The Minister's Wooing
IT is seldom that man and woman come together in intimate association, unless influences are at work more subtile and mysterious than the subjects of them dream. Even in cases where the strongest ruling force of the two sexes seems out of the question, there is still something peculiar and insidious in their relationship. A fatherly old gentleman, who undertakes the care of a sprightly young girl, finds, to his astonishment, that little Miss spins all sorts of cobwebs round him. Grave professors and teachers cannot give lessons to their female pupils just as they give them to the coarser sex, and more than once has the fable of “ Cadenus and Vanessa” been acted over by the most unlikely performers.
The Doctor was a philosopher, a metaphysician, a philanthropist, and in the highest and most earnest sense a minister of good on earth. The New England clergy had no sentimental affectation of sanctity that segregated them from wholesome human relations ; and consequently our good Doctor had always resolved, in a grave and thoughtful spirit, at a suitable time in his worldly affairs, to choose unto himself a helpmeet. Love, as treated of in romances, he held to be a foolish and profane matter, unworthy the attention of a serious and reasonable creature. All the language of poetry on this subject was to him an unknown tongue. He contemplated the entrance on married life somewhat in this wise :—That at a time and place suiting, he should look out unto himself a woman of a pleasant countenance and of good repute, a zealous, earnest Christian, and well skilled in the items of household management, whom accosting as a stranger and pilgrim to a better life, he should loyally and lovingly entreat, as Isaac did Rebekah, to come under the shadow of his tent and be a helpmeet unto him in what yet remained of this mortal journey. But straitened circumstances, and the unsettled times of the Revolution, in which he had taken an earnest and zealous part, had delayed to a late bachelorhood the fulfilment of this resolution.
When once received under the shadow of Mrs. Scudder’s roof, and within the provident sphere of her unfailing housekeeping, all material necessity for an immediate choice was taken away ; for he was exactly in that situation dearest to every scholarly and thoughtful man, in which all that pertained to the outward life appeared to rise under his hand at the moment he wished for it without his knowing how or why.
He was not at the head of a prosperous church and society, rich and well-todo in the world,—but, as the pioneer leader of a new theology, in a country where theology was the all-absorbing interest, he had to breast the reaction that ever attends the advent of new ideas. His pulpit talents, too, were unattractive. His early training had been all logical, not in the least aesthetic ; for, like the ministry of his country generally, he had been trained always to think more of what he should say than of how he should say it. Consequently, his style, though not without a certain massive greatness, which always comes from largeness of nature, had none of those attractions by which the common masses are beguiled into thinking. He gave only the results of thought, not its incipient processes ; and the consequence was, that few could follow him. In like manner, his religious teachings were characterized by an ideality so high as quite to discourage ordinary virtue.
There is a ladder to heaven, whose base God has placed in human affections, tender instincts, symbolic feelings, sacraments of love, through which the soul rises higher and higher, refining as she goes, till she outgrows the human, and changes, as she rises, into the image of the divine. At the very top of this ladder, at the threshold of paradise, blazes dazzling and crystalline that celestial grade where the soul knows self no more, having learned, through a long experience of devotion, how blest it is to lose herself in that eternal Love and Beauty of which all earthly fairness and grandeur are but the dim type, the distant shadow. This highest step, this saintly elevation, which but few selectest spirits ever on earth attain, to raise the soul to which the Eternal Father organized every relation of human existence and strung every chord of human love, for which this world is one long discipline, for which the soul’s human education is constantly varied, for which it is now torn by sorrow, now flooded by joy, to which all its multiplied powers tend with upward hands of dumb and ignorant aspiration,—this Ultima Thule of virtue had been seized upon by our sage as the all of religion. He knocked out. every round of the ladder but the highest, and then, pointing to its hopeless splendor, said to the world, “ Go up thither and be saved ! ”
Short of that absolute self-abnegation, that unconditional surrender to the Infinite, there was nothing meritorious,—because, if that were commanded, every moment of refusal was rebellion. Every prayer, not based on such consecration, he held to be an insult to the Divine Majesty;—the reading of the Word, the conscientious conduct of life, the performance of the duties of man to man, being, without this, the deeds of a creature in conscious rebellion to its Eternal Sovereign, were all vitiated and made void. Nothing was to be preached to the sinner, but his ability and obligation to rise immediately to this height.
It is not wonderful that teaching of this sort should seem to many unendurable, and that the multitude should desert the preacher with the cry, “ This is an hard saying ; who can hear it ?” The young and gay were wearied by the dryness of metaphysical discussions which to them were as unintelligible as a statement of the last results of the mathematician to the child commencing the multiplicationtable. There remained around him only a select circle, — shrewd, hard thinkers, who delighted in metaphysical subtil ties, — deep-hearted, devoted natures, who sympathized with the unworldly purity of his life, his active philanthropy and untiring benevolence,—courageous men, who admired his independence of thought and freedom in breasting received opinion,—and those unperceiving, dull, good people who are content to go to church anywhere as convenience and circumstance may drift them,—people who serve, among the keen feeling and thinking portion of the world, much the same purpose as adipose matter in the human system, as a soft cushion between the nerves of feeling and the muscles of activity.
There was something affecting in the pertinacity with which the good Doctor persevered in saying his say to his discouraging minority of hearers. His salary was small ; his meeting-house, damaged during the Re volutionary struggle, was dilapidated and forlorn,—fireless in winter, and in summer admitting a flood of sun and dust through those great windows which formed so principal a feature in those first efforts of Puritan architecture.
Still, grand in his humility, he preached on,—and as a soldier never asks why, but stands at apparently the most useless post, so he went on from Sunday to Sunday, comforting himself with the reflection that no one could think more meanly of his ministrations than he did himself. “ I am like Moses only in not being eloquent,” he said, in his simplicity. “ My preaching is barren and dull, my voice is hard and harsh ; but then the Lord is a Sovereign, and may work through me. He fed Elijah once through a raven, and he may feed some poor wandering soul through me.”
The only mistake made by the good man was that of supposing that the elaboration of theology was preaching the gospel. The gospel he was preaching constantly, by his pure, unworldly living, by his visitations to homes of poverty and sorrow, by his searching out of the lowly African slaves, his teaching of those whom no one else in those days had thought of teaching, and by the grand humanity, outrunning his age, in which he protested against the then admitted system of slavery and the slave-trade. But when, rising in the pulpit, he followed trains of thought suited only to the desk of the theological lecture-room, he did it blindly, following that law of self-development by which minds of a certain amount of fervor must utter what is in them, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.
But the place where our Doctor was happiest was his study. There he explored, and wandered, and read, and thought, and lived a life as wholly ideal and intellectual as heart could conceive.
And could Love enter a reverend doctor’s study, and find his way into a heart empty and swept of all those shreds of poetry and romance in which he usually finds the material of his incantations ? Even so;—but he came so thoughtfully, so reverently, with so wise and cautious a footfall, that the good Doctor never even raised his spectacles to see who was there. The first that he knew, poor man, he was breathing an air of strange and subtile sweetness,—from what paradise he never stopped his studies to inquire. He was like a great, rugged elm, with all its lacings and archings of boughs and twigs, which has stood cold and frozen against the metallic blue of winter sky, forgetful of leaves, and patient in its bareness, calmly content in its naked strength and crystalline definiteness of outline. But in April there is a rising and stirring within the grand old monster,—a whispering of knotted buds, a mounting of sap coursing ethereally from bough to bough with a warm and gentle life ; and though the old elm knows it not, a new creation is at hand. Just so, ever since the good man had lived at Mrs. Scudder's, and had the gentle Mary for his catechumen, a richer life seemed to have colored his thoughts,—his mind seemed to work with a pleasure as never before.
Whoever looked on the forehead of the good Doctor must have seen the squareness of ideality giving marked effect to its outline. As yet ideality had dealt only with the intellectual and invisible, leading to subtile refinements of argument and exalted ideas of morals. But there was lying in him, crude and unworked, a whole mine of those artistic feelings and perceptions which are awakened and developed only by the touch of beauty. Had he been born beneath the shadow of the great Duomo of Florence, where Giotto’s Campanile rises like the slender stalk of a celestial lily, where varied marbles and rainbow-glass and gorgeous paintings and lofty statuary call forth, even from childhood, the soul's reminiscences of the bygone glories of its pristine state, his would have been a soul as rounded and full in its sphere of faculties as that of Da Vinci or Michel Angelo. But of all that he was as ignorant as a child ; and the first revelation of his dormant nature was to come to him through the face of woman, — that work of the Mighty Master which is to be found in all lands and ages.
What makes the love of a great mind something fearful in its inception is that it is often the unsealing of a hitherto undeveloped portion of a large and powerful being ; the woman may or may not seem to other eyes adequate to the effect produced, but the man cannot forget her, because with her came a change which makes him forever a different being, iso it was with our friend. A woman it was that was destined to awaken in him all that consciousness which music, painting, poetry awaken in more evenly developed minds ; and it is the silent breathing of her creative presence that is even now creating him anew, while as yet he knows it not.
He never thought, this good old soul, whether Mary were beautiful or not ; he never even knew that he looked at her ; nor did he know why it was that the truths of his theology, when uttered by her tongue, had such a wondrous beauty as he never felt before. He did not know why it was, that, when she silently sat by him, copying tangled manuscript for the press, as she sometimes did, his whole study seemed so full of some divine influence, as if, like St. Dorothea, she had worn in her bosom, invisibly, the celestial roses of paradise, He recorded honestly in his diary what marvellous freshness of spirit the Lord had given him, and how he seemed to be uplifted in his communings with heaven, without once thinking from the robes of what angel this sweetness had exhaled.
On Sundays, when he saw good Mrs. Jones asleep, and Simon Brown’s hard, sharp eyes, and Deacon Twitchel mournfully rocking to and fro, and his wife handing fennel to keep the children awake, his eye glanced across to the front gallery, where one earnest young face, ever kindling with feeling and bright with intellect, followed on his way, and he felt uplifted and comforted. On Sunday mornings, when Mary came out of her little room, in clean white dress, with her singing-book and psalm-book in her hands, her deep eyes solemn from recent prayer, he thought of that fair and mystical bride, the Lamb’s wife, whose union with her Divine Redeemer in a future millennial age was a frequent and favorite subject of his musings ; yet he knew not that this celestial bride, clothed in fine linen, clean and white, veiled in humility and meekness, bore in his mind those earthly features. No, he never had dreamed of that ! But only after she had passed by, that mystical vision seemed to him more radiant, more easy to be conceived.
It is said, that, if a grape-vine be planted in the neighborhood of a well, its roots, running silently underground, wreathe themselves in a net-work around the cold, clear waters, and the vine’s putting on outward greenness and unwonted clusters and fruit is all that tells where every root and fibre of its being. has been silently stealing. So those loves are most fatal, most absorbing, in which, with unheeded quietness, every thought and fibre of our life twines gradually around some human soul, to us the unsuspected wellspring of our being. Fearful it is, because so often the vine must be uprooted, and all its fibres wrenched away ; but till the hour of discovery comes, how is it transfigured by a new and beautiful life !
There is nothing in life more beautiful than that trancelike quiet dawn which precedes the rising of love in the soul. When the whole being is pervaded imperceptibly and tranquilly by another being, and we are happy, we know not and ask not why, the soul is then receiving all and asking nothing. At a later day she becomes self-conscious, and then come craving exactions, endless questions,—the whole world of the material comes in with its hard counsels and consultations, and the beautiful trance fades forever.
Of course, all this is not so to you, my good friends, who read it without the most distant idea what it can mean ; but there are people in the world to whom it has meant and will mean much, and who will see in the present happiness of our respectable friend something even ominous and sorrowful.
It had not escaped the keen eye of the mother how quickly and innocently the good Doctor was absorbed by her daughter, and thereupon had come long trains of practical reflections.
The Doctor, though not popular indeed as a preacher, was a noted man in his age. Her deceased husband had regarded him with something of the same veneration which might have been accorded to a divine messenger, and Mrs. Scudder had received and kept this veneration as a precious legacy. Then, although not handsome, the Doctor had decidedly a grand and imposing appearance. There was nothing common or insignificant about him. Indeed, it had been said, that, when, just after the declaration of peace, he walked through the town in the commemorative procession side by side with General Washington, the minister, in the majesty of his gown, bands, cocked hat, and full flowing wig, was thought by many to be the more majestic and personable figure of the two.
In those days, the minister united in himself all those ideas of superior position and cultivation with which the theocratic system of the New England community had invested him. Mrs. Scudder's notions of social rank could reach no higher than to place her daughter on the throne of such preëminence.
Her Mary, she pondered, was no common girl. In those days, it was a rare thing for young persons to devote themselves to religion or make any professions of devout life. The church, or that body of people who professed to have passed through a divine regeneration, was almost entirely confined to middle-aged and elderly people, and it was looked upon as a singular and unwonted call of divine grace when young persons came forward to attach themselves to it. When Mary, therefore, at quite an early age, in all the bloom of her youthful beauty, arose, according to the simple and impressive New England rite, to consecrate herself publicly to a religious life, and to join the company of professing Christians, she was regarded with a species of deference amounting even to awe. Had it not been for the childlike, unconscious simplicity of her manners, the young people of her age would have shrunk away from her, as from one entirely out of their line of thought and feeling; but a certain natural and innocent playfulness and amiable self-forgetfulness made her a general favorite.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Scudder knew no young man whom she deemed worthy to have and hold a heart which she prized so highly. As to James, he stood at double disadvantage, because, as her cousin’s son, he had grown up from childhood under her eye, and all those sins and iniquities into which gay and adventurous youngsters will be falling had come to her know ledge. She felt kindly to the youth ; she wished him well ; but as to giving him her Mary !—the very suggestion made her dislike him. She was quite sure he must have tried to beguile her,—he must have tampered with her feelings, to arouse in her pure and wellordered mind so much emotion and devoted ness as she had witnessed.
How encouraging a Providence, then, was it that he was gone to sea for three years ! — how fortunate that Mary had been prevented in any way from committing herself with him !—how encouraging that the only man in those parts, in the least fitted to appreciate her, seemed so greatly pleased and absorbed in her society !—how easily might Mary’s dutiful reverence be changed to a warmer sentiment, when she should find that so great a man could descend from his lofty thoughts to think of her !
In fact, before Mrs. Scudder had gone to sleep the first night after James’s departure, she had settled upon the house where the minister and his young wife were to live, had reviewed the windowcurtains and bed-quilts for each room, and glanced complacently at an improved receipt for wedding-cake which might be brought out to glorify a certain occasion !
THE FRIENDS AND RELATIONS OF JAMES.
MR. ZEBEDEE MARVYN, the father of James, was the sample of an individuality so purely the result of New England society and education, that he must be embodied in our story as a representative man of the times.
He owned a large farm in the immediate vicinity of Newport, which he worked with his own hands and kept under the most careful cultivation. He was a man past the middle of life, with a white head, a keen blue eye, and a face graven deeply with the lines of energy and thought. His was one of those clearly-cut minds which New England forms among her farmers, as she, forms quartz crystals in her mountains, by a sort of gradual influence flowing through every pore of her soil and system.
His education, properly so called, had been merely that of those common schools and academies with which the States are thickly sown, and which are the springs of so much intellectual activity. Here he had learned to think and to inquire, —a process which had not ceased with his school-days. Though toiling daily with his sons and hired man in all the minutiae of a farmer’s life, he kept an observant eye on the field of literature, and there was not a new publication heard of that he did not immediately find means to add it to his yearly increasing stock of books. In particular was he a well-read and careful theologian, and all the controversial tracts, sermons, and books, with which then, as ever since, New England has abounded, not only lay on his shelves, but had his pencilled annotations, queries, and comments thickly scattered along their margins. There was scarce an office of public trust which had not at one time or another been filled by him. He was deacon of the church, chairman of the school-committee, justice of the peace, had been twice representative in the State legislature, and was in permanence a sort of adviser-general in all cases between neighbor and neighbor. Among other acquisitions, he had gained some knowledge of the general forms of law, and his advice was often asked in preference to that of the regular practitioners.
His dwelling was one of those large, square, white, green-blinded mansions, cool, clean, and roomy, wherein the respectability of New England in those days rejoiced. The windows were shaded by clumps of lilacs ; the deep yard with its white fence inclosed a sweep of clean, short grass, and a few fruit-trees. Opposite the house was a small blacksmith'sshed, which, of a wet day, was sparkling and lively with bellows and ringing forge, while Mr. Zebedee and his sons were hammering and pounding and putting in order anything that was out of the way in farming-tools or establishments. Not unfrequently the latest scientific work or the last tractate of theology lay open by his side, the contents of which would be discussed with a neighbor or two as they entered ; for, to say the truth, many a neighbor, less forehanded and thrifty, felt the benefit of this arrangement of Mr. Zebedee, and would drop in to see if he “ wouldn’t just tighten that rivet,” or “ kind o’ ease out that 'ere brace,” or “ let a feller have a turn with his bellows, or a stroke or two on his anvil,”—to all which the good man consented with a grave obligingness. The fact was, that, as nothing in the establishment of Mr. Marvyn was often broken or lost or out of place, he had frequent applications to lend to those less fortunate persons, always to be found, who supply their own lack of considerateness from the abundance of their neighbors.
He who is known always to be in hand, and always obliging, in a neighborhood, stands the chance sometimes of having nothing for himself. Mr. Zebedee reflected quietly on this subject, taking it, as he did all others, into grave and orderly consideration, and finally provided a complete set of tools, which he kept for the purpose of lending ; and when any of these were lent, he told the next applicant quietly, that the axe or the hoe was already out, and thus he reconciled the Scripture which commanded him to “ do good and lend ” with that law of order which was written in his nature.
Early in life Mr. Marvyn had married one of the handsomest girls of his acquaintance, who had brought him a thriving and healthy family of children, of whom James was the youngest Mrs. Marvyn was, at this time, a tall, sad-eyed, gentlemannered woman, thoughtful, earnest, deep-natured, though sparing in the matter of words. In all her household arrangements, she had the same thrift and order which characterized her husband; but hers was a mind of a finer and higher stamp than his.
In her bed-room, near by her workbasket, stood a table covered with books, —and so systematic were her household arrangements, that she never any day missed her regular hours for reading. One who should have looked over this table would have, seen there how eager and hungry a mind was hid behind the silent eyes of this quiet woman. History, biography, mathematics, volumes of the encyclopedia, poetry, novels, all alike found their time and place there,— and while she pursued her household labors, the busy, active sold within travelled cycles and cycles of thought, few of which ever found expression in words. What might be that marvellous music of the Miserere, of which she read, that it convulsed crowds and drew groans and tears from the most obdurate ? What might be those wondrous pictures of Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci ? What would it be to see the Apollo, the Venus ? What was the charm that enchanted the old marbles,—charm untold and inconceivable to one who had never seen even the slightest approach to a work of art ? Then those glaciers of Switzerland, that grand, unapproachable mixture of beauty and sublimity in her mountains !—what would it be to one who could see it ? Then what were all those harmonies of which she read,—masses, fugues, symphonies ? Oh, could she once hear the Miserere of Mozart, just to know what music was like ! And the cathedrals, what were they ? How wonderful they must be, with their forests of arches, many-colored as autumn-woods with painted glass, and the chants and anthems rolling down their long aisles ! On all these things she pondered quietly, as she sat often on Sundays in the old staring, rattle-windowed meeting-house, and looked at the uncouth old pulpit, and heard the choir faw-sol-la-ing or singing fuguing tunes ; but of all this she said nothing.
Sometimes, for days, her thoughts would turn from these subjects and be absorbed in mathematical or metaphysical studies. “ I have been following that treatise on Optics for a week, and never understood it till to-day,” she once said to her husband. " I have found now that there has been a mistake in drawing the diagrams. I have corrected it, and now the demonstration is complete.— Dinah, take care, that wood is hickory, and it takes only seven sticks of that size to heat the oven.”
It is not to be supposed that a woman of this sort was an inattentive listener to preaching so stimulating to the intellect as that of Dr. H. No pair of eyes followed the web of his reasonings with a keener and more anxious watchfulness than those sad, deep-set, hazel ones ; and as she was drawn along the train of its inevitable logic, a close observer might have seen how the shadows deepened over them. For, while others listened for the clearness of the thought, for the acuteness of the argument, she listened as a soul wide, fine-strung, acute, repressed, whose every fibre is a nerve, listens to the problem of its own destiny,—listened as the mother of a family listens, to know what were the possibilities, the probabilities, of this mysterious existence of ours to herself and those dearer to her than herself.
The consequence of all her listening was a history of deep inward sadness. That exultant joy, or that entire submission, with which others seemed to view the scheme of the universe, as thus unfolded, did not visit her mind. Everything to her seemed shrouded in gloom and mystery ; and that darkness she received as a token of unregeneracy, as a sign that she was one of those who are destined, by a mysterious decree, never to receive the light of the glorious gospel of Christ. Hence, while her husband was a deacon of the church, she, for years, had sat in her pew while the sacramental elements were distributed, a mournful spectator. Punctilious in every duty, exact, reverential, she still regarded herself as a child of wrath, an enemy to God, and an heir of perdition ; nor could she see any hope of remedy, except in the sovereign, mysterious decree of an Infinite and Unknown Power, a mercy for which she waited with the sickness of hope deferred.
Her children had grown up successively around her, intelligent and exemplary. Her eldest son was mathematical professor in one of the leading colleges of New England. Her second son, who jointly with his father superintended the farm, was a man of wide literary culture and of fine mathematical genius ; and not unfrequently, on winter evenings, the son, father, and mother worked together, by their kitchen fireside, over the calculations for the almanac for the ensuing year, Which the son had been appointed to edit.
Everything in the family arrangements was marked by a sober precision, a grave and quiet self-possession. There was little demonstrativeness of affection between parents and children, brothers and sisters, though great mutual affection and confidence. It was not pride, nor sternness, but a sort of habitual shamefacedness, that kept far back in each soul those feelings which are the most beautiful in their outcome ; but after a while, the habit became so fixed a nature, that a caressing or affectionate expression could not have passed the lips of one to another without a painful awkwardness. Love was understood, once for all, to be the basis on which their life was built. Once for all, they loved each other, and after that, the less said, the better. It had cost the woman’s heart of Mrs. Marvyn some pangs, in the earlier part of her wedlock, to accept of this once for all, in place of those daily outgushings which every woman desires should be like God’s loving-kindnesses, “new every morning but hers, too, was a nature strongly inclining inward, and, after a few tremulous movements, the needle of her soul settled, and her lifelot was accepted,—not as what she would like or could conceive, but as a reasonaide and good one. Life was a picture painted in low, cool tones, but in perfect keeping ; and though another and brighter style might have pleased better, she did not quarrel with this.
Into this steady, decorous, highly-respectable circle the youngest child, James, made a formidable irruption. One sometimes sees launched into a family-circle a child of so different a nature from all the rest, that it might seem as if, like an aërolite, he had fallen out of another sphere. All the other babies of the Marvyn family had been of that orderly, contenled sort who sleep till it is convenient to take them up, and while awake suck their thumbs contentedly and look up with large, round eyes at the ceiling when it is not convenient for their elders and betters that they should do anything else. In farther advanced childhood, they had been quiet and decorous children, who could be all dressed and set up in chairs, like so many dolls, of a Sunday morning, patiently awaiting the stroke of the church-bell to be carried out and put into the wagon which took them over the two-miles’ road to church. Possessed of such tranquil, orderly, and exemplary young offshoots, Mrs. Marvyn had been considered eminent for her “faculty” in bringing up children.
But James was destined to put “ faculty,” and every other talent which his mother possessed, to rout. He was an infant of moods and tenses, and those not of any regular verb. He would cry of nights, and he would be taken up of mornings, and he would not suck his thumb, nor a bundle of Caraway-seed tied in a rag and dipped in sweet milk, with which the good gossips in vain endeavored to pacify him. He fought manfully with his two great fat fists the battle of babyhood, utterly reversed all nursery maxims, and reigned as baby over the whole prostrate household. When old enough to run alone, his splendid black eyes and glossy rings of hair were seen flashing and bobbing in every forbidden place and occupation. Now trailing on his mother’s gown, he assisted her in salting her butter by throwing in small contributions of snuff or sugar, as the case might be ; and again, after one of those mysterious periods of silence which are of most ominous significance in nursery experience, he would rise front the demolition of her indigo-bag, showing a face ghastly with blue streaks, and looking more like a gnome than the son of a respectable mother. There was not a pitcher of any description of contents left within reach of his little tiptoes and busy fingers that was not pulled over upon his giddy head without in the least seeming to improve its steadiness. In short, his mother remarked that she was thankful every night when she had fairly gotten him into bed and asleep ; James had really got through one more day and killed neither himself nor any one else.
As a boy, the case was little better, He did not take to study,—yawned over books, and cut out moulds for running anchors when he should have been thinking of his columns of words in four syllables. No mortal knew how he learned to read, for he never seemed to stop running long enough to learn anything ; and yet he did learn, and used the talent in conning over travels, sea-voyages, and lives of heroes and naval commanders. Spite of father, mother, and brother, he seemed to possess the most extraordinary faculty of running up unsavory acquaintances, He was hail-fellow well-met with every Tom and Jack and Jim and Ben and Dick that strolled on the wharves, and astonished his father with minutest particulars of every ship, schooner, and brig in the harbor, together with biographical notes of the different Toms, Dicks, and Harrys by whom they were worked.
There was but one member of the family that seemed to know at all what to make of James, and that was their negro servant, Candace.
In those days, when domestic slavery prevailed in New England, it was quite a different thing in its aspects from the same institution in more southern latitudes. The hard soil, unyielding to any but the most considerate culture, the thrifty, close, shrewd habits of the people, and their untiring activity and industry, prevented, among the mass of the people, any great reliance on slave labor. It was something foreign, grotesque, and picturesque in a life of the most matter-of-fact sameness ; it was even as if one should see clusters of palm-trees scattered here and there among Yankee wooden meeting-houses, or open one’s eyes on clumps of yellow-striped aloes growing among hardback and huckleberry bushes in the pastures.
Added to this, there were from the very first, in New England, serious doubts in the minds of thoughtful and conscientious people in reference to the lawfulness of slavery ; and this scruple prevented many from availing themselves of it, and proved a restraint on all, so that nothing like plantation-life existed, and what servants were owned were scattered among different families, of which they came to be regarded and to regard themselves as a legitimate part and portion, —Mr. Marvyn, as a man of substance, numbering two or three in his establishment, among whom Candace reigned chief. The presence of these tropical specimens of humanity, with their wide, joyous, rich physical abundance of nature and their hearty abandon of outward expression, was a relief to the still clear-cut lines in which the picture of New England life was drawn, which an artist must appreciate.
No race has ever shown such infinite and rich capabilities of adaptation to varying soil and circumstances as the negro. Alike to them the snows of Canada, the hard, rocky land of New England, with its set lines and orderly ways, or the gorgeous profusion and loose abundance of the Southern States. Sambo and Cuffy expand under them all. New England yet preserves among her hills and valleys the lingering echoes of the jokes and jollities of various sable worthies, who saw alike in orthodoxy and heterodoxy, in Dr. This-side and Dr. That-side, only food for more abundant merriment;—in fact, the minister of those days not unfrequently had his black shadow, a sort of African Boswell, who powdered his wig, brushed his boots, defended and patronized his sermons, and strutted complacently about as if through virtue of his blackness he had absorbed every ray of his master’s dignity and wisdom. In families, the presence of these exotics was a godsend to the children, supplying from the abundant outwardness and demonstrativeness of their nature that aliment of sympathy so dear to childhood, which the repressed and quiet habits of New England education denied. Many and many a New Englander counts among his pleasantest early recollections the memory of some of these genial creatures, who by their warmth of nature were the first and most potent mesmerizers of his childish mind.
Candace was a powerfully built, majestic black woman, corpulent, heavy, with a swinging majesty of motion like that of a ship in a ground-swell. Her shining black skin and glistening white teeth were indications of perfect physical vigor which had never known a day’s sickness ; her turban, of broad red and yellow bandanna stripes, had even a warm tropical glow; and her ample skirts were always ready to be spread over every childish transgression of her youngest pet and favorite, James.
She used to hold him entranced long winter-evenings, while she sat knitting in the chimney-corner, and crooned to him strange, wild African legends of the things that she had seen in her childhood and early days,—for she had been stolen when about fifteen years of age ; and these weird, dreamy talks increased the fervor of his roving imagination, and his desire to explore the wonders of the wide and unknown world. When rebuked or chastised, it was she who had secret bowels of mercy for him, and hid doughnuts in her ample bosom to be secretly administered to him in mitigation of the sentence that sent him supperless to bed ; and many a triangle of pie, many a wedge of cake, had conveyed to him surreptitious consolations which his more conscientious mother longed, but dared not, to impart. In fact, these ministrations, if suspected, were winked at by Mrs. Marvyn, for two reasons : first, that mothers are generally glad of any loving-kindness to an erring boy, which they are not responsible for ; and second, that Candace was so set in her ways and opinions that one might as well come in front of a ship under full sail as endeavor to stop her in a matter where her heart was engaged.
To be sure, she had her own private and special quarrels with “ Massa James ” when he disputed any of her sovereign orders in the kitchen, and would sometimes pursue him with uplifted rollingpin and floury hands when he had snatched a gingernut or cooky without suitable deference or supplication, and would declare, roundly, that there “ never was sich an aggravatin’ young un.” But if, on the strength of this, any one else ventured a reproof, Candace was immediately round on the other side :—“ Dat ar’ chile gwin’ to be spiled, ’cause dey’s allers a-pickin’ on him ;—he’s well enough, on’y let him alone.”
Well, under this miscellaneous assortment of influences, — through the order and gravity and solemn monotone of life at home, with the unceasing tick-tack of the clock forever resounding through clean, empty-seeming rooms, — through the sea, ever shining, ever smiling, dimpling, soliciting, like a magical charger who comes saddled and bridled and offers to take you to fairyland,—through acquaintance with all sorts of foreign, outlandish ragamuffins among the ships in the harbor,—from disgust of slow-moving oxen, and long-drawn, endless furrows round the fifteen-acre lot,—from misunderstandings with grave elder brothers, and feeling somehow as if, he knew not why, he grieved his mother all the time just by being what he was and couldn’t help being, — and, finally, by a bitter break with his father, in which came that last wrench for an individual existence which some time or other the young growing mind will give to old authority,—by all these united, was the lot at length cast ; for one evening James was missing at supper, missing by the fireside, gone all night, not at home to breakfast,—till, finally, a strange, weird, most heathenishlooking cabin-boy, who had often been forbidden the premises by Mr. Marvyn, brought in a letter, half-defiant, half-penitent, which announced that James had sailed in the “ Ariel ” the evening before.
Mr. Zebedee Marvyn set his face as a flint, and said, “ He went out from us because he was not of us,”—whereat old Candace lifted her great floury fist from the kneading-trough, and, shaking it like a large snowball, said, “ Oh, you go 'long, Massa Marvyn ; ye’ll live to count dat ar’ boy for de staff o’ your old age yet, now I tell ye ; got de makin’ o’ ten or'nary men in him ; kittles dat’s full allers will bile over ; good yeast will blow out de cork,—lucky ef it don’t bust de bottle. Tell ye, der's angels has der hooks in sich, and when de Lord wants him dey’ll haul him in safe and sound.” And Candace concluded her speech by giving a lift to her whole batch of dough and flinging it, down in the trough with an emphasis that made the pewter on the dresser rattle.
This apparently irreverent way of expressing her mind, so contrary to the deferential habits studiously inculcated in family discipline, had grown to be so much a matter of course to all the family that nobody ever thought of rebuking it. There was a sort of savage freedom about her which they excused in right of her having been born and bred a heathen, and of course not to be expected to come at once under the yoke of civilization. In fact, you must all have noticed, my dear readers, that there are some sorts of people for whom everybody turns out as they would for a railroad-car, without stopping to ask why, and Candace was one of them.
Moreover, Mr. Marvyn was not displeased with this defence of James, as might be inferred from his mentioning it four or five times in the course of the morning, to say how foolish it was,—wondering why it was that Candace and everybody else got so infatuated with that boy,—and ending, at last, after a long period of thought, with the remark, that these poor African creatures often seemed to have a great deal of shrewdness in them, and that he was often astonished at the penetration that Candace showed.
At the end of the year James came home, more quiet and manly than he had ever been known before,—so handsome with his sunburnt face, and his keen, dark eyes, and glossy curls, that half the girls in the front gallery lost their hearts the first Sunday he appeared in church. He was tender as a woman to his mother, and followed her with his eyes, like a lover, wherever she went ; he made due and manly acknowledgments to his father, but declared his fixed and settled intention to abide by the profession he had chosen ; and he brought home all sorts of strange foreign gifts for every member of the household. Candace was glorified with a flaming red and yellow turban of Moorish stuff, from Mogadore, together with a pair of gorgeous yellow morocco slippers with peaked toes, which, though there appeared no call to wear them in her common course of life, she would put on her fat feet and contemplate with daily satisfaction, She became increasingly strengthened thereby in the conviction that the angels who had their hooks in Massa James’s jacket were already beginning to shorten the line.
[To be continued.]