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A JUNE SUNDAY
IT was a Sunday in June, and almost the whole population of Riverboro and Edgewood was walking or driving in the direction of the meeting-house on Tory Hill.
Church toilettes, you may well believe, were difficult of attainment by Deacon Baxter's daughters, as they had been by his respective helpmates in years gone by. When Waitstill's mother first asked her husband to buy her a new dress, and that was two years after marriage, he simply said: "You look well enough; what do you want to waste money on finery for, these hard times? If other folks are extravagant, that ain't any reason you should be. You ain't obliged to take your neighbors for an example:--take 'em for a warnin'!"
"But, Foxwell, my Sunday dress is worn completely to threads," urged the second Mrs. Baxter.
"That's what women always say; they're all alike; no more idea o' savin' anything than a skunk-blackbird! I can't spare any money for gew-gaws, and you might as well understand it first as last. Go up attic and open the hair trunk by the winder; you'll find plenty there to last you for years to come."
The second Mrs. Baxter visited the attic as commanded, and in turning over the clothes in the old trunk, knew by instinct that they had belonged to her predecessor in office. Some of the dresses were neat, though terribly worn and faded, but all were fortunately far too short and small for a person of her fine proportions. Besides, her very soul shrank from wearing them, and her spirit revolted both from the insult to herself and to the poor dead woman she had succeeded, so she came downstairs to darn and mend and patch again her shabby wardrobe. Waitstill had gone through the same as her mother before her, but in despair, when she was seventeen, she began to cut over the old garments for herself and Patty. Mercifully there were very few of them, and they had long since been discarded. At eighteen she had learned to dye yarns with yellow oak or maple bark and to make purples from elder and sumac berries; she could spin and knit as well as any old "Aunt" of the village, and cut and shape a garment as deftly as the Edgewood tailoress, but the task of making bricks without straw was a hard one, indeed.
She wore a white cotton frock on this particular Sunday. It was starched and ironed with a beautiful gloss, while a touch of distinction was given to her costume by a little black sleeveless "roundabout" made out of the covering of an old silk umbrella. Her flat hat had a single wreath of coarse daisies around the crown, and her mitts were darned in many places, nevertheless you could not entirely spoil her; God had used a liberal hand in making her, and her father's parsimony was a sort of boomerang that flew back chiefly upon himself.
As for Patty, her style of beauty, like Cephas Cole's ell had to be toned down rather than up, to be effective, but circumstances had been cruelly unrelenting in this process of late. Deacon Baxter had given the girls three or four shopworn pieces of faded yellow calico that had been repudiated by the village housewives as not "fast" enough in color to bear the test of proper washing. This had made frocks, aprons, petticoats, and even underclothes, for two full years, and Patty's weekly objurgations when she removed her everlasting yellow dress from the nail where it hung were not such as should have fallen from the lips of a deacon's daughter. Waitstill had taken a piece of the same yellow material, starched and ironed it, cut a curving, circular brim from it, sewed in a pleated crown, and lo! a hat for Patty! What inspired Patty to put on a waist ribbon of deepest wine color, with a little band of the same on the pale yellow hat, no one could say.
"Do you think you shall like that dull red right close to the yellow, Patty? " Waitstill asked anxiously.
"It looks all right on the columbines in the Indian Cellar," replied Patty, turning and twisting the hat on her head. "If we can't get a peek at the Boston fashions, we must just find our styles where we can!"
The various roads to Tory Hill were alive with vehicles on this bright Sunday morning. Uncle Bart and Abel Day, with their respective wives on the back seat of the Cole's double wagon, were passed by Deacon Baxter and his daughters, Waitstill being due at meeting earlier than others by reason of her singing in the choir. The Deacon's one-horse, two-wheeled "shay" could hold three persons, with comfort on its broad seat, and the twenty-year-old mare, although she was always as hollow as a gourd, could generally do the mile, uphill all the way, in half an hour, if urged continually, and the Deacon, be it said, if not good at feeding, was unsurpassed at urging.
Aunt Abby Cole could get only a passing glimpse of Patty in the depths of the "shay," but a glimpse was always enough for her, as her opinion of the girl's charms was considerably affected by the forlorn condition of her son Cephas, whom she suspected of being hopelessly in love with the young person aforesaid, to whom she commonly alluded as "that red-headed bag-gage."
"Patience Baxter's got the kind of looks that might do well enough at a tavern dance, or a husking, but they're entirely unsuited to the Sabbath day or the meetin'-house," so Aunt Abby remarked to Mrs. Day in the way of backseat confidence. "It's unfortunate that a deacon's daughter should be afflicted with that bold style of beauty! Her hair's all but red; in fact, you might as well call it red, when the sun shines on it: but if she'd ever smack it down with bear's grease she might darken it some; or anyhow she'd make it lay slicker; but it's the kind of hair that just matches that kind of a girl,--sort of up an' comin'! Then her skin's so white and her cheeks so pink and her eyes so snappy that she'd attract attention without half trying though I guess she ain't above makin' an effort."
"She's innnocent as a kitten," observed Mrs. Day impartially.
"Oh, yes, she's innocent enough an' I hope she'll keep so! Waitstill's a sight han'somer, if the truth was told; but she's the sort of girl that's made for one man and the rest of em never look at her. The other one's cut out for the crowd, the more the merrier. She's a kind of man-trap, that girl is!--Do urge the horse a little mite, Bartholomew! It makes me kind o' hot to be passed by Deacon Baxter. It's Missionary Sunday, too, when he gen'ally has rheumatism too bad to come out."
"I wonder if he ever puts anything into the plate," said Mrs. Day. "No one ever saw him, that I know of."
"The Deacon keeps the Thou Shalt Not commandments pretty well," was Aunt Abby's terse response. "I guess he don't put nothin' into the plate, but I s'pose we'd ought to be thankful he don't take nothin' out. The Baptists are gettin' ahead faster than they'd ought to, up to the Mills. Our minister ain't no kind of a proselyter, Seems as if he didn't care how folks got to heaven so long as they got there! The other church is havin' a service this afternoon side o' the river, an' I'd kind o' like to go, except it would please 'em too much to have a crowd there to see the immersion. They tell me, but I don't know how true, that that Tillman widder woman that come here from somewheres in Vermont wanted to be baptized to-day, but the other converts declared THEY wouldn't be, if she was!"
"Jed Morrill said they'd have to hold her under water quite a spell to do any good," chuckled Uncle Bart from the front seat.
"Well, I wouldn't repeat it, Bartholomew, on the Sabbath day; not if he did say it. Jed Morrill's responsible for more blasphemious jokes than any man in Edgewood. I don't approve of makin' light of anybody's religious observances if they're ever so foolish," said Aunt Abby somewhat enigmatically. "Our minister keeps remindin' us that the Baptists and Methodists are our brethren, but I wish he'd be a little more anxious to have our S'ceity keep ahead of the others."
"Jed's 'bout right in sizin' up the Widder Tillman," was Mr. Day's timid contribution to the argument." I ain't a readin' man, but from what folks report I should think she was one o' them critters that set on rocks bewilderin' an' bedevilin' men-folks out o' their senses--SYREENS, I think they call 'em; a reg'lar SYREEN is what that woman is, I guess!"
"There, there, Abel, you wouldn't know a syreen if you found one in your baked beans, so don't take away a woman's character on hearsay." And Mrs. Day, having shut up her husband as was her bounden duty as a wife and a Christian, tied her bonnet strings a little tighter and looked distinctly pleased with herself.
"Abel ain't startin' any new gossip," was Aunt Abby's opinion, as she sprung to his rescue. "One or two more holes in a colander don't make much dif'rence.--Bartholomew, we're certainly goin' to be late this mornin'; we're about the last team on the road"; and Aunt Abby glanced nervously behind. "Elder Boone ain't begun the openin' prayer, though, or we should know it. You can hear him pray a mile away, when the wind's right. I do hate to be late to meetin'. The Elder allers takes notice; the folks in the wing pews allers gapes an' stares, and the choir peeks through the curtain, takin' notes of everything you've got on your back. I hope to the land they'll chord and keep together a little mite better 'n they've done lately, that's all I can say! If the Lord is right in our midst as the Bible says, He can't think much of our singers this summer!"
"They're improvin', now that Pliny Waterhouse plays his fiddle," Mrs. Day remarked pacifically. "There was times in the anthem when they kept together consid'able well last Sunday. They didn't always chord, but there, they chorded some!--we're most there now, Abby, don't fret! Cephas won't ring the last bell till he knows his own folks is crossin' the Common!"
Those were days of conscientious church-going and every pew in the house was crowded. The pulpit was built on pillars that raised it six feet higher than the floor; the top was cushioned and covered with red velvet surmounted by a huge gilt-edged Bible. There was a window in the tower through which Cephas Cole could look into the church, and while tolling the bell could keep watch for the minister. Always exactly on time, he would come in, walk slowly up the right-hand aisle, mount the pulpit stairs, enter and close the door after him. Then Cephas would give one tremendous pull to warn loiterers on the steps; a pull that meant, "Parson's in the pulpit!" and was acted upon accordingly. Opening the big Bible, the minister raised his right hand impressively, and saying, "Let us pray," the whole congregation rose in their pews with a great rustling and bowed their heads devoutly for the invocation.
Next came the hymn, generally at that day one of Isaac Watts's. The singers, fifteen or twenty in number, sat in a raised gallery opposite the pulpit, and there was a rod in front hung with red curtains to hide them when sitting down. Any one was free to join, which perhaps accounted for Aunt Abby's strictures as to time and tune. Jed Morrill, "blasphemious" as he was considered by that acrimonious lady, was the leader, and a good one, too. There would be a great whispering and buzzing when Deacon Sumner with his big fiddle and Pliny Waterhouse with his smaller one would try to get in accord with Humphrey Baker and his clarionet. All went well when Humphrey was there to give the sure key-note, but in his absence Jed Morrill would use his tuning-fork. When the key was finally secured by all concerned, Jed would raise his stick, beat one measure to set the time, and all joined in, or fell in, according to their several abilities. It was not always a perfect thing in the way of a start, but they were well together at the end of the first line, and when, as now, the choir numbered a goodly number of voices, and there were three or four hundred in the pews, nothing more inspiring in its peculiar way was ever heard, than the congregational singing of such splendid hymns as "Old Hundred," "Duke Street," or " Coronation."
Waitstill led the trebles, and Ivory was at the far end of the choir in the basses, but each was conscious of the other's presence. This morning he could hear her noble voice rising a little above, or, perhaps from its quality, separating itself somehow, ever so little, from the others. How full of strength and hope it was, her voice! How steadfast to the pitch; how golden its color; how moving in its crescendos! How the words flowed from her lips; not as if they had been written years ago, but as if they were the expression of her own faith. There were many in the congregation who were stirred, they knew not why, when there chanced to be only a few "carrying the air" and they could really hear Waitstill Baxter singing some dear old hymn, full of sacred memories, like:-
"While Thee I seek, protecting Power, Be my vain wishes stilled! And may this consecrated hour With better hopes be filled."
"There may be them in Boston that can sing louder, and they may be able to run up a little higher than Waitstill, but the question is, could any of 'em make Aunt Abby Cole shed tears?" This was Jed Morrill's tribute to his best soprano.
There were Sunday evening prayer-meetings, too, held at "early candlelight," when Waitstill and Lucy Morrill would make a duet of "By cool Siloam's Shady Rill," or the favorite "Naomi," and the two fresh young voices, rising and falling in the tender thirds of the old tunes, melted all hearts to new willingness of sacrifice.
"Father, whate'er of earthly bliss Thy sov'reign will denies, Accepted at Thy Throne of grace Let this petition rise!
"Give me a calm, a thankful heart, From every murmur free! The blessing of Thy grace impart And let me live to Thee!"
How Ivory loved to hear Waitstill sing these lines! How they eased his burden as they were easing hers, falling on his impatient, longing heart like evening dew on thirsty grass!
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