“Wal, the Lord calls most of us to stay at home and look after things, such weather as this. Good plantin’ weather; good weather for breakin’ ground; fust-rate weather for millin’! This is a reg’lar miller’s rain, Uncle Tommy. You ought to be takin’ advantage of it. I’ve got a grist back here; wish ye could manage to let me have it when I come back from store.”
The grist was ground and delivered before Friend Barton went in to his supper that night. Dorothy Barton had been mixing bread, and was wiping her white arms and hands on the roller towel by the kitchen door, as her father stamped and scraped his feet on the stones outside.
“I do believe I forgot to toll neighbor Gordon’s rye,” he said, as he gave a final rub on the broom Dorothy handed out to him. “It’s wonderful how careless I get!”
“Well, father, I don’t suppose thee’d ever forget, and toll a grist twice!”
“I believe I’ve been mostly preserved from mistakes of that kind,” said Friend Barton gently. “It may have been the Lord who stayed my hand from gathering profit unto myself while his lambs go unfed.”
Dorothy put her hands on her father’s shoulders. She was almost as tall as he, and could look into his patient, troubled eyes.
“Father, I know what thee is thinking of; but do think long. It will be a hard year; the boys ought to go to school; and mother is so feeble.”
Friend Barton’s “concern” kept him awake long that night. His wife watched by his side, giving no sign, lest her wakeful presence should disturb his silent wrestlings. The tall, cherry-wood clock in the entry measured the hours as they passed with its slow, dispassionate tick.
At two o’clock Rachel Barton was awakened from her first sleep of weariness by her husband’s voice whispering heavily in the darkness.
“My way is hedged up! I see no way to go forward. Lord, strengthen my patience, that I murmur not, after all I have seen of Thy goodness. I find daily bread is very desirable; want and necessity are painful to nature; but shall I follow Thee for the sake of the loaves, or will it do to forsake Thee in times of emptiness and abasement?”
There was silence again, and restless tossings and sighings continued the struggle.
“Thomas,” the wife’s voice spoke tremulously in the darkness, “my dear husband, I know where thy thoughts are tending. If the Spirit is with thee, do not deny it for our sakes, I pray thee. The Lord did not give thee thy wife and children to hang as a millstone round thy neck. I am thy helpmeet, to strengthen thee in his service. I am thankful that I have my health this spring better than usual, and Dorothy is a wonderful help. Her spirit was sent to sustain me in thy long absences. Go, dear, and serve our Master, who has called thee in these bitter strivings! Dorothy and I will keep things together as well as we can. The way will open–never fear!” She put out her hand and touched his face in the darkness; there were tears on the furrowed cheeks. “Try to sleep, dear, and let thy spirit have rest. There is but one answer to this call.”
With the first drowsy twitterings of the birds, when the crescent-shaped openings in the board shutters began to define themselves clearly in the shadowy room, they arose and went about their morning tasks in silence. Friend Barton’s step was a little heavier than usual, and the hollows round his wife’s pale brown eyes were a little deeper. As he sat on the splint-bottomed chair by the kitchen fireplace, drawing on his boots, she laid her hands on his shoulders, and her cheek on the worn spot on the top of his head.
“Thee will lay this concern before meeting to-morrow, father?”