I don’t, as a usual thing, take much stock in this marrying men to reform them, because a man’s always sure of a woman when he’s married to her, while a woman’s never really afraid of losing a man till she’s got him. When you want to teach a dog new tricks, it’s all right to show him the biscuit first, but you’ll usually get better results by giving it to him after the performance. But Buck’s wife fooled the whole town and almost put the gossips out of business by keeping Buck straight for a year. She allowed that what he’d been craving all the time was a home and family, and that his rare-ups came from not having ’em. Then, like most reformers, she overdid it—went and had twins. Buck thought he owned the town, of course, and that would have been all right if he hadn’t included the saloons among his real estate. Had to take his drinks in pairs, too, and naturally, when he went home that night and had another look at the new arrivals, he thought they were quadruplets.
Buck straightened right out the next day, went to his wife and told her all about it, and that was the last time he ever had to hang his head when he talked to her, for he never took another drink. You see, she didn’t reproach him, or nag him—simply said that she was mighty proud of the way he’d held on for a year, and that she knew she could trust him now for another ten. Man was made a little lower than the angels, the Good Book says, and I reckon that’s right; but he was made a good while ago, and he hasn’t kept very well. Yet there are a heap of women in this world who are still right in the seraphim class. When your conscience doesn’t tell you what to do in a matter of right and wrong, ask your wife.
Naturally, the story of Buck’s final celebration came to the gossips like a thousand-barrel gusher to a drilling outfit that’s been finding dusters, and they went one at a time to tell Mrs. Buck all the dreadful details and how sorry they were for her. She would just sit and listen till they’d run off the story, and hemstitched it, and embroidered it, and stuck fancy rosettes all over it. Then she’d smile one of those sweet baby smiles that women give just before the hair-pulling begins, and say:
“Law, Mrs. Wiggleford”—the deacon’s wife was the one who was condoling with her at the moment—“people will talk about the best of us. Seems as if no one is safe nowadays. Why, they lie about the deacon, even. I know it ain’t true, and you know it ain’t true, but only yesterday somebody was trying to tell me that it was right strange how a professor and a deacon got that color in his beak, and while it might be inflammatory veins or whatever he claimed it was, she reckoned that, if he’d let some one else tend the alcohol barrel, he wouldn’t have to charge up so much of his stock to leakage and evaporation.”
Of course, Mrs. Buck had made up the story about the deacon, because every one knew that he was too mean to drink anything that he could sell, but by the time Buck’s wife had finished, Mrs. Wiggleford was so busy explaining and defending him that she hadn’t any further interest in Buck’s case. And each one that called was sent away with a special piece of home scandal which Mrs. Buck had invented to keep her mind from dwelling on her neighbor’s troubles.