The Minister by
Mrs. Leah Bloodgood walked heavily, without the painstaking little
springy leaps she usually adopted as an offset to her stoutness. She
mounted Cornelia Opp's door-steps with an air of gloomy abstraction
that sat uneasily on the plump terraces of her face as if at any moment
it might slide off. It slid off now at sight of Cornelia Opp's serene,
“My gracious! Cornelia, is this your house?” laughed Mrs. Bloodgood,
pantingly. “Here I thought I was going up Marilla Merritt's steps! You
don't mean to tell me that I turned into Ridgway Street instead of
“This isn't Penn Street,” smiled Cornelia Opp. She had flung the
door wide with a gesture of welcome.
“No—mercy, no, I can't come in!” panted the woman on the steps.
“I've got to see Marilla Merritt, right off. When I come calling on
you, Cornelia, I want my mind easy so we can have a good time.”
“Poor Mrs. Merritt!”
“Well, Marilla ought to suffer if I do—she's on the Suffering
Committee! Good-by, Cornelia. Don't you go and tell anybody how
absent-minded I was. They'll say it's catching.”
“It's the minister, then,” mused Cornelia in the doorway, watching
the stout figure go down the street. “Now what has the poor man been
doing this time?” A gentle pity grew in her beautiful gray eyes. It was
so hard on ministers to be all alone in the world, especially certain
kinds of ministers. No matter how long-suffering Suffering Committees
might be, they could not make allowances enough. “Poor man!
Well, the Lord's on his side,” smiled in the doorway Cornelia Opp.
Marilla Merritt was not like Mrs. Leah Bloodgood. Marilla was little
where Leah was big, and nothing daunted Marilla. She was shaking a rug
out on her sunny piazza, and descried the toiling figure while it was
yet afar off.
“There's Leah Bloodgood coming, or my name's Sarah! What is
Leah Bloodgood out this time of day for, with the minister's dinner to
get? Something is up.” She waved the rug gayly. “Mis' Merritt isn't at
home!” she called; “she's out—on the door-steps shaking rugs! Leah
Bloodgood,” as the figure drew near, “you look all tuckered out! Come
in quick and sit down. Don't try to talk. You needn't tell me
something's up—just say what. Has that blessed man been—”
“Yes, he has!” panted the caller, vindictively. It is harder to be
long-suffering when one is out of breath. “You listen to this. I've
brought his letter to read to you.”
“His letter!” Marilla could not have been much more astonished if
the other had taken the minister himself out of her dangling black bag.
“Yes; it came this morn—Mercy! Marilla, don't look so amazed!
Didn't you know he'd gone away on his vacation? He forgot it was next
month instead of this, and I found him packing his things, and hadn't
the heart to tell him. I thought a man with a pleased look like that on
his face better go,—but, mercy! didn't I send you word? It
is catching. I shall be bad as he is.”
“Good as he is, do you mean? Don't worry about being that!” laughed
little Marilla Merritt. “Well, I'm glad he's gone, dear man.”
“You won't be glad long, 'dear man'! Here's his letter. Take a long
breath before you read it. I suppose I ought to prepare you, but I want
you see how I felt.”
“I might count ten first,” deliberated smiling Marilla, fingering
the white envelope with a certain tenderness. A certain tenderness and
the minister went together with them all. “But, no, I'm going to sail
“Take your own risks, of course, but my advice is to reef all your
main—er—jibsails first,” Mrs. Leah Bloodgood wearily murmured.
“You'll find the sea choppy.”
“'Dear Sister Bloodgood,'“ read Marilla, aloud, with reckless
glibness, “'Will you be so kind as to send me my best suit? I am going
to marry my old friend whom I have met here after twenty years. The
wedding will take place next Wednesday morn—'
“Read on,” groaned Mrs. Bloodgood. “He says the fishing's
“I should say so! And that's what he's caught! Leah Bloodgood, what
did you ever let him go away for without a body-guard? That poor dear,
innocent, kind-hearted man, to go and fall among—among thieves
“He's just absent-minded enough to go and do it himself. I don't
suppose we ought to blame them. Read on.”
“'Next Wednesday morning, at ten o'clock,'“ moaned little Marilla,
glibness all gone. “'It would be most embarrassing to do so in these
clothes, as I am sure you will see, dear sister. Kindly see that my
best white tie is included. I would not wish to be unbecomingly attired
on so joyous an occasion. She is a widow with five chil—'“
“Mercy! don't faint away! Where's your fans? Didn't I tell you there
were breakers ahead? I don't wonder you're all broken up! Give it to
me; I'll read the rest. M—m—m, 'joyous occasion'—'five
children'—'she is a widow with five children, all of them most lovable
little creatures. You know my fondness for children. I have been
greatly benefited by my sojourn in this lovely spot. I cannot thank you
too warmly for recommending it. I find the fish—'“
“Leah Bloodgood, that will do! Don't read another word. Don't fan
me, don't ask me how I feel now. Let me get my breath, and then we will
go over and open the parsonage windows. That, I suppose, is the first
thing to do. It's something to be thankful for that it's a good-sized
“Be thankful, then—I'm not. I'm not anything but incensed
clear through. After I'd taken every precaution that was ever thought
of, and some that weren't ever, to keep that man out of mischief! I
thought of all the absent-minded things he might do, but I never
thought of this, no, I never! And we wanted him to marry Cornelia so
much, Marilla! Cornelia would have made him such a beautiful wife!”
“Beautiful!” sighed Marilla, hopelessly. It had been the dear pet
plan they had nursed in common with all the parish. Everybody but the
minister and Cornelia had shared in it.
“And five children! Marilla Merritt, think of five children romping
over our parsonage, knocking all the corners off!”
“I'm thinking,” mourned Marilla, gustily. She felt a dismal
suspicion that this was going to daunt her. But her habit of facing
things came to the front. “Wednesday's only four days off,” she said,
with a fine assumption of briskness. “I don't suppose he said anything
about a wedding tour, did he?”
“No. But even if he took one he'd probably forget and stop off here.
So we can't count on that. What's done has got to be done in four days.
What has got to be done, Marilla?”
“Everything. We must start this minute, Leah Bloodgood! The house
must be aired and painted and papered, and window-glass set—there's no
end! And all in four days! We can't let our minister bring his wife and
five children home to a shabby house. Cornelia Opp must go round and
get money for new dining-room chairs, and there ought to be more beds
with a family like that. Dishes, too. Cornelia ought to start at
once. She's the best solicitor we have.”
“There's another thing,” broke out Mrs. Bloodgood; “the minister
must have some new shirts. He ought to have a whole trousseau. He
hasn't boarded with me, and I done all his mending, without my knowing
what he ought to have, now that he's going to go and get married. We
can't let him be shabby, either.”
“Then, of course, there ought to be a lot of cooked food in the
house, and supper all ready for them when they come. Oh, I guess we'll
find plenty to do! I guess we can't stop to groan much. But, oh, how
different we'd all feel if it was Cornelia!”
“Different! I'd give 'em my dining-room chairs and my cellar stairs!
I'd make shirts and sit up all night to cook! It's—it's wicked,
Marilla, that's what it is.”
“I know it is, but he isn't,” championed Marilla. “He's just
a good man gone wrong. It's his guardian angel that's to blame—a
guardian angel has no business to be napping.”
At best, it was pretty late in the day to overhaul a parsonage that
had been closed so long and sinking gently into mild decay. The little
parish woke with a dismayed start and went to work, to a woman.
Operations were begun within an amazingly brief time; cleaners and
repairers were hurried to the parsonage, and the women of the parish
were told off into relays to assist them.
“Somebody go to Mrs. Higginbotham Taylor's and get a high chair,”
directed Marilla Merritt. “I'll lend my tea-chair for the
next-to-the-baby, anyway, till they can get something better. We don't
want our minister's children sitting round on dictionaries and
The minister had come to them, a lone bachelor, with kind, absent
eyes and the faculty of making himself beloved. For six years they had
taken care of him and loved him—watched over his outgoings and his
incomings and forgiven all his absent-mindednesses. They had picked out
Cornelia Opp for him, and added it to their prayers like an earnest
codicil—“O Lord, bring Cornelia Opp and the minister together. Amen.”
Cornelia Opp herself lived on her sweet, unselfish, single life, and
prayed, “Lord, bless the minister,” unsuspectingly. She was as much
beloved among them all as the minister. They were proud of her slender,
beautiful figure and her serene face, and of her many capabilities.
What the minister lacked, Cornelia had; Cornelia lacked nothing.
Marilla Merritt and Cornelia Opp were appointed receiving committee,
to be at the parsonage when the minister and his wife and five children
arrived. A bountiful supper was to be in readiness, prepared by all the
good women impartially. The duty of the receiving committee was merely,
as Mrs. Leah Bloodgood said, “to smile, and tell pleasant little
lies—'Such a delightful surprise,—so glad to welcome, etc.'
“Cornelia and Marilla Merritt are just the ones,” she said,
succinctly. “I should say: 'You awful man, you! Can't we trust
you out of our sights?' And I suppose that wouldn't be the best way to
The minister had sent a brief notice of his expected arrival home on
Wednesday evening, and, unless he forgot and went somewhere else, there
was good reason to expect him then. Everything was hurried into
readiness. At the last moment some one sent in a doll to make the
minister's children feel more at home. Cornelia laughed and set the
little thing on the sofa, stiffly erect and endlessly smiling.
“Looks nice, doesn't it?” sighed tired little Marilla, returning
from a last round of the tidy rooms. “I don't see anything else left to
do, unless—Is that dust?”
“No, it's bloom,” hastened Cornelia, covertly wiping it off. “You
poor, tired thing, don't look at anything else! Just go home and rest a
little bit before you change your dress. Mine's all changed, and I can
stay here and mount guard. I can be practising my lies!”
“I've got mine by heart,” laughed Marilla, “I could say 'so
delighted' if he brought two wives and ten children!”
“Don't!” Cornelia's sweet voice sounded a little severe. “We've said
enough about the poor man. It's four o'clock. If you're going—”
“I am. Cornelia Opp, turn that child back to! She makes me nervous
sitting there on that sofa staring at me! Will you see her!”
“She does look a little out of place,” Cornelia admitted, but she
left the stiff little figure undisturbed. After the other woman had
gone she sat down beside it on the sofa, and smoothed absently its
gaudy little dress. Cornelia's face was gently pensive, she could
scarcely have told why. Not the minister, but the trimly appointed
house with its indefinable atmosphere of a home with little children in
it was what she was thinking of without conscious effort of her own.
The smiling doll beside her, the high chair that she could see through
an inner door, and the foolish little gilt mug that some one had
donated to the minister's babyest one—they all contributed to the
gentle pensiveness on Cornelia's sweet face. She was but a step by
thirty, and a woman at thirty has not settled down resignedly into a
lonely old age. Let a little child come tilting by, or a little child's
foolish belongings intrude themselves upon her vision, and old, odd
longings creep out of secret crannies and haunt her, willy-nilly. It is
the latent motherhood within her that has been denied its own. It was
the secret of the soft wistfulness in Cornelia's eyes. So she sat until
the minister came home. It was the sound of his big step on the walk
that roused her and sent the color into her face and made it perilously
Cornelia was frightened. Where was Marilla Merritt? Why had they
come so soon? Must she meet them alone? She hurried to the door, her
perturbed mind groping blindly for the “lies” she had misplaced while
she sat and dreamed.
The minister was striding up the walk alone! He did not even look
back at the village hack that was turning away with his wife and five
children! He looked instead at the beautiful vision that stood in the
parsonage doorway, glimpses of home behind it, welcome and comfort in
it. The minister was in need of welcome and comfort. His loneliness had
been accentuated cruelly by the bit of happiness he had caught a brief
glimpse of and left behind him. Perhaps the loneliness was in his face.
“Welcome home,” Cornelia said, in the doorway. She put aside her
astonishment at his coming alone, and answered the need in his face.
Her hands were out in a gracious greeting. To the minister how good it
“They told me to come right here,” he said, “or I should have gone
to Mrs. Bloodgood's as usual. I don't quite understand—”
“Never mind understanding,” Cornelia smiled, leading the way into
the pretty parlor, “anyway, till you get into a comfortable rocker.
It's so much easier to understand in a rocking-chair! I—well, I think
I need one, too! You see, we expected—we didn't expect you
“No?” his puzzled gaze taking in all the kind little appointments of
the room, and coming to a stop at the smiling doll. The two of them sat
and stared at each other.
“We thought you would bring—we got all ready for your wife and the
children,” Cornelia was saying. The doll stared on, but the minister
“My wife and the children?” he repeated after her. “I don't think I
know what you mean, Miss Cornelia. I must be dreaming—No, wait; please
don't tell me what it all means just yet! Give me a little time to
enjoy the dream.” But Cornelia went on.
“You wrote Mrs. Bloodgood about your marriage,” she said. Sweet
voices can be severe. “It hurried us a little, but we have tried to get
everything in readiness. If there is another bed needed for the chil—”
“I wrote Mrs. Bloodgood about my marriage?” he said, slowly; then as
understanding dawned upon him the puzzled lines in his face loosened
into laughter that would out. He leaned back in his rocker and gave
himself up to it helplessly. As helplessly Cornelia joined in. The doll
on the sofa smiled on—no more, no less.
“Will you ex—excuse me?” he laughed.
“No,” laughed she.
“But I can't help it, and you're l-laughing yourself.”
He got to his feet and caught her hands.
“Let's keep on,” he pleaded, unministerially. “I'm having a
beautiful time. Aren't you? I wish you'd say yes, Miss Cornelia!”
“Yes,” she smiled, “but we can't sit here laughing all the rest of
the afternoon. Marilla Merritt will be here—”
“Oh, Marilla Merritt—” He sighed. The minister was young, too.
“And she will want to know—things,” hinted Cornelia, mildly. She
drew the smiling doll into her lap and smoothed its dress absently. The
minister retreated to his rocker again.
“I think I would rather tell you,” he said, quietly. “I did marry my
old friend this morning, but I married her to another man. It was a
mistake—all a mistake.”
“Then you ought not to have married her, ought you?” commented
Cornelia, demurely. Over the doll's little foolish head her eyes were
dancing. Marilla Merritt might not see that it was funny, Mrs.
Bloodgood mightn't, but it was. Unless—unless it was pathetic.
Suddenly Cornelia felt that it was.
The minister was no longer laughing. He sat in the rocker strangely
quiet. Perhaps he did not realize that his eyes were on Cornelia's
beautiful face; perhaps he thought he was looking at the doll. He knew
what he was thinking of. The utter loneliness behind him and ahead of
him appalled him in its contrast to this. This woman sitting opposite
him with the face of the woman that a man would like always near him,
this little home with the two of them in it alone—the minister knew
what it was he wanted. He wanted it to go right on—never to end. He
knew that he had always wanted it. All the soul of the man rose up to
claim it. And because there was need of hurry, because Marilla Merritt
was coming, he held out his hands to Cornelia and the foolish,
“Come,” he said, pleadingly, and of course the doll could not have
gone alone. He dropped it gently back into its place on the sofa.
Marilla Merritt had been unwarrantably delayed. She came in flushed
and panting, but indomitably smiling. Her sharp glance sought for a
wife and five children.
“Such a delightful surprise!” she panted, holding out her hand to
the minister. “We are so glad to welcome—Why!—have you shown them to
their rooms, Cornelia?”
“They—they didn't come,” murmured Cornelia, retreating to her
unfailing ally on the sofa. In the stress of the moment—for Cornelia
was not ready for Marilla Merritt—it had seemed to her that the time
for “lies” had come. She had even beckoned to the nearest one. But the
ghosts of ministers' wives that had been and that were to be had risen
in a warning cloud about her and saved her.
“Didn't come!” shrilled Marilla Merritt in her astonishment. “His
wife and children didn't come! Do you know what you are saying,
Cornelia? You don't mean—Then I don't wonder you look flustered—” She
caught herself up hurriedly, but her thoughts ran on unchecked. Of all
things that ever! Could absent-mindedness go further than this—to
marry a wife and forget to bring her home with him?—and five
Marilla Merritt turned sharply upon the minister.
“Where is your wife?” she demanded, the frayed ends of her patience
trailing from her tone. The minister crossed the room to Cornelia and
the doll. He laid his big white hand gently on Cornelia's small white
one. There was protective tenderness in the gesture and the touch.
“I found her here waiting for me,” the minister said.