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ON a recent journey to the Pennsylvania oil regions, I
stopped one evening with a fellow-traveller at a village
which had just been thrown into a turmoil of excitement
by the exploits of a horse-thief. As we sat around
the tavern hearth, after supper, we heard the particulars
of the rogue's capture and escape fully discussed; then
followed many another tale of theft and robbery, told
amid curling puffs of tobacco-smoke; until, at the close of
an exciting story, one of the natives turned to my travelling
acquaintance, and, with a broad laugh, said, “Kin ye
beat that, stranger?”

“Well, I don't know, — maybe I could if I should try.
I never happened to fall in with any such tall horse-stealing
as you tell of, but I knew a man who stole a meeting-house

“Stole a meetin'-house! That goes a little beyant anything
yit,” remarked another of the honest villagers. “Ye
don't mean he stole it and carried it away?”

“Stole it and carried it away,” repeated my travelling
companion, seriously, crossing his legs, and resting his arm
on the back of his chair. “And, more than all that, I
helped him.”

“How happened that? — for you don't look much like a
thief, yourself.”

All eyes were now turned upon my friend, a plain New


Page 387
England farmer, whose honest homespun appearance and
candid speech commanded respect.

“I was his hired man, and I acted under orders. His
name was Jedwort, — Old Jedwort, the boys called him,
although he was n't above fifty when the crooked little circumstance
happened which I 'll make as straight a story
of as I can, if the company would like to hear it.”

“Sartin, stranger! sartin! about stealin' the meetin'-house!”
chimed in two or three voices.

My friend cleared his throat, put his hair behind his
ears, and with a grave, smooth face, but with a merry
twinkle in his shrewd gray eye, began as follows: —

“Jedwort, I said his name was; and I shall never forget
how he looked one particular morning. He stood
leaning on the front gate, — or rather on the post, for the
gate itself was such a shackling concern a child could n't
have leaned on 't without breaking it down. And Jedwort
was no child. Think of a stoutish, stooping, duck-legged
man, with a mountainous back, strongly suggestive of a
bag of grist under his shirt, and you have him. That imaginary
grist had been growing heavier and heavier, and
he more and more bent under it, for the last fifteen years
and more, until his head and neck just came forward out
from between his shoulders like a turtle's from its shell.
His arms hung, as he walked, almost to the ground. Being
curved with the elbows outward, he looked for all the
world, in a front view, like a waddling interrogation-point
enclosed in a parenthesis. If man was ever a quadruped,
as I 've heard some folks tell, and rose gradually from four
legs to two, there must have been a time, very early in his
history, when he went about like Old Jedwort.

“The gate had been a very good gate in its day. It
had even been a genteel gate when Jedwort came into possession
of the place by marrying his wife, who inherited it


Page 388
from her uncle. That was some twenty years before, and
everything had been going to rack and ruin ever since.

“Jedwort himself had been going to rack and ruin,
morally speaking. He was a middling decent sort of man
when I first knew him; and I judge there must have been
something about him more than common, or he never
could have got such a wife But then women do marry,
sometimes, unaccountably. I 've known downright ugly
and disagreeable fellows to work around, till by and by
they would get a pretty girl fascinated by something in
them which nobody else could see, and then marry her in
spite of everything; — just as you may have seen a magnetizer
on the stage make his subjects do just what he
pleased, or a black snake charm a bird. Talk about women
marrying with their eyes open, under such circumstances!
They don't marry with their eyes open: they
are put to sleep, in one sense, and a'n't more than half responsible
for what they do, if they are that. Then rises
the question that has puzzled wiser heads than any of ours
here, and will puzzle more yet, till society is different from
what it is now, — how much a refined and sensitive woman
is bound to suffer from a coarse and disgusting master,
legally called her husband, before she is entitled to break
off a bad bargain she scarce had a hand in making. I 've
sat here to-night, and heard about men getting goods under
false pretences; you 've told some astonishing big stories,
gentlemen, about rogues stealing horses and sleighs;
and I 'm going to tell you about the man who stole a meeting-house;
but, when all is said, I guess it will be found
that more extraordinary thieving than all that often goes
on under our own eyes, and nobody takes any notice of it.
There 's such a thing, gentlemen, as getting hearts under
false pretences. There 's such a thing as a man's stealing
a wife.


Page 389

“I speak with feeling on this subject, for I had an opportunity
of seeing what Mrs. Jedwort had to put up with
from a man no woman of her stamp could do anything
but detest. She was the patientest creature you ever
saw. She was even too patient. If I had been tied to
such a cub, I think I should have cultivated the beautiful
and benignant qualities of a wild-cat; there would
have been one good fight, and one of us would have
been living, and the other would have been dead, and that
would have been the end of it. But Mrs. Jedwort bore
and bore untold miseries, and a large number of children.
She had had nine of these, and three were under the sod
and six above it when Jedwort ran off with the meeting-house
in the way I am going on to tell you. There was
Maria, the oldest girl, a perfect picture of what her mother
had been at nineteen. Then there were the two boys,
Dave and Dan, fine young fellows, spite of their father.
Then came Lottie, and Susie, and then Willie, a little

“It was amazing to see what the mother would do to
keep her family looking decent with the little means she
had. For Jedwort was the tightest screw ever you saw.
It was avarice that had spoilt him, and came so near turning
him into a beast. The boys used to say he grew so
bent, looking in the dirt for pennies. That was true of his
mind, if not of his body. He was a poor man, and a
pretty respectable man, when he married his wife; but he
had no sooner come into possession of a little property
than he grew crazy for more. There are a good many
men in the world, that nobody looks upon as monomaniacs,
who are crazy in just that sort of way. They are all for
laying up money, depriving themselves of comforts, and
their families of the advantages of society and education,
just to add a few dollars to their hoard every year; and


Page 390
so they keep on till they die and leave it to their children,
who would be much better off if a little more had been invested
in the cultivation of their minds and manners, and
less in stocks and bonds.

“Jedwort was just one of that class of men, although
perhaps he carried the fault I speak of a little to excess.
A dollar looked so big to him, and he held it so close, that
at last he could n't see much of anything else. By degrees
he lost all regard for decency and his neighbors' opinions.
His children went barefoot, even after they got to be great
boys and girls, because he was too mean to buy them
shoes. It was pitiful to see a nice, interesting girl, like
Maria, go about looking as she did, while her father was
piling his money into the bank. She wanted to go to
school and learn music, and be somebody; but he would n't
keep a hired girl, and so she was obliged to stay at home
and do housework; and she could no more have got a dollar
out of him to pay for clothes and tuition, than you
could squeeze sap out of a hoe-handle.

“The only way his wife could ever get anything new
for the family was by stealing butter from her own dairy,
and selling it behind his back. `You need n't say anything
to Mr. Jedwort about this batch of butter,' she
would hint to the storekeeper; `but you may hand the
money to me, or I will take my pay in goods.' In this
way a new gown, or a piece of cloth for the boys' coats, or
something else the family needed, would be smuggled into
the house, with fear and trembling lest old Jedwort should
make a row and find where the money came from.

“The house inside was kept neat as a pin; but everything
around it looked terribly shiftless. It was built
originally in an ambitious style, and painted white. It
had four tall front pillars, supporting the portion of the
roof that came over the porch, — lifting up the eyebrows


Page 391
of the house, if I may so express myself, and making it
look as if it was going to sneeze. Half the blinds were off
their hinges, and the rest flapped in the wind. The front
doorstep had rotted away. The porch had once a good
floor, but for years Jedwort had been in the habit of going
to it whenever he wanted a board for the pig-pen, until
not a bit of floor was left.

“But I began to tell about Jedwort leaning on the gate
that morning. We had all noticed him; and as Dave and
I brought in the milk, his mother asked, `What is your
father planning now? Half the time he stands there,
looking up the road; or else he 's walking up that way in
a brown study.'

“`He 's got his eye on the old meeting-house,' says
Dave, setting down his pail. `He has been watching it
and walking round it, off and on, for a week.'

“That was the first intimation I had of what the old
fellow was up to. But after breakfast he followed me out
of the house, as if he had something on his mind to say
to me.

“`Stark,' says he, at last, `you 've always insisted on 't
that I was n't an enterprisin' man.'

“`I insist on 't still,' says I; for I was in the habit of
talking mighty plain to him, and joking him pretty hard
sometimes. `If I had this farm, I 'd show you enterprise.
You would n't see the hogs in the garden half the time,
just for want of a good fence to keep 'em out. You
would n't see the very best strip of land lying waste, just
for want of a ditch. You would n't see that stone-wall by
the road tumbling down year after year, till by and by
you won't be able to see it for the weeds and thistles.'

“`Yes,' says he, sarcastically, `ye 'd lay out ten times as
much money on the place as ye 'd ever git back agin, I 've
no doubt. But I believe in economy.'


Page 392

“That provoked me a little, and I said, `Economy!
you 're one of the kind of men that 'll skin a flint for
sixpence and spoil a jack-knife worth a shilling. You
waste fodder and grain enough every three years to pay for
a bigger barn, — to say nothing of the inconvenience.'

“`Wal, Stark,' says he, grinning and scratching his
head, `I 've made up my mind to have a bigger barn, if I
have to steal one.'

“`That won't be the first thing you 've stole, neither,'
says I.

“He flared up at that. `Stole?' says he. `What did
I ever steal?'

“`Well, for one thing, the rails the freshet last spring
drifted off from Talcott's land onto yours, and you grabbed:
what was that but stealing?'

“`That was luck. He could n't swear to his rails. By
the way, they 'll jest come in play now.'

“`They 've come in play already,' says I. `They 've
gone on to the old fences all over the farm, and I could
use a thousand more without making much show.'

“That 's 'cause you 're so dumbed extravagant with rails,
as you are with everything else. A few loads can be
spared from the fences here and there, as well as not.
Harness up the team, boys, and git together enough to
make about ten rods o' zigzag, two rails high.'

“`Two rails?' says Dave, who had a healthy contempt
for the old man's narrow, contracted way of doing things.
`What 's the good of such a fence as that?'

“`It 'll be,' says I, `like the single bar in music. When
our old singing master asked his class once what a single
bar was, Bill Wilkins spoke up and said, “It 's a bar that
horses and cattle jump over, and pigs and sheep run
under.” What do you expect to keep out with two rails?'

“`The law, boys, the law,' says Jedwort. `I know


Page 393
what I 'm about. I 'll make a fence the law can't run
under nor jump over; and I don't care a cuss for the
cattle and pigs. You git the rails, and I 'll rip some boards
off 'm the pig-pen to make stakes.'

“`Boards a'n't good for nothin' for stakes,' says Dave.
`Besides, none can't be spared from the pig-pen.'

“`I 'll have boards enough in a day or two for forty pigpens,'
says Jedwort. `Bring along the rails and dump 'em
out in the road for the present, and say nothin' to nobody.'

“We got the rails, and he made his stakes; and right
away after dinner he called us out. `Come, boys,' says he,
`now we 'll astonish the natives.'

“The wagon stood in the road, with the last jag of rails
still on it. Jedwort piled on his stakes, and threw on the
crowbar and axe, while we were hitching up the team.

“`Now, drive on, Stark,' says he.

“`Yes; but where shall I drive to?'

“`To the old meetin'-house,' says Jedwort, trudging on

“The old meeting-house stood on an open common, at
the north-east corner of his farm. A couple of cross-roads
bounded it on two sides; and it was bounded on the other
two by Jedwort's overgrown stone wall. It was a square,
old-fashioned building, with a low steeple, that had a belfry,
but no bell in it, and with a high, square pulpit and
high, straight-backed pews inside. It was now some time
since meetings had been held there; the old society that
used to meet there having separated, one division of it
building a fashionable chapel in the North Village, and the
other a fine new church at the Centre.

“Now, the peculiarity about the old church property
was, that nobody had any legal title to it. A log meeting-house
had been built there when the country was first settled
and land was of no account. In the course of time


Page 394
that was torn down, and a good framed house put up in its
place. As it belonged to the whole community, no title,
either to the house or land, was ever recorded; and it
was n't until after the society dissolved that the question
came up as to how the property was to be disposed of.
While the old deacons were carefully thinking it over, Jedwort
was on hand, to settle it by putting in his claim.

“`Now, boys,' says he, `ye see what I 'm up to.'

“`Yes,' says I, provoked as I could be at the mean
trick, `and I knew it was some such mischief all along.
You never show any enterprise, as you call it, unless it is
to get the start of a neighbor. Then you are wide awake;
then you are busy as the Devil in a gale of wind.'

“`But what are you up to, pa?' says Dan, who did n't
see the trick yet.

“The old man says, `I 'm goin' to fence in the rest part
of my farm.'

“`What rest part?'

“`This part that never was fenced; the old meetin'-house

“`But, pa,' says Dave, disgusted as I was, `you 've no
claim on that.'

“`Wal, if I ha'n't, I 'll make a claim. Give me the
crowbar. Now, here 's the corner, nigh as I can squint';
and he stuck the bar into the ground. `Make a fence
to here from the wall, both sides.'

“`Sho, pa!' says Dan, looking bewildered; `ye a'n't
goin' to fence in the old meetin'-house, be ye?'

“`That 's jest what I 'm goin' to do. Go and git some
big stuns from the wall, — the biggest ye can find, to rest
the corners of the fence on. String the rails along by the
road, Stark, and go for another load. Don't stand gawpin'

“`Gawpin'?' says I; `it 's enough to make anybody


Page 395
gawp. You do beat all the critters I ever had to deal
with. Have n't ye disgraced your family enough already,
without stealing a meeting-house?'

“`How have I disgraced my family?' says he.

“Then I put it to him. `Look at your children; it 's
all your wife can do to prevent 'em from growing up in
rags and dirt and ignorance, because you are too closefisted
to clothe 'em decently or send 'em to school. Look
at your house and yard. To see an Irishman's shanty in
such a condition seems appropriate enough, but a genteel
place, a house with pillars, run down and gone to seed like
that, is an eyesore to the community. Then look at your
wife. You never would have had any property to mismanage,
if it had n't been for her; and see the way ye
show your gratitude for it. You won't let her go into
company, nor have company at home; you won't allow a
hired girl in the house, but she and Maria have to do all
the drudgery. You make perfect slaves of 'em. I swear,
if 't wa'n't for your wife, I would n't work for you an hour
longer; but she 's the best woman in the world, after all
you 've done to break her spirit, and I hate to leave her.'

“The old fellow squirmed, and wrenched the crowbar
in the ground, then snarled back: `Yes! you 're waitin'
for me to die; then you mean to step into my shoes.'

“`I hope you 'll leave a decenter pair than them you 've
got on, if I 'm to step into 'em,' says I.

“`One thing about it,' says he, `she won't have ye.'

“`I should think,' says I, `a woman that would marry
you would have 'most anybody.'

“So we had it back and forth, till by and by he left me
to throw off the rails, and went to show the boys how to
build the fence.

“`Look here,' says he; `jest put a thunderin' big stun
to each corner; then lay your rail on; then drive your


Page 396
pair of stakes over it like a letter X.' He drove a pair.
`Now put on your rider. There 's your letter X, ridin'
one length of rails and carryin' another. That 's what I
call puttin' yer alphabet to a practical use; and I say
there a'n't no sense in havin' any more edication than ye
can put to a practical use. I 've larnin' enough to git
along in the world; and if my boys have as much as I 've
got, they 'll git along. Now work spry, for there comes
Deacon Talcott.'

“`Wal, wal!' says the Deacon, coming up, puffing with
excitement; `what ye doin' to the old meetin'-house?'

“`Wal,' says Jedwort, driving away at his stakes, and
never looking up, `I 've been considerin' some time what I
should do with 't, and I 've concluded to make a barn on 't.'

“`Make a barn! make a barn!' cries the Deacon.
`Who give ye liberty to make a barn of the house of God?'

“`Nobody; I take the liberty. Why should n't I do
what I please with my own prop'ty?'

“`Your own property, — what do ye mean? 'T a'n't
your meetin'-house.'

“`Whose is 't, if 't a'n't mine?' says Jedwort, lifting his
turtle's head from between his horizontal shoulders, and
grinning in the Deacon's face.

“`It belongs to the society,' says the Deacon.

“`But the s'ciety 's pulled up stakes and gone off.'

“`It belongs to individooals of the society, — to individooals.'

“`Wal, I 'm an individooal,' says Jedwort.

“`You! you never went to meetin' here a dozen times
in your life!'

“`I never did have my share of the old meetin'-house,
that 's a fact,' says Jedwort; `but I 'll make it up now.'

“`But what are ye fencin' up the common for?' says
the Deacon.

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Page 397

“`It 'll make a good calf-pastur'. I 've never had my
share o' the vally o' that, either. I 've let my neighbors'
pigs and critters run on 't long enough; and now I 'm jest
goin' to take possession o' my own.'

“`Your own!' says the Deacon, in perfect consternation.
`You 've no deed on 't.'

“`Wal, have you?'

“`No — but — the society —'

“`The s'ciety, I tell ye,' says Jedwort, holding his head
up longer than I ever knew him to hold it up at a time,
and grinuing all the while in Talcott's face, — `the s'ciety
is split to pieces. There a'n't no s'ciety now, — any more
'n a pig 's a pig arter you 've butchered and e't it. You 've
e't the pig amongst ye, and left me the pen. The s'ciety
never had a deed o' this 'ere prop'ty; and no man never
had a deed o' this 'ere prop'ty. My wife's gran'daddy,
when he took up the land here, was a good-natered sort of
man, and he allowed a corner on 't for his neighbors to put
up a temp'rary meetin'-house. That was finally used up,
— the kind o' preachin' they had them days was enough
to use up in a little time any house that wa'n't fire-proof;
and when that was preached to pieces, they put up another
shelter in its place. This is it. And now 't the land a'n't
used no more for the puppose 't was lent for, it goes back
nat'rally to the estate 't was took from, and the buildin's
along with it.'

“`That 's all a sheer fabrication,' says the Deacon. `This
land was never a part of what 's now your farm, any more
than it was a part of mine.'

“`Wal,' says Jedwort, `I look at it in my way, and
you 've a perfect right to look at it in your way. But I 'm
goin' to make sure o' my way, by puttin' a fence round the
hull concern.'

“`And you 're usin' some of my rails for to do it with!'
says the Deacon.


Page 398

“`Can you swear 't they 're your rails?'

“`Yes, I can; they 're rails the freshet carried off from
my farm last spring, and landed onto yourn.'

“`So I 've heard ye say. But can you swear to the partic'lar
rails? Can you swear, for instance, 't this 'ere is
your rail? or this 'ere one?'

“`No; I can't swear to precisely them two, — but —'

“`Can you swear to these two? or to any one or two?'
says Jedwort. `No, ye can't. Ye can swear to the lot in
general, but you can't swear to any partic'lar rail, and that
kind o' swearin' won't stand law, Deacon Talcott. I don't
boast of bein' an edicated man, but I know suthin' o' what
law is, and when I know it, I dror a line there, and I toe
that line, and I make my neighbors toe that line, Deacon
Talcott. Nine p'ints of the law is possession, and I 'll
have possession o' this 'ere house and land by fencin' on 't
in; and though every man 't comes along should say these
'ere rails belong to them, I 'll fence it in with these 'ere
very rails.'

“Jedwort said this, wagging his obstinate old head, and
grinning with his face turned up pugnaciously at the Deacon;
then went to work again as if he had settled the
question, and did n't wish to discuss it any further.

“As for Talcott, he was too full of wrath and boiling
indignation to answer such a speech. He knew that Jedwort
had managed to get the start of him with regard to
the rails, by mixing a few of his own with those he had
stolen, so that nobody could tell 'em apart; and he saw at
once that the meeting-house was in danger of going the
same way, just for want of an owner to swear out a clear
title to the property. He did just the wisest thing when
he swallowed his vexation, and hurried off to alarm the
leading men of the two societies, and to consult a lawyer.

“`He 'll stir up the old town like a bumble-bee's nest,'


Page 399
says Jedwort. `Hurry up, boys, or there 'll be a buzzin'
round our ears 'fore we git through!'

“`I wish ye would n't, pa!' says Dave. `Why don't
we 'tend to our own business, and be decent, like other
folks? I 'm sick of this kind of life.'

“`Quit it, then,' says Jedwort.

“`Do you tell me to quit it?' says Dave, dropping the
end of a rail he was handling.

“`Yes, I do; and do it dumbed quick, if ye can't show
a proper respect to your father!'

“Dave turned white as a sheet, and he trembled as he
answered back, `I should be glad to show you respect, if
you was a man I could feel any respect for.'

“At that, Jedwort caught hold of the iron bar that was
sticking in the ground, where he had been making a hole
for a stake, and pulled away at it. `I 'll make a stake-hole
in you!' says he. `It 's enough to have a sassy hired man
round, without bein' jawed by one's own children!'

“Dave was out of reach by the time the bar came out
of the ground.

“`Come here, you villain!' says the old man.

“`I 'd rather be excused,' says Dave, backing off. `I
don't want any stake-holes made in me to-day. You told
me to quit, and I 'm going to. You may steal your own
meeting-houses in future; I won't help.'

“There was a short race. Dave's young legs proved altogether
too smart for the old waddler's, and he got off.
Then Jedwort, coming back, wheezing and sweating, with
his iron bar, turned savagely on me.

“`I 've a good notion to tell you to go too!'

“`Very well, why don't ye?' says I. `I 'm ready.'

“`There 's no livin' with ye, ye 're gittin' so dumbed
sassy! What I keep ye for is a mystery to me.'

“`No, it a'n't; you keep me because you can't get another


Page 400
man to fill my place. You put up with my sass for
the money I bring ye in.'

“`Hold your yawp,' says he, `and go and git another
load of rails. If ye see Dave, tell him to come back to

“I did see Dave, but, instead of telling him to go back,
I advised him to put out from the old home and get his
living somewhere else. His mother and Maria agreed with
me; and when the old man came home that night, Dave
was gone.

“When I got back with my second load, I found the
neighbors assembling to witness the stealing of the old
meeting-house, and Jedwort was answering their remonstrances.

“`A meetin'-house is a respectable kind o' prop'ty to
have round,' says he. `The steeple 'll make a good show
behind my house. When folks ride by, they 'll stop and
look, and say, “There 's a man keeps a private meetin'-house
of his own.” I can have preachin' in 't, too, if I
want. I 'm able to hire a preacher of my own, or I can
preach myself and save the expense.'

“Of course, neither sarcasm nor argument could have
any effect on such a man. As the neighbors were going
away, Jedwort shouted after 'em: `Call agin. Glad to see
ye. There 'll be more sport in a few days, when I take the
dumbed thing away.' (The dumbed thing was the meeting-house.)
`I invite ye all to see the show. Free gratis.
It 'll be good as a circus, and a 'tarnal sight cheaper. The
women can bring their knittin', and the gals their everlastin'
tattin'. As it 'll be a pious kind o' show, bein' it 's
a meetin'-house, guess I 'll have notices gi'n out from the
pulpits the Sunday afore.'

“The common was fenced in by sundown; and the next
day Jedwort had over a house-mover from the North Village


Page 401
to look and see what could be done with the building.
`Can ye snake it over, and drop it back of my house?'
says he.

“`It 'll be a hard job,' says old Bob, `without you tear
down the steeple fust.'

“But Jedwort said, `What 's a meetin'-house 'thout a
steeple? I 've got my heart kind o' set on that steeple,
and I 'm bound to go the hull hog on this 'ere concern,
now I 've begun.'

“`I vow,' says Bob, examining the timbers, `I won't
warrant but what the old thing 'll all tumble down.'

“`I 'll resk it.'

“`Yes; but who 'll resk the lives of me and my men?'

“`O, you 'll see if it 's re'ly goin' to tumble, and look
out. I 'll engage 't me and my boys 'll do the most dangerous
part of the work. Dumbed if I would n't agree to
ride in the steeple and ring the bell, if there was one.'

“I 've never heard that the promised notices were read
from the pulpits; but it was n't many days before Bob
came over again, bringing with him this time his screws
and ropes and rollers, his men and timbers, horse and capstan;
and at last the old house might have been seen on
its travels.

“It was an exciting time all around. The societies
found that Jedwort's fence gave him the first claim to
house and land, unless a regular siege of the law was gone
through to beat him off, — and then it might turn out
that he would beat them. Some said fight him; some
said let him be, — the thing a'n't worth going to law for;
and so, as the leading men could n't agree as to what
should be done, nothing was done. That was just what
Jedwort had expected, and he laughed in his sleeve while
Bob and his boys screwed up the old meeting-house, and
got their beams under it, and set it on rollers, and slued it


Page 402
around, and slid it on the timbers laid for it across into
Jedwort's field, steeple foremost, like a locomotive on a

“It was a trying time for the women-folks at home.
Maria had declared that, if her father did persist in stealing
the meeting-house, she would not stay a single day
after it, but would follow Dave.

“That touched me pretty close, for, to tell the truth, it
was rather more Maria than her mother that kept me at
work for the old man. `If you go,' says I, `then there is
no object for me to stay; I shall go too.'

“`That 's what I supposed,' says she; `for there 's no
reason in the world why you should stay. But then Dan
will go; and who 'll be left to take sides with mother?
That 's what troubles me. O, if she could only go too!
But she won't; and she could n't if she would, with the
other children depending on her. Dear, dear! what shall
we do?'

“The poor girl put her head on my shoulder, and cried;
and if I should own up to the truth, I suppose I cried a
little too. For where 's the man that can hold a sweet
woman's head on his shoulder, while she sobs out her
trouble, and he has n't any power to help her — who, I
say, can do any less, under such circumstances, than drop
a tear or two for company?

“`Never mind; don't hurry,' says Mrs. Jedwort. `Be
patient, and wait awhile, and it 'll all turn out right, I 'm

“`Yes, you always say, “Be patient, and wait!'” says
Maria, brushing back her hair. `But, for my part, I 'm
tired of waiting, and my patience has given out long ago.
We can't always live in this way, and we may as well make
a change now as ever. But I can't bear the thought of
going and leaving you.'


Page 403

“Here the two younger girls came in; and, seeing that
crying was the order of the day, they began to cry; and
when they heard Maria talk of going, they declared they
would go; and even little Willie, the four-year-old, began
to howl.

“`There, there! Maria! Lottie! Susie!' said Mrs. Jedwort,
in her calm way; `Willie, hush up! I don't know
what we are to do; but I feel that something is going to
happen that will show us the right way, and we are to
wait. Now go and wash the dishes, and set the cheese.'

“That was just after breakfast, the second day of the
moving; and sure enough, something like what she prophesied
did happen before another sun.

“The old frame held together pretty well till along toward
night, when the steeple showed signs of seceding.
`There she goes! She 's falling now!' sung out the boys,
who had been hanging around all day in hopes of seeing
the thing tumble.

“The house was then within a few rods of where Jedwort
wanted it; but Bob stopped right there, and said it was n't
safe to haul it another inch. `That steeple 's bound to
come down, if we do,' says he.

“`Not by a dumbed sight, it a'n't,' says Jedwort.
`Them cracks a'n't nothin'; the j'ints is all firm yit.'
He wanted Bob to go up and examine; but Bob shook his
head, — the concern looked too shaky. Then he told me
to go up; but I said I had n't lived quite long enough, and
had a little rather be smoking my pipe on terra firma.
Then the boys began to hoot. `Dumbed if ye a'n't all a
set of cowards,' says he. `I 'll go up myself.'

“We waited outside while he climbed up inside. The
boys jumped on the ground to jar the steeple, and make it
fall. One of them blew a horn, — as he said, to bring
down the old Jericho, — and another thought he 'd help


Page 404
things along by starting up the horse, and giving the building
a little wrench. But Bob put a stop to that; and
finally out came a head from the belfry window. It was
Jedwort, who shouted down to us: `There a'n't a j'int or
brace gin out. Start the hoss, and I 'll ride. Pass me up
that 'ere horn, and —'

“Just then there came a cracking and loosening of timbers;
and we that stood nearest had only time to jump
out of the way, when down came the steeple crashing to
the ground, with Jedwort in it.”

“I hope it killed the cuss,” said one of the village storytellers.

“Worse than that,” replied my friend; “it just cracked
his skull, — not enough to put an end to his miserable life,
but only to take away what little sense he had. We got
the doctors to him, and they patched up his broken head;
and, by George, it made me mad to see the fuss the women-folks
made over him. It would have been my way to
let him die; but they were as anxious and attentive to
him as if he had been the kindest husband and most indulgent
father that ever lived; for that 's women's style:
they 're unreasoning creatures.

“Along towards morning, we persuaded Mrs. Jedwort,
who had been up all night, to lie down a spell and catch
a little rest, while Maria and I sat up and watched with
the old man. All was still except our whispers and his
heavy breathing; there was a lamp burning in the next
room; when all of a sudden a light shone into the windows,
and about the same time we heard a roaring and
crackling sound. We looked out, and saw the night all
lighted up, as if by some great fire. As it appeared to be
on the other side of the house, we ran to the door, and
there what did we see but the old meeting-house all in
flames. Some fellows had set fire to it to spite Jedwort.


Page 405
It must have been burning some time inside; for when we
looked out the flames had burst through the roof.

“As the night was perfectly still, except a light wind
blowing away from the other buildings on the place, we
raised no alarm, but just stood in the door and saw it burn.
And a glad sight it was to us, you may be sure. I just
held Maria close to my side, and told her that all was well,
— it was the best thing that could happen. `O yes,'
says she, `it seems to me as though a kind Providence was
burning up his sin and shame out of our sight.'

“I had never yet said anything to her about marriage,
— for the time to come at that had never seemed to
arrive; but there 's nothing like a little excitement to
bring things to a focus. You 've seen water in a tumbler
just at the freezing-point, but not exactly able to make up
its mind to freeze, when a little jar will set the crystals
forming, and in a minute what was liquid is ice. It was
the shock of events that night that touched my life into
crystals, — not of ice, gentlemen, by any manner of means.

“After the fire had got along so far that the meeting-house
was a gone case, an alarm was given, probably by
the very fellows that set it, and a hundred people were on
the spot before the thing had done burning.

“Of course these circumstances put an end to the breaking
up of the family. Dave was sent for, and came home.
Then, as soon as we saw that the old man's brain was injured
so that he was n't likely to recover his mind, the
boys and I went to work and put that farm through a
course of improvement it would have done your eyes good
to see. The children were sent to school, and Mrs. Jedwort
had all the money she wanted now to clothe them,
and to provide the house with comforts, without stealing
her own butter. Jedwort was a burden; but, in spite of
him, that was just about the happiest family, for the next
four years, that ever lived on this planet.


Page 406

“Jedwort soon got his bodily health, but I don't think
he knew one of us again after his hurt. As near as I could
get at his state of mind, he thought he had been changed
into some sort of animal. He seemed inclined to take
me for a master, and for four years he followed me around
like a dog. During that time he never spoke, but only
whined and growled. When I said, `Lie down,' he 'd lie
down; and when I whistled he 'd come.

“I used sometimes to make him work; and certain simple
things he would do very well, as long as I was by. One
day I had a jag of hay to get in; and, as the boys were
away, I thought I 'd have him load it. I pitched it on to the
wagon about where it ought to lie, and looked to him only
to pack it down. There turned out to be a bigger load
than I had expected, and the higher it got, the worse the
shape of it, till finally, as I was starting it towards the
barn, off it rolled, and the old man with it, head foremost.

“He struck a stone heap, and for a moment I thought he
was killed. But he jumped up and spoke for the first time.
`I'll blow it,' says he, finishing the sentence he had begun
four years before, when he called for the horn to be passed
up to him.

“I could n't have been much more astonished if one of
the horses had spoken. But I saw at once that there was
an expression in Jedwort's face that had n't been there since
his tumble in the belfry; and I knew that, as his wits had
been knocked out of him by one blow on the head, so another
blow had knocked 'em in again.

“`Where 's Bob?' says he, looking all around.

“`Bob?' says I, not thinking at first who he meant.
`O, Bob is dead, — he has been dead these three years.'

“Without noticing my reply, he exclaimed: `Where
did all that hay come from? Where 's the old meetin'-house?'


Page 407

“`Don't you know?' says I. `Some rogues set fire to
it the night after you got hurt, and burnt it up.'

“He seemed then just beginning to realize that something
extraordinary had happened.

“`Stark,' says he, `what 's the matter with ye? You 're

“`Yes,' says I, `I wear my beard now, and I 've grown

“`Dumbed if 't a'n't odd!' says he. `Stark, what in
thunder 's the matter with me?'

“`You 've had meeting-house on the brain for the past
four years,' says I; `that 's what 's the matter.'

“It was some time before I could make him understand
that he had been out of his head, and that so long a time
had been a blank to him.

“Then he said, `Is this my farm?'

“`Don't you know it?' says I.

“`It looks more slicked up than ever it used to,' says he.

“`Yes,' says I; `and you 'll find everything else on the
place slicked up in about the same way.'

“`Where 's Dave?' says he.

“`Dave has gone to town to see about selling the wool.'

“`Where 's Dan?'

“`Dan 's in college. He takes a great notion to medicine;
and we 're going to make a doctor of him.'

“`Whose house is that?' says he, as I was taking him

“`No wonder you don't know it,' says I. `It has been
painted, and shingled, and had new blinds put on; the gates
and fences are all in prime condition; and that 's a new
barn we put up a couple of years ago.'

“`Where does the money come from, to make all these

“`It comes off the place,' says I. `We have n't run in


Page 408
debt the first cent for anything, but we 've made the farm
more profitable than it ever was before.'

“`That my house?' he repeated wonderingly, as we approached
it. `What sound is that?'

“`That 's Lottie practising her lesson on the piano.'

“`A pianer in my house?' he muttered. `I can't stand
that!' He listened. `It sounds pooty, though!'

“`Yes, it does sound pretty, and I guess you 'll like it.
How does the place suit you?'

“`It looks pooty.' He started. `What young lady is

“It was Lottie, who had left her music, and stood by
the window.

“`My dahter! ye don't say! Dumbed if she a'n't a
mighty nice gal.'

“`Yes,' says I; `she takes after her mother.'

“Just then Susie, who heard talking, ran to the door.

“`Who 's that agin?' says Jedwort.

“I told him.

“`Wal, she 's a mighty nice-lookin' gal!'

“`Yes,' says I, `she takes after her mother.'

“Little Willie, now eight years old, came out of the
wood-shed with a bow-and-arrow in his hand, and stared
like an owl, hearing his father talk.

“`What boy is that?' says Jedwort. And when I told
him, he muttered, `He 's an ugly-looking brat!'

“`He 's more like his father,' says I.

“The truth is, Willie was such a fine boy the old man
was afraid to praise him, for fear I 'd say of him, as I 'd
said of the girls, that he favored his mother.

“Susie ran back and gave the alarm; and then out
came mother, and Maria with her baby in her arms, — for
I forgot to tell you that we had been married now nigh on
to two years.


Page 409

“Well, the women-folks were as much astonished as I had
been when Jedwort first spoke, and a good deal more delighted.
They drew him into the house; and I am bound
to say he behaved remarkably well. He kept looking at
his wife, and his children, and his grandchild, and the new
paper on the walls, and the new furniture, and now and then
asking a question or making a remark.

“`It all comes back to me now,' says he at last. `I
thought I was living in the moon, with a superior race of
human bein's; and this is the place, and you are the

“It was n't more than a couple of days before he began
to pry around, and find fault, and grumble at the expense;
and I saw there was danger of things relapsing into something
like their former condition. So I took him one side,
and talked to him.

“`Jedwort,' says I, `you 're like a man raised from the
grave. You was the same as buried to your neighbors,
and now they come and look at you as they would at a
dead man come to life. To you, it 's like coming into a new
world; and I 'll leave it to you now, if you don't rather
like the change from the old state of things to what you
see around you to-day. You 've seen how the family affairs
go on, — how pleasant everything is, and how we all
enjoy ourselves. You hear the piano, and like it; you see
your children sought after and respected, — your wife in
finer health and spirits than you 've ever known her since
the day she was married; you see industry and neatness
everywhere on the premises; and you 're a beast if you
don't like all that. In short, you see that our management
is a great deal better than yours; and that we beat you,
even in the matter of economy. Now, what I want to know
is this: whether you think you 'd like to fall into our way
of living, or return like a hog to your wallow.'


Page 410

“`I don't say but what I like your way of livin' very
well,' he grumbled.

“`Then,' says I, `you must just let us go ahead, as we
have been going ahead. Now 's the time for you to turn
about and be a respectable man, like your neighbors. Just
own up, and say you 've not only been out of your head the
past four years, but that you 've been more or less out of
your head the last four-and-twenty years. But say you 're
in your right mind now, and prove it by acting like a man
in his right mind. Do that, and I 'm with you; we 're all
with you. But go back to your old dirty ways, and you go
alone. Now I sha' n't let you off till you tell me what
you mean to do.'

“He hesitated some time, then said, `Maybe you 're
about right, Stark; you and Dave and the old woman
seem to be doin' pooty well, and I guess I 'll let you go

Here my friend paused, as if his story was done; when
one of the villagers asked, “About the land where the
old meetin'-house stood, — what ever was done with

“That was appropriated for a new school-house; and
there my little shavers go to school.”

“And old Jedwort, is he alive yet?”

“Both Jedwort and his wife have gone to that country
where meanness and dishonesty have a mighty poor
chance, — where the only investments worth much are
those recorded in the Book of Life. Mrs. Jedwort was
rich in that kind of stock; and Jedwort's account, I guess,
will compare favorably with that of some respectable people,
such as we all know. I tell ye, my friends,” continued
my fellow-traveller, “there 's many a man, both in the
higher and lower ranks of life, that 't would do a deal of
good, say nothing of the mercy 't would be to their families,


Page 411
just to knock 'em on the head, and make Nebuchadnezzars
of 'em, — then, after they 'd been turned out to grass
a few years, let 'em come back again, and see how happy
folks have been, and how well they have got along without

“I carry on the old place now,” he added. “The younger
girls are married off; Dan 's a doctor in the North
Village; and as for Dave, he and I have struck ile. I 'm
going out to look at our property now.”


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