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and sputtered. She told the tea-kettle and frying-pan just what she thought of those wooden trustees.
A month passed and she was considering the question of serving a wedding anniversary dinner. The proposition made her heart sink. “Oh, I just can't do it,” she whispered under her breath. “This terrible kitchen makes mother nervous, and his people always look at me as if I was to blame for it. I'll just let the day go by like any other day until I can have things half-way decent.”
The fire in the stove was dying out, but the place was still uncomfortably warm. “They never could stand it,” she exclaimed. Then she paused:
"I wonder Perhaps it was five minutes later when she entered her husband's study.
“Percy, our wedding anniversary is on the seventeenth.” "Is it?"
“Yes, and I had thought of having mother and some of our other relatives to dinner, but couldn't we do something different this year? Do you think Mr. Cummings and the other trustees would care to come? Perhaps it would help to keep up the good feeling in the church if we did a little special entertaining. I can prepare a good dinner when I try.”
“Yes, yes, certainly, certainly, have the trustees this year and the elders next time. Have we chairs enough, Maggie?"
"Oh, yes, if you drive a nail in the one that wiggles. And will you attend to inviting the men ? Be sure to have Mr. Crowles come. I know he has been mean about our kitchen, but we won't slight him on that account.”
“No, no, we must show a Christian spirit.”
Then the good man delved again into the mysterious black books on the table. When her husband turned to his books, the little woman knew that the interview was at an end.
During the succeeding days her busy intellect fairly teemed with clever plans for the diversion of her prospective guests, the trustees of the Millville Presbyterian Church.
The members of that body were vastly pleased to be invited to a dinner at the manse. They believed that such cordiality indicated that the minister's wife bore no ill-will toward them on account of their refusal to entertain her proposition. Mr. Crowles, the leader of the opposition, was so intensely gratified that he arrived fifteen minutes in advance of the other guests. He and the minister at once entered into an earnest discussion of the condition of the church, leaving the mistress to her own devices in the kitchen.
In that region things were reeking hot. The table, of necessity, stood near the stove, which was doing its level best to raise the temperature still higher; it was spread with a snowy cloth, each crease of which told of feminine energy on ironing-day. The silver glistened in the lamplight, dully reflecting the vivid red of a spreading center-piece.
The minister's wife was happy indeed. Her face was flushed with excitement and with the fierce external heat. She smiled to herself—a grim, contented smile-as she glanced at the windows, now reeking with the condensed humidity of the room.
“There, now, everything is ready,” she murmured, giving a last deft touch to the appointments. Then lifting the coal-hod, she dumped into the stove a liberal supply of fuel, carefully distributing it with the poker. Her entrance to the parlor carried with it the smell of savory dishes, and the men arose with alacrity, prepared to do full justice to the bountiful spread.
“You will please take this place, Mr. Crowles,” she said sweetly, when they had followed her into the seven-fold heated furnace. The chair she indicated was scarcely two feet away from the roaring stove. Mr. Sawyer was deposited hard by, while young Mr. Cummings was conducted to a place on the opposite side of the table. The minister and his wife occupied either end of the board.
“We thought of serving dinner in the sitting-room,” explained the little woman, “but that blessed husband of mine was late getting home this afternoon, and really I couldn't drag this heavy. table alone. It is a heavy task for two. We always have our meals here, and I hope you don't mind—do you? It is our only dining-room, you know."
“No, mom, we don't mind,” responded Mr. Crowles, hitching his chair nearer the table.
"It is snug and homelike here," explained the minister, beaming upon his guests.
“Right pleasant place," commented Mr. Sawyer, behind whom the kettle hummed and sang as it gave off a steady cloud of hot steam.
Young Mr. Cummings began to tell of a new soprano who had recently come to town and who promised to be of value to the choir, but Crowles and Sawyer found it difficult to maintain a show of interest.
The minister poked at the platter of fried chicken. “Will you have light or dark meat, Mr. Crowles?"
"Oh, anything, anything." Mr. Crowles settled in his chair and threw open his coat, thereby freeing the garment from its clinging proximity to his back.
“She can sing clear up where there aren't any more notes," continued Mr. Cummings, "and if we get her the Methodists won't be anywhere near it.”
“My dear, isn't it just a trifle--?" began the minister, but the inquiry died away in the sprightly voice of his wife.
“And what is her name, Mr. Cummings? Of course, we must secure her, if such a thing is possible. Don't you think so, Mr. Crowles ? Good singers are so difficult to find and so necessary to the church. We must call on her soon, Percy.” “Yes, yes. What do
you think of it, Mr. Crowles : shall we ask her to sing in our church?”
“Eh?” asked Mr. Crowles, whose face was now moist and very red. The lamplight shone upon dozens of tiny, glistening drops on his forehead.
"Eh?” he asked again.
"I was speaking of the new soprano," the reverend host explained.
“Oh, yes—well, yes, better get her if possible. I may be wrong about it, but seems to me the room is very
warm.” "Why, is it?" inquired the sweet little woman in surprise. "Perhaps you had better open a window, Percy. Are you uncomfortable, Mr. Cummings?” As she said this, the conspirator looked straight into the eyes of the junior trustee. He thought he detected a ghost of a wink in her gaze, and immediately rose to the occasion.
"No," he answered; "on the contrary, I was sure I felt a draught from that window and I was somewhat concerned. I take cold so easily.”
“Never mind," hastily interjected Mr. Crowles. "I am perhaps dressed a little too warm for the season.'
“Do you use this room as a dining-room all the year round?” inquired Mr. Sawyer, fidgeting in his chair.
“Yes, all the year through,” returned the minister. “Won't you let me help you to more peas?”
“No, thank you.” “Do let me give you more hot coffee,” purred the sweet woman.
“No, thank you, nothing more,” said Mr. Sawyer, casting an uneasy glance at the stove, which was as fervent as a summer sun.
The water in the kettle bubbled and splashed in its activity. During the pauses in the conversation the low, steady humming of the fire rushing beneath the stove-lids could be heard. Presently an odor stole out on the stuffy air. Very much like the burning of a rag it was, and with it was a dim suggestion of incinerated cookery. Mr. Crowles drew forth his handkerchief and mopped his brow. His associate, Mr. Sawyer, sniffed and looked about him, breathing deeply. Then with a startled look the minister's wife sprang up, exclaiming :
“Mercy! my biscuits are burning !"
She hurried to the oven door and flung it wide open. An infernal draught of hot air laden with smoke swept full against the unprotected back of Mr. Crowles. A reserve detachment swoope 1 aside and enveloped Mr. Sawyer. In an instant a thin veil of smoke enveloped the table.
“Oh, dear !" came the voice of the little woman as she clawed and clutched frantically at something within the oven, “they're ruined.”
A blackened mass slid from her hand to the floor, and with it was a small, black, square smoking thing that had once done duty as an iron-holder.
“I must have forgotten and left it in the oven when I turned the biscuits,” she managed to explain.
Mr. Crowles coughed and passed his hand over his dripping forehead. The upper buttons of his waistcoat were unfastened. He was very warm indeed. "Shall I open the window?” he asked, half rising.
. “Oh, no, please sit still; I can open it easily," she answered. But before doing so she stirred the fire into one final effort. Her face was a study of sweetness and peace as she again seated herself at the table.
When the meal was ended, the minister and his guests executed an almost pell-mell retreat into the cool living-room. Both Mr. Crowles and Mr. Sawyer bore evidence of the radiating power of the parson's stove: The pride had forsaken Mr. Crowles' collar, which now hung dejectedly about his neck. Mr. Sawyer's celluloid survived the torrid atmosphere, shining and placil, but his cuffs were sadly wilted and his linen bosom flat and flabby.
Mr. Cummings opened the front door and peered long and earnestly into the great cool outside world, while he whistled softly, “There'll be a hot time in the old town to-night."
The following Sabbath morning the minister made this announcement to his congregation:
“The board of trustees authorize me to state that certain improvements are to be made in the manse, including the erection of a kitchen. This addition: has long been needed and will be greatly appreciated by your pastor and his family."
The minister's wife glanced across the church at Mr. Cummings.