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   Chapter 37 THE DELUGE.

The End of the World: A Love Story By Edward Eggleston Characters: 8603

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The indescribable deluge! But, after all, the worst of anything of that sort is the moment before it begins. A plunge-bath, a tooth-pulling, an amputation, and a dress-party are all worse in anticipation than in the moment of infliction. Julia, as she stood busily sticking a pin in the window-sash, waiting for her mother to begin, wished that the storm might burst, and be done with it. But Mrs. Anderson understood her business too well for that. She knew the value of the awful moments of silence before beginning. She had not practiced all her life without learning the fine art of torture in its exquisite details. I doubt not the black-robed fathers of the Holy Office were leisurely gentlemen, giving their victims plenty of time for anticipatory meditation, laying out their utensils quietly, inspecting the thumb-screw affectionately to make sure that it would work smoothly, discussing the rack and wheel with much tender forethought, as though torture were a sweet thing, to be reserved like a little girl's candy lamb, and only resorted to when the appetite has been duly whetted by contemplation. I never had the pleasure of knowing an inquisitor, and I can not certify that they were of this deliberate fashion. But it "stands to nature" that they were. For the vixens who are vixens of the highest quality, are always deliberate.

Mrs. Anderson felt that the piece of invective which she was about to undertake, was not to be taken in hand unadvisedly, "but reverently, discreetly, and in the fear of God." And so she paused, and Julia fumbled the tassel of the window-curtain, and trembled with the chill of expectation. And Mrs. Abigail continued to debate how she might make this, which would doubtless be her last outburst before the day of judgment, her masterpiece--worthy song of the dying swan. And then she hoped, she sincerely hoped, to be able by this awful coup de main to awaken Julia to a sense of her sinfulness. For there was such a jumble of mixed motives in her mind, that one could never distinguish her sincerity from her hypocrisy.

Mrs. Anderson's conscience was quite an objective one. As Jonas often remarked, "she had a feelin' sense of other folkses unworthiness." And the sins which she appreciated were generally sins against herself. Julia's disobedience to herself was darker in her mind than murder committed on anybody else would have been. And now she sat deliberating, not on the limit of the verbal punishment she meant to inflict--that gave her no concern--but on her ability to do the matter justice. Even as a tyrannical backwoods school-master straightens his long beech-rod relishfully before applying it.

Not that Mrs. Anderson was silent all this time. She was sighing and groaning in a spasmodic devotion. She was "seeking strength from above to do her whole duty," she would have told you. She was "agonizing" in prayer for her daughter, and she contrived that her stage-whisper praying should now and then reach the ears of its devoted object. Humphreys remained seated, pretending to read the copy of "Josephus," but watching the coming storm with the interest of a connoisseur. And while he remained Jonas determined to stay, to keep Julia in countenance, and he beckoned to Cynthy to stay also. And Samuel Anderson, who loved his daughter and feared his wife, fled like a coward from the coming scene. Everybody expected Mrs. Anderson to break out like a fury.

But she knew a better plan than that. She felt a new device come like an inspiration. And perhaps it was. It really seemed to Jonas that the devil helped her. For instead of breaking out into commonplace scolding, the resources of which she had long since exhausted, she dropped upon her knees, and began to pray for Julia.

No swearer ever curses like the priest who veils his personal spites in official and pious denunciations, and Mrs. Anderson had never dealt out abuse so roundly and terribly and crushingly, as she did under the guise of praying for the salvation of Julia's soul from well-deserved perdition. But Abigail did not say perdition. She left that to weak spirits. She thought it a virtue to say "hell" with unction and emphasis, by way of alarming the consciences of sinners. Mrs. Anderson's prayer is not reportable. That sort of profanity is to

o bad to write. She capped her climax--even as I have heard a revivalist pray for a scoffer that had vexed his righteous soul--by asking God to convert her daughter, or if she could not be converted to take her away, that she might not heap up wrath against the day of wrath. For that sort of religious excitement which does not quiet the evil passions, seems to inflame them, and Mrs. Anderson was not in any right sense sane. And the prayer was addressed more to the frightened Julia than to God. She would have been terribly afflicted had her petition been granted.

Julia would have run away from the admonition which followed the prayer, had it not been that Mrs. Anderson adroitly put it under cover of a religious exhortation. She besought Julia to repent, and then, affecting to show her her sinfulness, she proceeded to abuse her.

Had Julia no temper? Yes, she had doubtless a spice of her mother's anger without her meanness. She would have resisted, but that from childhood she had felt paralyzed by the utter uselessness of all resistance. The bravest of the villagers at the foot of Vesuvius never dreamed of stopping the crater's mouth.

But, happily, at last Mrs. Anderson's insane wrath went a little too far.

"You poor lost sinner," she said, "to think you should go to destruction under my very eyes, disgracing us all, by running over the country at night with bad men! But there's mercy even for such as you."

Julia would not have understood the full meaning of this aspersion of her purity, had she not caught Humphreys's eye. His expression, half sneer, half leer, seemed to give her mother's saying its full interpretation. She put out her hand. She turned white, and said: "Say one word more, and I will go away from you and never come back! Never!" And then she sat down and cried, and then Mrs. Anderson's maternal love, her "unloving love," revived. To have her daughter leave her, too, would be a sort of defeat. She hushed, and sat down in her splint-bottomed rocking-chair, which snapped when she rocked, and which seemed to speak for her after she had shut her mouth. Her face settled into a martyr-like appeal to Heaven in proof of the justice of her cause. And then she fell back on her forlorn hope. She wept hysterically, in sincere self-pity, to think that an affectionate mother should have such a daughter!

Julia, finding that her mother had desisted, went to her room. She did not exactly pray, but she talked to herself as she paced the floor. It was a monologue, and yet there was a conscious appeal to an invisible Presence, who could not misjudge her, and so she passed from talking to herself to talking to God, and that without any of the formality of prayer. Her mother had made God seem to be against her. Now she, like David, protested her innocence to God. She recited half to herself, and yet also to God--for is not every appeal to one's conscience in some sense an appeal to God?--she recited all the struggles of that night when she went to August at the castle. People talk of the consolation there is in God's mercy. But Julia found comfort in God's justice. He could not judge her wrongly.

Then she opened the Testament at the old place, and read the words long since fixed in her memory. And then she--weary and heavy laden--came again to Him who invites, and found rest. And then she found, as many another has found, that coming to God is not, as theorists will have it, a coming once for a lifetime, but a coming oft and ever repeated.

Jonas and Cynthy Ann retired to the kitchen, and the former said hi his irreverent way, "Blamed ef Abigail ha'nt got more devils into her'n Mary Magdalene had the purtiest day she ever seed! I should think, arter a life with her fer a mother, the bad place would be a healthy and delightful clime. The devil a'n't a patchin' to her."

"Don't, Jonas; you talk so cur'us, like as ef you was kinder sorter wicked."

"That's jest what I am, my dear, but Abigail Anderson's wicked without the kinder sorter. She cusses when she's a-prayin'. She cusses that poar gal right in the Lord's face. Good by, I must go. Smells so all-fired like brimstone about here." This last was spoken in an undertone of indignant soliloquy, as he crossed the threshold of Cynthy's clean kitchen.

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