The Minister's Wooing
AT the period of which we are speaking, no name in the New Republic was associated with ideas of more brilliant promise, and invested with a greater prestige of popularity and success, than that of Colonel Aaron Burr.
Sprung of a line distinguished for intellectual ability, the grandson of a man whose genius has swayed New England from that day to this, the son of parents eminent in their day for influential and popular talents, he united in himself the quickest perceptions and keenest delicacy of fibre with the most diamond hardness and unflinching steadiness of purpose;— apt, subtle, adroit, dazzling, no man in his time ever began life with fairer chances of success and fame.
His name, as it fell on the ear of our heroine, carried with it the suggestion of all this; and when, with his peculiarly engaging smile, he offered his arm, she felt a little of the flutter natural to a modest young person unexpectedly honored with the notice of one of the great ones of the earth, whom it is seldom the lot of humble individuals to know, except by distant report.
But, although Mary was a blushing and sensitive person, she was not what is commonly called a diffident girl; - her nerves had that healthy, steady poise which gave her presence of mind in the most unwonted circumstances.
The first few sentences addressed to her by her new companion were in a tone and style altogether different from any in which she had ever been approached,- different from the dashing frankness of her sailor lover, and from the rustic gallantry of her other admirers.
That indescribable mixture of ease and deference, guided by refined tact, which shows the practised, high-bred man of the world, made its impression on her immediately, as the breeze on the chords of a wind-harp. She felt herself pleasantly swayed and breathed upon;-it was as if an atmosphere were around her in which she felt a perfect ease and freedom, an assurance that her lightest word might launch forth safely, as a tiny boat, on the smooth, glassy mirror of her listener’s pleased attention.
“ I came to Newport only on a visit of business,” he said, after a few moments of introductory conversation. "I was not prepared for its many attractions.”
“ Newport has a great deal of beautiful scenery,” said Mary.
“ I have heard that it was celebrated for the beauty of its scenery, and of its ladies,” he answered; “ but,” he added, with a quick flash of his dark eye, “ I never realized the fact before.”
The glance of the eye pointed and limited the compliment, and, at the same time, there was a wary shrewdness in it; -he was measuring how deep his shaft had sunk, as he always instinctively measured the person he talked with.
Mary had been told of her beauty since her childhood, notwithstanding her mother had essayed all that transparent, respectable hoaxing by which discreet mothers endeavor to blind their daughters to the real facts of such cases ; but, in her own calm, balanced mind, she had accepted what she was so often told, as a quiet verity; and therefore she neither fluttered nor blushed on this occasion, but regarded her auditor with a pleased attention, as one who was saying obliging things,
“ Cool!” he thought to himself,-"hum! - a little rustic belle, I suppose,— well aware of her own value;-rather piquant, on my word ! ”
“ Shall we walk in the garden?” he said,-“ the evening is so beautiful.”
They passed out of the door and began promenading the long walk. At the bottom of the alley he stopped, and, turning, looked up the vista of box ending in the brilliantly-lighted rooms, where gentlemen, with powdered heads, lace ruffles, and glittering knee-buckles, were handing ladies in stiff brocades, whose towering heads were shaded by ostrichfeathers and sparkling with gems.
“ Quite court-like, on my word ! ” he said. “ Tell me, do you often have such brilliant entertainments as this ? ” •
“ I suppose they do,” said Mary. “ I never was at one before, but I sometimes hear of them.”
"And you do not attend ? ” said the gentleman, with an accent which made the inquiry a marked compliment.
“ No, I do not.” said Mary; “ these people generally do not visit us,”
"What a pity,” he said, "that their parties should want such an ornament ! But,” he added, “this night must make them aware of their oversight;-if you are not always in society after this, it will surely not be for want of solicitation.”
"You are very kind to think so,” replied Mary ; "but even if it were to be so, I should not see my way clear to be often in such scenes as this.”
Her companion looked at her with a glance a little doubtful and amused, and said, “ And pray, why not ? if the inquiry be not too presumptuous.”
“ Because,” said Mary, "I should be afraid they would take too much time and thought, and lead me to forget the great object of life.”
The simple gravity with which this was said, as if quite assured of the sympathy of her auditor, appeared to give him a secret amusement. His bright, dark eyes danced, as if he suppressed some quick repartee ; but, drooping his long lashes deferentially, he said, in gentle tones, "I should like to know what so beautiful a young lady considers the great object of life."
Mary answered reverentially, in those words then familiar from infancy to every Puritan child, "To glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.”
“Really ?” he said, looking straight into her eyes with that penetrating glance with which he was accustomed to take the gauge of every one with whom he conversed.
"Is it not ? ” said Mary, looking back, calm and firm, into the sparkling, restless depths of his eyes.
At that moment, two souls, going with the whole force of their being in opposite directions, looked out of their windows at each other with a fixed and earnest recognition.
Burr was practised in every art of gallantry,-he had made womankind a study,- he never saw a beautiful face and form without a sort of restless desire to experiment upon it and try his power over the interior inhabitant; but, just at this moment, something streamed into his soul from those blue, earnest eyes, which brought back to his mind what pious people had so often told him of his mother, the beautiful and early-sainted Esther Burr. He was one of those persons who systematically managed and played upon himself and others, as a skilful musician, on an instrument. Yet one secret of his fascination was the naïveté with which, at certain moments, he would abandon himself to some little impulse of a nature originally sensitive and tender. Had the strain of feeling which now awoke in him come over him elsewhere, he would have shut down some spring in his mind, and excluded it in a moment; but, talking with a beautiful creature whom he wished to please, he gave way at once to the emotion ;-real tears stood in his fine eyes, and he raised Mary’s hand to his lips, and kissed it, saying,-
"Thank you, my beautiful child, for so good a thought. It is truly a noble sentiment, though practicable only to those gifted with angelic natures.”
"Oh, I trust not,” said Mary, earnestly touched and wrought upon more than she herself knew, by the beautiful eyes, the modulated voice, the charm of manner, which seemed to enfold her like an Italian summer.
Burr sighed,- a real sigh of his better nature, but passed out with all the more freedom that he felt it would interest his fair companion, who, for the time being, was the one woman of the world to him.
“ Pure and artless souls like yours,” he said, “ cannot measure the temptations of those who are called to the real battle of life in a world like this. How many nobler aspirations fall withered in the fierce heat and struggle of the conflict ! ”
He was saying then what he really felt, often bitterly felt,-but using this real feeling advisedly, and with skilful tact, for the purpose of the hour.
What was this purpose ? To win the regard, the esteem, the tenderness of a religious, exalted nature shrined in a beautiful form,-to gain and hold ascendency. It was a life-long habit,-one of those forms of refined self-indulgence which he pursued, thoughtless and reckless of consequences. He had found now the key-note of the character; it was a beautiful instrument, and he was well pleased to play on it.
“ I think, Sir,” said Mary, modestly, “ that you forget the great provision made for our weakness.”
“ How ? ” he said.
“ They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength,” she replied, gently.
He looked at her, as she spoke these words, with a pleased, artistic perception of the contrast between her worldly attire and the simple, religious earnestness of her words.
“She is entrancing!” he thought to himself,-“ so altogether fresh and naive ! ”
“ My sweet saint,” he said, “ such as you are the appointed guardians of us coarser beings. The prayers of souls given up to worldliness and ambition effect little. You must intercede for us. I am very orthodox, you see,” he added, with that subtle smile which sometimes irra diated his features. “ I am fully aware of all that your reverend doctor tells you of the worthlessness of unregenerate doings ; and so, when I see angels walking below, I try to secure ‘ a friend at court.’ ”
He saw that Mary looked embarrassed and pained at this banter, and therefore added, with a delicate shading of earnestness,-
“ In truth, my fair young friend, I hope you will sometimes pray for me. I am sure, if I have any chance of good, it will come in such a way.”
“ Indeed I will,” said Mary, fervently, -her little heart full, tears in her eyes, her breath coming quick,-and she added, with a deepening color, “ I am sure, Mr. Burr, that there should be a covenant blessing for you, if for any one, for you are the son of a holy ancestry.”
"Eh, bien, mon ami, qu’est ce que tu fais ici?” said a gay voice behind a clump of box; and immediately there started out, like a French picture from its frame, a dark-eyed figure, dressed like a Marquise of Louis XIV.’s time, with powdered hair, sparkling with diamonds.
“ Rien que m'amuser” he replied, with ready presence of mind, in the same tone, and then added, - “ Permit me, Madame, to present to you a charming specimen of our genuine New England flowers. Miss Scudder, I have the honor to present you to the acquaintance of Madame de Frontignac.”
“ I am very happy,” said the lady, with that sweet, lisping accentuation of English which well became her lovely month. “ Miss Scudder, I hope, is very well.”
Mary replied in the affirmative,-her eyes resting the while with pleased admiration on the graceful, animated face and diamond-bright eyes which seemed looking her through.
“ Monsieur la trouve bien séduisante apparemment,” said the stranger, in a low, rapid voice, to the gentleman, in a manner which showed a mingling of pique and admiration.
“ Petite jalouse ! rassure-toi” he replied, with a look and manner into which, with that mobile force which was peculiar to him, he threw the most tender and passionate devotion. “ Ne suis-je pas à toi tout à fait ? ”-and as he spoke, he offered her his other arm. "Allow me to be an unworthy link between the beauty of France and America.”
The lady swept a proud curtsy backward, bridled her beautiful neck, and signed for them to pass her. “ I am waiting here for a friend,” she said.
“ Whatever is your will is mine,” replied Burr, bowing with proud humility, and passing on with Mary to the supperroom.
Here the company were fast assembling, in that high tide of good-humor which generally sets in at this crisis of the evening.
The scene, in truth, was a specimen of a range of society which in those times could have been assembled nowhere else but in Newport. There stood Dr. H. in the tranquil majesty of his lordly form, and by his side, the alert, compact figure of his contemporary and theological opponent, Dr. Stiles, who, animated by the social spirit of the hour, was dispensing courtesies to right and left with the debonair grace of the trained gentleman of the old school. Near by, and engaging from time to time in conversation with them, stood a Jewish Rabbin, whose olive complexion, keen eye, and flowing beard gave a picturesque and foreign grace to the scene. Colonel Burr, one of the most brilliant and distinguished men of the New Republic, and Colonel de Frontignac, who had won for himself laurels in the corps of La Fayette, during the recent revolutionary struggle, with his brilliant, accomplished wife, were all unexpected and distinguished additions to the circle.
Burr gently cleared the way for his fair companion, and, purposely placing her where the full light of the wax chandeliers set off her beauty to the best advantage, devoted himself to her with a subserviency as deferential as if she had been a goddess.
For all that, he was not unobservant, when, a few moments after, Madame de Frontignac was led in, on the arm of a Senator, with whom she was presently in full flirtation.
He observed, with a quiet, furtive smile, that, while she rattled and fanned herself, and listened with apparent attention to the flatteries addressed to her, she darted every now and then a glance keen as a steel blade towards him and his companion. He was perfectly adroit in playing off one woman against another, and it struck him with a pleasant sense of oddity, how perfectly unconscious his sweet and saintly neighbor was of the position in which she was supposed to stand by her rival; and poor Mary, all this while, in her simplicity, really thought that she had seen traces of what she would have called the “strivings of the spirit” in his soul. Alas! that a phrase weighed down with such mysterious truth and meaning should ever come to fall on the ear as mere empty cant !
With Mary it was a living form,- as were all her words; for in nothing was the Puritan education more marked than in the earnest reality and truthfulness which it gave to language ; and even now, as she stands by his side, her large blue eye is occasionally fixed in dreamy reverie as she thinks what a triumph of Divine grace it would be, if these inward movings of her companion’s mind should lead him, as all the pious of New England hoped, to follow in the footsteps of President Edwards, and forms wishes that she could see him some time when she could talk to him undisturbed.
She was too humble and too modest fully to accept the delicious flattery which he had breathed, in implying that her hand had had power to unseal the fountains of good in his soul; but still it thrilled through all the sensitive strings of her nature a tremulous flutter of suggestion.
She had read instances of striking and wonderful conversions from words dropped by children and women,-and suppose some such thing should happen to her ! and that this so charming and distinguished and powerful being should be called into the fold of Christ’s Church by her means! No ! it was too much to be hoped,-but the very possibility was thrilling.
When, after supper, Mrs. Scudder and the Doctor made their adieus, Burr’s devotion was still unabated. With an enchanting mixture of reverence and fatherly protection, he waited on her to the last,-shawled her with delicate care, and handed her into the small, one-horse wagon,-as if it had been the coach of a duchess.
“ I have pleasant recollections connected with this kind of establishment,” he said, as, after looking carefully at the harness, he passed the reins into Mrs. Scudder’s hands. “ It reminds me of school-days and old times. I hope your horse is quite safe, Madam.”
“ Oh, yes,” said Mrs. Scudder, “ I perfectly understand him.”
"Pardon the suggestion,” he replied ; -“ what is there that a New England matron does not understand ? Doctor, I must call by-and-by and have a little, talk with you, - my theology, you know, needs a little straightening.”
"We should all be happy to see you, Colonel Burr,” said Mrs. Scudder; "we live in a very plain way, it is true.”—
“ But can always find place for a friend,-that, I trust, is what you meant to say,” he replied, bowing, with his own peculiar grace, as the carriage drove off.
“ Really, a most charming person is this Colonel Burr," said Mrs. Scudder.
“ He seems a very frank, ingenuous young person,” said the Doctor; “one cannot but mourn that the son of such gracious parents should be left to wander into infidelity.”
"Oh, he is not an infidel,” said Mary ; “ he is far from it, though I think his mind is a little darkened on some points.”
"Ah,” said the Doctor, "have you had any special religious conversation with him ? ”
"A little,” said Mary, blushing ; "and it seems to me that his mind is perplexed somewhat in regard to the doings of the unregenerate,- I fear that it has rather proved a stumbling-block in his way; but he showed so much feeling !-I could really see the tears in his eyes ! ”
His mother was a most godly woman, Mary,” said the Doctor. " She was called from her youth, and her beautiful person became a temple for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Aaron Burr is a child of many prayers, and therefore there is hope that he may yet be effectually called. He studied awhile with Bellamy,” he added, musingly, " and I have often doubted whether Bellamy took just the right course with him.”
“ I hope he will call and talk with you,” said Mary, earnestly; " what a blessing to the world, if such talents as his could become wholly consecrated ! ”
“ Not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble are called,” said the Doctor; "yet if it would please the Lord to employ my instrumentality and prayers, how much should I rejoice! I was
struck,” he added. " to-night, when I saw those Jews present, with the thought that it was, as it were, a type of that last ingathering, when both Jew and Gentile shall sit down lovingly together to the gospel feast. It is only by passing over and forgetting these present years, when so few are called and the gospel makes such slow progress, and looking unto that glorious time, that I find comfort. If the Lord but use me as a dumb stepping-stone to that heavenly Jerusalem, I shall be content.”
Thus they talked while the wagon jogged soberly homeward, and the frogs and the turtles and the distant ripple of the sea made a drowsy, mingling concert in the summer-evening air.
Meanwhile Colonel Burr had returned to the lighted rooms, and it was not long before his quick eye espied Madame de Frontignac standing pensively in a window-recess, half hid by the curtain, He stole softly up behind her and whispered something in her ear.
In a moment she turned on him a face glowing with anger, and drew back haughtily ; but Burr remarked the glitter of tears, not quite dried even by the angry flush of her eyes.
“ In what have I had the misfortune to offend ? ” he said, crossing his arms upon his breast. “ I stand at the bar, and plead, Not guilty.”
He spoke in French, and she replied in the same smooth accents,—
“ It was not for her to dispute Monsieur’s right to amuse himself.”
Burr drew nearer, and spoke in those persuasive, pleading tones which he had ever at command, and in that language whose very structure in its delicate tutoiment gives such opportunity for gliding on through shade after shade of intimacy and tenderness, till gradually the haughty fire of the eyes was quenched in tears, and, in the sudden revulsion of a strong, impulsive nature, she said what she called words of friendship, but which carried with them all the warmth of that sacred fire which is given to woman to light and warm the temple of home, and which sears and scars when kindled for any other shrine.
And yet this woman was the wife of his friend and associate !
Colonel de Frontignac was a grave and dignified man of forty-five. Virginie de Frontignac had been given him to wife when but eighteen,-a beautiful, generous, impulsive, wilful girl. She had accepted him gladly, for very substantial reasons. First, that she might come out of the convent where she was kept for the very purpose of educating her in ignorance of the world she was to live in. Second, that she might wear velvet, lace, cashmere, and jewels. Third, that she might be a Madame, free to go and come, ride, walk, and talk, without surveillance. Fourth,- and consequent upon this,-that she might go into company and have admirers and adorers.
She supposed, of course, that she loved her husband; - whom else should she love? He was the only man, except her father and brothers, that she had ever known ; and in the fortnight that preceded their marriage did he not send her the most splendid bons-bons every day, with bouquets of every pattern that ever taxed the brain of a Parisian artiste?-was not the corbeille de mariage a wonder and an envy to all her acquaintance ?-and after marriage had she not found him always a steady, indulgent friend, easy to be coaxed as any grave papa ?
On his part, Monsieur de Frontignac cherished his young wife as a beautiful, though somewhat absurd little pet, and amused himself with her frolics and gambols, as the gravest person often will with those of a kitten.
It was not until she knew Aaron Burr that poor Virginie de Frontignac came to that great awakening of her being which teaches woman what she is, and transforms her from a careless child to a deep-hearted, thinking, suffering human being.
For the first time, in his society she became aware of the charm of a polished and cultivated mind, able with exquisite tact to adapt itself to hers, to draw forth her inquiries, to excite her tastes, to stimulate her observation. A new world awoke around her,-the world of literature and taste, of art and of sentiment; she felt, somehow, as if she had gained the growth of years in a few months. She felt within herself the stirring of dim aspiration, the uprising of a new power of self-devotion and self-sacrifice, a trance of hero-worship, a cloud of high ideal images,-the lighting up. in short, of all that God has laid, ready to be enkindled, in a woman’s nature, when the time comes to sanctify her as the pure priestess of a domestic temple. But, alas! it was kindled by one who did it only for an experiment, because he felt an artistic pleasure in the beautiful light and heat, and cared not, though it burned a soul away.
Burr was one of those men willing to play with any charming woman the game of those navigators who give to simple natives glass beads and feathers in return for gold and diamonds,- to accept from a woman her heart’s blood in return for such odds and ends and clippings as he can afford her from the serious ambition of life.
Look in with us one moment, now that the party is over, and the busy hum of voices and blaze of lights has died down to midnight silence and darkness; we make you clairvoyant, and you may look through the walls of this stately old mansion, still known as that where Rochambeau held his head-quarters, into this room, where two wax candles are burning on a toilette table, before an old-fashioned mirror. The slumberous folds of the curtains are drawn with stately gloom around a high bed, where Colonel de Frontignac has been for many hours quietly asleep; but opposite, resting with one elbow on the toilette table, her long black hair hanging down over her nightdress, and the brush lying listlessly in her hand, sits Virginie, looking fixedly into the dreamy depths of the mirror.
Scarcely twenty yet, all unwarned of the world of power and passion that lay slumbering in her girl’s heart, led in the meshes of custom and society to utter vows and take responsibilities of whose nature she was no more apprised than is a slumbering babe, and now at last fully awake, feeling the whole power of that mysterious and awful force which we call love, yet shuddering to call it by its name, but by its light beginning to understand all she is capable of, and all that marriage should have been to her ! She struggles feebly and confusedly with her fate, still clinging to the name of duty, and baptizing as friendship this strange new feeling which makes her tremble through all her being. How can she dream of danger in such a feeling, when it seems to her the awakening of all that is highest and noblest within her ? She remembers when she thought of nothing beyond an operaticket or a new dress; and now she feels that there might be to her a friend for whose sake she would try to be noble and great and good,- for whom all self-denial, all high endeavor, all difficult virtue would become possible, - who would be to her life, inspiration, order, beauty.
She sees him as woman always sees the man she loves,- noble, great, and good ; - for when did a loving woman ever believe a man otherwise ?- too noble, too great, too high, too good, she thinks, for her, - poor, trivial, ignorant coquette, - poor, childish, trifling Virginie ! Has he not commanded armies? she thinks,- is he not eloquent in the senate ? and yet, what interest he has taken in her, a poor, unformed, ignorant creature! - she never tried to improve herself till since she knew him. And he is so considerate, too,-so respectful, so thoughtful and kind, so manly and honorable, and has such a tender friendship for her, such a brotherly and fatherly solicitude ! and yet, if she is haughty or imperious or severe, how humbled and grieved he looks ! How strange that she could have power over such a man !
It is one of the saddest truths of this sad mystery of life, that woman is, often, never so much an angel as just the moment before she falls into an unsounded depth of perdition. And what shall we say of the man who leads her on as an experiment,- who amuses himself with taking woman after woman up these dazzling, delusive heights, knowing, as he certainly must, where they lead ?
We have been told, in extenuation of the course, of Aaron Burr, that he was not a man of gross passions or of coarse indulgence, but, in the most, consummate and refined sense, a man of gallantry. This, then, is the descriptive name which polite society has invented for the man who does this thing !
Of old, it was thought that one who administered poison m the sacramental bread and wine had touched the very height of impious sacrilege ; but this crime is white, by the side of his who poisons God's eternal sacrament of love and destroys a woman’s soul through her noblest and purest affections.
We have given you the after-view of most of the actors of our little scene tonight, and therefore it is but fair that you should have a peep over the Colonel’s shoulder, as he sums up the evening in a letter to a friend.
“MY DEAI! -----
“As to the business, it gets on rather slowly. L----and S----- are away, and the coalition cannot be formed without them; they set out a week ago from Philadelphia, and are yet on the road.
“ Meanwhile, we have some providential alleviations, - as, for example, a wedding-party to-night, at the Wilcoxes’, which was really quite an affair. I saw the prettiest little Puritan there that I have set eyes on for many a day. I really couldn’t help getting up a flirtation with her, although it was much like flirting with a small copy of the ‘ Assembly’s Catechism; - of which last I had enough years ago, Heaven knows.
“ But, really, such a naïve, earnest little, saint, who has such real deadly belief, and opens such pitying blue eyes on one, is quite a stimulating novelty. I got myself well scolded by the fair Madame, (as angels scold.) and had to plead like a lawyer to make my peace; -after all, that woman really enchains me. Don’t shake your head wisely,-'What’s going to be the end of it?’ I'm sure I don’t know; we’ll see, when the time comes.
“ Meanwhile, push the business ahead with all your might. I shall not be idle. D—must canvass the Senate thoroughly. I wish I could be in two places at once,-I would do it myself. Au revoir.
“AND now, Mary,” said Mrs. Scudder, at five o’clock the next morning, “to-day, you know, is the Doctor’s fast; so we won’t get any regular dinner, and it will be a good time to do up all our little odd jobs. Miss Prissy promised to come in for two or three hours this morning, to alter the waist of that black silk ; and I shouldn’t be surprised if we should get it all done and ready to wear by Sunday.”
We will remark, by way of explanation to a part of this conversation, that our Doctor, who was a specimen of life in earnest, made a practice, through the greater part of his pulpit course, of spending every Saturday as a day of fasting and retirement, in preparation for the duties of the Sabbath.
Accordingly, the early breakfast things were no sooner disposed of than Miss Prissy’s quick footsteps might have been heard pattering in the kitchen.
“Well, Miss Scudder, how do you do this morning ? and how do you do, Mary ? Well, if you a'n’t the beaters! up just as early as ever, and everything cleared away! I was telling Miss Wilcox there didn’t ever seem to be anything done in Miss Scudder’s kitchen, and I did verily believe you made your beds before you got up in the morning.
“ Well, well, wasn’t that a party last night ? ” she said, as she sat down with the black silk and prepared her rippingknife.- “I must rip this myself, Miss Scudder; for there’s a great deal in ripping silk so as not to let anybody know where it has been sewed.- You didn’t know that I was at the party, did you ? Well, I was. You see, I thought I’d just step round there, to see about that money to get the Doctor’s shirt with, and there I found Miss Wilcox with so many things on her mind, and says she, ‘ Miss Prissy, you don’t know how much it would help me if I had somebody like you just to look after things a little here.’ And says I, ‘ Miss Wilcox, you just go right to your room and dress, and don’t you give yourself one minute’s thought about anything, and you see if I don’t have everything just right.’ And so, there I was, in for it; and I just staid through, and it was well I did.-for Dinah, she wouldn’t have put near enough egg into the coffee, if it hadn’t been for me ; why, I just went and beat up four eggs with my own hands and Stirred ’em into the grounds.
“ Well,- but, really, wasn’t I behind the door, and didn’t I peep into the supper-room ? I saw who was a-waitin’ on Miss Mary. Well, they do say he’s the handsomest, most fascinating man. Why, they say all the ladies in Philadelphia are in a perfect quarrel about him; and I heard he said he hadt seen such a beauty he didn’t remember when.”
“ We all know that beauty is of small consequence,” said Mrs. Scudder. “ I hope Mary has been brought up to feel that.”
“ Oh, of course,” said Miss Prissy, “ it’s just like a fading flower ; all is to be good and useful,- and that’s what she is. I told ’em that her beauty was the least part of her: though I must say, that dress did fit like a biscuit,-if ’twas my own fitting.
"But, Miss Scudder, what do you think I heard ’em saying about the good Doctor ? ”
“I'm sure I don’t know,” said Mrs. Scudder; “I only know they couldn’t say anything bad.”
“Well, not bad exactly,” said Miss Prissy,-“but they say lie’s getting such strange notions in his head. W by, I heard some of ’em say, he’s going to come out and preach against the slavetrade ; and I’m sure I don’t know what Newport folks will do, if that’s wicked. There a’n’t hardly any money here that’s made any other way : and I hope the Doctor a'n’t a-going to do anything of that sort.”
“ I believe he is,” said Mrs. Scudder ; “ he thinks it’s a great sin, that ought to be rebuked;-and I think so too,” she added, bracing herself resolutely; “that was Mr. Scudder opinion when I first married him, and it’s mine.”
“ Oh,-ah,-yes,-well,-if it’s a sin, of course,” said Miss Prissy; “but then- dear me!-it don’t seem as if it could be. Why, just think how many great houses are living on it;-why, there’s General Wilcox himself, and he’s a very nice man : and then there’s Major Seaforth ; why, I could count you off a dozen,-all our very first people. Why, Doctor Stiles doesn’t think so, and I'm sure he’s a good Christian. Doctor Stiles thinks it's a dispensation for giving the light of the gospel to the Africans. Why, now I'm sure, when I was a-workin' at Deacon Stebbins’, I stopped over Sunday once ause Miss Stebbins she was weakly,-'twas when she was getting up, after Samuel was born,-no, on the whole, I believe it was Nehemiah,-but, any way, I remember I staid there, and I remember, as plain as if 'twas yesterday, just after breakfast, how a man went driving by in a chaise, and the Deacon he went out and stopped, him (’cause you know he was justice of the peace) for travelling on the Lord’s day, and who should it be but Tom Seaforth ?- he told the Deacon his father had got a ship-load of negroes just come in, - and the Deacon he just let him go; ’cause I remember he said that was a plain work of necessity and mercy.1 Well, now who would 'a’ thought it ? I believe the Doctor is better than most folks, but then the best people may be mistaken, you know.”
“ The Doctor has made up his mind that it’s Ins duty,” said Mrs. Scudder. “ I’m afraid it will make him very unpopular ; but I, for one, shall stand by him.”
“ Oh, certainly, Miss Scudder, you are doing just right exactly. Well, there’s one comfort, he’ll have a great crowd to hear him preach ; ’cause, as I was going round through the entries last night, I heard ’em talking about it,-and Colonel Burr said he should be there, and so did the General, and so did Mr. What’s-hisname there, that Senator from Philadelphia. I tell you, you’ll have a full house."
It was to be confessed that Mrs. Scudder’s heart rather sunk than otherwise at this announcement; and those who have felt what it is to stand almost alone in the right, in the face of all the first families of their acquaintance, may perhaps find some compassion for her, - since, after all, truth is invisible, but “first families are very evident. First families are often very agreeable, undeniably respectable, fearfully virtuous, and it takes great faith to resist an evil principle which incarnates itself in the suavities of their breeding and amiability ; and therefore it was that Mrs. Scudder felt her heart heavy within her, and could with a very good grace have joined in the Doctor's Saturday fast.
As for the Doctor, he sat the while tranquil in his study, with his great Bible and his Concordance open before him, culling, with that patient assiduity for which he was remarkable, all the terrible texts which that very unceremonious and old-fashioned book rains down so unsparingly on the sin of oppressing the weak.
First families, whether in Newport or elsewhere, were as invisible to him as they were to Moses during the forty days that he spent with God on the mount ; he was merely thinking of his message,- thinking only how he should shape it, so as not to leave one word of it unsaid,-not even imagining in the least what the result of it was to be. He was but a voice, but an instrument, -the passive instrument through which an almighty will was to reveal itself; and the sublime fatalism of his faith made him as dead to all human considerations as if he had been a portion of the immutable laws of Nature herself.
So, the next morning, although all his friends trembled for him when he rose in the pulpit, he never thought of trembling for himself: he had come in the covered way of silence from the secret place of the Most High, and felt himself still abiding under the shadow of the Almighty. It was alike to him, whether the house was full or empty,-whoever were decreed to hear the message would be there; whether they would hear or forbear was already settled in the counsels of a mightier will than his,-he had the simple duty of utterance.
The ruinous old meeting-house was never so radiant with station and gentility as on that morning. A June sun shone brightly ; the sea sparkled with a thousand little eyes ; the birds sang all along the way ; and all the notables turned out, to hear the Doctor. Mrs. Scudder received into her pew, with dignified politeness, Colonel Burr and Colonel and Madame de Frontignac. General Wilcox and his portly dame, Major Seaforth, and we know not what of Vernons and De W olfs, and other grand old names, were represented there; stiff silks rustled, Chinese tans fluttered, and the last court fashions stood revealed in bonnets.
Everybody was looking fresh and amiable,-a charming and respectable set of sinners, come to hear what the Doctor would find to tell them about their transgressions.
Mrs. Scudder was calculating consequences ; and, shutting her eyes on the too evident world about her, prayed that the Lord would overrule all for good. The Doctor prayed that he might have grace to speak the truth, and the whole truth. We have yet on record, in his published works, the great argument of that day, through which he moved with that calm appeal to the reason which made his results always so weighty.
“If these things be true,” he said, after a condensed statement of the facts of the case, “ then the following terrible consequences, which may well make all shudder and tremble who realize them, force themselves upon us, namely : that all who have had any hand in this iniquitous business, whether directly or indirectly, or have used their influence to promote it, or have consented to it, or even connived at it, or have not opposed it by all proper exertions of which they are capable,-all these are, in a greater or less degree, chargeable with the injuries and miseries which millions have suffered and are suffering, and are guilty of the blood of millions who have lost their lives by this traffic in the human species. Not only the merchants who have been engaged in this trade, and the captains who have been tempted by the love of money to engage in this cruel work, and the slave-holders of every description, are guilty of shedding rivers of blood, but all the legislatures who have authorized, encouraged, or even neglected to suppress it to the utmost of their power, and all the individuals in private stations who have in any way aided in this business, consented to it, or have not opposed it to the utmost of their ability, have a share in this guilt.
“This trade in the human species has been the first wheel of commerce in Newport, on which every other movement in business has chiefly depended ; this town has been built up, and flourished in times past, at the expense of the blood, the liberty, and the happiness of the poor Africans; and the inhabitants have lived on this, and by it have gotten most of their wealth and riches. If a bitter woe is pronounced on him ‘that buildeth his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by wrong,' Jer. xxii. 13,-to him ‘that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity,’ Hab. ii. 12, - to ‘the bloody city,’ Ezek. xxiv. 6, - what a heavy, dreadful woe hangs over the heads of all those whose hands are defiled by the blood of the Africans, especially the inhabitants of this State and this town, who have had a distinguished share in this unrighteous and bloody commerce ! ”
He went over the recent history of the country, expatiated on the national declaration so lately made, that all men are born equally tree and independent and have natural and inalienable rights to liberty, and asked with what face a nation declaring such things could continue to hold thousands of their fellowmen in abject slavery. He pointed out signs of national disaster which foreboded the wrath of Heaven,- the increase of public and private debts, the spirit of murmuring and jealousy of rulers among the people, divisions and contentions and bitter party alienations, the jealous irritation of England constantly endeavoring to hamper our trade, the Indians making war on the frontiers, the Algerines taking captive our ships and making slaves of our citizens,-all evident tokens of the displeasure and impending judgment of an offended Justice.
The sermon rolled over the heads of the gay audience, deep and dark as a thunder-cloud, which in a few moments changes a summer sky into heaviest gloom. Gradually an expression of intense interest and deep concern spread over the listeners; it was the magnetism of a strong mind, which held them for a time under the shadow of his own awful sense of God’s almighty justice.
It is said that a little child once described his appearance in the pulpit by saying, “I saw God there, and I was afraid.”
Something of the same effect was produced on his audience now; and it was not till after sermon, prayer, and benediction were all over, that the respectables of Newport began gradually to unstiffen themselves from the spell, and to look into each other’s eyes for comfort, and to reassure themselves that after all they were the first families, and going on the way the world had always gone, and that the Doctor, of course, was a radical and a fanatic.
When the audience streamed out, crowding the broad aisle, Mary descended from the singers, and stood with her psalm-book in hand, waiting at the door to be joined by her mother and the Doctor. She overheard many hard words from people who, an evening or two before, had smiled so graciously upon them. It was therefore with no little determination of manner that she advanced and took the Doctor's arm, as if anxious to associate herself with his well-earned unpopularity,- and just at this moment she caught the eye and smile of Colonel Burr, as he bowed gracefully, yet not without a suggestion of something sarcastic in his eye.
- A fact.↩