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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 10. The Reverend Orlando Mullen Preaches A Sermon
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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 10. The Reverend Orlando Mullen Preaches A Sermon Post by :mondd Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :1076

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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 10. The Reverend Orlando Mullen Preaches A Sermon


On the following Sunday, a mild autumn morning, Mr. Mullen preached one of his most impressive sermons from the text, "_She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness_."

Woman, he said in the course of it, was created to look after the ways of her household in order that man might go out into the world and make a career. No womanly woman cared to make a career. What the womanly woman desired was to remain an Incentive, an Ideal, an Inspiration. If the womanly woman possessed a talent, she did not use it--for this would unsex her--she sacrificed it in herself in order that she might return it to the race through her sons. Self-sacrifice--to use a worn metaphor--self-sacrifice was the breath of the nostrils of the womanly woman. It was for her power of self-sacrifice that men loved her and made an Ideal of her. Whatever else woman gave up, she must always retain her power of self-sacrifice if she expected the heart of her husband to rejoice in her. The home was founded on sacrifice, and woman was the pillar and the ornament of the home. There was her sphere, her purpose, her mission. All things outside of that sphere belonged to man, except the privilege of ministering to the sick and the afflicted in other households.

He leaned forward in the old pulpit, his shapely, well-kept hand hanging over the edge in one of his most characteristic gestures; and the autumn sunlight, falling through the plain glass windows, shone on his temples. Immediately below him, in a front pew, sat his mother, a dried little old woman, with beady black eyes and a pointed chin, which jutted out from between the stiff taffeta strings of her poke bonnet. She gazed upward, clasping her Prayer-book in her black woollen gloves, which were darned in the fingers; and though she appeared to listen attentively to the sermon, she was wondering all the time if the coloured servant at home would remember to baste the roast pig she had left in the oven. To-day was the Reverend Orlando's birthday, and the speckled pig she had fattened throughout the summer, lay now, with an apple in his mouth, on the trencher. She had invited Molly to dine with them rather against her wishes, for she harboured a secret fear that the girl was trying to marry the rector. Besides, as she said to herself, with her eyes on Orlando's hand, how on earth could he do full justice to the pig if there was a pretty parishioner to distract his attention?

In the pew next to Mrs. Mullen sat old Adam Doolittle, his hand behind his left ear, his withered old lips moving as if he were repeating the words of the sermon. From time to time he shook his head as though he disagreed with a sentence, and then his lips worked more rapidly, and an obstinate, argumentative look appeared in his face. Mentally he was conducting a theological dispute with the preacher in which the younger man suffered always a crushing rhetorical defeat. Behind him sat the miller and Blossom Revercomb, who threw an occasional anxious glance at the empty seat beside Mrs. Gay and Kesiah; and behind them Judy Hatch raised her plain, enraptured face to the pulpit, where the rector had shaken out an immaculately ironed handkerchief and wiped his brow. She knew who had ironed that handkerchief on Wednesday, which was Mrs. Mullen's washing day, and her heart rejoiced as she remembered the care with which she had folded the creases.

It made no difference, said Mr. Mullen, replacing the handkerchief somewhere under his white surplice, whether a woman was ugly or beautiful, since they possessed Scriptural authority for the statement that beauty was vain, and no God-fearing man would rank loveliness of face or form above the capacity for self-sacrifice and the unfailing attendance upon the sick and the afflicted in any parish. Beauty, indeed, was but too often a snare for the unwary--temptresses, he had been told, were usually beautiful persons.

Molly's lips trembled into a smile, and her eyes were wide and bright as she met those of the preacher. For an instant he looked at her, gentle, admonishing, reproachful--then his gaze passed over Judy's seraphic features to the face of an old grey horse that stared wonderingly in through the south window. Along the whitewashed plank fence of the church-yard, other horses were waiting patiently for the service to end, and from several side saddles, of an ancient pattern, hung flopping alpaca riding skirts, which the farmer's wives or daughters had worn over their best gowns to church. A few locust trees shed their remaining small yellow leaves on the sunken graves, which were surrounded by crumbling wooden enclosures. Here and there, farther off, a flat tombstone was still visible in the tall grass; and over the dust of old Jonathan Gay a high marble cross, selected by his brother's widow, bore the words, unstained by the dripping trees, and innocent of satire: "Here lieth in the hope of a joyful resurrection---"

At the end of the service there was a rustle either of relief or disappointment, and the congregation filed slowly through the south doors, where the old grey horse stood resigned and expectant amid the obliterated graves. Mrs. Gay, who had lingered in the walk to speak to Mr. Mullen, raised her plaintive violet eyes to his face when he appeared.

"You are always so comforting. I don't know how to thank you for helping me," she murmured, and added impulsively to the little old woman at his side, "Oh, what a blessing such a son must be to you!"

"Orlando's never given me a moment's worry in his life, ma'am--not even when he was teething," replied Mrs. Mullen, who looked sharper and more withered than ever in the broad daylight. "If you'll believe me, he wasn't more than six months old when I said to his father that I could tell by the look of him he was intended for the ministry. Such sweetness, such self-control even as an infant."

"How happy he must make you! And then, to have the privilege of hearing his beautiful sermons! But you'll lose him some day, as I was just saying to Kesiah. It won't be long before some fortunate woman takes him away from you. We can only hope she will be worthy of the ideal he has for her."

"Ah, that's just it, Mrs. Gay, I sometimes tell myself there isn't a woman in the world that's fit for him."

She spoke as fast as she could, eager to dilate on the subject of the embarrassed Orlando's virtues, flattered in her motherly old heart by the praise of his sermons, and yet, all the time, while her peaked chin worked excitedly, thinking about the roasted young pig that waited for her to attend to the garnishing.

The delay was short; Orlando silenced her at last by a gentle admonitory pressure of her elbow, and the two ladies drove off in their carriage, while Molly walked sedately out of the churchyard between the clergyman and his mother. The girl was pleasantly aware that the eyes of the miller and of Jim Halloween followed her disapprovingly as she went; and she thought with complacency that she had never looked better than she did in her white felt hat with its upturned brim held back by cherry-coloured ribbon. It was all very well for the rector to say that beauty was of less importance than visiting the sick, but the fact remained that Judy Hatch visited the sick more zealously than she--and yet he was very far, indeed, from falling in love with Judy Hatch! The contradiction between man and his ideal of himself was embodied before her under a clerical waistcoat.

"I believe," remarked the Reverend Orlando, thrusting his short chin as far as possible over his collar, which buttoned at the back, "I believe that the elder Doolittle nourishes some private grudge against me. He has a most annoying habit of shaking his head at me during the sermon as though he disagreed with my remarks."

"The man must be an infidel," observed Mrs. Mullen, with asperity, as she moved on in front of him.

"He doesn't know half the time what he is doing," said Molly, "you know he passed his ninetieth birthday last summer."

"But surely you cannot mean that you consider age an excuse for either incivility or irreligion," rejoined her lover, pushing aside an impertinent carrot flower that had shed its pollen on his long coat, while he regarded his mother's back with the expression of indignant suspicion he unconsciously assumed on the rare occasions when his opinions were disputed. "Age should mellow, should soften, should sweeten."

"I suppose it should, but very often it doesn't," retorted Molly, a trifle tartly, for the sermon had bored her and she looked forward with dread to the dinner.

At her words Mrs. Mullen, who was walking a little ahead, with her skirts held up to avoid the yellow stain of the golden-rod, glanced sharply back, as she had done in church when old Adam had coughed at the wrong time and spoiled the full effect of a period.

"One reason that Orlando is so helpful to people is that he always sees so clearly just what they ought to be," she observed. "I don't believe there's a man in the ministry or out, who has a higher ideal of woman and her duty."

"But do women ever live up to his ideal of them?"

"It isn't his fault if they don't. All he can do is to point it out to them earnestly and without ceasing."

They had reached the rectory gate, where she hesitated an instant with her hand on the latch, and her head bent toward the house in a surprised and listening attitude. "I declare, Orlando, if I didn't go off and leave that cat locked up in the parlour!" she exclaimed in horror as she hurried away.

"Yes," observed Mr. Mullen in his tenderest and most ministerial manner, "my ideal is a high one, and when I look into your face, I see reflected all the virtues I would have you reach. I see you the perfect woman, sharing my sorrows, easing my afflictions---"

Intoxicated by his imagination, he turned toward her as though he beheld the living embodiment of his eloquence.

For a minute Molly smiled up at him; then, "I wonder if your mother really locked the cat in the parlour," she rejoined demurely.

After the birthday dinner, at which Mrs. Mullen talked ceaselessly of Orlando's excellencies, while she reserved the choicest piece of meat and the fattest dumpling for his plate, Molly tied her cherry-coloured strings under her chin, and started home, with a basket of apple tarts for Reuben on her arm. At the crossroads Mr. Mullen left her to return to an afternoon Sunday school, and she was about to stop at the ordinary to ask William to see her safely over the pasture, when Abel Revercomb, looking a trifle awkward in his Sunday clothes, came out of the house and held out his hand for the basket.

"I thought you'd be coming home this way after dinner," he said, turning his throat when he moved. His hair was brushed flat on his head as was his habit on Sundays, and he wore a vivid purple tie, which he had bought on his last journey to Applegate. He had never looked worse, nor had he ever felt quite so confident of the entire correctness of his appearance.

As Molly made no reply, but merely fell into step at his side, he inquired, after a moment's pause, "How did you enjoy the sermon?"

"Oh, I don't like to be preached at, and I'm sorry for Mr. Mullen's wife if he expects her to ease everybody's pains in the parish. He looked very handsome in church," she added, "didn't you think so?"

"I didn't notice," he answered ruefully. "I never pay any attention to the way a man looks, in church or out of it."

"Well, I do--and even Judy Hatch does. She asked me the other day whom I thought the handsomest man in the neighbourhood, and I'm sure she expected me to say Mr. Mullen."

She dimpled, and his arm went out impulsively toward her.

"But you didn't, Molly?" he returned.

"Why, of course not--did you imagine that I should? I said I thought Mr. Jonathan Gay was the best looking."

His arm fell to his side, and for a minute or two he walked on in silence.

"I wish I didn't love you, Molly," he burst out at last. "I sometimes almost believe that you're one of the temptresses Mr. Mullen preached against this morning. I've tried again and again to tear you out of my heart, but it is useless."

"Yes, it's useless, Abel," she answered, melting to dimples.

"I tell myself," he went on passionately, "that you're not worth it--that you're perfectly heartless--that you're only a flirt--that other men have held your hands, kissed your lips even---"

"And after telling yourself those dreadful truths, what happens?" she inquired with interest.

"What happens? Well, I go to work and don't think of you for at least three hours. Then, when I am dead tired I stop for a minute to rest, and as soon as my eyes fall on a bit of green grass, or a flower growing by the road, or the blue sky, there you are again, popping in between them with your big eyes and your mouth that was made for kisses. I forget how heartless and light you are, and remember only the times you've crept up to me and put your hand on my arm and said, 'Abel, I'm sorry.' Most of all I remember the one time you kissed me, Molly."

"Don't, Abel," she said quickly, and her voice broke and died in her throat.

As he drew close to her, she walked faster until her steps changed into a run.

"If you only knew me as I am, you wouldn't care so, Abel," she threw back at him.

"I don't believe you know yourself as you are, Molly," he answered. "It's not you that leads men on to make love to you and then throws them over--as you have thrown me--as you will throw Mr. Mullen." His tone grew suddenly stern. "You don't love Mr. Mullen, and you know it," he added. "If you love any man on earth to-day, you love me."

At his first change from tenderness to accusation, her face hardened and her voice returned to her control.

"What right have you to judge me, Abel Revercomb?" she asked angrily. "I've had one sermon preached at me to-day, and I'll not listen to another."

"You know I'm not preaching at you, Molly, but I'm a man of flesh and blood, not of straw. How can I have patience?"

"I never asked you to have patience, did I?"

"No, and I don't believe you want it. If I'd catch hold of you and shake you, you'd probably like me better."

"It's just as well that you don't try it to see how I'll take it."

"Oh, I shan't try it. I'll go on still believing in you against yourself, like the born fool I am."

"You may believe in me or not just as you please--but it isn't my fault if you won't go off and marry Judy Hatch, as I have begged you to. She's everything on earth that Mr. Mullen preached about to-day in his sermon."

"Hang Judy Hatch! You are bent on starting a quarrel with me, that is the trouble. As soon as you mentioned Jonathan Gay I knew what you were in for."

"As if I couldn't say a man was good looking without putting you into a rage."

"I'm not in a rage, but I hate a flirt. Every sensible man does."

"Judy Hatch isn't a flirt."

"Leave Judy Hatch out of it--though I've more than half a mind to walk off and ask her to marry me."

"That's just what I've advised you to do for the last six months, isn't it?"

"Ah, no, you haven't, Molly, no, you haven't--and you'd be just as sorry as I the minute after I had done it. You've got some small foolish childish notions in your head about hating men--but you're much nearer loving me than hating me at this moment, and that's why you're afraid!"

"I'm not afraid--how dare you say so?"

"Oh, my pretty, how foolish we are, both of us! I'd work my fingers to the bone for you, Molly, I'd lie down and let your little feet walk over me if they wanted to--I'd shed my life's blood for you, day by day, if it could help you."

"Every one of you say this in the beginning, but it isn't true in the end," she answered.

"Not true--not true? Prove it. Why do you think I've struggled and raised myself except to keep equal with you? Why did I go to school and teach myself and make money enough to take classes in Applegate? Just for you. All those winter afternoons when I drove over there to learn things, I was thinking of you. Do you remember that when you were at school in Applegate, you'd tell me the names of the books you read so that I might get them?"

"Don't," she cried fiercely, "don't tell me those things, for I'll never believe them! I'm hard and bitter inside, there's no softness in me. If I went on my knees and prayed to love, I couldn't do it. Oh, Abel, there isn't any love in my heart!"

"Do you remember when you kissed me?"

"No, I have forgotten."

"It was only three weeks ago."

"Yes, that was three weeks ago."

The light died slowly out of his eyes as he looked at her.

"When you speak like that I begin to wonder if any good can ever come to us," he returned. "I've gone on breaking my heart over you ever since you were a little girl in short dresses, and I can't remember that I've ever had anything but misery from you in my life. It's damnable the things I've stood and yet I've always forgotten them afterwards, and remembered only the times you were soft and gentle and had ceased to be shrewish. Nobody on earth can be softer than you, Molly, when you want to, and it's your softness, after all, that has held me in spite of your treatment. Why, your mouth was like a flower when I kissed you, and parted and clung to me---"

"I wish you wouldn't talk about it. I hate to hear such things after they are over."

"Such things!" He stood flicking hopelessly with a small branch he carried at the carrot flowers in the field. "If you will tell me honestly that you were playing with me, Molly, I'll give you up this minute," he said.

The colour was high in her face and she did not look at him.

"I was playing with you, and I told you so the day afterwards," she replied.

"Yes, but you didn't mean it. I can't go any further because this is Mr. Jonathan's land."

His eyes had in them the hurt reproachful look of a wounded dog's, and his voice trembled a little.

"I meant always--always to lead you on until I could hurt you--as I did the others--and then throw you over."

"And now that you can hurt me, you throw me over?" he asked.

Without speaking, she held out her hand for the basket, which he was about to fling from him.

"Then I'll never forgive you, Molly, so help me God," he added harshly; and turning away from her, struck out across the pasture in the direction of the mill.

For a moment she stood looking after him, her lips parted, her eyes wide and bright as if she were asking a question.

"I am hard--hard and cruel," she thought as she went slowly up the witch-hazel path that led by the Poplar Spring, "but I wonder--oh, I wonder if I treat Abel worst because I like him best?"

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