This arrangement, by which the Anderson farm was to be sold for a song to some distant stranger, pleased Mrs. Abigail. She could not bear that one of her unbelieving neighbors should even for a fortnight rejoice in a supposed good bargain at her expense. To sell to Mr. Humphreys's friend in Louisville was just the thing. When pressed by some of her neighbors who had not received the Adventist gospel, to tell on what principle she could justify her sale of the farm at all, she answered that if the farm would not be of any account after the end of the world, neither would the money.
Mr. Humphreys went down to the town of Bethany and came back, affecting to have cashed a draft on his friend for two hundred dollars. The deeds were drawn, and a justice of the peace was to come the next morning and take the acknowledgment of Mr. and Mrs. Anderson.
This was what Jonas learned as he sat in the kitchen talking to Cynthy Ann. He had come to bring some message from the convalescent August, and had been detained by the attraction of adhesion.
"I told you it was fox-and-geese. Didn't I? And so Thomas A. Parkins is his name. Gus Wehle said he'd bet the two was one. Well, I must drive this varmint off afore he gits his chickens."
THE SIN OF SANCTIMONY.
Just at this point arrived Mr. Hall, whom I have before described as the good but callow Methodist preacher on the circuit. Some people think that a minister of the gospel should be exempt from criticism, ridicule, and military duty. But the manly minister takes his lot with the rest. Nothing could be more pernicious than making the foibles of a minister sacred. Doubtless Mr. Hall has long since come to laugh at his own early follies, his official sanctimoniousness, and all that; and why should not I, who have been a callow circuit-preacher myself in my day, laugh at my Brother Hall, for the good of his kind?
He had come to visit Sister Cynthy Ann, whose name had long stood on the class-book at Harden's Cross-Roads as a good and acceptable member of the church in full connection. He was visiting formally and officially each family in which there was a member. Had he visited informally and unofficially, and like a man instead of like a minister, he would have done more good. But he came to Samuel Anderson's, and informed Mrs. Anderson that he was visiting his members, and that as one of her household was a member, he would like to have a little religious conversation and prayer with the family. Would she please gather them together?
So Julia was called down-stairs, and Jonas was invited in from the kitchen. The sight of him distressed Brother Hall. For was not this New Light sent here by Satan to lead astray one of his flock? But, at least, he would labor faithfully with him.
He began with Mr. Samuel Anderson. But that worthy, after looking at his wife in vain for a cue, darted off about the trumpets of the Apocalypse.
"Mr. Anderson, as head of this family, your responsibility is very great. Do you feel the full assurance, my brother?" asked Mr. Hall.
"Yes," said Mr. Anderson, "I am standing with my lamp trimmed and ready. I am listening for the midnight shout. To-night the trumpet may sound. I am afraid you don't do your duty, or you would lift up your voice. The tune and times and a half are almost out."
Mr. Hall was a little dashed at this. A man whose religious conversation is of a set and conventional type, is always shocked and jostled when he is thrown from the track. And he himself, like everybody else, had felt the Adventist infection, and did not want to commit himself. So he turned to Mrs. Anderson. She answered like a seraph every question put to her—the conventional questions never pierce the armor of a hypocrite or startle the conscience of a self-deceiver. Mr. Hall congratulated her in his most official tone (a compound of authority, awfulness, and sanctity) on her deep experience of the things that made for her everlasting peace. He told her that people of her high attainments must beware of spiritual pride. And Mrs. Anderson took the warning with beautiful meekness, sinking into forty fathoms of undisguised and rather ostentatious humility, heaving solemn sighs in token of self-reproach—a self-reproach that did not penetrate the cuticle.
"And you, Sister Cynthy Ann," he said, fighting shy of Jonas for the present, "I trust you are trying to let your light shine. Do you feel that you are pressing on?"
Poor Cynthy Ann sank into a despondency deeper than usual. She was afeard not. Seemed like as ef her heart was cold and dead to God. Seemed like as ef she couldn't no ways gin up the world. It weighed her down like a rock, and many was the fight she had with the enemy. No, she wuzn't getting on.
"My dear sister," said Mr. Hall, "let me warn you. Here is Mrs. Anderson, who has given up the world entirely. I hope you'll follow so good an example. Do not be led astray by worldly affections; they are sure to entrap you. I am afraid you have not maintained your steadfastness as you should." Here Mr. Hall's eye wandered doubtfully to Jonas, of whom he felt a little afraid. Jonas, on his part, had no reason to like Mr. Hall for his advice in Cynthy's love affair, and now the minister's praises of Mrs. Anderson and condemnation of Cynthy Ann had not put him in any mood to listen to exhortation.
"Well, Mr. Harrison," said the young minister solemnly, approaching Jonas much as a dog does a hedgehog, "how do you feel to-day?"
"Middlin' peart, I thank you; how's yourself?"
This upset the good man not a little, and convinced him that Jonas was in a state of extreme wickedness.
"Are you a Christian?"
"Wal, I 'low I am. How about yourself, Mr. Hall?"
"I believe you are a New Light. Now, do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?" asked the minister in an annihilating tone.
"Yes, I do, my aged friend, a heap sight more'n I do in some of them that purtends to hev a paytent right on all his blessins, and that put on solemn airs and call other denominations hard names. My friend, I don't believe in no religion that's made up of sighs and groans and high temper" (with a glance at Mrs. Anderson), "and that thinks a good deal more of its bein' sound in doctrine than of the danger of bein' rotten in life. They's lots o' bad eggs got slick and shiny shells!"
Mr. Hall happened to think just here of the injunction against throwing pearls before swine, and so turned to Humphreys, who made his heart glad by witnessing a good confession, in soft and unctuous tones, and couched in the regulation phrases which have worn smooth in long use.
Julia had slunk away in a corner. But now he appealed to her also.
"Blest with a praying mother, you, Miss Anderson, ought to repent of your sins and flee from the wrath to come. You know the right way. You have been pointed to it by the life of your parents from childhood. Reared in the bosom of a Christian household, let me entreat you to seek salvation immediately."
I do not like to repeat this talk here. But it is an unfortunate fact that goodness and self-sacrificing piety do not always go with practical wisdom. The novelist, like the historian, must set down things as he finds them. A man who talks in consecrated phrases is yet in the poll-parrot state of mental development.
"Do you feel a desire to flee from the wrath to come?" he asked.
Julia gave some sort of inaudible assent.
"My dear young sister, you have great reason to be thankful—very great reason for gratitude to Almighty God." (Like many other pious young men, Mr. Hall said Gawd.) "I met you the other night at your uncle's. The young man whose life we then despaired of has recovered." And with more of this, Mr. Hall told Julia's secret, while Mrs. Anderson, between her anger and her rapt condition of mind, seemed to be petrifying.
I trust the reader does not expect me to describe the feelings of Julia while Mr. Hall read a chapter and prayed. Nor the emotions of Mrs. Anderson. I think if Mr. Hall could have heard her grind her teeth while he in his prayer gave thanks for the recovery of August, he would not have thought so highly of her piety. But she managed to control her emotions until the minister was fairly out of the house. In bidding good-by, Mr. Hall saw how pale and tremulous Julia was, and with his characteristic lack of sagacity, he took her emotion to be a sign of religious feelings and told her he was pleased to see that she was awakened to a sense of her condition.
And then he left. And then came the deluge.
The indescribable deluge! But, after all, the worst of anything of that sort is the moment before it begins. A plunge-bath, a tooth-pulling, an amputation, and a dress-party are all worse in anticipation than in the moment of infliction. Julia, as she stood busily sticking a pin in the window-sash, waiting for her mother to begin, wished that the storm might burst, and be done with it. But Mrs. Anderson understood her business too well for that. She knew the value of the awful moments of silence before beginning. She had not practiced all her life without learning the fine art of torture in its exquisite details. I doubt not the black-robed fathers of the Holy Office were leisurely gentlemen, giving their victims plenty of time for anticipatory meditation, laying out their utensils quietly, inspecting the thumb-screw affectionately to make sure that it would work smoothly, discussing the rack and wheel with much tender forethought, as though torture were a sweet thing, to be reserved like a little girl's candy lamb, and only resorted to when the appetite has been duly whetted by contemplation. I never had the pleasure of knowing an inquisitor, and I can not certify that they were of this deliberate fashion. But it "stands to nature" that they were. For the vixens who are vixens of the highest quality, are always deliberate.
Mrs. Anderson felt that the piece of invective which she was about to undertake, was not to be taken in hand unadvisedly, "but reverently, discreetly, and in the fear of God." And so she paused, and Julia fumbled the tassel of the window-curtain, and trembled with the chill of expectation. And Mrs. Abigail continued to debate how she might make this, which would doubtless be her last outburst before the day of judgment, her masterpiece—worthy song of the dying swan. And then she hoped, she sincerely hoped, to be able by this awful coup de main to awaken Julia to a sense of her sinfulness. For there was such a jumble of mixed motives in her mind, that one could never distinguish her sincerity from her hypocrisy.
Mrs. Anderson's conscience was quite an objective one. As Jonas often remarked, "she had a feelin' sense of other folkses unworthiness." And the sins which she appreciated were generally sins against herself. Julia's disobedience to herself was darker in her mind than murder committed on anybody else would have been. And now she sat deliberating, not on the limit of the verbal punishment she meant to inflict—that gave her no concern—but on her ability to do the matter justice. Even as a tyrannical backwoods school-master straightens his long beech-rod relishfully before applying it.
Not that Mrs. Anderson was silent all this time. She was sighing and groaning in a spasmodic devotion. She was "seeking strength from above to do her whole duty," she would have told you. She was "agonizing" in prayer for her daughter, and she contrived that her stage-whisper praying should now and then reach the ears of its devoted object. Humphreys remained seated, pretending to read the copy of "Josephus," but watching the coming storm with the interest of a connoisseur. And while he remained Jonas determined to stay, to keep Julia in countenance, and he beckoned to Cynthy to stay also. And Samuel Anderson, who loved his daughter and feared his wife, fled like a coward from the coming scene. Everybody expected Mrs. Anderson to break out like a fury.
But she knew a better plan than that. She felt a new device come like an inspiration. And perhaps it was. It really seemed to Jonas that the devil helped her. For instead of breaking out into commonplace scolding, the resources of which she had long since exhausted, she dropped upon her knees, and began to pray for Julia.
No swearer ever curses like the priest who veils his personal spites in official and pious denunciations, and Mrs. Anderson had never dealt out abuse so roundly and terribly and crushingly, as she did under the guise of praying for the salvation of Julia's soul from well-deserved perdition. But Abigail did not say perdition. She left that to weak spirits. She thought it a virtue to say "hell" with unction and emphasis, by way of alarming the consciences of sinners. Mrs. Anderson's prayer is not reportable. That sort of profanity is too bad to write. She capped her climax—even as I have heard a revivalist pray for a scoffer that had vexed his righteous soul—by asking God to convert her daughter, or if she could not be converted to take her away, that she might not heap up wrath against the day of wrath. For that sort of religious excitement which does not quiet the evil passions, seems to inflame them, and Mrs. Anderson was not in any right sense sane. And the prayer was addressed more to the frightened Julia than to God. She would have been terribly afflicted had her petition been granted.
Julia would have run away from the admonition which followed the prayer, had it not been that Mrs. Anderson adroitly put it under cover of a religious exhortation. She besought Julia to repent, and then, affecting to show her her sinfulness, she proceeded to abuse her.
Had Julia no temper? Yes, she had doubtless a spice of her mother's anger without her meanness. She would have resisted, but that from childhood she had felt paralyzed by the utter uselessness of all resistance. The bravest of the villagers at the foot of Vesuvius never dreamed of stopping the crater's mouth.
But, happily, at last Mrs. Anderson's insane wrath went a little too far.
"You poor lost sinner," she said, "to think you should go to destruction under my very eyes, disgracing us all, by running over the country at night with bad men! But there's mercy even for such as you."
Julia would not have understood the full meaning of this aspersion of her purity, had she not caught Humphreys's eye. His expression, half sneer, half leer, seemed to give her mother's saying its full interpretation. She put out her hand. She turned white, and said: "Say one word more, and I will go away from you and never come back! Never!" And then she sat down and cried, and then Mrs. Anderson's maternal love, her "unloving love," revived. To have her daughter leave her, too, would be a sort of defeat. She hushed, and sat down in her splint-bottomed rocking-chair, which snapped when she rocked, and which seemed to speak for her after she had shut her mouth. Her face settled into a martyr-like appeal to Heaven in proof of the justice of her cause. And then she fell back on her forlorn hope. She wept hysterically, in sincere self-pity, to think that an affectionate mother should have such a daughter!
Julia, finding that her mother had desisted, went to her room. She did not exactly pray, but she talked to herself as she paced the floor. It was a monologue, and yet there was a conscious appeal to an invisible Presence, who could not misjudge her, and so she passed from talking to herself to talking to God, and that without any of the formality of prayer. Her mother had made God seem to be against her. Now she, like David, protested her innocence to God. She recited half to herself, and yet also to God—for is not every appeal to one's conscience in some sense an appeal to God?—she recited all the struggles of that night when she went to August at the castle. People talk of the consolation there is in God's mercy. But Julia found comfort in God's justice. He could not judge her wrongly.
Then she opened the Testament at the old place, and read the words long since fixed in her memory. And then she—weary and heavy laden—came again to Him who invites, and found rest. And then she found, as many another has found, that coming to God is not, as theorists will have it, a coming once for a lifetime, but a coming oft and ever repeated.
Jonas and Cynthy Ann retired to the kitchen, and the former said hi his irreverent way, "Blamed ef Abigail ha'nt got more devils into her'n Mary Magdalene had the purtiest day she ever seed! I should think, arter a life with her fer a mother, the bad place would be a healthy and delightful clime. The devil a'n't a patchin' to her."
"Don't, Jonas; you talk so cur'us, like as ef you was kinder sorter wicked."
"That's jest what I am, my dear, but Abigail Anderson's wicked without the kinder sorter. She cusses when she's a-prayin'. She cusses that poar gal right in the Lord's face. Good by, I must go. Smells so all-fired like brimstone about here." This last was spoken in an undertone of indignant soliloquy, as he crossed the threshold of Cynthy's clean kitchen.
SCARING A HAWK.
Jonas was thoroughly alarmed. He exaggerated the harm that Humphreys might do to August, now that he knew where he was. August, on his part, felt sure that Humphreys would not do anything against him; certainly not in the way of legal proceedings. And as for the sale of Samuel Anderson's farms, that did not disturb him. Like almost everybody else at that time, August Wehle was strongly impressed by the assertions of the Millerites, and if the world should be finished in the next month, the farms were of no consequence. And if Millerism proved a delusion, the loss of Samuel Anderson's property would only leave Julia on his level, so far as worldly goods went. The happiness this last thought brought him made him ashamed. Why should he rejoice in Mr. Anderson's misfortune? Why should he wish to pull Julia down to him? But still the thought remained a pleasant one.
Jonas would not have it so. He had his plan. He went home from the Adventist meeting that very night with Cynthy Ann, and then stood talking to her at the corner of the porch, feeling very sure that Humphreys would listen from above. He heard his stealthy tread, after a while, disturb a loose board on the upper porch. Then he began to talk to Cynthy Ann in this strain:
"You see, I can't tell no secrets, Cynthy Ann, even to your Royal Goodness, as I might say, seein' as how as you a'n't my wife, and a'n't likely to be, if Brother Goshorn can have his way. But you're the Queen of Hearts, anyhow. But s'pose I was to hint a secret?"
"Sh—sh—h-h-h!" said Cynthy Ann, partly because she felt a sinful pleasure in the flattery, and partly because she felt sure that Humphreys was above. But Jonas paid no attention to the caution.
"I'll give you a hint as strong as a Irishman's, which they do say'll knock you down. Let's s'pose a case. They a'n't no harm in s'posin' a case, you know. I've knowed boys who'd throw a rock at a fence-rail and hit a stump, and then say, 'S'posin' they was a woodpecker on that air stump, wouldn't I a keeled him over?' You can s'pose a case and make a woodpecker wherever you want to. Well, s'posin' they was a inquisition or somethin' of the kind from the guv'nor of the State of ole Kaintuck to the guv'nor of the State of Injeanny? And s'posin' that the dokyment got lodged in this 'ere identical county? And s'posin' it called fer the body of one Thomas A. Parkins, alias J.W. 'Umphreys? And s'posin' it speecified as to sartain and sundry crimes committed in Paduky and all along the shore, fer all I know? Now, s'posin' all of them air things, what would Clark township do to console itself when that toonful v'ice and them air blazin' watch-seals had set in ignominy for ever and ever? Selah! Good-night, and don't you breathe a word to a livin' soul, nur a dead one, 'bout what I been a-sayin'. You'll know more by daylight to-morry 'n you know now."
And the last part of the speech was true, for by midnight the Hawk had fled. And the sale of the Anderson farm to Humphreys was never completed. For three days the end of the world was forgotten in the interest which Clark township felt in the flight of its favorite. And by degrees the story of Norman's encounter with the gamblers and of August's recovery of the money became spread abroad through the confidential hints of Jonas. And by degrees another story became known; it could not long be concealed. It was the story of Betsey Malcolm, who averred that she had been privately married to Humphreys on the occasion of a certain trip they had made to Kentucky together, to attend a "big meeting." The story was probably true, but uncharitable gossips shook their heads.
It was only a few evenings after the flight of Humphreys that Jonas had another talk with Cynthy Ann, in which he confessed that all his supposed case about a requisition from the governor of Kentucky for Humphreys's arrest was pure fiction.
"But, Jonas, is—is that air right? I'm afeard it a'n't right to tell an ontruth."
"So 'ta'n't; but I only s'posed a case, you know."
"But Brother Hall said last Sunday two weeks, that anything that gin a false impression was—was lying. Now, I don't think you meant it, but then I thought I orto speak to you about it."
"Well, maybe you're right. I see you last summer a-puttin' up a skeercrow to keep the poor, hungry little birds of the air from gittin' the peas that they needed to sustain life. An' I said, What a pity that the best woman I ever seed should tell lies to the poor little birds that can't defend theirselves from her wicked wiles! But I see that same day a skeercrow, a mean, holler, high-percritical purtense of a ole hat and coat, a-hanging in Brother Goshorn's garden down to the cross-roads. An' I wondered ef it was your Methodis' trainin' that taught you sech-like cheatin' of the little sparrys and blackbirds."
"Yes; but Jonas—" said Cynthy, bewildered.
"And I see a few days arterwards a Englishman with a humbug-fly onto his line, a foolin' the poor, simple-hearted little fishes into swallerln' a book that hadn't nary sign of a ginowine bait onto it. An' I says, says I, What a deceitful thing the human heart is!"
"Why, Jonas, you'd make a preacher!" said Cynthy Ann, touched with the fervor of his utterance, and inly resolved never to set up another scarecrow.
"Not much, my dear. But then, you see, I make distinctions. Ef I was to see a wolf a-goin' to eat a lamb, what would I do? Why, I'd skeer or fool him with the very fust thing I could find. Wouldn' you, honey?"
"In course," said Cynthy Ann.
"And so, when I seed a wolf or a tiger or a painter, like that air 'Umphreys, about to gobble up fortins, and to do some harm to Gus, maybe, I jest rigged up a skeercrow of words, like a ole hat and coat stuck onto a stick, and run him off. Any harm done, my dear?"
"Well, no, Jonas; I ruther 'low not."
Whether Jonas's defense was good or not, I can not say, for I do not know. But he is entitled to the benefit of it.
JONAS TAKES AN APPEAL
Jonas had waited for the coming of the quarterly meeting to carry his appeal to the presiding elder. The quarterly meeting for the circuit was held at the village of Brayvllle, and beds were made upon the floor for the guests who crowded the town. Every visiting Methodist had a right to entertainment, and every resident Methodist opened his doors very wide, for Western people are hospitable in a fashion and with a bountifulness unknown on the eastern side of the mountains. Who that has not known it, can ever understand the delightfulness of a quarterly meeting? The meeting of old friends—the social life—is all but heavenly. And then the singing of the old Methodist hymns, such as
"Oh! that will be joyful! Joyful! joyful! Oh! that will be joyful, To meet to part no more."
And that other solemnly-sweet refrain:
"The reaping-time will surely come, And angels shout the harvest home!"
And who shall describe the joy of a Christian mother, when her scapegrace son "laid down the arms of his rebellion" and was "soundly converted"? Let those sneer who will, but such moral miracles as are wrought in Methodist revivals are more wonderful than any healing of the blind or raising of the dead could be.
Jonas turned up, faithful to his promise, and called on the "elder" at the place where he was staying, and asked for a private interview. He found the old gentleman exercising his sweet voice in singing,
"Come, let us anew Our journey pursue, Roll round with the year. And never stand still till the Master appear. His adorable will Let us gladly fulfill, And our talents improve By the patience of hope and the labor of love."
"When he concluded the verse he raised his half-closed eyes and saw Jonas standing in the door.
"Mr. Persidin' Elder," said Jonas, trying in vain to speak with some seriousness and veneration, "I come to ax your consent to marry one of your flock—the best lamb you've got in the whole fold."
"Bless you, Mr. Harrison," said Father Williams, the old elder, laughing, "bless you, I haven't any right to consent or forbid. Ask the lady herself!"
"Ax the lady!" said Jonas. "Didn't I though! And didn't Mr. Goshorn forbid the lady to marry me, under the pains and penalties pervided; and didn't Mr. Hall set his seal to the forbiddin' of Goshorn! An' I says to her, 'I won't take nothin' less than a elder or a bishop on this 'ere vital question.' When I want a sheep, I don't go to the underlin,' but to the boss; and so I brought this appeal up to you on a writ of habeas corpus, or whatever you may call it."
The presiding elder laughed again, and looked closely at Jonas. Then he stepped to the door and called in the circuit preacher, Mr. Hall, and the class leader, Mr. Goshorn, both of whom happened to be in the next room engaged in an excited discussion with a brother who was a little touched with Millerism.
"What's this Mr. Harrison tells me about your forbidding the banns in his case?"
"He's a New Light," said Brother Hall, showing his abhorrence in his face, "and it seemed to me that for a Methodist to marry a New Light was a sin—a being yoked together unequally with an unbeliever. You know, Father Williams, that New Lights are Arians."
The old man seemed more amused than ever. Turning to Jonas, he asked him if he was an Arian.
"Not as I knows on, my venerable friend. I may have caught the disease when I had the measles, or I may have been a Arian in infancy, or I may be a Arian on my mother's side, you know; but as I don't know who or what it may be, I a'n't in no way accountable fer it—no more'n Brother Goshorn is to blame fer his face bein' so humbly. But I take it Arian is one of them air pleasant names you and the New Light preachers uses in your Christian intercourse together to make one another mad. I'm one of them as goes to heaven straight—never stoppin' to throw no donicks at the Methodists, Presbyterians, nor no other misguided children of men. They may ride in the packet, or go by flat-boat or keel-boat, ef they chooses. I go by the swift-sailin' and palatial mail-boat New Light, and I don't run no opposition line, nor bust my bilers tryin' to beat my neighbors into the heavenly port."
Brother Goshorn looked vexed. Brother Hall was scandalized at the lightness of Jonas's conversation. But the old presiding elder, with keen common-sense and an equally keen sense of the ludicrous, could not look grave with all his effort to keep from laughing.
"Are you an unbeliever?" he asked.
"I don't know what you call onbeliever. I believe in God and Christ, and keep Sunday and the Fourth of July; but I don't believe in all of Brother Goshorn's nonsense about wearing veils and artificials."
"Well," said Brother Hall, "would you endeavor to induce your wife to dress in a manner unbecoming a Methodist?"
"I wouldn't fer the world. If I git the article I want, I don't keer what it's tied up in, calico or bombazine."
"Couldn't you join the Methodist Church yourself, and keep your wife company?" It was Brother Goshorn who spoke.
"Couldn't I? I suppose I could ef I didn't think no more of religion than some other folks. I could jine the Methodist Church, and have everybody say I jined to git my wife. That may be serving God; but I can't see how. And then how long would you keep me? The very fust time I fired off my blunderbuss in class-meetin', and you heerd the buckshot and the squirrel-shot and the slugs and all sorts of things a-rattlin' around, you'd say I was makin' fun of the Gospel. I 'low they a'n't no Methodist in me. I was cut out cur'us, you know, and made up crooked."
"Is there anything against Mr. Harrison, Brother Goshorn?" asked the elder.
"He's a New Light," said Mr. Goshorn, in a tone that signified his belief that to be a New Light was enough.
"Is he honest and steady?"
"Never heard anything against him as a moralist."
"Well, then, it's my opinion that any member of your class would do better to marry a good, faithful, honest New Light than to marry a hickory Methodist."
Jonas got up like one demented, and ran out of the door and across the street. In a moment he came back, bringing Cynthy Ann in triumph.
"Now, soy them words over again," he said to the presiding elder.
"Sister Cynthy Ann," said the presiding elder, "you really love Brother Harrison?"
"I—I don't know whether it's right to set our sinful hearts on the things of this perishin' world. But I think more of him, I'm afeard, than I had ort to. He's got as good a heart as I ever seed. But Brother Goshorn thought I hadn't orter marry him, seein' he is a onbeliever."
"But I a'n't," said Jonas; "I believe in the Bible, and in everything in it, and in Cynthy Ann and her good Methodist religion besides."
"I think you can give up all your scruples and marry Mr. Harrison, and love him and be happy," said the presiding elder. "Don't be afraid to be happy, my sister. You'll be happy in good company in heaven, and you'd just as well get used to it here."
"I told you I'd find a man that had salt enough to keep his religion sweet. And, Father Williams, you've got to marry us, whenever Cynthy Ann's ready," said Jonas with enthusiasm.
And for a moment the look of overstrained scrupulosity on Cynthy Ann's face relaxed and a strange look of happiness came into her eyes.
And the time was fixed then and there.
Brother Hall was astonished.
And Brother Goshorn drew down his face, and said that he didn't know what was to become of good, old-fashioned Methodism and the rules of the Discipline, if the presiding elders talked in that sort of a way. The church was going to the dogs.
The flight of the Hawk did not long dampen the ardor of those who were looking for signs in the heaven above and the earth beneath. I have known a school-master to stand, switch in hand, and give a stubborn boy a definite number of minutes to yield. The boy who would not have submitted on account of any amount of punishment, was subdued by the awful waiting. We have all read the old school-book story of the prison-warden who brought a mob of criminals to subjection by the same process. Millerism produced some such effect as this. The assured belief of the believers had a great effect on others; the dreadful drawing on of the set time day by day produced an effect in some regions absolutely awful. An eminent divine, at that time a pastor in Boston, has told me that the leaven of Adventism permeated all religious bodies, and that he himself could not avoid the fearful sense of waiting for some catastrophe—the impression that all this expectation of people must have some significance. If this was the effect in Boston, imagine the effect in a country neighborhood like Clark township. Andrew, skeptical as he was visionary, was almost the only man that escaped the infection. Jonas would have been as frankly irreverent if the day of doom had come as he was at all times; but even Jonas had come to the conclusion that "somethin' would happen, or else somethin' else." August, with a young man's impressibility, was awe-stricken with thoughts of the nearing end of the world, and Julia accepted it as settled.
It is a good thing that the invisible world is so thoroughly shut out from this. The effect of too vivid a conception of it is never wholesome. It was pernicious in the middle age, and clairvoyance and spirit-rapping would be great evils to the world, if it were not that the spirits, even of-the ablest men, in losing their bodies seem to lose their wits. It is well that it is so, for if Washington Irving dictated to a medium accounts of the other world in a style such as that of his "Little Britain," for instance, we should lose all interest in the affairs of this sphere, and nobody would buy our novels.
This fever of excitement kept alive Samuel Anderson's determination to sell his farms for a trifle as a testimony to unbelievers. He found that fifty dollars would meet his expenses until the eleventh of August, and so the price was set at that.
As soon as Andrew heard of this, he privately arranged with Jonas to buy it; but Mrs. Anderson utterly refused. She said she could see through it all. Jonas was one of Andrew's fingers. Andrew had got to be a sort of a king in Clark township, and Jonas was—was the king's fool. She did not mean that any of her property should go into the hands of the clique that were trying to rob her of her property and her daughter. Even for two weeks they should not own her house!
Before this speech was ended, Bob Walker entered the door.
Bob was tall, stooped, good-natured, and desperately poor. With ton children under twelve years of age, with an incorrigible fondness for loafing and telling funny stories, Bob saw no chance to improve his condition. A man may be either honest or lazy and got rich; but a man who Is both honest and indolent is doomed. Bob lived in a cabin on the Anderson farm, and when not hired by Samuel Anderson he did days' work here and there, riding to and from his labor on a raw-boned mare, that was the laughing-stock of the county. Bob pathetically called her Splinter-shin, and he always rode bareback, for the very good reason that he had neither saddle nor sheepskin.
"Mr. Anderson," said Bob, standing in the door and trying to straighten the chronic stoop out of his shoulders, "I want to buy your place."
If Bob had said that he wanted to be elected president Samuel Anderson could not have been more surprised.
"You look astonished; but folks don't know everything. I 'low I know how to lay by a little. But I never could git enough to buy a decent kind of a tater-patch. So I says to my ole woman this mornin', 'Jane,' says I, 'let's git some ground. Let's buy out Mr. Anderson, and see how it'll feel to be rich fer a few days. If she all burns up, let her burn, I say. We've had a plaguey hard time of it, let's see how it goes to own two farms fer awhile.' And so we thought we'd ruther hev the farms fer two weeks than a little money in a ole stocking. What d'ye say?"
Jonas here put in that he didn't see why they mightn't sell to him as well as to Bob Walker. Cynthy Ann had worked fer Mrs. Anderson fer years, and him and Cynthy was a-goin' to be one man soon. Why not sell to them?
"Because selling to you is selling to Andrew," said Mrs. Abigail, in a conclusive way.
And so Bob got the farms, possession to be given after the fourteenth of August, thus giving the day of doom three days of grace. And Bob rode round the county boasting that he was as rich a man as there was in Clark Township. And Jonas declared that ef the eend did come in the month of August, Abigail would find some onsettled bills agin her fer cheatin' the brother outen the inheritance. And Clark Township agreed with him.
August was secretly pleased that one obstacle to his marriage was gone. If Andrew should prove right, and the world should outlast the middle of August, there would be nothing dishonorable in his marrying a girl that would have nothing to sacrifice.
Andrew, for his part, gave vent to his feelings, as usual, by two or three bitter remarks leveled at the whole human race, though nowadays he was inclined to make exceptions in favor of several people, of whom Julia stood first. She was a woman of the old-fashioned kind, he said, fit to go alongside Heloise or Chaucer's Grisilde.
THE LAST DAY AND WHAT HAPPENED IN IT.
The religious excitement reached its culmination as the tenth and eleventh of August came on. Some made ascension-robes. Work was suspended everywhere. The more abandoned, unwilling to yield to the panic, showed its effects on them by deeper potations, and by a recklessness of wickedness meant to conceal their fears. With tin horns they blasphemously affected to be angels blowing trumpets. They imitated the Millerite meetings in their drunken sprees, and learned Mr. Hankins's arguments by heart.
The sun of the eleventh of August rose gloriously. People pointed to it with trembling, and said that it would rise no more. Soon after sunrise there were crimson clouds stretching above and below it, and popular terror seized upon this as a sign. But the sun mounted with a scorching heat, which showed that at least his shining power was not impaired. Then men said, "Behold the beginning of the fervent heat that is to melt the elements!" Night drew on, and every "shooting-star" was a new sign of the end. The meteors, as usual at this time of the year, were plentiful, and the simple-hearted country-folk were convinced that the stars were falling out of the sky.
A large bald hill overlooking the Ohio was to be the mount of ascension. Here gathered Elder Hankins's flock with that comfortable assurance of being the elect that only a narrow bigotry can give. And here came others of all denominations, consoling themselves that they were just as well off if they were Christians as if they had made all this fuss about the millennium. Here was August, too, now almost well, joining with the rest in singing those sweet and inspiring Adventist hymns. His German heart could not keep still where there was singing, and now, in gratefulness at new-found health, he was more inclined to music than ever. So he joined heartily and sincerely in the song that begins:
"Shall Simon bear his cross alone, And all the world go free? No, there's a cross for every one, And there's a cross for me. I'll bear the consecrated cross Till from the cross I'm free, And then go home to wear the crown. For there's a crown for me! Yes, there's a crown in heaven above, The purchase of a Saviour's love. Oh I that's the crown for me!"
When the concourse reached the lines,
"The saints have heard the midnight cry, Go meet him in the air!"
neither August nor any one else could well resist the infection of the profound and awful belief in the immediate coming of the end which pervaded the throng. Strong men and women wept and shouted with the excitement.
Then Elder Hankins exhorted a little. He said that the time was short. But men's hearts were hard. As in the days of the flood, they were marrying and giving in marriage. Not half a mile away a wedding was at that time taking place, and a man who called himself a minister could not discern the signs of the times, but was solemnizing a marriage.
This allusion was to the marriage of Jonas, which was to take place that very evening at the castle. Mrs. Anderson had refused to have "such wicked nonsense" at her house, and as Cynthy had no home, Andrew had appointed it at the castle, partly to oblige Jonas, partly from habitual opposition to Abigail, but chiefly to express his contempt for Adventism.
Mrs. Anderson herself was in a state of complete sublimation. She had sent for Norman, that she might get him ready for the final judgment, and Norman, without the slightest inclination to be genuinely religious, was yet a coward, and made a provisional repentance, not meant to hold good if Elder Hankins's figures should fail; just such a repentance as many a man has made on what he supposed to be his death-bed. Do not I remember a panic-stricken man, converted by typhoid fever and myself, who laughed as soon as he began to eat gruel, to think that he had been "such a fool as to send for the preacher"?
Now, between Mrs. Anderson's joy at Norman's conversion, and her delight that the world would soon be at an end and she on the winning side, and her anticipation of the pleasure she would feel even in heaven in saying, "I told you so!" to her unbelieving friends, she quite forgot Julia. In fact she went from one fit of religious catalepsy to another, falling into trances, or being struck down with what was mysteriously called "the power." She had relaxed her vigilance about Julia, for there were but three more hours of time, and she felt that the goal was already gained, and she had carried her point to the very last. A satisfaction for a saint!
The neglected Julia naturally floated toward the outer edge of the surging crowd, and she and August inevitably drifted together.
"Let us go and see Jonas married," said August. "It is no harm. God can take us to heaven from one place as well as another, if we are His children."
In truth, Julia was wearied and bewildered, not to say disgusted, with her mother's peculiar religious exercises, and she gladly escaped with August to the castle and the wedding of her faithful friends.
Andrew, in a spirit of skeptical defiance, had made his castle look as flowery and festive as possible. The wedding took place in the lower story, but the library was illuminated, and the Adventists who had occasion to pass by Andrew's on their way to the rendezvous accepted this as a new fulfillment of prophecy to the very letter. They nodded one to another, and said, "See! marrying and giving in marriage, as in the days of Noah!"
August and Julia were too much awe-stricken to say much on their way to the castle. But in these last hours of a world grown old and ready for its doom, they cleaved closer together. There could be neither heaven nor millennium for one of them without the other! Loving one another made them love God the more, and love cast out all fear. If this was the Last, they would face it together, and if it proved the Beginning, they would rejoice together. At sight of every shooting meteor, Julia clung almost convulsively to August.
When they entered the castle, Jonas and Cynthy were already standing up before the presiding elder, and he was about to begin. Cynthy's face showed her sense of the awfulness of marrying at a moment of such fearful expectation, or perhaps she was troubling herself for fear that so much happiness out of heaven was to be had only in the commission of a capital sin. But, like most people whose consciences are stronger than their intellects, she found great consolation in taking refuge under the wing of ecclesiastical authority. To be married by a presiding elder was the best thing in the world next to being married by a bishop.
Whatever fear of the swift-coming judgment others might have felt, the benignant old elder was at peace. Common-sense, a clean conscience, and a child-like faith enlightened his countenance, and since he tried to be always ready, and since his meditations made the things of the other life ever present, his pulse would scarcely have quickened if he had felt sure that the archangel's trump would sound in an hour. He neither felt the subdued fear shown on the countenance of Cynthy Ann, nor the strong skeptical opposition of Andrew, whose face of late had grown almost into a sneer.
"Do you take this woman to be your lawful and wedded wife—"
And before the elder could finish it, Jonas blurted out, "You'd better believe I do, my friend."
And then when the old man smiled and finished his question down to, "so long as ye both shall live," Jonas responded eagerly, "Tell death er the jedgment-day, long or short."
And Cynthy Ann answered demurely out of her frightened but too happy heart, and the old man gave them his benediction in an apostolic fashion that removed Cynthy Ann's scruples, and smoothed a little of the primness out of her face, so that she almost smiled when Jonas said, "Well! it's done now, and it can't be undone fer all the Goshorns in Christendom er creation!"
And then the old gentleman—for he was a gentleman, though he had always been a backwoodsman—spoke of the excitement, and said that it was best always to be ready—to be ready to live, and then you would be ready for death or the judgment. That very night the end might come, but it was not best to trouble one's self about it. And he smiled, and said that it was none of his business, God could manage the universe; it was for him to be found doing his duty as a faithful servant. And then it would be just like stepping out of one door into another, whenever death or the judgment should come.
While the old man was getting ready to leave, Julia and August slipped away, fearing lest their absence should be discovered. But the peacefulness of the old elder's face had entered into their souls, and they wished that they too were solemnly pronounced man and wife, with so sweet a benediction upon their union.
"I do not feel much anxious about the day of judgment or the millennium," said August, whose idiom was sometimes a little broken. "When I was so near dying I felt satisfied to die after you had kissed my lips. But now that it seems we have come upon the world's last days, I wish I were married to you. I do not know how things will be in the new heaven and the new earth. But I should like you to be my wife there, or at least to have been my wife on earth, if only for one hour."
And then he proposed that they should be made man and wife now in the world's last hour. It was not wrong. It could not give her mother heart-disease, for she would not know of it till she should hear it in the land where there are neither marriages nor sickness. Julia could not see any sin in her disobedience under such circumstances. She did so much want to go into the New Jerusalem as the wedded wife of August "the grand," as she fondly called him.
And so in the stillness of that awful night they walked back to Andrew's castle, and found the venerable preacher, with saddle-bags on his arm, ready to mount his horse, for the presiding elder of that day had no leisure time. Jonas and Cynthy stood bidding him good-by. And the old man was saying again that if we were always ready it would be like stepping from one door into another. But he thought it as wrong to waste time gazing up into heaven to see Christ come, as it had been to gaze after Him when He went away. Even Jonas's voice was a little softened by the fearful thought ever present of the coming on of that awful midnight of the eleventh of August. All were surprised to see the two young people come back.
"Father Williams," said August, "we thought we should like to go into the New Jerusalem man and wife. Will you marry us?"
"Sensible to the last!" cried Jonas.
"According to the laws of this State," said Mr. Williams, "you can not be married without a license from the clerk of the county. Have you a license?"
"No," said August, his heart sinking.
Just then Andrew came up and inquired what the conversation was about.
"Why, Uncle Andrew," said Julia eagerly, "August and I don't want the end of the world to come without being man and wife. And we have no license, and August could not go seven miles and back to get a license before midnight. It is too bad, isn't it? If it wasn't that we think the end of the world is so near, I should be ashamed to say how much I want to be married. But I shall be proud to have been August's wife, when I am among the angels."
"You are a noble woman," said Andrew. "Come in, let us see if anything can be done." And he led the way, smiling.
FOR EVER AND EVER.
When they had all re-entered the castle, Andrew made them sit down. The old minister did not see any escape from the fatal obstacle of a lack of license, but Andrew was very mysterious.
"Virtue is its own reward," said the Philosopher, "but it often finds an incidental reward besides. Now, Julia, you are the noblest woman in these degenerate times, according to my way of thinking."
"That's true as preachin', ef you'll except one," chirped Jonas, with a significant look at his Cynthy Ann. Julia blushed, and the old minister looked inquiringly at Andrew and at Julia. This exaggerated praise from a man so misanthropic as Andrew excited his curiosity.
"Without exception," said Andrew emphatically, looking first at Jonas, then at Mr. Williams, "my niece is the noblest woman I ever knew."
"Please don't, Uncle Andrew!" begged Julia, almost speechless with shame. Praise was something she could not bear. She was inured to censure.
"Do you remember that dark night—of course you do—when you braved everything and came here to see August, who would have died but for your coming?" Andrew was now looking at Julia, who answered him almost inaudibly.
"And do you remember when we got to your gate, on your return, what you said to me?"
"Yes, sir," said Julia.
"To be sure you do, and" (turning to August) "I shall never forget her words; she said, If he should get worse, I should like him to die my husband, if he wishes it. Send for me, day or night, and I will come in spite of everything."
"Did you say that?" asked August, looking at her eagerly.
And Julia nodded her head, and lifted her eyes, glistening with brimming tears, to his.
"You do not know," said Andrew to the preacher, "how much her proposal meant, for you do not know through what she would have had to pass. But I say that God does sometimes reward virtue in this world—a world not quite worn out yet—and she is worthy of the reward in store for her."
Saying this, Andrew went into the closet leading to his secret stairway—secret no longer, since Julia had ascended by that way—and soon came down from his library with a paper in his hand.
"When you, my noble-hearted niece, proposed to make any sacrifice to marry this studious, honest, true-hearted German gentleman, who is worthy of you, if any man can be, I thought best to be ready for any emergency, and so I went the next day and procured the license, the clerk promising to keep my secret. A marriage-license is good for thirty days. You will see, Mr. Williams, that this has not quite expired."
The minister looked at it and then said, "I depend on your judgment, Mr. Anderson. There seems to be something peculiar about the circumstances of this marriage."
"Very peculiar," said Andrew.
"You give me your word, then, that it is a marriage I ought to solemnize?"
"The lady is my niece," said Andrew. "The marriage, taking place in this castle, will shed more glory upon it than its whole history beside; and you, sir, have never performed a marriage ceremony in a case where the marriage was so excellent as this."
"Except the last one," put in Jonas.
I suppose Mr. Williams made the proper reductions for Andrew's enthusiasm. But he was satisfied, and perhaps he was rather inclined to be satisfied, for gentle-hearted old men are quite susceptible to a romantic situation.
When he asked August if he would live with this woman in holy matrimony "so long as ye both shall live," August, thinking the two hours of time left to him too short for the earnestness of his vows, looked the old minister in the eyes, and said solemnly: "For ever and ever!"
"No, my son," said the old man, smiling and almost weeping, "that is not the right answer. I like your whole-hearted love. But it is far easier to say 'for ever and ever,' standing as you think you do now on the brink of eternity, than to say 'till death do us part,' looking down a long and weary road of toil and sickness and poverty and change and little vexations. You do not only take this woman, young and blooming, but old and sick and withered and wearied, perhaps. Do you take her for any lot?"
"For any lot," said August solemnly and humbly.
And Julia, on her part, could only bow her head in reply to the questions, for the tears chased one another down her cheeks. And then came the benediction. The inspired old man, full of hearty sympathy, stretched his trembling hands with apostolic solemnity over the heads of the two, and said slowly, with solemn pauses, as the words welled up out of his soul: "The peace of God—that passeth all understanding" (here his voice melted with emotion)—"keep your hearts—and minds—in the knowledge and love of God.—And now, may grace—mercy—and peace from God—the Father—and our Lord Jesus Christ—be with you—evermore—Amen!" And to the imagination of Julia the Spirit of God descended like a dove into her heart, and the great mystery of wifely love and the other greater mystery of love to God seemed to flow together in her soul. And the quieter spirit of August was suffused with a great peace.
They soon left the castle to return to the mount of ascension, but they walked slowly, and at first silently, over the intervening hill, which gave them a view of the Ohio River, sleeping in its indescribable beauty and stillness in the moonlight.
Presently they heard the melodious voice of the old presiding elder, riding up the road a little way off, singing the hopeful hymns in which he so much delighted. The rich and earnest voice made the woods ring with one verse of
"Oh! how happy are they Who the Saviour obey, And have laid up their treasure above I Tongue can never express The sweet comfort and peace Of a soul in its earliest love."
And then he broke into Watts's
"When I can read my title clear To mansions in the skies, I'll bid farewell to every fear And wipe my weeping eyes!"
There seemed to be some accord between the singing of the brave old man and the peacefulness of the landscape. Soon he had reached the last stanza, and in tones of subdued but ecstatic triumph he sang:
"There I shall bathe my weary soul In seas of heavenly rest, And not a wave of trouble roll Across my peaceful breast."
And with these words he passed round the hill and out of the hearing of the young people.
"August," said Julia slowly, as if afraid to break a silence so blessed, "August, it seems to me that the sky and the river and the hazy hills and my own soul are all alike, just as full of happiness and peace as they can be."
"Yes," said August, smiling, "but the sky is clear, and your eyes are raining, Julia. But can it be possible that God, who made this world so beautiful, will burn it up to-night? It used to seem a hard world to me when I was away from you, and I didn't care how quickly it burned up. But now—"
Somehow August forgot to finish that sentence. Words are of so little use under such circumstances. A little pressure on Julia's arm which was in his, told all that he meant. When love makes earth a heaven, it is enough.
"But how beautiful the new earth will be," said Julia, still looking at the sleeping river, "the river of life will be clear as crystal!"
"Yes," said August, "the Spanish version says, 'Most resplendent, like unto crystal.'"
"I think," said Julia, "that it must be something like this river. The trees of life will stand on either side, like those great sycamores that lean over the water so gracefully."
Any landscape would have seemed heavenly to Julia on this night. A venerable friend of mine, a true Christian philanthropist, whose praise is in all the churches, wants me to undertake to reform fictitious literature by leaving out the love. And so I may when God reforms His universe by leaving out the love. Love is the best thing in novels; not until love is turned out of heaven will I help turn it out of literature. It is only the misrepresentation of love in literature that is bad, as the poisoning of love in life is bad. It was the love of August that had opened Julia's heart to the influences of heaven, and Julia was to August a mediator of God's grace.
By eleven o'clock August Wehle and his wife—it gives me nearly as much pleasure as it did August to use that locution—were standing not far away from the surging crowd of those who, in singing hymns and in excited prayer, were waiting for the judgment. Jonas and Cynthy and Andrew were with them. August, though not a recognized Millerite, almost blamed himself that he should have been away these two hours from the services. But why should he? The most sacramental of all the sacraments is marriage. Is it not an arbitrary distinction of theologians, that which makes two rites to be sacraments and others not? But if the distinction is to be made at all, I should apply the solemn word to the solemnest rite and the holiest ordinance of God's, even if I left out the sacred washing in the name of the Trinity and the broken emblematic bread and the wine. These are sacramental in their solemn symbolism, that in the solemnest symbolism and the holiest reality.
August's whole attention was now turned toward the coming judgment; and as he stood thinking of the awfulness of this critical moment, the exercises of the Adventists grated on the deep peacefulness of his spirit, for from singing their more beautiful hymns, they had passed to an excited shouting of the old camp-meeting ditty whose refrain is:
"I hope to shout glory when this world's all on fire! Hallelujah!"
He and Julia hung back a moment, but Mrs. Abigail, who had recovered from her tenth trance, and had been for some time engaged in an active search for Julia, now pounced upon her, and bore her off, before she had time to think, to the place of the hottest excitement.
THE MIDNIGHT ALARM.
At last the time drew on toward midnight, the hour upon which all expectation was concentrated. For did not the Parable of the Ten Virgins speak of the coming of the bridegroom at midnight?
"My friends and brethren," said Elder Hankins, his voice shaking with emotion, as he held his watch up in the moonlight, "My friends and brethren, ef the Word is true, they is but five minutes more before the comin' in of the new dispensation. Let us spend the last moments of time in silent devotion."
"I wonder ef he thinks the world runs down by his pay-tent-leever watch?" said Jonas, who could not resist the impulse to make the remark, even with the expectation of the immediate coming of the day of judgment in his mind.
"I wonder for what longitude he calculates prophecy?" said Andrew. "It can not be midnight all round the world at the same moment."
But Elder Hankins's flock did not take any astronomical difficulty into consideration. And no spectator could look upon them, bowing silently in prayer, awed by the expectation of the sudden coming of the Lord, without feeling that, however much the expectation might be illusory, the emotion was a fact absolutely awful. Events are only sublime as they move the human soul, and the swift-coming end of time was subjectively a great reality to these waiting people. Even Andrew was awe-stricken from sympathy; as Coleridge, when he stood godfather for Keble's child, was overwhelmed with a sense of the significance of the sacrament from Keble's stand-point. As for Cynthy Ann, she trembled with fear as she held fast to the arm of Jonas. And Jonas felt as much seriousness as was possible to him, until he heard Norman Anderson's voice crying with terror and excitement, and felt Cynthy shudder on his arm.
"For my part," said Jonas, turning to Andrew, "it don't seem like as ef it was much use to holler and make a furss about the corn crap when October's fairly sot in, and the frost has nipped the blades. All the plowin' and hoein' and weedin' and thinnin' out the suckers won't, better the yield then. An' when wheat's ripe, they's nothin' to be done fer it. It's got to be rep jest as it stan's. I'm rale sorry, to-night, as my life a'n't no better, but what's the use of cryin' over it? They's nothin' to do now but let it be gethered and shelled out, and measured up in the standard half-bushel of the sanctuary. And I'm afeard they'll be a heap of nubbins not wuth the shuckin'. But ef it don't come to six bushels the acre, I can't help it now by takin' on."
At twelve o'clock, even the scoffers were silent. But as the sultry night drew on toward one o'clock, Bill Day and his party felt their spirits revive a little. The calculation had failed in one part, and it might in all. Bill resumed his burlesque exhortations to the rough-looking "brethren" about him. He tried to lead them in singing some ribald parody of Adventist hymns, but his terror and theirs was too genuine, and their voices died down into husky whispers, and they were more alarmed than ever at discovering the extent of their own demoralization. The bottle, one of those small-necked, big-bodied quart-bottles that Western topers carry in yellow-cotton handkerchiefs, was passed round. But even the whisky seemed powerless to neutralize their terror, rather increasing the panic by fuddling their faculties.
"Boys!" said Bob Short, trembling, and sitting down on a stump, "this—this ere thing—is a gittin' serious. Ef—well, ef it was to happen—you know—you don't s'pose—ahem—you don't think God A'mighty would be too heavy on a feller. Do ye? Ef it was to come to-night, it would be blamed short notice."
At one o'clock the moon was just about dipping behind the hills, and the great sycamores, standing like giant sentinels on the river's marge, cast long unearthly shadows across the water, which grew blacker every minute. The deepening gloom gave all objects in the river valley a weird, distorted look. This oppressed August. The landscape seemed an enchanted one, a something seen in a dream or a delirium. It was as though the change had already come, and the real tangible world had passed away. He was the more susceptible from the depression caused by the hot sultriness of the night, and his separation from Julia.
He thought he would try to penetrate the crowd to the point where his mother was; then he would be near her, and nearer to Julia if anything happened. A curious infatuation had taken hold of August. He knew that it was an infatuation, but he could not shake it off. He had resolved that in case the trumpet should be heard in the heavens, he would seize Julia and claim her in the very moment of universal dissolution. He reached his mother, and as he looked into her calm face, ready for the millennium or for anything else "the Father" should decree, he thought she had never seemed more glorious than she did now, sitting with her children about her, almost unmoved by the excitement. For Mrs. Wehle had come to take everything as from the Heavenly Father. She had even received honest but thick-headed Gottlieb in this spirit, when he had fallen to her by the Moravian lot, a husband chosen for her by the Lord, whose will was not to be questioned.
August was just about to speak to his mother, when he was forced to hang his head in shame, for there was his father rising to exhort.
"O mine freunde! pe shust immediadely all of de dime retty. Ton't led your vait vail already, and ton't let de debil git no unter holts on ye. Vatch and pe retty!"
And August could hear the derisive shouts of Bill Day's party, who had recovered their courage, crying out, "Go it, ole Dutchman! I'll bet on you!" He clenched his fist in anger, but his mother's eyes, looking at him with quiet rebuke, pacified him in a moment. Yet he could not help wondering whether blundering kinsfolk made people blush in the next world.
"Holt on doo de last ent!" continued Gottlieb. "It's pout goom! Kood pye, ole moon! You koes town, you nebber gooms pack no more already."
This exhortation might have proceeded in this strain indefinitely, to the mortification of August and the amusement of the profane, had there not just at that moment broken upon the sultry stillness of the night one of those crescendo thunder-bursts, beginning in a distant rumble, and swelling out louder and still louder, until it ended with a tremendous detonation. In the strange light of the setting moon, while everybody's attention was engrossed by the excitement, the swift oncoming of a thunder-cloud had not been observed by any but Andrew, and it had already climbed half-way to the zenith, blotting out a third of the firmament. This inverted thunder-bolt produced a startling effect upon the over-strained nerves of the crowd. Some cried out with terror, some sobbed with hysterical agony, some shouted in triumph, and it was generally believed that Virginia Waters, who died a maniac many years afterward, lost her reason at that moment. Bill Day ceased his mocking, and shook till his teeth chattered. And none of his party dared laugh at him. The moon had now gone, and the vivid lightning followed the thunder, and yet louder and more fearful thunder succeeded the lightning. The people ran about as if demented, and Julia was left alone. August had only one thought in all this confusion, and that was to find Julia. Having found her, they clasped hands, and stood upon the brow of the hill calmly watching the coming tempest, believing it to be the coming of the end. Between the claps of thunder they could hear the broken sentences of Elder Hankins, saying something about the lightning that shineth from one part of heaven to the other, and about the promised coming in the clouds. But they did not much heed the words. They were looking the blinding lightning in the face, and in their courageous trust they thought themselves ready to look into the flaming countenance of the Almighty, if they should be called before Him. Every fresh burst of thunder seemed to August to be the rocking of the world, trembling in the throes of dissolution. But the world might crumble or melt; there is something more enduring than the world. August felt the everlastingness of love; as many another man in a supreme crisis has felt it.
But the swift cloud had already covered half the sky, and the bursts of thunder followed one another now in quicker succession. And as suddenly as the thunder had come, came the wind. A solitary old sycamore, leaning over the water on the Kentucky shore, a mile away, was first to fall. In the lurid darkness, August and Julia saw it meet its fate. Then the rail fences on the nearer bank were scattered like kindling-wood, and some of the sturdy old apple-trees of the orchard in the river-bottom were uprooted, while others were stripped of their boughs. Julia clung to August and said something, but he could only see her lips move; her voice was drowned by the incessant roar of the thunder. And then the hurricane struck them, and they half-ran and were half-carried down the rear slope of the hill. Now they saw for the first time that the people were gone. The instinct of self-preservation had proven stronger than their fanaticism, and a contagious panic had carried them into a hay-barn near by.
Not knowing where the rest had gone, August and Julia only thought of regaining the castle. They found the path blocked by fallen trees, and it was slow and dangerous work, waiting for flashes of lightning to show them their road. In making a long detour they lost the path. After some minutes, in a lull in the thunder, August heard a shout, which he answered, and presently Philosopher Andrew appeared with a lantern, his grizzled hair and beard flying in the wind.
"What ho, my friends!" he cried. "This is the way you go to heaven together! You'll live through many a storm yet!"
Guided by his thorough knowledge of the ground, they had almost reached the castle, when they were startled by piteous cries. Leaving August with Julia, Andrew climbed a fence, and went down into a ravine to find poor Bill Day in an agony of terror, crying out in despair, believing that the day of doom had already come, and that he was about to be sent into well-deserved perdition. Andrew stooped over him with his lantern, but the poor fellow, giving one look at the shaggy face, shrieked madly, and rushed away into the woods.
"I believe," said the Philosopher, when he got back to August, "I believe he took me for the devil."
The summer storm had spent itself by daylight, and the sun rose on that morning after the world's end much as it had risen on other mornings, but it looked down upon prostrate trees and scattered fences and roofless barns. And the minds of the people were in much the same disheveled state as the landscape. One simple-minded girl was a maniac. Some declared that the world had ended, and that this was the new earth, if people only had faith to receive it; some still waited for the end, and with some the reaction from credulity had already set in, a reaction that carried them into the blankest atheism and boldest immorality. People who had spent the summer in looking for a change that would relieve them from all responsibility, now turned reluctantly toward the commonplace drudgery of life. It is the evil of all day-dreaming—day-dreaming about the other world included—that it unfits us for duty in this world of tangible and inevitable facts.
It was nearly daylight when Andrew and August and Julia reached the castle. The Philosopher advised Julia to go home, and for the present to let the marriage be as though it were not. August dreaded to see Julia returned to her mother's tyranny, but Andrew was urgent in his advice, and Julia said that she must not leave her mother in her trouble. Julia reached home a little after daylight, and a little before Mrs. Anderson was brought home in a fit of hysterics.
Poor Mrs. Abigail still hoped that the end of the world for which she had so fondly prepared would come, but as the days wore on she sank into a numb despondency. When she thought of the loss of her property, she groaned and turned her face to the wall. And Samuel Anderson sat about the house in a dumb and shiftless attitude, as do most men upon whom financial ruin comes in middle life. The disappointment of his faith and the overthrow of his fortune had completely paralyzed him. He was waiting for something, he hardly knew what. He had not even his wife's driving voice to stimulate him to exertion.
There was no one now to care for Mrs. Anderson but Julia, for Cynthy had taken up her abode in the log-cabin which Jonas had bought, and a happier housekeeper never lived. She watched Jonas till he disappeared when he went to work in the morning, she carried him a "snack" at ten o'clock, and headways found her standing "like a picter" at the gate, when he came home to dinner. But Cynthy Ann generally spent her afternoons at Anderson's, helping "that young thing" to bear her responsibilities, though Mrs. Anderson would receive no personal attentions now from any one but her daughter. She did not scold; her querulous restlessness was but a reminiscence of her scolding. She lay, disheartened, watching Julia, and exacting everything from Julia, and the weary feet and weary heart of the girl almost sank under her burdens. Mrs. Anderson had suddenly fallen from her position of an exacting tyrant to that of an exacting and helpless infant. She followed Julia with her eyes in a broken-spirited fashion, as if fearing that she would leave her. Julia could read the fear in her mother's countenance; she understood what her mother meant when she said querulously, "You'll get married and leave me." If Mrs. Anderson had assumed her old high-handed manner, it would have been easy for Julia to have declared her secret. But how could she tell her now? It would be a blow, it might be a fatal blow. And at the same time how could she satisfy August? He thought she had bowed to the same old tyranny again for an indefinite time. But she could not forsake her parents in their poverty and afflictions.
The fourteenth of August, the day on which possession was to have been given to Bob Walker, came and went, but no Bob Walker appeared. A week more passed, in which Samuel Anderson could not muster enough courage to go to see Walker, in which Samuel Anderson and his wife waited in a vague hope that something might happen. And every day of that week Julia had a letter from August, which did not say one word of the trial that it was for him to wait, but which said much of the wrong Julia was doing to herself to submit so long. And Julia, like her father and mother, was waiting for she knew not what.
At last the suspense became to her unendurable.
"Father," she said, "why don't you go to see Bob Walker? You might buy the farm back again."
"I don't know why he don't come and take it," said Mr. Anderson dejectedly.
This conversation roused Mrs. Abigail. There was some hope. She got up in bed, and told Samuel to go to the county-seat and see if the deeds had ever been recorded. And while her husband was gone she sat up and looked better, and even scolded a little, so that Julia felt encouraged. But she dreaded to see her father come back.
Samuel Anderson entered the house on his return with a blank countenance. Sitting down, he put his face between his hands a minute in utter dejection.
"Why don't you speak?" said Mrs. Anderson in a broken voice.
"The land was all transferred to Andrew immediately, and he owns every foot of it. He must have sent Bob Walker here to buy it."
"Oh! I'm so glad!" cried Julia.
But her mother only gave her one reproachful look and went off into hysterical sobbing and crying over the wrong that Andrew had done her. And all that night Julia watched by her mother, while Samuel Anderson sat in dejection by the bed. As for Norman, he had quickly relapsed into his old habits, and his former cronies had generously forgiven him his temporary piety, considering the peculiar circumstances of the case some extenuation. Now that there was trouble in the house he staid away, which was a good thing so far as it went.
The next afternoon Mrs. Anderson rallied a little, and, looking at Julia, she said in her querulous way, "Why don't you go and see him?"
"Who?" said Julia with a shiver, afraid that her mother was insane.
Julia did not need any second hint. Leaving her mother with Cynthy, she soon presented herself at the door of the castle.
"Did she send you?" asked Andrew dryly.
"I've been expecting you for a long time. I'll go back with you. But August must go along. He'll be glad of an excuse to see your face again. You look thin, my poor girl."
They went past Wehle's, and August was only too glad to join them, rejoicing that some sort of a crisis had come, though how it was to help him he did not know. With the restlessness of a man looking for some indefinable thing to turn up, Samuel was out on the porch waiting the return of his daughter. Jonas had come for Cynthy Ann, and was sitting on a "shuck-bottom" chair in front of the house.
Andrew reached out his hand and greeted his brother cordially, and spoke civilly to Abigail. Then there was a pause, and Mrs. Anderson turned her head to the wall and groaned. After a while she looked round and saw August. A little of her old indignation came into her eyes as she whimpered, "What did he come for?"
"I brought him," said Andrew.
"Well, it's your house, do as you please. I suppose you'll turn us out of our own home now."
"As you did me," said the Philosopher, smiling. "Let me remind you that I was living on the river farm. My father had promised it to me, and given me possession. A week before his death you got the will changed, by what means you know. You turned me off the farm which had virtually been mine for two years. If I turn you off now, it will be no more than fair."
There was a look of pained surprise on Julia's face. She had not known that the wrong her uncle had suffered was so great. She had not thought that he would be so severe as to turn her father out.
"I don't want to talk of these things," Andrew went on. "I ought to have broken the will, but I was not a believer in the law. I tell this story now because I must justify myself to these young people for what I am going to do. You have had the use of that part of the estate which was rightfully mine for twenty years. I suppose I may claim it all now."
Julia's eyes looked at him pleadingly.
"Why don't you send us off and be done with it then?" said Mrs. Abigail, rising up and resuming her old vehemence. "You set out to ruin us, and now you've done it. A nice brother you are! Ruining us by a conspiracy with Bob Walker, and then sitting here and trying to make my own daughter think you did right, and bringing that hateful fellow here to hear it!" Her finger was leveled at August.
"I am glad to see you are better, Abigail. I wanted to be sure you were strong enough to bear all I have to say."
"Say your worst and do your worst, you cruel, cruel man! I have borne enough from you in these years, and now you can say and do what you please; you can't do me any more harm. I suppose I must leave my old home that I've lived in so long."
"You need not worry yourself about leaving; that's what I came over to say."
"As if I'd stay in your house an hour! I'll not take any favors at your hand."
"Don't be rash, Abigail. I have deeded this hill farm to Samuel, and here is the deed. I have given you back the best half of the property, just what my father meant you to have. I have only kept the river land, that should have been mine twenty years ago. I hope you will not stick to your resolution not to receive anything at my hand."
And Julia said: "Oh! I'm so—"
But Mrs. Anderson had a convenient fit of hysterics, crying piteously. Meantime Samuel gladly accepted the deed.
"The deed is already recorded. I sent it down yesterday as soon as I saw Samuel come back, and I got it back this morning. The farm is yours without condition."
This relieved Abigail, and she soon ceased her sobbing. Andrew could not take it back then, whatever she might say.
"Now," said Andrew, "I have only divided the farms without claiming any damages. I want to ask a favor. Let Julia marry the man of her choice in peace."
"You have taken one farm, and therefore I must let my daughter marry a man with nothing but his two hands," sobbed Mrs. Anderson.
"Two hands and a good head and a noble heart," said Andrew.
"Well, I won't consent," said she. "If Julia marries him," pointing to August, "she will marry without my consent, and he will not get a cent of the money he's after. Not a red cent!"
"I don't want your money. I did not know you'd get your farm back, for I did not know but that Walker owned it, and I—wanted—Julia all the same." August had almost told that he had married Julia.
"Wanted her and married her," said Andrew. "And I have not kept a corn-stalk of the property I got from you. I have given Bob Walker a ten-acre patch for his services, and all the rest I have deeded to the two best people I know. This August Wehle married Julia Anderson when they thought the world might be near its end, and believing that, at any rate, she would not have a penny in the world. I have deeded the river farm to August Wehle and his wife."
"Married, eh? Come and ask my consent afterwards? That's a fine way!" And Abigail grew white and grew silent with passion.
"Come, August, I want to show you and Julia something," said Andrew. He really wanted to give Abigail time to look the matter in the face quietly before she committed herself too far. But he told the two young people that they might make their home with him while their house was in building. He had already had part of the material drawn, and from the brow of the hill they looked down upon the site he had chosen near the old tumble-down tenant's house. But Andrew saw that Julia looked disappointed.
"You are not satisfied, my brave girl. What is the matter?"
"Oh! yes, I am very happy, and very thankful to you; and next to August I love you more than anybody—except my parents."
"But something is different to what you wished it. Doesn't the site suit you? You can look off on to the river from the rise on which the house will stand, and I do not know how it could be better."
"It couldn't be better," said Julia, "but—'
"But what? You must tell me."
"I thought maybe you'd let us live at the castle and take the burden of things off you. I should like to keep your house for you, just to show you how much I love my dear, good uncle."
Even an anchorite could not help feeling a pleasure at such a speech from such a young woman, and this shaggy, solitary, misanthropic but tender-hearted man felt a sudden rush of pleasure. August saw it, and was delighted. What one's nearest friend thinks of one's wife is a vital question, and August was happier at this moment than he had ever been. Andrew's pleasure at Julia's loving speech was the climax.
"Yes!" said the Philosopher, a little huskily. "You want to sacrifice your pleasure by living in my gloomy old castle, and civilizing an old heathen like me. You mustn't tempt me too far."
"I don't see why you call it gloomy. It wasn't only for your sake that I said it. I think it is the nicest old house I ever saw. And then the books, and—and—you." Julia stumbled a little, she was not accustomed to make speeches of this sort.
"You flatterer!" burst out Andrew. "But no, you must have your own house."
Mrs. Anderson, on her part, had concluded to make the best of it. Julia already married and the mistress of the Anderson river farm was quite a different thing from Julia under her thumb. She was to be conciliated. Besides, Mrs. Anderson did not want Julia's prosperity to be a lifelong source of humiliation to her. She must take some stock in it at the start.
"Jule," she said, as her daughter re-entered the door, "I can let you have two feather-beds and four pillows, and a good stock of linen and blankets. And you can have the two heifers and the sorrel colt."
The two "heifers" were six, and the sorrel "colt" was seven years of age; but descriptive names often outlive the qualities to which they owed their origin. Just as a judge is even yet addressed as "your honor," and many a governor without anything to recommend him hears himself called "your excellency."
When Abigail surrendered in this graceful fashion, Julia was touched, and was on the point of putting her arms around her mother and kissing her. But Mrs. Anderson was not a person easily caressed, and Julia did not yield to her impulse.
"Cynthy Ann, my dear," said Jonas, as they walked home that evening, "do you know what Abig'il Anderson reminds me of?"
No; Cynthy Ann didn't exactly know. In fact, it would have been difficult for anybody to have told what anything was likely to remind Jonas of. There was no knowing what a thing might not suggest to him.
"Well, Cynthy, my Imperial Sweetness, when I see Abig'il come down so beautiful, it reminded me of a little fice-t dog I had when I was a leetle codger. I called him Pick. His name was Picayune. Purty good name, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was."
"Well, now, that air little Pick wouldn't never own up as he was driv outen the house. When he was whipped out, he wouldn't never tuck his tail down, but curl it up over his back, and run acrost the yard and through the fence and down the road a-barkin' fit to kill. Wanted to let on like as ef he'd run out of his own accord, with malice aforethought, you know. That's Abig'il."
Except Abigail Anderson and one other person, everybody in the little world of Clark township approved mightily the justice and disinterestedness of Andrew. He had righted himself and Julia at a stroke, and people dearly love to have justice dealt out when it is not at their own expense. Samuel, who cherished in secret a great love for his daughter, was more than pleased that affairs had turned out in this way. But there was one beside Abigail who was not wholly satisfied. August spent half the night in protesting in vain against Andrew's transfer of the river-farm to him. But Andrew said he had a right to give away his own if he chose. And there was no turning him. For if August refused a share in it, he would give it to Julia, and if she refused it, he would find somebody who would accept it.
The next day after the settlement at Samuel Anderson's, August came to claim his wife. Mrs. Abigail had now employed a "help" in Cynthy Ann's place, and Julia could be spared. August had refused all invitations to take up his temporary residence with Julia's parents. The house had unpleasant associations in his mind, and he wanted to relieve Julia at once and forever from a despotism to which she could not offer any effectual resistance. Mrs. Anderson had eagerly loaded the wagon with feather-beds and other bridal property, and sent it over to the castle, that Julia might appear to leave with her blessing. She kissed Julia tenderly, and hoped she'd have a happy life, and told her that if her husband should ever lose his property or treat her badly—such things may happen, you know—then she would always find a home with her mother. Julia thanked her for the offer of a refuge to which she never meant to flee under any circumstances. And yet one never turns away from one's home without regret, and Julia looked back with tears in her eyes at the chattering swifts whose nests were in the parlor chimney, and at the pee-wee chirping on the gate-post. The place had entered into her life. It looked lonesome now, but within a year afterward Norman suddenly married Betsey Malcolm. Betsey's child had died soon after its birth, and Mrs. Anderson set herself to manage both Norman and his wife, who took up their abode with her. Nothing but a reign of terror could have made either of them of any account, but Mrs. Anderson furnished them this in any desirable quantity. They were never of much worth, even under her management, but she kept them in bounds, so that Norman ceased to get drunk more than five or six times a year, and Betsey flirted but little and at her peril.