THIS little story has especially interested me because its moral is so valuable and timely. We cannot get away from the past. We may wisely accept, and, if we can, utilize it. There are a great many things behind us that we foolishly despise. They were ungracious, unedifying, uninteresting. It is very easy to spurn and contemn them, but it is wiser to transform, and so ennoble them. And, in the doing of any such work, the spell must be that long-suffering love which made of Mary Hard so wise a woman, and which wins, often not by resistance but by patience, and the transmuting touch of a loving and painstaking art. These are oftenest womanly gifts, it is true, but there are some womanly proficiencies which might wisely be learned by men--and even by ministers, whether Bishops, priests, or deacons
I hope the story of Thomas and Mary Hard and the Puritan Cradle will journey far and wide, for I am very sure that it can not fail to leave a blessing behind it.
HENRY C. POTTER.
HE was an Episcopalian--a High-church Episcopalian--in fact, a Ritualist. And the janitor's wife at the seminary, who had found a hair shirt in his closet, while looking after his linen, had told her friends many times, that "He was a blessed saint, so he was, if he was a heretic." And when he was ordered Deacon, he was also ordered by his bishop to the little parish of Barnstable, in New England, which, though itself a rural parish, had for its near neighbor the noisy, blustering town of Barndoor, full of factories, and with no Episcopal church of its own. Of course Tom Hard could not stand this state of things long--to have so many souls going on their reckless way downward (for they certainly did not seem to be going upward, and we wish to be very guarded in saying exactly where they were going). Therefore, as soon as he was fairly settled in his little 9 x 12 rectory, with an old parishioner named Bridget to cook his meals and darn his stockings (that could never be worn afterward), he began a mission at Barndoor, and went there, at no little cost of extra time and labor, regularly once every Sunday and once in the week besides. Tom's congregation at Barnstable was of the old-fashioned New England sort, knew what religion was and how things ought to be conducted, and would not tolerate any "new doings." Well did Tom know this; and being a sensible deacon (rara avis), he simply made the best of it. He could still have his little oratory in one corner of his own garret, shut off from prying eyes by heavy curtains and a sign, "No admittance," and there he placed his Prie Dieu, crucifix, and candles, and religiously kept the hours as far as possible. But the opening of the mission at Barndoor opened a door of another sort. Here was a field for catholic work, with none to molest or make him afraid. Did he not pay the expenses and hire the room himself? So, in due time, the room, which was a vacant store on a good street, was tolerably fitted up. Tom, something of a carpenter and generally handy himself, made a decent altar out of a dry-goods box he found in the store, borrowed his mother's candle-sticks, begged a pair of vases, and set all the young women to work under somewhat vague directions which savored partly of ancient Sarum and partly of modern Roman, use, to make up cloths and stoles in all the canonical colors. The Sisters of Bethabara heard of his work, and sent a set of plain vestments, with their prayers and best wishes. There was a closet just inside the door which Tom kept his eye upon, intending, when he could, to clear it out and use it for a confessional. But he was only a deacon, and could do but a deacon's work; and manfully and faithfully he went at it. Every house and tenement in Barndoor was duly visited; all the men and women were invited to the services, and as many of the children as could be caught were brought into the Sunday-school. A few of the faithful souls in Barnstable volunteered their help, and patiently rode or walked the two miles between the villages for no reward other than the winning smile and grateful thanks of the new minister. These souls, being mostly young souls, and female souls at that, Tom was obliged to take partly into his counsels, and warn them not to let the older souls, the hardened souls of Barnstable, know of all the extra doings at the mission.
So all went smoothly on in both places, Tom quietly submitting to the inevitable and incurable in Barnstable of a Sunday morning, but unbending in the free air of the mission in the afternoon. In this more or less successful attempt to be all things to all men if by any means he might save some, a year passed over Tom's head, and left its record in his work upon the two communities; and then the bishop came and made him a priest, and installed him rector of St. Matthew's, Barnstable, and priest in charge of St. Gabriel's, at Barndoor.
SHE was a Congregationalist--of a creed that had no more syllables in its name than his, only a greater variety of articles, and with the power to vary these articles still further if the necessities of the times seemed to call for it. "A mugwump religion," Tom called it, and zealously fought against its teachings and tendencies. Her father was a deacon, an officer of high degree in the village church, and royally did he uphold the dignity of his office. She had been trained in the fine old New England ways, and knew just when the week ended and the Sabbath began, and how wrong it was for a warm potato, cooked at a Sabbath fire, to take its place on the table with the cold meats prepared the day before. But she was young and pretty, and a delicate tip to the end of her lovely nose and a forceful little chin below, gave signs of room and a welcome to independent thoughts and opinions in the shapely head. And besides, the Congregational minister was old, married, and had children as old as she: while the Episcopal minister was young, unmarried, fairly good-looking, and thoroughly sweet-tempered. Moreover, the Congregational minister had been there in his place twenty years before she was born; and in the twenty years since that event she had learned all his extempore prayers by heart, and knew the length of his sermons, the shortest of which was forty minutes; while the Episcopal minister had just come, rose on the horizon of her quiet girl-life like a star of the first magnitude, and gave such sweet little talks of only fifteen minutes.
Mary--for that was her name--Mary Dane yielded to the attraction, though her father pulled resolutely the other way and having done her duty by her parents' creed in going steadily to the meeting-house on the hill in the morning, found her wayward feet leading her, all too willing, to the foot of the pulpit-steps of St. Matthew's at night. Here eyes were busy as well as ears with her, and heart also was enlisted as the young rector told of the great opening for work at Barndoor, and begged for helpers. With nose and chin coming as near together as they could for dimples and rosy lips between, Mary returned home from one of these delightful evenings, and told her astonished father that she was going to offer her services to the rector of St. Matthew's to teach the poor little ragged children of the mission of St. Gabriel, at Barndoor.
"Why, child," cried the deacon, "it's nigh onto two miles--and how, in the name of sense, be you goin' to git there?"
"You could let me have old Charlie the gig," quietly answered Mary.
"My hoss and wagin agoin' out on the Sabbath!" cried the deacon.
"Yes, but, father, you know it is to try and save some of those poor souls over there that are going--"
"Yes, I know where they're goin'--you needn't try to tell me. But I doubt if that rightualistic parson can stop 'em. Don't believe he knows how."
But at last the soft entreaties, and the hidden but steadfast resolution of "The only gal in the family" prevailed, and old Charlie was doomed to a regular Sunday tramp, a thing he had never known the like of before except for an occasional funeral, having always counted his undisturbed Sabbaths in the big pasture as among his in alienable perquisites.
Thus Mary began her mission-work; and, there being but one road between the two places, what more natural than that she should sometimes overtake the rector as he walked? And, overtaking him, that she should ask him to ride? And, riding together, that they should fall to talking?--(for Charlie knew his business)--and, talking in the peaceful rosy glow of a Sunday afternoon which reflected its brightness in every motion of the sweet face beside him, that the rector should fall to thinking of that lonely bachelor house and its frowsy Bridget, and of a picture of home and ministering spirit that might be substituted for this?
So grew the thought with each dear Lord's day until it became an inspiration, then a solemn conviction; and with many hopes and fears a-mingling, and some struggles of conscience over yoking one's self to a schismatic however lovely--began to dawn upon the young priest's mind in all the joyous tints of a possible fact.
At last, one fateful Sunday, the old gig broke down half-way on its journey: and before the smoky chimneys of Barndoor came in sight, Mary had promised not only to join his church, but to join him and walk the balance of life's journey hand-in-hand with him to the end. How Deacon Dane survived the shock and became reconciled to the inevitable: how Charlie took the bits in his aged teeth, and made the lovers often late to the mission, and later still in getting home: how St. Matthew's was excited and St. Gabriel's ragged hordes delighted until the rector had serious thoughts of changing the name of the mission to St. Mary's--we may not stop to tell. Only, before many weeks had flown away, Mary Dane became Mrs. Thomas Hard. Bridget's field was narrowed to the kitchen--the spirit of independence had surrendered to the stronger arms of love--and the dream of the rector's doubting heart was vanished before a happy, blissful, kiss-full, reality of home, comfort, slippers, dressing-gown, a quiet house for sermon writing, and cosy evenings by the tiny parlor-grate with a pretty, loyal, loving wife beside him.
BUT not in idleness did Thomas Hard spend even his honeymoon. The road between the parish and the mission often shed its whitish dust liberally over his shoes, and the mission itself, offering a larger and more tractable field, soon claimed four or five visits a week in place of two. Old Charlie was sometimes dragged into service, but not often, for his mission was the plow and the hay-rake; and Mary found so much to do at home that she could take but an occasional Sunday-afternoon treat as of old with her husband.
But Tom was happy, for he had full swing on the pliant Barndoor. The bishop had quietly snubbed some early complainers, and quoted canons and rubrics to those who were easily silenced by such big guns. And so babies were baptized before they were two weeks old, much to the disgust of doctors and nurses; mothers came to church as soon as they could to offer their thanksgivings; lights, colors, and vestments took their places in the regular order of things; ragged boys were shouting themselves hoarse in preparation for a choir; and even the brown closet at the door had a thorough cleaning to fit it for possible demands in a direction already hinted at; while Tom--zealous, enthusiastic, and warm-hearted--carried many a cheery message home in the gig or upon his weary legs to Mary.
Time rolled on, and it was Mary's turn to make her thanksgiving, for a noble baby boy
was ready to take his proud father's name at the font. And one lovely afternoon, having established wife and baby comfortably in the old gig, Tom bore them away to Barndoor for the double service, where things could be done decently and in order with out treading upon anybody's toes in Barnstable.
It was on the return from this happy trip that the deacon, Mary's father, made his first appearance as a disturbing element within the family circle.
"High doin's that pair are havin' over there," said he to himself. "I'd like to know what they expect to make of that blessed boy, with good old Puritan blood in his veins, if they keep on in this way. It's time for me to do something."
Which lofty resolve soon carried him up into the attic, where, amid cast-off clothing of ages long ago, and furniture that was as old as New England itself, he found and drew to the light of the dim little window a cradle. And such a cradle! Its whole atmosphere was Mayflowerish! Stiff, prim, angular, hard enough in its outlines and inlines to give any observing baby a backache even to look at it!
"There! There's a cradle that'll do its duty by the child if the child's mother don't. Three parsons--orthodox and evangelical, every one of 'em, my own brother Job that's dead, the last--have been rocked in that cradle. I guess no baby will go to Rome out of that!"
Thus, nourishing a secret plan, the good deacon dusted the hallowed shrine, although it was the Sabbath; and, having the fear of Tom before his eyes, took advantage of his absence, carried the relic down by the back way over to the rectory, and there deposited it in the very middle of the nursery floor. He covered it carefully with a frightful little patchwork quilt of very blue blue and very red red calico that had once kept Job the departed and his predecessors warm, and, pinning a piece of paper containing his own version of the cradle's history and his hopes for its future upon the brilliant coverlid, he left it to its fate.
Old Charlie was slower than ever that day, and the quiet summer afternoon was deepening its shadows sensibly, before the gig drew up to the door-step. Baby was asleep and Tom and Mary were dreaming in their restful happiness, when the old horse came to his accustomed place and stopped, conscious that only the further distance to the deacon's barn measured the limits of his Sabbath-day's journey.
Tom took the boy from his mother's arms, and giving the word to the horse to take himself home, went straight to the nursery, followed step for step by Mary.
On the threshold he stopped.
"Shades of Jonathan Edwards! what's this?" he cried, as the mahogany monument in the middle of the room sent its gleams of red and blue into his dazzled eyes, and every post of the antique seemed to straighten itself up stiffer than ever to meet him. "What's that for, Mary, and who put it there?"
"Hush, Tom dear, don't wake baby. Why, it's the old cradle out of our attic, and here's a paper," and Mary stooped and read her father's cramped message. She read it again, and then she read it aloud to Tom, who still stood in the doorway, the baby in his arms.
"He wants to save the boy, Tom; he thinks he is in danger"; and, turning back the gorgeous quilt and displaying a fat little feather bed underneath, she added, softly: "Put him down here, Tom, and let the holy influences begin their work. It has held three ministers already, and perhaps baby will make the fourth."
"Put him down!" cried Tom, breathing hard. "Put my church-born baby in that Puritan crib, and underneath that blanket! Never! I'll walk with him all night first," and he began to walk.
"But, Tom, this is father's present to our boy, and he must have spent all this blessed Sunday afternoon, when we have been so happy, dusting and polishing it up for him. And, Tom dear, it really isn't so bad, and it has had good babies in it, ministers, Tom, and three of them at that."
"Ministers! they weren't--they were only schismatics; and rather than lay my precious boy there, and have him make a fourth in that lot, I'd--"; but Tom did not say what he would do,--only resumed his walk.
Mary pleaded, and tried to take the baby; and held the lamp to the cradle to show off its good points, and patted the fat little bed, and pleaded again. "I must put him in it, Tom. I wouldn't hurt father's feelings so for anything."
But Tom, stopping solemnly in the further corner, and speaking in a stage-whisper that was hoarse with emotion, said:
"Mary dear, I love you, as you know, with heart and soul, and this boy is the apple of my eye. I have waited patiently for you to get used to the Prayer-Book; I have never answered back nor stormed when you quietly ridiculed my 'goings-on,' as your father calls them, at St. Gabriel's,--which you have done, Mary, and you know it. I even put this child's baptism off two months to please you; I have seen your neck stiffen up in the Creed, and made excuses for your sitting through the prayers. But this is the last straw! This is too much! I wouldn't trust my boy to that cradle, and cover him with that blanket--"
"It isn't a blanket, Tom dear, it's a quilt."
"Well, quilt then; I wouldn't cover him with that quilt any more than I would wrap him in leaves from Jonathan Edwards' sermons, and hand him over to your father to bring up in the faith. No! I'll walk all night first," and he began to walk.
Sensible Mary--she pleaded no more: but only saying, "I'll go get your supper, Tom, for I know you are tired and hungry, and just a trifle--cross, love," she left her lord still walking.
ON a knoll just back from the rectory there lived two maiden women, sisters, shrivelled a little with age, like a russet apple after a heavy freeze, but like the apple too, only the sweeter for that. They were staunch supporters of the rector, (even secretly be it said) in his worst "doings" at St. Gabriel's, of which they had heard much, and on more than one summer after noon had seen something. Naomi and Orpah were their names,--Naomi several years the elder. They had watched the advent of poor innocent Mary into the life of the rector and the parish with not a few misgivings and some prophecies as to its results. These last they secretly hoped to see verified--partly out of regard for their own reputation as seers, and partly as a tribute to the established traditions of their church so rudely violated.
"All those sweet girls in his own flock--and he must go and marry that deacon's daughter; and now she'll be objectin' to havin' her children baptized, and her father'll be a wantin' to make deacons of 'em--the boys, I mean," said Naomi.
"Yes," put in Orpah, "and I suppose I must hand over all those chancel fixin' s to her, and she'll be making all sorts of mistakes in the colors at St. Gabriel's (for Orpah by dint of much training had got the use by heart). And I've seen 'em packed in the rector's bag myself every blessed Sunday these two years."
But Mary had taken up her new duties so quietly, and had submitted to instruction so meekly and sweetly, that the fears of the good sisters were calmed, and they only watched.
Now, as Tom walked the nursery floor and crooned to the baby in a bass voice that would have given nightmares to the soundest of adult sleepers, suddenly there came into his mind a thought. He stopped.
"Why not?'' (a few steps). "I will" (a few more). "Just the thing!" (two more). "That will bring her around" (three more). "My boy under that blanket--quilt, hang it! and stared at by those Puritan posts! Three ministers! Humph!"
The thought, whatever it was, seemed quickly to crystallize, for in a moment more Tom had wrapped a shawl about his sleeping boy, thrust the bottle of milk warm from Bridget's stove into his own pocket, and was creeping softly down the stairs. Out of the back door, across the garden, and over the wall into the big pasture, where the gentle cows lifted their heads in wonder to see such a nurse in such a place at such an hour--and so, away up the hill to the sisters' cottage.
Both heard his knock and knew it, and hurried to the door to meet him.
"Why, Mr. Hard! What--"
"S-s-sh!" said Tom. "I cannot stop to tell you all. I only came to ask a favor of you."
"Oh, of course."
"Well, keep this boy until I come to bring him home. Now, promise, won't you? Don't ask any questions, but just trust me, and promise, won't you?"
All this in pleading tones that had the tears of manhood in them.
"But, what'll his mother--"
"Oh, I'll answer for his mother; and don't you let even her take him away or know he's here until I tell you. Now promise, do!"
"Well, well! goodness gracious! sakes alive!! well!!!"
And so, with many futile attempts to pry into the mystery, and many guesses as to how near their own dire predictions came to giving a clue to the trouble brewing at the rectory, they promised at last; while Tom, laying the baby down on their chaste bed, which had fifty times more feathers in it than the little Puritan affair (though they were church feathers, to be sure), and, depositing the still warm bottle on the centre-table, departed.
"Remember your promise! You'll hear from me! Don't worry. It's all right!" and he vanished in the darkness.
And the sweet maiden sisters. Ah, they were in trouble!
"We'll be arrested for stealing the child. The rector's crazy! What will his mother say? What on earth can be the matter down at the rectory?"
These and a score of questions like them sprang to the pale lips of one and the other. And to this tangled maze baby soon showed himself disposed to contribute, for, without fairly waking up, he thrust one fat fist into his eyes and began a peculiar rotary motion with his lips, accompanied by a low, querulous cooing that, to a mother's ear, would have carried its own interpretation. The only effect upon the sisters was to increase their anxiety lest he should wake and begin to cry, until the sight of the bottle on the table and the ever-puckering lips spun their thread of connection in the quicker mind of Orpah, and that thread under her guiding hand speedily became a rubber tube, whereat the other demonstrations ceased and only the rotary motion continued.
How they undressed him and laid him in an extemporized nest on the lounge for a nap, which, fortunately for them, was to last until morning; how they hovered about him and felt of his little pink toes, and "hushed" each other until long past their own bedtime; how first one got up, and then the other, and often, by a common instinct, both together, to see if he was all right, till the sun rose, need not be told in full. Suffice it to say that when at six o'clock baby awoke like a giant refreshed with wine, the good sisters were already dressed, but ready to drop from exhaustion of their vigil, and in a fever of excitement as to what would happen next.
BUT what of Mary all this while? She had put the supper on the table in her best style, adding some brandy-peaches in a quaint cut-glass dish as old as the cradle, because "brandy-peaches were Tom's favorite dish, and Tom was tired and in a poor temper just now and needed petting"; and then she came up the stairs, softly humming the tune of the "Processional" at St. Gabriel's.
One step into the empty room and the Processional was ended. With frantic feet she flew into this little room and that, then down the stairs and searched; then, catching up her hat, she threw wide the outer door, driven by a vague remembrance of having heard that door shut softly while she was getting supper--and out into the night. A tremulous voice called "Tom," twice--when lo! an angel of mercy stepped out of the shadows in the garden, himself as dark as the shadows and as ragged.
"Miss Mary, is ye looking for massa Tom? I done seen him carryin' a bundle up over de hill to Miss Nomi's jess now."
It was Billy--black Billy--the washer-woman's son, and a satellite of Mary's, whose devotion to his lovely mistress was like that of a pet dog. Mary caught her breath, as the queer little apparition answered her call, and stood a moment, irresolute and trembling all over.
"Oh!" she said at last. "Did you, Billy?"
"Going to Miss Naomi's, was he, and carrying a bundle?"
"A big bundle wrapped in a shawl, was it, Bil1y?"
"Yes'm, dat's w'at it was."
"Ah! Um! All right, Billy, and here's ten cents for you; and Billy--don't tell any one that you told me, and don't say anything about what you saw, and I'll give you another dime, Billy, before long."
"All right, ma'am. Sha'n't say nothin'. Git dat dime, for shur"; and the angel disappeared among the shadows whence he came.
Cunning, quick-witted, loving Mary! How soon her course shaped itself, and how, with scarcely a moment's hesitation, and with true woman's instinct, she entered upon it. Returning quietly to the house, she went into the little dining room, having smoothed her hair and put all signs of disorder from the house and from her own trim person, and took her seat behind the tea-tray and waited, with eyes a tranquil as an inland pond in midsummer. Presently the outer door quietly opened and shut; faint footsteps betrayed themselves on the stairs, which would creak; and in a few moments Tom came down, and took his place opposite hers at the table.
"Supper is almost cold, Tom. Did you leave the baby still sleeping?"
"And did you take off his hat and cloak before you laid him down, dear?"
"Here are some brandy-peaches. I got them out to-night for your especial benefit."
So, without another word about baby, and with many tender solicitations on the one side, which only drew forth distracted answers from the other, the meal was eaten, but Mary ate the most of it--for Tom could not eat. Her pet glasses and cups put away by her own hands, Mary went up again to the nursery; and Tom followed her in spirit, and waited breathlessly to hear her scream--resolute to lay then and there the parallels of the first advance in the siege.
"Hang that cradle! I wish Job had been buried in it. Why don't she scream?"
But no scream came. The footsteps played evenly over the floor above for a while, and then came pattering softly down the stairs again; and Mary, drawing her favorite rocking-chair close to the lamp, and taking up a book, began to read.
Her husband stared at her from under his knitted brows in dull amazement, but still she read on--and the sweet face was quiet, or broke into smiles, or furrowed into sympathetic ridges of sorrow, as the genius of the story gave the cue.
Still Tom stared, and wondered--and still she read on, stopping now and then to give him the benefit of some bright thought as she caught it, or to look up and say something about the day and its pleasures--when the stare was quickly but painfully suppressed. And so the evening wore away and bedtime came, when, to Tom's utter bewilderment, his wife (who had secretly dispatched Bridget with a fresh bottle of milk to regions that shall be unnamed) made her toilet, said her prayers, and was soon sleeping as soundly as the baby him self, bless his heart, the innocent cause, or at least occasion, of all this trouble.
Tom could not sleep. He thought, and he tossed--and he thought again. He counted all the nines in his brain, and numbered thousands of sheep as they jumped over the wall. He rose up on his elbow, and looked at his wife by the moonlight, and lay down again. He got up. and pulled on his clothes and shoes, determined to give it up and go after that baby, even at this hour; but he hit his foot against that horrid cradle, and took off his clothes and crawled back into bed again. Not a sound came from the other side but that of the gentlest of breathing; not a movement but those which were natural to sleep. At last, utterly worn out, the bewildered man sank off into a heavy, restless slumber, just as the sun peeped over the knoll on which the flower of his family lay enshrined; and awoke--only to hear Mary's call to breakfast, and to take his place and stare at her again.
Oh, what a wretched, wretched day it was! Blue Monday, with a vengeance. Mary gave no sign, but went about the house singing, or issued orders to Bridget, who was in the secret; occasionally, when she could with safety, slipping out, and up over the hill like a deer to the house of the traitor sisters, who (to their shame be it said) had come over to her side at the first visit. Tom went out, and savagely eyed his father-in-law, who was mowing in the near distance, then came back and betook himself to his study. He selected a text, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven;" but when he tried to write, it seemed to him as if the other kingdom had moved in and taken possession. He rose up and went out to look at Mary, who took good care to be in sight. But her peaceful face and happy smile nearly drove him crazy. He even thought of going around by a mile or two, and coming to the sisters' house from the other side, and so get a peep at baby; but he was afraid Mary would suspect and follow him.
Then in his despair he remembered that an old sick woman in Barndoor needed visiting; so, after luncheon, he caught up his hat and stick, and called up the stairs: "Good-bye, love; I must go over to Barndoor to see old Mrs. Dacey this afternoon. I shall not be back till late."
"Good-bye, Tom dear," came back the sweet and calm response from the upper regions. "Take a jar of that nice currant jelly to the old lady, and give her my love. I hope you will find her better."
And Tom stalked away, while the black angel of mercy grinned at him from behind the hedge.
"What is the little woman up to now?" thought the puzzled husband. "She is getting the better of me somehow. But I won't give in to any deacon that ever lived, or deacon's--ahem! I'll not put my baby in that hideous old ark of a cradle, if I never see him in the house again. Mary ought to have better sense than to ask me to do it. And that horrid blanket--quilt--it would give him convulsions! Three ministers, indeed! Well, we shall see who will hold out the longer."
It is to be feared that poor old Mrs. Dacey did not get much spiritual consolation from her rector's visit that day.
Meantime Mary, having seen her liege vanish behind the distant trees, arose in her might! She sent Billy after the village Jack-of-all-trades, who came at once, ready for work and glad of a job, and was taken by Mary direct to the attic. What happened there that long afternoon only he and Mary knew; but when Tom returned at twilight tired and inwardly raving, there was a good supper--an excellent good supper for Monday--awaiting him; and Mary, as fresh as a flower and as sweet, took his hat and coat, and kissed him twice. Then the meal and the evening passed as on the day before. Again Mary slept the sleep of innocence, and again Tom tossed and blessed the cradle in his thoughts, and longed for baby. The morning saw him half distracted, gaunt, a very shadow of his former self, staring with wide and haggard eyes at that sphinx, once his own dutiful wife and the tender mother of his child.
Another excuse was framed to take him away from home. He rounded the hill from far, and came in sight of his soul's desire, only to see black Billy now a guardian angel sitting on the door-step of the house and watching. Once more he turned and roamed without a purpose; and so, late in the afternoon, wretched beyond description and at his wits' end, he once more entered his ravished home. There at the hat-rack in the hall stood his wife ready to perform the wonted offices. But this was more than he could stand.
"Mary," he almost screamed, and caught his breath and moaned.
"Come with me, Tom dear," she whispered, and taking him by the arm, she gently led him up the stairs and into the fateful nursery. There, in the very middle of the room, stood the hateful Puritan cradle! But, how transformed!! It had been painted a creamy white with delicate bands of gold relieving its ugly lines. The red and blue quilt was gone, and in its place lay a fairy covering of soft worsted, with dainty pink ribbons creeping in and out of its meshes. The fat little feather-bed swelled up no longer from the depths, the baby's own mattress with soft sheets that gave out a smell of lavender, and a pillow that looked like a soap-bubble, had taken its place.
"There, Tom, I've laid the ministers' ghosts. I knocked the bottom out of its Puritanism and had baby's own springs put in. How do you like it, dear And--Tom--hadn't you better--go--and get--baby? It is almost his bedtime."
For three long minutes the rector stood and gazed at the lovely vision; then the hard lines of the two days past melted from his face one by one; his eyes drooped, and slowly rose again until they met his wife's tearful but laughing ones. In another second he had his arms, with crushing squeeze, about her, and was kissing her cheeks, her eyes, her hands.
"Oh, you wicked little Puritan--you're too much for me. Let me go, Mary. I'll get that precious infant this minute."
And he did.
With strides that made inches of yards he flew up the hill, burst in upon the astonished sisters, who were approaching with awe the mysteries of another undressing of baby; snatched his half-naked and kicking boy from Miss Naomi's lap, flung about him the first wrappings he could find, and with wild and incoherent words hurled at them from the door, he was off down the hill again. Nor did he stop, nor speak, until--plump into the middle of the Congregational cradle--he dropped the astonished and now thoroughly frightened church-baby.
Thus passed the clouds away from the rectory; and the rising moon looking in at its windows, saw a fat and laughing child kicking up its heels with delight, its tiny fists and mouth full of the pink coverlid--while on either side knelt Tom and Mary, tears in their eyes, but laughter in their hearts, as, with prayers upon their lips, they made of the erstwhile hideous Puritan cradle a very ark of a new and solemn covenant.