The Rebel At large

Sympathizin' of Mrs. Deacon Smith

The new schoolmarm an' Rose Merrill hed come over to spend the afternoon. Now I like the new schoolmarm and I like Rose Merrill (and so does Noah) an' I enjoyed visitin' with 'em (an' so would Noah, if he'd bin at home, which he wasn't, havin' gone off right soon after dinner to take a load of turnips to Nanceville). An' we wus gettin' right confidential an' havin' heart to heart talks, as you might say, when we heard the front gate click, an', surmisin' in my mind that some one wus comin', I looked out at the winder an' see Mrs. Deacon Smith a-comin' up the walk. I see she was come fer a'formall call, fer she wus dressed elegant in her meetin' bunnit an' umbrell' an' her secon' best black alpacky. It's a good piece of goods, that alpacky is, an' havin' bin wore only five year an' turned onct it's good as new, an' it would be her meeting' dress till now only her brother that's out West sent her a new one fer Christmas this year back.

Wal, as I wus sayin' when I see Mrs. Deacon Smith comin' up the walk, I felt in my bones that she wus a- comin' on bizness of some sort – onpleasant bizness. An' they wus right–my bones wus.

She rustled into the settin' room an' sot down in the best rocker. Mrs. Deacon Smith don't wear silk petticoats, but ever since the Deacon kep' store over to Nanceville an' she lived' in town a spell she rustles powerful. They do say she bastes newspapers into her skirt linin's, but I don't know as it's so, an' ortn't to repeat hearsay. She has a different air, too, since she lived in Nanceville – a sort of stiff an' starched air. There is them that admires it.

Wal, after we hed discussed the weather an' the crops an' the state of health of our respective families, she opened her mouth an' shet it agin, an' coffed a little, an' opened it agin. An' I felt in my bones it wus comin'.

An' sez she, "I've been a thinkin' I'll have my name took off of that club that wus organized a Sat'dy." Sez she, "As the wife of a Deacon, a piller in the church an' a respektable member of the community, I have my position in society to maintain."

An' I set, "Wal, what uv that?" sez I, "What has that got to do with the club that was organized a Sat'dy?"

An' sez she, "I don't believe in agitatin' seeh' questions." Sez she, "When the Deacon use to keep store in Nanceville I hed a opportunity to observe the lower orders, an' they are gettin' all they earn, an' ortn't to be agitated."

An' sez I, "Ef they're gettin' all they earn, how comes it that other folks that never did a lick of work in their lives is rollin' in luxury an' has money to throw at birds?" Sez I, "Ef one man has got a dollar he hain't earnt, some other man has earnt a dollar he hain't got. There ain't no way of gettin' around that," sez I.

An' sez she, "Them wage workin' folks would all be fixed comfortable ef they would pay their debts an' save their money. When the Deacon kep' store at Nanceville," sez she, "there was folks owin' him year in an' year out" (the Deacon kep' store jest eighteen months to my certain knowledge) "an' they didn't try to pay him." Sez she, "They'd go in debt fer pink hair ribbon an Christmas presents."

An' sez I, "If there's any reason why poor men's children ortn't to have Christmas presents, then," sez I, "nobody ort to have 'em." Sez I, "The children that's born in a manger or hovel has the best claim to Christmas joys." An' sez I, "When we who build costly churches to honor the lowly carpenter's son while his little ones is shelterless, when we," sez I, "learn to foiler His teachin's there won't be any little disinherited children whose folks have to go in debt fer Christmas presents fer 'em."

An' sez she, "They wouldn't need to go in debt ef they'd work an' economize. They're jest shiftless," sez she, "an' lazy, too."

Now I believe in economy, but I don't believe in stintin' an' skimpin' an' wearin' all the gray matter out'n your brain tryin' to save fifteen cents. I do skimp, good land, yes, but I do it from necessity, not from principle. Mrs. Deacon Smith skimps, too, but she don't know it. She's done it so long it's secon' natur'.

But I sez, real calm an' peacefyin', sez I, "Of course there is shiftless folks, piles of 'em, an' there is lazy folks who don't want to do nothin', but," sez I, "is that any reason why folks that's willin' to work ortn't to have the chance to work an' to get all they produce?"

An' sez she, "There's chances for everybody that wants 'em. It's a free country," sez she. "an' there's ekal opportunities fer all." Sez she, "When Deacon kep' store in Nanceville I see lots of young folks come in from the country an' work their way through the Nanceville Academy.

Young folks that hed nothin' but their two hands an' grit. Anybody that wants a eddycation can get it. An'," sez she, warmin' to the subjeck as she proceeded farther away from it, "I took a girl myself right into my home an' let her work fer her board. She done the housework nights an' mornin's, an' come back from the Academy at eleven every day an' got dinner. She never fooled away no time on parties an' beaux an' pink hair ribbons. An' she did the family washin' a Sat'dys. An' she stood head of her classes, too, every one on 'em."

"Where is she now," asked the schoolmarm.

"Oh, she's dead now," sez Mrs. Deacon Smith. "She went to college an' took nervous prostration."

An' sez I, "When my little Grace Keziah an' B'elle Almedy goes to Nanceville Academy they shall not work theirselves to death an' they shall have all the innosent pleasures other young folks has, if I have to work my fingers to the bone to get'em fer'em." Sez I, "When you rob a child of its play time, you rob it of its life."

An sez Mrs. Deacon Smith, "It's wrong fer parents to sacrifice theirselves that away fer their children."

An' sez I, "It's wrong, root an' branch, the system is, that demands the slaughter of the innosents or the sacrifice of the parents an'," sez I, "it won't be my innosents that's slaughtered–not while I'm a-livin'."

An' Mrs. Deacon Smith set; "It's a well-known fack," sez she, "I've often read it in the papers, an' my observations in Nanceville, when the Deacon kep' store there, confirms it, that the young folks that works their own way through school gets higher marks and stands head more than them that takes life easier."

An' sez I, "It is a well-known fack that them that's heads of school classes don't make their mark in the world after leavin' school nigh so often as them below 'em."

But sez she, "Poverty is a incentive. You can't deny it. Poverty is a great incentive." "A incentive to what?" sez I. "A incentive to work till you drop in the harness or leastways till you drop out'n the race and let them that's hed a better opportunity go on an' win?"

An' sez she, "Poverty is a incentive to strugglin'. It develops folks." sez she, "Our grate statesmen an' jinerals an' sech grow from poor country boys."

"They do," sez I, "a power on 'em does, but it ain't poverty that makes 'em grate. It's pure country air an' outdoor exercise while they're a growin'. It's good, wholesome vittles an' plenty of 'em." An, sez I, "for I'd thought on that sutjjeck, bein' the mother of a country boy myself." sez I, "the reason why country boys win in the race for statesmanships, jineralships, flagships, an' sech things, is that they've got good, healthy, stout brains in healthy bodies." Sez I, "Ef it's poverty that makes folks grate why hain't grate men riz up out of the slums of big cities? Ef you can find poverty anywhere it's in them slums," sez I, "an' it don't develop 'em; it degrades 'em."

An' I looked at the schoolmarm an' sez I, "Ain't that true?"

An' she set, "It is." An' she quoted Henry George, who wus a good man, an' he'd studied these things. (He wusn't quite a Socialist, Henry George wusn't, but from all I can hear, he wus not far from the kingdom). An' the schoolmarm sez Henry George says that in one class of slum folks in New York "the birth of a boy an' a girl means another man for the penetentiary, and another girl for the brothel."

An' sez I, "Think on't, innosent, unborn babies condemned to such lives beforehand; think on't."

An' sez Mrs. Deacon Smith, "It's foreordination."

An' sez I, "Foreordination, fiddlesticks."

It was not a perlite thing to say, but it does rile me so to hear folks layin' all the meanness of men onto the Lord. All the shortsightedness of 'em an' the ignorance of 'em an' the general cussedness of 'em. So I jest said to Mrs. Deacon Smith, sez I, "Foreordination, fiddlesticks."

An' Mrs. Deacon Smith riz up to go, an' she helt out her had to me to say goodbye. An' she set, in the lofty an' patronizin' manner born of the fack thet the Deacon use to keep store at Nanceville, sez she, "I know your intensions is good," an' sez she, "I myself hev a great deal of sympathy fer the workin' class." An' I meanwhile an' mechanikally hed put out my hand and grasped her'n, an' the hard callus spots in her palm rubbed agin the hard callus spots in mine, an' sez I, "Workin' class," sez I, "Ef you an' me ain't workin'`class what in the livin' earth be we?"

An' she flushed up real resentful an' she drew her hand back an' begun a puttin' on her gloves. They wus her meetin' gloves, lisle thread, an' they wus darned. Mrs. Deacon Smith is a master hand at darnin'; ef she wusn't them gloves wouldn't a helt togethe'r as they hev.

An' sez she, "I wus speakin' of wage workers," sez she, "who hev nothin'."

She brought out the last words real contemptuous. Funny, ain't it, how folks who hev nothin' is allus objects of contempt, especially to some thet hev mighty little.

But sez I, real calm an' peacefyin', sez I, "There wus a wage worker, an' he wus a revolutionary wage worker, too – a stirrin' up of the people," an' sez I, "he chose his most bosom friends from the workin' class – fisher men an' sech."

An' sez she, "That wus diffrunt. In them days the people wus conquered by the Romans and couldn't help theirselves."

An' sez I, "In these days the people is conquered by the capitalists an' can't help theirselves." ("Except," sez the schoolmarm soty vocey, "at the ballot box. They can help themselves to the earth and the fullness thereof at the ballot box.")

An' Mrs. Deacon Smith went on an', sez she, "There ain't no manner of use fer their bein' conquered by no capitalist. Why don't they move out into the country," sez she, "an' hev peace an' plenty?" She spoke them words real lofty, especially the last word "plenty." You'd a thought she never in her life had a-skimped and squeezed on a dollar to make it do the work of two. An' she made a gestur, a real lofty gestur, but in makin' it she dropped one of her gloves an' the schoolmarm picked it up an' handed it to her. An' the schoolmarm's face wus real sober. It wus the worst darned glove of the two, but the schoolmarm turned it ove'r as she picked it up so the biggest darns wus on the under side as she handed it back, which wus real considerate, too. The schoolmarm has a pink an' white face, like a peach blossom in the spring, an' the corners of her mouth has dimples tucked in all around when she smiles. An' as she stooped over to get the glove I ketched a glimpse of her dimples appearin' on the side of her face thet wus next to me, but when she riz up an' give back the glove her face wus sober as a judge. You couldn't a-told there hed ever been any dimples within a mile of her.

An' Mrs. Deacon Smith went on, an' sez she, "Ef they'd move out into the country, where they could work nights an' mornin's, instid of workin' ten hours a day an' idlin' away the rest of their time in the saloons, they could live like WE do."

An' she rustled out of the sittin' room an' down the walk a trailin' her alpacky skirt. When I shet to the door behind her, an' turned an' looked at the schoolmarm the dimples all broke loose an', bless her heart, I took her in my arms an' kissed them dimples like I kiss my own baby's dimples when I tickle his little pink toes to make him laugh. It's only bin a month sense I first saw the schoolmarm, but, land sakes, there's some folks you get acquainted with the first time you see'em, an' you feel as ef you'd knowed 'em ever sense the foundations of the earth wus laid, if not sooner. The schoolmarm affected me that a-way. So, as I wus a-sayin', I kissed the schoolmarm's dimples an' I patted her on the shoulder, an' sez I to her, "Now, will you be good?" I don't use slang fer common, but that's a sayin' my Benjy picked up at school an' it struck me as kind of pat. So I sez to her, sez I, "Now, will you be good?"

An' the schoolmarm sez down in a chair an' laughed. She laughed till the tears wus playin' hide an' seek in her dimples.

An' sez she, "It isn't funny, oh DEAR!" an' then she laughed some more. "It isn't funny," sez she, "it's TRAGIC, but, oh, Aunt Betty, I can't help laughing."

An' no more could I.