The morning services were concluded. The day was oppressively warm, though it was yet early in the spring, and extempore fans, in the shape of pocket handkerchiefs and hymn-book covers, had been actively in motion throughout the sermon. Mr. Townsend looked even paler than usual when he descended from the pulpit, and stood in the centre aisle to speak with Deacon Whiting, who awaited him there. Placing his hand kindly on the head of the little girl who clasped her father's hand, he stood for an instant in earnest conversation, and then passed on, with a kind word for Maggie as he left her.
Deacon Morrison bustled through the crowd still lingering in the vestibule, and inquired officiously for his health.
"I was telling wife to-day," said he, "that I shouldn't wonder if you had a long spell of sickness, you 'ye looked so pale lately, and seemed so absent-minded—a brain-fever, or something of that sort," he added, consolingly.
A look of pain shot over the listener's face, but he said, "The weather has been so oppressive the past week, that it has unnerved me; particularly, as I have had many visits to pay, and several funerals to attend in the country. How are all your family?"—and Mr. Townsend made a movement to go forward.
"Well as common, I believe," was the reply; and Deacon Morrison stepped into a vacant place nearer the door, as if to bar the progress of his pastor.
There was a little quickness in the bow and farewell that followed, for Mr. Townsend seemed anxious not to be detained; and with a look of disappointment, Deacon Morrison turned to Mr. Whiting, and placing his arm familiarly in that of his good neighbour, began to complain of the "rudeness" he had just experienced.
"I did not see anything like that," said Deacon Whiting. "(Run on to your mother, Maggie.) Had you anything particular to say?"
"Why no, not exactly; I only thought I'd ask his opinion about Widow Haynes being able to get along without help from the church, and whether he thought Aunt Underwood would live the summer out, and what they were likely to do with young Allen—whether the church would take any action or not on his going to the theatre and the Long Island races the last time he was in New York."
"I think you are mistaken about the last, John"
"No, I ain't. James Farren was with him, and he told Harriet Harden, she told Mrs. Smith, and Mrs. Smith told Miss Martin, and Miss Martin told me. Now, if that ain't straight, I don't know what is. But Mr. Townsend might have waited a minute, it seems to me."
"He was scarcely able to get through the sermon, John. I could see how his lips trembled, long before it was finished. And you held him here right in the hot sun. Then he 'a got to be in the Sunday School and preach this afternoon, besides the six o'clock prayer-meeting, and the sermon this evening. You surely would give him time to eat his dinner."
"As to the six o'clock prayer-meeting, he ain't obliged to come. It was my plan altogether, and I guess I'm able to lead. I knew how apt we were to let the mind run on other things just about sundown, when we can't read or anything, and I thought, particularly for the young people, 'twould be an excellent plan."
"Yes, particularly for those boys and girls who write notes to each other in the hymn-books, and turn all they have heard into ridicule going home together. . . . I never did like the idea of those prayer-meetings, . . . they do more harm than good. Besides, it don't allow us one minute in the day to 'commune with our own hearts and be still' as we are told to."
"Well, well," said Mr. Morrison, "every one's not gifted alike—my talent's for prayer and your'n for meditation, I suppose. But don't you think Mr. Townsend acts very strangely now-a-days?"
"I had not noticed anything, only that he did not look well."
"That's just it; I've heard more than one wonder what it could be. Sometimes he's all fire and animation, then again he 's so low-spirited you can't get a word out of him."
"We all have our ups and downs, John, and I'm afraid Mr. Townsend has too much care and labour upon him."
"He hard worked! Why, a minister don't know nothing about getting tired. What does he have to do but set there at home in his comfortable study, as he calls it, and write a little— maybe a sermon or two a week?"
"We defined a part of his labours just now. Our day of rest is the most wearisome of all the week to him. Then he has to visit among all of us. You know how hurt some feel if they don't see him at least once a month. Then there's funerals to attend, and he often goes miles into the country for that. And sermon-writing might be easy to you, but I 'd rather stand behind the counter or overlook apprentices from morning till night than write two sermons any week."
"You're always so unreasonable, Deacon Whiting; you're always defending everybody that's wrong. For my part, I haven't got so much charity for the whole world, and I 'm willing to confess it. I 've watched our minister a long time, and I've made up my mind about his case. I've been intending to speak to you, and I might as well out with it. It's as clear as daylight to me—he drinks!"
Sketch the Fifth. Male Gossips. Chapter II