In the late May evening the soul of summer had gone suddenly incarnate, but the old man, indifferent and petulant, thrashed upon his bed. He was not used to being ill, and found no consolations in weather. Flowers regarded him observantly—one might have said critically—from the tables, the bureau, the window-sills: tulips, fleurs-de-lis, pansies, peonies, and late lilacs, for he had a garden-loving wife who made the most of "the dull season," after crocuses and daffodils, and before roses. But he manifested no interest in flowers; less than usual, it must be owned, in Patience, his wife. This was a marked incident. They had lived together fifty years, and she had acquired her share of the lessons of marriage, but not that ruder one given chiefly to women to learn—she had never found herself a negligible quantity in her husband's life. She had the profound maternal instinct which is so large an element in the love of every experienced and tender wife; and when Reuben thrashed profanely upon his pillows, staring out of the window above the vase of jonquils, without looking at her, clearly without thinking of her, she swallowed her surprise as if it had been a blue-pill, and tolerantly thought:
"Poor boy! To be a veteran and can't go!"
Her poor boy, being one-and-eighty, and having always had health and her, took his disappointment like a boy. He felt more outraged that he could not march with the other boys to decorate the graves to-morrow than he had been, or had felt that he was, by some of the important troubles of his long and, on the whole, comfortable life. He took it unreasonably; she could not deny that. But she went on saying "Poor boy!" as she usually did when he was unreasonable. When he stopped thrashing and swore no more she smiled at him brilliantly. He had not said anything worse than damn! But he was a good Baptist, and the lapse was memorable.
"Peter?" he said. "Just h'ist the curtain a mite, won't you? I want to see across over to the shop. Has young Jabez locked up everything? Somebody's got to make sure."
Behind the carpenter's shop the lush tobacco-fields of the Connecticut valley were springing healthily. "There ain't as good a crop as there gener'lly is," the old man fretted.
"Don't you think so?" replied Patience. "Everybody say it's better. But you ought to know."
In the youth and vigor of her no woman was ever more misnamed. Patient she was not, nor gentle, nor adaptable to the teeth in the saw of life. Like wincing wood, her nature had resented it, the whole biting thing. All her gentleness was acquired, and acquired hard. She had fought like a man to endure like a woman, to accept, not to writhe and rebel. She had not learned easily how to count herself out. Something in the sentimentality or even the piety of her name had always seemed to her ridiculous; they both used to have their fun at its expense; for some years he called her Impatience, degenerating into Imp if he felt like it. When Reuben took to calling her Peter, she found it rather a relief....