The Story Girl by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Chapter XX. The Judgment Sunday
SUNDAY morning broke, dull and gray. The rain had ceased, but the clouds hung dark and brooding above a world which, in its windless calm, following the spent storm-throe, seemed to us to be waiting "till judgment spoke the doom of fate." We were all up early. None of us, it appeared, had slept well, and some of us not at all. The Story Girl had been among the latter, and she looked very pale and wan, with black shadows under her deep-set eyes. Peter, however, had slept soundly enough after twelve o'clock.
"When you've been stumping out elderberries all the afternoon it'll take more than the Judgment Day to keep you awake all night," he said. "But when I woke up this morning it was just awful. I'd forgot it for a moment, and then it all came back with a rush, and I was worse scared than before."
Cecily was pale but brave. For the first time in years she had not put her hair up in curlers on Saturday night. It was brushed and braided with Puritan simplicity.
"If it's the Judgment Day I don't care whether my hair is curly or not," she said.
"Well," said Aunt Janet, when we all descended to the kitchen, "this is the first time you young ones have ever all got up without being called, and that's a fact."
At breakfast our appetites were poor. How could the grown-ups eat as they did? After breakfast and the necessary chores there was the forenoon to be lived through. Peter, true to his word, got out his Bible and began to read from the first chapter in Genesis.
"I won't have time to read it all through, I s'pose," he said, "but I'll get along as far as I can."
There was no preaching in Carlisle that day, and Sunday School was not till the evening. Cecily got out her Lesson Slip and studied the lesson conscientiously. The rest of us did not see how she could do it. We could not, that was very certain.
"If it isn't the Judgment Day, I want to have the lesson learned," she said, "and if it is I'll feel I've done what was right. But I never found it so hard to remember the Golden Text before."
The long dragging hours were hard to endure. We roamed restlessly about, and went to and fro--all save Peter, who still steadily read away at his Bible. He was through Genesis by eleven and beginning on Exodus.
"There's a good deal of it I don't understand," he said, "but I read every word, and that's the main thing. That story about Joseph and his brother was so int'resting I almost forgot about the Judgment Day."
But the long drawn out dread was beginning to get on Dan's nerves.
"If it is the Judgment Day," he growled, as we went in to dinner, "I wish it'd hurry up and have it over."
"Oh, Dan!" cried Felicity and Cecily together, in a chorus of horror. But the Story Girl looked as if she rather sympathized with Dan.
If we had eaten little at breakfast we could eat still less at dinner. After dinner the clouds rolled away, and the sun came joyously and gloriously out. This, we thought, was a good omen. Felicity opined that it wouldn't have cleared up if it was the Judgment Day. Nevertheless, we dressed ourselves carefully, and the girls put on their white dresses.
Sara Ray came up, still crying, of course. She increased our uneasiness by saying that her mother believed the Enterprise paragraph, and was afraid that the end of the world was really at hand.
"That's why she let me come up," she sobbed. "If she hadn't been afraid I don't believe she would have let me come up. But I'd have died if I couldn't have come. And she wasn't a bit cross when I told her I had gone to the magic lantern show. That's an awful bad sign. I hadn't a white dress, but I put on my white muslin apron with the frills."
"That seems kind of queer," said Felicity doubtfully. "You wouldn't put on an apron to go to church, and so it doesn't seems as if it was proper to put it on for Judgment Day either."
"Well, it's the best I could do," said Sara disconsolately. "I wanted to have something white on. It's just like a dress only it hasn't sleeves."
"Let's go into the orchard and wait," said the Story Girl. "It's one o'clock now, so in another hour we'll know the worst. We'll leave the front door open, and we'll hear the big clock when it strikes two."
No better plan being suggested, we betook ourselves to the orchard, and sat on the boughs of Uncle Alec's tree because the grass was wet. The world was beautiful and peaceful and green. Overhead was a dazzling blue sky, spotted with heaps of white cloud.
"Pshaw, I don't believe there's any fear of it being the last day," said Dan, beginning a whistle out of sheer bravado.
"Well, don't whistle on Sunday anyhow," said Felicity severely.
"I don't see a thing about Methodists or Presbyterians, as far as I've gone, and I'm most through Exodus," said Peter suddenly. "When does it begin to tell about them?"
"There's nothing about Methodists or Presbyterians in the Bible," said Felicity scornfully.
Peter looked amazed.
"Well, how did they happen then?" he asked. "When did they begin to be?"
"I've often thought it such a strange thing that there isn't a word about either of them in the Bible," said Cecily. "Especially when it mentions Baptists--or at least one Baptist."
"Well, anyhow," said Peter, "even if it isn't the Judgment Day I'm going to keep on reading the Bible until I've got clean through. I never thought it was such an int'resting book."
"It sounds simply dreadful to hear you call the Bible an interesting book," said Felicity, with a shudder at the sacrilege. "Why, you might be talking about any common book."
"I didn't mean any harm," said Peter, crestfallen.
"The Bible is an interesting book," said the Story Girl, coming to Peter's rescue. "And there are magnificent stories in it--yes, Felicity, magnificent. If the world doesn't come to an end I'll tell you the story of Ruth next Sunday--or look here! I'll tell it anyhow. That's a promise. Wherever we are next Sunday I'll tell you about Ruth."
"Why, you wouldn't tell stories in heaven," said Cecily, in a very timid voice.
"Why not?" said the Story Girl, with a flash of her eyes. "Indeed I shall. I'll tell stories as long as I've a tongue to talk with, or any one to listen."
Ay, doubtless. That dauntless spirit would soar triumphantly above the wreck of matter and the crash of worlds, taking with it all its own wild sweetness and daring. Even the young-eyed cherubim, choiring on meadows of asphodel, might cease their harping for a time to listen to a tale of the vanished earth, told by that golden tongue. Some vague thought of this was in our minds as we looked at her; and somehow it comforted us. Not even the Judgment was so greatly to be feared if after it we were the same, our own precious little identities unchanged.
"It must be getting handy two," said Cecily. "It seems as if we'd been waiting here for ever so much longer than an hour."
Conversation languished. We watched and waited nervously. The moments dragged by, each seeming an hour. Would two o'clock never come and end the suspense? We all became very tense. Even Peter had to stop reading. Any unaccustomed sound or sight in the world about us struck on our taut senses like the trump of doom. A cloud passed over the sun and as the sudden shadow swept across the orchard we turned pale and trembled. A wagon rumbling over a plank bridge in the hollow made Sara Ray start up with a shriek. The slamming of a barn door over at Uncle Roger's caused the cold perspiration to break out on our faces.
"I don't believe it's the Judgment Day," said Felix, "and I never have believed it. But oh, I wish that clock would strike two."
"Can't you tell us a story to pass the time?" I entreated the Story Girl.
She shook her head.
"No, it would be no use to try. But if this isn't the Judgment Day I'll have a great one to tell of us being so scared."
Pat presently came galloping up the orchard, carrying in his mouth a big field mouse, which, sitting down before us, he proceeded to devour, body and bones, afterwards licking his chops with great satisfaction.
"It can't be the Judgment Day," said Sara Ray, brightening up. "Paddy would never be eating mice if it was."
"If that clock doesn't soon strike two I shall go out of my seven senses," declared Cecily with unusual vehemence.
"Time always seems long when you're waiting," said the Story Girl. "But it does seem as if we had been here more than an hour."
"Maybe the clock struck and we didn't hear it," suggested Dan. "Somebody'd better go and see."
"I'll go," said Cecily. "I suppose, even if anything happens, I'll have time to get back to you."
We watched her white-clad figure pass through the gate and enter the front door. A few minutes passed--or a few years--we could not have told which. Then Cecily came running at full speed back to us. But when she reached us she trembled so much that at first she could not speak.
"What is it? Is it past two?" implored the Story Girl.
"It's--it's four," said Cecily with a gasp. "The old clock isn't going. Mother forgot to wind it up last night and it stopped. But it's four by the kitchen clock--so it isn't the Judgment Day--and tea is ready--and mother says to come in."
We looked at each other, realizing what our dread had been, now that it was lifted. It was not the Judgment Day. The world and life were still before us, with all their potent lure of years unknown.
"I'll never believe anything I read in the papers again," said Dan, rushing to the opposite extreme.
"I told you the Bible was more to be depended on than the newspapers," said Cecily triumphantly.
Sara Ray and Peter and the Story Girl went home, and we went in to tea with royal appetites. Afterwards, as we dressed for Sunday School upstairs, our spirits carried us away to such an extent that Aunt Janet had to come twice to the foot of the stairs and inquire severely, "Children, have you forgotten what day this is?"
"Isn't it nice that we're going to live a spell longer in this nice world?" said Felix, as we walked down the hill.
"Yes, and Felicity and the Story Girl are speaking again," said Cecily happily.
"And Felicity did speak first," I said.
"Yes, but it took the Judgment Day to make her. I wish," added Cecily with a sigh, "that I hadn't been in quite such a hurry giving away my forget-me-not jug."
"And I wish I hadn't been in such a hurry deciding I'd be a Presbyterian," said Peter.
"Well, it's not too late for that," said Dan. "You can change your mind now."
"No, sir," said Peter with a flash of spirit, "I ain't one of the kind that says they'll be something just because they're scared, and when the scare is over go back on it. I said I'd be Presbyterian and I mean to stick to it."
"You said you knew a story that had something to do with Presbyterians," I said to the Story Girl. "Tell us it now."
"Oh, no, it isn't the right kind of story to tell on Sunday," she replied. "But I'll tell it to-morrow morning."
Accordingly, we heard it the next morning in the orchard.
"Long ago, when Judy Pineau was young," said the Story Girl, "she was hired with Mrs. Elder Frewen--the first Mrs. Elder Frewen. Mrs. Frewen had been a school-teacher, and she was very particular as to how people talked, and the grammar they used. And she didn't like anything but refined words. One very hot day she heard Judy Pineau say she was 'all in a sweat.' Mrs. Frewen was greatly shocked, and said, 'Judy, you shouldn't say that. It's horses that sweat. You should say you are in a perspiration.' Well, Judy promised she'd remember, because she liked Mrs. Frewen and was anxious to please her. Not long afterwards Judy was scrubbing the kitchen floor one morning, and when Mrs. Frewen came in Judy looked up and said, quite proud over using the right word, 'Oh, Mees Frewen, ain't it awful hot? I declare I'm all in a Presbyterian.' "