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tenance fell. Along with so many preachers'
wives, she passed under the yoke of "Sisteren" tyr-
annies for her husband's sake.

"Very weU," she answered faintly, her eyes
swimming in tears, her lips pressed tight to keep
back what she must not say.

My sympathies were all with her as she went
meekly out of the church. At the same time I
did not doubt that Mrs. Withers was right. It is
only within the last few years that the rules in
our Discipline have been modified enough to
permit a woman to wear such a thing without
perjuring herself.

But even then the leaven of liberty was working

58 A Circuit Rider's Widow

in the vain and tender hearts of women. The
next day my mother and two other sisters called
upon the bride. They asked her for her bonnet.
She yielded it, still terrified. It looked Hke a
picked bird, for she had already removed the bow.
In the evening they returned it to her, covered
with the prettiest flowers in their bandboxes;
and mother kissed her and told her not to worry
about the dragon of righteousness in Sister With-
ers, who was really a good woman in her hard-
fisted way.

This happened in lite days when two or three
brethren, who were spiritually minded, occasion-
ally waited upon another brother whom they had
managed to overtake in a fault and reproved him.
Free will was a doctrine that gave us the old ad-
vantage over the Baptists, who believed in election,
and the Presbyterians, who believed in predes-
tination. We dared not practise it on one another.

Nevertheless, we had more accessions to the
church "by profession of faith" than we do now.
More penitents came to the altar for prayers, re-
pented, believed, and were saved from everything
but their other sius.

I say "other sins" because conversion only re-
deems a man from the transgressions he has already
committed. It does not insure him against the
other kind, which he is certain to develop, en-

A Circuit Rider's Widow 59

couraged by his own righteousness. For every
virtue you acquire, there are two or three attendant
shortcomings. The effort to live as a citizen of
heaven here is like straddling the grave and tryiug
to exist in two worlds at once, without naturaliza-
tion papers in either. It cannot be done — ^not all
the time. So long as we are in the flesh, the scenes
of the soul are laid there, with enough to keep
everybody busy.

When we put both feet in the grave, and pass
through it, they are laid beyond. I have yet to see
the man or woman, lacking in this practical wis-
dom, who does not become a Pharisee or something
not quite equal to a square deal in just the truth.
We are obliged to judge one another, even if we are
commanded to "Judge not." Dove-and-serpent
wisdom consists in remembering that "with what
judgment ye judge ... it shall be measured
to you again "; and go ahead with your judgments,
prepared to take and profit by the consequences.
And it's all very well to live in love and charity
with your neighbour; but if she permits her chick-
ens to scratch up your garden and sicks her dog on
your cat, you cannot. The thing to do is to kill
her chickens and your cat, and clear the decks so
that you can. My idea is to do my best, no
matter how bad it is, and never to bear malice.
This is the spirit of the law. No one can live up

60 A Circuit Rider's Widow

to the letter of it without damaging his soul or the
other fellow's with too much meekness, which is
incipient hypocrisy. I am always in a position
to thank my Heavenly Father that I have good
reasons for knowing I am no better than my

What I am trying to say is that when you settle
down in the Christian life; when the years take
hold of yoiu" knees so that it is hard to rise from
your prayers; when you are old and sad, and wise
enough to know your own ever-besetting sins as
others have known them all along — ^you cease to
expect perfection in yourself or in others. You
realize, with comfortable Christian fortitude, that,
after all, perfection in this changing world is bound
to be imperfection to-morrow.

This reminds me that some years ago the Holi-
ness people got into our church and nearly ruined
it before we could live them down. I had my
share in that by convicting Mary Fisher.

She lived next door to me then. And her
chickens Uved in my gardien. I admit that I had
a wayward cat, which she claimed comimitted
depredation in her kitchen. We were both in an
unchristian frame of mind when the revival came
on. We had a travelling evangelist that year to
help with the meeting, not suspecting until he was
in full swing that he preached "sanctification."

A Circuit Rider's Widow 61

When things warmed up, half the church mem-
bers began seeking this deeper work of grace.
It was like Mary to get it first. She was a nice
little woman, with a thin body and economical
features. And she had a soul like a sparrow,
which was always falling to the ground in order to
make sure that the Lord numbered the very hairs
of her head. She claimed the "second blessing"
with hallelujahs of rejoicing; said the very roots
of evil had been taken out of her.

I sat in my pew behind the choir and watched
her work over Taggy Lipton, who wanted sanctifi-
cation but was too honest to claim it.

After the meeting was over and we had settled
down in our strictly human natures once more, I
revolved a certain thing in my mind. I went to
see Sister Massengale, whose only worldly amuse-
ment is to raise game chickens for her own table.
I loaned her my cat and borrowed the fiercest-
looking rooster she had.

The next morning I was awakened at daylight
by the most awful racket in the garden. I ran to
the window. There were four or five hens sitting
on the fence, with their wings down, cackling as if
they'd die if something didn't stop. Mary was
there, too, not more than half dressed, with the
hairpins she rolls her bangs in every night sticking
up like porcupine quills. She was jumping up and

62 A Circuit Rider's Widow

down, smacking her hands and screeching loud
enough to bring the town marshal.

In the middle of the garden her old Plymouth
Rock rooster faced the game as a fat clown would
face a slim young knight-errant. They were not
saying anything, those roosters; but the Middle
Ages never saw a duel with swords conducted in a
manner more ceremonious or with deadlier instinct.
Their neck feathers were roached up like Eliza-
bethan ruffs. Every time Mary's rooster dropped
his wing to kick it with his claw, the game would
flirt out his long leg and spur him somewhere.
Once or twice they clinched, did their worst to each
other's heads, drew off, took aim, and started

It did not last long. Before I had time to realize
that I was promoting cockfighting across the street
from the parsonage and church, the Plymouth
Rock dropped beneath a well-aimed thrust. The
game made a low cock-a-doodle-doo remark to the
hens on the fence, stepped into the potato patch
and helped himself to a bug, as if killing an ad-
versary was merely an early morning incident.

At the same moment Mary caught sight of me at
the window.

"I'll pay you for this, Mary Thompson; I will,
if it's the last thing I ever do!" she screamed, pink
with fury.

A Circuit Rider's Widow 63

"Remember you are sanctified, Mary Fisher;
and 'Vengeance is mine, . . . saith the Lord,'"
I shouted back.

We stood measuring mortal minds for a moment;
then Mary went into the house.

The next Sunday we sat side by side in the
church. It was Communion Day. When those
who were "in love and charity with their neigh-
bours" were invited to come forward and partake
of the sacrament, I made haste to accept the in-
vitation, but Mary hung back.

These little incidents, so trivial, make up the
family life of a church, and they have more effect
upon it than the Conference assessments. How
many times have I seen church members watch
some brother on Commimion Sunday to see
whether he'd dare take the sacrament, having
private knowledge of a difficulty he'd had with an-
other brother; in fact, it requires courage to stay
away, for everybody wants to know why you do.
And they will find out. Fortunately the Lord is
hospitable. I doubt that He objects when a bitter-
hearted saint occasionally takes what's offered.

There is always somebody in the church who
makes religion a kind of cross-stitch between piety
and persecution. I have known a Christian
woman to aggravate her husband about his soul in

64 A Circuit Rider's Widow

a way that was little short of diabolical. Sally
Parks told me this story herself.

"When I married Sam," she said, "he was not a
Christian; but I never rested mitil he professed and
joined the church. I didn't worry him or plead
with him. I just set aside Friday of every week
to fast and pray for my husband. I kept it up
for ten years. During that time I had four babies
and did most of my own work, except on Fridays.
Then I went to my room and left him to manage
the best way he could. He knew what I was doing
and it used to make him mad at first ; but after a time
he got used to it At last he gave in and joined
the church. But I tell you it was hard on me!"

It was harder on Sam. Everybody in town
knew his wife was praying for him. He was a good
man. You couldn't have told from his walk and
conversation that he was dead in his trespasses and
sins; but the consciousness of knowing that we
knew what his wife did to him on Friday took the
spirit out of him. He wore the expression of a
sheep-killing dog. Finally he went to the pastor
about it.

"Brother Wrenn," he said, "I wish you'd stop
my wife from praying and fasting for me every

"Why, what do you mean?" demanded Wrenn,

A Circuit Rider's Widow 65

"Maybe you don't know how it feels to have
your wife desert you one day in the week and take
the whole of it to backbite you to the Lord. It's
unfaithful!" Sam whimpered.

"Well, why don't you repent and join the church
then?" the preacher asked.

"I ain't wicked," he answered indignantly. "I'm
a decent, honest man And I just can't stultify
myself by standing up and admitting before all the
folks that what she's been telling on me to the Lord
for ten years is so. It's been going on for ten
years, I tell you!" he shouted "I can't stand it
much longer. I'm thinking of getting drunk!"

Sally never admits that part of it; but the story
goes that Brother Wrenn called on her and ad-
vised her to change her Christian tactics.

Shortly afterward Sam joined the church.
He's done very well in it ever since — not what I
should call a fierce abourer in the vineyard, but a
useful man when it comes to squeezing out the
last quarter of the preacher's salary and raising
funds to paint the parsonage.

As a church, we have grown in the love and
knowledge of Christ by the grace of God; but we
grow in numbers the best way we can, not so
much by proselyting as by offering salvation on
easier terms than some other denominations.

66 A Circuit Rider's Widow

We get the second-blessing people because we
believe in an emotional religion as the world be-
lieves in emotional music or poetry, or oratory or
politics. We get the backsliders from other
churches, because there is no satisfaction in be-
longing to one which predestinates you to dam-
nation after you have fallen from grace and feel
badly enough about it anyhow. We cherish
backsliders, which is a credit to our doctrines and
our patience, as it is proper to keep a sick man in a
hospital instead of turning him out because he
gets a backset now and then.

Doctor Edd is one of these infirmary souls,
subject to almost fatal lapses in his efforts to be a
Christian. He joined the Baptist Church when
he came here, years ago, to practise medicine.
He is a good doctor and soon had the best people
in town as his patients. But, though he is not a
drunkard, he drinks periodically. And when he
does he puts his whole mind, body, and soul into
his cups.

The Baptists turned him out during one of his
protracted' sprees. Then he reformed and joined
the Presbyterians. They bore with him until he
reflected upon the dignity of the church. It was
his inebriate fancy when he went on a spree to
imagine some one was desperately ill, and he would
start at a gallop to save a life.

A Circuit Rider's Widow 67

One day he rushed into the study where Doctor
McAndrews, the Presbyterian minister, was pre-
paring his next sermon and ordered him to bed.
The old Scotchman protested that he was well
and had no need of a physician.

"But you are not well, my dear sir. Don't I
hear you preach every Sunday? Don't I know a
sick preacher when I see him!" exclaimed Doctor
Edd, swaying on his legs, but firm in the conviction
that this was a matter of life and death. "Let me
see your tongue!" he demanded.

The indignant minister was forced to comply.
The doctor wrinkled his nose at it and said it
confirmed his worst suspicions. He refused to
leave the house until he saw the minister un-
dressed and in bed, all of which was accomplished
with angry opposition on one hand and threats of
violence on the other.

For this unseemly conduct he was dismissed
from the Presbyterian Church. But he had a
horror of being a lost sheep. He wished to be
among good people, even if he was not good. He
was like a, beseeching alien who has had the
kingdom of heaven quarantined against iiim. At
the beginning of our next revival he asked to join
our church. He was contrite and he was hopeful.
We received him.

He goes on an occasional spree, bringing us into

68 A Circuit Rider's Widow

disrepute as a lax church. Then he recovers him-
self, with a cheerfukiess and courage that are
sublime. He remembers his sins no more for-
ever. We have lost hope of his reformation long
since, but he never does. He is the official pub-
lican in our church. He sits on the back bench
looking tragically worn, like a good soul crucified
in his own flesh. "When he is not there we miss
him. We are more sorrowful over his one trans-
gression than the many committed by hardier
Christians, which do not detain them from being

He has lost all his practice except among the
poor and unrespectable. We do not know how he
lives. But he is generous. He is so ready to
serve that it is as if we had done him a favour when
the pastor' asks him to go ten miles to attend a
sick woman who cannot be cured but who wants
a doctor Just to hearten her up. He is the one
man among us who knows, next to God, who the
poor are that keep their poverty concealed as it
it were a disgrace. And he never betrays them.
But he will come by very privately and take up
a collection of ham bones out of my smokehouse,
and wheedle me out of a dress I don't really want
to part with, for one of his secret mendicants.

Sometimes I have thought maybe Doctor Edd
will be one of those lasts here who shall be "first"

SICK woman"

A Circuit Rider's Widow 69

in the kingdom of heaven. But I cannot see him
so. I always think of him seated somewhere in
a darker place behind the shining hosts, troubled
about his wings, hiding his crown, waiting to serve.

Dregs in the bottom of the cup is a figure of
speech used to denote the unfit and the unlovely;
but sugar settles to the bottom, too. And it
matters not how much we stir this church with
disputes and scratching piety, there remains the
sweetness of two or three saiats that is never
dissolved in our bitterness. This is a good deal
to say for them, because presently you will see
that there are many bitter-herb souls and stinging-
nettle Christians among us.

Sister Molly Brown is one of those sugar-cured
in the Scriptures of love and patience.

She is a tall woman, with a long, homely face,
high, red-knobbed cheek bones, small, faded brown
eyes, and a beautiful mouth which neither years
nor poverty seems to change. It is a very sweet
double line of benevolence in an otherwise for-
bidding countenance. Her feet are wide femi-
nine flapjacks, which she slaps down with violent
energy when she walks. She is a widow and she
keeps the only boarding-house in Berton. It is a
kind of adult orphans' asylum for anybody who
comes along, from the man "without a job" to
Doctor Edd, who is the orphan Molly always has

70 A Circuit Rider's Widow

vntii her. She bears with these people, the dys-
pepsia of the school teachers, the butter-eating
extravagance of those who didn't pay their last
month's bill. She slaves for them in a way that
tries my patience but never her own. She de-
fends them to the last ditch and does their laundry

She never visits as other women do; never goes
anywhere except to church, where she is to be
seen every Simday seated in one of the foremost
pews, fast asleep, nodding unconscious amens to
the preacher. Sometimes it is funny to watch
her — ^the damaging-to-all-of-us parts of the sermon
to which she wags assent. I reckon this nap
she takes during Sabbath services, having dis-
missed her boarders and her cares, is the soundest
sleep she gets.

She is always heels over head in debt at the
stores, but her credit is wonderful. It is based,
like faith, on "the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen." Every merchant
in this town will tell you she is a "good moral

She keeps a bone barrel in her woodshed. On
the morning of the day the Woman's Missionary
Society meets she piles the bones on a wheel-
barrow, takes them to the butcher and sells them
for ten cents, with which she pays her dues to the

A Circuit Rider's Widow 71

society. Sometimes I think Molly Brown's dimes
ought to count for more than they do when the
Mission Board of our church is making appro-
priations for just the travelling expenses of its

If some one is ill or in trouble, or has fallen from
grace, her domestic nature undergoes a swift and
radical change. She leaves her laundry ia the
tub. She casts her boarders from her, neglecting
them shamefully, and she goes out to comfort or
to seek and to save that which is lost. When we
see her kiting along on a winter morning, with a
shawl pinned over her head and her hands wrapped
in her apron for warmth, we know some one is in
affliction, and that presently that one will have
a cook, a housemaid, a nurse, and a spiritual
adviser by her side.

You never can tell where poetry will break out
in a community. One day Molly said this to
me in answer to a question I should not have


"I am not svue of my salvation. Sister Thomp-
son. I ain't, to say, as faithful to the church as
I ought to be. Sometimes I want to get out of it
and do what I do just for the Lord."

I looked at her inquisitively.

"Seems as if I just divided with Him," she con-
tinued. "It's confusing. My life's slipping away

72 A Circuit Rider's Widow

from me into a journey through things I don't
know and can't see. I feel as if I'd walked a
long, long way with my eyes holden, just touching
folks as I passed, as the blind do. It seems
strange, when I know everybody here and never
go about much." She finished simply, never
suspecting that she has been across country many
a time to the strange kingdoms of God.

I do not question that Emily Peters is as good
as Molly, but she's different. She has what I
call a sheep-face sou . You can see it every time
you look at her — a poor, dumb thing somewhere
in her, which stares at you from her large, blue,
beseeching eyes asking you, for the love of mercy,
to spare her. She is not good; she knows her
transgressions are many and her sins very grievous;
but, oh, she is trying so hard, so hard to do right!
And do I think the pastor can help her if she
tells him everything? I always advise against
that extreme course.

"You are a single woman, Emily, and you should
be modest about your faults. Don t admit 'em
to anybody," I say.

As a matter of fact, I doubt that she ever had
the courage to commit a real, upstanding sin in
her life; but she is forever doing something to
herself, keeping fasts, giving tithes of all she has
now and then. She reads a book of religious

A Circuit Rider's Widow 73

meditations, one for every day in the year; and
she would never take the one intended for Tuesday,
February the eleventh, say, for Friday, February
the fourteenth.

She is the same way about her health. She
takes exercises with writhings most awful to see,
developing secret muscles. If her head attracts
her attention with an ache she goes about all
winter with a black veil wrapped round it and with
her httJe withered face sticking out. But most
often it's her digestion. Then she will wear the
whole hot summer a bandage round her, just to see
if it won't help. But it never does. She can't eat
green corn without being "upset," no matter
what she does. This year she got an idea about
her feet. One day I met her coming down the
street, bent forward, elbows akimbo, walking with
her toes turned in. She looked like a sheep escaped
from the shambles with its legs tied.

"What on earth's the matter, Emily!" I ex-
claimed, distressed to see her in such a fix.

"It's bunions," she said, stopping, but careful to
keep the ends of her shoes touching. "I've two
awful corns on the bottoms of my feet and I've
heard walking pigeon-toed will cure them."

That is Emily Peters, inside and out. Job's own
sister in the flesh and a neurasthenic invalid in the
spirit. But you cannot induce her to take a firm

74 A Circuit Rider's Widow

stand in the church for anything, she is so afraid of
making herself worse than she is. When we have a
row in our missionary society she's a neutral.
When the congregation is split, like the Red Sea,
over whether we shall have an evangelist to help
our preacher during a revival, or repent of our sins
the best way we can under his familiar preaching,
she is still a neutral. When I see her at such times,
sitting three benches in the rear of the argument, I
could spew her out of my mouth for being neither
hot nor cold. But you will find her in your church,

Like all Gaul, every church is divided into three
parts — the Christians, the hardened saints, and the
choir. The Christians are the leiast conspicuous.
The pastor never finds out who they are until he
has been with us long enough to look about him.
They never "lead in prayer," or testify of their
victorious struggles in an experience meeting.
They do what they are told to do and let it go at
that. But this church wouldn't last twelve
months if it were not for their dull peace among us.
You may see them every Sabbath day occupying
all the temperate zone behind the hardened saints
and the choir, like a windbreak between them and
Providence; middle-aged bald-headed men, mid-
dle-aged double-chinned women, who listen to the

A Circuit Rider's Widow 75

sermon, try their best to remember the text, and
never fall out with the preacher.

My experience is that most of the rows and
schisms in this church start with the saints. I
have seen many an Old Adam steward, like Tom
Warren, sitting in the amen corner, with a homed
soul — ^not Satanic, but the ordinary spreading ant-
lers of an aged steer, usually lowered to goad the
preacher in the flanks or some other steward in the

For ten years three or four of our prominent
members have conducted a feud with the ferocity
of outlaws. Old man Warren fell out with Roger
Peters about the line fence between their two
farms. The Discipline of our church forbids a
brother to go to law with another brother; so they
occupied all their spare time in moving that fence
back and forth until they hated each other like
poison. Peters changed his seat from the right-
hand side of the pulpit to the left, so as not to be
near Warren.

This disturbance led to the investigation of line
fences throughout the entire community, and it
was found that more than half of them were "in
dispute." Some of our members quit the church.
But the epidemic spread to the Baptists. They
had no church rules to hold them down; so the
court dockets for two years were filled with cases

76 A Circuit Rider's Widow

about line fences. When they were decided the
men who lost quit the Baptists and came to us,
with their bitterness sticking to them.

Preachers came and preachers went. They ex-
horted, prayed, pleaded in vain. They could not
bring harmony between these brethren, contending
like imarmed savages over their dividing lines. The
women took up their husbands' quarrels. Mrs.

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