The Old Peabody Pew by Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin


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Page 1

If it had not been for you, I should never have written this story, so I
give it back to you tied with a sprig from Ophelia's nosegay; a spring of
"rosemary, that's for remembrance."

K. D. W.

August, 1907


Edgewood, like all the other villages along the banks of the Saco, is
full of sunny slopes and leafy hollows. There are little, rounded, green-
clad hillocks that might, like their scriptural sisters, "skip with joy,"
and there are grand, rocky hills tufted with gaunt pine trees--these
leading the eye to the splendid heights of a neighbour State, where snow-
crowned peaks tower in the blue distance, sweeping the horizon in a long
line of majesty.

Tory Hill holds its own among the others for peaceful beauty and fair
prospect, and on its broad, level summit sits the white-painted Orthodox
Meeting-House. This faces a grassy common where six roads meet, as if
the early settlers had determined that no one should lack salvation
because of a difficulty in reaching its visible source.

The old church has had a dignified and fruitful past, dating from that
day in 1761 when young Paul Coffin received his call to preach at a
stipend of fifty pounds sterling a year; answering "that never having
heard of any Uneasiness among the people about his Doctrine or manner of
life, he declared himself pleased to Settle as Soon as might be Judged

But that was a hundred and fifty years ago, and much has happened since
those simple, strenuous old days. The chastening hand of time has been
laid somewhat heavily on the town as well as on the church. Some of her
sons have marched to the wars and died on the field of honour; some,
seeking better fortunes, have gone westward; others, wearying of village
life, the rocky soil, and rigours of farm-work, have become entangled in
the noise and competition, the rush and strife, of cities. When the
sexton rings the bell nowadays, on a Sunday morning, it seems to have
lost some of its old-time militant strength, something of its hope and
courage; but it still rings, and although the Davids and Solomons, the
Matthews, Marks, and Pauls of former congregations have left few
descendants to perpetuate their labours, it will go on ringing as long as
there is a Tabitha, a Dorcas, a Lois, or a Eunice left in the community.

This sentiment had been maintained for a quarter of a century, but it was
now especially strong, as the old Tory Hill Meeting-House had been
undergoing for several years more or less extensive repairs. In point of
fact, the still stronger word, "improvements," might be used with
impunity; though whenever the Dorcas Society, being female, and therefore
possessed of notions regarding comfort and beauty, suggested any serious
changes, the finance committees, which were inevitably male in their
composition, generally disapproved of making any impious alterations in a
tabernacle, chapel, temple, or any other building used for purposes of
worship. The majority in these august bodies asserted that their
ancestors had prayed and sung there for a century and a quarter, and what
was good enough for their ancestors was entirely suitable for them.
Besides, the community was becoming less and less prosperous, and church-
going was growing more and more lamentably uncommon, so that even from a
business standpoint, any sums expended upon decoration by a poor and
struggling parish would be worse than wasted.

In the particular year under discussion in this story, the valiant and
progressive Mrs. Jeremiah Burbank was the president of the Dorcas
Society, and she remarked privately and publicly that if her ancestors
liked a smoky church, they had a perfect right to the enjoyment of it,
but that she didn't intend to sit through meeting on winter Sundays, with
her white ostrich feather turning grey and her eyes smarting and
watering, for the rest of her natural life.

Whereupon, this being in a business session, she then and there proposed
to her already hypnotized constituents ways of earning enough money to
build a new chimney on the other side of the church.

An awe-stricken community witnessed this beneficent act of vandalism,
and, finding that no thunderbolts of retribution descended from the
skies, greatly relished the change. If one or two aged persons
complained that they could not sleep as sweetly during sermon-time in the
now clear atmosphere of the church, and that the parson's eye was keener
than before, why, that was a mere detail, and could not be avoided; what
was the loss of a little sleep compared with the discoloration of Mrs.
Jere Burbank's white ostrich feather and the smarting of Mrs. Jere
Burbank's eyes?

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