, and it
was all right. I was just gleanin' what few cents they had, to pay the
church debt to the missionary; and they ought to be ashamed to have a
church debt hangin' over 'em, and they'd oughter be more cheerful
'bout givin' a little somethin' toward raisin' of it."

When Nickey had finished, there was an ominous silence for a moment
or two, and then his mother said sternly:

"What do you suppose Mrs. Perkins will say when she finds that you've
tricked her son into a regular gambling scheme, to get his money away
from him?"

"Mrs. Perkins," retorted Nickey, thoroughly aroused by the soft
impeachment. "I should worry! At the church fair, before Mr. Maxwell
came, she ran a fancy table, and tried to sell a baby blanket to an
old bachelor; but he wouldn't take it. Then when he wasn't lookin',
blessed if she didn't turn around and tie the four corners together
with a bit of ribbon, and sell it to him for a handkerchief case. She
got two dollars for it, and it wasn't worth seventy-five cents. She
was as proud as a dog with two tails, and went around tellin'
everybody."

Silence reigned, ominous and general, and Nickey braced himself for
the storm. Even Mrs. Maxwell didn't look at him, and that was pretty
bad. He began to get hot all over, and the matter was fast assuming a
new aspect in his own mind which made him ashamed of himself. His
spirits sank lower and lower. Finally his mother remarked quietly:

"Nickey, I thought you were goin' to be a gentleman."

"That's straight, all right, what I've told you," he murmured
abashed.

There was another silent pause--presently broken by Nickey.

"I guess I hadn't thought about it, just that way. I guess I'll give
the kids their money back," he volunteered despondently--"only I'll
have to make it up, some way, in the treasury." He felt in his
pockets, and jingled the coins.

Another pause--with only the ticking of his mother's knitting needles
to relieve the oppressive silence. Suddenly the worried pucker
disappeared from his brow, and his face brightened like a sun-burst.

"I've got it, Mrs. Maxwell," he cried. "I've got seventy-five cents
comin' to me down at the Variety Store, for birch-bark frames, and
I'll give that for the blamed old missionaries. That's square, 'aint
it now?"

Mrs. Betty's commendation and her smile were salve to the wounds of
her young guest, and Donald's hearty laughter soon dispelled the sense
of social failure which was beginning to cloud Nickey's happy spirit.

"Say Nickey," said Maxwell, throwing down his paper, "Mrs. Betty and I
want to start a Boy Scout Corps in the parish, and with your
resourceful genius you could get the boys together, and explain it to
them, and soon we should have the whole thing in ship-shape order.
Will you do it?"

"Will I?" exclaimed the delighted recruit. "I guess so--but some of
'em 'aint 'Piscopals, Mr. Maxwell; there's Sam Cooley, he's a
Methodist, and----"

"That doesn't cut any ice, Nickey,--excuse my slang, ladies," he
apologized to his wife and Hepsey, at which the boy grinned with
delight. "We're out to welcome all comers. I've got the books that we
shall need upstairs. Let's go up to my den and talk it all over. We
shall have to spend evenings getting thoroughly up in it
ourselves,--rules and knots and first-aid and the rest. Mrs. Burke
will allay parental anxiety as to the bodily welfare of the recruits
and the pacific object of the organization, and Mrs. Maxwell will make
the colors. Come on!"

With sparkling eyes, Nickey followed Donald out of the room; as they
disappeared Hepsey slowly shook her head in grateful deprecation at
Betty.

"Bless him!" ejaculated Hepsey. "Mixin' up religion, with a little
wholesome fun, is the only way you can serve it to boys, like Nickey,
and get results. Boys that are ever goin' to amount to anything are
too full of life to stand 'em up in a row, with a prayer book in one
hand and a hymnal in the other, and expect 'em to sprout wings. It
can't be done. Keep a boy outside enough and he'll turn out alright.
Fresh air and open fields have a mighty helpful influence on 'em. The
way I've got it figgered out, all of us can absorb a lot of the right
kind of religion, if we'll only go out and watch old Mother Nature,
now and then."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XVI

PRACTICAL TEMPERANCE REFORM


The small town of Durford was not immune from the curse of drink:
there was no doubt about that. Other forms of viciousness there were
in plenty; but the nine saloons did more harm than all the rest of the
evil influences put together, and Maxwell, though far from being a
fanatic, was doing much in a quiet way to neutralize their bad
influence. He turned the Sunday School room into a reading room during
the week days, organized a gymnasium, kept watch of the younger men
individually, and offered as best he could some chance for the
expression of the gregarious instinct which drew them together after
the work of the day was over. In the face of his work in these
directions, it happened that a venturesome and enterprising
saloon-keeper bought a vacant property adjacent to the church, and
opened up an aggressive business--much to Maxwell's dismay.

Among the women of the parish there was a "Ladies' Temperance League,"
of which Mrs. Burke was president. They held quarterly meetings, and
it was at one of the meetings held at Thunder Cliff, and at which Mrs.
Burke presided, that she remarked severely:

"Mrs. Sapley, you're out of order. There's a motion before the house,
and I've got something to say about it myself. Mrs. Perkins, as Mrs.
Maxwell was unable to be present, will you kindly take the chair, or
anything else you can lay your hands on, and I'll say what I've got to
say."

Mrs. Perkins took Mrs. Burke's place as the president, while Mrs.
Burke rubbed her glasses in an impatient way; and having adjusted
them, began in a decided tone from which there was meant to be no
appeal:

"The fact is, ladies, we're not gettin' down to business as we ought
to, if we are to accomplish anything. We've been singing hymns, and
recitin' lovely poems, and listenin' to reports as to how money spent
for liquor would pay off the national debt; and we've been sayin'
prayers, and pledgin' ourselves not to do things none of us ever was
tempted to do, or thought of doin', and wearin' ribbons, and attendin'
conventions, and talkin' about influencin' legislation at Washington,
and eatin' sandwiches, and drinkin' weak tea, and doin' goodness knows
what; but we've not done a blessed thing to stop men drinkin' right
here in Durford and breakin' the town law; you know that well
enough."

Mrs. Burke paused for breath after this astounding revolutionary
statement, and there was a murmur of scandalized dissent from the
assembled ladies at this outspoken expression on the part of the
honorable president of the Parish Guild.

"No," she continued emphatically, "don't you fool yourselves. If we
can't help matters right here where we live, then there's no use
havin' imitation church sociables, and goin' home thinkin' we've
helped the temperance cause, and callin' everybody else bad names who
don't exactly agree with us."

Again there were symptoms of open rebellion against this traitorous
heresy on the part of the plainspoken president; but she was not to
be easily silenced; so she continued:

"Men have got to go somewheres when their work is over, and have a
good time, and I believe that we won't accomplish anything until we
fix up a nice, attractive set of rooms with games, and give 'em
something to drink."

Cries of "Oh! Oh! Oh!" filled the room.

"I didn't say whiskey, did I? Anybody would think I'd offered to treat
you, the way you receive my remarks. Now we can't get the rooms right
off, 'cause we can't yet afford to pay the rent of 'em. But there's
one thing we can do. There's Silas Bingham--the new man. He's gone and
opened a saloon within about a hundred feet of the church, and he's
sellin' liquor to children and runnin' a slot machine besides. It's
all against the law; but if you think the village trustees are goin'
to do anythin' to enforce the law, you're just dead wrong, every one
of you. The trustees are most of 'em in it for graft, and they 'aint
goin' to close no saloon when it's comin' election day 'for long, not
if Bingham serves cocktails between the hymns in church. Maybe the
trustees'd come to church better if he did. Maybe you think I'm usin'
strong language; but it's true all the same, and you know it's true.
Silas Bingham's move is a sassy challenge to us: are we goin' to lie
down under it?"

"I must say that I'm painfully surprised at you, Mrs. Burke," Mrs.
Burns began. "You surely can't forget what wonderful things the League
has accomplished in Virginia and----"

"Yes," Mrs. Burke interrupted, "but you see Durford 'aint in Virginia
so far as heard from, and it's our business to get up and hustle right
here where we live. Did you think we were tryin' to reform Virginia or
Alaska by absent treatment?"

Mrs. Sapley could not contain herself another moment; so, rising to
her feet excitedly she sputtered:

"I do not agree with you, Mrs. Burke; I do not agree with you at all.
Our meetings have been very inspiring and helpful to us all, I am
perfectly sure; very uplifting and encouraging; and I am astonished
that you should speak as you do."

"I'm very glad you've found them so, Mrs. Sapley. I don't drink
myself, and I don't need no encouragin' and upliftin'. It's the weak
man that drinks who needs encouragin' and upliftin'; and he wouldn't
come near one of our meetin's any more than a bantam rooster would try
to hatch turtles from moth-balls. We've got to clear Silas Bingham
from off the church steps."

"Well," Mrs. Burns inquired, "what do you propose to do about it, if I
may be allowed to inquire?"

"Do? The first thing I propose to do is to interview Silas Bingham
myself privately, and see what I can do with him. Perhaps I won't
accomplish nothin'; but I'm goin' to try, anyway, and make him get out
of that location."

"You can, if anybody can," Mrs. Sapley remarked.

"Thank you for the compliment, Mrs. Sapley. Now Mrs. President, I
move, sir--that is, madam--that the parish League appoints me to
interview Bingham."

The motion was duly seconded and passed, notwithstanding some mild
protests from the opposition, and Mrs. Burke resumed her place as
presiding officer of the meeting. Then she continued:

"Excuse me; I forgot the previous question which somebody moved. Shall
we have lettuce or chicken sandwiches at our next meetin'? You have
heard the question. Those in favor of chicken please say aye. Ah! The
ayes have the chicken, and the chicken is unanimously carried. Any
more business to come before the meetin'? If not, we'll proceed to
carry out the lit'ary program arranged by Miss Perkins. Then we'll
close this meetin' by singin' the 224th hymn. Don't forget the basket
by the door."

                  *       *       *       *       *

Silas Bingham was an undersized, timid, pulpy soul, with a horizontal
forehead, watery blue eyes, and a receding chin. Out of "office hours"
he looked like a meek solicitor for a Sunday School magazine. One
bright morning just as he had finished sweeping out the saloon and was
polishing the brass rod on the front of the bar, Mrs. Burke walked in,
and extended her hand to the astonished bar-keeper, whose chin dropped
from sheer amazement. She introduced herself in the most cordial and
sympathetic of tones, saying:

"How do you do, Mr. Bingham? I haven't had the pleasure of meetin' you
before; but I always make it a point to call on strangers when they
come to town. It must be awful lonesome when you first arrive and
don't know a livin' soul. I hope your wife is tolerable well."

Bingham gradually pulled himself together and turned very red, as he
replied:

"Thanks! But my wife doesn't live here. It's awful kind of you, I'm
sure; but you'll find my wife in the third house beyond the bakery,
down two blocks--turn to the right. She'll be glad to see you."

"That's good," Hepsey responded, "but you see I don't have much to do
on Thursdays, and I'll just have a little visit with you, now I'm
here. Fine day, isn't it."

Mrs. Burke drew up a chair and sat down, adjusted her feet comfortably
to the rung of another chair, and pulled out her knitting from her
work-bag, much to the consternation of the proprietor of the place.

"How nice you've got things fixed up, Mr. Bingham," Hepsey remarked,
gazing serenely at the seductive variety of bottles and glasses, and
the glare of mirrors behind the bar. "Nothin' like havin' a fine
lookin' place to draw trade. Is business prosperin' now-a-days?"

Silas turned three shades redder, and stammered badly as he replied:

"Yes, I'm doin' as well as I can expect--er--I suppose."

"Probably as well as your customers are doin', I should imagine? You
don't need to get discouraged. It takes time to work up a trade like
yours in a nice, decent neighborhood like this."

Silas stared hard at the unwelcome intruder, glancing apprehensively
at the door from which several customers had already turned away when,
through the glass, they had caught sight of Mrs. Burke. He was
desperately ill at ease, and far from responding cordially to Hepsey's
friendly advances; and his nervousness increased as his patrons
continually retreated, occasionally grinning derisively at him through
the glass in the door.

"If you don't mind my sayin' it, Mrs. Burke, I think you'd be a lot
more comfortable at my house than you are here."

"Oh, I'm perfectly comfortable, thanks; perfectly comfortable. Don't
you worry a bit about me."

"But this is a saloon, and it 'aint just what you might call
respectable for ladies to be sittin' in a saloon, now, is it?"

"_Why not?_"

The question was so sudden, sharp and unexpected that Silas jumped and
almost knocked over a bottle of gin, and then stared in silent chagrin
at his guest, his nervous lips moving without speech.

"I don't see," Hepsey continued, "just why the men should have all the
fun, and then when a woman takes to enjoyin' herself say that it isn't
respectable. What's the difference, I'd like to know? This is a right
cheerful place, and I feel just like stayin' as long as I want to.
There's no law against a woman goin' to a saloon, is there? I saw Jane
Dwire come out of here Saturday night. To be sure, Jane 'aint just
what you'd call a 'society' lady, as you might say; but as long as I
behave myself I don't see why I should go."

"But, ma'am," Silas protested in wrathful desperation, "I must ask you
to go. You'll hurt my trade if you stay here any longer."

"Hurt your trade! Nonsense! You aren't half as polite as I thought you
were. I'm awful popular with the gentlemen. You ought to be payin' me
a commission to sit here and entertain your customers, instead of
insinuatin' that I 'aint welcome. Ah! Here comes Martin Crowfoot.
Haven't seen Martin in the longest time."

Martin slouched in and reached the bar and ordered before he caught
sight of Mrs. Burke. He was just raising the glass to his lips when
Hepsey stepped up briskly, and extending her hand, exclaimed:

"How do you do, Martin? How are the folks at home? Awful glad to see
you."

Martin stared vacantly at Mrs. Burke, dropped his glass, and muttered
incoherently. Then he bolted hastily from the place without paying for
his drink.

Bingham was now getting a bit hysterical over the situation, and was
about to make another vigorous protest, when Hiram Green entered and
called for some beer. Again Hepsey extended her hand cordially, and
Hiram jumped as if he had seen a ghost--for they had been friendly for
years.

"Hepsey Burke, what in the name of all that's decent are you doin' in
a place like this?" he demanded when he could get his breath. "Don't
you know you'll ruin your reputation if you're seen sittin' in a
saloon?"

"Oh, don't let that worry you, Hiram, My reputation'd freeze a stroke
of lightnin'. You don't seem to be worryin' much about your own
reputation."

"Oh well, a man can do a lot of things a woman can't, without losin'
his reputation."

For an instant the color flamed into Mrs. Burke's face as she retorted
hotly:

"Yes, there's the whole business. A man can drink, and knock the
seventh commandment into a cocked hat; and then when he wants to
settle down and get married he demands a wife as white as snow. If he
gets drunk, it's a lark. If she gets drunk, it's a crime. But I didn't
come here to preach or hold a revival, and as for my welfare and my
reputation, Mr. Bingham and I was just havin' a pleasant afternoon
together when you came in and interrupted us. He's awful nice when you
get to know him real intimate. Now, Hiram, I hate to spoil your fun,
and you do look a bit thirsty. Suppose you have a lemonade on me, if
you're sure it won't go to your head. It isn't often that we get out
like this together. Lemonades for two, Mr. Bingham; and make Hiram's
real sweet."

Mrs. Burke enjoyed hugely the disgust and the grimaces with which
Green swallowed the syrupy mixture. He then beat a hasty retreat down
the street. For two hours Hepsey received all who were courageous
enough to venture in, with most engaging smiles and cordial
handshakes, until Silas was bordering on madness. Finally he emerged
from the bar and mustered up sufficient courage to threaten:

"Mrs. Burke, if you don't quit, I'll send for the police," he
blustered.

Hepsey gazed calmly at her victim and replied:

"I wouldn't, if I was in your place."

"Well then, I give you fair warning I'll put you out myself if you
don't go peaceable in five minutes."

"No, Silas; you're wrong as usual. You can't put me out of here until
I'm ready to go. I could wring you out like a mop, and drop you down a
knot-hole, and nobody'd be the wiser."

The door now opened slowly and a small girl, miserably clad, entered
the saloon. Her head was covered with a worn, soiled shawl. From
underneath the shawl she produced a battered tin pail and placed it on
the bar with the phlegmatic remark, "Pa wants a quart of beer."

Mrs. Burke looked at the girl and then at Bingham, and then back at
the girl inquiringly.

"Are you in the habit of gettin' beer here, child?"

"Sure thing!" the girl replied, cheerfully.

"How old are you?"

"Ten, goin' on eleven."

"And you sell it to her?" Hepsey asked, turning to Bingham.

"Oh, it's for her father. He sends for it." He frowned at the child
and she quickly disappeared, leaving the can behind her.

"Does he? But I thought you said that a saloon was no place for a
woman; and surely it can't be a decent place for a girl under age. Now
my friend, I've got somethin' to say to you."

"You are the very devil and all," Silas remarked.

"Thanks, Silas. The devil sticks to his job, anyway; and owin' to the
likes of you he wins out, nine times out of ten. Now will you clear
out of this location, or won't you?"

"Another day like this would send me to the lunatic asylum."

"Then I'll be around in the mornin' at six-thirty sharp."

"You just get out of here," he threatened.

"If you promise to clear out yourself within three days."

"I guess I'd clear out of Heaven itself to get rid of you."

"Very well; and if you are still here Saturday afternoon, ten of us
women will come and sit on your steps until you go. A woman can't vote
whether you shall be allowed to entice her men-folk into a place like
this, and at the very church door; but the average woman can be mighty
disagreeable when she tries."

Silas Bingham had a good business head: he reckoned up the costs--and
cleared out.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XVII

NOTICE TO QUIT


Before the year was over Mrs. Betty had become popular with Maxwell's
parishioners through her unfailing good-nature, cordiality and
persistent optimism. Even Mrs. Nolan, who lived down by the bridge,
and made rag carpets, and suffered from chronic dyspepsia, remarked to
Mrs. Burke that she thought the parson's wife was very nice "'cause
she 'aint a bit better than any of the rest of us,"--which tribute to
Mrs. Betty's tact made Mrs. Burke smile and look pleased. All the
young men and girls of the parish simply adored her, and it was
marvelous how she managed to keep in touch with all the guilds, do her
own housework, and learn to know everyone intimately. Hepsey warned
her that she was attempting to do too much.

"The best parson's wife," she said, "is the one who makes the rest
work, while she attends to her own household, and keeps her health.
Her business is not to do the work of the parson, but to look after
him, keep him well nourished, and cheer him up a little bit when he is
tempted to take the next trolley for Timbuctoo."

The retort was so tempting that Mrs. Betty could not help saying:

"There's not a person in this town who does so much for others as you
do, and who makes so little fuss about it. It's the force of your
example that has led me astray, you see."

"Hm!" Hepsey replied. "I'm glad you called my attention to it. I shall
try to break myself of the habit at once."

As for Maxwell, his practical helpfulness in forwarding the social
life of the place, without in the least applying that phase of his
activities as a lever for spiritual upheavals, and his ready sympathy
for and interest in the needs and doings of young and old,
irrespective of class or caste, gradualy reaped for him the affection
and respect of all sorts and conditions. In fact, the year had been a
pleasant one for him, and was marred by only one circumstance, the
continued and growing hostility of his Senior Warden, Mr. Bascom. From
the first, he had been distinctly unfriendly towards his rector; but
soon after Maxwell's marriage, his annoying opposition was quite open
and pronounced, and the weight of his personal influence was thrown
against every move which Maxwell made towards the development of the
parish life and work.

To those more "in the know" than the Maxwells themselves, it was
evident that a certain keen aggressiveness evinced by the Senior
Warden was foreign to his phlegmatic, brooding character, and it was
clear to them that the actively malicious virus was being administered
by the disappointed Virginia. That she was plotting punishment, in
revenge for wounded _amour propre_, was clear to the initiated, who
were apprehensive of the bomb she was evidently preparing to burst
over the unconscious heads of the rector and his wife. But what could
her scheme be?

Gradually Mrs. Burke noticed that Betty began to show fatigue and
anxiety, and was losing the freshness of her delicate color; while
Donald had become silent and reserved, and wore a worried look which
was quite unnatural to him. Something was going wrong; of that she
felt sure; but observant though she was, she failed to trace the
trouble to its source.

Matters came to a crisis one day when Maxwell was informed that some
one was waiting to see him in the parlor. The visitor was dressed in
very pronounced clothes, and carried himself with a self-assertive
swagger. Maxwell had seen him in Bascom's office, and knew who was
waiting for him long before he reached the parlor, by the odor of
patchouli which penetrated to the hall.

"Good morning, Mr. Nelson," said Maxwell. "Did you wish to see me?"

"Yes, I did, Mr. Maxwell, and I am sure it is a great pleasure."

The man seated himself comfortably in a large chair, put the tips of
his fingers together, and gazed about the room with an expression of
pleased patronage.

"Very pretty home you have here," he remarked suavely.

"Yes," Maxwell replied. "We manage to make ourselves comfortable. Did
you wish to see me on business?"

"Oh yes," the lawyer replied, "a mere technicality. I represent the
firm of Bascom & Nelson, or rather I should say I am Mr. Bascom's
legal agent just at present, as I have not yet been admitted as his
partner----"

The man stopped, smirked, and evidently relished prolonging his
interview with Maxwell, who was getting impatient. Maxwell drew his
watch from his pocket, and there was a look in his eyes which made the
lawyer proceed:

"The fact is, Rector, that I came to see you on a matter of business
about the rectory--as Mr. Bascom's agent."

"Will you kindly state it?"

"It concerns the use of this house."

"In what way? This is the rectory of the church, and the rental of it
is part of my salary."

"You are mistaken. Mr. Bascom owns the house, and you are staying here
merely on sufferance."

For a moment Maxwell was too astonished to speak; then he began:

"Mr. Bascom owns this house? What do you mean? The house is part of
the property of the church."

"You are mistaken, my friend."

"You will kindly not repeat that form of address, and explain what you
mean," replied Maxwell heatedly.

"Come, come; there's no use in losing your temper, my dear rector,"
retorted Nelson offensively.

"You have just two minutes to explain yourself, sir; and I strongly
advise you to improve the opportunity, before I put you out of this
house.'"

Nelson, like most bullies, was a coward, and evidently concluded that
he would take no risks. He continued:

"As I said before, Sylvester Bascom practically owns this house. It
does not belong to the church property. The Episcopals made a big
bluff at buying it years ago, and made a very small payment in cash;
Bascom took a mortgage for the rest. The interest was paid regularly
for a while, and then payments began to fall off. As you have reason
to know, Bascom is a generous and kind-hearted man, who would not for
the world inconvenience his rector, and so he has allowed the matter
to go by default, until the back interest amounts to a considerable
sum. Of course the mortgage is long past due, and as he needs the
money, he has commissioned me to see you and inform you that he is
about to foreclose, and to ask you to vacate the premises as soon as
you conveniently can. I hope that I make myself reasonably clear."

In a perfectly steady voice Maxwell replied:

"What you say is clear enough; whether it is true is another matter.
I will see Mr. Bascom at once, and ask for his own statement of the
case."

"I don't think it necessary to see him, as he has expressly authorized
me to act for him in the case."

"Then I suppose you came her to serve the notice of ejectment on me."

"Oh, we won't use such strong language as that. I came here merely to
tell you that the house must be vacated soon as possible. Mr. Bascom
has gone to New York on business and will not be back for two weeks.
Meantime he wishes the house vacated, so that he can rent it to other
parties."

"When does the Senior Warden propose to eject his rector, if I may be
allowed to ask?"

"Oh, there is no immediate hurry. Any time this week will do."

"What does he want for this place?"

"I believe he expects fifteen dollars a month."

"Well, of course that is prohibitive. Tell Mr. Bascom that we will
surrender the house on Wednesday, and that we are greatly indebted to
him for allowing us to occupy it rent-free for so long a time."

As Donald showed the objectionable visitor out of the house, he caught
sight of Hepsey Burke walking towards it. He half hoped she would pass
by, but with a glance of suspicion and barely civil greeting to
Nelson as he walked away, she came on, and with a friendly nod to
Maxwell entered the rectory.

"I've just been talkin' to Mrs. Betty for her good," she remarked. "I
met her in town, lookin' as peaked as if she'd been fastin' double
shifts, and I had a notion to come in and complete the good work on
yourself."

Maxwell's worried face told its own story. He was so nonplused by the
bolt just dropped from the blue that he could find no words of
responsive raillery wherewith to change the subject.

Hepsey led the way to the parlor and seated herself, facing him
judicially. In her quick mind the new evidence soon crystallized into
proof of her already half-formed suspicions. She came straight to the
point.

"Is Bascom making you any trouble? If he is, say so, 'cause I happen
to have the whip-hand so far as he's concerned. That Nelson's nothin'
but a tool of his, and a dull tool at that."

"He's an objectionable person, I must say," remarked Maxwell, and
hesitated to trust himself further.

Mrs. Burke gazed at Maxwell for some time in silence and then began:

"You look about done up--I don't want to be pryin', but I guess you'd
better own up. Something's the matter."

"I am just worried and anxious, and I suppose I can't help showing
it," he replied wearily.

"So you're worried, are you. Now don't you get the worried habit; if
it makes a start it will grow on you till you find yourself worryin'
for fear the moon won't rise. Worryin's like usin' rusty scissors: it
sets your mouth awry. You just take things as they come, and when it
seems as if everything was goin' to smash and you couldn't help it,
put on your overalls and paint a fence, or hammer tacks, or any old
thing that comes handy. What has that rascal Bascom been doin'? Excuse
me--my diplomacy's of the hammer-and-tongs order; you're not gettin'
your salary paid?"

For some time Maxwell hesitated and then answered:

"Well, I guess I might as well tell you, because you will know all
about it anyway in a day or two, and you might as well get a correct
version of the affair from me, though I hate awfully to trouble you.
The parish owes me two hundred and fifty dollars. I spoke to Reynolds
about it several times, but he says that Bascom and several of his
intimate friends won't pay their subscriptions promptly, and so he
can't pay me. But the shortage in my salary is not the worst of it.
Did you know that the rectory was heavily mortgaged, and that Bascom
holds the mortgage?"

"Yes, I knew it; but we paid something down', and the interest's been
kept up, and we hoped that if we did that Bascom would be satisfied."

"It seems that the interest has not been paid in some time, and the
real reason why Nelson called just now was to inform me that as Bascom
was about to foreclose we must get out as soon as we could. I told him
that we would leave on Wednesday next."

For a moment there was a look on Mrs. Burke's face which Maxwell never
had seen before, and which boded ill for Bascom: but she made no
immediate reply.

"To tell you the truth," she said finally, "I have been afraid of
this. That was the only thing that worried me about your gettin'
married. But I felt that no good would come from worryin', and that if
Bascom was goin' to play you some dirty trick, he'd do it; and now
he's done it. What's got into the man, all of a sudden? He's a
skinflint--always closer than hair to a dog's back; but I don't
believe I've ever known him do somethin' downright ugly, like this."

"Oh, I know well enough," remarked Donald. "If I had been aware of how
matters stood about the rectory, I should have acted differently. I
wrote him a pretty stiff letter a day or two ago, calling upon him,
as Senior Warden, to use his influence to fulfill the contract with
me, and get the arrears of my salary paid up. I suppose he had thought
I would just get out of the place if my salary was held back--and he's
wanted to get rid of me for some time. Now, he's taken this other
means of ejecting me not only from his house but from the town itself.
He knows I can't afford to pay the rent out of my salary--let alone
out of half of it!" He laughed rather bitterly.

"He'll be singing a different tune, before I've done with him," said
Hepsey. "Now you leave this to me--I'll have a twitch on old Bascom's
nose that'll make him think of something else than ejecting his
rector. I'll go and visit with him a little this afternoon."

"But Nelson said that he was in New York."

"I know better than that," snorted Hepsey. "But I guess he'll want to
go there, and stay the winter there too, maybe, when I've had my say.
No sir--I'm goin' to take my knittin' up to his office, and sit
awhile; and if he doesn't have the time of his life it won't be my
fault."

She turned to leave the room, with a belligerent swing of her
shoulders.

"Mrs. Burke," said Maxwell gently, "you are kindness itself; but I
don't want you to do this--at least not yet. I want to fight this
thing through myself, and rather to shame Bascom into doing the right
thing than force him to do it--even if the latter were possible. I
must think things out a bit. I shall want your help--we always do,
Betty and I."

"I don't know but you're right; but if your plan don't work, remember
mine _will_. Well, Mrs. Betty'll be coming in soon, and I'll leave
you. Meantime I shall just go home and load my guns: I'm out for
Bascom's hide, sooner or later."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XVIII

THE NEW RECTORY


When Betty returned, and Donald told her the happenings of the
morning, the clouds dispersed somewhat, and before long the dictum
that "there is humor in all things"--even in ejection from house and
home--seemed proven true. After lunch they sat in Donald's den, and
were laughingly suggesting every kind of habitat, possible and
impossible, from purchasing and fitting up the iceman's covered wagon
and perambulating round the town, to taking a store and increasing
their income by purveying Betty's tempting preserves and
confections.

Their consultation was interrupted by the arrival of Nickey, armed
with a Boy Scouts' "Manual."

"Gee! Mr. Maxwell: Uncle Jonathan Jackson's all right; I'll never do
another thing to guy him. He's loaned us his tent for our Boy Scouts'
corpse, and I've been studyin' out how to pitch it proper, so I can
show the kids the ropes; but----"

"Donald!" cried Betty. "The very thing--let's camp out on the church
lot."

"By Jinks!" exclaimed Maxwell, unclerically. "We'll have that tent up
this very afternoon--if Nickey will lend it to us, second hand, and
get his men together."

Nickey flushed with delight. "You betcher life I will," he shouted
excitedly. "Is it for a revival stunt? You 'aint goin' to live there,
are you?"

"That's just what we are going to do, if Jonathan and you'll lend us
the tent for a few months. Mr. Bascom wants to let the rectory to some
other tenants, and we've got to find somewhere else to lay our heads.
Why, it's the very way! There's not a thing against it, that I can
see. Let's go and see the tent, and consult Mrs. Burke. Come along,
both of you."

And off they hurried, like three children bent on a new game. It was
soon arranged, and Hepsey rose to the occasion with her usual vim. To
her and Nickey the transportation of the tent was consigned, while
Maxwell went off to purchase the necessary boarding for a floor, and
Mrs. Betty returned to the rectory to pack up their belongings.

"We'll have to occupy our new quarters to-night," said Maxwell, "or
our friend the enemy may raid the church lot in the night, and vanish
with tent and all."

An hour or so later, when Maxwell arrived at the church, clad in
overalls and riding on a wagon of planks, he found Mrs. Burke and
Nickey with a contingent of stalwarts awaiting him. There was a heap
of canvas and some coils of rope lying on the ground near by. Hepsey
greeted him with a smile from under the shade of her sun-bonnet.

"You seem ready for business, even if you don't look a little bit like
the Archbishop of Canterbury in that rig," she remarked. "I'm afraid
there'll be an awful scandal in the parish if you go wanderin' around
dressed like a carpenter; but it can't be helped; and if the Bishop
excommunicates you, I'll give you a job on the farm."

"I don't mind about the looks of it; but I suppose the vestry will
have something to say about our camping on church property."

"That needn't worry you. Maybe it'll bring 'em to their senses, and
maybe, they'll be ashamed when they see their parson driven out of his
house and havin' to live in a tent,--though I 'aint holdin' out much
hope of that, to you. Folks that are the most religious are usually
the hardest to shame. I always said, financially speakin', that
preachin' wasn't a sound business. It's all give and no get; but this
is the first time I've ever heard of a parish wanting a parson to
preach without eating and to sleep without a roof over his head. Most
of us seem to forget that rectors are human being like the rest of us.
If religion is worth havin', it's worth payin' for."

The planking was soon laid, and the erection of the tent was left to
Nickey's captaining--all hands assisting. With his manual in one hand
he laid it out, rope by rope, poles in position, and each helper at
his place. Then at a word, up it soared, with a "bravo" from the
puzzled onlookers.

"We want a poet here," laughed Maxwell. "Longfellow's 'Building of the
Ship,' or Ralph Connor's 'Building the Barn' aren't a circumstance to
Nickey's 'Pitching the Parson's Tent.'"

It was next divided off into three convenient rooms, for sleeping,
eating and cooking--and Hepsey, with three scouts, having driven
across to the old rectory while the finishing touches were being put
to the new, she and her military escort soon returned with Mrs. Betty,
and a load of furniture and other belongings.

"Why, this is perfect!" cried Betty. "The only thing lacking to
complete the illusion is a trout brook in the front yard, and the
smell of pines and the damp mossy earth of the forests. We'll wear our
old clothes, and have a bonfire at night, and roast potatoes and corn
in the hot coals, and have the most beautiful time imaginable."

The town visitors who still lingered on the scene were received
cordially by Maxwell and Mrs. Betty, who seemed to be in rather high
spirits; but when the visitors made any inquiries concerning
structural matters they were politely referred to Nickey Burke for any
information they desired, as he had assumed official management of the
work.

Just before the various helpers left at six o'clock, smoke began to
issue from the little stove-pipe sticking out through the canvas of
the rear of the tent, and Mrs. Betty, with her sleeves rolled up to
her elbows and her cooking apron on, came out to watch it with all the
pride of a good housekeeper.

"Isn't it jolly, Mrs. Burke," she exclaimed. "I was afraid that it
would not draw, but it really does, you see. This will be more fun
than a month at the seashore; and to-morrow we are going to have you
and Nickey dine with us in the tent; so don't make any other
engagement. Don't forget."

By noon of the following day everybody in town knew that the Maxwells
had been dispossessed, and were camping on the church lot; and before
night most of the women and a few of the men had called to satisfy
their curiosity, and to express their sympathy with the rector and his
wife, who, however, seemed to be quite comfortable and happy in their
new quarters. On the other hand, some of the vestry hinted strongly
that tents could not be put up on church property without their formal
permission, and a few of the more pious suggested that it was little
short of sacrilege thus to violate the sanctity of a consecrated
place. Nickey had painted a large sign with the word RECTORY on it, in
truly rustic lettering, and had hung it at the entrance of the tent.
The Editor of the Durford Daily _Bugle_ appeared with the village
photographer, and after an interview with Maxwell requested him and
his wife to pose for a picture in front of the tent. This they
declined with thanks; but a half-column article giving a sensational
account of the affair appeared in the next issue of the paper, headed
by a half-tone picture of the tent and the church. Public sentiment
ran strongly against Bascom, to whom rumor quickly awarded the onus
of the incident. In reply to offers of hospitality, Maxwell and Mrs.
Betty insisted that they were very comfortable for the time being, and
were not going to move or make any plans for the immediate future. The
morning of the fourth day, Maxwell announced to Mrs. Betty that he had
a strong presentiment that Bascom would soon make another move in the
game, and he was not surprised when he saw Nelson approaching.

"Thank goodness we are in the open air, this time," Maxwell remarked
to Betty as he caught sight of the visitor. "I'll talk to him
outside--and perhaps you'd better shut the door and keep out the
language. I may have to express myself more forcibly than politely."

Nelson began:

"I am sorry to have to intrude upon you again, Mr. Maxwell, but I must
inform you that you will have to vacant that tent and find lodgings
elsewhere."

"Why, pray? This tent is my property for as long as I require it."

"Ah! But you see it has been put up on the land that belongs to the
church, and you have no title to use the land, you know, for private
purposes."

"Pardon me," Maxwell replied, "but while the legal title to all
church property is held by the wardens and vestry collectively, the
freehold use of the church building and grounds is held by the rector
for the purpose of the exercise of his office as rector. No church
property is injured by this tent. This lot was originally purchased
for a rectory. To all intents and purposes (excuse me; I am not
punning) this tent is the rectory _pro tem_. The use of a rectory was
offered me as part of the original agreement when I accepted the call
to come to this parish."

"Hm! You speak quite as if you belonged to the legal profession
yourself, Mr. Maxwell. However, I am afraid that you will have to get
off the lot just the same. You must remember that I am simply carrying
out Mr. Bascom's instructions."

"Very well; please give my compliments to Mr. Bascom and tell him that
he is welcome to come here and put me out as soon as he thinks best.
Moreover, you might remind him that he is not an autocrat, and that he
cannot take any legal action in the matter without a formal meeting of
the vestry, which I will call and at which I will preside. He can
appeal to the Bishop if he sees fit."

"Then I understand that you propose to stay where you are, in defiance
of Mr. Bascom's orders?"

"I most certainly do. It is well known that Mr. Bascom has
successfully intimidated every one of my predecessors; but he has met
his match for once. I shall not budge from this tent until I see
fit."

"Well, I should be very sorry to see you forcibly ejected."

"Don't waste any sympathy on me, sir. If Mr. Bascom attempts to molest
me, I shall take the matter to the courts and sue him for damages."

"Your language is somewhat forcible, considering that you are supposed
to be his pastor and spiritual advisor."

"Very well; tell Mr. Bascom that as his spiritual advisor I strongly
suggest that his spiritual condition will not be much improved by
attempting to molest us here."

"But to be perfectly frank with you, Mr. Maxwell, he can force you to
leave, by stopping the payment of your salary, even if he does not
eject you by force."

"I rather think not. Until he can bring specific charges against me,
he is liable for the fulfillment of our original contract, in his
writing. Moreover, I may have more friends in the parish than he
imagines."

Nelson was visibly disturbed by the rector's firm hold on the
situation.

"But," he stuttered, "Mr. Bascom is the richest man in the parish, and
his influence is strong. You will find that everyone defers to his
judgment as a matter of course."

"All right; then let me add, for your own information, that I can earn
my living honestly in this town and take care of myself without Mr.
Bascom's assistance, if necessary; and do my parish work at the same
time. I have two muscular arms, and if it comes down to earning a
livelihood, independent of my salary, I can work on the state road
hauling stone. Williamson told me yesterday he was looking for men."

"I can scarcely think that the parishioners would hold with their
rector working like a common laborer, Mr. Maxwell," admonished
Nelson.

"We are all 'common,' in the right sense, Mr. Nelson. My view is that
work of any kind is always honorable when necessary, except in the
eyes of the ignorant. If Mr. Bascom is mortified to have me earn my
living by manual labor, when he is not ashamed to repudiate a
contract, and try to force me out of the parish by a process of slow
starvation, his sense of fitness equals his standard of honor."

"Well, I am sure that I do not know what I can do."

"Do you want me to tell you?"

"If it will relieve your feelings," Nelson drawled insolently.

"Then get out of this place and stay out. If you return again for any
purpose whatever I am afraid it is I who will have to eject you. We
will not argue the matter again."

"Well, I regret this unfortunate encounter, and to have been forced to
listen to the unguarded vituperation of my rector." With which retort
he departed.

Soon after Nelson had left, Mrs. Burke called in, and Betty gave her a
highly amusing and somewhat colored version of the interview.

"You know, I think that our theological seminaries don't teach budding
parsons all they ought to, by any means," she concluded.

"I quite agree with you, Betty dear; and I thank my stars for college
athletics," laughed Maxwell, squaring up to the tent-pole.

"What did I tell you," reminded Hepsey, "when you had all those books
up in your room at my place. It's just as important for a country
parson to know how to make a wiped-joint or run a chicken farm or pull
teeth, as it is to study church history and theology. A parson's got
to live somehow, and a trade school ought to be attached to every
seminary, according to my way of thinking! St. Paul made tents, and
wasn't a bit ashamed of it. Well I'm mighty glad that Bascom has got
come up with for once. Don't you give in, and it will be my turn to
make the next move, if this don't bring him to his senses. You just
wait and see."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIX

COULEUR de ROSE


Hepsey had been so busy with helping the Maxwells that for some time
no opportunity had occurred for Jonathan to press his ardent suit.
Since his first attempt and its abrupt termination, he had been
somewhat bewildered; he had failed to decide whether he was an engaged
man open to congratulations, or a rejected suitor to be condoled with.
He tried to recall exactly what she had said. As near as he could
recollect, it was: "I'll think it over, and perhaps some day--" Then
he had committed the indiscretion of grasping her hand, causing her
to drop her stitches before she had ended what she was going to say.
He could have sworn at himself to think that it was all his fault that
she had stopped just at the critical moment, when she might have
committed herself and given him some real encouragement. But he
consoled himself by the thought that she had evidently taken him
seriously at last; and so to the "perhaps some day" he added, in
imagination, the words "I will take you"; and this seemed reasonable.

The matter was more difficult from the very fact that they had been on
such intimate terms for such a long time, and she had never hitherto
given him any reason to think that she cared for him other than as a
good neighbor and a friend. Ever since the death of his wife, she
seemed to feel that he had been left an orphan in a cold and
unsympathetic world, and that it was her duty to look after him much
as she would a child. She was in the habit of walking over whenever
she pleased and giving directions to Mary McGuire in regard to matters
which she thought needed attention in his house. And all this had been
done in the most open and matter-of-fact way, so that the most
accomplished gossip in Durford never accused her of making matrimonial
advances to the lonesome widower. Even Jonathan himself had been
clever enough to see that she regarded him much as she would an
overgrown boy, and had always accepted her many attentions without
misinterpreting them. She was a born manager, and she managed him;
that was all. Nothing could be more unsentimental than the way in
which she would make him take off his coat during a friendly call, and
let her sponge and press it for him; or the imperative fashion in
which she sent him to the barber's to have his beard trimmed. How
could a man make love to a woman after she had acted like this?

But he reminded himself that if he was ever to win her he must begin
to carry out the advice outlined by Mrs. Betty; and so the apparently
unsuspecting Hepsey would find on her side porch in the morning some
specially fine corn which had been placed there after dark without the
name of the donor. Once a fine melon was accompanied by a bottle of
perfumery; and again a basket of peaches had secreted in its center a
package of toilet soap "strong enough to kill the grass," as Hepsey
remarked as she sniffed at it. Finally matters reached a climax when a
bushel of potatoes arrived on the scene in the early dawn, and with it
a canary bird in a tin cage. When Hepsey saw Jonathan later, she
remarked casually that she "guessed she'd keep the potatoes; but she
didn't need a canary bird any more than a turtle needs a tooth-pick;
and he had better take it away and get his money back."

However, Jonathan never allowed her occasional rebuffs to discourage
him or stop his attentions. He kept a close watch on all Hepsey's
domestic interests, and if there were any small repairs to be made at
Thunder Cliff, a hole in the roof to be mended, or the bricks on the
top of the chimney to be relaid, or the conductor pipe to be
readjusted, Jonathan was on the spot. Then Jonathan would receive in
return a layer cake with chopped walnuts in the filling, and would
accept it in the same matter-of-fact way in which Hepsey permitted his
services as general caretaker.

This give-and-take business went on for some time. At last it occurred
to him that Mrs. Burke's front porch ought to be painted, and he
conceived the notion of doing the work without her knowledge, as a
pleasant surprise to her. He waited a long time for some day when she
should be going over to shop at Martin's Junction,--when Nickey
usually managed to be taken along,--so that he could do the work
unobserved. Meantime, he collected from the hardware store various
cards with samples of different colors on them. These he would
combine and re-combine at his leisure, in the effort to decide just
what colors would harmonize. He finally decided that a rather dark
blue for the body work would go quite well, with a bright magenta for
the trimmings, and laid in a stock of paint and brushes, and possessed
his soul in patience.

So one afternoon, arriving home burdened with the spoils of Martin's
Junction, great was Mrs. Burke's astonishment and wrath when she
discovered the porch resplendent in dark blue and magenta.

"Sakes alive! Have I got to live inside of that," she snorted. "Why,
it's the worst lookin' thing I ever saw. If I don't settle _him_," she
added, "--paintin' my porch as if it belonged to him--and me as well,"
she added ambiguously. And, catching up her sun-bonnet, she hastened
over to her neighbor's and inquired for Jonathan. "Sure, he's gone to
Martin's Junction to see his brother, Mrs. Burke. He said he'd stay
over night, and I needn't come in again till to-morrow dinner-time,"
Mary McGuire replied.

Hepsey hastened home, and gathering all the rags she could find, she
summoned Nickey and Mullen, one of the men from the farm, and they
worked with turpentine for nearly two hours, cleaning off the fresh
paint from the porch. Then she sent Nickey down to the hardware store
for some light gray paint and some vivid scarlet paint, and a bit of
dryer. It did not take very long to repaint her porch gray--every
trace of the blue and the magenta having been removed by the vigorous
efforts of the three.

When it was finished, she opened the can of scarlet, and pouring in a
large quantity of dryer she sent Nickey over to see if Mary McGuire
had gone home. All three set to work that evening to paint the porch
in front of Jonathan's house. At first Mullen protested anxiously that
it was none of his business to be painting another man's porch, but
Mrs. Burke gave him a look which changed his convictions; so he and
Nickey proceeded gleefully to fulfill their appointed task, while she
got supper.

When the work was quite finished. Hepsey went over to inspect it, and
remarked thoughtfully to herself: "I should think that a half pint of
dryer might be able to get in considerable work before to-morrow noon.
I hope Jonathan'll like scarlet. To be sure it does look rather
strikin' on a white house; but then variety helps to relieve the
monotony of a dead alive town like Durford; and if he don't like it
plain, he can trim it green. I'll teach him to come paintin' my house
without so much as a by-your-leave, or with-your-leave, lettin' the
whole place think things."

As it happened, Jonathan returned late that night to Durford--quite
too late to see the transformation of his own front porch, and since
he entered by the side door as usual, he did not even smell the new
paint. The next morning he sauntered over to Thunder Cliff, all agog
for his reward, and Mrs. Burke greeted him at her side door, smiling
sweetly.

"Good mornin', Jonathan. It was awful good of you to paint my front
porch. It _has_ needed paintin' for some time now, but I never seemed
to get around to it."

"Don't mention it, Hepsey," Jonathan replied affably. "Don't mention
it. You're always doin' somethin' for me, and it's a pity if I can't
do a little thing like that for you once in a while."

Hepsey had strolled round to the front, as if to admire his work,
Jonathan following. Suddenly he came to a halt; his jaw dropped, and
he stared as if he had gone out of his senses.

"Such a lovely color; gray just suits the house, you know," Mrs. Burke
observed. "You certainly ought to have been an artist, Jonathan. Any
man with such an eye for color ought not to be wastin' his time on a
farm."

Jonathan still gazed at the porch in amazement, blinked hard, wiped
his eyes and his glasses with his handkerchief, and looked again.

"What's the matter with you? Have you a headache?" Hepsey inquired
solicitously.

"No, I haven't got no headache; but when I left that porch yesterday
noon it was blue, and now I'm blamed if it don't seem gray. Does it
look gray-like to you, Hepsey?"

"Why certainly! What's that you say? Do you say you painted it blue?
That certainly's mighty queer. But then you know some kinds of paint
fade--some kinds do!" She nodded, looking suspiciously at the work.

"Fade!" Jonathan sneered. "Paints don't fade by moonlight in one
night. That isn't no faded blue. It's just plain gray. I must be goin'
color blind, or something."

"It looks gray to me, and I'm glad it is gray, so don't you worry
about it, Jonathan. Blue would be somethin' awful on the front of a
white house, you know."

"Well," continued the bewildered Junior Warden, "I'm blessed if this
isn't the queerest thing I ever see in all my born days. If I catch
the fellow that sold me that paint, I'll make it lively for him or my
name isn't Jackson."

"Oh, I wouldn't do anything like that! What difference does it make,
so long as I like the color myself; it's my house. I should have been
very much put out if you'd painted it blue; yes, I should."

"But I don't like to be cheated down at the store; and I won't, by
gum! They said it was best quality paint! I'll go down to Crosscut's
and see about this business, right now. I've traded with him nigh on
twenty years, and he don't bamboozle me that way."

Hepsey turned away choking with laughter, and retreated to her
kitchen.

Jonathan started back towards his house to get his hat and coat, and
then for the first time he caught sight of his own porch, done in
flaming scarlet, which fairly seemed to radiate heat in the brilliant
sunlight. He stood motionless for nearly a minute, paralyzed. Then the
color began to rise in his neck and face as he muttered under his
breath:

"Hm! I'm on to the whole business now. I ought to have known that
Hepsey would get the best of me. I guess I won't go down to Crosscut's
after all."

Then he walked up to the porch and touched the scarlet paint with his
finger and remarked:

"Set harder than a rock, by gum! She must have used a whole lot of
dryer. I'll get even with her for this. See if I don't."

In the afternoon Jonathan brought over some fine apples and presented
them to Hepsey, who was knitting on her side porch. She thanked him
for the gift, and the conversation drifted from one thing to another
while she waited for the expected outburst of reproach which she knew
would come sooner or later. But curiously enough, Jonathan was more
cheery and cordial than usual, and made no allusion whatever to the
scarlet porch, which was conspicuously visible from where they sat.
Again and again Hepsey led the conversation around to the point where
it seemed as if he must break covert, but he remained oblivious, and
changed the subject readily. Not a word on the subject passed his lips
that afternoon.

Then, from day to day the neighbors called and inquired of her if
Jackson had gone off his head, or what was the matter. His flaming
porch outraged Durford's sense of decency. She was at her wits end to
answer, without actually lying or compromising herself; so the only
thing she said was that she had noticed that he had been acting a bit
peculiar lately, now they mentioned it. As time went on, the scarlet
porch became the talk of the town. It was duly discussed at the sewing
society, and the reading club, and the general sentiment was
practically unanimous that Jackson must be suffering from incipient
cataract or senile dementia, and needed a guardian. Even Mary McGuire
remarked to Mrs. Burke that she was afraid "that there front porch
would sure set the house on fire, if it wasn't put out before."
Everybody agreed that if his wife had lived, the thing never could
have happened.

Meantime, Jonathan went about his daily business, serene and happy,
apparently oblivious of the fact that there was anything unusual in
the decoration of his house. When his friends began to chaff him about
the porch he seemed surprised, and guessed it was his privilege to
paint his house any color he had a mind to, and there was no law
ag'in' it; it was nobody's business but his own. Tastes in color
differed, and there was no reason in the world why all houses should
be painted alike. He liked variety himself, and nobody could say that
scarlet wasn't a real cheerful color on a white house.

Occasionally people who were driving by stopped to contemplate the
porch; and the Durford Daily _Bugle_ devoted a long facetious
paragraph to the matter. All of which Mrs. Burke knew very well, and
it was having its effect on her nerves. The porch was the most
conspicuous object in view from Hepsey's sitting-room windows, and
every time she entered the room she found herself looking at the
flaming terror with increasing exasperation. Verily, if Jonathan
wanted revenge he was getting far more than he knew: the biter was
badly bit. The matter came to a crisis one day, when Jonathan
concluded a discussion with Mrs. Burke about the pasture fence. She
burst out abruptly:

"Say, Jonathan Jackson, why in the name of conscience don't you paint
your porch a Christian color? It's simply awful, and I'm not goin' to
sit in my house and have to look at it all winter."

Jonathan did not seem greatly stirred, and replied in an absent-minded
way:

"Why don't you move your sittin' room over to the other side of the
house, Hepsey? Then you wouldn't have to see it. Don't you like
scarlet?"

"No, I don't like it, and if you don't paint it out, I will."

"Don't do nothin' rash, Hepsey. You know sometimes colors fade in the
moonlight--some colors, that is. Maybe that scarlet porch'll turn to a
light gray if you let it alone."

Mrs. Burke could stand it no longer; so, laying down her work she
exploded her pent-up wrath:

"Jonathan Jackson, if that paint isn't gone before to-morrow, I'll
come over and paint it myself."

"Oh, that isn't necessary, Hepsey. And it might set people talkin'.
But if you won't move your sittin'-room to the other side of your own
house, why don't you move it over to my house? You wouldn't see so
much of the red paint then."

Hepsey snorted and spluttered in baffled rage.

"Now, now, Hepsey," soothed Jonathan, "if that don't suit you, I'll
tell you what I'll do: I'll paint it over myself on one condition!"

"And what's that, I'd like to know?"

"That you'll marry me," snapped Jonathan hungrily.

Instead of resenting such bold tactics on the part of her suitor, Mrs.
Burke gazed at him a long time with a rather discouraged look on her
face.

"Land sakes!" she exclaimed at last with assumed weariness and a
whimsical smile, "I didn't know I'd ever come to this; but I guess
I'll have to marry you to keep you from makin' another kind of fool of
yourself; widowers are such helpless mortals, and you certainly do
need a guardian." She shook her head at him despondently.

Jonathan advanced towards her deliberately, and clinched the matter:

"Well, Hepsey, seein' that we're engaged----"

"Engaged? What do you mean? Get away, you----" She rose from her chair
in a hurry.

"Now Hepsey, a bargain's a bargain: you just said you'd have to marry
me, and I guess the sooner you do it and have it over with, the
better. So, seein' that we are engaged to be married, as I was about
to remark when you interrupted me...." Relentlessly he approached her
once more. She retreated a step or two.

"Well! Sakes alive, Jonathan! Whatever's come over you to make you so
masterful. Well, yes then--I suppose a bargain's a bargain, all right.
But before your side of it's paid up you've got to go right over and
paint that porch of yours a respectable color."

So, for once, Hepsey's strategy had been manipulated to her own
defeat: Jonathan went off to town with flying colors, and bought
himself a can of pure white paint.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XX

MUSCULAR CHRISTIANITY


It was eleven o'clock at night. Mrs. Betty had retired, while her
husband was still struggling to finish a sermon on the importance of
foreign missions. Ordinarily, the work would have been congenial and
easy for him, because he was an enthusiast in the matter of missionary
work: but now for some reason his thoughts were confused; his
enthusiasm was lacking, and his pen dragged. He tried hard to pull
himself together, but over and over again the question kept repeating
itself in his tired brain: Why should the Church support foreign
missions, while she lets her hard working clergy at home suffer and
half starve in their old age, and even fails to give them decent
support while they are working in their prime? Why should a doctor
reach his highest professional value at seventy, and a parson be past
the "dead-line" at forty-five? Here he was, subject to the caprice and
ill-will of a sour and miserly Senior Warden, and a cowed and at least
partially "bossed" vestry--and he, the rector, with no practical power
of appeal for the enforcement of his legal contract. It was only
thanks to Jonathan Jackson, the Junior Warden, that any revenue at all
reached him; for Bascom had used every grain of influence he possessed
to reduce or stop Maxwell's salary. Mrs. Betty, plucky and cheery
though she was, already showed the results of the weary struggle: it
was not the work that took the color from her cheeks and the freshness
from her face, but the worry incidental to causes which, in any other
calling in life but his, would be removable.

Already he had parted with a considerable number of his books to eke
out, and meet the many calls upon him--urgent and insistent calls. It
became abundantly clear, as his mind strayed from the manuscript
before him and turned to their immediate situation, that he was
already forced to choose between two alternatives: either he must give
up, and own himself and all the better influences in the place beaten
by Bascom and his satellites; or he must find some means of augmenting
his means of living, without allowing his time and energy to be
monopolized to the neglect of essential parish and church duties.

As he thought on these things, somehow his enthusiasm for foreign
missions ebbed away, and left him desperately tired and worried. He
made several abortive attempts to put some fire into his missionary
plea, but it was useless; and he was about to give up when he heard
Mrs. Betty's gentle voice inquiring from the next room:

"May I come in? Haven't you finished that wretched old missionary
sermon yet?"

"No, dear; but why aren't you asleep?"

"I have been anxious about you. You are worn out and you need your
rest. Now just let the heathen rage, and go to bed."

Maxwell made no reply, but picked at his manuscript aimlessly with his
pen. Betty looked into his face, and then the whole stress of the
situation pierced her; and sitting down by his side she dropped her
head on his shoulder and with one arm around his neck stroked his
cheek with her fingers. For a few moments neither of them spoke; and
then Maxwell said quietly:

"Betty, love, I am going to work."

"But Donny, you are one of the hardest working men in this town. What
do you mean?"

"Oh, I mean that I am going to find secular work, the work of a day
laborer, if necessary. Matters have come to a crisis, and I simply
cannot stand this sort of thing any longer. If I were alone I might
get along; but I have you, sweetheart, and----"

Maxwell stopped suddenly, and the brave little woman at his side
said:

"Yes, I know all about it, Donald, and I think you are fully justified
in doing anything you think best."

"And you wouldn't feel ashamed of me if I handled a shovel or dug in
the street?"

"I'd be the proudest woman in the town, Donny; you are just your fine
dear self, whatever you do; and if you have the courage to put your
pride in your pocket and work in overalls, that would make you all the
finer to me. Manual work would relieve the tension of your nerves. You
seem to be in fairly good physical condition. Don't you worry one bit
about me. I am going to wash some lace curtains for Mrs. Roscoe-Jones,
and that will keep me out of mischief. Now, if you will allow me, I am
going to tear up that sermon on foreign missions, and start a little
home mission of my own by sending you to bed."

The second morning after this ruthless destruction of Maxwell's
eloquent plea for the mission at Bankolulu, Danny Dolan drove up to
the tent-rectory at half-past six, and Maxwell emerged and jumped up
by Danny's side, dressed in a rather soiled suit of overalls: Danny
was a teamster, a good looking youth, and a devoted friend of
Maxwell's since the parson had taken care of him and his family
through an attack of malignant diphtheria. But while Danny was a most
loyal friend, he was not of the emotional type, and so, when Maxwell
had seated himself comfortably and had lighted his briar pipe, Danny
started down the road at a vigorous pace, grinning broadly at
Maxwell's attire as he remarked:

"So you're really goin' to work like the rest of us, I reckon."

"Right you are, Danny--four days a week, anyhow. Don't I look like the
real thing?"

"Sure you do; only you better not shave every day, and you'll have to
get your hands dirty before you can fool anybody, and maybe your
face'll give you away even then. Be you comfortable in them clothes?"

"Sure thing; I'm never so contented as I am in working clothes."

"That's all right. You're the stuff. But how about the proper old
maids in the parish who ogle and dance around you; they won't cotton
to your clothes a little bit. They'll think you're degradin' of
yourself and disgracin' of the parish. Here you be ridin' on a stone
wagon, and you don't look a bit better than me, if I do say it."

"I'm afraid they'll have to survive the shock somehow or other; a man
has to dress according to his work."

"Hm! Now there's that there Mrs. Roscoe-Jones and Miss Bascom; I'll
bet if they saw you in that rig they'd throw a fit."

"Oh no; it isn't as bad as that, Danny."

"They'd think you'd been disgraced for life, to become a laborin' man,
you bet."

"A what?"

"A laborin' man."

"Then you think that a parson doesn't labor?"

"Well, I always thought that bein' a parson was a dead easy job, and a
nice clean job too."

"Danny," Maxwell inquired after a momentary silence, "don't you
suppose that a man labors with his brain as well as with his muscles?
And sometimes a parson labors with his heart, and that is the hardest
kind of work a man ever does. The man who is most of a laboring man
is the man who labors with every power and faculty he possesses."

"Well, now, I guess that may be right, if you look at it that way."

"Yes; you speak of a laboring man, and you mean a man who uses his
muscles and lets his brain and his feelings die of starvation. To try
to help some one you're fond of, who is going to the bad, is the most
nerve-racking and exhausting work which any man can possibly do."

"Hm! you always was a dum queer parson, more like the rest of us,
somehow. And you don't hold that you're disgracin' your profession
ridin' with me, and shovelin' gravel?"

"I don't seem to be worrying much about it, do I?"

"No," he agreed--and added, "and I'm dum sure I would like a day off
now and then from preachin' and callin' on old maids, if I was you.
But there's times I might be willin' for to let you take my work for
yours."

"Now see here, if you'll do my work for a few days, I'll do yours."

"Well, what'd I have to do? I 'aint makin' any contract without
specifications."

"Well, suppose we say you do my work Saturday and Sunday. That means
you finish up two sermons, which must be original and interesting
when you are preaching to the same set of people about a hundred and
fifty times a year. Then you must go and see a woman who is always
complaining, and listen to her woes for three-quarters of an hour.
Then you must go and see what you can do for Tom Bradsaw, who is dying
of tuberculosis. Then you must conduct a choir rehearsal--not always
the highest gratification of a musical ear. Sunday, you must conduct
four services and try to rouse a handful of people, who stare at you
from the back pews, to some higher ideals of life and common decency,
Then----"

"Oh, heavens, man! Sure, an' that's enough; I stick to the stone wagon
every time."

"You'd be a fool if you didn't," replied Maxwell straightly. "Then
again you get your pay promptly every Saturday night. I never know
when I am going to get mine."

"You don't? Begad, and I wouldn't work for anybody if I wasn't paid
prompt. I'd sue the Bishop or the Pope, or somebody."

"Parsons don't sue: it's considered improper."

"Well, well," muttered the astonished Danny. "Be you sure you can
shovel stone then?" he asked.

Maxwell unbuttoned his wristband, rolled up his sleeve. "If I can't,
I'll know the reason why," he remarked tersely.

"That's the stuff," laughed Danny, looking at Maxwell's muscle. "I
guess I don't want to meet you out walkin' after dark without a gun.
But say, why don't you swat the Bishop one, and get your pay?"

"The Bishop isn't responsible."

"Well, I'll bet I know who is, dang him; and I'd like to swat him one
for you, the miserable old bag-of-bones."

"Never you mind, Danny; I can take care of myself."

"Sure you can, and I guess you're a laborin' man all right, even if
you don't belong to the Union. Why don't you get up a parson's Union
and go on strike? By Jove! I would. Let your parish go to----"

"Danny, don't you think it looks like rain?"

"No, neither do you; but here we are at the stone pile. My! but how
the fellers will grin when they see a tenderfoot like you, and a
parson at that, shovelin' stone. But they won't think any the less of
you for it, mind you," he reassured his companion.

Maxwell knew most of the men, and greeted them by name, and when he
rolled up his sleeves and began work, they quickly saw that he was "no
slouch," and that he did not "soldier," or shirk, as many of them
did--though sometimes they were inclined to rest on their shovels and
chaff him good-naturedly, and ask him if he had his Union card with
him.

Shoveling stone is no picnic, as Danny and his fellows would have put
it. It is not only the hard, obstructed thrust, thrust of the shovel
into the heap of broken stone, and the constant lift and swing of each
shovelful into the wagon; it is the slow monotony of repetition of
unvarying motion that becomes most irksome to the tyro, and wears down
the nervous system of the old hand till his whole being is leveled to
the insensibility of a soulless machine.

But, though new to the process itself, Maxwell was not ignorant of its
effects; and soon he found himself distracting his attention from the
strain of the muscular tension by fitting the action to the rhythm of
some old sailor's chanteys he had learned at college. The effect
amused the men; and then as some of them caught the beat, and others
joined in, soon the whole gang was ringing the changes on the simple
airs, and found it a rousing and cheerful diversion from the monotony
of labor.

If a pause came, soon one of them would call out: "Come on, Parson;
strike up the hymn."

One by one the wagons were loaded, and driven to the road. After they
had filled the last wagon, Danny put on his coat, and he and Maxwell
mounted and drove out of the yard.

"Where are we going with this?" Maxwell inquired.

"Down on the state road, first turn to the left."

"Why, that must be near Willow Bluff, Mr. Bascom's place, isn't it?"

"Right opposite. Bascom, he come out yesterday, and said he wouldn't
stand for that steam roller snortin' back and forth in front of his
house. But Jim Ferris told him he had his orders from Williamson, and
he wasn't goin' to be held up by nobody until Williamson told him to
stop. Jim isn't any kind of fool."

When they arrived in front of Willow Bluff, they stopped, dismounted,
and dumped the crushed stone, and then returned to the stone yard. At
noon they camped out on the curb in front of Willow Bluff. After
Maxwell had done full justice to the contents of his dinner pail, he
stretched himself full length on the grass for a few moments, chatting
with his mates in friendly fashion. Then he went over to the roller
and assisted the engineer in "oiling up." Being a novice at the
business, he managed to get his hands black with oil, and smeared a
streak across one cheek, which, while it helped to obscure his
identity, did not add to his facial beauty. He was blissfully
unconscious of this. About three o'clock Bascom returned from his
office, just as Maxwell was dismounting from the wagon after bringing
a load. At first Bascom did not recognize the rector, but a second
glance brought the awful truth home to his subliminal self, and he
stopped and stared at Maxwell, stricken dumb. Maxwell politely touched
his hat, and smilingly remarked that it was a fine day. Bascom made no
reply at first.

[Illustration: "I CONSIDER IT A SHAME AND A DISGRACE TO THE PARISH TO
HAVE OUR RECTOR IN FILTHY CLOTHES, DRAWING STONE WITH A
LOT OF RUFFIANS"]

"Can it be possible that this is you, Mr. Maxwell?" he almost
whispered, at last.

"It is, to the best of my knowledge and belief."

"What in the name of heaven are you working with these men for, if I
may ask?"

"To earn sufficient money to pay my grocer's bill."

Bascom colored hotly, and sputtered:

"I consider it a shame and a disgrace to the parish to have our rector
in filthy clothes, drawing stone with a lot of ruffians."

Maxwell colored as hotly, and replied:

"They are not ruffians, sir; they are honest men, supporting their
families in a perfectly legitimate way, giving their labor
and"--significantly--"receiving their pay for it."

"And you, sir, are engaged to work for the parish, as a minister of
God."

"Unfortunately, I am not being paid by the parish; that is why I am
working here. Neither my wife nor myself is going to starve."

"You haven't any pride, sir!" Bascom fumed, his temper out of control.
"We have had many incompetent rectors, but this really surpasses
anything. We have never had anyone like you."

Maxwell paused again in his work, and, leaning on his shovel, looked
Bascom in the eye:

"By which you mean that you have never had anyone who was independent
enough to grip the situation in both hands and do exactly what he
thought best, independent of your dictation."

"I will not converse with you any more. You are insulting."

"As the corporation is paying me for my time, I prefer work to
conversation."

Bascom strode along the road towards his home. Danny Dolan, who had
been a shameless auditor of this conversation, from the other side of
the wagon, was beside himself with delight:

"Holy Moses! but didn't you give it to the old man. And here be all
your adorers from town after comin' to tea at the house, and you
lookin' like the stoker of an engine with black grease half an inch
thick on your cheek."

Maxwell pulled out his handkerchief, and made an abortive effort to
get his face clean.

"How is it now, Danny?"

"Oh, it 'aint nearly as thick in any one place; it's mostly all over
your face now." Then Danny laughed irreverently again. "Sure, an' you
certainly do look like the real thing now."

Maxwell was raking gravel when the guests for the afternoon tea were
passing; and though he did not look up, he fully realized that they
had recognized him, from the buzz of talk and the turning of heads.

Danny returned from his safer distance when he saw the coast was
clear. Maxwell had a shrewd suspicion that the boy had taken himself
off believing it might embarrass Maxwell less if any of the ladies
should speak to him.

"Did none of 'em know you, then?" he asked.

"Not one of them spoke; I guess my disguise is pretty complete."

"Thank hiven!" Danny exclaimed. "Then the crisis is passed for to-day
at least, and your reputation is saved; but if you don't get out of
this they'll be comin' out again, and then nobody knows what'll
happen. Better smear some more oil over the other cheek to cover the
last bit of dacency left in you."

At the end of the day's work, Maxwell threw his shovel into Dolan's
wagon and jumped up on the seat with him and drove back to town.

"Well," said Maxwell's friend, delightedly, "you done a mighty good
day's work for a tenderfoot; but you done more with that old Bascom
than in all the rest of the day put together. My! but I thought I'd
split my sides to see you puttin' him where he belonged, and you
lookin' like a coal heaver. But it's a howlin' shame you didn't speak
to them women, goin' all rigged up for the party. That would've been
the finishin' touch."

He swayed about on his seat, laughing heartily, until they drew up
before the rectory, where Mrs. Betty was waiting to greet Maxwell.

Danny touched his cap shyly--but Betty came down to the wagon and gave
him a cheery greeting.

"Well--you've brought him back alive, Mr. Dolan, anyway."

"Yes ma'am! And I reckon he'll keep you busy puttin' the food to him,
if he eats like he works: he's a glutton for work, is Mr. Maxwell."



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXI

UNINVITED GUESTS


A few nights later, when Maxwell returned from his work he found Mrs.
Burke sitting on the front platform of the tent with Mrs. Betty; and
having washed, and changed his clothes, he persuaded their visitor to
stay to supper. After supper was over they sat out doors, chatting of
Maxwell's amusing experiences.

They had not been sitting long when their attention was attracted by a
noise up the street, and going to the fence they saw a horse, over
which the driver evidently had lost control, galloping towards them,
with a buggy which was swerving from side to side under the momentum
of its terrific speed.

Maxwell rushed into the middle of the street to see if he could be of
any assistance in stopping the horse and preventing a catastrophe; but
before he could get near enough to be of any service the animal
suddenly shied, the buggy gave a final lurch, overturned, and was
thrown violently against a telegraph pole. The horse, freed, dashed
on, dragging the shafts and part of the harness. The occupant of the
buggy had been thrown out against the telegraph pole with considerable
force, knocked senseless, and lay in the gutter, stained with blood
and dirt. Mrs. Burke and Betty lifted the body of the buggy, while
Maxwell pulled out from under it the senseless form of a man; and when
they had turned him over and wiped the blood from his face, they
discovered, to their utter amazement, that the victim was no less a
personage than the Senior Warden, Sylvester Bascom.

Of course there was nothing to be done but to carry him as best they
could into the tent, and lay him on a lounge. Maxwell ran hastily for
a doctor, while Hepsey and Mrs. Betty applied restoratives, washed the
face of the injured man, and bound up as best they could what appeared
to be a serious wound on one wrist, and another on the side of his
head. The doctor responded promptly, and after a thorough examination
announced that Bascom was seriously hurt, and that at present it would
be dangerous to remove him. So Mrs. Betty and her guest removed
Maxwell's personal belongings, and improvised a bed in the front room
of the tent, into which Bascom was lifted with the greatest care.
Having done what he could, the doctor departed, promising to return
soon. In about twenty minutes there were signs of returning
consciousness, and for some time Bascom looked about him in a dazed
way, and groaned with pain. Mrs. Burke decided at once to remain all
night with Mrs. Betty, and assist in caring for the warden until
Virginia could arrive and assume charge of the case. After about an
hour, Bascom seemed to be fully conscious as he gazed from one face to
another, and looked wonderingly at the canvas tent in which he found
himself. Mrs. Burke bent over him and inquired:

"Are you in much pain, Mr. Bascom?"

For a moment or two the Senior Warden made no answer; then in a hoarse
whisper he inquired:

"Where am I? What has happened?"

"Well, you see, something frightened your horse, and your buggy was
overturned, and you were thrown against a telegraph pole and injured
more or less. We picked you up and brought you in here, cleaned you
up, and tried to make you as comfortable as possible. The doctor has
been here and looked you over, and will return in a few minutes."

"Am I seriously injured?"

"You have two bad wounds, and have evidently lost a good deal of
blood; but don't worry. Mrs. Betty and I and the rest of us will take
good care of you and do all we can until Virginia is able to take you
home again."

"Where am I?"

A curious expression of mild triumph and amusement played across Mrs.
Burke's face as she replied:

"You are in Donald Maxwell's tent. This was the nearest place where we
could bring you at the time of the accident."

For a moment a vestige of color appeared in Bascom's face, and he
whispered hoarsely:

"Why didn't you take me home?"

"Well, we were afraid to move you until the doctor had examined you
thoroughly."

The patient closed his eyes wearily.

It was evident that he was growing weaker, and just as the doctor
returned, he again lapsed into unconsciousness. The doctor felt of
Bascom's pulse, and sent Maxwell hastily for Doctor Field for
consultation. For fifteen minutes the doctors were alone in Bascom's
room, and then Doctor Field called Maxwell in and quietly informed him
that the warden had lost so much blood from the wound in the wrist
that there was danger of immediate collapse unless they resorted to
extreme measures, and bled some one to supply the patient. To this
Maxwell instantly replied:

"I am strong and well. There is no reason why you should hesitate for
a moment. Send for your instruments at once; but my wife must know
nothing of it until it is all over with. Tell Mrs. Burke to take her
over to Thunder Cliff for an hour or two, on the pretext of getting
some bedding. Yes, I insist on having my own way, and as you say,
there is no time to be lost."

Doctor Field took Mrs. Burke aside, and the women immediately departed
for Thunder Cliff. The necessary instruments were brought, and then
the three men entered the sick room.

In about twenty minutes Maxwell came out of the invalid's room,
assisted by Doctor Field, and stretched himself on the bed.

Bascom's color began slowly to return; his pulse quickened, and Dr.
Field remarked to his colleague:

"Well, I think the old chap is going to pull through after all; but it
was a mighty close squeak."

Meanwhile, the messenger who had been sent out to Willow Bluff to
apprise Virginia of her father's accident returned with the
information that Virginia had left the day before, to stay with
friends, and could not possibly get home till next day. It was decided
to telegraph for her; and in the meantime the doctors advised that Mr.
Bascom be left quietly in his bed at the new "rectory," and be moved
home next day, after having recovered some of his lost strength. Mrs.
Betty and Mrs. Burke took turns in watching by the invalid that night,
and it might have been observed that his eyes remained closed, even
when he did not sleep, while Mrs. Burke was in attendance, but that he
watched Mrs. Betty with keen curiosity and wonder, from between
half-closed lids, as she sat at the foot of his bed sewing, or moved
about noiselessly preparing the nourishment prescribed for him by the
doctors, and which the old gentleman took from her with unusual
gentleness and patience.

It was Mrs. Burke who, having learned of the time when Virginia was
expected to return home, drove out to Willow Bluff with Mr. Bascom,
and assisted in making him comfortable there before his daughter's
arrival. He volunteered no word on their way thither, but lay back
among his cushions and pillows with closed eyes, pale and
exhausted--though the doctors assured the Maxwells that there was no
cause for anxiety on the score of his removal, when they urged that he
be left in their care until he had regained more strength.

It was a white and scared Virginia who listened to Hepsey's account of
all that had happened--an account which neither over-stated the
Bascoms' debt to the Maxwells nor spared Virginia's guilty
conscience.

When she found that her father had been the guest of the Maxwells and
that they had played the part of good Samaritans to him in the tent in
which the Senior Warden had obliged them to take refuge, she was
thoroughly mortified, and there was a struggle between false pride and
proper gratitude.

"It is very awkward, is it not, Mrs. Burke?" she said. "I ought
certainly to call on Mrs. Maxwell and thank her--but--under the
circumstances----"

"What circumstances?" asked Hepsey.

"Well, you know, it will be very embarrassing for me to go to Mr.
Maxwell's tent after what has happened between him and--my father."

"I'm not sure that I catch on, Virginia. Which happenin' do you mean?
Your father's cold-blooded ejection of the Maxwells from their house,
or Mr. Maxwell's warm-blooded sacrifice to save your father's life?
Perhaps it _is_ a bit embarrassing, as you call it, to thank a man for
givin' his blood to save your father."

"It is a more personal matter than that," replied Virginia, gazing
dramatically out of the window. "You don't quite seem to appreciate
the delicacy of the situation, Mrs. Burke."

"No, I'm blessed if I do. But then you know I'm very stupid about some
things, Virginia. Fact is, I'm just stupid enough to imagine--no, I
mean think--that it would be the most natural thing in the world to go
straight to the Maxwells and thank 'em for all they've done for your
father in takin' him in and givin' him the kind of care that money
can't buy. There's special reasons that I needn't mention why you
should say thank you, and say it right."

Virginia examined the toe of her boot for some time in silence and
then began:

"But you don't understand the situation, Mrs. Burke."

"Virginia, if you don't stop that kind of thing, I shall certainly
send for the police. Are you _lookin'_ for a situation? If you have
got anything to say, say it."

"Well, to be quite frank with you, Mrs. Burke, I must confess that at
one time Mr. Maxwell and I were supposed to be very good friends."

"Naturally. You ought to be good friends with your rector. I don't see
anything tragic about that."

"But we were something more than friends."

"Who told you? You can't believe all you hear in a town like this.
Maybe some one was foolin' you."

"I ought to know what I am talking about. He accepted our hospitality
at Willow Bluff, and was so attentive that people began to make
remarks."

"Well, people have been makin' remarks ever since Eve told Adam to put
his apron on for dinner. Any fool can make remarks, and the biggest
fool is the one who cares. Are you sure that you didn't make any
remarks yourself, Virginia?"

Virginia instantly bridled, and looked the picture of injured
innocence.

"Certainly not!" she retorted. "Do you think that I would talk about
such a delicate matter before others?"

"Oh no; I suppose not. But you could look wise and foolish at the same
time when Maxwell's name was mentioned, with a coy and kittenish air
which would suggest more than ten volumes of Mary Jane Holmes."

"You are not very sympathetic, Mrs. Burke, when I am in deep trouble.
I want your help, not ridicule and abuse."

"Well, I am sorry for you, Virginia, in more ways than one. But really
I'd like to know what reason you have to think that Donald Maxwell was
ever in love with you; I suppose that's what you mean."

Virginia blushed deeply, as became a gentle maiden of her tender
years, and replied:

"Oh, it is not a question of things which one can easily define. Love
is vocal without words, you know."

"Hm! You don't mean that he made love to you and proposed to you
through a phonograph? You know I had some sort of idea that love that
was all wool, and a yard wide, and meant business, usually got vocal
at times."

"But Mr. Maxwell and I were thrown together in such an intimate way in
parish work, you know."

"Which did the throwing?"

"You don't for one moment suppose that I would intrude myself, or
press myself on his attention, do you?"

"Oh my gracious, no! He is not the kind of a man to be easily
impressed. He may have seen a girl or two before he met you; of course
I mean just incidentally, as it were. Now, Virginia Bascom, allow me
to ask you one or two plain questions. Did he ever ask you to marry
him?"

"No, not in so many words."

"Did he ever give you any plain indication that he wanted to marry
you? Did he ever play the mandolin under your window at midnight? Did
he ever steal one of your gloves, or beg for a rose out of your
bouquet, or turn the gas out when he called?"

"No, but one night he sat on the sofa with me and told me that I was a
great assistance to him in his parish work, and that he felt greatly
indebted to me."

"Hm! That's certainly rather pronounced, isn't it? Did you call your
father, or rise hastily and leave the room, or what did you do?"

"Well, of course it was not a proposal, but the way he did it was very
suggestive, and calculated to give a wrong impression, especially as
he had his arm on the back of the sofa behind me."

"Maybe he was makin' love to the sofa. Didn't you know that Donald
Maxwell was engaged to be married before he ever set foot in
Durford?"

"Good gracious, no! What are you talking about?"

"Well, he certainly was, for keeps."

"Then he had no business to pose as a free man, if he were engaged. It
is dreadful to have to lose faith in one's rector. It is next to
losing faith in--in----"

"The milk-man. Yes, I quite agree with you. But you see I don't recall
that Donald Maxwell did any posing. He simply kept quiet about his own
affairs--though I do think that it would have been better to let
people know that he was engaged, from the start. However, he may have
concluded his private affairs were his own business. I know that's
very stupid; but some people will persist in doin' it, in spite of all
you can say to 'em. Perhaps it never occurred to him that he would be
expected to marry anyone living in a little sawed-off settlement like
this."

"There's no use in abusing your native village; and"--her voice
quavered on the verge of tears--"I think you are very unsympathetic."
She buried her nose in her handkerchief.

Mrs. Burke gazed sternly at Virginia for a full minute and then
inquired:

"Well, do you want to know why? You started with just foolishness, but
you've ended up with meanness, Virginia Bascom. You've taken your
revenge on people who've done you nothin' but kindness. I know pretty
well who it was that suggested to your father that the mortgage on the
rectory should be foreclosed, and the Maxwells turned out of house and
home. He's always been close-fisted, but I've never known him to be
dead ugly and vindictive before.

"Yes. You were behind all this wretched business--and you're sorry for
it, and wish you could undo the unkindness you've done. Now I am goin'
to talk business--better than talkin' sympathy, because it'll make you
feel better when you've done what I tell you. You go and call on Mrs.
Betty immediately, and tell her that you are very grateful to her
husband for saving your father's life, and that money couldn't
possibly pay for the things she and Mr. Maxwell did for him, and that
you're everlastingly indebted to 'em both."

"But--but," wailed the repentant Virginia, "what can I say about the
tent? Pa won't go back on that--not if his life had been saved twice
over."

"Never you mind about that. You do your part of the business, and
leave the rest to the other feller. You can bet your bottom dollar it
won't be the Maxwells that'll raise the question of who turned 'em out
of the rectory."

"I'll go right away, before I weaken. Oh," she cried, as Hepsey put a
strengthening arm about her, "I've been wrong--I know I have. However
shall I make it right again?"

When Virginia arrived at the tent and pulled the bell-cord, Mrs. Betty
pushed apart the curtains and greeted her visitor with the utmost
cordiality.

"Oh, Miss Bascom! I am _so_ glad to see you. Come right in. Donald is
out just now; but he will return presently, and I'm sure will be
delighted to see an old friend. This way, please. Is your father
improving satisfactorily?"

This greeting was so utterly different from what she had expected,
that for the moment she was silent; but when they were seated she
began:

"Mrs. Maxwell, I don't know how to express my gratitude to you for all
you have done for my father. I--I----"

"Then I wouldn't try, Miss Bascom. Don't give the matter a single
thought. We were glad to do what we could for your father, and we made
him as comfortable as we could."

Virginia's heart was quite atrophied, and so with choking voice she
began:

"And I'm afraid that I have not been very civil to you--in fact, I am
sure that I owe you an apology----"

"No, never mind. It's all right now. Suppose you take off your things
and stay to supper with us. Then we can have a real good visit, and
you will see how well we dwellers in tents can live!"

Virginia winced; but for some reason which she could not understand
she found it quite impossible to decline the invitation.

"I'm sure you are very kind, Mrs. Maxwell; but I'm afraid I shall
inconvenience you."

"Oh no, not a bit. Now will you be a real good Samaritan and help me a
little, as I have no maid? You might set the table if you don't mind,
and when Donald comes we shall be ready for him. This is really quite
jolly," she added, bustling about, showing Virginia where to find
things.

"I am afraid," Virginia began with something like a sob in her voice,
"that you are heaping coals of fire on my head."

"Oh no; not when coal is over seven dollars a ton. We couldn't afford
such extravagant hospitality as that. You might arrange those
carnations in the vase if you will, while I attend to the cooking. You
will find the china, and the silver, in that chest. I won't apologize
for the primitive character of our entertainment because you see when
we came down here we stored most of our things in Mrs. Burke's barn.
It is awfully nice to have somebody with me; I am so much alone; you
came just in time to save me from the blues."

When Mrs. Betty disappeared in the "kitchen," and Virginia began the
task assigned her, a very queer and not altogether pleasant sensation
filled her heart. Was it remorse, or penitence, or self-reproach, or
indigestion? She could not be absolutely sure about it, but concluded
that perhaps it was a combination of all four. When Donald returned,
and discovered Virginia trying to decide whether they would need two
spoons or three at each plate, for an instant he was too astonished to
speak; but quickly regaining his easy manner, he welcomed her no less
cordially than Mrs. Betty had done, remarking:

"Well, this is a treat; and so you are going to have supper with us?
That will be a great pleasure."

Virginia almost collapsed in momentary embarrassment, and could think
of nothing better than to ask:

"I am not sure what Mrs. Maxwell is going to have for supper, and I
really don't know whether to place two spoons or three. What would you
advise, Mr. Maxwell?"

Maxwell scowled seriously, rubbed his chin and replied:

"Well, you know, I really can't say; but perhaps it would be on the
safe side to have three spoons in case any emergency might arise,
like a custard, or jelly and whipped cream, or something else which
Betty likes to make as a surprise. Yes, on the whole, I think that
three would be better than two."

When Virginia had placed the spoons, and Maxwell had returned to
assist her, she hesitated a moment and looked at him with tears in her
eyes and began:

"Mr. Maxwell, there is something I must say to you, an acknowledgment
and an apology I must make. I have been so horribly----"

"Now see here, Miss Virginia," the rector replied, "you just forget
it. We are awfully glad to have you here, and we are going to have a
right jolly supper together. Betty's muffins are simply fine, and her
creamed chicken is a dream. Besides, I want to consult you concerning
the new wardrobe I am going to have built in the vestry. You see there
is the question of the drawers, and the shelves, and----"

"Never mind the drawers and the shelves," Mrs. Betty remarked as she
entered with the creamed chicken and the muffins. "You just sit down
before these things get cold, and you can talk business afterwards."

To her utter astonishment Virginia soon found herself eating heartily,
utterly at her ease in the cordial, friendly atmosphere of tent-life,
and when Maxwell took her home later in the evening, she hadn't
apologized or wallowed in an agony of self-reproach. She had only
demanded the recipe for the muffins, and had declared that she was
coming again very soon if Mrs. Betty would only let her.

And last but not least--the rector's polite attention in acting as her
escort home failed to work upon her dramatic temperament with any more
startling effect than to produce a feeling that he was a very good
friend.

In fact, she wondered, as she conned over the events of the evening,
whether she had realized before, all that the word _Friendship_
signified.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXII

HEPSEY'S DIPLOMACY


"I don't rightly know what's got into Virginia Bascom," remarked
Jonathan, as he sat on Hepsey's side porch one evening, making polite
conversation as his new habit was. "She's buzzin' round Mrs. Betty
like a bee round a flower--thicker'n thieves they be, by gum."

"Yes," cogitated Hepsey, half to herself, and half in response, "the
lamb's lyin' down all right, and it's about time we'd got the lion
curled up by her and purrin' like a cat. But I don't see the signs of
it, and I'll have to take my knittin' to-morrow and sit right down in
his den and visit with him a little. If he won't purr, I've got
what'll make him roar, good and proper, or I've missed my guess."

"Now Hepsey, you go easy with my church-partner, the Senior Warden.
When his wife lived, he was a decent sort of a feller, was Sylvester
Bascom; and I reckon she got him comin' her way more with molasses
than with vinegar."

And though Hepsey snorted contempt for the advice of a mere male, she
found the thought top-side of her mind as she started out next morning
to pay Bascom a momentous call. After all, Jonathan had but echoed her
own consistent philosophy of life. But with her usual shrewdness she
decided to go armed with both kinds of ammunition.

Mrs. Burke puffed somewhat loudly as she paused on the landing which
led to the door of Bascom's office. After wiping her forehead with her
handkerchief she gave three loud knocks on the painted glass of the
door, which shook some of the loose putty onto the floor. After
knocking the third time some one called out "Come in," and she opened
the door, entered, and gazed calmly across the room. Bascom was seated
at his desk talking to a farmer, and when he turned around and
discovered who his visitor was, he ejaculated irreverently:

"Good Lord deliver us!"

"Oh, do excuse me!" Mrs. Burke replied. "I didn't know that you were
sayin' the Litany. I'll just slip into the next room and wait till you
get through."

Whereupon she stepped into the next room, closed the door, and made
herself comfortable in a large arm-chair. There was a long table in
the middle of the room, and the walls were covered with shelves and
yellow books of a most monotonous binding. The air was musty and
close. She quietly opened one of the windows, and having resumed her
seat, she pulled a wash-rag from her leather bag and began knitting
calmly.

She waited for some time, occasionally glancing at the long table,
which was covered with what appeared to be a hopeless confusion of
letters, legal documents, and books opened and turned face downward.
Occasionally she sniffed in disgust at the general untidiness of the
place. Evidently the appearance of the table in front of her was
getting on her nerves; and so she put her knitting away as she
muttered to herself:

"I wonder Virginia don't come up here once in a while and put things
to rights. It's simply awful!" Then she began sorting the papers and
gathering them into little uniform piles by themselves. She seemed to
have no notion whatever of their possible relation to each other, but
arranged them according to their size and color in nice little
separate piles. When there was nothing else left for her to do she
resumed her knitting and waited patiently for the departure of the
farmer. The two men seemed to be having a rather warm dispute over the
interpretation of some legal contract; and if Bascom was hot-tempered
and emphatic in his language, bordering on the profane, the client was
stubborn and dull-witted and hard to convince. Occasionally she
overheard bits of the controversy which were not intended for her
ears. Bascom insisted:

"But you're not such a dum fool as to think that a contract legally
made between two parties is not binding, are you? You admit that I
have fulfilled my part, and now you must pay for the services rendered
or else I shall bring suit against you."

The reply to this was not audible, but the farmer did not seem to be
quite convinced.

After what seemed to her an interminable interval the door banged, and
she knew that Bascom was alone. She did not wait for any invitation,
but rising quietly she went into the inner office and took the chair
vacated by the farmer. Bascom made a pretense of writing, in silence,
with his back towards her, during which interval Hepsey waited
patiently. Then, looking up with the expression of a deaf-mute, he
asked colorlessly:

"Well, Mrs. Burke, what may I do for you?"

"You can do nothing for me--but you can and must do something for the
Maxwells," she replied firmly but quietly.

"Don't you think it would be better to let Maxwell take care of his
own affairs?"

"Yes, most certainly, if he were in a position to do so. But you know
that the clergy are a long-sufferin' lot, more's the pity; they'll
endure almost anythin' rather than complain. That's why you and others
take advantage of them."

"Ah, but an earnest minister of the Gospel does not look for the
loaves and fishes of his calling."

"I shouldn't think he would. I hate fish, myself; but Maxwell has a
perfect right to look for the honest fulfillment of a contract made
between you and him. Didn't I hear you tell that farmer that he was a
dum fool if he thought that a contract made between two parties is not
legally binding, and that if you fulfilled your part he must pay for
your services or you would sue him? Do you suppose that a contract
with a carpenter or a plumber or a mason is binding, while a contract
with a clergyman is not? What is the matter with you, anyway?"

Bascom made no reply, but turned his back towards Hepsey and started
to write. She resumed:

"Donald Maxwell's salary is goin' to be paid him in full within the
next two weeks or----"

Mrs. Burke came to a sudden silence, and after a moment or two Bascom
turned around and inquired sarcastically:

"Or what?"

Hepsey continued to knit in silence for a while, her face working in
her effort to gain control of herself and speak calmly.

"Now see here, Sylvester Bascom: I didn't come here to have a scene
with you, and if I knit like I was fussed, you must excuse me."

Her needles had been flashing lightning, and truth to tell, Bascom,
for all he dreaded Hepsey's sharp tongue as nothing else in Durford,
had been unable to keep his eyes off those angry bits of sparkling
steel. Suddenly they stopped--dead. The knitting fell into Hepsey's
lap, and she sat forward--a pair of kindly, moist eyes searching the
depths of Bascom's, as he looked up at her. Her voice dropped to a
lower tone as she continued:

"There's been just one person, and one person only, that's ever been
able to keep the best of you on top--and she was my best friend, your
wife. She kept you human, and turned even the worst side of you to
some account. If you did scrape and grub, 'most night and day, to make
your pile, and was hard on those that crossed your path while doin' of
it, it was she that showed you there was pleasure in usin' it for
others as well as for yourself, and while she lived you did it. But
since she's been gone,"--the old man tried to keep his face firm and
his glance steady, but in vain--he winced,--"since she's been gone,
the human in you's dried up like a sun-baked apple. And it's you,
Sylvester Bascom, that's been made the most miserable, 'spite of all
the little carks you've put on many another."

His face hardened again, and Hepsey paused.

"What has all this to do with Mr. Maxwell, may I ask?"

"I'm comin' to that," continued Hepsey, patiently. "If Mary Bascom
were alive to-day, would the rector of Durford be livin' in a tent
instead of in the rectory--the house she thought she had given over,
without mortgage or anything else, to the church? And would you be
holdin' back your subscription to the church, and seein' that others
held back too? I never thought you'd have done, when she was dead,
what'd have broken her heart if she'd been livin'. The church was her
one great interest in life, after her husband and her daughter; and it
was _her_ good work that brought the parish to make you Senior Warden.
After you'd made money and moved to your new house, just before she
died, she gave the old house, that was hers from her father, to the
church, and you were to make the legal transfer of it. Then she died
suddenly, and you delayed and delayed--claiming the house as yours,
and at last sold it to us subject to the mortgage."

The old man stirred uneasily in his chair.

"This is all quite beside the mark. What might have been proper to do
in my wife's life-time became a different matter altogether after her
death. I had my daughter's welfare to think of; besides----"

"I'm not talkin' about your legal right. But you know that if you'd
wanted to have it, you could have got your interest on the mortgage
quick enough. If you hadn't held back on his salary, others wouldn't
have; or if they had, you could have got after 'em. What's the use of
tryin' to mix each other up? You couldn't keep Maxwell in your pocket,
and because he didn't come to you every day for orders you reckoned to
turn him out of the parish. You've not one thing against him, and you
know it, Sylvester Bascom. He's shown you every kind of respect as
his Senior Warden, and more patience than you deserved. He let himself
be--no, _had_ himself--bled, to save your life. But instead of making
him the best young friend you could have had, and makin' yourself of
real use to your town and your neighbors through him and his work,
you've let the devil get into you; and when your accident come, you'd
got to where you were runnin' that fast down a steep place into the
sea that I could 'most hear the splash."

She cocked her head on one side, and smiled at him whimsically, hoping
for some response to her humorous picture. A faint ghost of a
smile--was it, or was it not?--flickered on the old man's lips; but he
gave no sign of grace.

Hepsey sighed, and paused for an instant. "Well--we can't sit here
talkin' till midnight, or I shall be compromisin' your reputation, I
suppose. There'll be a meeting of the parishioners called at the end
of this week, and the rector won't be present at it; so, Warden, I
suppose you'll preside. I hope you will. I've got to do my part--and
that is to see that the parish understands just how their rector's
placed, right now, both about his house and his salary. He's workin'
as a laborer to get enough for him and that little wife of his to live
on, and the town knows it--but they don't all know that it's because
the salary that's properly his is bein' held back on him, and by
those that pay their chauffeurs more than the rector gets, by a good
piece. I shall call on every one at that meetin' to pay up; and I
shall begin with the poorest, and end up"--she fixed Bascom's eye,
significantly--"with the richest. And if it seems to be my duty to do
it, I may have somethin' more to say when the subscription's
closed--but I don't believe--no," she added, opening her bag and
rummaging about among its contents till she hit upon a letter and
brought it forth, "no, I don't believe I'll have to say a thing. I've
got a hunch, Sylvester Bascom, that it'll be you that'll have the last
word, after all."

[Illustration: "I'VE GOT A HUNCH, SYLVESTER BASCOM, THAT IT'LL BE YOU
THAT'LL HAVE THE LAST WORD, AFTER ALL"]

The old man's glance was riveted upon the familiar handwriting of the
faded letter, and without a word Hepsey started to read it, date and
all, in a clear voice:

                  *       *       *       *       *

                                            WILLOW BLUFF, DURFORD.
                                                 September ----, 19--.

HEPSEY DEAR:

I suppose you will never forgive me for making the move from the old
house to Willow Bluff, as it's to be called, while you were not home
to help me. But they got finished sooner than we thought for, and
Sylvester was as eager as a child with a new toy to get moved in. So
here we are, and the first letter I write from our new home is to you,
who helped more than anyone to make the old home happy for me and
mine--bless them and bless you!

Everything is out of the old house--"The Rectory" as I shall call it,
now--except such pieces of furniture as we did not want to take away,
and we thought might be welcome to the parson (or parsons, I suppose)
who may occupy it. Sister Susan thought it slighting to Pa's
generosity to give the house to the church; but I don't look at it
like that. Anyway, it's done now--and I'm very happy to think that the
flock can offer a proper home to its shepherd, as long as the old
place stands.

If you get back Thursday I shall just be ready for you to help me with
the shades and curtains, if you care to.

                                              Your friend,
                                               MARION ANDERSON BASCOM.

P. S. Ginty sends her love to Aunt Hepsey, and says, "to come to
Boston quick!" She's a little confused, someway, and can't get it out
of her head that we're not back home in Boston, since we left the old
place. I hope you are having a nice visit with Sally.

                  *       *       *       *       *

As Hepsey read, Sylvester Bascom turned, slowly, away from her, his
head on his hand, gazing out of the window. When she had finished
reading, the letter was folded up and replaced in the bag along with
her knitting. Then, laying her hand with a gentle, firm pressure on
the old man's shoulder, Mrs. Burke departed.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXIII

HEPSEY CALLS A MEETING


For the next few days Hepsey's mind worked in unfamiliar channels, for
her nature was that of a benevolent autocrat, and she had found
herself led by circumstances into a situation demanding the prowess
and elasticity of the diplomat. To begin with, she must risk a gamble
at the meeting: if the spiritual yeast did not rise in old Bascom, as
she hoped it would, and crown her strategy with success, she would
have to fall back on belligerent tactics, and see if it were not
possible to get his duty out of him by threatened force of public
opinion: and she knew that, with his obstinacy, it would be touch and
go on which side of the fence he would fall in a situation of that
kind--dependent, in fact, upon the half turn of a screw, more or less,
for the result. Furthermore, she concluded that beyond the vaguest
hint of her call on Bascom and the object of the meeting, she could
not show her hand to Maxwell; for he would feel it his duty to step in
and prevent the possibility of any such open breach as failure on
Hepsey's part would probably make in the parish solidarity. For once
she must keep her own counsel--except for Jonathan, whose present
infatuated condition made him an even safer and more satisfactory
source of "advice" than he normally was. But the evening before the
meeting, as he sat on Hepsey's porch, he began to experience qualms,
perhaps in his capacity as Junior Warden. But Hepsey turned upon him
relentlessly:

"Now see here! You know I don't start somethin' unless I can see it
through; and if it means a scrap, so much the better. Next to a good
revival, a good hard scrap in a stupid parish has a real spiritual
value. It stimulates the circulation, increases the appetite, gives
people somethin' to think about, and does a lot of good where peaceful
ways would fail. The trouble with us is that we've always been a
sight too peaceful. If I've got to do it, I'm goin' to make a row, a
real jolly row that'll make some people wish they'd never been born.
No-no-no! Don't you try to interfere. We've come to a crisis, and I'm
goin' to meet it. Don't you worry until I begin to holler for first
aid to the injured. A woman can't vote for a vestryman, though women
form the bulk of the congregation, and do most all of the parish work;
and the whole church'd go to smithereens if it weren't for the women.
But there's one thing a woman can always do: _She can talk_. They say
that talk is cheap; but sometimes it's a mighty expensive article, if
it's the right kind; and maybe the men will have to settle the bills.
I'm going to _talk_; perhaps you think that's nothing new. But you
don't know how I can talk when once I get my dander up. Somebody's
goin' to sit up and pay attention this time. Bascom'll conclude to
preside at the meetin'; whichever way he means to act; and I've fixed
it so Maxwell will be engaged on other duties. No; go 'way. I don't
want to see you around here again until the whole thing's over."

"All right Hepsey, all right. I guess if it goes through the way you
want you'll be that set up you'll be wantin' to marry old Bascom
'stead of me," chuckled Jonathan, as the lady of his choice turned to
enter the house.

She faced round upon him as she reached the door, her features set
with grim determination:

"If I get the whole caboodle, bag and baggage, from the meetin' and
from Bascom, there's no knowin' but what I'll send for the parson and
be married right there and then. There isn't a thing I could think of,
in the line of a real expensive sacrifice, that'd measure up as
compensation for winnin' out--not even marryin' you, Jonathan
Jackson."

So Hepsey laid down lines for control of the meeting, ready with a
different variety of expedients, from point to point in its progress,
as Sylvester Bascom's attitude at the time might necessitate. For she
felt very little anxiety as to her ability to carry the main body of
the audience along with her.

The night of the meeting the Sunday School Room, adjacent to the
church, was filled full to a seat at least a quarter of an hour before
the time announced for the meeting. Hepsey had provided herself with a
chair in the center of the front row, directly facing the low platform
to be occupied by the chairman. Her leather bag hung formidably on one
arm, and a long narrow blank book was laid on her lap. She took little
notice of her surroundings, and her anxiety was imperceptible, as she
thrummed with a pencil upon the book, glancing now and then at the
side door, watching for Bascom's entrance. The meeting buzzed light
conversation, as a preliminary. Had she miscalculated on the very
first move? Was he going to treat the whole affair with lofty disdain?
As the hour struck, dead silence reigned in the room, expectant; and
Jonathan, who sat next her, fidgeted nervously.

"Five minutes' grace, and that's all; if he's not here by then, it'll
be up to you to call the meetin' to order," whispered Hepsey.

"Sakes!" hissed the terrified Junior Warden, "you didn't say nothin'
about that, Hepsey," he protested.

She leveled a withering glance at him, and was about to reduce him to
utter impotence by some scathing remark, when both were startled by a
voice in front of them, issuing from "the chair." Silently the Senior
Warden had entered, and had proceeded to open the meeting. His face
was set and stern, and his voice hard and toneless. No help from that
quarter, Hepsey mentally recorded.

"As the rector of this parish is not able to be present I have been
asked to preside at this meeting. I believe that it was
instigated--that is suggested, by some of the ladies who believe that
there are some matters of importance which need immediate attention,
and must be presented to the congregation without delay. I must beg to
remind these ladies that the Wardens and Vestrymen are the business
officers of the church; and it seems to my poor judgment that if any
business is to be transacted, the proper way would be for the Vestry
to take care of it. However, I have complied with the request and have
undertaken to preside, in the absence of the rector. The meeting is
now open for business."

Bascom sat down and gazed at the audience, but with a stare so
expressionless as gave no further index to his mood. For some time
there was a rather painful silence; but at last Hepsey Burke arose and
faced about to command the audience.

"Brethren and sisters," she began, "a few of us women have made up our
minds that it's high time that somethin' was done towards payin' our
rector what we owe him, and that we furnish him with a proper house to
live in."

At this point, a faint murmur of applause interrupted the speaker, who
replied: "There. There. Don't be too quick. You won't feel a bit like
applaudin' when I get through. It's a burnin' shame and disgrace that
we owe Mr. Maxwell about two hundred dollars, which means a mighty lot
to him, because if he was paid in full every month he would get just
about enough to keep his wife and himself from starvin' to death. I
wasn't asked to call this meetin'; I asked the rector to, and I asked
the Senior Warden to preside. And I told the rector that some of
us--both men and women--had business to talk about that wasn't for his
ears. For all he knows, we're here to pass a vote of censure on him.
The fact is that we have reached the point where somethin' has got to
be done right off quick; and if none of the Vestrymen do it, then a
poor shrinkin' little woman like myself has got to rise and mount the
band wagon. I'm no woman's rights woman, but I have a conscience
that'll keep me awake nights until I have freed my mind."

Here Hepsey paused, and twirling her pencil between her lips, gazed
around at her auditors who were listening with breathless attention.
Then she suddenly exclaimed with suppressed wrath, and in her
penetrating tones:

"What is the matter with you men, anyway? You'd have to pay your
butcher, or your baker, or your grocer, whether you wanted to or not.
Then why in the name of conscience don't you pay your parson?
Certainly religion that don't cost nothin' is worse than nothin'. I'll
tell you the reason why you don't support your parson: It's just
because your rector's a gentleman, and can't very well kick over the
traces, or balk, or sue you, even if you do starve him. So you,
prosperous, big-headed men think that you can sneak out of it. Oh, you
needn't shuffle and look mad; you're goin' to get the truth for once,
and I had Johnny Mullins lock the front door before I began."

The whole audience responded to this sally with a laugh, but the
speaker relented not one iota. "Then when you've smit your rector on
one cheek you quote the Bible to make him think he ought to turn his
overcoat also." Another roar. "There: you don't need to think I'm
havin' a game. I'm not through yet. Now let's get right down to
business. We owe our rector a lot of money, and he is livin' in a tent
because we neglected to pay the interest on the rectory mortgage held
by the Senior Warden of our church. Talkin' plain business, and
nothin' else, turned him out of house and home, and we broke our
business contract with him. Yes we did! And now you know it.

"Some of us have been sayin'--and I was one of 'em till Mr. Maxwell
corrected me--that it was mean of Mr. Bascom to turn the rector and
his wife out of their house. But business is business, and until we've
paid the last cent of our contributions, we haven't any right to
throw stones at anyone. Wait till we've done our part, for that! We've
been the laughing stock of the whole town because of our pesky
meanness. That tent of ours has stuck out on the landscape like a
horse fly on a pillow sham.

"It's not my business to tell how the rector and his wife have had to
economize and suffer, to get along at all; or how nice and
uncomplainin' they've been through it all. They wouldn't want me to
say anythin' of that; sportsmen they are, both of 'em. The price of
food's gone up, and the rector's salary gone down like a teeter on a
log.

"Now, as I remarked before, let's get right down to business. The only
way to raise that money is to raise it! There's no use larkin' all
'round Robin Hood's barn, or scampering round the mulberry bush any
longer. I don't care for fairs myself, where you have to go and buy
somethin' you don't want, for five times what it's worth, and call it
givin' to the Lord. And I don't care to give a chicken, and then have
to pay for eatin' the same old bird afterwards. I won't eat soda
biscuit unless I know who made 'em. Church fairs are an invention of
the devil to make people think they're religious, when they are only
mighty restless and selfish.

"The only thing to do is to put your hands in your trousers pockets
and pay, cash down, just as you would in any business transaction. And
by cash, I don't mean five cents in the plate Sunday, and a dollar for
a show on Tuesday. We've none of us any business to pretend to give to
the Lord what doesn't cost a red cent, as the Bible says, somewheres.
Now don't get nervous. I'm going to start a subscription paper right
here and now. It'll save lots of trouble, and you ought to jump at the
chance. You'll be votin' me a plated ice-water pitcher before we get
through, for bein' so good to you--just as a little souvenir of the
evenin'."

A disjointed murmur of disapproval rose from sundry parts of the room
at this summary way of meeting the emergency. Nelson, who had tried in
vain to catch the eye of the chair, rose at a venture and remarked
truculently:

"This is a most unusual proceeding, Mrs. Burke."

The chair remained immobile--but Hepsey turned upon the foe like a
flash of lightning.

"Precisely, Mr. Nelson. And we are a most unusual parish. I don't
claim to have any information gained by world-wide travel, but livin'
my life as I've found it here, in ths town, I've got to say, that this
is the first time I ever heard of a church turnin' its rector out of
house and home, and refusin' to give him salary enough to buy food
for his family. Maybe in the course of your professional travels this
thing has got to be an everyday occurrence to you,--but there's some
of us here, that 'aint got much interest in such goings-on, outside of
Durford."

"You have no authority to raise money for the church; I believe the
Warden will concur in that opinion?" and he bowed towards Bascom.

"That is a point for the meeting to decide," he replied judicially, as
Hepsey turned towards him.

"Seems to me," continued Mrs. Burke, facing the audience, "that
authority won't fill the rector's purse so well as cash. It's awful
curious how a church with six Vestrymen and two Wardens, all of them
good business men--men that can squeeze money out of a monkey-wrench,
and always get the best of the other fellow in a horse-trade, and
smoke cigars enough to pay the rector's whole salary--get limp and
faint and find it necessary to fall back on talkin' about 'authority'
when any money is to be raised. What we want in the parish is not
authority, but just everyday plain business hustle, the sort of hustle
that wears trousers; and as we don't seem to get that, the next best
kind is the sort that wears skirts. I'd always rather that men shall
do the public work than women; but if men won't, women must. What we
need right here in Durford is a few full grown men who aren't shirks
or quitters, who can put up prayers with one hand while they put down
the cash with the other; and I don't believe the Lord ever laid it up
against any man who paid first, and prayed afterwards.

"Now brethren, don't all speak at once. I'm goin' to start takin'
subscriptions. Who's goin' to head the list?"

A little withered old woman laboriously struggled to her feet, and in
a high-pitched, quavering voice began:

"I'd like to give suthin' towards the end in view. Our rector were
powerful good to my Thomas when he had the brown kitties in his
throat. He came to see him mos' every day and read to him, and said
prayers with him, and brought him papers and jelly. He certainly were
powerful good to my Thomas; and once when Thomas had a fever our
rector said that he thought that a bath would do my Thomas a heap of
good, and he guessed he'd give him one. So I got some water in a bowl
and some soap, and our rector he just took off his coat, and his vest,
and his collar, and his cuffs, and our rector he washed Thomas, and he
washed him, and he wa----"

"Well," Hepsey interrupted, to stay the flow of eloquence, "so you'd
like to pay for his laundry now, would you Mrs. Sumner? Shall I put
you down for two dollars? Good! Mrs. Sumner sets the ball rollin' with
two dollars. Who'll be the next?"

As there was no response, Mrs. Burke glanced critically over the
assembly until she had picked her man, and then announced:

"Hiram Mason, I'm sure you must be on the anxious bench?"

Hiram colored painfully as he replied:

"I don't know as I am prepared to say what I can give, just at
present, Mrs. Burke."

"Well now let's think about it a little. Last night's _Daily Bugle_
had your name in a list of those that gave ten dollars apiece at St.
Bridget's fair. I suppose the Irish trade's valuable to a grocer like
yourself; but you surely can't do less for your own church? I'll put
you down for ten, though of course you can double it if you like."

"No," said Hiram, meditatively; "I guess ten'll do."

"Hiram Mason gives ten dollars. The Lord loveth a cheerful giver.
Thanks, Hiram."

Again there was a pause; and as no one volunteered, Hepsey continued:

"Sylvester Perkins, how much will you give?"

"I suppose I'll give five dollars," Sylvester responded, before Mrs.
Burke could have a chance to put him down for a larger sum. "But I
don't like this way of doin' things a little bit. It's not a woman's
place to hold up a man and rob him in public meetin'."

"No, a woman usually goes through her husband's pockets when he's
asleep, I suppose. But you see I'm not your wife. Thanks, Mr. Perkins:
Mr. Perkins, _five_ dollars," she repeated as she entered his
subscription in the book. "Next?" she called briskly.

"Mrs. Burke, I'll give twenty dollars, if you think that's enough,"
called a voice from the back timidly.

Everyone turned to the speaker in some surprise. He was a delicate,
slender fellow, evidently in bad health. He trembled nervously, and
Mrs. Burke hesitated for an instant, between fear of hurting his
feelings and letting him give more than she knew he could possibly
afford.

"I am afraid you ought not to give so much, Amos. Let me put you down
for five," she said kindly. "We mustn't rob Peter to pay Paul."

"No, ma'am, put me down for twenty," he persisted; and then burst
forth--"and I wish it was twenty thousand. I'd do anything for Mr.
Maxwell; I owe it to him, I tell you."

The speaker hesitated a moment and wiped his forehead with his
handkerchief, and then continued slowly, and with obvious effort:

"Maybe you'll think I am a fool to give myself away before a crowd
like this, and I a member of the church; but the simple fact is that
Mr. Maxwell saved my life once, when I was pretty near all in."

Again the speaker stopped, breathing heavily, and there was absolute
silence in the room. Regaining his courage, he continued: "Yes, he
saved me, body and soul, and I guess I'll tell the whole story. Most
of you would have kicked me into the street or lodged me in jail; but
he wasn't that kind, thank God!

"I was clerking in the Post Office a while back, and I left town one
night, suddenly. I'd been drinking some, and when I left, my accounts
were two hundred dollars short. The thing was kept quiet. Only two men
knew about it. Mr. Maxwell was one. He got the other man to keep his
mouth shut, handed over the amount, and chased after me and made me
come back with him and stay at his house for a while. Then he gave me
some work and helped me to make a new start. He didn't say a word of
reproach, nor he didn't talk religion to me. He just acted as if he
cared a whole lot for me, and wanted to put me on my feet again.

"I didn't know for a long time where Mr. Maxwell got the money for me
but after a while I discovered that he'd given a chattel mortgage on
his books and personal belongings. Do you suppose that there's anybody
else in the world would have done that for me? It wasn't only his
giving me the money; it was finding that somebody trusted me and cared
for me, who had no business to trust me, and couldn't afford to trust
me. That's what saved me and kept me straight.

"I haven't touched a drop since, and I never will. I've been paying my
debt to him as quick as I can, and as far as money can pay it; but all
the gold in the world wouldn't even me up with him. I don't know just
why I've told all about it, but I guess it's because I felt you ought
to know the kind of a man the rector is; and I'm glad he isn't here,
or he'd never have let me give him away like this."

Amos sat down, while the astonished gathering stared at him, the
defaulter, who in a moment of gratitude had betrayed himself. The
woman next to him edged a little farther away from him and watched him
furtively, but he did not seem to care.

Under the stimulus of this confession, the feelings of the people
quickly responded to the occasion, and a line soon formed, without
further need of wit or eloquence on Hepsey's part, to have their
subscriptions recorded. In half an hour, Mrs. Burke, whose face was
glowing with pleasure--albeit she glanced anxiously from time to time
towards old Mr. Bascom, in an endeavor to size up his mood and force
his intentions--had written down the name of the last volunteer. She
turned towards her audience:

"As I don't want to keep you waitin' here all night while I add up the
subscriptions, I'll ask the chairman to do it for me and let you know
the result. He's quicker at figurin' than I am, I guess," with which
compliment, she smilingly handed the book to the Senior Warden. While
the old man bent to his task, the room buzzed with low, excited
conversation. Enough was already known of Bascom's hostility to the
rector, to make the meeting decidedly curious as to his attitude
towards Hepsey's remarks and the mortgage; and they knew him well
enough to be aware that he would not allow that item in her speech to
go unanswered, in some way or other.

All eyes rested upon the gaunt figure of the chairman, as he rose to
his feet to announce the total of the subscription list. He cleared
his throat, and looked down at Hepsey Burke; and Jonathan, as he
squinted anxiously at Hepsey by his side, noticed that she sat with
her eyes tight-closed, oblivious of the chairman's glance. Jonathan
looked hastily up at Bascom, and noticed him shift his position a
little nervously, as he cleared his throat again.

"The amount subscribed on this list, is two hundred and thirty-seven
dollars and thirty-five cents," he said. The loud applause was
instantaneous, and Jonathan turned quickly to Hepsey, as he stamped
his feet and clapped his hands.

"Thirty-seven thirty-five more than we owe him; Hepsey, you've done
fine," he chortled.

But Hepsey's look was now riveted on the chairman, and except for a
half-absent smile of pleasure, the keenest anxiety showed in her
expression.

Bascom cleared his voice again, and then proceeded:

"Mrs. Burke informed you that the rector's salary was in arrears to
the extent of about two hundred dollars. It is now for this meeting to
pass a formal resolution for the application of the amount subscribed
to the object in view."

Hepsey's lips narrowed; not a cent was down on the list to the name of
the Senior Warden; the debt was being paid without assistance from
him.

"I presume I may put it to the meeting that the amount, when
collected, be paid over to the rector by a committee formed for that
purpose?" proceeded the chairman.

This resolution being duly seconded and carried, Bascom continued:

"Before we adjourn I request the opportunity to make a few remarks, in
reply to Mrs. Burke's observations concerning the ejection of the
rector from the house which he occupied. She was good enough to spare
my feelings by pointing out that from a business or legal point of
view it was not I who was responsible for that act, but the
parishioners, who, having purchased the rectory subject to a mortgage,
had failed to meet the interest upon it. That is what Mrs. Burke said:
what she did not say, and what none of you have said in public, though
I reckon you've said it among yourselves, I will take upon myself to
say for her and you."

He paused--and every eye was fixed upon him and every mouth agape in
paralysed astonishment: and the said features of Hepsey Burke were no
exception to the rule.

"When," continued Bascom evenly and urbanely, "the word went round
that the interest on the mortgage had got behind, and the money must
be collected for it, those concerned no doubt remarked easily: 'Oh, I
guess that'll be all right. Bascom won't worry about that; he don't
need it; anyway he can pay it to himself, for the parish, if he
does.'"

There was an uncomfortable stirring of the audience at this shrewd
thrust; but Hepsey could not contain herself, and laughed right out,
clapping loudly.

"And yet I don't mind saying that if I had thought of suggesting to
anyone of you such a method of collecting interest due to you, you
might have kicked some," he commented dryly.

"At the next step, when I ultimately concluded to act upon my right to
eject Mr. Maxwell from the rectory, I've no doubt that on all sides it
was: 'Well, did you ever know the likes of that? Turning the rector
out of house and home! Well he's a skinflint for fair!'"

He paused and watched the effect. This time his hearers sat absolutely
motionless.

"And I agree with you," he added presently, in a quiet voice: "I _was_
a skinflint for fair!"

Almost Hepsey forgot herself so far as to clap thunderously: she
caught her hands together just in time--recollecting that her
demonstration would be taken too literally.

"But I would not have you misunderstand me: though it was for me to
call myself a skinflint for that act, it was not for you to do so. You
did so on wrong grounds. Those who in making money have been less
successful than others, find it convenient to leave all such
obligations upon the shoulders of the richer man, and to say 'it's up
to him; he can afford it.' Is it any wonder that it makes the rich man
sour on subscriptions and philanthropies? He has as much, or more, of
inducement to apply his earnings and savings to his own ends and
pleasures; why then, is it not up to all, in their own proportions to
meet social needs? A good many years of such meanness among his
neighbors makes even a rich man sour and mean, I guess. And that's
what it made me--and though that isn't a justification of my act, it
gave me as much right to call you skinflints as for you to call me:
all except one of you, Hepsey Burke."

The meeting quivered with tense excitement. What did it all mean? If a
chicken had sneezed the whole gathering would have been dissolved in
hysterics, it was so keyed up with a sense of the impending disclosure
of a deep mystery. As for Hepsey, she sat motionless, though Jonathan
believed that he caught sight of a tear glistening in its descent.

"Hepsey Burke had a right to call me a skinflint, because she knew
what none of you knew; but because it was private knowledge she
wouldn't make use of it against me--not unless she couldn't have done
what was right any other way. And now I'm going to tell you what she
knew:

"The rectory was my wife's property, and she intended it as a gift to
the parish, for the rectory of the church. I was preparing the deeds
of transfer, when she died--suddenly, as some of you remember," his
voice made heroic efforts to keep clear and steady, "owing to her
death before the transfer, that house passed to our daughter; and what
I intended to do was to buy it of her and present it to the parish. I
delayed, at first for good reasons. And I suppose as I got more and
more lonesome and mixed less and less with people, I got sourer--and
then I delayed from meanness. It would have been easy enough for me to
buy it of my daughter, and she'd have been willing enough; but as I
saw more and more put upon me, and less and less human recognition--I
was 'a rich man,' and needed no personal sympathy or encouragement, it
seemed--I held back. And I got so mean, I couldn't make friends with
the rector, even."

He paused, and from the half smile on his face, and the hint of
brightness that passed over his expression, the audience caught
relief.

"I guess a good shaking up is good for a man's liver: it cures a sour
stomach--and as there are those that say the way to a man's heart is
through his stomach, perhaps it cures a sour heart. I got my shaking
up all right, as you know; and perhaps that's been working a cure on
me. Or perhaps it was the quiet ministrations of that little Mrs.
Betty of yours"--applause--"or the infusion of some of the rector's
blood in my veins (he let himself be bled to keep me alive, after I'd
lost what little blood I had, as you probably have never
heard)"--shouts of applause--"or possibly what cured me was a little
knitting-visit that Hepsey Burke paid me the other day, and during
which she dropped some home-truths: I can't say.

"Before I decided what I would do about the rectory, I wanted to see
what you would do, under Mrs. Burke's guidance, this evening. You've
shouldered your share, as far as the rector's salary is concerned.
Well--I'll add what I consider my fair share to that, fifty dollars.
The arrears due on the mortgage interest is one hundred and twenty
dollars. I shall hold you to your side of that bargain, to date. If
you pay the rector the two hundred dollars due him on his salary, you
will need to subscribe about another forty to make up the interest:
that done, and paid to me, I will do my part, and present the rectory
to the parish, in memory of my dear wife, as she desired."

He sat down.

Hepsey rose and called out in a clear voice:

"He's right; Mr. Bascom's dead right; it's up to us to be business
first, and clear ourselves of the debt on a business bargain; then we
can accept the gift without too much worryin'." And she sent a very
friendly smile over to Bascom.

Again there was some cheering, in the midst of which Jonathan Jackson
jumped to his feet beside Hepsey; and facing the room, with his arm
through hers, he shouted:

"Hepsey Burke and me will make up the difference!"

Another cheer went up, and Hepsey's face flamed scarlet amid the
craning of necks and chaffing laughter--half puzzled, half
understanding.

Sylvester Bascom rose to his feet, and there was silence. With assumed
seriousness he addressed Hepsey, still standing:

"Mrs. Burke, so that it may be quite in order, do you endorse Mr.
Jackson's authority to speak for you in this matter?"

Every eye was turned upon them; but Hepsey could find not a word, so
flabergasted was she by this sudden move of Jonathan's. Jonathan
himself colored furiously, but stuck to his guns, and Hepsey's arm:

"Well, to tell the truth," he replied in a jaunty voice, "Hepsey Burke
and me's goin' to be married right now, so I guess we'll combine our
resources, like."

This announcement gave the coup de grace to any further attempt at
orderliness, and the room became a seething chorus of congratulatory
greetings aimed at Hepsey and Jonathan, in the midst of which
Sylvester Bascom slipped out unnoticed.



[Illustration]

CHAPTER XXIV

OMNIUM GATHERUM


When at last the room emptied, and she was free to do so, Hepsey,
accompanied by the possessive Jonathan, found her way over to the
Maxwells. Before she started to tell them the results of the meeting
she cast a glance of whimsical affection at her palpitating fiance.

"I'd best let him get it off his chest--then we'll get down to
business," she laughed.

[Illustration: "HEPSEY BURKE, FOR ALL YOUR MOLASSES AND THE LITTLE BIT OF
VINEGAR YOU SAY YOU KEEP BY YOU, 'THERE ARE NO FLIES ON
YOU' AS NICKEY WOULD PUT IT"]

So Jonathan, amid much handshaking and congratulation told his
victorious story--until, when he seemed to Hepsey to become too
triumphant, she broke in with: "Now that's enough for you, Mr.
Proudmouth. Let me just say a word or two, will you? The meetin'
wasn't called for you and me, and I want to tell about more important
happenin's."

When they had heard of all that had been accomplished, Mrs. Betty got
up and put her arms round Hepsey's neck and gave her such a hug, and a
kiss on each cheek, that brought the tears to Mrs. Burke's eyes. And
Donald, moist-eyed in spite of himself, took her hand in both of his,
and expressed his feelings and relieved the tension at the same time
by saying:

"Hepsey Burke, for all your molasses and the little bit of vinegar you
say you keep by you, 'there are no flies on _you_' as Nickey would put
it."

At which sally Jonathan slapped his knee, and ejaculated:

"No! there 'aint, by gum! There 'aint no flies on Hepsey, if I _do_
say it myself."

At which proprietory speech Hepsey wagged her head warningly, saying,
as they left--"There's no downin' him, these days; I'm sure I don't
know what's come over the man."

On their way home Jonathan was urgent for fixing the day.

"You said you'd marry me right there and then, if the meetin' came
your way, now you know you did, Hepsey," he argued. "So if we say
to-morrow----"

But though Hepsey would never go back on a promise, she protested
against too summary an interpretation of it, and insisted on due time
to prepare herself for her wedding. So a day was set some two months
hence.

Meanwhile, Sylvester Bascom's truer and pristine nature blossomed
forth in the sunnier atmosphere around him, and after he had delivered
himself of his feelings to the Maxwells, in a visit which he paid them
next day at their nomadic quarters, he begged leave to put the rectory
in full repair before he handed it over to the parish, and the
Maxwells returned to it.

And he was better than his word; for, with Hepsey and Virginia
accompanying her, he insisted on Mrs. Betty taking a trip to the city
a few days later for the purpose of selecting furnishings of various
kinds dear to the hearts of housekeepers--Hepsey absorbing a share of
the time in selecting her "trousseau."

Meanwhile, in due course the rectory was made a new place, inside and
out, and a few weeks after their return the transformed house,
repainted inside and out, papered and curtained and charmingly fitted
with new furniture, was again occupied by the Maxwells.

That the interest of the parish should for a while be concentrated on
the doings at the rectory, and diverted from her own important
preparations, was a blessing to Hepsey--for she continually declared
to Mrs. Betty that, little as she knew Jonathan in his new manner, she
knew herself less!

It was decided that the wedding should be in the church, and a
reception held after the ceremony, for the bride and bridegroom, at
the rectory--and that, in this way, the whole parish would celebrate,
in honor of the auspicious occasion, and of other happy results of
Hepsey's parish meeting.

The day before the wedding, while Mrs. Betty and Virginia were busily
occupied at Thunder Cliff and the rectory, dividing their attentions
between the last touches to Hepsey's wardrobe, and preparing
confections for the wedding guests, Donald Maxwell was closeted with
Mr. Bascom at Willow Bluff for a considerable time. It was known that
the Senior Warden was to support his colleague, Jonathan, at the
morrow's event, and it was presumed that the rector was prompting him
in his duties for the occasion.

The ceremony next day at the church was a center of fervent and
cordial good-will and thanksgiving, as Jonathan, supported by
Sylvester Bascom, took to wife Hepsey, given away by Mrs. Betty, with
Virginia as a kind of maid of honor, hovering near. It was well for
Donald Maxwell that his memory served him faithfully in conducting the
service, for his eyes were in misty conflict with his bright smile.
Nickey from the front pew, watched his mother with awestruck eyes, and
with son-like amazement at her self-possessed carriage under the blaze
of so much public attention.

There followed a procession from the church, and soon the rectory,
house and garden, were alive with chattering groups, of all sorts and
conditions, for the invitations had been general and public,
irrespective of class or sect, at Hepsey's special request. There was
a constant line of friends, known and unknown, filing past bride and
bridegroom, with congratulatory greetings and cordial good wishes.
There were speeches from delegations of various local bodies, and from
local notables of various degrees; and there were wedding presents,
out-vying each other, as it seemed, in kindly personal significance
rather than in costliness. Among them all, and arranged by Mrs. Betty
at the very center, the Vestry's gift to the bride stood easily first:
a plated ice-water pitcher!

It was left to Maxwell to make the farewell speech, as the company
crowded round the automobile, lent by the Bascoms, in which Hepsey and
Jonathan sat in smiling happiness, ready to drive to the station, on
their way for a week's honeymoon.

"Friends!" he said, in a voice that reached to the skirts of the
assembled throng, "before we give a valedictory 'three times three' to
the happy couple, I have to tell you of a plan that has been made to
commemorate this day permanently--and so that Mrs. Jackson may not
forget the place she holds in our hearts, and always will hold, as
Hepsey Burke.

"It is Mr. Bascom's idea, and I know it will give lasting pleasure to
Mrs. Burke--I mean Mrs. Jackson," he corrected, laughing, "as well as
to all Durford, young and old. The beautiful piece of woodland, half a
mile beyond Willow Bluff, is to-day presented by Mr. Bascom to the
town, and we shall shortly repair there to watch the boys erect the
tent now on the church plot, and which Mr. Jackson has kindly
presented to the Boy Scouts."

"Gee," yelled Nickey, in astounded delight, and leading a cheer that
interrupted the speaker for some moments.

Maxwell continued: "Mr. Bascom's generous gift to the town will be kept
in order by the Boy Scouts, as their permanent camping-ground--and I
daresay Nickey Burke will not be averse to occupying the tent with his
corps, during the week or so that Mrs. Jackson is to be away. The place
is to be called in her honor--'Hepsey Burke Park.' And now--Three
cheers for the bride and groom."

The cheers were given with whole-hearted fervor, as the man at the
wheel tooted, and the auto started on its way with the smiling pair,
followed by the people's delighted shouts of approbation at the happy
plan for perpetuating among them the cheerful name of Hepsey Burke.



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