When Cephas Barnard and his wife and daughter turned into the main road and came in sight of the new house, not one of them appeared to even glance at it, yet they all saw at once that there were no workmen about, and they also saw Barnabas himself ploughing with a white horse far back in a field at the left of it.
They all kept on silently. Charlotte paled a little when she caught sight of Barney, but her face was quite steady. “Hold your dress up a little higher; the grass is terrible wet,” her mother whispered once, and that was all that any of them said until they reached home.
Charlotte went at once up-stairs to her own chamber, took off her purple gown, and hung it up in her closet, and got out a common one. The purple gown was part of her wedding wardrobe, and she had worn it in advance with some misgivings. “I dunno but you might jest as well wear it a few Sundays,” her mother had said; “you're goin' to have your silk dress to come out bride in. I dunno as there's any sense in your goin' lookin' like a scarecrow all the spring because you're goin' to get married.”
So Charlotte had put on the new purple dress the day before; now it looked, as it hung in the closet, like an effigy of her happier self.
When Charlotte went down-stairs she found her mother showing much more spirit than usual in an altercation with her father. Sarah Barnard stood before her husband, her placid face all knitted with perplexed remonstrance. “Why, I can't, Cephas,” she said. “Pies can't be made that way.”
“I know they can,” said Cephas.
“They can't, Cephas. There ain't no use tryin'. It would jest be a waste of the flour.”
“Why can't they, I'd like to know?”
“Folks don't ever make pies without lard, Cephas.”
“Why don't they?”
“Why, they wouldn't be nothin' more than— You couldn't eat them nohow if they was made so, Cephas. I dunno how the sorrel pies would work. I never heard of anybody makin' sorrel pies. Mebbe the Injuns did; but I dunno as they ever made pies, anyway. Mebbe the sorrel, if it had some molasses on it for juice, wouldn't taste very bad; I dunno; but anyway, if the sorrel did work, the other wouldn't. I can't make pies fit to eat without any lard or any butter or anything any way in the world, Cephas.”
“I know you can make 'em without,” said Cephas, and his black eyes looked like flint. Mrs. Barnard appealed to her daughter.
“Charlotte,” said she, “you tell your father that pies can't be made fit to eat without I put somethin' in 'em for short'nin'.”
“No, they can't, father,” said Charlotte.
“He wants me to make sorrel pies, Charlotte,” Mrs. Barnard went on, in an injured and appealing tone which she seldom used against Cephas. “He's been out in the field, an' picked all that sorrel,” and she pointed to a pan heaped up with little green leaves on the table, “an' I tell him I dunno how that will work, but he wants me to make the pie-crust without a mite of short'nin', an' I can't do that nohow, can I?”
“I don't see how you can,” assented Charlotte, coldly.
Cephas went with a sudden stride towards the pantry. “I'll make 'em myself, then,” he cried.
Mrs. Barnard gasped, and looked piteously at her daughter. “What you goin' to do, Cephas?” she asked, feebly.
Cephas was in the pantry rattling the dishes with a fierce din. “I'm a-goin' to make them sorrel pies myself,” he shouted out, “if none of you women folks know enough to.”
“Oh, Cephas, you can't!”
Cephas came out, carrying the mixing-board and rolling-pin like a shield and a club; he clapped them heavily on to the table.
Mrs. Barnard stood staring aghast at him; Charlotte sat down, took some lace edging from her pocket, and began knitting on it. She looked hard and indifferent.
“Oh, Charlotte, ain't it dreadful?” her mother whispered, when Cephas went into the pantry again.
“I don't care if he makes pies out of burrs,” returned Charlotte, audibly, but her voice was quite even.
“I don't b'lieve but what sorrel would do some better than burrs,” said her mother, “but he can't make pies without short'nin' nohow.”
Cephas came out of the pantry with a large bowl of flour and a spoon. “He 'ain't sifted it,” Mrs. Barnard whispered to Charlotte, as though Cephas were not there; then she turned to him. “You sifted the flour, didn't you, Cephas?” said she.
“You jest let me alone,” said Cephas, grimly. “I'm goin' to make these pies, an' I don't need any help. I've picked the sorrel, an' I've got the brick oven all heated, an' I know what I want to do, an' I'm goin' to do it!”
“I've got some pumpkin that would make full as good pies as sorrel, Cephas. Mebbe the sorrel will be real good. I ain't sayin' it won't, though I never heard of sorrel pies; but you know pumpkin is good, Cephas.”
“I know pumpkin pies have milk in 'em,” said Cephas; “an' I tell you I ain't goin' to have anything of an animal nature in 'em. I've been studyin' into it, an' thinkin' of it, an' I've made up my mind that I've made a mistake along back, an' we've ate too much animal food. We've ate a whole pig an' half a beef critter this winter, to say nothin' of eggs an' milk, that are jest as much animal as meat, accordin' to my way of thinkin'. I've reasoned it out all along that as long as we were animals ourselves, an' wanted to strengthen animal, that it was common-sense that we ought to eat animal. It seemed to me that nature had so ordered it. I reasoned it out that other animals besides man lived on animals, except cows, an' they, bein' ruminatin' animals, ain't to be compared to men—”
“I should think we'd be somethin' like 'em if we eat that,” said Mrs. Barnard, pointing at the sorrel, with piteous sarcasm.
“It's the principle I'm thinkin' about,” said Cephas. He stirred some salt into the flour very carefully, so not a dust fell over the brim of the bowl.
“Horses don't eat meat, neither, an' they don't chew their cuds,” Mrs. Barnard argued further. She had never in her life argued with Cephas; but sorrel pies, after the night before, made her wildly reckless.
Cephas got a gourdful of water from the pail in the sink, and carried it carefully over to the table. “Horses are the exception,” he returned, with dignified asperity. “There always are exceptions. What I was comin' at was—I'd been kind of wrong in my reasonin'. That is, I 'ain't reasoned far enough. I was right so far as I went.”
Cephas poured some water from the gourd into the bowl of flour and began stirring.
Sarah caught her breath. “He's makin'—paste!” she gasped. “He's jest makin' flour paste!”
“Jest so far as I went I was right,” Cephas resumed, pouring in a little more water with a judicial air. “I said Man was animal, an' he is animal; an' if you don't take anything else into account, he'd ought to live on animal food, jest the way I reasoned it out. But you've got to take something else into account. Man is animal, but he ain't all animal. He's something else. He's spiritual. Man has command over all the other animals, an' all the beasts of the field; an' it ain't because he's any better an' stronger animal, because he ain't. What's a man to a horse, if the horse only knew it? but the horse don't know it, an' there's jest where Man gets the advantage. It's knowledge an' spirit that gives Man the rule over all the other animals. Now, what we want is to eat the kind of things that will strengthen knowledge an' spirit an' self-control, because the first two ain't any account without the last; but there ain't no kind of food that's known that can do that. If there is, I 'ain't never heard of it.”
Cephas dumped the whole mass of paste with a flop upon the mixing-board, and plunged his fists into it. Sarah made an involuntary motion forward, then she stood back with a great sigh.
“But what we can do,” Cephas proceeded, “is to eat the kind of things that won't strengthen the animal nature at the expense of the spiritual. We know that animal food does that; we can see how it works in tigers an' bears. Now, it's the spiritual part of us we want to strengthen, because that is the biggest strength we can get, an' it's worth more. It's what gives us the rule over animals. It's better for us to eat some other kind of food, if we get real weak and pindlin' on it, rather than eat animal food an' make the animal in us stronger than the spiritual, so we won't be any better than wild tigers an' bears, an' lose our rule over the other animals.”
Cephas took the rolling-pin and brought it heavily down upon the sticky mass on the board. Sarah shuddered and started as if it had hit her. “Now, if we can't eat animal food,” said Cephas, “what other kind of food can we eat? There ain't but one other kind that's known to man, an' that's vegetable food, the product of the earth. An' that's of two sorts: one gets ripe an' fit to eat in the fall of the year, an' the other comes earlier in the spring an' summer. Now, in order to carry out the plans of nature, we'd ought to eat these products of the earth jest as near as we can in the season of 'em. Some had ought to be eat in the fall an' winter, an' some in the spring an' summer. Accordin' to my reasonin', if we all lived this way we should be a good deal better off; our spiritual natures would be strengthened, an' we should have more power over other animals, an' better dispositions ourselves.”
“I've seen horses terribly ugly, an' they don't eat a mite of meat,” said Sarah, with tremulous boldness. Her right hand kept moving forward to clutch the rolling-pin, then she would draw it back.
“'Ain't I told ye once horses were the exceptions?” said Cephas, severely. “There has to be exceptions. If there wa'n't any exceptions there couldn't be any rule, an' there bein' exceptions shows there is a rule. Women can't ever get hold of things straight. Their minds slant off sideways, the way their arms do when they fling a stone.”
Cephas brought the rolling-pin down upon the paste again with fierce impetus. “You'll break it,” Sarah murmured, feebly. Cephas brought it down again, his mouth set hard; his face showed a red flush through his white beard, the veins on his high forehead were swollen and his brows scowling. The paste adhered to the rolling-pin; he raised it with an effort; his hands were helplessly sticky. Sarah could restrain herself no longer. She went into the pantry and got a dish of flour, and spooned out some suddenly over the board and Cephas's hands. “You've got to have some more flour,” she said, in a desperate tone.
Cephas's black eyes flashed at her. “I wish you would attend to your own work, an' leave me alone,” said he. But at last he succeeded in moving the rolling-pin over the dough as he had seen his wife move it.
“He ain't greasin' the pie-plates,” said Sarah, as Cephas brought a piece of dough with a dexterous jerk over a plate; “there ain't much animal in the little mite of lard it takes to grease a plate.”
Cephas spread handfuls of sorrel leaves over the dough; then he brought the molasses-jug from the pantry, raised it, and poured molasses over the sorrel with an imperturbable air.
Sarah watched him; then she turned to Charlotte. “To think of eatin' it!” she groaned, quite openly; “it looks like p'ison.”
Charlotte made no response; she knitted as one of the Fates might have spun. Sarah sank down on a chair, and looked away from Cephas and his cookery, as if she were overcome, and quite done with all remonstrance.
Never before had she shown so much opposition towards one of her husband's hobbies, but this galloped so ruthlessly over her own familiar fields that she had plucked up boldness to try to veer it away.
Somebody passed the window swiftly, the door opened abruptly, and Mrs. Deborah Thayer entered. “Good-mornin',” said she, and her voice rang out like a herald's defiance.
Sarah Barnard arose, and went forward quickly. “Good-mornin',” she responded, with nervous eagerness. “Good-mornin', Mis' Thayer. Come in an' set down, won't you?”
“I 'ain't come to set down,” responded Deborah's deep voice.
She moved, a stately high-hipped figure, her severe face almost concealed in a scooping green barčge hood, to the centre of the floor, and stood there with a pose that might have answered for a statue of Judgment. She turned her green-hooded head slowly towards them all in turn. Sarah watched her and waited, her eyes dilated. Cephas rolled out another pie, calmly. Charlotte knitted fast; her face was very pale.
“I've come over here,” said Deborah Thayer, “to find out what my son has done.”
There was not a sound, except the thud of Cephas's rolling-pin.
“Mr. Barnard!” said Deborah. Cephas did not seem to hear her.
“Mr. Barnard!” she said, again. There was that tone of command in her voice which only a woman can accomplish. It was full of that maternal supremacy which awakens the first instinct of obedience in man, and has more weight than the voice of a general in battle. Cephas did not turn his head, but he spoke. “What is it ye want?” he said, gruffly.
“I want to know what my son has done, an' I want you to tell me in so many words. I ain't afraid to face it. What has my son done?”
Cephas grunted something inarticulate.
“What?” said Deborah. “I can't hear what you say. I want to know what my son has done. I've heard how you turned him out of your house last night, and I want to know what it was for. I want to know what he has done. You're an old man, and a God-fearing one, if you have got your own ideas about some things. Barnabas is young, and apt to be headstrong. He ain't always been as mindful of obedience as he might be. I've tried to do my best by him, but he don't always carry out my teachin's. I ain't afraid to say this, if he is my son. I want to know what he's done. If it's anything wrong, I shall be jest as hard on him as the Lord for it. I'm his mother, but I can see his faults, and be just. I want to know what he has done.”
Charlotte gave one great cry. “Oh, Mrs. Thayer, he hasn't done anything wrong; Barney hasn't done anything wrong!”
But Deborah quite ignored her. She kept her eyes fixed upon Cephas. “What has my son done?” she demanded again. “If he's done anything wrong I want to know it. I ain't afraid to deal with him. You ordered him out of your house, and he didn't come home at all last night. I don't know where he was. He won't speak a word this mornin' to tell me. I've been out in the field where he's to work ploughin', and I tried to make him tell me, but he wouldn't say a word. I sat up and waited all night, but he didn't come home. Now I want to know where he was, and what he's done, and why you ordered him out of the house. If he's been swearin', or takin' anything that didn't belong to him, or drinkin', I want to know it, so I can deal with him as his mother had ought to deal.”
“He hasn't been doing anything wrong!” Charlotte cried out again; “you ought to be ashamed of yourself talking so about him, when you're his mother!”
Deborah Thayer never glanced at Charlotte. She kept her eyes fixed upon Cephas. “What has he done?” she repeated.
“I guess he didn't do much of anything,” Mrs. Barnard murmured, feebly; but Deborah did not seem to hear her.
Cephas opened his mouth as if perforce. “Well,” he said, slowly, “we got to talkin'—”
“Talkin' about what?”
“About the 'lection. I think, accordin' to my reasonin', that what we eat had a good deal to do with it.”
“I think if you'd kept your family on less meat, and given 'em more garden-stuff to eat Barney wouldn't have been so up an' comin'. It's what he's eat that's made him what he is.”
Deborah stared at Cephas in stern amazement. “You're tryin' to make out, as near as I can tell,” said she, “that whatever my son has done wrong is due to what he's eat, and not to original sin. I knew you had queer ideas, Cephas Barnard, but I didn't know you wa'n't sound in your faith. What I want to know is, what has he done?”
Suddenly Charlotte sprang up, and pushed herself in between her father and Mrs. Thayer; she confronted Deborah, and compelled her to look at her.
“I'll tell you what he's done,” she said, fiercely. “I know what he's done; you listen to me. He has done nothing—nothing that you've got to deal with him for. You needn't feel obliged to deal with him. He and father got into a talk over the 'lection, and they had words about it. He didn't talk any worse than father, not a mite. Father started it, anyway, and he knew better; he knew just how set Barney was on his own side, and how set he was on his; he wanted to pick a quarrel.”
“Charlotte!” shouted Cephas.
“You keep still, father,” returned Charlotte, with steady fierceness. “I've never set myself up against you in my whole life before; but now I'm going to, because it's just and right. Father wanted to pick a quarrel,” she repeated, turning to Deborah; “he's been kind of grouty to Barney for some time. I don't know why; he took a notion to, I suppose. When they got to having words about the 'lection, father begun it. I heard him. Barney answered back, and I didn't blame him; I would, in his place. Then father ordered him out of the house, and he went. I don't see what else he could do. And I don't blame him because he didn't go home if he didn't feel like it.”
“Didn't he go away from here before nine o'clock?” demanded Deborah, addressing Charlotte at last.
“Yes, he did, some time before nine; he had plenty of time to go home if he wanted to.”
“Where was he, then, I'd like to know?”
“I don't know, and I wouldn't lift my finger to find out. I am not afraid he was anywhere he hadn't ought to be, nor doin' anything he hadn't ought to.”
“Didn't you stand out in the road and call him back, and he wouldn't come, nor even turn his head to look at you?” asked Deborah.
“Yes, I did,” returned Charlotte, unflinchingly. “And I don't blame him for not coming back and not turning his head. I wouldn't if I'd been in his place.”
“You'll have to uphold him a long time, then; I can tell you that,” said Deborah. “He won't never come back if he's said he won't. I know him; he's got some of me in him.”
“I'll uphold him as long as I live,” said Charlotte.
“I wonder you ain't ashamed to talk so.”
“I am not.”
Deborah looked at Charlotte as if she would crush her; then she turned away.
“You're a hard woman, Mrs. Thayer, and I pity Barney because he's got you for a mother,” Charlotte said, in undaunted response to Deborah's look.
“Well, you'll never have to pity yourself on that account,” retorted Deborah, without turning her head.
The door opened softly, and a girl of about Charlotte's age slipped in. Nobody except Mrs. Barnard, who said, absently, “How do you do, Rose?” seemed to notice her. She sat down unobtrusively in a chair near the door and waited. Her blue eyes upon the others were so intense with excitement that they seemed to blot out the rest of her face. She had her blue apron tightly rolled about both hands.
Deborah Thayer, on her way to the door, looked at her as if she had been a part of the wall, but suddenly she stopped and cast a glance at Cephas. “What be you makin'?” she asked, with a kind of scorn at him, and scorn at her own curiosity.
Cephas did not reply, but he looked ugly as he slapped another piece of dough heavily upon a plate.
Deborah, as if against her will, moved closer to the table and bent over the pan of sorrel. She smelled of it; then she took a leaf and tasted it, cautiously. She made a wry face. “It's sorrel,” said she. “You're makin' pies out of sorrel. A man makin' pies out of sorrel!”
She looked at Cephas like a condemning judge. He shot a fiery glance at her, but said nothing. He sprinkled the sorrel leaves in the pie.
“Well,” said Deborah, “I've got a sense of justice, and if my son, or any other man, has asked a girl to marry him, and she's got her weddin' clothes ready, I believe in his doin' his duty, if he can be made to; but I must say if it wa'n't for that, I'd rather he'd gone into a family that was more like other folks. I'm goin' to do the best I can, whether you go half way or not. I'm goin' to try to make my son do his duty. I don't expect he will, but I shall do all I can, tempers or no tempers, and sorrel pies or no sorrel pies.”
Deborah went out, and shut the door heavily after her.