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The Strike At Putney
by [?]

“But if they don’t,” said Andrew McKittrick gloomily, “who is going to pay for that carpet?”

This was an unpleasant question. The others shirked it.

“I was always opposed to this action of the session,” said Alec Craig. “It wouldn’t have hurt to have let the woman speak. ‘Tisn’t as if it was a regular sermon.”

“The session knew best,” said Andrew sharply. “And the minister–you’re not going to set your opinion up against his, are you, Craig?”

“Didn’t know they taught such reverence for ministers in Danbridge,” retorted Craig with a laugh.

“Best let ’em alone, as Wherrison says,” said Abner Keech.

“Don’t see what else we can do,” said John Wilson shortly.

* * * * *

On Sunday morning the men were conscious of a bare, deserted appearance in the church. Mr. Sinclair perceived it himself. After some inward wondering he concluded that it was because there were no flowers anywhere. The table before the pulpit was bare. On the organ a vase held a sorry, faded bouquet left over from the previous week. The floor was’ unswept. Dust lay thickly on the pulpit Bible, the choir chairs, and the pew backs.

“This church looks disgraceful,” said John Robbins in an angry undertone to his daughter Polly, who was president of the Flower Band. “What in the name of common sense is the good of your Flower Banders if you can’t keep the place looking decent?”

“There is no Flower Band now, Father,” whispered Polly in turn. “We’ve disbanded. Women haven’t any business to meddle in church matters. You know the session said so.”

It was well for Polly that she was too big to have her ears boxed. Even so, it might not have saved her if they had been anywhere else than in church.

Meanwhile the men who were sitting in the choir–three basses and two tenors–were beginning to dimly suspect that there was something amiss here too. Where were the sopranos and the altos? Myra Wilson and Alethea Craig and several other members of the choir were sitting down in their pews with perfectly unconscious faces. Myra was looking out of the window into the tangled sunlight and shadow of the great maples. Alethea Craig was reading her Bible.

Presently Frances Spenslow came in. Frances was organist, but today, instead of walking up to the platform, she slipped demurely into her father’s pew at one side of the pulpit. Eben Craig, who was the Putney singing master and felt himself responsible for the choir, fidgeted uneasily. He tried to catch Frances’s eye, but she was absorbed in reading the mission report she had found in the rack, and Eben was finally forced to tiptoe down to the Spenslow pew and whisper, “Miss Spenslow, the minister is waiting for the doxology. Aren’t you going to take the organ?”

Frances looked up calmly. Her clear, placid voice was audible not only to those in the nearby pews, but to the minister.

“No, Mr. Craig. You know if a woman isn’t fit to speak in the church she can’t be fit to sing in it either.”

Eben Craig looked exceedingly foolish. He tiptoed gingerly back to his place. The minister, with an unusual flush on his thin, ascetic face, rose suddenly and gave out the opening hymn.

Nobody who heard the singing in Putney church that day ever forgot it. Untrained basses and tenors, unrelieved by a single female voice, are not inspiring.

There were no announcements of society meetings for the forthcoming week. On the way home from church that day irate husbands and fathers scolded, argued, or pleaded, according to their several dispositions. One and all met with the same calm statement that if a noble, self-sacrificing woman like Mrs. Cotterell were not good enough to speak in the Putney church, ordinary, everyday women could not be fit to take any part whatever in its work.

Sunday School that afternoon was a harrowing failure. Out of all the corps of teachers only one was a man, and he alone was at his post. In the Christian Endeavour meeting on Tuesday night the feminine element sat dumb and unresponsive. The Putney women never did things by halves.

The men held out for two weeks. At the end of that time they “happened” to meet at the manse and talked the matter over with the harassed minister. Elder Knox said gloomily, “It’s this way. Nothing can move them women. I know, for I’ve tried. My authority has been set at naught in my own household. And I’m laughed at if I show my face in any of the other settlements.”

The Sunday School superintendent said the Sunday School was going to wrack and ruin, also the Christian Endeavour. The condition of the church for dust was something scandalous, and strangers were making a mockery of the singing. And the carpet had to be paid for. He supposed they would have to let the women have their own way.

The next Sunday evening after service Mr. Sinclair arose hesitatingly. His face was flushed, and Alethea Craig always declared that he looked “just plain everyday cross.” He announced briefly that the session after due deliberation had concluded that Mrs. Cotterell might occupy the pulpit on the evening appointed for her address.

The women all over the church smiled broadly. Frances Spenslow got up and went to the organ stool. The singing in the last hymn was good and hearty. Going down the steps after dismissal Mrs. Elder Knox caught the secretary of the Church Aid by the arm.

“I guess,” she whispered anxiously, “you’d better call a special meeting of the Aids at my house tomorrow afternoon. If we’re to get that social over before haying begins we’ve got to do some smart scurrying.”

The strike in the Putney church was over.