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The Experience Of Hannah Prime
by [?]

Tiverton Hollow had occasionally an evening meeting; this came about naturally whenever religious zeal burned high, or when the congregation felt, with some uneasiness, that it had remained too long aloof from spiritual things. To-night, the schoolhouse had been designated for an assembling place, and the neighborhood trooped thither, animated by an excited importance, and doing justice to the greatness of the occasion by “dressing up.” Farmers had laid aside their ordinary mood, with overalls and jumpers, and donned an uncomfortable solemnity, an enforced attitude of theological reflection, with their stocks. Wives had urged their patient fingers into cotton gloves, and in cashmere shawls, and bonnets retrimmed with reference to this year’s style, pressed into the uncomfortable chairs, and folded their hands upon the desks before them in a sweet seriousness not unmingled with the desire of thriftily completing a duty no less exigent than pickle-making, or the work of spring and fall. Last came the boys, clattering with awkward haste over the dusty floor which had known the touch of their bare feet on other days. They looked about the room with some awe and a puzzled acceptance of its being the same, yet not the same. It was their own. There were the maps of North and South America; the yellowed evergreens, relic of “Last Day,” still festooned the windows, and an intricate “sum,” there explained to the uncomprehending admiration of the village fathers, still adorned the blackboard. Yet the room had strangely transformed itself into an alien temple, invaded by theology and the breath of an unknown world. But though sobered, they were not cast down; for the occasion was enlivened, in their case, by a heaven-defying profligacy of intent. Every one of them knew that Sammy Forbes had in his pocket a pack of cards, which he meant to drop, by wicked but careless design, just when Deacon Pitts led in prayer, and that Tom Drake was master of a concealed pea-shooter, which he had sworn, with all the asseverations held sacred by boys, to use at some dramatic moment. All the band were aware that neither of these daring deeds would be done. The prospective actors themselves knew it; but it was a darling joy to contemplate the remote possibility thereof.

Deacon Pitts opened, the meeting, reminding his neighbors how precious a privilege it is for two or three to be gathered together. His companion had not been able to come. (The entire neighborhood knew that Mrs. Pitts had been laid low by an attack of erysipelas, and that she was, at the moment, in a dark bedroom at home, helpless under elderblow.)

“She lays there on a bed of pain,” said the deacon. “But she says to me, ‘You go. Better the house o’ mournin’ than the house o’ feastin’,’ she says. Oh, my friends! what can be more blessed than the counsel of an aged and feeble companion?”

The deacon sat down, and Tom Drake, his finger on the pea-shooter, assured himself, in acute mental triumph, that he had almost done it that time.

Then followed certain incidents eminently pleasing to the boys. To their unbounded relief, Sarah Frances Giles rose to speak, weeping as she began. She always wept at prayer meeting, though at the very moment of asserting her joy that she cherished a hope, and her gratitude that she was so nearly at an end of this earthly pilgrimage and ready to take her stand on the sea of glass mingled with fire. The boys reveled in her testimony. They were in a state of bitter uneasiness before she rose, and gnawed with a consuming impatience until she began to cry. Then they wondered if she could possibly leave out the sea of glass; and when it duly came, they gave a sigh of satiated bliss and sank into acquiescence in whatever might happen. This was a rich occasion to their souls, for Silas Marden, who was seldom moved by the spirit, fell upon his knees to pray; but at the same unlucky instant, his sister-in-law, for whom he cherished an unbounded scorn, rose (being “nigh-eyed” and ignorant of his priority) and began to speak. For a moment, the two held on together, “neck and neck,” as the happy boys afterward remembered, and then Silas got up, dusted his knees, and sat down, not to rise again at any spiritual call. “An’ a madder man you never see,” cried all the Hollow next day, in shocked but gleeful memory.