The Second Chance by Nellie L. McClung
Chapter XII. Pearl Visits the Parsonage
Mylo--he jest plows--and don't Never swear-like some folks won't.
----From "Mylo Jones' Wife."
The Reverend Mr. Burrell, whom Mr. Donald recommended to Pearl as a proper person to consult on the questions that troubled her mind, was the Methodist minister in Millford. The first year of his pastorate there he had been alone, Mrs. Burrell having remained "in the East," with her own people.
Mrs. Ducker was the president of the Ladies' Aid Society, and given to serious thinking, so when she read an article in the Fireside Visitor dealing with the relation of the minister's wife to the congregation, she was seriously impressed with the fact that the congregation was suffering every day by not having the minister's wife on the ground. Mrs. Ducker thereupon decided that she would bring the matter forward at the very next meeting.
Now, it happened that the "rubberman" came to Millford the very day before the Ladies' Aid meeting was held, which may seem to be a very unimportant and irrelevant fact; but it really had a significant bearing on that meeting of the Ladies' Aid, for little John Thomas Forrest, dazzled by the offer of three lead-pencils for two rubbers, sold his mother's only pair, and being a cautious child, and not fond of disputatious conversation, did not mention the matter to his mother, but left her to discover her loss herself, which she did the day of the meeting.
It was a sloppy day in November. Mrs. Forrest had a cold, and she could not walk away over to Mrs. Ducker's without rubbers. Mrs. Forrest did not go to the meeting. If Mrs. Forrest had gone she would have, beyond doubt, raised objections. She always did, and usually very successful ones.
But when Mrs. Ducker, after the business was over, breathlessly declared that she thought Mrs. Burrell should come and join her husband, she found Mrs. Francis and Mrs. Bates quite imbued with the same idea, for they likewise were subscribers to the Fireside Visitor. Mrs. Francis also gave prominence to the fact that Mr. Burrell needed some one to take care of him, for she had seen him that very day without his rubbers. Having no children of her own, Mrs. Francis did not know that the day after the "rubberman" had been in town quite a few people went without rubbers, not because they were careless of their health either, but because they had thoughtlessly left them in the front porch, where little boys can easily get them.
Half an hour after they began to discuss it, everybody felt that not only was the church suffering severely, but that they had been the unconscious witnesses of a domestic tragedy.
They formed a committee on "ways and means," another one to solicit aid from country members, and a social committee to get up a pie social to buy a new stair-carpet for the parsonage, and they appointed Mrs. Francis and Mrs. Ducker to approach Mr. Burrell on the subject of his wife's coming.
The unconscious object of their solicitude was quite surprised to receive that evening a visit from Mrs. Francis and Mrs. Ducker. Reverend John Burrell did not look like a man who was pining for the loved and lost--he was a small, fair man, with a pair of humorous blue eyes. A cheerful fire was burning in the Klondike heater, and an air of comfort pervaded his study.
The ladies made known their errand, and then waited to see the glad look that would come into their pastor's face.
He stirred the fire before replying.
"It is very kind of you ladies to think of fixing up the parsonage," he said. "Mrs. Burrell is having a very pleasant visit with her mother in Toronto."
"Yes; but her place is here," Mrs. Ducker said with decision, feeling around in the shadowy aisles of her mind for some of the Fireside Visitor's "It is lonely for you, and it must be for her."
Mr. Burrell did not say it was not.
Mrs. Francis was filled with enthusiasm over the idea of fixing up the parsonage, and endeavoured, too, to give him some of the reasons why a church prospers better spiritually when there is a woman to help in the administration of its affairs.
When the women had gone, the Reverend John Burrell sat looking long and earnestly into the fire. Then he got up suddenly and rattled down the coals with almost unnecessary vigour and murmured something exclamatory about sainted womanhood and her hand being in every good work, though that may not have been the exact words he used!
The work of remodelling the parsonage was carried on with enthusiasm, and two months later Mrs. Burrell arrived.
Mrs. Ducker, Mrs. Francis, and Mrs. Bates went to the station with Mr. Burrell to meet her, and were quite surprised to see a large, handsome, auburn-haired woman, carrying two valises, alight from the train and greet their minister with these words: "Well, John Burrell, I declare if you aren't out this raw day without your overcoat, and you know how easily you take a cough, too. I guess it is high time for me to come. Now, please do keep your mouth closed."
* * *
The first time Pearl was in Millford she called at the Methodist parsonage to see Mr. Burrell. The question of having service in the schoolhouse was bothering Pearl.
It was a dull brown house, with, a row of tall maples in front of it, and a pansy bed, made by filling the earth into old binder-wheels, on each side of the walk. Pearl at once though of the old binder-wheel in the scrub at home, and in her quick fancy she saw the purple faces of prospective pansies looking up from it as it lay in front of the east window.
Mrs. Burrell came to the door in answer to Pearl's ring, but did not recognize her at the first glance. She told Pearl to have a seat in the parlour.
When Mr. Burrell came in he was pleased to see Pearl, who said, in response to his friendly greeting: "We're doin' fine, Mr. Burrell. We're goin' to have a crop and potatoes and lots of things. There's seven of us goin' to school and learning. Jimmy's at long division. I'm just finishing 'The Lady of the Lake.' Danny's doing digits, that's another name for figgers. Patsey's readin' at the Sweet Pea lesson, with ten of the hardest words for meanings. That's all right, but there's no church or Sunday-school. We left town to get a better chance to bring up the boys right, and the farm is fine only for what I'm tellin' ye. Every Sunday the other children trap gophers and the people sleep or visit. I do be hearin' them tellin' about it at school, and last Sunday, mind ye, wee Patsey and Bugsey wanted to make a kite, and of course ma wouldn't let them, but Jimmy up and says--he was in it, too, do you mind--he says: 'Let's make it out of an Onward, and that will be all right; sure that's a Sunday paper.'"
Mr. Burrell laughed sympathetically, but shook his head, too, so Pearl knew he was with her on the proper observance of the Sabbath.
"And Mr. Burrell," she went on, "I am worried about Danny--he's that artful and deep--if ever a child should be learnin' verses he's the wan. Yesterday he hit his thumb when he was hammerin' with the little tack-hammer, and instead of just yellin' and stickin' his finger in his mouth the way he did before, he said right out plain--well, you know what the beavers build to broaden out the water--well, that's what he said."
"Is it as bad as that, Pearlie?" Mr. Burrell asked in a shocked voice, which was contradicted by the twinkle in his eye.
"It is," Pearl answered, "and I was wonderin' if you could come and preach to us on Sunday afternoons, and encourage them to get a Sunday-school. There's lots of room in the school, and there's a fine big shed for the horses if it was raining, and there's no need of so many services here," she concluded with alarming frankness. "What I mean is," she explained in answer to his look of surprise, "there's lots of churches here, and all kinds of preachin' goin' on', with only a few scatterin' people out at each one."
Mrs. Burrell came in hastily and listened to the conversation.
"How far out is it, Pearl?" Mr. Burrell asked.
"About five miles, I think; just a nice drive for you and the missus."
"Does she want you to take another country appointment, John?" Mrs. Burrell asked; and Pearl noticed for the first time that her hair was just the colour of their horse at home--the one that was cross.
"That was Pearlie's suggestion," he answered.
"Well, indeed, he is not going to do any such thing; I should say not," and Mrs. Burrell shut her mouth with a click. "And, besides, nearly every Sunday it rains."
"Well, that's good for the crops," said Pearl, thinking of the twenty acres of wheat in front of the house and of the oat-field behind the bluff; "and, besides," quoting a favourite axiom of her mother's, "he ain't sugar or salt, and he won't melt."
"Well, what would happen our congregation if we had only one service a day? They would all be going to the Presbyterian."
"That won't hurt them," Pearl said hopefully. "They'll get good sermons from Mr. Grantley."
Mrs. Burrell could not think of what she wanted to say. Pearl kept her eye on Mr. Burrell--there was something in his face which made her hope.
After a pause he said to her: "Pearl, your idea is strictly first-class. I have wanted to take another outside appointment ever since I came here, but the congregation had objections. However, I'll talk it over with Mr. Grantley, and I'm sure we can arrange something."
Mrs. Burrell remembered then. She found the words she was looking for. "You'll do nothing of the sort, John. Going away every Sunday to two outside appointments and leaving our own people exposed to Presbyterian doctrine. That's a horrid, bare, desolate little school, anyway, and you couldn't do a bit of good to those people; I know you couldn't. I'll go to the Trustee Board meeting--they meet to-night--and I'll tell them you are physically unfit--you are wearing two thicknesses of flannel, with mustard quilted in between them, now on your chest, and you had onion poultices on your feet last night for your cough, and so you're not fit to go."
"Please, ma'am," said Pearl, "we won't mind. I didn't notice it at all, and I don't believe anybody will, if you don't tell them."
Mr. Burrell laughed so heartily that Mrs. Burrell told him he was a very frivolous man, and quite unfit for the position he held.
"Sure, you could come out yerself," Pearl said encouragingly, "and show us how to fix it up. It is bare, as you said, but the land is there, and it could grow scarlet-runners and pansies, the same as you have yer self here by the cheek of the dure. If some one like yerself'd come and show us how to fix it up, we might have a purty place yet!"
"Fix it up on Sunday!" Mrs. Burrell cried, with vehement emphasis.
"Show us, I said," Pearl corrected her, "and I guess it would be a real good work to fix it up, too."
"It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath day, you know, Mattie," Mr. Burrell quoted gently.
Mrs. Burrell sniffed audibly.
"The trustees meet this evening, Pearl. Now, if you will stay in, I'll drive you out to-morrow morning. Mrs. Burrell will be glad to have you stay here."
Mrs. Burrell seconded the invitation.
"But I am going to the meeting, John," she declared decidedly. "I'll tell them that you are not to undertake it."
"My dear, I understood the Ladies' Aid were meeting to-night," her husband said, with the forced enthusiasm of a person who tries to draw a child's attention from a prohibited pleasure.
"It does, too; but I am going to the other meeting," answered his amiable spouse.
Mr. Burrell looked at Pearl in alarm.
"But I want you to stay, Pearl," Mrs. Burrell said quickly, and with more kindliness than she had yet shown.
Pearl thanked her, but said she would have to go to see her father first and see if she could stay. Mrs. Burrell went out into the kitchen to get tea ready, while Mr. Burrell went to the door with Pearl.
In the little square hall they held a hurried conference. "Will she go to that meeting?" Pearl asked in a whisper.
"Will she cut up rough?"
Mr. Burrell thought it likely that she would.
"Don't let her go," said Pearl, who evidently believed in man's supremacy.
He made a gesture of helplessness.
Pearl wrinkled her forehead, and then took a step nearer him and said slowly: "Hide her false teeth--she won't go if she has to gum it."
He stared at her a second before he grasped the full significance of her suggestion.
"Things like that have been done," Pearl said, reassuringly. "Ma knew a woman once, and whenever she wanted to keep her man at home she hid his wooden leg. I suppose, now, she hasn't----" Pearl looked at him meaningly.
"Oh, no!" he said hastily. "We can't do that."
Pearl went out, leaving the Reverend John Burrell clearly demonstrating the fact that he was too frivolous a person for his position.
* * *
When Pearl came back, after getting her father's permission to stay for the night, she found Mrs. Burrell in a more amiable frame of mind, and after tea was over she was much relieved to find that Mrs. Burrell had given up the idea of going to the trustee meeting, but was going to the Ladies' Aid meeting instead, and was going to take Pearl with her.
Before the meeting, Pearl went over to see Camilla and Mrs. Francis. Mrs. Francis was the secretary of the Ladies' Aid, but was unable to go to the meeting that night on account of a severe headache. Pearl, always ready to help, asked if she could take the minutes of the meeting.
"Thank you so much, Pearl," Mrs. Francis said. "It would relieve me if you would write down everything that happens, so that I can make a full report of it. It is so sweet of you, dear, to offer to do it for me; and now run along with Camilla, for I know she has a lot of things that she is longing to show you."
Camilla took Pearl upstairs to her room, and there spread out before Pearl's enraptured vision a wonderful creation of white silk and lace.
"The lace has little cucumbers in it," Pearl said, looking at it closely, "and it's the loveliest dress I ever saw. Have you worn it yet?"
Camilla did not at once reply, and then, quite by intuition, Pearl guessed the truth.
"Camilla!" she exclaimed. "You are going to be married to Jim."
Camilla put her gently.
"Yes, dear, I am," she said. Pearl, sat thinking deeply.
"Are you happy, Camilla?" she said at last. "Are you that happy you feel you can never lose a bit of the glad feeling?"
Camilla held her tighter, and kissed her again. "I've thought about it a little," Pearl said after a while, "and I thought perhaps that would be how people felt, and then it didn't matter if it was all dark and gloomy outside, or even if the wind was howlin' and rattlin' the windows, you wouldn't mind, for all the time you would be singin' inside, just bustin' for joy, and you'd feel that contented sort of feelin', just as if the sun was pourin' down and the birds singin' and the hills all white with cherry-blossoms; is that anything like it, Camilla?"
"It is very like that, Pearl," she said.
"And, Camilla," she went on, "do you feel like you could die to save him from any trouble or pain, and even if he did go wrong--Jim never will, I know, but I am just supposin'--even if he did go wrong you'd never go back on him, or wish you hadn't took him, but you'd stay with the job and say to yourself: 'He's my man, and I'll stay by him, so I will!'"
Camilla nodded her head.
Pearl's eyes suddenly filled with tears.
"And, Camilla, do you ever think if you were to lose him it wouldn't be so bad as' never to have had him, and even if the time came that he had to go, you could bear it, for you'd know that somewhere you'd find him again waitin' for you and lovin' you still, just the same; and even if it was long, long years ago that you were left alone, you'd never forget him, but you'd always know that somewhere, up in the air or in the clouds or maybe not so far, he was there dear as ever, and you'd always keep thinkin' in your heart: 'He's the only man for me.'"
Camilla's arms tightened around her, and Pearl felt something warm on her cheek.
"How do you know all this?" Camilla whispered, after a while.
Pearl laughed and wiped her eyes on her handkerchief. "I don't know," she said. "I never knew that I did know it all till just now. I've thought about it a little."
Camilla laughed, too, and went over to the wash stand to bathe her eyes, while Pearl, in wonder, inspected the dress.
"Now, Pearlie Watson, I want you to do me a favour," said Camilla gaily.
"As many as you like," was Pearl's quick answer.
"I want you for my bridesmaid. You are my good luck, Pearl. Remember you sent Jim to me. If it hadn't been for you I might never have met him."
Pearl's eyes sparkled with delight, but no words came.
"And see here, Miss Watson, I have been reading up all about weddings, and I find it is a very correct thing for the bride and bridesmaid to be dressed alike. Miss Watson, will you please stand up and shut your eyes?"
Pearl stood up.
Over her head she felt Camilla putting something soft and deliciously silky. Camilla was putting her arms in unmistakable sleeves, and pulling down an unmistakable skirt.
"Open your eyes, Pearlie."
When Pearl opened her eyes she found herself dressed in a white silk dress, exactly the same as the one that lay on the bed--cucumbers and all!
"Oh, Camilla!" was all she could say, as she lovingly stroked the dress.
"Jim would not think of having anybody but you, and Dr. Clay is going to be the groomsman."
Pearl looked up quickly.
"Dr. Clay told me," Camilla went on, "that he would rather have you for the bridesmaid when he was going to be the groomsman than any other girl, big or little."
Pearl clasped her hands with a quick motion.
"Better'n Miss Morrison?" she asked, all in one breath.
"Yes; better than pose so, for he said on earth."
"Oh, Camilla!" Pearl said again, taking deep breaths of happiness, and the starry look in her eyes set Camilla wondering.