From Pictorial Review Vol. XVI No. 8 (May, 1915)
Hiram Sessions and his wife Sarah attended the Congregational church at Barr Center as did the majority of the older and plainer inhabitants. Hiram had not been a pronounced sinner — a man of evil deeds, a breaker of the Stone Commandments — but his soul had slept in durance to his daily toil and petty worldly gain.
Suddenly one Summer night at a revival service, Hiram's soul awoke with a jolt which was confusing, even painful. To be pushed from a violent tangent into the straight and narrow way may not be so confusing as to be pushed from a side track: one worn into a rut by the motion of a whole life. Sarah, Hiram Sessions's wife, could not imagine the existence of that rut without her husband or her husband outside that rut. She had sat still when Hiram had “gone forward.” She said nothing when meeting was over.
She held up the skirt of her nice black dress out of the dust and walked along home at Hiram's side. However, as she moved on, her mind was agitated with questions. “How on earth,” said Sarah Sessions to herself, “is Hiram going to be a Christian and keep on living?”
Sarah Sessions was thinking vigorously. Hiram beside her was plodding along with occasional upward glances at the stars between the tree-branches as if he saw them for the first time. Emerson Day caught up with them, and offered his hand with a solemn dignity of congratulation to Hiram. Emerson Day said nothing; Hiram said nothing. Emerson Day was an imposing figure. He was not young; he had passed middle age, but he was large and tall and erect, and walked with splendid vigor. His long white beard parted in the middle, blew back over his shoulders like streamers of spray. Emerson had not had his beard cut for years. It was of such unusual length that children turned and stared and tittered.
Sometimes Sarah Sessions wondered if Emerson were to have that beard cut and wear a mustache, if her daughter Dora might not finally regard him with favor, instead of Peter Morris. Emerson had long been a suitor for Dora. He was very rich. He owned the best house in the village; a veritable mansion. He had traveled. He was a college graduate. He had been a widower for many years, and his one daughter, Emily, was a gentle soul. She would be only too ready to welcome Dora.
However, Dora loved Peter Morris who lived on nothing a year in an office, offering his legal services mostly in vain, by means of a neat little sign on the door. Peter had a tiny room behind the office. Peter and his father had lived there after the old Morris homestead had burned down with no insurance. Peter's father had been a man who had reasoned from premises with no belief in possible cataclysms, therefore no insurance. Peter's father seemed more concerned with the failure of his reasoning than with the disastrous fact. “It never burned down before,” he kept repeating dazedly, as he stood staring at the fiery mouth of menace which had been his home. He could not seem to realize it. “It never burned down before,” he repeated until Peter led him away to his office which although only a few feet from the house had escaped from the shower of sparks. Then Peter sold his gold watch and his seal ring and a diamond pin, and cared for the old man until he died a few months later.
Peter was cheerful with a strong courage in spite of his misfortunes. He loved Dora Sessions and believed in their final happiness. As for Dora, she also was optimistic. She adored Peter and loathed the sight of her wealthy suitor. She was unfair to him on Peter's account. That evening after her father had got religion, she caught sight of Emerson's silvery streamers of beard blowing in the moonlight as he walked toward the house with her parents, and made for her own room.
She stayed there. Her mother called her, not very loudly. Sarah Sessions was in full sympathy with her daughter. “Dora is in bed and asleep,” she said coming back from the foot of the stairs where she had been calling. “She is tired out canning strawberries. That was why she didn't go to meeting. She must have gone to bed early.”
Emerson Day received the news with perfect composure. He remained quite a long time. After he had gone, Sarah stole up-stairs. She opened Dora's door softly and peered in. “Are you asleep, Dora?” she whispered.
“Come in, Mother,” replied Dora in a muffled voice. She sat up in bed and threw her arms, sudden gleams of white in the soft gloom, around her mother's neck.
“You smell of roses,” said Sarah.
Dora laughed. “I have a rose pinned to my nightgown. Peter brought me a great bunch of them,” she said. Then she added in a whisper. “Mr. Day came, didn't he?”
Her mother nodded.
Dora frowned, blushed, shrugged her shoulders. “Mother, why on earth does that man persist in coming? I have been fairly rude to him.”
Her mother regarded her hesitatingly. “It is a pity he is not a little different; he is such a nice man in so many ways,” she remarked finally with a little sigh.
Dora sat up straight in bed and her cheeks flamed. “Mother, you don't mean that you really want me to marry that man with that ridiculous beard!”
“His beard could be cut off,” said Sarah Sessions feebly.
Dora settled herself in bed again. “You know it is Peter or nobody, Mother,” she said. “As for Peter being poor, we can wait. We are both very happy just as we are — and you are not anxious to get rid of me, are you, Mother?”
Her mother bent and kissed her. “My precious child,” she said. Then she looked at Dora with a curious, half-shamed, half-awed expression as of one who treads a threshold of sanctity. “I had better tell you, so you won't act surprised and hurt his feelings,” she said. “Your father went forward to-night.”
A look which corresponded to her mother's leaped into Dora's eyes. “You mean at the revival meeting?”
Sarah nodded. The two looked at each other. Dora as well as her mother was a church member. “I am glad,” she said simply.
“Of course we feel pleased that your father has taken this step,” returned Sarah. Then she kissed Dora again and went down-stairs.
As she neared the foot, she became aware of a great voice of supplication flooding the house. Sarah paused. To interrupt her husband during his communion with his new-found Deity would savor of sacrilege. She disliked to listen, but was forced to do so. Hiram Sessions raised his voice of long-delayed supplication to a shout. “O Lord Almighty,” prayed Hiram with a great volume of hoarse beseeching, “I pray Thee to help me to mend my ways, to cast off the old man and his deeds, to henceforth live as becomes a believer in Thee, to have no thought for this world and the treasures thereof, but for that treasure laid up in heaven for Thy disciples. O Lord God Almighty, help me to keep my feet in the narrow way of righteousness.”
Hiram stopped with a sobbing gasp for breath. Sarah turned the door-knob. “Is that you, Mother?” asked Hiram, his voice still strained with solemnity.
“Yes, Father.” Sarah moved toward the bedroom. Hiram had removed his shoes and left them in the sitting-room. Sarah stumbled over one. They were enormous shoes adjusted to the bunions and callouses of heavily plodding feet. Sarah who had a sense of humor speculated concerning room in that “narrow way” for these great shoes, so obstinately revealing the individual.
“Mother,” said Hiram in an embarrassed way as Sarah entered. He had risen from his knees and gotten into bed.
“You are glad because of the step I took to-night?”
“Of course I am, Father.”
“I'm going to lead a different life,” said Hiram.
“Yes, Father,” said Sarah. In her voice was a tone of pity. “Poor old man he ain't any idea what he's undertook,” she thought but she said not one word of discouragement.
The next morning she and Dora were getting breakfast when they heard a sound of loud wrangling voices from the side yard. Both women scuttled to the window. In the yard were a disreputable old buggy and a decrepit horse with loose check, eating grass. Out of the buggy leaned, fiercely gesticulating, a wiry old man. He shook his fist at Hiram who stood staring at him.
“It is Sam Bean and he and Father are having words,” whispered Dora. She looked frightened. “Do you suppose he can't pay the interest on his mortgage, and Father is making a fuss about it?” she said.
Then both women heard quite distinctly, the window being open, Sam Beans's furious speech.
“I'd like to know what ye mean to insinnerate, Hiram Sessions,” demanded Sam Bean, angry jaws working, angry fist shaking.
“I've been thinking that mebbe seven per cent. was a leetle too much for me to be chargin' for interest on that mortgage,” replied Hiram meekly.
“My!” whispered Dora.
“And I'd jest like to know what made ye think any sech thing,” cried Sam Bean. “I guess I ain't quite so hard up but I'm able to pay seven per cent. interest on a mortgage. You needn't feel so stuck up because you ain't got a mortgage on your property. Guess if you had the sickness and doctor's bills to tackle that I've had, you would have had a mortgage as well as some other folks. Huh! If ye mean to insinnerate I ain't able to pay that interest, jest say so. I kin git another man to take up that mortgage quicker than you can say Jack Robinson. I only let ye have the mortgage as a favor anyway thinkin' ye didn't have none too good jedgment about money matters and it was good security. Here is your interest money at seven per cent. Ye can take it or leave it. If ye leave it, I'll git another man to take the mortgage that will take the interest and not twit me with not bein' able to pay it. Huh!”
“Goodness!” whispered Dora. She stared at her mother.
“I knew he'd have a lot of trouble,” murmured Sarah Sessions. Dora did not know what her mother meant. Finally the women saw Hiram take the money. They saw Sam Bean jerk up the peacefully feeding head of the old horse; they heard him say: “Now any time ye feel ye don't want to hold that ere mortgage jest let me know and I'll relieve ye of it. I'll let ye know I ain't beholden to you nor any man that lives.”
Then Sam cried “Gidap!” and drove out of the yard, and Hiram came slowly into the house cramming a roll of bank-notes into his pocket. He looked so bewildered that his face was almost stupid. He did not have much appetite for breakfast although it was a very good one. Before eating he asked a blessing in a mumbling tone, cutting Dora short in the middle of a word.
After breakfast when Dora and her mother were washing the dishes, Sarah said reflectively with a puzzled expression, “I do feel glad that your father has taken this step, but I do sorter wonder how he's goin' to make out.”
Dora looked almost indignantly at her mother. “You don't mean to say that you think Father has been so dreadfully wicked!”
“No, it ain't that. He ain't been really wicked at all. He has just looked out for number one like most men. I feel sorter uneasy as to how number two is goin' to take it when your father tries to look out for him.”
Suddenly a look of enlightenment came over Dora's face. “Goodness! Mother,” she said, “I do believe Sam Bean was number two, and judging from the way he took it, it is going to be pretty up-hill work for poor —”
Dora stopped short with a listening expression which also came over her mother's face. Both women tiptoed again to the window and peered out. A loud voice of indignation was heard outside.
“It's that man from Wheatbridge your father was goin' to sell the white horse to,” whispered Sarah.
“I tell ye a bargain's a bargain,” proclaimed the indignant voice. “No man ever went back on a bargain with me that didn't feel the weight of my fists.”
Hiram's voice was heard in meek protest. “But I tell ye that white horse shies something terrible at automobiles, and you can't be sure nowadays of drivin' a mile without meetin' one comin' like the old Harry, or havin' one pass ye in a cloud of dust, jest grazin' your wheels.”
“And I tell ye, I don't believe one word of it, durn ye! Ye needn't think I'm goin' to believe any sech tomfool story as that. Ye was ready enough to sell me that white hoss last week. Why didn't ye tell me then she shied?”
“I've come to feel a leetle different about some things sence,” was the meek reply.
“I should think ye had! Well I ain't. A bargain's a bargain. You said you'd let me have that hoss at that figger, and now ye've got another man offerin' you more. Think I can't see through a barn door when it's wide open?”
“I ain't got any other man offerin' more. Knowin' what I know about that hoss I ain't willin', feelin' the way I do now, to sell her at any figger specially for a woman to drive, and you say your wife wants to drive her.”
“An' she's goin' to drive her, too! Ann Liza could drive the devil if the harness was strong enough.”
“But I tell ye —”
“Don't believe one word on't. Ye lie like Sam Hill. I'm goin' to have that hoss and I'm goin' to have her at that figger, and you can jest make up your mind to it. Here's your money, cash down every durn cent of it, and I'm goin' to take that hoss behind my buggy. I brought a halter.”
The listening, peering women saw a middle-aged man with a powerful physique, sitting in a smart buggy, holding a bay horse which was restive and pulling hard at the restraining lines. The flies swarmed around his pretty, deer-like head and annoyed him.
Again came Hiram's voice in expostulation. “I don't feel as if I was doin' right. I —”
“You stan' by this hoss's head. The flies drive him crazy, and I'll bring out that white hoss,” said the man decisively. He sprang out of the buggy, forced the bridle of the bay horse upon Hiram, crammed a roll of bills into his hand and rushed into the barn whence he emerged leading a tall white mare. “If ye think I'm goin' to stan' round here palaverin' all day, you're mistaken,” he announced as he fastened the halter.
“There's one thing,” said Hiram tremulously. “Don't ye let your wife drive that white hoss to Newmarket. There's always automobiles real thick on that road.”
“She's goin' to drive her there this very afternoon with all the children, six of 'em, and she's goin' to hold the baby whilst she drives,” proclaimed the man.
“Oh, my Lord,” groaned Hiram. “Can't you listen to me?”
“I've listened every minute I'm goin' to. I've got the hoss and you've got your money. Reckon you've got the best of the bargain anyway, but you ain't goin' to beat me no more.”
With that the bay horse made a plunge and sped out of the yard with the white mare trotting in the rear.
“I knew jest how it would be,” said Sarah Sessions. “Dear me suz!”
“If that man's wife tries to drive that mare and hold a baby at the same time it's dangerous,” said Dora staring. “I had everything I could do to keep her from running away the last time I had her out. We met two automobiles and I thought she'd get away from me, and I'm strong in my wrists, too.”
“Well, your father did all he could. We must trust to the Lord that no harm will come to that woman and all the children and the baby,” said Sarah with a sigh.
“Just listen to your poor father,” whispered Sarah.
Hiram's voice of petition coming from the bedroom which opened from the sitting-room was quite evident. “O Lord! I beseech Thee, don't let that white hoss run away this afternoon with that poor woman and all them little children.”
“Father ought not to have tried to sell that horse in the first place without telling the man she shied,” Dora said in a hushed tone of severity.
“If your father had never done one single thing out of the way he wouldn't have had any reason for going forward,” replied Sarah. “If anything does happen to that woman and all her children, and that poor innocent little baby, your father never will forgive himself,” she continued.
“Well, maybe she's a good driver, Mother,” consoled Dora.
“Hush,” said Sarah. Hiram was entering the kitchen. Dora and her mother had crossed to the sink and were washing dishes. Hiram looked pale, downcast and bewildered. He sat down in an ancient armchair which had belonged to his grandfather, and held his head in his hands. “Oh, hum,” he groaned.
His wife and daughter glanced around at him.
“What is the matter, Father?” asked Sarah hesitatingly.
“Don't you feel well?”
“If that white hoss runs away this afternoon and kills that woman and six children, I sha'n't be a mite surprised. I told that man it wa'n't safe.”
Dora came close to him and patted his head. “Don't you worry, Father, maybe she's a good driver.”
There was a heavy clump of shoes on the door-step, then a knock. Dora opened the door. There stood two children: a boy and a girl. The girl was the elder and had an aggressive, pert little face. Her red hair was strained back from her bulging forehead, braided very tightly in two braids which stuck out over each ear, and tied with precise bows of blue ribbon. The boy was fat with small blue eyes and an obstinate chin. He carried a basket and his sister a small black bag.
“It is Lottie and Billy Sneed after eggs,” said Dora. Then she asked pleasantly, “how do you do, Lottie, how do you do, Billy?”
“Pretty well I thank you, ma'am,” replied Lottie in a thin rasping voice. Billy set his chin at Dora and made no sound at all.
“I suppose your ma sent you for eggs?” asked Sarah.
“Yes, ma'am,” replied Lottie. “She wants five dozen at the same price.”
Hiram became uneasily attentive. “What did you pay last time, little gal?” he inquired.
“Twenty cents a dozen,” replied Lottie Sneed glibly. “Mother wants five dozen. Five twenties is one hundred. That makes one dollar. Mother sent the dollar.”
Lottie opened her small black bag with a click. She drew forth a limp one-dollar bill and waved it importantly.
Hiram hemmed. “You say you paid twenty cents a dozen?”
“Yes, sir, five times twenty —”
“I guess I sha'n't charge your ma quite so much to-day. I guess fifteen cents a dozen will do.”
Lottie's face immediately grew suspicious, meanly suspicious for a child's. “Mother said five dozen eggs at twenty cents a dozen. That makes just one dollar,” said she. Again she waved the small, dirty, wilted rag of finance, and this time defiantly. Lottie Sneed had unadulterated Yankee blood in her veins.
Dora attempted to explain. “But, Lottie, dear, don't you understand? Father is telling you that you can have the eggs for less money; for seventy-five cents. That will leave you twenty-five cents to take home to your mother. Don't you want to do that?”
Lottie's face grew more suspicious and at the same time incredible stupidity was evident in the uncomprehending stare of her blue eyes.
“Mother said to get five dozen eggs for twenty cents a dozen. That makes one dollar,” she repeated stubbornly. Again she waved the dollar bill.
“Land sakes, child!” cried Sarah. “Can't you see that Father is offerin' you them eggs for a good deal less money than you expected to pay?”
“Mother said —” the girl went on again. In her fixed gaze and unchanged tone was the enormous obtuseness of the suspicious and overreaching shrewd of the earth.
“Oh, hum!” said Hiram.
It ended in Dora's taking the matter into her own hands. She filled the basket with seven dozen eggs, and accepted the dollar bill. Hiram in his armchair, watched with a helpless despairing expression.
When the children had gone he asked feebly, “How many eggs did you let them children have?”
“Seven dozen,” replied Dora. “I didn't see any other way out of it. Lottie Sneed is a stupid little girl.”
“That is one dollar and five cents worth at fifteen cents a dozen,” ruminated Hiram mournfully. “You might have left out three eggs, but never mind.”
Hiram rose and went out to the barn to finish his chores. He had been sadly interrupted. Soon Dora and her mother heard shouts.
“That cow is tryin' to kick over the milk pail agin,” said Sarah.
Then she and Dora started, for again Lottie and Billie stood at the door. Their basket contained some eggs.
“Mother said you sent two dozen too many eggs,” stated Lottie in an accusing voice.
Hiram's weary face appeared behind her. He held a dripping milk pail. “What's to pay now?” he inquired.
Lottie faced him. “Mother said for me to bring back the two dozen eggs she didn't ask for. She said she knew you. She wasn't going to have egg bills coming in when she didn't want 'em, and she wasn't going to buy eggs she didn't ask for, just because you had more than you could use, and you was afraid they would spoil.”
“Your mother ought to be ashamed of herself and as for you, you are the very silliest, most stupid little girl in this village!” Dora cried in a heat. She clutched the basket and ran with it into the pantry. “Here,” said she returning, “you take this basket and you tell your mother we won't have any more eggs to sell all Summer. Do you think you have sense enough to remember that?”
“Yes, ma'am,” replied Lottie Sneed imperturbably. “Mother said,” she began and repeated at length her original legend. Then she and Billy departed.
“She was a stiddy customer and good pay,” said Hiram sadly. “That cow kicked over the milk pail again, Mother, all that milk is gone! Guess you'll have to wash the pail.”
“I thought you were going to sell that kicking cow, Father,” said Dora a little maliciously.
“I ain't. I feel different about a good many things. I'd ruther sell her for beef. I'm goin' to tell Sam Smithers, he is comin' about her to-day, the truth — just how it is.”
But before noon Sam Smithers, irate, as stupidly suspicious and overreaching as little Lottie Sneed, had forced the money for the kicking cow upon Hiram, and taken her away with him. The cow, chewing her cud, walked peacefully at the end of her leading rope. Sam stopped on the road to tell Martin Easton, a man who was on his way to see Hiram about a strip of land whose purchase he contemplated.
“Hiram Sessions beats the Dutch,” said Sam. “There he tried to back out of selling me this cow; said she kicked over the milk pail, but he couldn't fool me. He'd got an offer at a higher figger. Don't you let him stick you about that land, Martin. He'll try to. I never see him so slick as he is to-day.”
“He won't stick me,” said Martin Easton. He was a small man, but he set his feet down with the impetus of great weight. Hiram ushered Martin into the sitting-room, opened the old-fashioned secretary which served him as a desk, got out a deed, talked and explained. He might as well have tried to explain to the bed rock. Martin Easton told him to his face that he did not believe a word he said. He accused him of trying to make him buy only half the land in question in order to bring suit after he had taken possession. “I tell ye that land was surveyed wrong,” pleaded Hiram. “Half of that lot next to my east pasture that you want to buy, belongs to you anyway.”
Martin Easton sneered. “Likely story,” said he. “Mighty funny you didn't find it out before now.”
Hiram colored; his face worked. “I hadn't rightly looked at the old deed that was made out in my father's time,” he stammered. Then suddenly his old face took on an expression of a man at the battle front. “I'll make a clean breast on't,” said he. “I suspicioned how it might be. I suspicioned that boundary line might be wrong. That was the reason why I didn't really look at that old deed.”
“Mighty sudden change of heart on your part.”
“It were,” said Hiram. “I come to look at sech things different all of a sudden. Half of that land, near half of it, that you want to buy, belongs to you, anyway. Jest cast a glance at this old deed, Martin.”
But the small man was obdurate. He would not look at the deed. He insisted upon the bargain being carried out as planned. He was fairly violent.
After Martin had gone, poor Hiram turned to his wife for words of comfort.
“I do declare to reason, Mother,” he said. “I dunno what to do. I had figgered out I was goin' to fight the devil, but I hadn't figgered out what kind of a fight it was goin' to be. Martin Easton, he made me take money for a passel of land that belonged to him anyhow, and I couldn't stop him. He said I was figgerin' to cheat him. I dunno what to do.”
“You can give away that extra money, I suppose, Father,” said Sarah Sessions hesitatingly. Hiram brightened. “Tell you what I'll do, Mother,” he said. He pulled a roll of bills from his pocket and counted out some carefully. In spite of his change of heart, he handled money with respect. “You can go over to Benny's after supper, Mother,” he said, “and take this money. There's fifty dollars. I reckon it'll come in handy.”
Sarah took the money. “Of course it will,” she replied, but she regarded Hiram anxiously. She had heard of religious mania. Benny was the only son, who had married against Hiram's wishes. He had numerous small children and times had been hard for him, but this was the first aid from his father.
Hiram continued: “Tell ye what 'tis, Mother,” he said, and his old voice cracked with unaccustomed sweetness. “I'll go down to the bank to-morrer and git it fixed up, and send a leetle to brother Edward out West. Reckon it will come in handy there, too.”
“I guess you are right, Father,” Sarah returned, still eying him with anxious scrutiny.
After dinner when Hiram dozed in the sitting-room with a handkerchief over his bald head to keep off the flies, and Dora and her mother were clearing away the dishes, Sarah said, trying to make her tone casual: “Your father seems as well as ordinary to you, don't he, Dora?”
“Ye-es,” replied Dora.
“He eat a good dinner,” said Sarah wistfully. “I do hope he ain't goin' to have a stroke or anything. Strokes are in the Sessions family.”
Dora laughed. “It seems to me that poor Father has sort of a stroke, now,” said she.
Sarah started. “Dora Sessions, what do you mean?”
“Oh, I don't believe Father is sick, but it does seem to me that this sudden change in him does beat anything.”
“Of course your father, feeling the way he does now, must change round.”
“Yes,” admitted Dora. “I don't mean to make light of serious things, Mother, but I must say that such a sudden change as there is in Father is rather bewildering, and the worst of it is, it seems to me he isn't making anything out of it.”
“That is the worst of it,” agreed Sarah with a sigh. “Poor Father, when he's trying so hard to do right, too!”
“But people don't seem willing to let him,” said Dora. She thought of the kicking cow and the eggs and stifled a giggle.
“No, they don't, and it does seem hard on your father, poor man,” repeated her mother soberly.
Dora hurried about the housework. It was a very warm afternoon. She thought Peter Morris might come over. Peter had not much reason for staying in his office during any afternoon, especially on a hot one. It would savor of the miraculous if a client were to approach his door on such a day.
Dora did up her hair, and put on a thin white dress with a blue ribbon at the waist which accentuated the blue of her eyes. Then she seated herself on the cool porch with her embroidery, and soon she saw Peter strolling down the road.
Peter Morris was a handsome young man. When his face was in repose he looked a little sad, but his forehead and chin were firm. He gave the impression of a man who would get the better of adversity in the long, if not the short run.
Seated beside Dora on the porch that afternoon his face was lit by smiles. Dora had a cheerful optimistic nature. She repeated to Peter every time they met that things would come out right. “I thought you might come,” she said happily.
“I ran a terrible risk leaving my clients,” returned Peter with a laugh, “but I thought I would take my chances.”
“There is probably a long line standing at your door now, just as if it were a ticket office,” said Dora. She could laugh and jest about Peter's poor luck without hurting him.
Peter laughed. “Probably,” he retorted. Then he leaned back comfortably in the rocking-chair, and puffed at his pipe.
Dora shot a blue, sidewise glance at him. “Mr. Day was here last night,” said she.
Peter sat up straight and looked at her.
“Don't, Peter. I didn't see him. I ran up-stairs and pretended I was asleep.”
“Dora, you wouldn't —”
“I would die before I would marry that man,” declared Dora fervently.
Still Peter looked somber. “I feel like an awful hog sometimes,” he said. “That man could give you so much.”
“If you really want me to marry Emerson Day —”
“You forget that the man would be thrown in with all he gave me. No, I thank you,” said Dora. She tossed her head and took another stitch.
Hiram Sessions came plodding heavily around the house. Peter rose with a slight flush on his handsome face.
“Good day,” said Hiram solemnly.
“Good day, Mr. Sessions.”
“I would like a few moments' conversation with you,” said Hiram still weightily and solemnly.
Dora paled. “What is it, Father?” she asked.
“I want you to go in the house a few minutes while I talk with Peter,” said Hiram.
“I want a few words with him alone.”
Dora looked with apprehension at her father and rose.
“I'll call when I'm through talkin',” said her father.
“All right,” replied Dora and went into the house.
Dora heard the click of her mother's sewing-machine and followed the sound to a little room at the head of the stairs.
“What do you suppose Father wants to talk with Peter about?” asked Dora.
Sarah Sessions turned about. “With Peter?”
“Yes, Father wants to talk with Peter alone. He sent me away.”
“Hush!” said Sarah suddenly. Both listened. They could hear the solemn drone of an earnest voice from the porch.
“Sounds as if Father were preaching,” said Dora. “Oh, Mother, what do you suppose —”
“Oh, dear, I don't know, Dora.”
“I do hope Father won't make a muddle of things about this, too,” said Dora gloomily.
“Dora, your father is trying to do right; to live up to what he professed last night.”
“If that is what he is doing now,” said Dora, “I must say I am afraid of the outcome.”
The women sat still listening to that heavy masculine drone. They could not distinguish one word. Then suddenly the drone ceased.
Another voice was heard: insistent, angry. Then came silence.
Dora looked out of the window and gasped. “There goes Peter,” said she. “Mother, I told you so.”
“Why do you s'pose he's goin'?” asked her mother helplessly.
“How do I know? Father has got into another muddle, the way he has been doing all day. Mother, I don't want to make light of things, but if Father is getting religion this way, it is perfectly awful.”
“I don't care. It is.”
“Why don't you run down and call after Peter and find out what the matter is?”
“Mother, do you think I would run after any living man and ask what the matter is? No, if Peter wants to go this way without even saying good-by, let him.”
Dora rushed out and into her own room. Sarah heard the key click and heard a sob. She went down-stairs. Hiram was sitting on the porch. He held his head in his hands.
“Father,” said Sarah.
Hiram heaved a deep sigh. “Oh, hum!” said he.
“Now, Father, I want to know just what you said to Peter Morris that made him run off like that.”
Hiram raised his head and disclosed to his wife the absolutely wondering innocent countenance of a child. “Mother, I don't know. Honest, I don't know.”
“What did you say?”
“I told him he and Dora had my consent to their marriage any time they wanted it.”
“I can't see anything about that to make him mad.”
“I can't, Mother.”
“Of course he has shown he was crazy about our Dora. Was that all you said?”
Hiram looked at her. He seemed trying to remember.
“What more did you say, Father?”
“Why I reckon I told him why I had been so set agin it till now.”
“What reason did you give?”
“Why I told him he hadn't so far amounted to much, and Emerson Day had been after Dora and able to do everything for her, and I had been thinkin' I was sensible to take that into account. Then I told him they could live with us and welcome. I'd been sort of doubtful about the wisdom of that because you and I had sech a time livin' with my folks after we were first married, but I guessed it would be all right here. Anyway it would be the only way to manage. What's the matter, Mother?”
“Father, ain't you got no sense? Ain't you got no sense at all?”
“I dunno what you mean, Mother. I'm tryin' to do right. I guess I ain't done altogether right but now I'm tryin'.”
“Didn't you know any better than to talk to him that way?”
“It was the truth, Mother.”
“Don't you know you ain't called upon to tell the truth out of all reason as long as you don't lie?”
“I dunno what you mean, Mother. I want you and Dora to keep the butter and egg money now,” Hiram fumbled in his pocket and drew out one dollar. “Here's the money Mis' Sneed sent over this mornin', Mother.”
Sarah mechanically took the money. “Thank you, Father. What did you mean talkin' so to Peter?”
“It was the truth, Mother. Seems as if I couldn't suit nobody. I met John Wright down the street this mornin' and told him he needn't pay for his Winter pertaters all to once, and he didn't like that. Told me my pertaters was watery anyhow, and he was goin' to buy 'em somewhere else.” Again the sorely puzzled old head went into the knotted hands made into a piteous cup. “Oh, hum!” said Hiram Sessions.
Sarah looked at him. She pitied him, but she failed to understand the masculine stupidity of this old soul endeavoring to become as a little child. “Well, you have succeeded in making our only daughter unhappy for life,” said she cruelly and went away.
Hiram lifted his head when the door closed, none too gently.
A subtle change came over his face. The gentleness faded from it. It was like the breaking of a still pool of peace into storm ripples. “Damn!” said Hiram. Then he looked frightened. Then he nodded his head persistently. He stamped his foot. He repeated the strenuous word in a whisper.
That night he would not eat his supper. There was stew, a dish which he loved, too. He tasted of the savory mess, then pushed his plate away with a snarl like a cross old dog.
“What is the matter, Father?” asked Sarah.
“Golly, what in Sam Hill did you make this stuff so salt for?” inquired Hiram viciously.
Dora stared at him. “Why, Father,” said she. “I really don't think it is any saltier than usual.”
“Ye both on ye salted it. That's what happened,” said Hiram. He scowled at his beloved daughter. “Why, Father!” said she.
“Dora didn't go nigh the stew,” said Sarah. “Father, you had ought to be ashamed of yourself, using such words.”
“Golly,” repeated Hiram looking defiantly at the women.
“And you perfessing what you do now, too,” said Sarah.
“Perfessed! I ain't perfessed anythin' and what's more, I ain't goin' to, if other folks hev got to act as if I was the old Harry himself on a rampage. It's golly I say, and golly I feel.”
Hiram drew back his chair with a loud scrape. He got up, and went out to the barn. They heard him shout at the cows.
“Your father,” said Sarah, “has backslid.”
“It seems to me,” said Dora a little bitterly, “that Father never got up so far that his backsliding can amount to much, when I think of the way he talked about poor Peter.”
Dora was too proud to really weep, but great tears rolled over her smooth cheeks.
The door was flung open and Hiram entered; at the same time a man passed the window going out of the yard. “I've sold Ike Shaw a hen as tough as tripe,” he proclaimed. “He set out he wanted her. His wife's folks is comin' to dinner. And I knew the minute I told him she was as old as the hills he would up and tell me I was tryin' to cheat him. So I sold that hen. Let him find out. Golly if they won't let me act honest, they can take the consequences.”
The women stared at him. “Oh, hum!” sighed Hiram with a sudden change of expression and went out again.
“Mother,” Dora whispered hesitatingly, “you don't suppose —”
“You don't suppose religion has — unsettled poor Father's mind a little?”
“Don't you say one word, Dora Sessions!” cried her mother. “I am worried to death.”
For a few weeks Hiram seemed to vacillate between striving to live up to his principles, and flying in the face of them. Then he stood up at a Thursday night prayer meeting. There was something subtly unusual about his manner of rising and the lift of his old knotted hand of labor.
“Friends and fellow Christians,” said Hiram in a pitiful but firm voice. “I have made up my mind to tell ye jest what has kept me from perfessin' the faith. I came in my old age to know the Lord, and to sense that I orter follow Him. I sensed it hard. I have tried to follow Him, but I ain't made out. I ain't blamin' nobody, but every time I've tried to do right, I've been made to do wrong whether or no. Folks have suspicioned me. I tried not to sell a shyin' hoss, I tried not to sell a kickin' cow; I tried not to drive an unjust bargain. I tried not to overreach, but folks made me. They fairly driv me into it, because they didn't understand and suspicioned me. I got more suspicioned tryin' to do right than I ever got tryin' to do wrong. Mebbe I went about it the wrong way. I dunno. Anyways I failed.
“I tried to do away with my old sinful deeds, and I've been made to keep on with 'em, and that is the reason why with the love of the Lord Jesus Christ in my heart, and repentance for my sins in my soul, I ain't perfessed. I've made up my mind I can't go on this way no longer. I want to tell ye all that I love the Lord Jesus Christ with all my soul, and my neighbor as myself, whether he will have it or no, and I am repentant for my many sins. And — if ye all think it is consistent I want to join this church in spite of the things I keep right on doin' that I set out not to do. Amen.”
Hiram sat down. There was a little rustle. A woman sobbed. A man coughed. Another woman sniffed and blew her nose. A man spoke from the audience without rising. He was the man from Wheatbridge. “If you mean that white hoss,” said the man, “I kin testify that ye did the best ye could not to have me take her, but I wouldn't part with that hoss for no money. She shies at automobiles but my wife and I can manage her, and she's some hoss. I didn't pay anywhere near what she's worth.”
Another man's voice was heard. “You needn't worry over that kickin' cow,” said he. “All I have to do is jest to tie up her tail and she gives more milk and cream than any cow I've ever had.”
Then a woman said hysterically, “I'm dredful sorry I suspicioned you about them eggs, Mr. Sessions.”
Martin Easton rose. “Mr. Sessions tried his very best to treat me justly with regard to a business deal,” said he, “and — I prevented him. I acknowledge I was guilty of unworthy suspicion concerning his motives.”
“Will ye let me set that air deed right, Martin?” asked Hiram.
“I will,” said Martin and sat down.
There was a silence. Then the minister, who was an old man and perturbed over the unwonted, rose. “I think our brother has succeeded in establishing his calling and election to the satisfaction of all the brethren and sisters here present,” he said.
There was a murmur of assent. The minister announced a hymn which was sung by the congregation with a strange sweet jangle like a chorus of morning birds. The minister pronounced the benediction, and the people streamed out of the vestry into the scented Summer night. One and another solemnly shook hands with Hiram. Finally Hiram and Sarah walked on by themselves.
“I'm glad you've got it set right, Father,” said Sarah. She had glanced behind and seen Dora and Peter walking arm in arm and her voice was loving and exultant.
“I guess it's all right now, Mother,” said Hiram happily.
“I ain't no doubt of it,” Sarah glanced over her shoulder.
Dora and Peter were advancing so slowly that they were hardly in sight.
The two couples went along the country road. Both were very happy; Dora and Peter in their young love of earth, Sarah and Hiram in their old love of earth which sighted Heaven.
Peter leaned lovingly over Dora. “I was a fool to take what your father said seriously,” he told her. “And I have got a chance at a lawsuit which means money at last. I treated your father outrageously, Dora.”
“Poor Father,” said Dora. “But you could not help it. You did not understand.”
“He spoke like an old knight just now in meeting.”
“Father is a good man,” said Dora. “He has been good to Mother and me.”
“I will be as good to you as your father has been to your mother,” whispered Peter.
They looked into each other's loving faces, dim in the soft dusk, yet with the love plainly visible. Katydids were calling from the wayside bushes; the meadows were as a firmament with fireflies; little sighs of flower-sweet wind saluted them. There was still a soft sunset glow. The sky was a dapple of light clouds which the rising moon was beginning to gild. Both were very happy, but their happiness was as nothing to that of the old man's walking ahead, who had at last triumphed meekly over all his deeds of life.