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Alex Randall’s Conversion
by [?]

I.

Mrs. Randall was piecing a quilt. She had various triangular bits of calico, in assorted colors, strung on threads, and distributed in piles on her lap. She had put on her best dress in honor of the minister’s visit, which was just ended. It was a purple, seeded silk, adorned with lapels that hung in wrinkles across her flat chest, and she had spread a gingham apron carefully over her knees, to protect their iridescent splendor.

She was a russet-haired woman, thin, with that blonde thinness which inclines to transparent redness at the tip of the nose and chin, and the hand that hovered over the quilt patches, in careful selection of colors for a “star and chain” pattern, was of a glistening red, and coarsely knotted at the knuckles, in somewhat striking contrast to her delicate face.

Her husband sat at a table in one corner of the spotless kitchen, eating a belated lunch. He was a tall man, and stooped so that his sunburned beard almost touched the plate.

“Mr. Turnbull was here,” said Mrs. Randall, with an air of introducing a subject rather than of giving information.

The man held a knife-load of smear-case in front of his mouth, and grunted. It was not an interrogative grunt, but his wife went on.

“He said he could ‘a’ put off coming if he’d known you had to go to mill.”

Mr. Randall swallowed the smear-case. His bushy eyebrows met across his face, and he scowled so that the hairs stood out horizontally.

“Did you tell him I could ‘a’ put off going to mill till I knowed he was coming?”

His thick, obscure voice seemed to tangle itself in the hay-colored mustache that hid his mouth. His tone was tantalizingly free from anger.

“I wish you wouldn’t, Elick,” said his wife reproachfully; “not before the children, anyway.”

The children, a girl of seven and a boy of four, sat on the doorstep in a sort of dazed inertia, occasioned by the shock of the household’s sudden and somewhat perplexing return to its week-day atmosphere just as they had adjusted themselves to the low Sabbatic temperature engendered by the minister’s presence.

The girl had two tightly braided wisps of hair in varying hues of corn-silk, curving together at the ends like the mandibles of a beetle. She turned when her father spoke, and looked from him to her mother with a round, blue-eyed stare from under her bulging forehead. The boy’s stolid head was thrown back a little, so that his fat neck showed two sunburned wrinkles below his red curls. His gingham apron parted at the topmost button, disclosing a soft, pathetic little back, and his small trousers were hitched up under his arms, the two bone buttons which supported them staring into the room reproachfully, as if conscious of the ignominy of belonging to masculine garb under the feminine eclipse of an apron.

Mrs. Randall bent a troubled gaze upon her offspring, as if expecting to see them wilt visibly under their father’s irreverence.

“Mary Frances,” she said anxiously, “run away and show little brother the colts.”

The girl got up and took her brother’s hand.

“Come on, Wattie,” she said in a small, superior way, very much as if she had added: “These grown people have weaknesses which it is better for us to pretend not to know. They are going to talk about them.”

Mrs. Randall waited until the two little figures idled across the dooryard before she spoke.

“I don’t think you ought to act the way you do, Elick, just because you don’t like Mr. Turnbull; it ain’t right.”

The man dropped his chin doggedly, and fed himself without lifting his elbows from the table.

“I can’t always manage to be at home when folks come a-visiting,” he said in his gruff, tangled voice.

“You was at church on Sabbath when Mr. Turnbull gave out the pastoral visitations: he knew that as well as I did. I couldn’t say a word to-day. I just had to set here and take it.”