They went in, somewhat awed. It was such an unusual thing for their father to do. What could he be going to say to them? They racked their memories for any recent transgression of sufficient importance, but could not recall any. Carl had spilled a saucerful of jam on Mrs. Peter Flagg’s silk dress two evenings before, when, at Aunt Martha’s invitation, she had stayed to supper. But Mr. Meredith had not noticed it, and Mrs. Flagg, who was a kindly soul, had made no fuss. Besides, Carl had been punished by having to wear Una’s dress all the rest of the evening.
Una suddenly thought that perhaps her father meant to tell them that he was going to marry Miss West. Her heart began to beat violently and her legs trembled. Then she saw that Mr. Meredith looked very stern and sorrowful. No, it could not be that.
“Children,” said Mr. Meredith, “I have heard something that has pained me very much. Is it true that you sat out in the graveyard all last Thursday evening and sang ribald songs while a prayer meeting was being held in the Methodist church?”
“Great Caesar, Dad, we forgot all about it being their prayer meeting night,” exclaimed Jerry in dismay.
“Then it is true—you did do this thing?”
“Why, Dad, I don’t know what you mean by ribald songs. We sang hymns—it was a sacred concert, you know. What harm was that? I tell you we never thought about it’s being Methodist prayer meeting night. They used to have their meeting Tuesday nights and since they’ve changed to Thursdays it’s hard to remember.”
“Did you sing nothing but hymns?”
“Why,” said Jerry, turning red, “we DID sing Polly Wolly Doodle at the last. Faith said, ’Let’s have something cheerful to wind up with.’ But we didn’t mean any harm, Father—truly we didn’t.”
“The concert was my idea, Father,” said Faith, afraid that Mr. Meredith might blame Jerry too much. “You know the Methodists themselves had a sacred concert in their church three Sunday nights ago. I thought it would be good fun to get one up in imitation of it. Only they had prayers at theirs, and we left that part out, because we heard that people thought it awful for us to pray in a graveyard. YOU were sitting in here all the time,” she added, “and never said a word to us.”
“I did not notice what you were doing. That is no excuse for me, of course. I am more to blame than you—I realize that. But why did you sing that foolish song at the end?”
“We didn’t think,” muttered Jerry, feeling that it was a very lame excuse, seeing that he had lectured Faith so strongly in the Good-Conduct Club sessions for her lack of thought. “We’re sorry, Father—truly, we are. Pitch into us hard—we deserve a regular combing down.”
But Mr. Meredith did no combing down or pitching into. He sat down and gathered his small culprits close to him and talked a little to them, tenderly and wisely. They were overcome with remorse and shame, and felt that they could never be so silly and thoughtless again.