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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 14. Shows The Weakness In Strength
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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 14. Shows The Weakness In Strength Post by :mondd Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :1427

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The Miller Of Old Church - Book 1 - Chapter 14. Shows The Weakness In Strength

BOOK I CHAPTER XIV. SHOWS THE WEAKNESS IN STRENGTH

When Abel had gone, Sarah folded her grey woollen shawl over her bosom, and ordered the boy with the wheelbarrow to return to the barnyard. Left alone her eyes followed her son's figure as it divided the broomsedge in the meadow, but from the indifference of her look she might have gazed on the pine tree toward which he was moving. A little later, when her glance passed to the roof of the mill there was no perceptible change in her expression; and she observed dispassionately that the shingles which caught the drippings from the sycamore were beginning to rot. While she stood there she was in the throes of one of the bitterest sorrows of her life; yet there was no hint of it either in her quiet face or in the rigid spareness of her figure. Her sons had resisted her at times, but until to-day not one of them had rebelled openly against her authority in the matter of marriage. Years ago, in the period of Abner's reaction from a blighted romance, she had chosen, without compunction, a mild-mannered, tame-spirited maiden for his wife. Without compunction, when the wedding was over, she had proceeded, from the best possible motives, to torment the tame-spirited maiden into her grave.

"He's layin' up misery for himself and for all concerned," she said aloud, after a moment, "a girl like that with no name and precious little religion--an idle, vain, silly hussy, with a cropped head!"

A small coloured servant, in a girl's pinafore and a boy's breeches, came to the door, and whispered that the old people were demanding a snack of bread and molasses.

"Tell 'em it ain't the day for sweets an' they ain't goin' to have meat an' molasses the same day," she remarked as she entered the kitchen. "If I didn't watch you every minute, you'd make yo'selves sick with overeatin'."

"I reckon you're right, Sary," piped grandfather in angry tones, "but I ain't so sure I wouldn't rather have the sickness than the watchin'. It's hard on a man of my years an' experience that he shouldn't be allowed to project with his own stomach."

"You'd have been dead long ago but for me, an' you ought to be ashamed of yo'self for talkin' such foolishness. As if I hadn't wo' myself out with waitin' on you, an' no blood relation."

"No blood relation!" chimed in grandmother maliciously, "no blood relation!"

"Well, you hurry up an' get ready for dinner, for I'm goin' out afterwards."

"Whar on earth are you goin', Sary? It ain't Sunday."

"It don't matter to you whar I'm goin'--you jest set right up an' eat yo' soup."

When she had poured the contents of the pot into the two earthenware bowls, she crumbled a piece of bread into each, and gave the dinner into the trembling hands which were stretched out eagerly to receive it. Then taking the red-and-white cloth from the cupboard, she set the table for five, and brought the dish of turnips and boiled beef from the stove. Every detail was carefully attended to as if her thoughts were not on the hillside with Abel, but she herself could not eat so much as a mouthful. A hard lump rose in her throat and prevented her swallowing.

The men did not appear, so leaving their dinner in the stove, she went upstairs and put on the black poke bonnet and the alpaca mantle trimmed with bugles which she wore on Sundays and on the occasional visits to her neighbours. As it was her custom never to call without bearing tribute in the form of fruit or preserves, she placed a jar of red currant jelly into a little basket, and started for her walk, holding it tightly in her black worsted gloves. She knew that if Molly divined her purpose she would hardly accept the gift, but the force of habit was too strong for her, and she felt that she could not start out to make a visit with empty hands.

Her chief anxiety was to be gone before Abel should return, and for this reason she left the house by the back door, and chose the small, descending path that led through the willows to Jordan's Journey. As she neared the brook a bow of blue ribbon hanging on a branch caught her eye, and she recognized a bit of the trimming from Blossom's Sunday dress. Releasing it she put it into her pocket, with the resolve that she would reprove her granddaughter for wearing her best clothes in such unsuitable places. Then her thoughts returned to the immediate object of her visit, and she told herself sternly that she would let Molly Merryweather know her opinion of her while there was yet time for the girl to withdraw from the marriage. That she was wronging her son by exerting such despotic authority was the last thought that would have occurred to her. A higher morality than that of ordinary mortals had guided her in the past, and she followed it now.

When she reached the rail fence, she found some difficulty in climbing it, since her legs had grown rheumatic with the cold weather; but by letting the basket down first on a forked stick, she managed to ease herself gently over to the opposite side. Here she rested, while she carefully brushed away the dried pollen from the golden-rod, which was staining her dress. Then regaining her strength after a minute, she pushed on under the oak trees, where the moist, dead leaves made a soft, velvety sound, to the apple orchard and the sunken flagged walk that led to the overseer's cottage.

In the sunshine on the porch Reuben Merryweather was sitting; and at sight of his visitor, he rose, with a look of humble surprise, and invited her into the house. His manner toward her was but a smaller expression of his mental attitude to the universe. That he possessed any natural rights as an individual had never occurred to him; and the humility with which he existed gave place only to the mild astonishment which filled him at any recognition of that existence by man or Providence.

"Walk in an' sit down, ma'am," he said hospitably leading the way into the little sitting-room, where the old hound dozed on the rug. "Molly's jest gone down to the spring-house, but she'll be back in a minute."

"Reuben Merryweather--" began Sarah, and then she stopped, "you ain't lookin' over sprightly," she said after a pause.

"I've got a weak chest, an' the cold settles on it."

"Did you ever try mutton suet laid over it on a piece of red flannel? 'Tis the best cure I know of."

"Molly makes me a plaster for it at night." The feeling that he had engrossed the conversation for his selfish ends led him to remark after a minute, "You have changed but little, Sarah, a brave woman you are."

"Not so brave, Reuben, but I'm a believer an' that helps me. I'd have broken down under the burden often enough if my faith hadn't supported me. You've had yo' troubles, too, Reuben, an' worse ones."

"It's true, it's true," said the old man, coughing behind his hand, "to see my po' gal suffer so was worst--but however bad things seemed to us on top, I've al'ays believed thar was a hidden meanin' in em' that our eyes couldn't see."

"Ah, you were al'ays a soft natured man, Reuben, too soft natured for yo' own good, I used to think."

"'Twas that that stood against me with you, Sarah, when we were young. Do you remember the time you refused to drive back with me from that picnic at Falling Creek because I wouldn't give Jacob Bumpass a hiding about something? That was a bitter pill to me, an' I've never forgot it."

Sarah had flushed a little, and her stern face appeared to have grown ten years younger. "To think that you ain't forgot all that old foolishness, Reuben!"

"Well, thar's been time enough an' trouble enough, no doubt," he answered, "but seein' you lookin' so like yo' old self put me in mind of it."

"Lord, Reuben, I ain't thought of all that for forty years!"

"No mo' have I, Sarah except when I see you on Sundays sittin' across the church from me. You were a beauty in yo' day, though some folks use to think that that little fair thing, Mary Hilliard, was better lookin'. To me 'twas like settin' a dairy maid beside a queen."

"Even my husband thought Mary Hilliard, was prettier," said Sarah, and her tone showed that this tribute to her youthful vanity had touched her heart.

"Well, I never did. You were al'ays too good for me an' I never begrudged you to Abner. He was a better man."

For an instant she looked at him steadily, while living honesty struggled in her bosom against loyalty to the dead.

"No, Reuben, Abner was not a better man," she said presently, as if the words were thrust out of her by a chastening conscience. "My pride kept me up after I had married him; but he was born shiftless an' he died shiftless. He never did a day's work in his life that I didn't drive him to. His children have never known how it was, for I've al'ays made 'em think he was a hard worker an' painstakin' to keep back his laziness from croppin' out in 'em, if I could."

"You've brought 'em up well. That's a fine son of yours that comes courtin' my gal, Sarah. I've hoped she'd fancy him for the sake of old times."

"I never thought of yo' recollectin' that feelin', Reuben. It makes me feel almost young again, an' I that old an' wo' out. I've had a hard life--thar's no disputin' it, marriage is mostly puttin' up with things, I reckon, when it ain't makin' believe."

"Thar's mighty few that gits the one that's meant for 'em," said Reuben, "that's sure enough. If we did we'd stop movin' forward, I suppose, an' begin to balk. I haven't much life now, except in Molly, an' it's the things that pleases or hurt her that I feel the most. She's got a warm heart an' a hot temper like you used to have, Sarah, an' the world ain't easy generally to yo' sort."

For a time Sarah was silent, her hands in their black woolen gloves gripping the handle of the basket.

"Well, I must be goin', Reuben," she said presently, rising from her chair. "I'm sorry about yo' chest, an' I jest stepped over to bring you this glass of currant jelly I made last summer. It goes well with meat when yo' appetite ain't hearty."

She held out her hand, shook his with a hurried and awkward movement, and went out of the front door and down the flagged walk as Molly's steps were heard in the kitchen at the back.

"Sarah Revercomb has been here, honey," said Reuben. "She brought me over this glass of currant jelly, and said she was sorry to miss you."

"Why, what could she have meant?" asked Molly. "She hates me and she knows I've never liked her."

"Like most folks it ain't Sarah but the way you take her that matters. We've all got the split somewhar in our shell if you jest know how to find it. I reckon she's given in about Abel an' came over to show it."

"I'm glad she brought you the jelly, and perhaps she is getting softer with age," rejoined Molly, still puzzled.

"Don't worry, honey, she's a good woman at bottom, but mortal slow of larnin', and thar's a lot of Sarah in that boy of hers."

"I suppose there is, grandfather, for all their fierce quarrelling. They have the kind of love that will die for you and yet will not so much as suffer you to live. That's the way Mrs. Revercomb loves, and it's the way Abel is loving me now."

"Let him larn, pretty, let him larn. He'll be worth twice as much at fifty as he is to-day, an' so will you for that matter. They're fools that say love is for the young, Molly, don't you believe 'em."

Sarah, meanwhile, passed slowly down the flagged walk under the gnarled old apple trees in the orchard. A few heavy-winged insects, awaking from the frost of the night, droned over the piles of crushed winesaps, and she heard the sound as though it came to her across a distance of forty years. They were not easy years; she was worn by their hardness, crippled by their poverty, embittered by their sorrows. "I've had a hard life," she thought. "I've had a hard life, an' it warn't fair." For the first time it occurred to her that the Providence she had served had not used her honourably in return. "Even Abner al'ays thought that Mary Hilliard was the prettiest," she added, after a minute.

As she crossed the lawn at Jordan's Journey, Uncle Abednego, the butler, appeared at the back door, and detained her with an excited wave of the hand.

"Lawd A'mighty, dar's bad times yer, Miss Sary!" he cried, "Miss Angela she's been mos' dead fur goin' on two hours, en we all's done sont Cephus on de bay horse arter Marse Jonathan!"

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