Samantha Among The Bretheren

Marietta Holley

Chapter 1


When I first heard that wimmen wuz goin' to make a effort to set on a Conference, it wuz on a Wednesday, as I remember well. For my companion, Josiah Allen, had drove over to Loontown in a Democrat and in a great hurry, to meet two men who wanted him to go into a speculation with 'em.

And it wuz kinder curious to meditate on it, that they wuz all deacons, every one on 'em. Three on 'em wuz Baptis'es, and two on 'em had jined our meetin' house, deacons, and the old name clung to 'em - we spoze because they wuz such good, stiddy men, and looked up to.

Take 'em all together there wuz five deacons. The two foreign deacons from 'way beyond Jonesville, Deacon Keeler and Deacon Huffer, and our own three Jonesvillians - Deacon Henzy, Deacon Sypher, and my own particular Deacon, Josiah Allen.

It wuz a wild and hazardous skeme that them two foreign deacons wuz a-proposin', and I wuz strongly in favor of givin' 'em a negative answer; but Josiah wuz fairly crazy with the idee, and so wuz Deacon Henzy and Deacon Sypher (their wives told me how they felt).

The idee was to build a buzz saw mill on the creek that runs through Jonesville, and have branches of it extend into Zoar, Loontown, and other more adjacent townships (the same creek runs through 'em all).

As near as I could get it into my head, there wuz to be a buzz saw mill apiece for the five deacons - each one of 'em to overlook their own particular buzz saw - but the money comin' from all on 'em to be divided up equal among the five deacons.

[Illustration: "A WILD AND HAZARDOUS SKEME."]

They thought there wuz lots of money in the idee. But I wuz very set against it from the first. It seemed to me that to have buzz saws a-permeatin' the atmosphere, as you may say, for so wide a space, would make too much of a confusion and noise, to say nothin' of the jarin' that would take place and ensue. I felt more and more, as I meditated on the subject, that a buzz saw, although estimable in itself, yet it wuz not a spear in which a religious deacon could withdraw from the world, and ponder on the great questions pertainin' to his own and the world's salvation.

I felt it wuz not a spear that he could revolve round in and keep that apartness from this world and nearness to the other, that I felt that deacons ought to cultivate.

But my idees wuz frowned at by every man in Jonesville, when I ventured to promulgate 'em. They all said, "The better the man, the better the deed."

They said, "The better the man wuz, the better the buzz saw he would be likely to run." The fact wuz, they needed some buzz saw mills bad, and wuz very glad to have these deacons lay holt of 'em.

[Illustration: TALKING OVER THE BUZZ-SAW.]

But I threw out this question at 'em, and stood by it - "If bein' set apart as a deacon didn't mean anything? If there wuzn't any deacon-work that they ought to be expected to do - and if it wuz right for 'em to go into any world's work so wild and hazardous and engrossin', as this enterprise?"

And again they sez to me in stern, decided axents, "The better the man, the better the deed. We need buzz saws."

And then they would turn their backs to me and stalk away very high-headed.

And I felt that I wuz a gettin' fearfully onpopular all through Jonesville, by my questions. I see that the hull community wuz so sot on havin' them five deacons embark onto these buzz saws that they would not brook any interference, least of all from a female woman.

But I had a feelin' that Josiah Allen wuz, as you may say, my lawful prey. I felt that I had a right to question my own pardner for the good of his own soul, and my piece of mind.

And I sez to him in solemn axents:

"Josiah Allen, what time will you get when you are fairly started on your buzz saw, for domestic life, or social, or for religious duties?"

And Josiah sez, "Dumb 'em! I guess a man is a goin' to make money when he has got a chance." And I asked him plain if he had got so low, and if I had lived with him twenty years for this, to hear him in the end dumb religious duties.

And Josiah acted skairt and conscience smut for most half a minute, and said, "he didn't dumb 'em."

"What wuz you dumbin'?" sez I, coldly.

"I wuz dumbin' the idee," sez he, "that a man can't make money when he has a chance to."

But I sez, a haulin' up this strong argument agin -

"Every one of you men, who are a layin' holt of this enterprise and a-embarkin' onto this buzz saw are married men, and are deacons in a meetin' house. Now this work you are a-talkin' of takin' up will devour all of your time, every minute of it, that you can spare from your farms.

"And to say nothin' of your wives and children not havin' any chance of havin' any comfort out of your society. What will become of the interests of Zion at home and abroad, of foreign and domestic missions, prayer meetin's, missionary societies, temperance meetin's and good works generally?"

And then again I thought, and it don't seem as if I can be mistaken, I most know that I heerd Josiah Allen mutter in a low voice,

"Dumb good works!"

[Illustration: "I HEERD JOSIAH MUTTER, 'DUMB GOOD WORKS!'"]

But I wouldn't want this told of, for I may be mistook. I didn't fairly ketch the words, and I spoke out agin, in dretful meanin' and harrowin' axents, and sez, "What will become of all this gospel work?"

And Josiah had by this time got over his skare and conscience smite (men can't keep smut for more'n several minutes anyway, their consciences are so elastic; good land! rubber cord can't compare with 'em), and he had collected his mind all together, and he spoke out low and clear, and in a tone as if he wuz fairly surprised I should make the remark:

"Why, the gospel work will get along jest as it always has, the wimmen will 'tend to it."

And I own I was kinder lost and by the side of myself when I asked the question - and very anxious to break up the enterprise or I shouldn't have put the question to him.

For I well knew jest as he did that wimmen wuz most always the ones to go ahead in church and charitable enterprises. And especially now, for there wuz a hardness arozen amongst the male men of the meetin' house, and they wouldn't do a thing they could help (but of this more anon and bimeby).

There wuz two or three old males in the meetin' house, too old to get mad and excited easy, that held firm, and two very pious old male brothers, but poor, very poor, had to be supported by the meetin' house, and lame. They stood firm, or as firm as they could on such legs as theirs wuz, inflammatory rheumatiz and white swellin's and such.

But all the rest had got their feelin's hurt, and got mad, etc., and wouldn't do a thing to help the meetin' house along.

Well, I tried every lawful, and mebby a little on-lawful way to break this enterprise of theirs up - and, as I heern afterwards, so did Sister Henzy.

Sister Sypher is so wrapped up in Deacon Sypher that she would embrace a buzz saw mill or any other enterprise he could bring to bear onto her.

"She would be perfectly willin' to be trompled on," so she often sez, "if Deacon Sypher wuz to do the tromplin'."

Some sez he duz.

Wall, in spite of all my efforts, and in spite of all Sister Henzy's efforts, our deacons seemed to jest flourish on this skeme of theirn. And when we see it wuz goin' to be a sure thing, even Sister Sypher begin to feel bad.

She told Albina Widrig, and Albina told Miss Henn, and Miss Henn told me, that "what to do she didn't know, it would deprive her of so much of the deacon's society." It wuz goin' to devour so much of his time that she wuz afraid she couldn't stand it. She told Albina in confidence (and Albina wouldn't want it told of, nor Miss Henn, nor I wouldn't) that she had often been obleeged to go out into the lot between breakfast and dinner to see the deacon, not bein' able to stand it without lookin' on his face till dinner time.

And when she was laid up with a lame foot it wuz known that the deacon left his plowin' and went up to the house, or as fur as the door step, four or five times in the course of a mornin's work, it wuz spozed because she wuz fearful of forgettin' how he looked before noon.

She is a dretful admirin' woman.

She acts dretful reverential and admirin' towards men - always calls her husband "the Deacon," as if he was the one lonely deacon who was perambulatin' the globe at this present time. And it is spozed that when she dreams about him she dreams of him as "the Deacon," and not as Samuel (his given name is Samuel).

[Illustration: "THE INITIALS STOOD FOR 'MISS DEACON SYPHER.'"]

But we don't know that for certain. We only spoze it. For the land of dreams is a place where you can't slip on your sun-bonnet and foller neighbor wimmen to see what they are a-doin' or what they are a-sayin' from hour to hour.

No, the best calculator on gettin' neighborhood news can't even look into that land, much less foller a neighborin' female into it.

No, their barks have got to be moored outside of them mysterious shores.

But, as I said, this had been spozen.

But it is known from actual eyesight that she marks all her sheets, and napkins, and piller-cases, and such, "M. D. S." And I asked her one day what the M. stood for, for I 'spozed, of course, the D. S. stood for Drusillia Sypher.

And she told me with a real lot of dignity that the initials stood for "Miss Deacon Sypher."

Wall, the Jonesville men have been in the habit of holdin' her up as a pattern to their wives for some time, and the Jonesville wimmen hain't hated her so bad as you would spoze they all would under the circumstances, on account, we all think, of her bein' such a good-hearted little creeter. We all like Drusilly and can't help it.

Wall, even she felt bad and deprested on account of her Deacon's goin' into the buzz saw-mill business.

But she didn't say nothin', only wept out at one side, and wiped up every time he came in sight.

They say that she hain't never failed once of a-smilin' on the Deacon every time he came home. And once or twice he has got as mad as a hen at her for smilin'. Once, when he came home with a sore thumb - he had jest smashed it in the barn door - and she stood a-smilin' at him on the door step, there are them that say the Deacon called her a "infernal fool."

But I never have believed it. I don't believe he would demean himself so low.

But he yelled out awful at her, I do 'spoze, for his pain wuz intense, and she stood stun still, a-smilin' at him, jest accordin' to the story books. And he sez:

"Stand there like a - - fool, will you! Get me a rag!"

I guess he did say as much as that.

But they say she kept on a-smilin' for some time - couldn't seem to stop, she had got so hardened into that way.

[Illustration: "ONCE, WHEN HER FACE WUZ ALL SWELLED UP, SHE SMILED AT HIM."]

And once, when her face wuz all swelled up with the toothache, she smiled at him accordin' to rule when he got home, and they say the effect wuz fearful, both on her looks and the Deacon's acts. They say he was mad again, and called her some names. But as a general thing they get along first rate, I guess, or as well as married folks in general, and he makes a good deal of her.

I guess they get along without any more than the usual amount of difficulties between husbands and wives, and mebby with less. I know this, anyway, that she just about worships the Deacon.

Wall, as I say, it was the very day that these three deacons went to Loontown to meet Deacon Keeler and Deacon Huffer, to have a conference together as to the interests of the buzz saw mill that I first heard the news that wimmen wuz goin' to make a effort to set on the Methodist Conference, and the way I heerd on't wuz as follows:

Josiah Allen brought home to me that night a paper that one of the foreign deacons, Deacon Keeler, had lent him. It contained a article that wuz wrote by Deacon Keeler's son, Casper Keeler - a witherin' article about wimmen's settin' on the Conference. It made all sorts of fun of the projeck.

We found out afterwards that Casper Keeler furnished nearly all the capital for the buzz saw mill enterprise at his father's urgent request. His father, Deacon Keeler, didn't have a cent of money of his own; it fell onto Casper from his mother and aunt. They had kept a big millinery store in the town of Lyme, and a branch store in Loontown, and wuz great workers, and had laid up a big property. And when they died, the aunt, bein' a maiden woman at the time, the money naturally fell onto Casper. He wuz a only child, and they had brung him up tender, and fairly worshipped him.

They left him all the money, but left a anuety to be paid yearly to his father, Deacon Keeler, enough to support him.

The Deacon and his wife had always lived happy together - she loved to work, and he loved to have her work, so they had similar tastes, and wuz very congenial - and when she died he had the widest crape on his hat that wuz ever seen in the town of Lyme. (The crape was some she had left in the shop.)

He mourned deep, both in his crape and his feelin's, there hain't a doubt of that.

Wall, Miss Keelerses will provided money special for Casper to be educated high. So he went to school and to college, from the time he was born, almost. So he knew plenty of big words, and used 'em fairly lavish in this piece. There wuz words in it of from six to seven syllables. Why, I hadn't no idee till I see 'em with my own eye, that there wuz any such words in the English language, and words of from four to six syllables wuz common in it.

His father, Deacon Keeler, wouldn't give the paper to my companion, he thought so much of it, but he offered to lend it to him, because he said he felt that the idees it promulgated wuz so sound and deep they ought to be disseminated abroad.

The idees wuz, "that wimmen hadn't no business to set on the Conference. She wuz too weak to set on it. It wuz too high a place for her too ventur' on, or to set on with any ease. There wuzn't no more than room up there for what men would love to set on it. Wimmen's place wuz in the sacred precinks of home. She wuz a tender, fragile plant, that needed guardin' and guidin' and kep by man's great strength and tender care from havin' any cares and labors whatsoever and wheresoever and howsumever."

Josiah said it wuz a masterly dockument. And it wuz writ well. It painted in wild, glarin' colors the fear that men had that wimmen would strain themselves to do anything at all in the line of work - or would weaken her hull constitution, and lame her moral faculties, and ruin herself by tryin' to set up on a Conference, or any other high and tottlin' eminence.

The piece wuz divided into three different parts, with a headin' in big letters over each one.

The first wuz, wimmen to have no labors and cares WHATSOEVER;

Secondly, NONE WHERESOEVER;

Thirdly, NONE HOWSUMEVER.

The writer then proceeded to say that he would show first, what cares and labors men wuz willin' and anxious to ward offen women. And he proved right out in the end that there wuzn't a thing that they wanted wimmen to do - not a single thing.

Then he proceeded to tell where men wuz willin' to keep their labors and cares offen wimmen. And he proved it right out that it wuz every where. In the home, the little sheltered, love-guarded home of the farmer, the mechanic and the artizen (makin' special mention of the buzz sawyers). And also in the palace walls and the throne. There and every where men would fain shelter wimmen from every care, and every labor, even the lightest and slightest.

Then lastly came the howsumever. He proceeded to show how this could be done. And he proved it right out (or thought he did) that the first great requisit' to accomplish all this, wuz to keep wimmen in her place. Keep her from settin' on the Conference, and all other tottlin' eminences, fitted only for man's stalwart strength.

And the end of the article wuz so sort of tragick and skairful that Josiah wept when he read it. He pictured it out in such strong colors, the danger there wuz of puttin' wimmen, or allowin' her to put herself in such a high and percipitous place, such a skairful and dangerous posture as settin' up on a Conference.

[Illustration: "JOSIAH WEPT WHEN HE READ IT."]

"To have her set up on it," sez the writer, in conclusion, "would endanger her life, her spiritual, her mental and her moral growth. It would shake the permanency of the sacred home relations to its downfall. It would hasten anarchy, and he thought sizm." Why, Josiah Allen handled that paper as if it wuz pure gold. I know he asked me anxiously as he handed it to me to read, "if my hands wuz perfectly clean," and we had some words about it.

And till he could pass it on to Deacon Sypher to read he kep it in the Bible. He put it right over in Galatians, for I looked to see - Second Galatians.

And he wrapped it up in a soft handkerchief when he carried it over to Deacon Sypherses. And Deacon Sypher treasured it like a pearl of great price (so I spoze) till he could pass it on to Deacon Henzy.

And Deacon Henzy was to carry it with care to a old male Deacon in Zoar, bed rid.

Wall, as I say, that is the very first I had read about their bein' any idee promulgated of wimmens settin' up on the Conference.

And I, in spite of Josiah Allen's excitement, wuz in favor on't from the very first.

Yes, I wuz awfully in favor of it, and all I went through durin' the next and ensuin' weeks didn't put the idee out of my head. No, far from it. It seemed as if the severer my sufferin's wuz, the much more this idee flourished in my soul. Just as a heavy plow will meller up the soil so white lilies can take root, or any other kind of sweet posies.

And oh! my heart! wuz not my sufferin's with Lodema Trumble, a hard plow and a harrowin' one, and one that turned up deep furrows?

But of this, more anon and bimeby.