I Beg To Differ

                                                                   I Beg to Differ

                                                                             By

                                                                Allison D. Murdach

     A hot wind blew across theKansasprairie as the Reverend Kinsolving guided his buggy slowly into the drive in front of Mrs. Winston’s modest home.  He climbed down, tied up his horse at the watering trough, and stood gazing at the fields around her house. The blue sky made a lazy undulating line in all directions, meeting the tawny prairie like an old friend. The sun blazed directly overhead. He took off his black hat and wiped his forehead with a dusty handkerchief he carried in his back pocket. The mid-day

heat was beginning to bother him. It seemed especially hot for July this year, he thought,

fanning himself with his hat. He turned when he heard the front screen door slam.

  “Mornin’ Reverend!” Mrs. Winston shouted. “What you up to today? Thought you’d be

in church on Sunday.”

  “Good morning, Mrs. Winston. The morning service got out just about an hour ago. I 

wanted to pay a brief call to see how you are doing now.”

  “Come on in and sit awhile. It’s too hot to talk out here.” She motioned him toward the

screen door and held it open for him. Her white kitchen apron was stained with

flour and grease. The pastor could see she looked very tired.

   When her husband, Abe, died of a heart attack two weeks earlier, the pastor was surprised at the sparse attendance at his church funeral.  He had hoped for a bigger

turnout  but  reasoned that travel wasn’t always easy in this part of the state.  He also remembered that the Winstons had not been close to any

I Beg to Differ (cont.)

of their neighbors and had been viewed for years as a quiet couple who kept to

themselves.  They had no children. The funeral was also the last time he had seen Mrs.

Winston in church and he was beginning to get concerned.

     Mrs. Winston scooted a peeling wooden chair up to the kitchen table.  “Here, have a seat. Like something to drink?” she asked.

  “Why thank you. I’m much obliged. Seems considerably warmer than yesterday. Looks

like you’ve been baking.”

    Sitting down heavily across from the pastor, Mrs Winston looked at her greasy

hands.  “I been trying to take my mind off things lately,” she said softly.  “There’s so

much to do around here now. My hired man, Jake, says he’s ready to quit ‘cause I can’t

pay him enough.”

   “That’s what I’ve come by to talk to you about,” the pastor said, leaning forward.  “We’ve all been worried about you back at church.”  He looked enquiringly at Mrs. Winston, feeling a faint rush of embarrassment.  The pastor didn’t want to seem

too forward or overly concerned.  People out here resented those who pried in other’s

affairs.

    Mrs. Winston sat up straight. “Tell ‘em not to worry.  I’ll be doin’ all right.  Things are

just a little tough right now, that’s all.”

   “Did Abe leave you any money?”  As soon he asked the question, the pastor

was sorry he brought the subject up.  He could see Mrs. Winston was struggling to be

polite, but felt that this information was none of his business.

  “Abe was a good man,” she said between her teeth.  “He took care of things all right.

I Beg To Differ (cont.)

It’s just that I’m not able to get as much work done as I’d like.”

    Jake suddenly clumped onto the porch. The pastor could see the hired man, tall and

stooped, peering through the screen door.  “Sorry, missus,” he said, “didn’t know you

had comp’ny.  I’m going into town, Mum. Anything you need?”

   Mrs. Winston waved her hand in dismissive gesture. “No Jake.  Thank ye. We’s all right in here.  This is Reverend Kinsolving.”  The pastor waved his hand in Jake’s direction.

  “Pleased to meet ‘cha, sir,” Jake said as he bobbed his shoulders up and down in the

form of a bow.  “Well, I’ll be goin’ now, missus,” he mumbled, and quickly disappeared from the porch.  They could hear the hoofs of his horse fading in the distance as he galloped away over the packed, dry dirt.

   Mrs. Winston sighed wearily and gazed at the ceiling. “I suspect he’s goin’ into town to

tie one on. He’s got a nasty drinkin’ habit and I just paid him this mornin’. Lord knows

when he’ll be back.”

   The pastor looked intently at Mrs. Winston.  She was about 45 years old, he

guessed, with a large figure and a face surrounded by slightly graying brown hair.  Her

eyes seemed small and looked  pushed up against her forehead, as if she was trying to

hold her breath.  He noted that under her apron she appeared musclular, with small

breasts and  broad shoulders, almost as big as a man’s. Her bare lower arms were tanned 

and ended in long fingers which clutched and unclutched as she spoke.  In a way he

didn’t fully understand, he felt drawn to her, and thought suddenly of 

his diminutive wife, Carrie. She was probably having tea just now with the church

I Beg to Differ (cont.)

deacon’s wife.  He knew she didn’t like visiting church members, that she somehow

resented being “on display” as the Reverend’s wife. She seemed happier to stay at home

and show off her well decorated parlor to visitors.  The pastor cleared his throat and

spoke.

   “Mrs. Winston, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but people at the church

have been wanting to help you out somehow.  What we’d like to offer is some help, like bring you some food and do some chores.   Maybe our church members could….”.  He stopped as he saw her slowly standing up.

   “Reverend, I beg to differ.  Now I know you and the church people are meanin’ well and I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but I think you should know a thing or two about me and what I want to do now.”

   Clasping and unclasping her lean hands, Mrs. Winston rose and paced the small kitchen.  He was surprised at her sudden energy. She stopped abruptly and leaned over the table with her face was about six inches from his. The pastor could see by the veins in her neck that her heart was pounding.

   “You see,” she said, “ I’ve been doin’ a lot of thinkin’ since Abe died.  I need land,

not people here to help.  And I need money to buy land. Abe was the cautious type,

Reverend. He always used to tell me we can’t spend beyond our means.  But that’s not the way to live.  I need to be doin’ the Lord’s work.  He’s callin’ me to bring in sinners, Reverend.  I need land so I can build up His house here, out here, where people is cryin’ for His love!”  Mrs. Winston fell back into her chair, exhausted by  emotion. As she bent

I Beg to Differ (cont.)

her head back to arrange her unkempt hair, the Reverend noted that her eyes, so cloudy when she first began to speak, now seemed to be glowing.  Her words had transfixed him, and he felt strangely moved.

    “I…I don’t know what to say, Mrs. Winston.  I didn’t realize…”

   “Call me Maggie,” she said, smiling. “Short for Margaret.”

   “I didn’t realize, Maggie, that you felt so strongly about…”

   Quickly, Mrs Winston was on her feet again. She pointed a long finger at the pastor.

   “You feel this way too. I know it. I’ve watched you when you do your

sermons. You’ve got a fire in you.” 

   The pastor felt himself shrinking back in his chair as if accused. He began to feel   moved by her passion and commitment, and suddenly remembered feeling the same sense of mission to do God’s work as a young pastor.  He realized with sadness that it was many years since he felt the fire of dedication that now seemed to be consuming Mrs. Winston. Yet she said that she still saw that fire in him. He stood up and took her arm, then quickly released it when she pulled away and resumed pacing. He needed to know what she wanted, not from the church, but from him personally.

   “Mrs. Winston.  Uh, I mean, Maggie,” he sputtered.  “You said just now that you felt I was someone who was really dedicated to the Lord’s work, someone who could work with you in realizing your dream. Please, I need to know what it is that makes you feel this way.”

   She stopped and quietly stared out the rear window at the windmill that was slowly

I Beg To Differ (cont.)

turning in the lazy breeze in back of the house. The pastor could see her figure

silhouetted starkly against the window.  All at once she turned and faced him.

   “It was the way you looked at me when you was reading from the Holy Book at Abe’s

funeral,” she said in a voice so barely audible the pastor strained

to hear each word. “You would read awhile, and then look up. When you looked up you

would look straight at me and I could see a consumin’ passion in your eyes. I could tell

then that Jesus had ahold of ye.” She turned back to the window and gripped the sill.

   The pastor sat down slowly and struggled to regain his composure. Could this be true? Had other parishioners noticed this as well? Had it really been the fire of Jesus’ love he was feeling when he gazed at Mrs. Winston? He tried desperately to remember what had been going through his mind at that time.

    Mrs. Winston was now standing beside him.  “Reverend, you all right?” He realized he was perspiring heavily and had put his hand over his face to collect his thoughts. Mrs.

Winston slapped her thigh. “Ya’  know, I just remembered somethin’,” she

said loudly..

  More secrets? he thought wearily. His heart began to race as Mrs. Winston scurried to

the icebox. “I forgot to get you that cool lemonade I promised when you came in.” She came back to the table with a frothy glass swimming with lemon pulp and placed it gently before him.

   After sipping the cool mixture, he set the glass down slowly on the table. “Mrs.

Winston,” he said, “about your wish to build a church, I….”

I Beg to Differ (Cont.)

    Mrs. Winston grabbed the Reverend’s shoulder with a vice grip. “Not just build!” she

shouted. “ ‘Course I need money for that. But that’s just a start! I want to preach in that

church too, Reverend. I want to bring Jesus to this place, this people. I know now that’s

what He wants me to do.”  Her voice dropped and she resumed her frantic pacing around

the small room.  “You gotta help me, Reverend. You and I are both slaves to the Lord’s

work. I just know it. Difference is you’ve got a congregation with money and

property. All I’ve got is a broken down farmhouse and a little land. But Reverend, we’ve

both got a passion.”  She stopped and looked at him intently.  “Together we can work

miracles,” she said, putting her warm hand on top of his.

    Standing up, the pastor began to inch slowly backward toward the door. “Mrs.

Winston, I appreciate your interest in my work, I mean, in our work. You must realize,

however, that our methods are somewhat different, or rather, separate.  I mean our ways 

move in other spheres to achieve like goals and purposes to…”  The pastor saw by the

puzzled expression on Mrs. Winston’s face that he wasn’t making any sense.  He stopped

his backward movement, gulped hard, and tried to rephrase his thoughts.  “What I

mean to say is, what you are hinting at, or intimating, is not possible, Mrs.

Winston. It is really completely beyond the pale, I’m afraid.”

    Mrs. Winston’s figure seemed to the pastor to be slowly growing in size until it

filled the room. Her face became red and contorted. He became so alarmed that

he lost his hat as he banged his head on the door frame while backing up.

  “Reverend,” hissed Mrs. Winston in a choked voice. “You listen to me!” She advanced

I Beg to Differ (Cont.)

toward him with a jerking motion, her hands flailing. The pastor was rooted to the spot by fear.

     “Reverend, you have a call. It’s God’s call. I know it is. You can’t get away from it. If

you do this, if you run away like this, I’ll never let you forget it. The Lord Jesus would

never forgive me if I did. I’ll tell everyone I can around here about the passion in your

eyes when you looked my way in church, and how I could tell by the expression on your

face that you and me was meant to work together, meant to win souls for the Lord.”  By

now her voice had risen to a crescendo.  Her clenched fists were extended upward, over

her head..

   The pastor slumped limply against the wall.  He felt cornered, like a rat

he once trapped in a corner of his church.  As he raised a club to crush it, the rat looked

quickly back and forth, desperately seeking a way of escape.  He felt his head moving the

same way now.

   “Mrs. Winston,” he blurted, “please, hear me out. You have persuaded me. I am in your

debt. I will help fund your church. You are correct, the Lord’s work must be done here. I

will discuss funding with my parish board next Sunday. You needn’t fear, they will be

sympathetic I can assure you.” He fumbled for the door handle and began quickly to

back out onto the porch.

   Mrs. Winston beamed and reached out to grab the Reverend’s hand, suddenly

becoming jovial and pleasant.  “Thank ye, Reverend, thank ye,” she said, pumping his

arm.  “I ‘m sorry to be so forward but I mean every word. I’m mighty pleased you see

I Beg to Differ (Cont.)

the truth.  With your help we’ll do a great work, a great work indeed.”  She attempted to

clap him on the shoulder but missed as the pastor hurried down the porch steps,

waving a vague goodbye with his hat. As he climbed into his buggy, he could see her

smiling and waving cheerily on the porch.

   As he guided his horse and buggy slowly down the rough country lane to town, the sun

began to drop towards the horizon and the slanted shadows of fence posts and telegraph poles stretched out ahead of him across the road.  The surrounding fields shifted in color from dull brown to purple and red in the gathering dusk. As he bounced along, he reviewed his conversation with Mrs. Winston over and over. Had he really looked at her with such passion and conviction?  He was a married man! Now he had promised to

give her funds.  How could he justify this expense to his board and to his parishioners? 

Could Mrs. Winston actually succeed?  Could she really build and run a church, even with his help?  As his thoughts gained momentum, he slowed his horse to a slow trot and then, finally,stopped completely and put his head in his hands.  Sadly, he thought of his wife. Poor Carrie, so dull, so resentful of her duties as a pastor’s wife. His thoughts then

flashed to his parishioners and his church board.  Could he sway them by  appeals for funds to do the work of God?  His thoughts then returned to Mrs. Winston, with her broad shoulders, tanned arms, and glowing eyes.  He suddenly felt a stirring within him and a sense of release. Jerking himself upright, he grabbed the reins and urged his horse onward down the bumpy road.  Yes, he would help, he would get her the money. The pastor could see clearly now that God was directing his steps. God was showing him the

I Beg to Differ (Cont.)

way.  He whipped his horse into a gallop. The image of a smiling Maggie Winston, arms outstretched to greet him, swam before his eyes as he flew down the road.  He would go to see her immediately after the board meeting tomorrow evening, the pastor thought feverishly. And he needn’t tell Carrie about Mrs. Winston just yet.  As the pastor’s  thoughts rushed on, he knew now that there was no time to waste. He and Maggie had to work to do!

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