Justin had once come back to Edgewood, and it was the bitterest drop in her cup of bitterness that she was spending that winter in Berwick (where, so the neighbours told him, she was a great favourite in society, and was receiving much attention from gentlemen), so that she had never heard of his visit until the spring had come again. Parted friends did not keep up with one another’s affairs by means of epistolary communication, in those days, in Edgewood; it was not the custom. Spoken words were difficult enough to Justin Peabody, and written words were quite impossible, especially if they were to be used to define his half-conscious desires and his fluctuations of will, or to recount his disappointments and discouragements and mistakes.
It was Saturday afternoon, the twenty-fourth of December, and the weary sisters of the Dorcas band rose from their bruised knees and removed their little stores of carpet-tacks from their mouths. This was a feminine custom of long standing, and as no village dressmaker had ever died of pins in the digestive organs, so were no symptoms of carpet-tacks ever discovered in any Dorcas, living or dead. Men wondered at the habit and reviled it, but stood confounded in the presence of its indubitable harmlessness.
The red ingrain carpet was indeed very warm, beautiful, and comforting to the eye, and the sisters were suitably grateful to Providence, and devoutly thankful to themselves, that they had been enabled to buy, sew, and lay so many yards of it. But as they stood looking at their completed task, it was cruelly true that there was much left to do.
The aisles had been painted dark brown on each side of the red strips leading from the doors to the pulpit, but the rest of the church floor was “a thing of shreds and patches.” Each member of the carpet committee had paid (as a matter of pride, however ill she could afford it) three dollars and sixty-seven cents for sufficient carpet to lay in her own pew; but these brilliant spots of conscientious effort only made the stretches of bare, unpainted floor more evident. And that was not all. Traces of former spasmodic and individual efforts desecrated the present ideals. The doctor’s pew had a pink and blue Brussels on it; the lawyer’s, striped stair-carpeting; the Browns from Deerwander sported straw matting and were not abashed; while the Greens, the Whites, the Blacks and the Greys displayed floor coverings as dissimilar as their names.
“I never noticed it before!” exclaimed Maria Sharp, “but it ain’t Christian, that floor! it’s heathenish and ungodly!”
“For mercy’s sake, don’t swear, Maria,” said Mrs. Miller nervously. “We’ve done our best, and let’s hope that folks will look up and not down. It isn’t as if they were going to set in the chandelier; they’ll have something else to think about when Nancy gets her hemlock branches and white carnations in the pulpit vases. This morning my Abner picked off two pinks from the plant I’ve been nursing in my dining-room for weeks, trying to make it bloom for Christmas. I slapped his hands good, and it’s been haunting me ever since to think I had to correct him the day before Christmas—Come, Lobelia, we must be hurrying!”