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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 209, 6 December 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
THE NEW JERUSALEM. A Millerite Story, “It does beat all how that halfwitted cretur, Dr. Peleg, can lead folks round by the nose. Even Enus Sinkley, that’s as sot as the side of the house, does jest as he says. If Dr. Peleg should tell him that the world wa’nt cornin’ to an end next Sunday, I ain’t sure but he’d give up the idee, disappintin’ as’t would be.” It was “ Mis’ Pel’tiah Sanders,” the storekeeper’s wife, who said that to her crony, “ Mis’ Deacon Spittigue,” as they leaned over their mutual back-yard fence, in the cool of the evening. ' c “ I hain’t got no patience with them Millerites, with their everlastin’ dawlin’ round, leavin’ their work all undone, because they’re agoin’ up next Sunday. ’Keepin’ their lights aburnin’,’ they call it, but I call it clear, sheer, shiftlessness, and it ain’t nothin’ else. Look at Enus Sinkley, now; there ain’t no such s’ile as that farm of his nowhere round, and not as much as a potato or a might of garden sass planted and him with his store clothes, and Miss Sinkley with her best ruffled night-gown all laid out, ready to slip on at a minute’s warnin’, when they git notice to go up. Folks used to think that Enus Sinkley was consid’able of a man, and his heart was so sot on worldly prosperity that he wouldn’t let his daughter merry a good, stiddy, likely young man, because he was poor.”
“It wa’nt altogether that,” replied Mis’ Deacon Spettigue, a meager, worried little woman, who spoke always in a mysterious half-whisper, which gave great effect to her words. “ Pritchards is Pritchards; they don’t amount to but dretful little, rich or poor. Judith Sinkley had ought to do better then to hev Frank Pritchard,” “ It ’ill end in that poor infatuated father of hern tryin’ to make her merry Dr. Peleg,” said Mis’ Sanders. “ But when anybody makes Judith Sinkley do that I'll give in that the world is cornin’ to an end. She’s kerried her head too high, and somehow or ’nother she’s got together come-up-ance, folks always does; but it won’t be that way.” “ She’s terrible smart, Judith is, and she’s got a takin’ way with her. Our minister says that half the Millerite excitement, here in Stillwater, is owin’ to Judith Sinkley’s singin’ at the meetin’s. They say she don’t hev no sympathy with the kerrin-on, but she sings to please father, and her voice is terrible kind of movin’. There it is now, and if it don’t sound like the day of judgment I never heard nothin’ that did.”
On the still night air came floating a full clear soprano voice, with an indescribably mild and mournful cadance. “ In the last wa‘ch of the night You’ll hear the trumpet blow, Then keep your lamps aburning, And be ready to go.” A multitude of voices took up the refrain — “Then keep your lamps aburning, And be ready to go.” Then the strong thrilling voice burst forth again—
“The Lord his wrath hath loosened. The wicked are undone ; O, sinners, you’ll be wailing Your sinful race is run. ”
Shouts and groans mingled with the voices, as they dwelt, lingeringly, on the fate of sinners.
This hymn was the effort of a poet in their own congregation, and was the prime favorite of the Stillwater Millerites.
“ Now ain’t that enough to make anybody feel kinder creepy ? ” said Mis’ Deacon Spettigue. “ I’m free to confess it has reg’larly_ took hold of me. The Deacon he complains because 1 wake him up every night, a sayin’ it would be kinder curus if the world did come to an end next Sunday. He says it ain’t accordin’ to scripter, and he won’t meddle nor make with it. And the scripter does say plain enough that the last day is acomin’ unbeknownst, but, for all that, when I set my soft soap I couldn’t help thinkin’ that maybe soft soap wouldnt be no use to me by the time ’twas ready; and I hev put off gettin’ my summer bonnet, thinkin it would be a savin’ not to hev one if ’twas to wear only one or two Sundays.” “ Sakes alive. Mis’ Spettigue, you be most upsot, haint you? It’s rny belief it’s the doin’s of the enemy, and I should send for the minister if I were you. For my part I expect to sit under the droppins of the sanctuary next Sunday, and help Elviry Ann do up the washing next Monday jest as usual, and I hope when the day of jedgment does come I shan’t be found a loafin’ and a dwalin’, for there ain’t no religion in that. If Enus Sinkley thinks it’s pius to let the Lord’s good s’ile run for waste —”
“ That’s Judith a cornin’ now,” interrupted Mis’ Deacon Spittigue, as a light, springing step, accompanied by a loose and uncertain one, sounded along a side street, very near to the rendezvous of the gossips. “ The meeting’ hain’t half done, and Dr. Peleg has left to keep her company home.” “Good evenin’, Judith,” said Mis’ Sanders, affably. The girl and her companion stopped. The moonlight revealed a tall, shapely figure, with a bright, handsome face; a perfect face so far as feature and coloring go. But it did not correspond with the voice. There was a childish weakness about it. There could scarcely have been an odder contrast to her beauty than the figure beside her presented at first sight. _ A misshapen man, his face half buried between his shoulders, meagre and inadequate legs supporting a bulky body. The face was the only redeeming point—a fine, sensitive face, with delicate, clear-cut features, and a kind of poetical beauty about it, which made many people say that Dr. Peleg had the face of an angel. “ Meetin’s consid’able lively, hain’t they ?” pursued Mis’ Sanders. The girl’s brow contracted a little. ' “ Yes, the people are very excitable. And they believe it so firmty. I can’t. I’m afraid I don’t quite wish to. The thought terrifies me. I like this world, and I want it to last.”
“ I’m afraid most folks does —poor sinful creturs that we be,” said Mis’ Sanders. “ And agoing to work and settin’ a day when you’ve got to give it up don’t make no difference—besides bein’ vain imaginations.” Mis’ Sanders addressed this remark, in a very aggressive manner, to Dr.
Peleg, but the hunchback’s face was gently impassive, as if he had not heard her.
“ The Deacon he thinks Dr. Peleg ain’t such a fool alter all, said Mis’ Spettigue. He thinks he’s got some of the wisdom of the serpent, along with the harmlessness of the dove. He ain’t got book learnin’, to be sure, but he’s terribly knowledgable about roots and yarbs, and he cured old Uncle Daniel Spettigue’s rheumatiz when the doctors had given him up. He’s one of them that’s born with a better understanding of nater’s work than others. The Deacon says he’s a real child of nater.” “ He ain’t a child of grace or he wouldn’t be a shoutin’ Millerite, that’s certain,” said Mis’ Sanders, sharply. “ Well, I don’t know. Some of ’em do seem to be real godly-given,” said Mis’ Spettigue. “ And it would be kind of quear, now, wouldn’t it, if the world should come to an end ? Twould surprise consid’able many.” In the meantime the young woman and her companion had reached a large farm-house, on the outskirts of the town. Even in the uncertain light of the moon the place had a neglected aspect ; the gate hung half unhinged, the garden paths were growing a plentiful crop of weeds, and untrained vines ran riot over everything, and switched their long tendrils in the faces of those who ventured to enter, with the air of reckless triumph which nature always has when she is having her own way again, in a place where man has, for a time, subdued her.
Sinclair—corrupted by Stillwater diamonds to Enus Sinkley—had been one of Stillwater’s most prosperous farmers, until he became a Millerite. Since then he had done nothing but wait for the sound of the last trump. Even his head and beard were left unshorn ; everything that it was not absolutely necessary to do to support existence was left undone, in his zeal to be found “ waiting for his Lord.” A fear was growing among his friends and neighbors not of the faith, that he was becoming insane. But were not all the Millerites more or less so ? And were they not all left to follow the devices and desires of their own hearts ? Nobody ventured to offer any advice to Enus- not even those of his brethren in the faith who had a remnant of worldly wisdom mingled with their faith in their immediate ascension.
Dr. Peleg left his companion at the gate, and turned to go without a word. The girl gently laid a detaining hand on his arm.
“ You are not like yourself to-night, Dr. Peleg. You have scarcely spoken to me. You didn’t sing, and you were willing to leave the meeting so early. Is anything the matter?” “ I’m an hypocrite, Judith. I’ve just found it out to-night, and I didn’t care to sing and pray. I don’t dare go to the meetin’s no more. I’ve let a woman’s face come between me and my Lord, and there’s nothin’ but the fires of his wrath that’ll hide it! His judgements are sure ; he’s a lettin’ me feel them fires a’ready.” The girl had turned away a little impatiently at first. Her healthy nature was thoroughly -wearied of the morbid atmosphere in which it lived. The cant of the Millerites had become unendurable, But as the hunchback went on, his whole frame trembling with emotion, she turned an astonished face upon him.
“A woman’s face? You Dr. Peleg! What are you talking about ?”
He shrank as if from a blow.
“ Of coarse I might have known you wouldn’t know. And yet sometimes I’ve been crazy enough to think you had thought of it, too I I’m a man, Judith, after all—after al!; and you’ve been jest like the breath oflifetome ever since you were a little gal ! It’s come acrost me to-night, a kind of realizin’ sense that the New Jerusalem hain’t never meant nothin’ to me but you ! You and me entering in together was what I see in those visions that folks thought was so wonderful. And I’d got rid of this poor mis’able body that makes you hate the site of me. I forgot the Lord and put a mortal cretur in his place, and He is punishin’ me !” The girl looked at him in utter amazement. It occurred to her that all the Millerites were probably going mad, and Dr. Peleg’s madness was manifesting itself in this extraordinary way. She" had heard that one must be soothing, yet firm with mad people. “ You had better go home and rest, Dr. Peleg. This continual talking about the day of judgment is exciting. It puts all sorts of wild notions into people’s heads. You’ll forget all this nonsense when you get rested and quiet !” She talked to him soothingly, as she might have talked to an excited child. “ And you only think I’m crazy! You hain’t never thought, Judith, that mebbe things would be different in the new Jerusalem?” he said, wistfully. “ That mebbe I’d be different and we’d be nearer —you and I?”
It was evident that he was not insane, so she felt suddenly that she would be justified in losing her patience and speaking frankly. “ \fou are too absurd ! Ten thousand new worlds could not bring you and me nearer together!” She turned away, and ran up the steps, But on the threshold of the door she paused. Then she ran down again, and caught his hand in hers. “If you love me—if you really love me, Dr. Peleg, you will use your influence with father about Frank, You can make him do anything you please, and Frank is coming back.” A spasm of jealous pain contracted the little man’s face. For a moment he said nothing.
“ If you love me you would want to make me happy !” she said. “But I’m a man, after all, Judith! You must not ask me to do what a man can’t do! Besides—” and his face grew bright and serene again—“'the New Jerusalem’s acomin’ and there’s no merryin’ nor givin’ in merriage !” She put her fingers into her ears, and ran into the house, slamming the door behind her like a pettish child. Dr. Peleg stood there when she had gone, with the night air chilling him, and the thorny vines buffeting him. It was only when Enus Sinkley came home from the Millerite meeting that he seemed to gather wits together, and shuffled off. He forebore to respond to the customary congratulations upon their short remnant of earthly probation, which Enus tendered him; for a moment he seemed to be making an
effort to say something, but the moment passed, and he did not say it. “ It’s of no use to say anything---there’ll be neither merryin’ nor givin’ in merriage, and if there was I’m a man and how could I give her to him ? And he ain’t come yet; mebbe he won’t come. The time is short, now.”
Turning the first corner, he ran against a man. He saw his face clearly in the moonlight; it was Frank Pritchard. Dr. Peleg’s face grew white as he watched the strong, manly figure disappearing in the distance. “ It’ll make her happy, and I’d ought to be glad, but, O Lord, how can I, sinful creter that I be ? And it don’t make any difference whether I say anyanything to Enus Sinkly or not, for the end is acomin’ ! ”
And Dr. Peleg surveyed the sky eagerly for some sign of that coming end. The moon sailed pi acidly through a cloudless sky and the stars twinkled as if they had ages before them. For the first time a pang of real doubt chilled Dr. Peleg’s heart. “If it shouldn’t be ! ” O Lord, if it should’nt be ! ” he murmured. (7o be continued.)
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 209, 6 December 1880
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