• 29 Aug - 04 Sep, 2020
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

How can folks give up their own meeting for that?" Nance pushed her chair back from the table. "Want to see all kinds, I suppose," she said, seriously. "Guess I'll try it myself, another Sunday!" "Anybody to home?" came a very high and wheezy voice from the doorway. Dorcas knew that also, and so did Nance Pete. "It's that old haddocks’ lives up on the mountain," said the latter, composedly, searching in her pocket, and then pulling out a stray bit of tobacco and pressing it tenderly into her pipe. An old man, dressed in a suit of very antique butternut clothes, stood at the sill, holding forward a bunch of pennyroyal.

He was very dry; his cheeks were parchment colour, and he bore the look of an active yet extreme old age. He was totally deaf. Dorcas advanced toward him, taking a bright five-cent piece from her pocket. She held it out to him, and he, in turn, extended the pennyroyal; but before taking it, she went through a solemn pantomime. She made a feint of accepting the herb, and then pointed to him and to the road.

"Yes, yes!" said the old man, irritably. "Bless you! Of course I'm going to meeting. I'll set by myself, though! Yes, I will! Las' Sunday, I set with Joint Marshall, an' every time I sung a note, he dug into me with his elbow, and till I thought I should have fell out from the door. My voice is just as good as ever 'twas, an' sixty-five year ago come spring, I begun to set in the seats." The coin and pennyroyal changed ownership, and he tottered away, chattering to himself in his senile fashion. "Look here, you!" he shouted back, his hand on the gate. "Heard anything of that new doctor round here? Well, he's been a-poking' into my ears, and I guess he would have cured me, if anybody could. You know I don't hear so well's I used to. He went a-peeking' and a-prying' round my ears, as if he'd found a hornet's nest. I don’t know what he sees there; I know he shook his head. I guess we shouldn't have got no such a man to settle down here if he wasn’t so asthma he couldn't got along where he was.

That's the reason he come, they say. He's a bright one!" Dorcas left her sweeping, and ran out after him. For the moment, she forgot his hopeless durance in fleshly walls. "Did he look at them?" she cried. "Did he? Tell me what he said!" "Why, of course I don't hear a better yet!" answered old Simeon, testily, turning to stump away, "but that isn’t no sign I should not have! He's a beauty! I set up now, when he goes by, so I can hear him when he rides back. I put a quilt down in the fore-yard, an' when the ground trembles’ a mite, I got up to see if it's his hosts. Once I laid there till eleven. He's a beauty, he is!" He went quavering down the road, and Dorcas ran back to the house, elated afresh.

An unrewarded old man could give him the poor treasure of his affection, quite unasked. Why should not she? Nance was just taking her unceremonious leave. Her pockets bulged with doughnuts, and she had wrapped half a pie in the Sidelight "Star," surreptitiously filched from the wood box. "Well, I guess I'll be getting' along towards meeting'," she said, in a tone of unconcern, calculated to allay suspicion. "I'm in hopes to get a mite o' terbacker out o' Hiram Cole, if he's setting' looking' at his pigs, where he is 'most every Sunday. I'll have a smoke afore I go in." "Don't you be late?" "I'm a-going' in late, or not at all!" answered Nance, contradictorily. "My bun nit isn’t trimmed on the congregation side, an' I want to give them a chance to see it all round. I'm a-going' up the aisle complete!" Dorcas finished her work, and, having tidied her father's room, sat down by his bedside for the simple rites that made their Sabbath holy.

With the first clanging stroke of the old bell, not half a mile away, they fell into silence, waiting reverently through the necessary pause for allowing the congregation to become seated. Then they went through the service together, from hymn and prayer to the sermon. The parson had his manuscript ready, and he began reading it, in the pulpit-voice of his prime. At that moment, some of his old vigor came back to him, and he uttered the conventional phrases of his church with conscious power; though so little a man, he had always a sonorous delivery. After a page or two, his hands began to tremble, and his voice sank. "You read a spell, Dorcas," he whispered, in pathetic apology. "I'll rest me a minute."

So Dorcas read, and he listened. Presently he fell asleep, and she still went on, speaking the words mechanically, and busy with her own tumultuous thoughts. Amasement possessed her that the world could be so full of joy to which she had long been deaf. She could hear the oriole singing in the elm; his song was almost articulate. The trees waved a little, in a friendly fashion, through the open windows; friendly in the unspoken kinship of green things to our thought, yet remote in their own seclusion. One tall, delicate locust, gowned in summer's finest gear, stirred idly at the top, as if through an inward motion, untroubled by the wind.

Dorcas's mind sought out the doctor, listening to the sermon in her bare little church, and she felt quite content. She had entered the first court of love, where a spiritual possession is enough, and asks no alms of bodily nearness. When she came to the end of the sermon, her hands fell in her lap, and she gave herself up without reserve to the idle delight of satisfied dreaming. The silence pressed upon her father, and he opened his eyes wide with the startled look of one who comprehends at once the requirements of time and place. Then, in all solemnity, he put forth his hands; and Dorcas, bending her head, received the benediction for the congregation he would never meet again. She roused herself to bring in his beef-tea, and at the moment of carrying away the tray, a step sounded on the walk. She knew who it was, and smiled happily. The lighter foot keeping pace beside it, she did not hear. "Dorcas," said her father, "get your bun nit. It's time for Sunday-school." "Yes, father."

The expected knock came at the door. She went forward, tying on her bonnet, and her cheeks were pink. The doctor stood on the door stone, and Phoebe was with him. He smiled at Dorcas, and put out his hand. This, according to Tiverton customs, was a warm demonstration at so meaningless a moment; it seemed a part of his happy friendliness. It was Phoebe who spoke. "I'll stay outside while the doctor goes in. I can sit down here on the step. Your father needn't know I am here anymore than usual. I told the doctor not to talk, coming up the walk." The doctor smiled at her. Phoebe looked like a rose in her Sunday white, and the elder woman felt a sudden joy in her, untouched by envy of her youth and bloom.

Phoebe only seemed a part of the beautiful new laws to which the world was freshly tuned, Dorcas coveted nothing; she envied nobody. She herself possessed all, in usurping her one rich kingdom. "All right," she said. "The doctor can step in now, and see father. I'll hurry back, as soon as Sunday-school is over." She walked away, glancing happily at the flowers on either side of the garden-path. She wanted to touch all their leaves, because, last night, he had praised them. Returning, when her hour was over, she walked very fast; her heart was walking into hunger, and she feared he might be gone. But he was there, sitting on the steps beside Phoebe, and when the gate swung open, they did not hear.

Phoebe's eyes were dropped, and she was poking her parasol into the moss-encrusted path; the doctor was looking into her face, and speaking quite eagerly. He heard Dorcas first, and sprang up. His eyes were so bright and forceful in the momentary gleam of meeting hers, that she looked aside, and tried to rule her quickening breath. "Miss Dorcas," said he, "I'm telling this young lady she mustn't forget to eat her dinner at school. I find she quite ignores it, if she has sums to do, or blots to erase. Why, it's shocking." "Of course she must eat her dinner!" said Dorcas, tenderly. "Why, yes, of course! Phoebe, do as he tells you. He knows." Phoebe blushed vividly. "Does he?" she answered, laughing. "Well, I'll see. Good-by, Miss Dorcas. I'll come in for Friday night meeting, if I don't before. Good-by." "I'll walk along with you," said the doctor. "If you'll let me," he added, humbly. Phoebe turned away with a little toss of her head, and he turned, too, breaking a sprig of southernwood.

Dorcas was glad to treasure the last sight of him putting to his lips the fragrant herb she had bruised for his sake. It seemed to carry over into daylight the joy of the richer night; it was like seeing the silken thread on which her pearls were strung. She called to them impetuously,"Pick all the flowers you want to, both of you!" Then she went in, but she said aloud to herself, "They're all for you," and she whispered his name. "Dorcas," said her father, "the doctor's been here quite a spell. He says there was a real full meeting.' Even Nancy Pete, Dorcas! I feel as if my ministration had been abundantly blessed." Then, in that strangest summer in Dorcas's life, time seemed to stand still. The happiest of all experiences had befallen her; not a succession of joys, but a permanent delight in one unchanging mood. The evening of his coming had been the first day; and the evening and the morning had ever since been the same in glory. He came often, sometimes with Phoebe, sometimes alone; and, being one of the men on whom women especially lean, Dorcas soon found herself telling him all the poor trials of her colourless life.

Nothing was too small for his notice. He liked her homely talk of the garden and the church, and once gave up an hour to spading a plot where she wanted a new round bed. Dorcas had meant to put lilies there, but she remembered he loved ladies'-delights; so she gathered them all together from the nooks and corners of the garden, and set them there, a sweet, old-fashioned company. "That's for thoughts!" She took to wearing flowers now, not for the delight of him who loved them, but merely as a part of her secret litany of worship. She slept deeply at night, and woke with calm content, to speak one name in the way that forms a prayer. 

to be continued...