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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAn Alabaster Box - Chapter 27
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An Alabaster Box - Chapter 27 Post by :smg04 Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :1309

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An Alabaster Box - Chapter 27

Chapter XXVII

History is said to repeat itself, as if indeed the world were a vast pendulum, swinging between events now inconceivably remote, and again menacing and near. And if in things great and heroic, so also in the less significant aspects of life.

Mrs. Henry Daggett stood, weary but triumphant, amid the nearly completed preparations for a reception in the new church parlors, her broad, rosy face wearing a smile of satisfaction.

"Don't it look nice?" she said, by way of expressing her overflowing contentment.

Mrs. Maria Dodge, evergreen wreaths looped over one arm, nodded.

"It certainly does look fine, Abby," said she. "And I guess nobody but you would have thought of having it."

Mrs. Daggett beamed. "I thought of it the minute I heard about that city church that done it. I call it a real tasty way to treat a minister as nice as ours."

"So 'tis," agreed Mrs. Dodge with the air of complacent satisfaction she had acquired since Fanny's marriage to the minister. "And I think Wesley'll appreciate it."

Mrs. Daggett's face grew serious. Then her soft bosom heaved with mirth.

"'Tain't everybody that's lucky enough to have a minister right in the family," said she briskly. "Mebbe if I was to hear a sermon preached every day in the week I'd get some piouser myself. I've been comparing this with the fair we had last summer. It ain't so grand, but it's newer. A fair's like a work of nature, Maria; sun and rain and dew, and the scrapings from the henyard, all mixed with garden ground to fetch out cabbages, potatoes or roses. God gives the increase."

Mrs. Dodge stared at her friend in amazement.

"That sounds real beautiful, Abby," she said. "You must have thought it all out."

"That's just what I done," confirmed Mrs. Daggett happily. "I'm always meditating about something, whilst I'm working 'round th' house. And it's amazing what thoughts'll come to a body from somewheres.... What you going to do with them wreaths, Maria?"

"Why, I was thinking of putting 'em right up here," said Mrs. Dodge, pointing.

"A good place," said Mrs. Daggett. "Remember Fanny peeking through them wreaths last summer? Pretty as a pink! An' now she's Mis' Reveren' Elliot. I seen him looking at her that night.... My! My! What lots of things have took place in our midst since then."

Mrs. Dodge, from the lofty elevation of a stepladder, looked across the room.

"Here comes Ann Whittle with two baskets," she said, "and Mrs. Solomon Black carrying a big cake, and a whole crowd of ladies just behind 'em."

"Glad they ain't going to be late like they was last year," said Mrs. Daggett. "My sakes! I hadn't thought so much about that fair till today; the scent of the evergreens brings it all back. We was wondering who'd buy the things; remember, Maria?"

"I should say I did," assented Mrs. Dodge, hopping nimbly down from the ladder. "There, that looks even nicer than it did at the fair; don't you think so, Abby?"

"It looks perfectly lovely, Maria."

"Well, here we are at last," announced Mrs. Whittle as she entered. "I had to wait till the frosting stiffened up on my cake."

She bustled over to a table and began to take the things out of her baskets. Mrs. Daggett hurried forward to meet Mrs. Solomon Black, who was advancing with slow majesty, bearing a huge disk covered with tissue paper.

Mrs. Black was not the only woman in the town of Brookville who could now boast sleeves made in the latest Parisian style. Her quick black eyes had already observed the crisp blue taffeta, in which Mrs. Whittle was attired, and the fresh muslin gowns decked with uncreased ribbons worn by Mrs. Daggett and her friend, Maria Dodge. Mrs. Solomon Black's water-waves were crisp and precise, as of yore, and her hard red cheeks glowed like apples above the elaborate embroidery of her dress.

"Here, Mis' Black, let me take your cake!" offered Abby Daggett. "I sh'd think your arm would be most broke carryin' it all the way from your house."

"Thank you, Abby; but I wouldn't das' t' resk changin' it; I'll set it right down where it's t' go."

The brisk chatter and laughter, which by now had prevaded the big place, ceased as by a preconcerted signal, and a dozen women gathered about the table toward which Mrs. Solomon Black was moving like the central figure in some stately pageant.

"Fer pity sake!" whispered Mrs. Mixter, "what d' you s'pose she's got under all that tissue paper?"

Mrs. Solomon Black set the great cake, still veiled, in the middle of the table; then she straightened herself and looked from one to the other of the eager, curious faces gathered around.

"There!" she said. "I feel now 's 'o' I could dror m' breath once more. I ain't joggled it once, so's t' hurt, since I started from home."

Then slowly she withdrew the shrouding tissue paper from the creation she had thus triumphantly borne to its place of honor, and stood off, a little to one side, her face one broad smile of satisfaction.

"Fer goodness' sake!"

"Did you ev--er!"

"Why, Mis' Black!"

"Ain't that just--"

"You never done that all yourself?"

Mrs. Black nodded slowly, almost solemnly. The huge cake which was built up in successive steps, like a pyramid, was crowned on its topmost disk by a bridal scene, a tiny man holding his tiny veiled bride by the hand in the midst of an expanse of pink frosting. About the side of the great cake, in brightly colored "mites," was inscribed "Greetings to our Pastor and his Bride."

"I thought 'twould be kind of nice, seeing our minister was just married, and so, in a way, this is a wedding reception. I don't know what the rest of you ladies'll think."

Abby Daggett stood with clasped hands, her big soft bosom rising and falling in a sort of ecstasy.

"Why, Phoebe," she said, "it's a real poem! It couldn't be no han'somer if it had been done right up in heaven!"

She put her arms about Mrs. Solomon Black and kissed her.

"And this ain't all," said Mrs. Black. "Lois Daggett is going to fetch over a chocolate cake and a batch of crullers for me when she comes."

Applause greeted this statement.

"Time was," went on Mrs. Black, "and not so long ago, neither, when I was afraid to spend a cent, for fear of a rainy day that's been long coming. 'Tain't got here yet; but I can tell you ladies, I got a lesson from _her in generosity I don't mean to forget. 'Spend and be spent' is my motto from now on; so I didn't grudge the new-laid eggs I put in that cake, nor yet the sugar, spice nor raisins. There's three cakes in one--in token of the trinity (I do hope th' won't nobody think it's wicked t' mention r'ligion in connection with a cake); the bottom cake was baked in a milk-pan, an' it's a bride's cake, being made with the whites of fourteen perfec'ly fresh eggs; the next layer is fruit and spice, as rich as wedding cake ought to be; the top cake is best of all; and can be lifted right off and given to Rever'nd an' Mrs. Wesley Elliot.... I guess they'll like to keep the wedding couple for a souvenir."

A vigorous clapping of hands burst forth. Mrs. Solomon Black waited modestly till this gratifying demonstration had subsided, then she went on:

"I guess most of you ladies'll r'member how one short year ago Miss Lyddy Orr Bolton came a'walkin' int' our midst, lookin' sweet an' modest, like she was; and how down-in-th'-mouth we was all a-feelin', 'count o' havin' no money t' buy th' things we'd worked s' hard t' make. Some of us hadn't no more grit an' gumption 'n Ananias an' S'phira, t' say nothin' o' Jonah an' others I c'd name. In she came, an' ev'rythin' was changed from that minute! ...Now, I want we sh'd cut up that cake--after everybody's had a chance t' see it good--all but th' top layer, same's I said--an' all of us have a piece, out o' compl'ment t' our paster an' his wife, an' in memory o' her, who's gone from us."

"But Lyddy Orr ain't dead, Mis' Black," protested Mrs. Daggett warmly.

"She might 's well be, 's fur 's our seein' her 's concerned," replied Mrs. Black. "She's gone t' Boston t' stay f'r good, b'cause she couldn't stan' it no-how here in Brookville, after her pa was found dead. The' was plenty o' hard talk, b'fore an' after; an' when it come t' breakin' her windows with stones an' hittin' her in th' head, so she was 'bleeged t' have three stitches took, all I c'n say is I don't wonder she went t' Boston.... Anyway, that's my wish an' d'sire 'bout that cake."

The arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Elliot offered a welcome interruption to a scene which was becoming uncomfortably tense. Whatever prickings of conscience there might have been under the gay muslin and silks of her little audience, each woman privately resented the superior attitude assumed by Mrs. Solomon Black.

"Easy f'r _her t' talk," murmured Mrs. Fulsom, from between puckered lips; "_she didn't lose no money off Andrew Bolton."

"An' she didn't get none, neither, when it come t' dividin' up," Mrs. Mixter reminded her.

"That's so," assented Mrs. Fulsom, as she followed in pretty Mrs. Mixter's wake to greet the newly-married pair.

"My! ain't you proud o' her," whispered Abby Daggett to Maria Dodge. "She's a perfec' pictur' o' joy, if ever I laid my eyes on one!"

Fanny stood beside her tall husband, her pretty face irradiating happiness. She felt a sincere pity welling up in her heart for Ellen Dix and Joyce Fulsom and the other girls. Compared with her own transcendent experiences, their lives seemed cold and bleak to Fanny. And all the while she was talking to the women who crowded about her.

"Yes; we are getting nicely settled, thank you, Mrs. Fulsom--all but the attic. Oh, how'd you do, Judge Fulsom?"

The big man wiped the perspiration from his bald forehead.

"Just been fetchin' in th' ice cream freezers," he said, with his booming chuckle. "I guess I'm 's well 's c'n be expected, under th' circumstances, ma'am.... An' that r'minds me, parson, a little matter was s'ggested t' me. In fact, I'd thought of it, some time ago. No more 'n right, in view o' th' facts. If you don't mind, I'll outline th' idee t' you, parson, an' see if you approve."

Fanny, striving to focus attention on the pointed remarks Miss Lois Daggett was making, caught occasional snatches of their conversation. Fanny had never liked Lois Daggett; but in her new role of minister's wife, it was her foreordained duty to love everybody and to condole and sympathize with the parish at large. One could easily sympathize with Lois Daggett, she was thinking; what would it be like to be obliged daily to face the reflection of that mottled complexion, that long, pointed nose, with its rasped tip, that drab lifeless hair with its sharp hairpin crimp, and those small greenish eyes with no perceptible fringe of lashes? Fanny looked down from her lovely height into Miss Daggett's upturned face and pitied her from the bottom of her heart.

"I hear your brother Jim has gone t' Boston," Miss Daggett was saying with a simper.

From the rear Fanny heard Judge Fulsom's rumbling monotone, earnestly addressed to her husband:

"Not that Boston ain't a nice town t' live in; but we'll have t' enter a demurrer against her staying there f'r good. Y' see--"

"Yes," said Fanny, smiling at Miss Daggett. "He went several days ago."

"H'm-m," murmured Miss Daggett. "_She's livin' there, ain't she?"

"You mean Miss Orr?"

"I mean Miss Lyddy Bolton. I guess Bolton's a good 'nough name for _her_."

From the Judge, in a somewhat louder tone:

"That's th' way it looks t' me, dominie; an' if all th' leadin' citizens of Brookville'll put their name to it--an' I'm of th' opinion they will, when I make my charge t' th' jury--"

"Certainly," murmured Fanny absently, as she gazed at her husband and the judge.

She couldn't help wondering why her Wesley was speaking so earnestly to the Judge, yet in such a provokingly low tone of voice.

"I had become so accustomed to thinking of her as Lydia Orr," she finished hastily.

"Well, I don't b'lieve in givin' out a name 'at ain't yourn," said Lois Daggett, sharply. "She'd ought t' 'a' told right out who she was, an' what she come t' Brookville _for_."

Judge Fulsom and the minister had moved still further away. Fanny, with some alarm, felt herself alone.

"I don't think Miss Orr meant to be deceitful," she said nervously.

"Well, o' course, if she's a-goin' t' be in th' family, it's natural you sh'd think so," said Lois Daggett, sniffing loudly.

Fanny did not answer.

"I sh'd _hope she an' Jim was engaged," proclaimed Miss Daggett. "If they ain't, they'd ought t' be."

"Why should you say that, Miss Lois?" asked Fanny hurriedly. "They are very good friends."

Miss Daggett bent forward, lowering her voice.

"The's one thing I'd like t' know f'r certain," she said: "Did Jim Dodge find that body?"

Fanny stared at her inquisitor resentfully.

"There were a good many persons searching," she said coldly.

Miss Daggett wagged her head in an irritated fashion.

"Of course I know _that_," she snapped. "What I want t' know is whether Jim Dodge--"

"I never asked my brother," interrupted Fanny. "It all happened so long ago, why not--"

"Not s' terrible long," disagreed Miss Daggett. "It was th' first o' November. N' I've got a mighty good reason f'r askin'."

"You have?" murmured Fanny, flashing a glance of entreaty at her husband.

"Some of us ladies was talkin' it over," pursued the spinster relentlessly, "an' I says t' Mis' Deacon Whittle: 'Who counted th' money 'at was found on Andrew Bolton's body?' I says. 'W'y,' s' she, 'th' ones 'at found him out in th' woods where he got lost, I s'pose.' But come t' sift it right down t' facts, not one o' them ladies c'd tell f'r certain who 't was 'at found that body. The' was such an' excitement 'n' hullaballoo, nobody 'd thought t' ask. It wa'n't Deacon Whittle; n'r it wa'n't th' party from th' Brookville House; ner Hank Simonson, ner any o' the boys. _It was Jim Dodge, an' she was with him!"_

"Well," said Fanny faintly.

She looked up to meet the minister's eyes, with a sense of strong relief. Wesley was so wise and good. Wesley would know just what to say to this prying woman.

"What are you and Miss Daggett talking about so earnestly?" asked the minister.

When informed of the question under discussion, he frowned thoughtfully.

"My dear Miss Daggett," he said, "if you will fetch me the dinner bell from Mrs. Whittle's kitchen, I shall be happy to answer your question and others like it which have reached me from time to time concerning this unhappy affair."

"Mis' Deacon Whittle's dinner bell?" gasped Lois Daggett. "What's that got t' do with--"

"Bring it to me, and you'll see," smiled the minister imperturbably.

"What are you going to do, Wesley?" whispered Fanny.

He gazed gravely down into her lovely eyes.

_"Dearest," he whispered back, "trust me! It is time we laid this uneasy ghost; don't you think so?"

By now the large room was well filled with men, women and children. The ice cream was being passed around when suddenly the clanging sound of a dinner bell, vigorously operated by Joe Whittle, arrested attention.

"The minister's got something to say! The minister's got something to say!" shouted the boy.

Wesley Elliot, standing apart, lifted his hand in token of silence, then he spoke:

"I have taken this somewhat unusual method of asking your attention to a matter which has for many years past enlisted your sympathies," he began: "I refer to the Bolton affair."

The sound of breath sharply indrawn and the stir of many feet died into profound silence as the minister went on, slowly and with frequent pauses:

"Most of you are already familiar with the sordid details. It is not necessary for me to go back to the day, now nearly nineteen years ago, when many of you found yourselves unexpectedly impoverished because the man you trusted had defaulted.... There was much suffering in Brookville that winter, and since.... When I came to this parish I found it--sick. Because of the crime of Andrew Bolton? No. I repeat the word with emphasis: _No! Brookville was sick, despondent, dull, gloomy and impoverished--not because of Andrew Bolton's crime; but because Brookville had never forgiven Andrew Bolton.... Hate is the one destructive element in the universe; did you know that, friends? It is impossible for a man or woman who hates another to prosper.... And I'll tell you why this is--why it must be true: God is love--the opposite of hate. Hence All Power is enlisted on the side of _love_.... Think this over, and you'll know it is true.... Now the Bolton mystery: A year ago we were holding a fair in this village, which was sick and impoverished because it had never forgiven the man who stole its money.... You all remember that occasion. There were things to sell; but nobody had money to buy them. It wasn't a pleasant occasion. Nobody was enjoying it, least of all your minister. But a miracle took place-- There are miracles in the world today, as there always have been, thank God! There came into Brookville that day a person who was moved by love. Every impulse of her heart; everything she did was inspired by that mightiest force of the universe. She called herself Lydia Orr.... She had been called Lydia Orr, as far back as she could remember; so she did no wrong to anyone by retaining that name. But she had another name, which she quickly found was a byword and a hissing in Brookville. Was it strange that she shrank from telling it? She believed in the forgiveness of sins; and she had come to right a great wrong.... She did what she could, as it is written of another woman, who poured out a fragrant offering of love unappreciated save by One.... There quickly followed the last chapter in the tragedy--for it was all a tragedy, friends, as I look at it: the theft; the pitiful attempt to restore fourfold all that had been taken; the return of that ruined man, Andrew Bolton, after his heavy punishment; and his tragic death.... Some of you may not know all that happened that night. You do know of the cowardly attack made upon the helpless girl. You know of the flight of the terrified man, of how he was found dead two days later three miles from the village, in a lonely spot where he had perished from hunger and exposure.... The body was discovered by James Dodge, with the aid of his dog. With him on that occasion was a detective from Boston, employed by Miss Bolton, and myself. There was a sum of money found on the body amounting to something over five thousand dollars. It had been secreted beneath the floor of Andrew Bolton's chamber, before his arrest and imprisonment. It is probable that he intended to make good his escape, but failed, owing to the illness of his wife.... This is a terrible story, friends, and it has a sad ending. Brookville had never learned to forgive. It had long ago formed the terrible habits of hate: suspicion, envy, sharp-tongued censure and the rest. Lydia Bolton could not remain here, though it was her birthplace and her home.... She longed for friendship! She asked for bread and you gave her--a stone!"

The profound silence was broken by a sob from a distant corner. The strained listeners turned with a sharp movement of relief.

"Fer pity sake!" faltered Abby Daggett, her beautiful, rosy face all quivering with grief. "Can't nobody do nothing?"

"Yes, ma'am!" shouted the big voice of Judge Fulsom. "We can all do something.... I ain't going to sum up the case against Brookville; the parson's done it already; if there's any rebuttal coming from the defendant, now's the time to bring it before the court.... Nothing to say--eh? Well, I thought so! We're guilty of the charges preferred, and I'm going to pass sentence.... But before I do that, there's one thing the parson didn't mention, that in my opinion should be told, to wit: Miss Lydia Bolton's money--all that she had--came to her from her uncle, an honest hardworkin' citizen of Boston. He made every penny of it as a soap-boiler. So you see 'twas _clean money; and he left it to his niece, Lydia Bolton. What did she do with it? You know! She poured it out, right here in Brookville--pretty nigh all there was of it. She's got her place here; but mighty little besides. I'm her trustee, and I know. The five thousand dollars found on the dead body of Andrew Bolton, has been made a trust fund for the poor and discouraged of this community, under conditions anybody that'll take the trouble to step in to my office can find out...."

The Judge paused to clear his throat, while he produced from his pocket, with a vast deal of ceremony, a legal looking document dangling lengths of red ribbon and sealing wax.

"This Bond of Indemnity, which I'm going to ask every man, woman and child of fifteen years and up'ards, of the village of Brookville, hereinafter known as the Party of the First Part, to sign, reads as follows: Know all men by these presents that we, citizens of the village of Brookville, hereinafter known as the Party of the First Part, are held and firmly bound unto Miss Lydia Orr Bolton, hereinafter known as the Party of the Second Part.... Whereas; the above-named Party of the Second Part (don't f'rget that means Miss Lydia Bolton) did in behalf of her father--one Andrew Bolton, deceased--pay, compensate, satisfy, restore, remunerate, recompense _and re-quite all legal indebtedness incurred by said Andrew Bolton to, for, and in behalf of the aforesaid Party of the First Part....

"You git me? If you don't, just come to my office and I'll explain in detail any of the legal terms not understood, comprehended and known by the feeble-minded of Brookville. Form in line at nine o'clock. First come, first served:

"We, the Party of the First Part, bind ourselves, and each of our heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, jointly and severally, firmly by these presents, and at all times hereafter to save, defend, keep harmless and indemnify the aforesaid Party of the Second Part (Miss Lydia Bolton) of, from and against all further costs, damages, expense, disparagements (that means spiteful gossip, ladies!) molestations, slander, vituperations, etc. (I could say more, _but we've got something to do that'll take time.) And whereas, the said Party of the Second Part has been actually drove to Boston to live by the aforesaid slander, calumniations, aspersions and libels--which we, the said Party of the First Part do hereby acknowledge to be false and untrue (yes, and doggone mean, as I look at it)--we, the said Party of the First part do firmly bind ourselves, our heirs, executors, administrators an' assigns to quit all such illegalities from this day forth, and forever more." ...

"You want to get out of the habit of talking mean about Andrew Bolton, for one thing. It's been as catching as measles in this town since I can remember. Andrew Bolton's dead and buried in our cemetery, beside his wife. We'll be there ourselves, some day; in the meanwhile we want to reform our tongues. You get me? All right!

"And whereas, we, the Party of the First Part, otherwise known as the village of Brookville, do ask, beg, entreat, supplicate and plead the f'rgiveness of the Party of the Second Part, otherwise known as Miss Lydia Orr Bolton. And we also hereby request, petition, implore _an' importune Miss Lydia Orr Bolton, otherwise known as the Party of the Second Part, to return to Brookville and make it her permanent place of residence, promising on our part, at all times hereafter, to save, defend, keep harmless and indemnify her against all unfriendliness, of whatever sort; and pledging ourselves to be good neighbors and loving friends from the date of this document, which, when signed by th' Party of the First Part, shall be of full force and virtue. Sealed with our seals. Dated this seventh day of June, in the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred--"

A loud uproar of applause broke loose in the pause that followed; then the minister's clear voice called for silence once more.

"The Judge has his big fountain pen filled to its capacity," he said. "Come forward and sign this--the most remarkable document on record, I am not afraid to say. Its signing will mean the wiping out of an old bitterness and the dawning of a new and better day for Brookville!"

The Reverend Wesley Elliot had mixed his metaphors sadly; but no one minded that, least of all the minister himself, as he signed his name in bold black characters to the wondrous screed, over which Judge Fulsom had literally as well as metaphorically burned the midnight oil. Deacon and Mrs. Whittle signed; Postmaster and Mrs. Daggett signed, the latter with copious tears flowing over her smooth rosy cheeks. Miss Lois Daggett was next:

"I guess I ought to be written down near the front," said she, "seeing I'm full as much to blame, and like that, as most anybody."

"Come on you, Lute Parsons!" roared the Judge, while a group of matrons meekly subscribed their signatures. "We want some live men-folks on this document.... Aw, never mind, if you did! We all know you wa'n't yourself that night, Lucius.... That's right; come right forward! We want the signature of every man that went out there that night, full of cussedness and bad whiskey.... That's the ticket! Come on, everybody! Get busy!"

Nobody had attended the door for the last hour, Joe Whittle being a spellbound witness of the proceedings; and so it chanced that nobody saw two persons, a man and a woman who entered quietly--one might almost have said timidly, as if doubtful of a welcome in the crowded place. It was Abby Daggett who caught sight of the girl's face, shining against the soft dark of the summer night like a pale star.

"Why, my sakes alive!" she cried, "if there ain't Lyddy Bolton and Jim Dodge, now! Did you ever!"

As she folded the girl's slight figure to her capacious breast, Mrs. Daggett summed up in a single pithy sentence all the legal phraseology of the Document, which by now had been signed by everybody old enough to write their names:

"Well! we certainly are glad you've come home, Lyddy; an' we hope you'll never leave us no more!"

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