“He’s the backbone o’ that congregation now,” asserted Mrs. Sargent, “and they say he’s goin’ to marry Mrs. Sam Peters, who sings in their choir as soon as his year is up. They make a perfect fool of him in that church.”
“You can’t make a fool of a man that nature ain’t begun with,” argued Miss Brewster. “Jim Bruce never was very strong-minded, but I declare it seems to me that when men lose their wives, they lose their wits! I was sure Jim would marry Hannah Thompson that keeps house for him. I suspected she was lookin’ out for a life job when she hired out with him.”
“Hannah Thompson may keep Jim’s house, but she’ll never keep Jim, that’s certain!” affirmed the president; “and I can’t see that Mrs. Peters will better herself much.”
“I don’t blame her, for one!” came in no uncertain tones from the left-wing pews, and the Widow Buzzell rose from her knees and approached the group by the pulpit. “If there’s anything duller than cookin’ three meals a day for yourself, and settin’ down and eatin’ ’em by yourself, and then gettin’ up and clearin’ ’em away after yourself, I’d like to know it! I shouldn’t want any good-lookin’, pleasant-spoken man to offer himself to me without he expected to be snapped up, that’s all! But if you’ve made out to get one husband in York County, you can thank the Lord and not expect any more favours. I used to think Tom was poor comp’ny and complain I couldn’t have any conversation with him, but land, I could talk at him, and there’s considerable comfort in that. And I could pick up after him! Now every room in my house is clean, and every closet and bureau drawer, too; I can’t start drawin’ in another rug, for I’ve got all the rugs I can step foot on. I dried so many apples last year I shan’t need to cut up any this season. My jelly and preserves ain’t out, and there I am; and there most of us are, in this village, without a man to take steps for and trot ’round after! There’s just three husbands among the fifteen women scrubbin’ here now, and the rest of us is all old maids and widders. No wonder the men-folks die, or move away like Justin Peabody; a place with such a mess o’ women-folks ain’t healthy to live in, whatever Lobelia Brewster may say.”
Justin Peabody had once faithfully struggled with the practical difficulties of life in Edgewood, or so he had thought, in those old days of which Nancy Wentworth was thinking as she wiped the paint of the Peabody pew. Work in the mills did not attract him; he had no capital to invest in a stock of goods for store-keeping; school-teaching offered him only a pittance; there remained then only the farm, if he were to stay at home and keep his mother company.
“Justin don’t seem to take no holt of things,” said the neighbours.
“Good Heavens!” It seemed to him that there were no things to take hold of! That was his first thought; later he grew to think that the trouble all lay in himself, and both thoughts bred weakness.