The Minister's Wooing
THE Doctor sat at his study-table. It was evening, and the slant beams of the setting sun shot their golden arrows through the healthy purple clusters of lilacs that veiled the windows. There had been a shower that filled them with drops of rain, which every now and then tattooed, with a slender rat-tat, on the window-sill, as a breeze would shake the leaves and bear in perfume on its wings. Sweet, fragrance-laden airs tripped stirringly to and fro about the study-table, making gentle confusions, fluttering papers on moral ability, agitating treatises on the great end of creation, mixing up subtile distinctions between amiable instincts and true holiness, and, in short, conducting themselves like very unappreciative and unphilosophical little breezes.
The Doctor patiently smoothed back and rearranged, while opposite to him sat Mary, bending over some copying she was doing for him. One stray sunbeam fell on her light brown hair, tinging it to gold; her long, drooping lashes lay over the wax-like pink of her cheeks, as she wrote on.
“Mary,” said the Doctor, pushing the papers from him.
“ Sir,” she answered, looking up, the blood just perceptibly rising in her cheeks.
“ Do you ever have any periods in which your evidences seem not altogether clear?”
Nothing could show more forcibly the grave, earnest character of thought in New England at this time than the fact that this use of the term “evidences” had become universally significant and understood as relating to one’s right of citizenship in a celestial, invisible commonwealth.
So Mary understood it, and it was with a deepening flush she answered gently, “No, Sir.”
“ What! never any doubts ? ” said the Doctor.
“I am sorry,” said Mary, apologetically ; “ hut T do not see how I can have; I never could.”
“ Ah ! ” said the Doctor, musingly, “would I could say so! There are times, indeed, when I hope I have an interest in the precious Redeemer, and behold an infinite loveliness and beauty in Him, apart from anything I expect or hope. But even then how deceitful is the human heart! how insensibly might a mere selfish love take the place of that disinterested complacency which regards Him for what He is in Himself, apart from what He is to us! Say, my dear friend, does not this thought sometimes make you tremble?”
Poor Mary was truth itself, and this question distressed her; she must answer the truth. The fact was, that it had never come into her blessed little heart to tremble, for she was one of those children of the bride-chamber who cannot mourn, because the bridegroom is ever with them ; but then, when she saw the man for whom her reverence was almost like that for her God thus distrustful, thus lowly, she could not but feel that her too calm repose might, after all, be the shallow, treacherous calm of an ignorant, ill-grounded spirit, and therefore, with a deep blush and a faltering voice, she said,—
“Indeed, I am afraid something must be wrong with me. I cannot have any fears,—I never could; I try sometimes, but the thought of God’s goodness comes all around me, and I am so happy before I think of it!”
“Such exercises, my dear friend, I have also had,” said the Doctor; “but before I rest on them as evidences, I feel constrained to make the following inquiries:—Is this gratitude that swells my bosom the result of a mere natural sensibility ? Does it arise in a particular manner because God has done me good? or do I love God for what He is, as well as for what He has done? and for what He has done for others, as well as for what He. has done for me? Love to God which is built on nothing but good received is not incompatible with a disposition so horrid as even to curse God to His face. If God is not to be loved except when He does good, then in affliction we are free. If doing us good is all that renders God lovely to us, then not doing us good divests Him of His glory, and dispenses us from obligation to love Him. But there must be, undoubtedly, some permanent reason why God is to be loved by all; and if not doing us good divests Him of His glory so as to free us from our obligation to love, it equally frees the universe; so that, in fact, the universe of happiness, if ours be not included, reflects no glory on its Author.”
The Doctor had practised his subtile mental analysis till his instruments were so fine-pointed and keen-edged that he scarce, ever allowed a flower of sacred emotion to spring in his soul without picking it to pieces to see if its genera and species were correct. Love, gratitude, reverence, benevolence,—which all moved in mighty tides in his soul,—were all compelled to pause midway while he rubbed up his optical instruments to see whether they were rising in right order. Mary, on the contrary, had the blessed gift of womanhood,—that vivid life in the soul and sentiment which resists the chills of analysis, as a healthful human heart resists cold; yet still, all humbly, she thought this perhaps was a defect in herself, and therefore, having confessed, in a depreciating tone, her habits of unanalyzed faith and love, she added,—
“But, my dear Sir, you are my best friend. I trust you will be faithful to me. If I am deceiving myself, undeceive me; you cannot be too severe with me.”
“Alas!” said the Doctor, “I fear that I may be only a blind leader of the blind. What, after all, if I be only a miserable self-deceiver? What if some thought of self has come in to poison all my prayers and strivings? It is true, I think,—yes, I think, said the Doctor, speaking very slowly and with intense earnestness,— “I think, that, if I knew at this moment that my name never would be written among those of the elect, I could still see God to be infinitely amiable and glorious, and could feel sure that He could not do me wrong, and that it was infinitely becoming and right that He should dispose of me according to His sovereign pleasure. I think so;—but still my deceitful heart!—after all, I might find it rising in rebellion. Say, my dear friend, are you sure, that, should you discover yourself to he forever condemned by His justice, you would not find your heart rising up against Him?”
“Against Him?” Said Mary, with a tremulous, sorrowful expression on her face,—“against my Heavenly Father?”
Her face flushed, and faded; her eyes kindled eagerly, as if she had something to say, and then grew misty with tears. At last she said,—
“Thank you, my dear, faithful friend! I will think about this; perhaps I may have been deceived. How very difficult it must be to know one’s self perfectly!”
Mary went into her own little room, and sat leaning for a long time with her elbow on the window-seat, watching the pale shells of the apple-blossoms as they sailed and fluttered downward into the grass, and listened to a chippering conversation in which the birds in the nest above were settling up their small housekeeping accounts for the day.
After a while, she took her pen and wrote the following, which the Doctor found the next morning lying on his study-table:—
“MY DEAR HONORED FRIEND,—How can I sufficiently thank you for your faithfulness with me? All you say to me seems true and excellent; and yet, my dear Sir, permit me to try to express to you some of the many thoughts to which our conversation this evening has given rise. To love God because He is good to me you seem to think is not a right kind of love ; and yet every moment of my life I have experienced His goodness. When recollection brings back the past, where; can I look that I see not His goodness? What moment of my life presents not instances of merciful kindness to me, as well as to every creature, more and greater than I can express, than my mind is able to take in ? How, then, can I help loving God because He is good to me ? Were I not an object of God’s mercy and goodness, I cannot have any conception what would be my feeling. Imagination never vet placed me in a situation not to experience the goodness of God in some way or other; and if I do love Him, how can it be but because He is good, and to me good? Do not God’s children love Him because He first loved them ?
"If I called nothing goodness which did not happen to suit my inclination, and could not believe the Deity to be gracious and merciful except when the course of events was so ordered as to agree with my humor, so far from imagining that I had any love to God, I must concludemyself wholly destitute of anything good. A love founded on nothing but good received is not, you say, incompatible with a disposition so horrid as even to curse God. I am not sensible that I ever in my life imagined anything but good could come from the hand of God, From a Being infinite in goodness everything must be good, though we do not always comprehend how it is so. Are not afflictions good? Does He not even in judgment remember mercy ? Sensible that ‘afflictions are but blessings in disguise.’ I would bless the hand that, with infinite kindness, wounds only to heal, and love and adore the goodness of God equally in suffering as in rejoicing,
“ The disinterested love to God, which you think is alone the genuine love, I see not how we can be certain we possess, when our love of happiness and our love of God are so inseparably connected.
The joys arising from a consciousness that God is a benefactor to me and my friends, (and when I think of God, every creature is my friend.) if arising from a selfish motive, it does not seem to me possible could be changed into hate, even supposing God my enemy, whilst I regarded Him as a Being infinitely just as well as good. If God is my enemy, it must be because I deserve He should be such; and it does not seem to me possible that I should hate Him, even if I knew He would always be so.
“In what you say of willingness to suffer eternal punishment, I don’t know that I understand what the feeling is. Is it wickedness in me that I do not feel a willingness to be left to eternal sin ? Can any one. joyfully acquiesce in being thus left? When I pray tor a new heart and a right spirit, must I be willing to be denied, and rejoice that my prayer is not heard? Could any real Christian rejoice in this? But he fears it not,—he knows it will never be,—he therefore can cheerfully leave it with God ; and so can I.
“ Such, my dear friend, are my thoughts, poor and unworthy; yet they seem to me as certain as my life, or as anything I see. Am I unduly confident? I ask your prayers that I may l be guided aright.
“Your affectionate friend. “MARY."
There are in this world two kinds of natures,—those that have wings, and those that have feet,—the winged and the walking spirits. The walking are the logicians; the winged are the instinctive and poetic. Natures that must always walk find many a bog, many a thicket, many a tangled brake, which God’s happy little winged birds flit over by one noiseless flight. Nay, when a man has toiled till his feet weigh too heavily with the mud of earth to enable him to walk another step, these little birds will often cleave the air in a right line towards the bosom of God, and show the way where he could never have found it.
The Doctor paused in his ponderous and heavy reasonings to read this real woman’s letter ; and being a loving man, be felt as if he could have kissed the hem of her garment who wrote it. He recorded it in his journal, and after it this significant passage from Canticles:—
“I charge YOU, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up nor awake this lovely one till she please.”
Mrs. Scudder’s motherly eye noticed, with satisfaction, these quiet communings. “ Let it alone,” she said to herself; “ before she knows it, she will find herself wholly under his influence.” Mrs. Scudder was a wise woman.
IN the course of a day or two, a handsome carriage drew up in front of Mrs. Scudder’s cottage, and a brilliant party alighted. They were Colonel and Madame de Frontignac, the Abbe Lefon, and Colonel Burr. Mrs. Scudder and her daughter, being prepared for the call, sat in afternoon dignity and tranquillity, in the best room, with their knitting-work.
Madame de Frontignac had divined, with the lightning-like tact which belongs to women in the positive, and to French women in the superlative degree, that there was something in the cottage-girl, whom she had passingly seen at the party, which powerfully affected the man whom she loved with all the jealous intensity of a strong nature, and hence she embraced eagerly the opportunity to see her,—yes, to see her, to study her, to dart her keen French wit through her, and detect the secret of her charm, that she, too, might practise it.
Madame de Frontignac was one of those women whose beauty is so striking and imposing, that they seem to kindle up, even in the most prosaic apartment, an atmosphere of enchantment. All the pomp and splendor of high life, the wit, the refinements, the nameless graces and luxuries of courts, seemed to breathe in invisible airs around her. and she made a Faubourg St. Germain of the darkest room into which she entered. Mary thought, when she came in, that she had never seen anything so splendid. She was dressed in a black velvet ridinghabit, buttoned to the throat with coral; her riding-hat drooped with its long plumes so as to cast a shadow over her animated face, out of which her dark eyes shone like jewels, and her pomegranate cheeks glowed with the rich shaded radiance of one of Rembrandt’s pictures. Something quaint and foreign, something poetic and strange, marked each turn of her figure, each article of her dress, down to the sculptured hand on which glittered singular and costly rings,—and the riding-glove, embroidered with seed-pearls, that fell carelessly beside her on the floor.
In Antwerp one sees a picture in which Rubens, who felt more than any other artist the glory of the physical life, has embodied his conception of the Madonna, in opposition to the faded, cold ideals of the Middle Ages, from which he revolted with such a bound. His Mary is a superb Oriental sultana, with lustrous dark eyes, redundant form, jewelled turban, standing leaning on the balustrade of a princely terrace, and bearing on her hand, not the silver dove, but a gorgeous paroquet. The two styles, in this instance, were both in the same room; and as Burr sat looking from one to the other, he felt, for a moment, as one would who should put a sketch of Overbeck’s beside a splendid painting of Titian’s.
For a few moments, everything in the room seemed faded and cold, in contrast with the tropical atmosphere of this regal beauty. Burr watched Mary with a keen eye, to see if she were dazzled and overawed. He saw nothing but the most innocent surprise and delight. All the slumbering poetry within her seemed to awaken at the presence of her beautiful neighbor,—as when one, for the first time, stands before the great revelations of Art. Mary’s cheek glowed, her eyes seemed to grow deep with the enthusiasm of admiration, and, after a few moments, it seemed as if her delicate face and figure reflected the glowing loveliness of her visitor, just as the virgin snows of the Alps become incarnadine as they stand opposite the glorious radiance of a sunset sky.
Madame de Frontignac was accustomed to the effect of her charms; but there was so much love in the admiration now directed towards her, that her own warm nature was touched, and she threw out the glow' of her feelings with a magnetic power. Mary never felt the cold, habitual reserve of her education so suddenly melt, never felt herself so naturally falling into language of confidence and endearment with a stranger; and as her face, so delicate and spiritual, grew bright with love, Madame de Frontignac thought she had never seen anything so beautiful, and, stretching out her hands towards her, she exclaimed, in her own language,—
“Mais, mon Dicu! mon enfant, que tu es belle!”
Mary’s deep blush, at her ignorance of the language in which her visitor spoke, recalled her to herself;—she laughed a clear, silvery laugh, and laid her jewelled little hand on Mary's with a caressing movement.
“He shall not teach you French, ma toute belle,” she said, indicating the Abbe, by a pretty, wilful gesture ; "I will teach you;—and you shall teach me English. Oh, I shall try so hard to learn !” she said.
There was something inexpressibly pretty and quaint in the childish lisp with which she pronounced English. Mary was completely won over. She could have fallen into the arms of this wondronsly beautiful fairy princess, expecting to be carried away by her to Dream-land.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Scudder was gravely discoursing with Colonel Burr and M. de Frontignac ; and the Abbe, a small and gentlemanly personage, with clear black eye, delicately-cut features, and powdered hair, appeared to be absorbed in his efforts to follow tire current of a conversation imperfectly understood. Burr, the while, though Seeming to be entirely and politely absorbed in the conversation be was conducting, lost not a glimpse of the picturesque aside which was being enacted between the two fair ones whom he had thus brought together. He smiled quietly when he saw the effect Madame de Frontignac produced on Mary.
“ After all, the child has flesh and blood!” he thought, “and may feel that there are more things in heaven and earth than she has dreamed of yet A few French ideas won’t hurt her.”
The arrangements about lessons being completed, the party returned to the carriage. Madame de Frontignac was enthusiastic in Mary’s praise.
“ Cependant,” she said, leaning back, thoughtfully, after having exhausted herself in superlatives,—“cependant elle esl dévote,—et à dix-neuf comment cela se peut il?”
“It is the effect of her austere education, said Burr. “ It is not possible for you to conceive how young people are trained in the religious families of this country.”
“ But yet,” said Madame, “ it gives her a grace altogether peculiar; something in her looks went to my heart. I could find it very easy to love her, because she is really good.”
“ The Queen of Hearts should know all that is possible in loving,” said Burr.
Somehow, of late, the compliments which fell so readily from those graceful lips had brought with them an unsatisfying pain. Until a woman really loves, flattery and compliment are often like her native air; but when that deeper feeling has once awakened in her, her instincts become marvellously acute to detect the false from the true. Madame de Frontignac longed for one strong, unguarded, real, earnest word from the man who had stolen from her her whole being. She was beginning to feel in some dim wise what an untold treasure .she was daily giving for tinsel and dross. She leaned back in the carriage, with a restless, burning cheek, and wondered why she was born to be so miserable. The thought of Mary’s saintly face and tender eyes rose before her as the moon rises on the eyes of some hot and fevered invalid, inspiring vague yearnings after an unknown, unattainable peace.
Could some friendly power once have made her at that time clairvoyant and shown her the reality of the man whom she was seeing through the prismatic glass of her own enkindled ideality! Could she have seen the calculating quietness in which, during the intervals of a restless and sleepless ambition, he played upon her heart-strings, as one uses a musical instrument to beguile a passing hour, —how his only embarrassment was the fear that the feelings he was pleased to excite might become too warm and too strong, while as yet his relations to her husband were such as to make it dangerous to arouse his jealousy! And if he could have seen that pure ideal conception of himself which alone gave him power in the heart of this woman,—that spotless, glorified image of a hero without fear, without reproach,—would he have felt a moment’s shame and abasement at its utter falsehood ?
The poet says that the Evil Spirit stood abashed when he saw virtue in an angel form! How would a man, then, stand, who meets face to face his own glorified, spotless ideal, made living by the boundless faith of some believing heart? The best must needs lay his hand on his mouth at this apparition; but woe to him who feels no redeeming power in the sacredness of this believing dream,—who with calculating shrewdness uses this most touching miracle of love only to corrupt and destroy the loving! For him there is no sacrifice for sin, no place for repentance. His very mother might shrink in her grave to have him laid beside her.
Madame de Frontignac had the high, honorable nature of the old blood of France, and a touch of its romance. She was strung heroically, and educated according to the notions of her caste and church, purely and religiously. True it is, that one can scarcely call that education which teaches woman everything except herself,—except the things that relate to her own peculiar womanly destiny, and, on plea of the holiness of ignorance, sends her without one word of just counsel into the temptations of life. Incredible as it may seem, Yirginie de Frontignac had never read a romance or work of fiction of which love was the staple; the regime of the convent in this regard was inexorable; at eighteen she was more thoroughly a child than most American girls at thirteen. On entrance into life, she was at first so dazzled and bewildered by the mere contrast of fashionable excitement with the quietness of the scenes in which she had hitherto grown up, that she had no time tor reading or thought,—all was one intoxicating frolic of existence, one dazzling, bewildering dream.
He whose eye had measured her for his victim verified, if ever man did, the proverbial expression of the iron hand under the velvet glove. Under all his gentle suavities there was a fixed, inflexible will, a calm self-restraint, and a composed philosophical measurement of others, that fitted him to bear despotic rule over an impulsive, unguarded nature. The position, at once accorded to him, of her instructor in the English language and literature, gave him a thousand daily opportunities to touch and stimulate all that class of finer faculties, so restless and so perilous, and which a good man approaches always with a certain awe. It is said that he once asserted that he never beguiled a woman who did not come half-way to meet him, —an observation much the same as a serpent might make in regard to his birds.
The visit of the morning was followed by several others. Madame de Frontignac seemed to conceive for Mary one of those passionate attachments which women often conceive for anything fair and sympathizing, at those periods when their whole inner being is made vital by the approaches of a grand passion. It took only a few visits to make her as familiar as a child at the cottage ; and the whole air of the Faubourg St. Germain seemed to melt away from her, as, with the pliability peculiar to her nation, she blended herself with the quiet pursuits ot the family. Sometimes, in simple straw hat and white wrapper, she would lie down in the grass under the apple-trees, or join Mary in an expedition to the barn for hen’s eggs, or a run along the sea-beach for shells; and her childish eagerness and delight on these occasions used to arouse the unqualified -astonishment of Mrs. Katy Scudder.
The Doctor she regarded with a naive astonishment, slightly tinctured with apprehension. She knew he was very religious, and stretched her comprehension to imagine what he might be like. She thought of Bossuet’s sermons walking about under a Protestant coat, and felt vaguely alarmed and sinful in his presence, as she used to when entering under the shadows of a cathedral. In her the religious sentiment, though vague, was strong. Nothing in the character of Burr had ever awakened so much disapprobation as his occasional sneers at religion. On such occasions she always reproved him with warmth, but excused him in ln r heart, because he was brought up a heretic. She held a special theological conversation with the Abbe, whether salvation were possible to one outside ot the True Church,—and had added to her daily prayer a particular invocation to the Virgin for him.
The French lessons, with her assistance, proceeded prosperously. She became an inmate in Mrs. Marvyn’s family also. The brown-eved, sensitive woman loved her as a new poem; she felt enchanted by her; and the prosaic details of her household seemed touched to poetic life, by her innocent interest and admiration. The young Madame insisted on being taught to spin at the great wheel; and a very pretty picture she made of it, too, with her earnest gravity of endeavor, her deepening cheek, her graceful form, with some strange foreign scarf or jewelry waving and flashing in odd contrast with her work.
“Do you know,” she said, one day, while thus employed in the north room at Mrs. Marvyn’s,—“do you know Burr told me that princesses used to spin ? He read me a beautiful story from the ‘ Odyssey,’ about how Penelope cheated her lovers with her spinning, while she was waiting for her husband to come home;—he was gone to sea, Mary,—her true love,— you understand.”
She turned on Mary a wicked glance, so full of intelligence that the snowdrop grew red as the inside of a sea-shell.
“ Mon enfant! thou hast a thought deep in here!" she said to Mary,one day, as they sat together in the grass under the apple-trees.
“ Why, what ? ” said Mary, with a startled and guilty look.
“Why, what? petite!" said the fairy princess, whimsically mimicking her accent. “Ah! ah! ma belle! you think I have no eyes;—Virginie sees deep in here!” she said, laying her hand playfully on Mary’s heart. “Ah, petite ! ” she said, gravely, and almost sorrowfully, “if you love him, wait for him,—don't marry another! It is dreadful not to have one's heart go with one’s duty.”
“ I shall never marry anybody," said Mary.
“ Nevnre marrie anybodie!” said the lady, imitating her accents in tones much like those of a bobolink. “ Ah! ah' my little saint, you cannot always live on nothing but the prayers, though prayers are verie good. But, ma chère," she added, in a low tone, “ don’t you ever marry that good man in there; priests should not marry.”
“ Ours are not priests,—they are ministers,” said Mary. “ But why do you speak of him?—he is like my father.
“Virginie sees something ! ” said the lady, shaking her head gravely; “ she sees he loves little Mary.
“ Of course he does ! ”
“ Of-course-he-does?—ah, yes; and hyand-by comes the mamma, and she takes this little hand, and she says, ‘ Come, Mary ! ’ and then she gives it to him; and then the poor jeune homme, when he comes back, finds not a bird in his poor little nest. Oh, c'est ennuyeux cela!” she said, throwing herself back in the grass till the clover-heads and buttercups closed over her.
“ I do assure you, dear Madame!"-
“ I do assure you, dear Mary, Virginie knows. So lock up her words in your little heart; you will want them some day.”
There was a pause of some moments, while the lady was watching the course of a cricket through the clover. At last, lifting her head, she spoke, very gravely.—
“ My little cat! it is dreadful to be married to a good man, and want to be good, and want to love him, and yet never like to have him take your hand, and be more glad when he is away than when he is at home; and then to think how different it would all be, if it. was only somebody else. That will be the way with you, if you let them lead you into this; so don’t you do it, mon enfant.”
A thought seemed to cross Mary's mind, as she turned to Madame de Frontignac, and said, earnestly,—
“If a good man were my husband, I would never think of another,—I wouldn't let myself.”
“How could you help it, mignonne? Can you stop your thinking ?”
Mary said, after a moment’s blush,— “ I can try!”
“ Ah, yes! But to try all one’s life,—oh, Mary, that is too hard! Never do it, darling ! ”
And then Madame de Frontignac broke out into a carolling little French song, which started all the birds around into a general orchestral accompaniment.
This conversation occurred just before Madame de Frontignac started for Philadelphia, whither her husband had been summoned as an agent in some of the ambitious intrigues of Burr.
It was with a sigh of regret that she parted from her friends at the cottage. She made them a hasty good-bye call,— alighting from a splendid barouche with two white horses, and filling their simple best-room with the light of her presence for a last halt-hour. When she bade goodbye to Mary, she folded her warmlv to her heart, and her long lashes drooped heavily with tears.
After her absence, the lessons were still pursued with the gentle, quiet little Abbe, who seemed the most patient and assiduous of teachers ; but, in both houses, there was that vague ennui, that sense of want, which follows the fading of one of life's beautiful dreams ! We bid her adieu for a season;—we may see her again.
THE summer passed over the cottage, noiselessly, as our summers pass. There were white clouds walking in saintly troops over blue mirrors of sea,—there were purple mornings, choral with birdsinging,—there were golden evenings, with long, eastward shadows. Appleblossoms died quietly in the deep orchard-grass, and tiny apples waxed and rounded and ripened and gained stripes of gold and carmine ; and the blue eggs broke into young robins, that grew from gaping, yellow-mouthed youth to fledged and outflying maturity. Came autumn, with its long Indian summer, and winter, with its flinty, sparkling snows, under which all Nature lay a sealed and beautiful corpse. Came once more the spring winds, the lengthening days, the opening flowers, and the ever-renewing miracle of buds and blossoms on the appletrees around the cottage. A year had passed since the June afternoon when first we showed you Mary standing under the spotty shadows of the tree, with the white dove on her hand,—a year in which not many outward changes have been made in the relations of the actors of our story.
Mary calmly spun and read and thought ; now and then composing with care very English-French letters, to be sent to Philadelphia to Madame de Frontignac, and receiving short missives of very French-English in return.
The cautions of Madame, in regard to the Doctor, had not rippled the current of their calm, confiding intercourse ; and the Doctor, so very satisfied and happy in her constant society and affection, scarcely as yet meditated distinctly that he needed to draw her more closely to himself. IF he had a passage to read, a page to be copied, a thought to express, was she not ever there, gentle, patient, unselfish ? and scarce by the absence of a day did she let him perceive that his need of her was becoming so absolute that his hold on her must needs be made permanent.
As to his salary and temporal concerns, they had suffered somewhat for his unpopular warfare with reigning sins,—a fact which had rather reconciled Mrs. Scudder to the dilatory movement of her cherished hopes. Since James was gone, what need to press imprudently' to new arrangements? Better give the little heart time to grow over before starting a subject which a certain womanly instinct told her might be met with a struggle. Somehow she never thought without a certain heart-sinking of Mary’s look and tone the night she spoke with her about James; she had an awful presentiment that that tone of voice belonged to the things that cannot be shaken. But yet, Mary seemed so even, so quiet, her delicate form filled out and rounded so beautifully, and she sang so cheerfully at her work, and, above all, she was so entirely silent about James, that Mrs. Scudder had hope.
Ah, that silence! Do not listen to hear whom a woman praises, to know where her heart is ! do not ask for whom she expresses the most earnest enthusiasm ! but if there be one she once knew well, whose name she never speaks,—if she seem to have an instinct to avoid every occasion of its mention,—if, when you speak, she drops into silence and changes the subject, —why, look there for something! just as, when going through deep meadow-grass, a bird flies ostentatiously up before you, you may know her nest is not there, but far off, under distant tufts of fern and buttercup, through which she has crept with a silent flutter in her spotted breast, to act her pretty little falsehood before you.
Poor Mary’s little nest was along the sedgy margin of the sea-shore, where grow the tufts of golden-rod, where wave the reeds, where crimson, green, and purple sea-weeds float up, like torn fringes of Nereid vestures, and gold and silver shells lie on the wet wrinkles of the sands.
The sea had become to her like a friend, with its ever-varying monotony. Somehow she loved this old, fresh, blue, babbling, restless giant, who had carried away her heart’s love to hide him in some far-off palmy' island, such as she had often heard him tell of in his sea-romances. Sometimes she would wander out for an afternoon’s stroll on the rocks, and pause by the great spouting cave, now famous to Newport dilettanti, but then a sacred and impressive solitude. There the rising tide bursts with deafening strokes through a narrow opening into some inner cavern, which, with a deep thunderboom, like the voice of an angry lion, casts it back in a high jet of foam into the sea.
Mary' often sat and listened to this hollow noise, and watched the ever-rising columns of spray as they reddened with the transpiercing beams of the afternoon sun; and thence her eye travelled far, far off over the shimmering starry blue, where sails looked no bigger than miller’s wings; and it seemed sometimes as if a door were opening by which her soul might go out into some eternity,—some abyss, so wide and deep, that fathomless lines of thought could not sound it. She was no longer a girl in a mortal body, but an infinite spirit, the adoring companion of Infinite Beauty' and Infinite Love.
As there was an hour when the fishermen of Galilee saw their Master transfigured, his raiment white and glistening, and his face like the light, so are there hours when our whole mortal life stands forth in a celestial radiance. From our daily lot falls off every weed of care,— from our heart-friends every speck and stain of earthly' infirmity. Our horizon widens, and blue, and amethyst, and gold touch every' object. Absent friends and friends gone on the last long journey stand once more together, bright with an immortal glow, and, like the disciples who saw their Master floating in the clouds above them, we say, “ Lord, it is good to be here!” How fair the wife, the husband, the absent mother, the gray-haired father, the manly son, the bright-eyed daughter! Seen in the actual present, all have some fault, some flaw; but absent, we see them in their permanent and better selves. Of our distant home we remember not one dark day, not one servile care, nothing but the echo of its holy hymns and the radiance of its brightest days,—of our father, not one hasty word, but only the fulness of his manly vigor and noble tenderness,—of our mother, nothing of mortal weakness, but a glorified form of love,—of our brother, not one teasing, provoking word of brotherly freedom, but the proud beauty of his noblest hours,—of our sister, our child, only what is fairest and sweetest.
This is to life the true ideal, the calm glass, wherein looking, we shall see, that, whatever defects cling to us, they are not, after all, permanent, and that we are tending to something nobler than we yet are;—it is “the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession." In the resurrection we shall see our friends forever as we see them in these clairvoyant hours.
We are writing thus on and on, linking image and thought and feeling, and lingering over every flower, and listening to every bird, because just before us there lies a dark valley, and we shrink and tremble to enter it.
But it must come, and why do we delay?
Towards evening, one afternoon in the latter part of June, Mary returned from one of these lonely walks by the sea, and entered the kitchen. It was still in its calm and sober cleanness;—the tall clock ticked with a startling distinctness. From the half-closed door of her mother's bedroom, which stood ajar, she heard the chipper of Miss Prissy’s voice. She stayed her light footsteps, and the words that fell on her ear were these:-
“Miss Marvyn fainted dead away;— she stood it till he came to that; but then she just clapped both hands together, as if she’d been shot, and fell right forward on the floor in a faint! ”
What could this be? There was a quick, intense whirl of thoughts in Mary’s mind, and then came one of those awful moments when the powers of life seem to make a dead pause and all things stand still; and then all seemed to fail under her, and the life to sink down, down, down, till nothing was but one dim, vague, miserable consciousness,
Mrs. Scudder and Miss Prissy were sitting, talking earnestly, on the foot of the bed, when the door opened noiselessly, and Mary glided to them like a spirit, —no color in cheek or lip,—her blue eyes wide with calm horror ; and laying her little hand, with a nervous grasp, on Miss Prissy’s arm, she said,—
“Tell me,—what is it?—is it?—is he—dead?”
The two women looked at each other, and then Mrs. Scudder opened her arms.
“ My daughter ! ”
“ Oh ! mother ! mother!”
Then fell that long, hopeless silence, broken only by hysteric sobs from Miss Prissy, and answering ones from the mother; but she lay still and quiet, her blue eyes wide and clear, making an inarticulate moan.
“ Oh ! are they sure?—can it be?— is he dead ? ” at. last she gasped.
“ My child, it is too true; all we can say is, ‘Be still, and know that I am God!’”
“ I shall try to be still, mother,” said Mary, with a piteous, hopeless Voice, like the bleat of a dying lamb; “but I did not think he could die ! I never thought of that!—I never thought of it!—Oh! mother ! mother ! mother ! oh! what shall I do ? ”
They laid her on her mother’s bed,— the first and last resting-place of broken hearts,—and the mother sat down by her in silence. Miss Prissy stole away into the Doctor’s study, and told him all that had happened.
“It’s the same to her,” said Miss Prissy, with womanly reserve, “ as if he’d been an own brother.”
"What was his spiritual state ? ” said the Doctor, musingly.
Miss Prissy looked blank, and answered mournfully,—
“ I don’t know.”
The Doctor entered the room where Mary was lying with closed eyes. Those few moments seemed to have done the work of years,—so pale, and faded, and sunken she looked; nothing but the painful flutter of the eyelids and lips showed that she yet breathed. At a sign from Mrs. Seudder, he kneeled by the bed, and began to pray,—Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations,"—prayer deep, mournful, upheaving like the swell of the ocean, surging upward, under the pressure of mighty sorrows, towards an Almighty heart.
The truly good are of one language in prayer. Whatever lines or angles of thought may separate them in other hours, when they pray in extremity, all good men pray alike. The Emperor Charles V. and Martin Luther, two great generals of opposite faiths, breathed out their dying struggle in the self-same words.
There be many tongues and many languages of men,—but the language of prayer is one by itself, in all and above all. It is the inspiration of that Spirit that is ever working with our spirit, and constantly lifting us higher than we know, and, by our wants, by our woes, by our tears, by our yearnings, by our poverty, urging us, with mightier and mightier force, against those chains of sin which keep us from our God. We speak not of things conventionally called prayers,—vain mutterings of unawakened spirits talking drowsily in sleep,—but of such prayers as come when tlesh and heart fail, in mighty straits;—then he who prays is a prophet, and a Mightier than he speaks in him; for the "Spirit helpeth our infirmities ; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with groaitings which cannot be uttered.”
So the voice of supplication, upheaving from that great heart; so childlike in its humility, rose with a wisdom and a pathos beyond what he dreamed in his intellectual hours; it uprose even as a strong angel, whose brow is solemnly calm, and whose wings shed healing dews of paradise.
THE next day broke calm and fair. The robins sang remorselessly in the apple-tree, and were answered by bobolink, oriole, and a whole tribe of ignorant little bits of feathered happiness that danced among the leaves. Golden and glorious unclosed those purple eyelids of the East, and regally came up the sun; and the treacherous sea broke into ten thousand smiles, laughing and dancing with every ripple, as unconsciously as if no form dear to human hearts had gone down beneath it. Oh ! treacherous, deceiving beauty of outward things! beauty, wherein throbs not one answering nerve to human pain !
Mary rose early and was about her morning work. Her education was that of the soldier, who must know himself no more, whom no personal pain must swerve from the slightest minutiae of duty. So she was there, at her usual hour, dressed with the same cool neatness, her brown hair parted in satin bands, and only the colorless cheek and lip differing from the Mary of yesterday.
How strange this external habit of living ! One thinks how to stick in a pin, and how to tie a string,—one busies one’s self with folding robes, and putting away napkins, the day after some stroke that has cut the inner life in two, with the heart’s blood dropping quietly at every step.
Yet it is better so! Happy those whom stern principle or long habit or hard necessity calls from the darkened room, the languid trance of pain, in which the wearied heart longs to indulge, and gives this trite prose of common life, at which our weak and wearied appetites so revolt! Mary never thought of such a thing as self-indulgence;—this daughter of the Puritans had her seed within her. Aerial in her delicacy, as the blue-eyed flax-flower with which they sowed their fields, she had yet its strong fibre, which no stroke of the flail could break ; bruising and hackling only made it fitter for uses of homely utility. Mary, therefore, opened the kitchen-door at dawn, and, after standing one moment to breathe the freshness, began spreading the cloth for an early breakfast. Mrs. Seudder, the mean while, was kneading the bread that had been set to rise over-night; and the oven was crackling and roaring with a large-throated, honest garrulousness.
But, ever and anon, as the mother worked, she followed the motions of her child anxiously.
“ Mary, my dear,” she said, “ the eggs are giving out: hadn’t you better run to the barn and get a few ? ”
Most mothers are instinctive philosophers. No treatise on the laws of nervous fluids could have taught Mrs. Scudder a better role for this morning, than her tender gravity, and her constant expedients to break and ripple, by changing employments, that deep, deadly under-current of thoughts which she feared might undermine her child’s life.
Mary went into the barn, stopped a moment, and took out a handful of corn to throw to her hens, who had a habit of running towards her and cocking an expectant eye to her little hand, whenever she appeared. All came at once flying towards her,—speckled, white, and gleamy with hues between of tawny orange-gold, —the cooks, magnificent with the bladelike waving of their tails,—and, as they chattered and cackled and pressed and crowded about her, pecking the corn, even where it lodged in the edge of her little shoes, she said, “Poor things, I am glad they enjoy it!”—and even this one little act of love to the ignorant fellowship below her carried away some of the choking pain which seemed all the while suffocating her heart. Then, climbing into the hay, she sought the nest and filled her little basket with eggs, warm, translucent, pinky-white in their freshness. She felt, for a moment, the customary animation in surveying her new treasures ; but suddenly, like a vision rising before her, came a remembrance of once when she and James were children together and had been seeking eggs just there. He flashed before her eyes, the bright boy with the long black lashes, the dimpled cheeks, the merry eyes, just as he stood and threw the hay over her when they tumbled and laughed together,—and she. sat down with a sick faintness, and then turned and walked wearily in.
[ To be continued.]