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“I can't help it,” chattered on the irrepressible child. “What did he want to come into the kitchen for when granny was giving us supper, and scold because she made cookies for us? Granny 'most cried, and he kept tellin’ how he'd said before she shouldn't do it, and he wouldn't have it.” “Don’t talk about it, Edy,” said her mother, full of grief and indignation. “Mother, it's true. I heard him too,” interposed Sylvia, who thought Ede's word was doubted, for the voluble and outspoken child was a little apt to embellish her reports. “Well, Sylvy dear, it isn't best to talk about a good many things that are true.” But for all that, Mindwell did discuss the matter with Sam before she slept, in that “grand committee of two" which is the strength and comfort of a happy marriage. “What ever can we do about it, Sam 7” she said, with tears in her voice. “I can't bear to keep the children to home— mother sets by 'em like her life—but if they’re going to make trouble between her and Deacon Flint, don't you think I had ought to prevent their going there 3’’ “Well, it does seem hard on mother every way, but I guess I can fix it. You know we had a heap of wheat off that east lot last year, and I’ve sent it to mill to be ground up for us. I guess I'll take and send a barrel on't over to mother for a present. The deacon won't mistrust nothing, nor he can’t say nothing about her usin' on't for the children.” “That's the verything,” said Mindwell. And so it was, for that small trouble; yet that was only a drop in the bucket. After a few years of real privation, and a worse hunger of spirit, Mrs. Flint's health began to fail. She grew nervous and irritable, and the deacon browbeat her more than ever. Her temper had long since failed under the hourly exasperation of her husband's companionship, and she had become as cross, as peevish, and as exasperating herself as a feeble nature can become under such a pressure. ‘‘I never see nobody so changed as Miss Flint is,” confided Aunt Polly to old Israel. “I’ve always heerd tell that 'flictions was sent for folks's good, but her’m don't seem to work that way a mite.” “Well, Polly, I expect there's a reel vital differ'nce in 'flictions, jest as there is in folks. She picked her n up, as you may
say, when she married him; 'twan’t reelly the Lord's sendin’; she no need to ha'married him if she hadn't ben a min’ to.” “I sorter thought the Lord sent everything 't happened to folks.” “Well, in a manner mabbe He doos, but don't ye rek'lect what David said, how’t he'd ruther fall inter the hands of the Lord than inter men's 2 I expect we're to blame for willful sins, ain't we ? And I guess we fetch 'flictions on ourselves sometimes.” “I don’t see how you make them idees jibe with 'lection and fore-ordination,” rejoined Aunt Polly, who was a zealous theologian, and believed the Saybrook Platform and the Assembly's Catechism to be merely a skillful abridgment and condensation of Scripture. “I don’ know as I’m called to, Polly. I don't believe the Lord's ways is jest like a primer, for everybody to larn right off. I shouldn't have no great respect for a Ruler an’ Governor, as the Confession sez, that wa'n't no bigger'n I was. Land! ef I was to set sail on them seas o' divinity, I should be snooped up in the fust gale, an' drownded right off. I b'lieve He is good, and doos right anyhow. Ef I can't see the way on't, why, it's 'cause my spiritooal eyes ain’t big enough. I can't see into some littler things than Him, and I don't hold to takin' up the sea in a pint cup: 'twon't carry it nohow.” With which aphorism old Israel travelled off with his barrow, leaving Polly amazed and shocked, but perhaps a little wiser after all. Just about this time a cousin of Deacon Flint's died “over in York State,” as he said, and left him guardian of her only daughter, a girl of eighteen. A couple of thousand dollars was all the property that the widow Eldridge had to give her child, for they had both worked hard for their living after the husband and father left them, and this money was the price of the farm which had been sold at his death. It was something to get so much cash into his own hands, and the deacon accordingly wrote at once to Mabel, and offered her a home in his house, intimating that the interest of her money not being enough to board and clothe her, he would, out of family affection, supply these necessities for that inadequate sum, if she was willing to help a little about the house. Mabel was friendless enough to grasp eagerly this hope of a home, and very soon the stage stopped at Deacon Flint's door, and a new inmate entered his house. Mabel Eldridge was a capable, spirited, handsome girl, and before she had been a week in the Flint family understood her position, and resolved only to endure it till something better could be found. In her heart she pitied Aunt Flint, as she called her, as much as she detested the deacon, and her fresh girlish heart fairly ached with compassion and indignation over the poor woman. But she was a great comfort and help while she staid, and though she made that stay as short as possible, and utterly refused to give up her savings-bank book to the deacon, who was unable legally to claim it, since her mother left no will, having only asked him, in a letter written just before her death, to act as Mabel's guardian. Her three months' sojourn in the house made her thoroughly aware of Deacon Flint's character and his wife's sufferings. She could not blame Mrs. Flint that she snapped back at the deacon's snarls, or complained long and bitterly of her wants and distresses. “You don't know nothing what it is, Mabel,” she said one day, sobbing bitterly. “I’m put upon so hard. I want for clothes, and for vittles, and for some time to rest, so s't I don't know but what 'twill clean kill me; and if 'twa'n't for the childern, I'd wish to die; but I do cleave to them amazingly.” Indignant tears filled Mab's eyes. “I don't know how you bear it, aunty,” she said, putting her arms about the old lady's neck. “Can't you get away from him anyhow !" “I could, but I suppose I hadn't ought to. There's a house on my farm that ain't goin’ to be in use come next April. Hiram Smith, him that's rented it along back, wants some repairin’ done on’t, and Mr. Flint won't hear to t, so Hi he's been and gone and bought a piece of ground acrost the road, an' put up a buildin’ for himself. He's got a long lease of the land, but he don’t want the house no more, and he won't pay for’t. I spose I might move over there for a spell, and have some peace; there's enough old furnitoor there that was father's : but then, agin, I do suppose I haven't no right to leave my husband.” “Haven't you got any right to save your life " indignantly asked Mabel. “It ha'n't come to that, not quite,” said Mrs. Flint, sadly.
But before April she began to think it was a matter of life and death to stay any longer with the man. Mabel had left her some months before, and gone into the family of Sam Pratt's mother, in Colebrook, promising her aunt that if ever the time came when she needed her in another home, she would come and take care of her. Toward the middle of February Mrs. Flint was seized with congestion of the lungs, and was very ill indeed. A fear of public opinion made Deacon Flint send for the doctor, but nothing could induce him to let a nurse enter the house, or even to send for Mindwell Pratt. He was able to do for his wife, he said, and nobody could interfere. It was the depth of winter, and the communication between Bassett and Colebrook was not frequent in the best weather, neither place being dependent on the other for supplies; and now the roads were blocked with heavy drifts, and the inhabitants of both places had hibernated, as New-Englanders must in winter. It was a matter of congratulation with Deacon Flint that he had no out-door work to do just now, and so was spared the expense of a woman to care for his wife; he could do it, too, more economically than a nurse; it did not matter to him that the gruel was lumpy, or burned, or served without flavoring; sick folks, particularly with serious sickness, ought not to pamper the flesh—their souls were the things to be considered; he did not want to have Sarepta die, for she had an income that helped him much, but he did not want her to be a “bill of expense,” as he phrased it, so while he read the Bible to her twice a day, and prayed to, or rather at, her by the hour, he fed her on sloppy gruel and hard bread, sage tea and cold toast without butter, and just kept life flickering within her till she could get about and help herself unknown to him to draughts of fresh milk, and now and then a raw egg. But she did not get well; she was feeble and wasted a long time; the village doctor, knowing what Deacon Flint was, and filled with pity for his wife, called often, carefully stating that his visits were those of a friend, but urging also that Mrs. Flint should have a generous diet, and a glass of wine daily, to restore her strength. The deacon heard him through in silence, and when he left began to growl. “Well, fools a'n't all dead yet. Wine! I guess not; a good drink o' thoroughwort tea's wuth all the wine in creation. Wine's a mocker, an’ strong drink is ragin'. Doctor Grant don't read his Bible as he'd ought to.” “There ain't nothin' in the Bible aginst beef tea, I guess,” feebly piped his wife. “I do feel as though that would fetch me up; can't you get a piece o' meat down to the slaughter, deacon?” “I don't see no need on’t, Sarepty; you're doin' reasonable well; meat is reel costly, an’ pomperin’ the flesh is sinful. I'll git another cod-fish next time I go to the store; that's nourishin'. I don't hold to Grant's idees entire; besides, ’twa’n’t nothin’ what he said ; he come as a friend.” The poor woman burst into tears; indignation gave her momentary strength; she did not hear the shed door open behind her, but she rose in her chair like a spectre, and looked at him with burning eyes. “Amasy Flint, I b'lieve you'd a sight rather I'd die than live; I hain't had decent vittles since I was took sick, nor no care whatever. You're a loud pray-er an' reader, but if 'twa'n't for the name of it I b'lieve you'd kill me with the axe instead of starvation. I've a good mind to send for Squire Battle and swear the peace against ye.” Deacon Flint at this moment saw a shocked face behind his wife's chair ; it was Polly Morse. His acuteness came to the rescue. “She’s a leetle out,” he said, nodding to the unexpected guest. “Come right along, Polly.” This was too much for the weak woman to bear. She fell back and fainted. Her indignation had overborne her weakness for a moment, but exhausted it also. And when she awoke to life, Polly was rubbing her and crying over her, but her husband had gone. Those tears of sympathy were more than she could endure silently. She put her arms round Polly's neck, and sobbing like a child, poured out the long list of her sorrows into that faithful ear. “Bless your dear soul .." said Polly, wiping her eyes, “ you can't tell me nothing new about him. Didn't I summer an' winter him, so to speak, afore you come here 2 Don't I know what killed the fust woman "Twa'n't no fever, ef they did call it so: 'twas livin' with him—want o' food an' fire an' lovin'-kindness. Don't
tell me. I pitied ye afore ye was married, an' I hain't stopped yit.” But Polly's words were not words only, from that day on. Many a cup of broth, vial of currant wine, or bit of hot stewed chicken found its way surreptitiously to Mrs. Flint, and her strength of mind and body returned fast, with this sympathy for one and food for the other. She made up her mind at last that she would leave her husband, at least for a time, and in her own house endeavor to find the peace and rest necessary to her entire recovery. If she could have seen Mindwell and Sam, and taken counsel with them, her course might have been different, but the roads were now well-nigh impassable from deep mud, and she could not get to Colebrook, and in sheer desperation she resolved to leave her present home as soon as Hiram Smith moved from the farm-house. Fortunately for her, the deacon had to attend town-meeting, three miles off, on the first Monday in April, and, with Polly and Israel to help her, Mrs. Flint was established in the other house before he returned and found her flown. His wrath was great but still: he said and did nothing, never went near her, and, for very shame's sake, did not speak of her—for what could he say? Perhaps in that solitary house, whose silence was like balm to her weary and fevered soul, she might have starved but for the mercy of her neighbors. Polly Morse had a tongue of swiftness, and it never wagged faster than in Mrs. Flint's behalf. Dr. Grant sent half a barrel of flour to that destitute dwelling, and Israel a bushel of apples. Polly, out of her poverty, shared her kit of pork with the poor woman, and Hiram Smith brought in a barrel of potatoes and a bag of meal, which he duly charged against her account with the farm. But there were many who dared not help her, for the deacon held notes and mortgages on many a house and of many a man in Bassett who could not afford to offend him. And old Parson Roberts was just then shut up with an attack of low fever, so he knew nothing about the matter. However, the deacon was not long to be left nursing his wrath. Food and fire are not enough for life sometimes. The old house was leaky, damp, comfortless, and in a few weeks Mrs. Flint was taken again with disease of the lungs, and Polly Morse found her in her bed, unable to speak loud, her fire gone out, and the rain dripping down in the corner of her bedroom. Polly had come to tell her that Israel was going to Colebrook to buy a pig, and would take any message. She did not tell her, but, stepping to the door, called to him across the yard to tell Sam Pratt he must come over to Bassett directly. This done, she hunted about for something to make a fire, and then looked for the tea; but there was none. Nothing like food remained but a half-loaf of bread and some cold potatoes, so she had to break the bread up in some hot water, and feed the exhausted woman slowly, while she chafed her icy feet, and covered her closely with her own shawl. The next day Sam and Mindwell came over, shocked and indignant, their wagon loaded with provisions, and the old house was soon filled with odors of beef broth, milk porridge, fragrant tea and toast, and the sharp crackle of a great fire in two rooms, while, best of all, tender hands fed and soothed the poor woman, and soft filial kisses comforted her starved soul. Mindwell could not stay—there was a little baby at home—but Sam would be left behind while old Israel drove her back to Colebrook, and fetched Mabel Eldridge to take her place. Mab burst into a passion of tears when she entered the kitchen. “I knew it!” she sobbed: “I knew that old wretch would kill her!” And it was long before Sam could calm her anger and grief, and bring her in to the invalid. In the course of two or three weeks, however, Mab's faithful nursing, and Sam's care and providing, brought back life and some strength to the perishing woman. And meanwhile Polly's tongue had wagged well; it flew all over Bassett that Deacon Flint's wife had left him, and almost died of cold and hunger. To-day such a rumor would have had some direct effect on its object, but then to find fault with authorities was little less than a sin, and for a wife to leave her husband, a fearful scandal. In spite of the facts and all their witnesses, the sentiment of Bassett went with the deacon. Conjugal subjection was the fashion, or rather the principle and custom, of the day, and was to be upheld in spite of facts. However, Parson Roberts by this time had heard of the matter, and called Deacon Flint to account, thinking it to be his duty.
“This is the hull sum and substance on't, parson,” explained the deacon: “Miss Flint is a miser’ble, hystericky female, a dreadful weak vessel, and noways inclined to foller Scripter in the marriage relation. I’ve gin her the same livin' I had myself. I hain't denied her food an’ raiment, where with she had ought to be content, as the Postle Poll says; but she is real permickity, and given to the lusts of the flesh about her eatin', and I feel it to be my dooty to be a faithful stooard of my substance, and not pomper up our poor perishin' bodies, while there is forty million more or less o' heathen creturs lyin' in wickedness in foreign parts. Ye know, parson, I hain't never stented my contributions to them things; I've ben constant to means of grace allus, and I may say a pillar—mabbe a small and creaky one, but still a pillar—in the temple, sech as 'tis. I don’ know as I had ought to be disturbed by this strife of tongues.”
Parson Roberts was a little confounded. He himself loved a bit of good eating—a cantle of chicken pie, a tender roast pig, a young chicken broiled on hickory coals, or a succulent shad from the Connecticut, washed down with sparkling cider or foaming flip—and the consciousness of this mild weakness gave undue exaltation to Deacon Flint's boasted asceticism. The parson was too honestly humble to see that Deacon Flint loved money with a greed far surpassing that of any epicure; that his own fault was but a failing, while the other was a passion. Besides, he considered that Mrs. Flint had
made light of the sacred ordinance of .
marriage, and set an awful example to the wives of the parish; so he went away from this interview convinced that the deacon was a stern saint, and his wife a weak sinner. Next day, however, the deacon himself was surprised by another visit. Pale and worn, clinging tight to Sam Pratt's arm, and followed by Mabel carrying a cushion, his wife entered the kitchen, where he sat devouring salt pork and potatoes with the zest of a dog who gnaws his bone unmolested. “I come back, Amasy, to see if we couldn't agree to get along together agin,” she said, weakly and meekly. “I hear there's ben consider'ble talk about my leavin' on ye, and I don't want to cast no reflections. I was tired all out, an' I
“I come BACK, AMAsy.”
wanted to rest a spell. Sam an’ Mab has nursed me up, so’t I could get along now, I guess.” The man turned his cold green-gray eyes on her slowly. “I don' know what you want to come back for now,” he said. “Why, I want for to do my duty so far as I can.” “You had oughter have considered that afore you went off,” was the dogged answer. Tears ran down the poor woman's face; she could not speak. Mabel's beautiful eyes blazed with wrath; she made a step forward; but Sam Pratt gently put her back, and said: “Look here, Deacon Flint. Mother left you because she hadn't food, nor care, nor nothing she needed, myther when she was sick nor when she was gettin' better. She thought a spell o' rest would do her good; she knowed by that smart contrack you got out of her that you owed her a livin' anyhow, and you hain't done a thing to'rds it sense she went to her own house. Now I don't call that conduct honest by no means, much less Christian.” “Jedge not, Samwell Pratt. Scripter no less on statoot law commands a wife to be subjeck to her husband. Sarepty
had what I had. I done what I jedged best for her, and instead of submittin' to her head, she up and went off to live by herself, and lef me to git along as I could. I wa'n't noway bound by no law nor no contrack to supply her with means so long as she went away from her dooties, and made me an astonishment an a hissin' in Israel, so to speak.” “Stop right there!” broke in Mabel, furious. “I’ve heard say the devil could fetch Scripter to further his own purposes, and I b'lieve it. Didn't you have no duties to your wife & Don't the Bible say you’ve got to love and cherish her ? Don't tell me! I lived here long enough to see you starve and browbeat and torment her; I know your mean, hateful, crabbed ways, and I don't know how she lived with you so long. She ought to have run away years ago; and if folks do hiss at you, it's more n time they did. Christian --you a Christian You're a dyed-in-the-wool hypocrite. If you're pious, I hope I shall be a reprobate.” “I ha'n't no doubt but what you will be, young woman,” answered the deacon, with cold fury. “You'd ought to be put under the pump this minnit for a common scold. Get out of my house right off!”