The Man Who Stole a Meeting-House
On a recent journey to the Pennsylvania oil regions, I stopped one evening with a fellow-traveller at a village which had just been thrown into a turmoil of excitement by the exploits of a horse-thief. As we sat around the tavern hearth, after supper, we heard the particulars of the rogues capture and escape fully discussed; then followed many another tale of theft and robbery, told amid curling puffs of tobacco- smoke; until, at the close of an exciting story, one of the natives turned to my travelling acquaintance, and, with a broad laugh, said, Kin you beat that, stranger?
Well, I dont knowmaybe I could if I should try. I never happened to fall in with any such tall horse- stealing as you tell of, but I knew a man who stole a meeting-house once.
Stole a meetin-house! That goes a little beyant anything yit, remarked another of the honest villagers. Ye dont mean he stole it and carried it away?
Stole it and carried it away, repeated my travelling companion seriously, crossing his legs, and resting his arm on the back of his chair. And, more than all that, I helped him.
How happened that?for you dont look much like a thief yourself.
All eyes were now turned upon my friend, a plain New England farmer, whose honest homespun appearance and candid speech commanded respect.
I was his hired man, and I acted under orders. His name was JedwortOld Jedwort the boys called him, although he wasnt above fifty when the crooked little circumstance happened, which Ill make as straight a story of as I can, if the company would like to hear it.
Sartin, stranger! sartin! about stealin the meetin-house, chimed in two or three voices.
My friend cleared his throat, put his hair behind his ears, and with a grave, smooth face, but with a merry twinkle in his shrewd grey eye, began as follows:
Jedwort, I said his name was; and I shall never forget how he looked one particular morning. He stood leaning on the front gate or rather on the post, for the gate itself was such a shackling concern a child couldnt have leaned ont without breaking it down. And Jedwort was no child. Think of a stoutish, stooping, ducklegged man, with a mountainous back, strongly suggestive of a bag of grist under his shirtand you have him. That imaginary grist had been growing heavier and heavier, and he more and more bent under it, for the last fifteen years and more, until his head and neck just came forward out from between his shoulders like a turtles from its shell. His arms hung, as he walked, almost to the ground. Being curved with the elbows outward, he looked for all the world, in a front view, like a waddling interrogation-point enclosed in a parenthesis.
If man was ever a quadruped, as Ive heard some folks tell, and rose gradually from four legs to two, there must have been a time, very early in his history, when he went about like Old Jedwort.
The gate had been a very good gate in its day. It had even been a genteel gate when Jedwort came into possession of the place by marrying his wife, who inherited it from her uncle. That was some twenty years before, and everything had been going to rack and ruin ever since.
Jedwort himself had been going to rack and ruin, morally speaking. He was a middling decent sort of man when I first knew him; and I judge there must have been something about him more than common, or he never could have got such a wife. But then women do marry sometimes unaccountably.
I speak with feeling on this subject, for I had an opportunity of seeing what Mrs. Jedwort had to put up with from a man no woman of her stamp could do anything but detest. She was the patientest creature you ever saw. She was even too patient. If I had been tied to such a cub, I think I should have cultivated
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