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Old Israel's wrinkled face, puckered mouth, and deep-set eyes twitched with a furtive laugh. He was the village fool, yet shrewder than any man who stopped to jest with him, and a fool only in the satiric sense of jester; for though he had nothing of his own but a tiny brown house and pig-pen, and made his living, such as it was, by doing odd jobs, and peddling yeast from the distilleries at Simsbury, he was the most independent man in Bassett, being regardless of public opinion, and not at all afraid of Parson Roberts. “Well, Aunt Polly,” he answered, “you stay by a spell; the deacon won't want ye too long. He's got a sharp eye, now I tell ye, and he's forehanded as fury. Fust you know, Miss Flint 'll come home, and you’ll go home.” “Miss Flint!” screamed Aunt Polly. “Why, Isr'el Tucker, you give me such a turn' Poor cretur, she's safe under the mulleins this year back. I guess I shall go when she comes, but 'twon't be till the day o' judgment.” “Then the day o' judgment's near by, Aunt Polly; and I reckon it is for one poor cretur. But you don’t somehow seem
me now, certain sure ?” “Not a mite on’t. I see him a-'ilin' up his old harness yesterday, and a-rubbin' down the mare, and I mistrusted he was up to suthin; and Squire Battle he met him a most to Colebrook this mornin’—I heerd him say so. I put this 'n' that together, and drawed my own influences, and I figgered out that he's gone to Colebrook to see if Widder Gold won't hev him. A wife's a lot cheaper than hired help, and this one's got means.” “For mercy's sakes! you don't suppose Sarepty Gold would look at him, do ye 2" “I never see the woman yet that wouldn't look at a man when he axed her to,” was the dry answer. But Aunt Polly was too stunned with her new ideas to retort. She went on as if the sneer at her sex had not reached her ear. “Why, she ha'n't no need to marry him. She's got a good home to Sam Pratt's; and there's that farm here that Hi Smith runs on shares, and money in Harford bank, they do say. She won't have him; don't ye tell me so.” “Women are mortal queer,” replied old Israel.
“If they wa’n’t, there wouldn't no men get married,” snapped Aunt Polly, who was a contented old maid, and never suspected she was “queer” herself. “That's so, Aunt Polly. Mabbe it's what Parson Roberts calls a dispensation, and I guess it is. I say for’t, a woman must be extry queer to marry Amasy Flint, ef she's even got a chance at Bassett poorhouse.” Yet Israel was right in his prophecy. At that very moment Deacon Flint was sitting bolt-upright in a high-backed chair in Sam Pratt's keeping-room, discoursing with the widow Gold. Two people more opposite in aspect could hardly be found. Mrs. Gold was not yet fifty, and retained much of her soft loveliness. Her cheek was still round and fair, her pale brown hair but slightly lined with gray, and the mild light of her eyes shone tenderly yet, though her figure was a little bent, and her hands knotted with work. She looked fair and young in comparison with the grizzled, stern, hard-favored man before her. A far-off Scotch ancestry had bequeathed to him the high cheekbones and deep-set eyes that gave him so severe an aspect, and to these an aquiline nose, a cruel, pinched mouth, a low forehead, and a sallow wrinkled skin added no charms. But the charm of old association brought him a welcome here. Bassett was the home of Mrs. Gold's childhood, and she had a great many questions to ask. Her face gathered color and light as she recalled old affections and sympathies, and the deacon took a certain satisfaction in looking at her. But this was a mere ripple above his serious intention. He meant business, and could not waste time; so as soon as there came a little lull in Mrs. Gold's fluent reminiscences, he curtly began: “I came over to-day on an arrand, Miss Gold—I may say quite a ser'ous arrand. I lost my companion, I suppose ye know, a year ago come September the 10th. She was a good woman, Miss Flint was, savin' and reasonable as ever was.” “I always heard her well spoke of,” modestly rejoined the widow. “Yes, her children praise her in the gates, or they would hev if she'd had any. I feel her loss. And Scripter says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Scripter is right. You are a woman that's seen affliction too, Miss Gold : you’ve passed
wa'n't willin' to consider the subject of uniting yourself to me in the bonds of marriage.”
“Oh!” said the astonished widow.
“I don't want to hurry ye none,” he went on ; “take time on’t. I should like to get my answer right off, but I can make allowance for bein’ onexpected. I’ll come agin next week—say this day week. I hope you'll make it a subject of prayer, and I expect you’ll get light on your duty by that time. I’ve got a good house, and a good farm, and I’ll do well by ye. And moreover and besides, you know Mr. Pratt's folks are pressed some for room, I expect. I guess they won't stand in the way of your goin' to Bassett. Good-day —good-day.”
him; for the deacon was a pillar in Bassett church, owned a large farm and a goodly square house, and was a power in the State, having twice been sent to the General Assembly. She could not but be gratified by the preference, and as she pondered on the matter it grew more feasible. Her girl was hers no longer, but a wife and mother herself, and she who had been all in all to Mindwell was now little more than “grandma” in the house —a sort of suffered and necessary burden on Samuel's hands; but here a home of her own was offered her, a place of dignity among other women—a place where she could ask her children to come to her, and give rather than receive. There is nothing so attractive to a woman who is no longer young as the idea of a home. The shadow of age and its infirmities affrights her ; loneliness is a terror in the future; and the prospect of drifting about here and there, a dependent, poor, proud, unwelcome, when flesh and heart fail, and the ability to labor is gone, makes any permanent shelter a blessed prospect, and draws many a woman into a far more dreadful fate than the work-house mercies or the colder charity of relatives. This terror was strong in Mrs. Gold's feeble heart. She was one of the thousands of women who can not trust what they do not see, and she misjudged her daughter cruelly. Mindwell felt that today, as her mother avowed to her Deacon Flint's offer and her own perplexities. When Mrs. Gold asserted that her daughter could never understand what it was to lose a husband, Mindwell felt a sure but unspoken conviction that the terror of such a bereavement, which confronted her whenever her heart leaped up to meet Samuel, was experience enough for her to interpret thereby the longings of a real bereavement; but she only colored faintly, and answered: “Well, mother, I don't see my way clear to offer you any advice. You must use your own judgment. You know Samuel and me think everything of having you here, and the children just begin to know grandma by heart. But I don’t want to be self-seeking ; if it's for your best good, why, we sha’n’t neither of us say a word. I don't skerce know how to speak about it, it's so strange like and sudden. I can’t say no more than this: if you're going to be happier and better off with Deacon Flint than with your own folks, we haven't no right to hinder you, and we won't.” Mindwell turned away with trembling lips, silent because strong emotion choked her. If she had fallen on her mother's neck and wept, and begged her to stay, with repeated kisses and warm embrace, Mrs. Gold never would have become Mrs. Flint: but she could not appreciate Mindwell's feeling, she took her conscientious self-control and candor for indifference, and her elderly lover loomed through this mist in grander proportions than ever; she resolved then and there that it was her duty to accept him. Mindwell had gone down stairs to find her husband, who sat by the fire fitting a
rake-tail more firmly into a hay rake. He had been caught in a distant field by a heavy shower, and was steaming now close to the fire-place, where a heap of chips was lighted to boil the kettle for tea. Mindwell stole up to him, and laid one hand on his handsome head. He looked up astonished at the slight caress, and saw his wife's eyes were full of tears. “What's the matter, darling o' he said, in his cheery voice. It was like a kiss to her to have him say “darling,” for sweet words were rare among their class; and this was the only one he ever used, kept sacredly, too, for Mindwell. “Oh, Sam,” she answered, with a quiver in her delicate voice, “don’t you think, Deacon Flint wants to marry mother!” “Thunder an' guns! you don't mean it, wife 2 Haw haw haw! It's as good as a general trainin'. Of all things! What doos she say to't 7” “Well, I'm 'most afraid she favors him a little. He's given her a week's time to consider of it; but someway I can't bear to have it thought of.” “Don’t pester your head about it, Miss Pratt. You can't make nor meddle in such things; but I’m free to own that I never was more beat in all my days. Why, Amasy Flint is town-talk for nearness an’ meanness. He pretends to be as pious as a basket o' chips, but I hain't no vital faith in that kind o' pious; I b'lieve in my soul he's a darned old hypocrite.” “Oh, Sam' Sam you hadn't ought to judge folks.” “I suppose I hadn't, reelly; but you know what Scripter says somewhere or 'nother, that some folks's sins are open, an' go to judgment beforehand, and I guess his’n do. I should hate to have mother take up with him.” “What can we do, Sam o' “Nothin', strenoously. I don’ know what 'tis about women-folks in such matters; they won't bear no more meddlin’ with than a paltridge's nest: you’ll spile the brood if you put in a finger. I'd say jest as much as I could about her bein’ always welcome here; I’ll do my part of that set piece o' music; and that's all we can do: if she's set on havin' him, she will, and you nor me can't stop it, Miss Pratt;" with which sound advice Sam rose from the milking stool with his reconstructed rake, took down a coarse comb from the clock case, ran it through his hair by way of toilet, and sat down to supper at the table
shirt, and low boots, all indicating a ceremonial occasion. “Gosh!” said old Israel Tucker, jogging along in his yeast cart, as he met the gray mare in clean harness, whipped up by the deacon in this fine raiment, the old wagon itself being for once washed and greased— “gosh! it's easy tellin’ what he's after. I should think them mulleins an' hardhacks in the buryin'-ground would kinder rustle round. I don’ know, though; mabbe Miss Flint's realized by now that she's better off under them beauties of natur’ than she ever was in Amasy Flint's house. Good land! what fools women-folks be! They don't never know when they're well off. She's had an easy time along back, but she's seen the last on't—she's seen the last on't. Get up, Jewpiter!” Nothing daunted by any mystic or magnetic sense of this vaticination by the highway, Deacon Flint whipped up his bony steed still more, and to such good purpose that he arrived in Colebrook before the widow had taken down the last pinned-up curl on her forehead, or decided which of her two worked collars she would put on, and whether it would be incongruous to wear a brooch of blue enamel with a white centre on which was depicted (in a fine brown tint produced by grinding up in oil a lock of the deceased Ethan Gold's hair) a weeping-willow bending over a tomb, with an urn, and a date on the urn. This did seem a little personal on such an occasion, so she pinned on a blue bow instead, and went down to receive the expecting deacon. “I hope I see you well, ma'am,” said Mr. Flint. “Comfortably well, I'm obleeged to you.” was the prim answer. But the deacon was not to be daunted at this crisis; he plunged valiantly into the middle of things at once. “I suppose you’ve took into consideration the matter in hand, Miss Gold :'' The widow creased her handkerchief between her finger and thumb, and seemed to be critical about the hemming of it; but she pretty soon said, softly, “Yes, I can't say but what I have thought on't a good deal. I've counselled some with the children, too.” “Well, I hope you're fit and prepared to acknowledge the leadin's of Providence to this end, and air about ready to be my companion through the valley of this world up to them fields beyond the swell
in’ flood stands dressed in livin' green. Amen.” The deacon forgot he was not in a prayer-meeting, and so dropped into the hymn-book, as Mr. Wegg did into secular poetry. “H'm, well, there's a good deal to be thought of for and ag'inst it too,” remarked Mrs. Gold, unwilling to give too easy an assent, and so cheapen herself in the eyes of her acute adorer; but when her thoughts were sternly sifted down they appeared to be slight matters, and the deaconsoon carried his point. He wasted no time in this transaction: having “shook hands on it,” as he expressed himself, he proceeded at once to arrange the proanarne. “Well, Sarepty, we're both along in years, and to our time o' life delays is dangerous. I think we'd better get married pretty quick. I'm keepin’ that great lazy Polly Morse, and payin' out cash right along; and you no need to fix up any, you’ve got good clothes enough besides, what's clothes to worms of the dust sech as we be The Catechism says, ‘Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” and if that's so—and I expect 'tis so—why,' tain't nothin' to be concerned about what our poor dyin' bodies is clothed in.” Mrs. Gold did not agree with him at all; she liked her clothes, as women ought to, but his preternatural piety awed her, and she said, meekly enough, “Well, I don't need no great of gowns. I sha’n’t buy but one, I don’t believe.” A faint color stole to her cheek as she said it, for she meant a wedding dress; and Deacon Flint was acute enough to perceive it, and to understand that this was a point he could not carry. “One gown ain't neither here northere, Sarepty, but I aim to fix it on your mind that, as I said afore, delays is dangerous. I purpose, with the Divine blessin', to be married this day two weeks. I suppose you're agreeable 7" The widow was too surprised to deny this soft impeachment, and he went on : “Ye see, there's papers to be drawed up: you’ve got independent means, and so have I, and it’s jest as well to settle things fust as last. Did Ethan Gold leave you a life-int’rest in your thirds, or out an out 2" The widow's lip trembled : her dead husband had been careful of her, more careful than she knew, till now.