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Adeste Fideles by Dorothy Canfield

I.

The persuasive agent sought old Miss Abigail out among her flower-beds and held up to her a tiny chair with roses painted on the back. “I was told to see you about these. They're only four dollars a dozen, and the smallest school children love 'em.” Miss Abigail straightened herself with difficulty. She had been weeding the gladiolus bed. “Four dollars,” she mused, “I was going to put four dollars into rose-bushes this fall.” She put out a strong, earth-stained old hand and took the chair. Her affection for her native Greenford began to rise through her life-long thrift, a mental ferment not unusual with her. Finally, “All right,” she said; “send 'em to the schoolhouse, and say they're in memory of all my grandfathers and grandmothers that learned their letters in that schoolhouse.”

She went back to her digging and the agent clicked the gate back of his retreat. Suddenly she stood up without remembering to ease her back. She heard the first shot from the enemy who was to advance so rapidly upon her thereafter. “Wait a minute,” she called to the agent. As he paused, she made a swift calculation. “I don't believe I want a dozen,” she said, much surprised. “I can't think of that many little ones.” The agent took his notebook. “How many?” he asked.

The ponderous old woman stared at him absently, while she made a mental canvass of the town. She spoke with a gasp. “We don't need any!” she cried. “There ain't a child in school under eleven.”

“Take some now and have them handy,” urged the agent.

Miss Abigail's gaze again narrowed in silent calculation. When she spoke her exclamation was not for her listener. She had forgotten him. “Good Lord of Love!” she cried. “There ain't a single one comin' up to sit on those chairs if I should buy 'em!”

The agent was utterly blotted from her mind. She did not know when he left her garden. She only knew that there were no children in Greenford. There were no children in her town! “Why, what's comin' to Greenford!” she cried.

And yet, even as she cried out, she was aware that she had had a warning, definite, ominous, a few days before, from the lips of Molly Leonard. At that time she had put away her startled uneasiness with a masterful hand, burying it resolutely where she had laid away all the other emotions of her life, under the brown loam of her garden. But it all came back to her now.

Her thin, fluttering, little old friend had begun with tragic emphasis, “The roof to the library leaks!”

Miss Abigail had laughed as usual at Molly's habit of taking small events with bated breath. “What of it?” she asked. “That roof never was good, even back in the days when 'twas a private house and my great-uncle lived in it.”

Miss Molly fluttered still more before the awfulness of her next announcement.

“Well, the talk is that the town won't vote a cent toward repairs.”

“They'll have to! You can't get along without a library!”

“No, they won't. The talk is that the men won't vote to have the town give a bit of money for shingles. No, nor to pay somebody to take the place of Ellen Monroe as librarian. She's got work in the print mill at Johnsonville and is going to move down there to be near her mother's family.”

“Oh, talk!” said Miss Abigail with the easy contempt she had for things outside her garden hedge. “Haven't you heard men talk before?”

“But they say really they won't! They say nobody ever goes into it any more when the summer folks go away in the autumn.”

Miss Abigail's gesture indicated that the thing was unthinkable. “What's the matter with young folks nowadays, anyhow? They always used to run there and chatter till you couldn't hear yourself think.”

Miss Molly lowered her voice like a person coming to the frightening climax of a ghost story. “Miss Abigail, they ain't any young folks here any more!”

“What do you call the Pitkin girls!” demanded the other.

“They were the very last ones and they and their mother have decided they'll move to Johnsonville this fall.”

Miss Abigail cried out in energetic disapproval, “What in the Lord's world are the Pitkinses going to move away from Greenford for! They belong here!”

Miss Molly marshaled the reasons with a sad swiftness, “There aren't any music pupils left for the oldest one, the two next have got positions in the print mill and little Sarah is too old for the school here any more.”

Miss Abigail shook her head impatiently as though to brush away a troublesome gnat. “How about the Leavitts? There ought to be enough young ones in that or family to—”

“They moved to Johnsonville last week, going to rent their house to city folks in the summer, the way all the rest here in the street do. They didn't want to go a bit. Eliza felt dreadful about it, but what can they do? Ezra hasn't had enough carpentering to do in the last six months to pay their grocery bill, and down in Johnsonville they can't get carpenters enough. Besides, all the children's friends are there, and they got so lonesome here winters.”

Miss Abigail quailed a little, but rallying, she brought out, “What's the matter with the Bennetts? The whole kit and b'iling of them came in here the other day to pester me asking about how I grew my lilies.”

“Why, Miss Abigail! You don't pay any more attention to village news! They've been working in the mills for two years now, and only come home for two weeks in the summer like everybody else.”

The old woman stirred her weighty person wrathfully. “Like everybody else! Molly, you talk like a fool! As if there was nobody lived here all the year around!”

“But it's so! I don't know what's coming to Greenford!”

An imperative gesture from the older woman cut her short. “Don't chatter so, Molly! If it's true, that about the library, we've got to do something!”

The interview had ended in an agreement from her, after a struggle with the two passions of her life, to give up the tulip bulbs for which she had been saving so long, and spend the money for repairing the roof. Miss Molly, having no money to give, since she was already much poorer than she could possibly be and live, agreed, according to Miss Abigail's peremptory suggestion, to give her time, and keep the library open at least during the afternoons.

“You can do it, Molly, as well as not, for you don't seem to have half the sewing you used to.”

“There's nobody here any more to sew for—” began the seamstress despairingly, but Miss Abigail would not listen, bundling her out of the garden gate and sending her trotting home, cheered unreasonably by the old woman's jovial blustering, “No such kind of talk allowed in my garden!”

But now, after the second warning, Miss Abigail felt the need of some cheer for herself as she toiled among the hollyhocks and larkspurs. She would not let herself think of the significance of the visit of the agent for the chairs, and she could not force herself to think of anything else. For several wretched weeks she hung in this limbo. Then, one morning as she stood gazing at her Speciosums Rubrums without seeing them, she received her summons to the front. She had a call from her neighbor, Mr. Edward Horton, whom the rest of the world knows as a sculptor, but whom Miss Abigail esteemed only because of his orthodox ideas on rose culture. He came in to ask some information about a blight on his Red Ramblers, although after Miss Abigail had finished her strong recommendation to use whale oil soap sprayed, and not hellebore, he still lingered, crushing a leaf of lemon verbena between his fingers and sniffing the resultant perfume with thoughtful appreciation. He was almost as enthusiastic a horticulturist as Miss Abigail, and stood high in her good graces as one of the few individuals of sense among the summer colony. She faced him therefore in a peaceable, friendly mood, glad of the diversion from her thoughts, and quite unprepared for the shock he was about to give her.

“I'm on my way to interview the trustees of the church,” he remarked. “It is curious that all but one of them now really live in Johnsonville, although they still keep their nominal residence here.”

“What do you want to see them for?” asked Miss Abigail, with a bluntness caused in part by her wincing at his casual statement of an unwelcome fact.

“Why, I've had what I flatter myself is an inspiration for everyone concerned. I've got a big commission for part of the decorations of the new State House in Montana, and I need a very large studio. It occurred to me the other day that instead of building I'd save time by buying the old church here and using that.”

Miss Abigail leaned against the palings. “Buy our church!“ she said, and every letter was a capital.

“I didn't know you were a member,” said the sculptor, a little surprised. “You don't often go.”

Miss Abigail shouted out, “Why, my grandfather was minister in that church!” Mr. Horton received this as a statement of fact. “Indeed? I didn't realize the building was so old. I wonder if the foundations are still in good shape.” He went on, explanatorily, “I really don't know why I hadn't thought of the plan before. The number who attend church in that great barn of a place could easily be put into someone's parlor, and save the trustees the expense of heating. One of them whom I saw the other day seemed quite pleased with the notion—said they'd been at a loss to know what to do about conditions here.” He glanced at his watch. “Well, I must be going or I shall miss the train to Johnsonville. Thank you very much for the hint about the blight.”

He went down the street, humming a cheerful little tune.

To Miss Abigail it was the bugle call of “Forward, charge!” She had been, for the last few weeks, a little paler than usual. Now her powerful old face flushed to an angry red. She dashed her trowel to the garden path and clenched her fists. “What's coming to Greenford!” she shouted. It was no longer a wail of despair. It was a battle-cry of defiance.

II

She had no time to organize a campaign, forced as she was to begin fighting at once. Reaching wildly for any weapon at hand, she rushed to the front, as grim-visaged a warrior as ever frightened a peaceable, shiftless non-combatant “Joel Barney!” she cried, storming up his front steps. “You're a trustee of the church, aren't you? Well, if you don't vote against selling the church, I'll foreclose the mortgage on your house so quick you can't wink. And you tell 'Lias Bennett that if he doesn't do the same, I'll pile manure all over that field of mine near his place, and stink out his summer renters so they'll never set foot here again.”

She shifted tactics as she encountered different adversaries and tried no blackmail on stubborn Miles Benton, whom she took pains to see the next time he came back to Greenford for a visit. Him she hailed as the Native-Born. “How would you like to have brazen models and nasty statues made in the building where your own folks have always gone to church?”

But when the skirmish was over, she realized ruefully that the argument which had brought her her hard-won victory had been the one which, for a person of such very moderate means as hers, reflected the least hope for future battles. At the last, in desperation, she had guaranteed in the name of the Ladies' Aid Society that the church, except for the minister's salary, should thereafter be no expense to the trustees. She had invented that source of authority, remembering that Molly Leonard had said she belonged to the Ladies' Aid Society, “and I can make Molly do anything,” she thought, trusting Providence for the management of the others.

As a matter of fact, when she came to investigate the matter, she found that Molly was now the sole remaining member. Her dismay was acute, Molly's finances being only too well known to her, but she rallied bravely. “They don't do much to a church that costs money,” she thought, and, when Molly went away, she made out her budget unflinchingly. Wood for the furnace, kerosene for the lamps, wages to the janitor, repairs when needed—“Well, Abigail Warner,” she told herself, “it means nothing new bought for the garden, and no new microscope—the roof to the library costing more than they said 'twould and all.”

But the joy of triumphant battle was still swelling her doughty old heart, so that even these considerations did not damp her exultation over her artist neighbor the next time he came to see her. He listened to her boasting with his pleasant, philosophic smile, and, when she finished, delivered himself of a quiet little disquisition or the nature of things which was like ice-water in the face of the hot-blooded old fighter.

“My dear Miss Abigail, your zeal does your heart credit, and your management of the trustees proves you an unsuspected diplomat; but as a friend, and, believe me, a disinterested friend, let me warn you that you are contending against irresistible forces. You can no more resuscitate your old Greenford than you can any other dead body. You have kept the church from my clutches, it is true, though for that matter I wouldn't have offered to buy it if I hadn't thought no one cared about it—but what do you mean to do with it now you have it? You cannot bring back the old Greenford families from their well-paid work in Johnsonville to sit in those rescued pews, or read in your deserted library, or send their children to your empty schoolhouse. You tell me they are loyal to their old home, and love to come back here for visits. Is that strange? Greenford is a charming village set in the midst of beautiful mountains, and Johnsonville is a raw factory town in a plain. But they cannot live on picturesque scenery or old associations. The laws of economics are like all other laws of nature, inevitable in their action and irresistible in—”

Miss Abigail gave the grampus snort which had been her great-grandfather's war-cry. “Hoo! You're like all other book folks! You give things such long names you scare yourselves! I haven't got anything to do with economics, nor it with me. It's a plain question as to whether the church my ancestors built and worshipped in is to be sold. There's nothing so inevitable in that, let me tell you. Laws of nature—fiddlesticks! How about the law of gravity? Don't I break that every time I get up gumption enough to raise my hand to my head!”

Mr. Horton looked at the belligerent old woman with the kindest smile of comprehension. “Ah, I know how hard it is for you. In another way I have been through the same bitter experience. My home, my real home, where my own people are, is out in a wind-swept little town on the Nebraska prairies. But I cannot live there because it is too far from my world of artists and art patrons. I tried it once, but the laws of supply and demand work for all alike. I gave it up. Here I am, you see. You can't help such things. You'd better follow on to Johnsonville now and not embitter the last of your life with a hopeless struggle.”

Miss Abigail fairly shouted at him her repudiation of his ideas. “Not while there is a breath in me! My folks were all soldiers.”

“But even soldiers surrender to overpowering forces.”

“Hoo! Hoo! How do they know they're overpowering till they're overpowered! How do they dare surrender till they're dead! How do they know that if they hold out just a little longer they won't get reenforcements!”

Mr. Horton was a little impatient of his old friend's unreason. “My dear Miss Abigail, you have brains. Use them! What possible reinforcements can you expect?”

The old woman opposed to his arguments nothing but a passionately bare denial. “No! No! No! We're different! It's in your blood to give up because you can reason it all out that you're beaten,” She stood up, shaking with her vehemence. “It's in my blood to fight and fight and fight—”

“And then what?” asked the sculptor, as she hesitated.

“Go on fighting!” she cried.

III

She was seventy-one years old when she first flew this flag, and for the next four years she battled unceasingly under its bold motto against odds that rapidly grew more overwhelming as the process that had been imperceptibly draining Greenford of its population gained impetus with it own action. In the beginning people moved to Johnsonville because they could get work in the print mill, but after a time they went because the others had gone. Before long there was no cobbler in Greenford because there was so little cobbling to do. After that the butcher went away, then the carpenter, and finally the grocery-store was shut up and deserted by the man whose father and grandfather had kept store in the same building for sixty years. It was the old story. He had a large family of children who needed education and “a chance.”

The well-kept old village still preserved its outer shell of quaintness and had a constantly increasing charm for summering strangers who rejoiced with a shameless egoism in the death-like quiet of the moribund place, and pointed out to visiting friends from the city the tufts of grass beginning to grow in the main street as delightful proofs of the tranquillity of their summer retreat.

Miss Abigail overheard a conversation to this effect one day between some self-invited visitors to her wonderful garden. Her heart burned and her face blackened. “You might as well,” she told them, “laugh at the funny faces of a person who's choking to death!”

The urbane city people turned amused and inquiring faces upon her. “How so?”

“Roads aren't for grass to grow in!” she fulminated. “They're for folks to use, for men and women and little children to go over to and from their homes.”

“Ah, economic conditions,” they began to murmur. “The inevitable laws of supply and—”

“Get out of my garden!” Miss Abigail raged at them. “Get out!”

They had scuttled before her, laughing at her quaint verocity, and she had sworn wrath fully never to let another city dweller inside her gate—a resolution which she was forced to forego as time passed on and she became more and more hard pressed for ammunition.

Up to this time she had lived in perfect satisfaction on seven hundred dollars a year, but now she began to feel straitened. She no longer dared afford even the tiniest expenditure for her garden. She spaded the beds herself, drew leaf mold from the woods in repeated trips with a child's express wagon, and cut the poles for her sweet-peas with her own hands. When Miss Molly Leonard declared herself on the verge of starvation from lack of sewing to do, and threatened to move to Johnsonville to be near her sister Annie, Miss Abigail gave up her “help” and paid Miss Molly for the time spent in the empty reading-room of the library. But the campaign soon called for more than economy, even the most rigid. When the minister had a call elsewhere, and the trustees of the church seized the opportunity to declare it impossible to appoint his successor, Miss Abigail sold her woodlot and arranged through the Home Missionary Board for someone to hold services at least once a fortnight. Later the “big meadow” so long coveted by a New York family as a building site was sacrificed to fill the empty war chest, and, temporarily in funds, she hired a boy to drive her about the country drumming up a congregation.

Christmas time was the hardest for her. The traditions of old Greenford were for much decorating of the church with ropes of hemlock, and a huge Christmas tree in the Town Hall with presents for the best of the Sunday-school scholars. Winding the ropes had been, of old, work for the young unmarried people, laughing and flirting cheerfully. By the promise of a hot supper, which she furnished herself, Miss Abigail succeeded in getting a few stragglers from the back hills, but the number grew steadily smaller year by year. She and Miss Molly always trimmed the Christmas tree themselves. Indeed, it soon became a struggle to pick out any child a regular enough attendant at Sunday-school to be eligible for a present. The time came when Miss Abigail found it difficult to secure any children at all for the annual Christmas party.

The school authorities began to murmur at keeping up the large old schoolhouse for a handful of pupils. Miss Abigail, at her wit's end, guaranteed the fuel for warming the house, and half the pay of a teacher. Examining, after this, her shrunk and meager resources, she discovered she had promised far beyond her means. She was then seventy-three years old, but an ageless valor sprang up in her to meet the new emergency. She focused her acumen to the burning point and saw that the only way out of her situation was to earn some money—an impossible thing at her age. Without an instant's pause, “How shall I do it?” she asked herself, and sat frowning into space for a long time.

When she rose up, the next development in her campaign was planned. Not in vain had she listened scornfully to the silly talk of city folks about the picturesqueness of her old house and garden. It was all grist to her mill, she perceived, and during the next summer it was a grimly amused old miller who watched the antics of Abigail Warner, arrayed in a pseudo-oldfashioned gown of green-flowered muslin, with a quaintly ruffled cap confining her rebellious white hair, talking the most correct book-brand of down-east jargon, and selling flowers at twenty times their value to automobile and carriage folk. She did not mind sacrificing her personal dignity, but she did blush for her garden, reduced to the most obvious commonplaces of flowers that any child could grow. But by September she had saved the school-teacher's pay, and the Martins and the Allens, who had been wavering on account of their children, decided to stay another winter at least.

That was something, Miss Abigail thought, that Christmas, as she and Miss Molly tortured their rheumatic limbs to play games with the six children around the tree. She had held rigorously to the old tradition of having the Christmas tree party in the Town Hall, and she had heartened Miss Molly through the long lonely hours they had spent in trimming it; but as the tiny handful of forlorn celebrants gathered about the tall tree, glittering in all the tinsel finery which was left over from the days when the big hall had rung to the laughter of a hundred children and as many more young people, even Miss Abigail felt a catch in her throat as she quavered through “King Will_yum was King James's son!”

When the games were over and the children sat about soberly, eating their ice-cream and cake, she looked over her shoulder into the big empty room and shivered. The children went away and she and Miss Molly put out the lights in silence. When they came out into the moonlight and looked up and down the deserted street, lined with darkened houses, the face of the younger woman was frankly tear-stained. “Oh, Miss Abigail,” she said; “let's give it up!”

Miss Abigail waited an instant, perceptible instant before answering, but, when she did, her voice was full and harsh with its usual vigor. “Fiddlesticks! You must ha' been losing your sleep. Go tuck yourself up and get a good night's rest and you won't talk such kind of talk!”

But she herself sat up late into the night with a pencil and paper, figuring out sums that had impossible answers.

That March she had a slight stroke of paralysis, and was in an agony of apprehension lest she should not recover enough to plant the flowers for the summer's market. By May, flatly against the doctor's orders, she was dragging herself around the garden on crutches, and she stuck to her post, smiling and making prearranged rustic speeches all the summer. She earned enough to pay the school-teacher another winter and to buy the fuel for the schoolhouse, and again the Martins and the Allens stayed over; though they announced with a callous indifference to Miss Abigail's ideas that they were going down to Johnsonville at Christmas to visit their relatives there, and have the children go to the tree the ex-Greenfordites always trimmed.

When she heard this Miss Abigail set off to the Allen farm on the lower slope of Hemlock Mountain. “Wa'n't our tree good enough?” she demanded hotly.

“The tree was all right,” they answered, “but the children were so mortal lonesome. Little Katie Ann came home crying.”

Miss Abigail turned away without answering and hobbled off up the road toward the mountain. Things were black before her eyes and in her heart as she went blindly forward where the road led her. She still fought off any acknowledgment of the bitterness that filled her, but when the road, after dwindling to a wood trail and then to a path, finally stopped, she sat down with a great swelling breath. “Well, I guess this is the end,” she said aloud, instantly thereafter making a pretense to herself that she meant the road. She looked about her with a brave show of interest in the bare November woods, unroofed and open to the sunlight, and was rewarded by a throb of real interest to observe that she was where she had not been for forty years, when she used to clamber over the spur of Hemlock Mountain to hunt for lady's-slippers in the marshy ground at the head of the gorge. A few steps more and she would be on her own property, a steep, rocky tract of brushland left her by her great-uncle. She had a throb as she realized that, besides her house and garden, this unsalable bit of the mountainside was her only remaining possession. She had indeed come to the end.

With the thought came her old dogged defiance to despair. She shut her hands on her crutches, pulled herself heavily up to her feet, and toiled forward through some brush. She would not allow herself to think if thoughts were like that. Soon she came out into a little clearing beside the Winthrop Branch, swirling and fumbling in its headlong descent. The remains of a stone wall and a blackened beam or two showed her that she had hit upon the ruins of the old sawmill her great-grandfather had owned. This forgotten and abandoned decay, a symbol of the future of the whole region, struck a last blow at the remnants of her courage. She sank down on the wall and set herself to a losing struggle with the blackness that was closing in about her. All her effort had been in vain. The fight was over. She had not a weapon left.

A last spark of valor flickered into flame within her. She stood up, lifting her head high, and summoning with a loudly beating heart every scattered energy. She was alive; her fight could not be over while she still breathed.

For an instant she stood, self-hypnotized by the intensity of her resolution. Then there burst upon her ear, as though she had not heard it before, the roar of the water rushing past her. It sounded like a loud voice calling to her. She shivered and turned a little giddy as though passing into a trance, and then, with one bound, the gigantic forces of subconscious self, wrought by her long struggle to a white heat of concentration on one aim, arose and mastered her. For a time—hours perhaps—she never knew how long, old Miss Abigail was a genius, with the brain of an engineer and the prophetic vision of a seer.

IV

The next months were the hardest of her life. The long dreary battle against insurmountable obstacles she had been able to bear with a stoical front, but the sickening alternations of emotions which now filled her days wore upon her until she was fairly suffocated. About mail time each day she became of an unendurable irritability, so that poor Miss Molly was quite afraid to go near her. For the first time in her life there was no living thing growing in her house.

“Don't you mean to have any service this Christmas?” asked Miss Molly one day.

Miss Abigail shouted at her so fiercely that she retreated in a panic. “Why not? Why shouldn't we? What makes you think such a thing?”

“Why, I didn't know of anybody to go but just you and me, and I noticed that you hadn't any flowers started for decorations the way you always do.”

Miss Abigail flamed and fulminated as though her timid little friend had offered her an insult. “I've been to service in that church every Christmas since I was born and I shall till I die. And as for my not growing any flowers, that's my business, ain't it!” Her voice cracked under the outraged emphasis she put on it.

Her companion fled away without a word, and Miss Abigail sank into a chair trembling. It came over her with a shock that her preoccupation had been so great that she had forgotten about her winter flowers.

The fortnight before Christmas was interminable to her. Every morning she broke a hobbling path through the snow to the post-office, where she waited with a haggard face for the postmaster's verdict of “nothing.” The rest of the day she wandered desolately about her house, from one window to another, always staring, staring up at Hemlock Mountain.

She disposed of the problem of the Christmas service with the absent competence of a person engrossed in greater matters. Miss Molly had declared it impossible—there was no money for a minister, there was no congregation, there was no fuel for the furnace. Miss Abigail wrote so urgently to the Theological Seminary of the next State that they promised one of their seniors for the service; and she loaded a hand sled with wood from her own woodshed and, harnessing herself and Miss Molly to it, drew it with painful difficulty through the empty village street. There was not enough of this fuel to fill even once the great furnace in the cellar, so she decreed that the service should be in the vestibule where a stove stood. The last few days before Christmas she spent in sending out desperate appeals to remote families to come. But when the morning arrived, she and Miss Molly were the only ones there.

The young theologian appeared a little before the appointed time, brought in the motor car of a wealthy friend of his own age. They were trying to make a record winter trip, and were impatient at the delay occasioned by the service. When they saw that two shabby old women constituted the congregation, they laughed as they stood warming their hands by the stove and waiting for the hour. They ignored the two women, chatting lightly of their own affairs. It seemed that they were on their way to a winter house party to which the young clergyman-to-be was invited on account of his fine voice—an operetta by amateurs being one of the gayeties to which they looked forward.

Miss Abigail and Miss Molly were silent in their rusty black, Miss Molly's soft eyes red with restrained tears, Miss Abigail's face like a flint.

“A pretty place, this village is,” said the motorist to the minister. “I have visited the Ellerys here. Really charming in summer time—so utterly deserted and peaceful.” He looked out of the window speculatively. “Rather odd we should be passing through it to-day. There's been a lot of talk about it in our family lately.”

“How so?” asked the minister, beginning cautiously to unwind the wrapping from around his throat.

“Why, my brother-in-law—Peg's husband—don't you remember, the one who sang so fearfully flat in——” He was off on a reminiscence over which both men laughed loudly.

Finally, “But what did you start to tell me about him?” asked the minister.

“I forget, I'm sure. What was it? Oh, yes; he owns those print mills in Johnsonville—hideous place for Peg to live, that town!—and of late he's been awfully put out by the failure of his water-power. There's not much fall there at the best, and when the river's low—and it's low most all the time nowadays—he doesn't get power enough, so he says, to run a churn! He's been wondering what he could do about it, when doesn't he get a tip from some old Rube up here that, above this village, there's a whopping water-power—the Winthrop Branch. I know it—fished it lots of times. He didn't take any stock in it of course at first, but, just on the chance, he sent his engineer up here to look it over, and, by Jove, it's true. It'll furnish twice the power he's had in Johnsonville lately.”

“Seems queer,” said the minister a little skeptically, “that nobody's ever thought of it before.”

“Well, I said that, but Pete says that his engineer tells him that there are lots of such unknown water-powers in the East. Nobody but farmers live near 'em, you see.”

The minister was but mildly interested. “I thought the cost of transmitting power was so great it didn't pay for any water-force but Niagara.”

“He isn't going to carry the power to Johnsonville. He's going to bring his mill here. A lot of his operators come from around here and most of 'em have kept their old homes, so there won't be any trouble about keeping his help. Besides, it seems the old hayseed who wrote him about it owned the land, and offered him land, water-power, right of way—anything!—free, just to 'help the town' by getting the mill up here. That bespeaks the materialistic Yankee, doesn't it?—to want to spoil a quiet little Paradise like this village with a lot of greasy mill-hands.”

The minister looked at his watch. “I think I'll begin the service now. There's no use waiting for a congregation to turn up.” He felt in one pocket after the other with increasing irritation. “Pshaw! I've left my eyeglasses out in the car.” The two disappeared, leaving the vestibule echoing and empty.

For a moment the two women did not speak. Then Miss Molly cast herself upon her old friend's bosom. “They're coming back!” she cried. “Annie and her children!”

Miss Abigail stared over her head. “They are all coming back,” she said, “and—we are ready for them. The library's ready—the school is ready—” she got up and opened the door into the great, cold, lofty church, “and—” They looked in silence at the empty pews.

“Next Christmas!” said Miss Molly. “Next Christmas—”

The young minister bustled in, announcing as he came, “We will open the service by singing hymn number forty-nine.”

He sat down before the little old organ and struck a resonant chord.

  “Oh, come, all ye faithful!”

his full rich voice proclaimed, and then he stopped short, startled by a great cry from Miss Abigail. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that the tears were streaming down her face. He smiled to himself at the sentimentality of old women and turned again to the organ, relieved that his performance of a favorite hymn was not to be marred by cracked trebles. He sang with much taste and expression.

  “Oh, come, all ye faithful!”

he chanted lustily,

  “Joyful and triumphant!”

 
 
 

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