The Minister's Wooing
BY six o’clock in the morning, Miss Prissy came out of the best room to the breakfast-table, with the air of a general who has arranged a campaign,— her face glowing with satisfaction. All sat down together to their morning meal. The outside door was open into the green, turfy yard, and the apple-tree, now nursing stores of fine yellow jeannetons, looked in at the window. Every once in a while, as a breeze shook the leaves, a fully ripe apple might be heard falling to the ground, at which Miss Prissy would bustle up from the table and rush to secure the treasure.
As the meal waned to its close, the rattling of wheels was heard at the gate, and Candace was discerned, seated aloft in the one-horse wagon, with her usual complement of baskets and bags.
“ Well, now, dear me ! if there is’nt Candace ! ” said Miss Prissy ; “ I do believe Miss Marvyn has sent her with something for the quilting !” and out she flew as nimble as a humming-bird, while those in the house heard various exclamations of admiration, as Candace, with stately dignity, disinterred from the wagon one basket after another, and exhibited to Miss Prissy's enraptured eyes sly peeps under the white napkins with which they were covered. And then, hanging a large basket on either arm, she rolled majestically towards the house, like a heavy-laden Indiaman, coming in after a fast voyage.
“ Good-mornin’, Miss Scudder ! goodmornin’, Doctor !” she said, dropping her curtsy on the door-step ; “ good-mornin’, Miss Mary ! Ye see our folks was stirrin’ pootty ’arly dis mornin’, an’ Miss Marvyn sent me down wid two or tree little tings.”
Setting down her baskets on the floor, and seating herself between them, she proceeded to develop their contents with ill-concealed triumph. One basket was devoted to cakes of every species, from the great Mont-Blanc loaf-cake, with its snowy glaciers of frosting, to the twisted cruller and puffy doughnut. In the other basket lay pots of golden butter curiously stamped, reposing on a bed of fresh, green leaves, — while currants, red and white, and delicious cherries and raspberries, gave a final finish to the picture. From a basket which Miss Prissy brought in from the rear appeared cold fowl and tongue delicately prepared, and shaded with feathers of parsley. Candace, whose rollicking delight in the good things of this life was conspicuous in every emotion, might have furnished to a painter, as she sat in her brilliant turban, an idea for an African Genius of Plenty.
“ Why, really, Candace,” said Mrs. Scudder, “ you are overwhelming us ! ”
“ Ho ! ho ! ho ! ” said Candace, “ I's tellin' Miss Marvyn folks don’t git married but once in der lives, (gin’ally speakin’, dat is,) an’ den dey oughter hab plenty to do it wid.”
“ Well, I must say,” said Miss Prissy, taking out the loaf-cake with busy assiduity,— “ I must say, Candace, this does beat all ! ”
“ I should rader tink it oughter,” said Candace, bridling herself with proud consciousness ; “ ef it don't, ’ta’n’t ’cause ole Candace ha’n’t put enough into it. I tell ye, I didn’t do nothin’ all day yisterday but jes’ make dat ar cake. Cato, when he got up, he begun to talk sorneh’n’ ’bout his sliirt-buttons, an’ I jes’ shet him right up. Says I, ' Cato, when I’s rally got cake to make for a great 'casion, I wants my mind jest as quiet an’ jest as serene as ef I was a-goin’ to de sacrament. I don’t want no ’arthly cares on’t. Now,’ says I, ‘Cato, de ole Doctor’s gwine to be married, an’ dis yer’s his quiltin’-cake, — an’ Miss Mary, she’s gwine to be married, an’ dis yer’s her quiltin’-cake. An’ dar’ll be eberybody to dat ar quiltin’; an’ ef de cake a’n’t right, why, ’twould be puttin’ a candle under a bushel. An’ so,’ says I, ‘Cato, your buttons mus’ wait.’ An’ Cato, he sees de ’priety ob it, ’cause, dough he can’t make cake like me, he’s a ’mazin’ good judge on’t, an’ is dre’ful tickled when I slips out a little loaf for his supper.”
“How is Mrs. Marvyn ? ” said Mrs. Scudder.
“Kinder thin and shimmery; but she’s about, — habin’ her eyes eberywar, ’n’ lookin’ into eberyting. She jes’ touches tings wid de tips ob her fingers an’ dey seem to go like. She’ll be down to de quiltin’ dis arternoon. But she tole me to take de tings an’ come down an’ spen’ de day here ; for Miss Marvyn an’ I both knows how many steps mus’ be taken sech times, an’ we agreed you oughter favor yourselves all you could.”
“Well, now,” said Miss Prissy, lifting up her hands, “ if that a’n’t what ’tis to have friends ! Why, that was one of the things I was thinking of, as I lay awake last night; because, you know, at times like these, people run their feet off before the time begins, and then they are all limpsey and lop-sided when the time comes. Now, I say, Candace, all Miss Scudder and Mary have to do is to give everything up to us, and we’ll put it through straight.”
“Dat’s what we will !” said Candace. “Jes’ show me what's to be done, an’ I'll do it.”
Candace and Miss Prissy soon disappeared together into the pantry with the baskets, whose contents they began busily to arrange. Candace shut the door, that no sound might escape, and began a confidential outpouring to Miss Prissy.
“Ye see,” she said, “I’s feelin's all de while for Miss Marvyn ; ’cause, ye see, she was expectin’, ef eber Mary was married, — well — dat ’twould be to somebody else, ye know.”
Miss Prissy responded with a sympathetic groan.
“Well,” said Candace, “ef ’t had been anybody but de Doctor, I wouldn’t ’a’ been resigned. But arter all he’s done for my color, dar a’n’t nothin’ I could find it in my heart to grudge him. But den I was tellin’ Cato t'oder day, says I, ‘Cato, I dunno ’bout de rest o’ de world, but I ha’n’t neber felt it in my bones dat Mass’r James is r’ally dead, for sartin.’ Now I feels tings gin’ally, but some tings I feels in my bones, an’ dem allers comes true. An’ dat ar’s a feelin’ I ha’n’t had ’bout Mass’r Jim yit, an’ dat ar’s what I’m waitin’ for ’fore I clar make up my mind. Though I know, ’cordin’ to all white folks’ way o’ tinkin’, dar a’n’t no hope, ’cause Squire Marvyn he had dat ar Jeduth Pettibone up to his house, a-questionin’ on him, off an’ on, nigh about tree hours. An’ r’ally I didn’t see no hope no way, ’xcept jes’ dis yer, as I was tellin’ Cato, — I can’t feel it in my bones.”
Candace was not versed enough in the wisdom of the world to know that she belonged to a large and respectable school of philosophers in this particular mode of testing evidence, which, after all, the reader will perceive has its conveniences.
“Anoder ting,” said Candace ; “as much as a dozen times, dis yer last year, when I’s been a-scourin’ knives, a fork has fell an’ stuck straight up in de floor; an’ de las’ time I pinted it out to Miss Marvyn, an’ she on’y jes’ said, ‘Why, what o’ dat, Candace ? ’ ”
“Well,” said Miss Prissy, “I don’t believe in signs, but then strange things do happen. Now about dogs howling under windows,—why, I don’t believe in it a bit, but I never knew it fail that there was a death in the house after.”
“Ah, I tell ye what,” said Candace, looking mysterious, “dogs knows a heap more’n dey likes to tell!”
“Jes’ so,” said Miss Prissy. “Now I remember, one night, when I was watching with Miss Colonel Andrews, after Marthy Ann was born, that we heard the mournfulest howling that ever you did hear. It seemed to come from right under the front stoop ; and Miss Andrews she just dropped the spoon in her gruel, and says she, 'Miss Prissy, do, for pity’s sake, just go down and see what that noise is.' And I went down and lifted up one of the loose boards of the stoop, and what should I see there but their Newfoundland pup ? — there that creature had dug a grave, and was a-sitting by it, crying ! ”
Candace drew near to Miss Prissy, dark with expressive interest, as her voice, in this awful narration, sank to a whisper.
“Well,” said Candace, after Miss Prissy had made something of a pause.
“Well, I told Miss Andrews I didn’t think there was anything in it,” said Miss Prissy ; “but,” she added, impressively, “ she lost a very dear brother, six months after, and I laid him out with my own hands, — yes, laid him out in white flannel.”
“Some folks say,” said Candace, “dat dreamin’ 'bout white horses is a sartin sign. Jinny Styles is bery strong 'bout dat. Now she come down one mornin’ cryin’, ’cause she’d been dreamin’ ’bout white horses, an’ she was sure she should hear some friend was dead. An’ sure enough, a man come in dat bery day an’ tole her her son was drownded out in de harbor. An’ Jinny said, ‘Dar! she was sure dat sign neber would fail.’ But den, ye see, dat night he come home. Jinny wa’n’t r’ally disappinted, but she allers insisted he was as good as drownded, any way, ’cause he sunk tree times.”
“Well, I tell you,” said Miss Prissy, “there are a great many more things in this world than folks know about.”
“So dey are,” said Candace, “Now, I ha’n’t neber opened my mind to nobody ; but dar’s a dream I’s had, tree mornin's runnin’, lately. I dreamed I see Jim Marvyn a-sinkin’ in de water, an’ stretchin’ up his hands. An’ den I dreamed I see de Lord Jesus come a-walkin’ on de water, an’ take hold ob his hand, an’ says he, ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt ?’ An’ den he lifted him right out. An’ I ha’n’t said nothin’ to nobody, ’cause, you know, de Doctor, he says people mus’n’t mind nothin’ ’bout der dreams, ’cause dreams belongs to de ole ’spensataon.”
“Well, well, well!” said Miss Prissy, “I am sure I don’t know what to think. What time in the morning was it that you dreamed it ?”
“Why,” said Candace, “it was jest arter bird-peep. I kinder allers wakes myself den, an’ turns ober, an’ what comes arter dat is apt to run clar.”
“Well, well, well!” said Miss Prissy, “I don’t know what to think. You see, it may have reference to the state of his soul.”
“I know dat,” said Candace; “but as nigh as I could judge in my dream,” she added, sinking her voice and looking mysterious, “as nigh as I can judge, dat boy’s soul was in his body ! ”
“Why, how do you know?” said Miss Prissy, looking astonished at the confidence with "which Candace expressed her opinion.
“Well, ye see,” said Candace, rather mysteriously, “de Doctor, he don’t like to hab us talk much ’bout dese yer tings, ’cause he tinks it’s kind o’ heathenish. But den, folks as is used to seein’ sech tings knows de look ob a sperit out o’ de body from de look ob a sperit in de body, jest as easy as you can tell Mary from de Doctor.”
At this moment Mrs. Scudder opened the pantry-door and put an end to this mysterious conversation, which had already so affected Miss Prissy, that, in the eagerness of her interest, she had rubbed up her cap border and ribbon into rather an elfin and goblin style, as if they had been ruffled up by a breeze from the land of spirits ; and she flew around for a few moments in a state of great nervous agitation, upsetting dishes, knocking down plates, and huddling up contrary suggestions as to what ought to be done first, in such impossible relations that Mrs. Katy Scudder stood in dignified surprise at this strange freak of conduct in the wise woman of the parish.
A dim consciousness of something not quite canny in herself seemed to strike her, for she made a vigorous effort to appear composed ; and facing Mrs. Scudder, with an air of dignified suavity, inquired if it would not be best to put Jim Marvyn in the oven now, while Candace was getting the pies ready, — meaning, of course, a large turkey, which was to be the first in an indefinite series to be baked that morning;住 and discovering, by Mrs. Scudder’s dazed expression and a vigorous pinch from Candace, that somehow she had not improved matters, she rubbed her spectacles into a diagonal position across her eyes, and stood glaring, half through, half over them, with a helpless expression, which in a less judicious person might have suggested the idea of a state of slight intoxication.
But the exigencies of an immediate temporal dispensation put an end to Miss Prissy’s unwonted vagaries, and she was soon to he seen flying round like a meteor, dusting, shaking curtains, counting napkins, wiping and sorting china, all with such rapidity as to give rise to the notion that she actually existed in forty places at once.
Candace, whom the limits of her corporeal frame restricted to an altogether different style of locomotion, often rolled the whites of her eyes after her and gave vent to her views of her proceedings in sententious expressions.
“Do you know why dat ar neber was married ?” she said to Mary, as she stood looking after her. Miss Prissy had made one of those rapid transits through the apartment.
“No,” answered Mary, innocently. “Why wasn't she ? ”
“’Cause neber was a man could run fast enough to cotch her,” said Candace; and then her portly person shook with the impulse of her own wit.
By two o’clock a goodly company began to assemble. Mrs. Deacon Twitchel arrived, soft, pillowy, and plaintive as ever, accompanied by Cerinthy Ann, a comely damsel, tall and trim, with a bright black eye, and a most vigorous and determined style of movement. Good Mrs. Jones, broad, expansive, and solid, having vegetated tranquilly on in the cabbage-garden of the virtues since three years ago, when she graced our tea-party, was now as well preserved as ever, and brought some fresh butter, a tin pail of cream, and a loaf of cake made after a new Philadelphia receipt. The tall, spare, angular figure of Mrs. Simeon Brown alone was wanting ; but she patronized Mrs. Scudder no more, and tossed her head with a becoming pride when her name was mentioned.
The quilt-pattern was gloriously drawn in oak-leaves, done in indigo ; and soon all the company, young and old, were passing busy fingers over it ; and conversation went on briskly.
Madame de Frontignac, we must not forget to say, bad entered with hearty abandon into the spirit of the day. She had dressed the tall china vases on the mantel-pieces, and, departing from the usual rule of an equal mixture of roses and asparagus-bushes, had constructed two quaint and graceful bouquets, where garden-flowers were mingled with drooping grasses and trailing wild vines, forming a graceful combination which excited the surprise of all who saw It.
“It’s the very first time in my life that I ever saw grass put into a flower-pot,” said Miss Prissy ; “but I must say it looks as handsome as a picture. Mary, I must say,” she added, in an aside, “I think that Madame de Frongenac is the sweetest dressing and appearing creature I ever saw; she don’t dress up nor put on airs, but she seems to sec in a minute how things ought to go; and if it’s only a bit of grass, or leaf, or wild vine, that she puts in her hair, why, it seems to come just right. I should like to make her a dress, for I know she would understand my fit; do speak to her, Mary, in case she should want a dress fitted here, to let me try it.”
At the quilting, Madame de Frontignac would have her seat, and soon won the respect of the party by the dexterity with which she used her needle ; though, when it was whispered that she learned to quilt among the nuns, some of the elderly ladies exhibited a slight uneasiness, as being rather doubtful whether they might not be encouraging Papistical opinions by allowing her an equal share in the work of getting up their minister’s bed-quilt ; but the younger part of the company were quite captivated by her foreign air, and the pretty manner in which she lisped her English ; and Cerinthy Ann even went so far as to horrify her mother by saying that she wished she’d been educated in a convent herself,— a declaration which arose less from native depravity than from a certain vigorous disposition, which often shows itself in young people, to shock the current opinions of their elders and betters. Of course, the conversation took a general turn, somewhat in unison with the spirit of the occasion ; and whenever it flagged, some allusion to a forthcoming wedding, or some sly hint at the future young Madame of the parish, was sufficient to awaken the dormant animation of the company.
Cerinthy Ann contrived to produce an agreeable electric shock by declaring, that, for her part, she never could see into it, how any girl could marry a minister,— that she should as soon think of setting up housekeeping in a meeting-house.
“Oh, Cerinthy Ann !” exclaimed her mother, “how can you go on so ? ”
“It’s a fact,” said the adventurous damsel; “now other men let you have some peace,— but a minister ’s always round under your feet.”
“So you think, the less you see of a husband, the better ? ” said one of the ladies.
“Just my views,” said Cerinthy, giving a decided snip to her thread with her scissors; “I like the Nantucketers, that go off on four-years’ voyages, and leave their wives a clear field. If ever I get married, I’m going up to have one of those fellows.”
It is to be remarked, in passing, that Miss Cerinthy Ann was at this very time receiving surreptitious visits from a consumptive-looking, conscientious, young theological candidate, who came occasionally to preach in the vicinity, and put up at the house of the Deacon, her father. This good young man, being violently attacked on the doctrine of Election by Miss Cerinthy, had been drawn on to illustrate it in a most practical manner, to her comprehension ; and it was the consciousness of the weak and tottering state of the internal garrison that added vigor to the young lady’s tones. As Mary had been the chosen confidante of the progress of this affair, she was quietly amused at the demonstration.
“You’d better take care, Cerinthy Ann,” said her mother ; “they say that ‘those who sing before breakfast will cry before supper.’ Girls talk about getting married,” she said, relapsing into a gentle didactic melancholy, “without realizing its awful responsibilities.”
“Oh, as to that,” said Cerinthy, “I’ve been practising on my pudding now these six years, and I shouldn’t be afraid to throw one up chimney with any girl.”
This speech was founded on a tradition, current in those times, that no young lady was fit to be mar I till she could construct a boiled Indian-pudding of such consistency that it could be thrown up chimney and come down on the ground, outside, without breaking; and the consequence of Cerinthy Ann’s sally was a general laugh.
“Girls a’n’t what they used to be in my day,” sententiously remarked an elderly lady. “I remember my mother told me when she was thirteen she could knit a long cotton stocking in a day.”
“I haven’t much faith in these stories of old times,— have you, girls?” said Cerinthy, appealing to the younger members at the frame.
“At any rate,” said Mrs. Twitchel, “our minister’s wife will be a pattern; I don’t know anybody that goes beyond her either in spinning or fine stitching.”
Mary sat as placid and disengaged as the new moon, and listened to the chatter of old and young with the easy quietness of a young heart that has early outlived life, and looks on everything in the world from some gentle, restful eminence far on towards a better home. She smiled at everybody’s word, had a quick eye for everybody’s wants, and was ready with thimble, scissors, or thread, whenever any one needed them ; but once, when there was a pause in the conversation, she and Mrs. Marvyn were both discovered to have stolen away. They were seated on the bed in Mary’s little room, with their arms around each other, communing in low and gentle tones.
“Mary, my dear child,” said her friend, “this event is very pleasant to me, because it places you permanently near me. I did not know but eventually this sweet face might lead to my losing you, who are in some respects the dearest friend I have.”
“You might be sure,” said Mary, “I never would have married, except that my mother’s happiness and the happiness of so good a friend seemed to depend on it. When we renounce self in anything, we have reason to hope for God’s blessing; and so I feel assured of a peaceful life in the course I have taken. You will ways be as a mother to me,” she added, laying her head on her friend’s shoulder.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Marvyn ; “and I must not let myself think a moment how dear it might have been to have you more my own. If you feel really, truly happy, — if you can enter on this life without any misgivings”—
“I can,” said Mary, firmly.
At this instant, very strangely, the string which confined a wreath of seashells around her glass, having been long undermined by moths, suddenly broke and fell down, scattering the shells upon the floor.
Both women started, for the string of shells had been placed there by James ; and though neither was superstitious, this was one of those odd coincidences that make hearts throb.
“Dear boy!” said Mary, gathering the shells up tenderly; “wherever he is, I shall never cease to love him. It makes me feel sad to see this come down ; but it is only an accident ; nothing of him will ever fail out of my heart.”
Mrs. Marvyn clasped Mary closer to her, with tears in her eyes.
“I'll tell you what, Mary ; it must have been the moths did that,” said Miss Prissy, who had been standing, unobserved, at the door for a moment back ; “moths will eat away strings just so. Last week Miss Vernon’s great family-picture fell down because the moths eat through the cord ; people ought to use twine or cotton string always. But I came to tell you that the supper is all set, and the Doctor out of his study, and all the people are wondering where you are.”
Mary and Mrs. Marvyn gave a hasty glance at themselves in the glass, to be assured of their good keeping, and went into the great kitchen, where a long table stood exhibiting all that plenitude of provision which the immortal description of Washington Irving has saved us the trouble of recapitulating in detail.
The husbands, brothers, and lovers had come in, and the scene was redolent of gayety. When Mary made her appearance, there was a moment’s pause, till she was conducted to the side of the Doctor ; when, raising his hand, he invoked a grace upon the loaded board.
Unrestrained gayeties followed. Groups of young men and maidens chatted together, and all the gallantries of the times were enacted. Serious matrons commented on the cake, and told each other high and particular secrets in the culinary art, which they drew from remote family-archives. One might have learned in that instructive assembly how best to keep moths out of blankets,—how to make fritters of Indian corn undistinguishable from oysters,—how to bring up babies by hand,—how to mend a cracked teapot,—how to take out grease from a brocade,—how to reconcile absolute decrees with free will—how to make five yards of cloth answer the purpose of six,—and how to put down the Democratic party. All were busy, earnest, and certain,—just as a swarm of men and women, old and young, are in 1859.
Miss Prissy was in her glory ; every bow of her best cap was alive with excitement, and she presented to the eyes of the astonished Newport gentry an animated receipt-book. Some of the information she communicated, indeed, was so valuable and important that she could not trust the air with it, but whispered the most important portions in a confidential tone. Among the crowd, Cerinthy Ann’s theological admirer was observed in deeply reflective attitude; and that high-spirited young lady added further to his convictions of the total depravity of the species by vexing and discomposing him in those thousand ways in which a lively, ill-conditioned young woman will put to rout a serious, well-disposed young man,—comforting herself with the reflection, that by-and-by she would repent of all her sins in a lump together.
Vain, transitory splendors! Even this evening, so glorious, so heart-cheering, so fruitful in instruction and amusement, could not last forever. Gradually the company broke up ; the matrons mounted soberly on horseback behind their spouses ; and Cerinthy consoled her clerical friend by giving him an opportunity to read her a lecture on the way home, if he found the courage to do so.
Mr. and Mrs. Marvyn and Candace wound their way soberly homeward; the Doctor returned to his study for nightly devotions ; and before long, sleep settled down on the brown cottage.
“ I’ll tell you what, Cato,” said Candace, before composing herself to sleep, “I can’t feel it in my bones dat dis yer weddin’s gwine to come off yit.”
A DAY or two after, Madame de Frontignac and Mary went out to gather shells and seaweed on the beach. It was four o’clock; and the afternoon sun was hanging in the sultry sky of July with a hot and vaporous stillness. The whole air was full of blue haze, that softened the outlines of objects without hiding them. The sea lay like so much glass ; every ship and boat was double ; every line and rope and spar had its counterpart; and it seemed hard to say which was the more real, the under or the upper world.
Madame de Frontignac and Mary had brought a little basket with them, which they were filling with shells and seamosses. The former was in high spirits. She ran, and shouted, and exclaimed, and wondered at each new marvel thrown out upon the shore, with the abandon of a little child. Mary could not but wonder whether this indeed were she whose strong words had pierced and wrung her sympathies the other night, and whether a deep life-wound could lie bleeding under those brilliant eyes and that infantine exuberance of gayety ; yet, surely, all that which seemed so strong, so true, so real could not be gone so soon,—and it could not be so soon consoled. Mary wondered at her, as the Anglo-Saxon constitution, with its strong, firm intensity, its singleness of nature, wonders at the mobile, many-sided existence of warmer races, whose versatility of emotion on the surface is not incompatible with the most intense persistency lower down.
Mary’s was one of those indulgent and tolerant natures which seem to form the most favorable base for the play of other minds, rather than to be itself salient,— and something about her tender calmness always seemed to provoke the spirit of frolic in her friend. She would laugh at her, kiss her, gambol round her, dress her hair with fantastic coiffures, and call her all sorts of fanciful and poetic names in French or English,—while Mary surveyed her with a pleased and innocent surprise, as a revelation of character altogether new and different from anything to which she had been hitherto accustomed. She was to her a living pantomime, and brought into her unembellished life the charms of opera and theatre and romance.
After wearying themselves with their researches, they climbed round a point of rock that stretched some way out into the sea, and attained to a little kind of grotto, where the high cliffs shut out the rays of the sun. They sat down to rest upon the rocks. A fresh breeze of declining day was springing up, and bringing the rising tide landward,—each several line of waves with its white crests coming up and breaking gracefully on the hard, sparkling sand-beach at their feet.
Mary’s eyes fixed themselves, as they were apt to do, in a mournful reverie, on the infinite expanse of waters, which was now broken and chopped into a thousand incoming waves by the fresh afternoon breeze. Madame de Frontignac noticed the expression, and began to play with her as if she had been a child. She pulled the comb from her hair, and let down its long silky waves upon her shoulders.
“Now,” said she, “let us make a Miranda of thee. This is our cave. I will be Prince Ferdinand. Burr told me all about that, — he reads beautifully, and explained it all to me. What a lovely story that is! — you must be so happy, who know how to read Shakspeare without learning! Tenez ! I will put this shell on your forehead, — it has a hole here, and I will pass this gold chain through,—now ! What a pity this seaweed will not be pretty out of water! it has no effect; but there is some green that will do; — let me fasten it so. Now, fair Miranda, look at thyself!”
Where is the girl so angelic as not to feel a slight curiosity to know how she shall look in a new and strange costume? Mary bent over the rock, where a little pool of water lay in a brown hollow above the fluctuations of the tide, dark and still, like a mirror,—and saw a fair face, with a white shell above the forehead and drooping wreaths of green seaweed in the silken hair ; and a faint blush and smile rose on the cheek, giving the last finish to the picture.
“How do you find yourself?” said Madame. “Confess now that I have a true talent in coiffure. Now I will be Ferdinand.”
She turned quickly, and her eye was caught by something that Mary did not see ; she only saw the smile fade suddenly from Madame de Frontignac's cheek, and her lips grow deadly white, while her heart beat so that Mary could discern its flutterings under her black silk bodice.
“Will the sea-nymphs punish the rash presumption of a mortal who intrudes ? ” said Colonel Burr, stepping before them with a grace as invincible and assured as if he had never had any past history with either.
Mary started with a guilty blush, like a child detected in an unseemly frolic, and put her hand to her head to take off the unwonted adornments.
“Let me protest, in the name of the Graces,” said Burr, who by that time stood with easy calmness at her side ; and as he spoke, he stayed her hand with that gentle air of authority which made it the natural impulse of most people to obey him. “It would be treason against the picturesque,” he added, “ to spoil that toilette, so charmingly uniting the wearer to the scene.”
Mary was taken by surprise, and discomposed as every one is who finds himself masquerading in attire foreign to his usual habits and character; and therefore, when she would persist in taking it to pieces, Burr found sufficient to alleviate the embarrassment of Madame de Frontignac’s utter silence in a playful run of protestations and compliments.
“I think, Mary,” said Madame de Frontignac, “that we had better be returning to the house.”
This was said in the haughtiest and coolest tone imaginable, looking at the place where Burr stood, as if there were nothing there but empty air. Mary rose to go; Madame de Frontignac offered her arm.
“Permit me to remark, ladies,” said Burr, with the quiet suavity which never forsook him, "that your very agreeable occupations have caused time to pass more rapidly than you are aware. I think you will find that the tide has risen so as to intercept the path by which you came here. You will hardly be able to get around the point of rocks without some assistance.”
Mary looked a few paces ahead, and saw, a little before them, a fresh afternoon breeze driving the rising tide high on to the side of the rocks, at whose foot their course had lain. The nook in which they had been sporting formed part of a shelving ledge which inclined over their heads, and which it was just barely possible could be climbed by a strong and agile person, but which would be wholly impracticable to a frail, unaided woman.
“There is no time to be lost,” said Burr, coolly, measuring the possibilities with that keen eye that was never discomposed by any exigency. "I am at your service, ladies; I can either carry you in my arms around this point, or assist you up these rocks.”
He paused and waited for their answer.
Madame de Frontignac stood pale, cold, and silent, hearing only the wild beating of her heart.
“I think,” said Mary, “that we should try the rocks.”
“Very well,” said Burr; and placing his gloved hand on a fragment of rock somewhat above their heads, he swung himself up to it with an easy agility ; from this he stretched himself down as far as possible towards them, and, extending his hand, directed Mary, who stood foremost, to set her foot on a slight projection, and give him both her hands ; she did so, and he seemed to draw her up as easily as if she had been a feather. He placed her by him on a shelf of rock, and turned again to Madame de Frontignac ; she folded her arms and turned resolutely away towards the sea.
Just at that moment a coming wave broke at her feet.
“There is no time to be lost,” said Burr; “there’s a tremendous surf coming in, and the next wave may carry you out.”
“Tant mieux !” she responded, without turning her head.
“Oh, Virginie! Virginie!” exclaimed Mary, kneeling and stretching her arms over the rock ; but another voice called Virginie, in a tone which went to her heart. She turned and saw those dark eyes full of tears.
“Oh, come !” he said, with that voice which she never could resist.
She put her cold, trembling hands into his, and he drew her up and placed her safely beside Mary. A few moments of difficult climbing followed, in which his arm was thrown now around one and then around the other, and they felt themselves carried with a force as if the slight and graceful form were strung with steel.
Placed in safety on the top of the bank, there was a natural gush of grateful feeling towards their deliverer. The severest resentment, the coolest moral disapprobation, are necessarily somewhat softened, when the object of them has just laid one under a personal obligation.
Burr did not seem disposed to press his advantage, and treated the incident as the most matter-of-course affair in the world. He offered an arm to each lady, with the air of a well-bred gentleman who offers a necessary support; and each took it, because neither wished, under the circumstances, to refuse.
He walked along leisurely homeward, talking in that easy, quiet, natural way in which he excelled, addressing no very particular remark to either one, and at the door of the cottage took his leave, saying, as he bowed, that he hoped neither of them would feel any inconvenience from their exertions, and that he should do himself the pleasure to call soon and inquire after their health.
Madame de Frontignac made no reply; but curtsied with a stately grace, turned and went into her little room, whither Mary, after a few minutes, followed her.
She found her thrown upon the bed, her face buried in the pillow, her breast heaving as if she were sobbing ; but when, at Mary’s entrance, she raised her head, her eyes were bright and dry.
“It is just as I told you, Mary, — that man holds me. I love him yet, in spite of myself. It is in vain to be angry. What is the use of striking your right hand with your left? When we love one more than ourselves, we only hurt ourselves with our anger.”
“But,” said Mary, “love is founded on respect and esteem ; and when that is gone ”-----
“Why, then,” said Madame, “we are very sorry, — but we love yet. Do we stop loving ourselves when we have lost our own self-respect ? No! it is so disagreeable to see, we shut our eyes and ask to have the bandage put on, — you know that, poor little heart! You can think how it would have been with you, if you had found that he was not what you thought.”
The word struck home to Mary’s consciousness,—but she sat down and took her friend in her arms with an air selfcontrolled, serious, rational.
“I see and feel it all, dear Virginie, but I must stand firm for you. You are in the waves, and I on the shore. If you are so weak at heart, you must not see this man any more.”
“But he will call.”
“I will see him for you.”
“What will you tell him, my heart ?— tell him that I am ill, perhaps ? ”
“No; I will tell him the truth, — that you do not wish to see him.”
“That is hard ; — he will wonder.”
“I think not,” said Mary, resolutely ; “and furthermore, I shall say to him, that, while Madame de Frontignac is at the cottage, it will not be agreeable for us to receive calls from him.”
“Mary, ma chere, you astonish me ! ”
“My dear friend,” said Mary, “it is the only way. This man — this cruel, wicked, deceitful man — must not be allowed to trifle with you in this way. I will protect you.”
And she rose up with flashing eye and glowing cheek, looking as her father looked when he protested against the slavetrade.
“Thou art my Saint Catharine,” said Virginie, rising up, excited by Mary’s enthusiasm, “and hast the sword as well as the palm ; but, dear saint, don’t think so very, very badly of him;—he has a noble nature; he has the angel in him.”
“The greater his sin,” said Mary ; “he sins against light and love.”
“But I think his heart is touched, — I think he is sorry. Oh, Mary, if you had only seen how he looked at me when he put out his hands on the rocks !—there were tears in his eyes.”
“Well there might be!” said Mary; “I do not think he is quite a fiend; no one could look at those cheeks, dear Virginie, and not feel sad, that saw you a few months ago.”
“Am I so changed?” she said, rising and looking at herself in the mirror. “Sure enough,—my neck used to be quite round ;—now you can see those two little bones, like rocks at low tide. Poor Virginie ! her summer is gone, and the leaves are falling; poor little cat! ”—and Virginie stroked her own chestnut head, as if she had been pitying another, and began humming a little Norman air, with a refrain that sounded like the murmur of a brook over the stones.
The more Mary was touched by these little poetic ways, which ran just on an even line between the gay and the pathetic, the more indignant she grew with the man that had brought all this sorrow. She felt a saintly vindictiveness, and a determination to place herself as an adamantine shield between him and her friend. There is no courage and no anger like that of a gentle woman, when once fully roused; if ever you have occasion to meet it, you will certainly remember the hour.
MARY revolved the affairs of her friend in her mind, during the night. The intensity of the mental crisis through which she had herself just passed had developed her in many inward respects, so that she looked upon life no longer as a timid girl, but as a strong, experienced woman. She had thought, and suffered, and held converse with eternal realities, until thousands of mere earthly hesitations and timidities, that often restrain a young and untried nature, had entirely lost their hold upon her. Besides, Mary had at heart the true Puritan seed of heroism,—never absent from the souls of true New England women. Her essentially Hebrew education, trained in daily converse with the words of prophets and seers, and with the modes of thought of a people essentially grave and heroic, predisposed her to a kind of exaltation, which, in times of great trial, might rise to the heights of the religious-sublime, in which the impulse of self-devotion took a form essentially commanding. The very intensity of the repression under which her faculties had developed seemed, as it were, to produce a surplus of hidden strength, which came out in exigencies. Her reading, though restricted to a few volumes, had been of the kind that vitalized and stimulated a poetic nature, and laid up in its chambers vigorous words and trenchant phrases, for the use of an excited feeling,—so that eloquence came to her as a native gift. She realized, in short, in her higher hours, the last touch with which Milton finishes his portrait of an ideal woman:—
“Greatness of mind and nobleness their seat Build in her loftiest, and create an awe About her as a guard angelic placed.”
The next morning, Colonel Burr called at the cottage. Mary was spinning in the garret, and Madame de Frontignac was reeling yarn, when Mrs. Scudder brought this announcement.
“Mother,” said Mary, “I wish to see Mr. Burr alone. Madame de Frontignac will not go down.”
Mrs. Scudder looked surprised, but asked no questions. When she was gone down, Mary stood a moment reflecting; Madame de Frontignac looked eager and agitated.
“Remember and notice all he says, and just how he looks, Mary, so as to tell me; and be sure and say that I thank him for his kindness yesterday. We must own he appeared very well there ; did he not ? ”
“Certainly,” said Mary ; “but no man could have done less.”
“Ah ! but, Mary, not every man could have done it as he did. Now don’t be too hard on him, Mary;—I have said dreadful things to him; I am afraid I have been too severe. After all, these distinguished men are so tempted ! we don’t know how much they are tempted ; and who can wonder that they are a little spoiled ? So, my angel, you must be merciful.”
“Merciful ! ” said Mary, kissing the pale cheek, and feeling the cold little hands that trembled in hers.
“So you will go down in your little spinning-toilette, mimi ? I fancy you look as Joan of Arc did, when she was keeping her sheep at Domremy. Go, and God bless thee ! ” and Madame de Frontignac pushed her playfully forward.
Mary entered the room where Burr was seated, and wished him good-morning, in a serious and placid manner, in which there was not the slightest trace of embarrassment or discomposure.
“Shall I have the pleasure of seeing your fair companion this morning ? ” said Burr, after some moments of indifferent conversation.
“No, Sir; Madame de Frontignac desires me to excuse her to you.”
“Is she ill ? ” said Burr, with a look of concern.
“No, Mr. Burr, she prefers not to see you.”
Burr gave a start of well-bred surprise, and Mary added,—
“Madame de Frontignac has made me familiar with the history of your acquaintance with her; and you will therefore understand what I mean, Mr. Burr, when I say, that, during the time of her stay with us, we should prefer not to receive calls from you.”
“Your language, Miss Scudder, has certainly the merit of explicitness.”
“I intend it shall have, Sir,” said Mary, tranquilly; “half the misery in the world comes of want of courage to speak and to hear the truth plainly and in a spirit of love.”
“I am gratified that you add the last clause, Miss Scudder ; I might not otherwise recognize the gentle being whom I have always regarded as the impersonation of all that is softest in woman. I have not the honor of understanding in the least the reason of this apparently capricious sentence, but I bow to it in submission.”
“Mr. Burr,” said Mary, walking up to him, and looking him full in the eyes, with an energy that for the moment bore down his practised air of easy superiority, “I wish to speak to you for a moment, as one immortal soul should to another, without any of those false glosses and deceits which men call ceremony and good manners. You have done a very great injury to a lovely lady, whose weakness ought to have been sacred in your eyes. Precisely because you are what you are, — strong, keen, penetrating, and able to control and govern all who come near you, — because you have the power to make yourself agreeable, interesting, fascinating, and to win esteem and love,—just for that reason you ought to hold yourself the guardian of every woman, and treat her as you would wish any man to treat your own daughter. I leave it to your conscience, whether this is the manner in which you have treated Madame de Frontignac.”
“Upon ray word, Miss Scudder,” began Burr, “I cannot imagine what representations our mutual friend may have been making. I assure you, our intercourse has been as irreproachable as the most scrupulous could desire.”
“Irreproachable ! — scrupulous! — Mr. Burr,” you know that you have taken the very life out of her. You men can have everything,—ambition, wealth, power ; a thousand ways are open to you : women have nothing but their heart ; and when that is gone, all is gone. Mr. Burr, you remember the rich man who had flocks and herds, but nothing would do for him but he must have the one little ewe-lamb which was all his poor neighbor had. Thou art the man ! You have stolen all the love she had to give, — all that she had to make a happy home; and you can never give her anything in return, without endangering her purity and her soul, — and you knew you could not. I know you men think this is a light matter; but it is death to us. What will this woman’s life be ? one long struggle to forget; and when you have forgotten her, and are going on gay and happy,— when you have thrown her very name away as a faded flower, she will be praying, hoping, fearing for you ; though all men deny you, yet will not she. Yes, Mr. Burr, if ever your popularity and prosperity should leave you, and those who now flatter should despise and curse you, she will always be interceding with her own heart and with God for you, and making a thousand excuses where she cannot deny ; and if you die, as I fear you have lived, unreconciled to the God of your fathers, it will be in her heart to offer up her very soul for you, and to pray that God will impute all your sins to her, and give you heaven. Oh, I know this, because I have felt it in my own heart ! ” and Mary threw herself passionately down into a chair, and broke into an agony of uncontrolled sobbing.
Burr turned away, and stood looking through the window ; tears were dropping silently, unchecked by the cold, hard pride which was the evil demon of his life.
It is due to our human nature to believe that no man could ever have been so passionately and enduringly loved and revered by both men and women as he was, without a beautiful and lovable nature ;—no man ever demonstrated more forcibly the truth, that it is not a man’s natural constitution, but the use he makes of it, which stamps him as good or vile.
The diviner part of him was weeping, and the cold, proud demon was struggling to regain his lost ascendency. Every sob of the fair, inspired child who had been speaking to him seemed to shake his heart, — he felt as if he could have fallen on his knees to her; and yet that stoical habit which was the boast of his life, which was the sole wisdom he taught to his only and beautiful daughter, was slowly stealing back round his heart, — and he pressed his lips together, resolved that no word should escape till he had fully mastered himself.
In a few moments Mary rose with renewed calmness and dignity, and, approaching him, said,—
“Before I wish you good-morning, Mr. Burr, I must ask pardon for the liberty I have taken in speaking so very plainly.”
“There is no pardon needed, my dear child,” said Burr, turning and speaking very gently, and with a face expressive of a softened concern ; “if you have told me harsh truths, it was with gentle intentions;—I only hope that I may prove, at least by the future, that I am not altogether so bad as you imagine. As to the friend whose name has been passed between us, no man can go beyond me in a sense of her real nobleness ; I am sensible how little I can ever deserve the sentiment with which she honors me. I am ready, in my future course, to obey any commands that you and she may think proper to lay upon me.”
“The only kindness you can now do her,” said Mary, “ is to leave her. It is impossible that you should be merely friends;—it is impossible, without violating the holiest bonds, that you should be more. The injury done is irreparable; but you can avoid adding another and greater one to it.”
Burr looked thoughtful.
“May I say one thing more ? ” said Mary, the color rising in her cheeks.
Burr looked at her with that smile that always drew out the confidence of every heart.
“Mr. Burr,” she said, “you will pardon me, but I cannot help saying this: You have, I am told, wholly renounced the Christian faith of your fathers, and build your whole life on quite another foundation. I cannot help feeling that this is a great and terrible mistake. I cannot help wishing that you would examine and reconsider.”
“My dear child, I am extremely grateful to you for your remark, and appreciate fully the purity of the source from which it springs. Unfortunately, our intellectual beliefs are not subject to the control of our will. I have examined, and the examination has, I regret to say, not had the effect you would desire.”
Mary looked at him wistfully ; he smiled and bowed, — all himself again ; and stopping at the door, he said, with a proud humility,—
“Do me the favor to present my devoted regard to your friend ; believe me, that hereafter you shall have less reason to complain of me.”
He bowed, and was gone.
An eye-witness of the scene has related, that, when Burr resigned his seat as President of his country’s Senate, an object of peculiar political bitterness and obloquy, almost all who listened to him had made up their minds that he was an utterly faithless, unprincipled man ; and yet, such was his singular and peculiar personal power, that his short farewell-address melted the whole assembly into tears, and his most embittered adversaries were charmed into a momentary enthusiasm of admiration.
It must not be wondered at, therefore, if our simple-hearted, loving Mary strangely found all her indignation against him gone, and herself little disposed to criticize the impassioned tenderness with which Madame de Frontignac still regarded him.
We have one thing more that we cannot avoid saying, of two men so singularly in juxtaposition as Aaron Burr and Dr. Hopkins. Both had a perfect logic of life, and guided themselves with an inflexible rigidity by it. Burr assumed individual pleasure to be the great object of human existence ; Dr. Hopkins placed it in a life altogether beyond self. Burr rejected all sacrifice ; Hopkins considered sacrifice as the foundation of all existence. To live as far as possible without a disagreeable sensation was an object which Burr proposed to himself as the summum bonum, for which he drilled down and subjugated a nature of singular richness. Hopkins, on the other hand, smoothed the asperities of a temperament naturally violent and fiery by a rigid discipline which guided it entirely above the plane of self-indulgence ; and, in the pursuance of their great end, the one watched against his better nature as the other did against his worse. It is but fair, then, to take their lives as the practical workings of their respective ethical creeds.
NEW ENGLAND IN FRENCH EYES.
WE owe our readers a digression at this point, while we return for a few moments to say a little more of the fortunes of Madame de Frontignac, whom we left waiting with impatience for the termination of the conversation between Mary and Burr.
“Enfin, chère Sybille,” said Madame de Frontignac, when Mary came out of the room, with her cheeks glowing and her eye flashing with a still unsubdued light, ”te voilà encore! What did he say, mimi? — did he ask for me?”
“Yes,” said Mary, “he asked for you.”
“What did you tell him ? ”
“I told him that you wished me to excuse you.”
“How did he look then ? — did he look surprised ? ”
“A good deal so, I thought,” said Mary.
“Allons, mimi,—tell me all you said, and all he said.”
“Oh,” said Mary, “I am the worst person in the world ; in fact, I cannot remember anything that I have said; but I told him that he must leave you, and never see you any more.”
“Oh, mimi, never ! ”
Madame de Frontignac sat down on the side of the bed with such a look of utter despair as went to Mary’s heart.
“You know that it is best, Virginie ; do you not ? ”
“Oh, yes, I know it ; mais pourtant, c’est dur comme la mort. Ah, well, what shall Virginie do now ? ”
“You have your husband,” said Mary.
“Je ne l'aime point,” said Madame de Frontignac.
“Yes, but he is a good and honorable man, and you should love him.”
“Love is not in our power,” said Madame de Frontignac.
“Not every kind of love,” said Mary, “but some kinds. If you have a kind, indulgent friend who protects you and cares for you, you can be grateful to him, you can try to make him happy, and in time you may come to love him very much. He is a thousand times nobler man, if what you say is true, than the one who has injured you so.”
“Oh, Mary !” said Madame de Frontignac, “there are some cases where we find it too easy to love our enemies.”
“More than that,” said Mary ; “I believe, that, if you go on patiently in the way of duty, and pray daily to God, He will at last take out of your heart this painful love, and give you a true and healthy one. As you say, such feelings are very sweet and noble ; but they are not the only ones we have to live by; — we can find happiness in duty, in self-sacrifice, in calm, sincere, honest friendship. That is what you can feel for your husband.”
“Your words cool me,” said Madame de Frontignac ; “thou art a sweet snowmaiden, and my heart is hot and tired. I like to feel thee in my arms,” she said, putting her arms around Mary, and resting her head upon her shoulder. “Talk to me so every day, and read me good cool verses out of that beautiful Book, and perhaps by-and-by I shall grow still and quiet like you.”
Thus Mary soothed her friend ; but every few days this soothing had to be done over, as long as Burr remained in Newport. When he was finally gone, she grew more calm. The simple, homely ways of the cottage, the healthful routine of daily domestic toils, into which she delighted to enter, brought refreshment to her spirit. That fine tact and exquisite social sympathy, which distinguish the French above other nations, caused her at once to enter into the spirit of the life in which she moved ; so that she no longer shocked any one’s religious feelings by acts forbidden by the Puritan idea of Sunday, or failed in any of the exterior proprieties of religious life. She also read and studied with avidity the English Bible, which came to her with the novelty of a wholly new book in a new language ; nor was she without a߯ certain artistic appreciation of the austere precision and gravity of the religious life by which she was surrounded.
“It is sublime, but a little glaciale, like the Alps,” she sometimes said to Mary and Mrs. Marvyn, when speaking of it; “but then,” she added, playfully, “there are the flowers,—les roses des Alpes,— and the air is very strengthening, and it is near to heaven,—faut avouer.”
We have shown how she appeared to the eye of New England life; it may not be uninteresting to give a letter to one of her friends, which showed how the same appeared to her. It was not a friend with whom she felt on such terms, that her intimacy with Burr would appear at all in the correspondence.
“You behold me, my charming Gabrielle, quite pastoral, recruiting from the dissipations of my Philadelphia life in a quiet cottage, with most worthy, excellent people, whom I have learned to love very much. They are good and true, as pious as the saints themselves, although they do not belong to the Church, —a thing which I am sorry for ; but then let us hope, that, if the world is wide, heaven is wider, and that all worthy people will find room at last. This is Virginie’s own little, pet, private heresy ; and when I tell it to the Abbé, he only smiles; and so I think, somehow, that it is not so very bad as it might be.
“We have had a very gay life in Philadelphia, and now I am growing tired of the world, and think I shall retire to my cheese, like Lafontaine’s rat.
“These people in the country here in America have a character quite their own, very different from the life of cities, where one sees, for the most part, only a continuation of the forms of good society which exist in the Old World.
“In the country, these people seem simple, grave, severe, always industrious, and, at first, cold and reserved in their manners towards each other, but with great warmth of heart. They are all obedient to the word of their minister, who lives among them just like any other man, and marries and has children.
“Everything in their worship is plain and austere ; their churches are perfectly desolate ; they have no chants, no pictures, no carvings,—only a most disconsolate, bare-looking building, where they meet together, and sing one or two hymns, and the minister makes one or two prayers, all out of his own thoughts, and then gives them a long, long discourse about things which I cannot understand enough English to comprehend.
“There is a very beautiful, charming young girl here, the daughter of my hostess, who is as lovely and as saintly as St. Catharine, and has such a genius for religion, that, if she had been in our Church, she would certainly have been made a saint.
“Her mother is a good, worthy matron ; and the good priest lives in the family. I think he is a man of very sublime religion, as much above this world as a great mountain ; but he has the true sense of liberty and fraternity ; for he has dared to oppose with all his might this detestable and cruel trade in poor negroes, which makes us, who are so proud of the example of America in asserting the rights of men, so ashamed for her inconsistencies.
“Well, now, there is a little romance getting up in the cottage ; for the good priest has fixed his eyes on the pretty saint, and discovered, what he must be blind not to see, that she is very lovely, — and so, as he can marry, he wants to make her his wife ; and her mamma, who adores him as if he were God, is quite set upon it. The sweet Marie, however, has had a lover of her own in her little heart, a beautiful young man, who went to sea, as heroes always do, to seek his fortune. And the cruel sea has drowned him ; and the poor little saint has wept and prayed, till she is so thin and sweet and mournful that it makes one’s heart ache to see her smile. In our Church, Gabrielle, she would have gone into a convent ; but she makes a vocation of her daily life, and goes round the house so sweetly, doing all the little work that is to be done, as sacredly as the nuns pray at the altar. For you must know, here in New England, the people, for the most part, keep no servants, but perform all the household work themselves, with no end of spinning and sewing besides. It is the true Arcadia, where you find cultivated and refined people busying themselves with the simplest toils. For these people are well-read and well-bred, and truly ladies in all things. And so my little Marie and I, we feed the hens and chickens together, and we search for eggs in the hay in the barn. And they have taught me to spin at their great wheel, and at a little one too, which makes a noise like the humming of a bee.
“But where am I ? Oh, I was telling about the romance. Well, so the good priest has proposed for my Marie, and the dear little soul has accepted him as the nun accepts the veil ; for she only loves him filially and religiously. And now they are going on, in their way, with preparations for the wedding. They had what they call ‘a quilting’ here the other night, to prepare the bride’s quilt,— and all the friends in the neighborhood came ;—it was very amusing to see.
“The morals of this people are so austere, that young men and girls are allowed the greatest freedom. They associate and talk freely together, and the young men walk home alone with the girls after evening parties. And most generally, the young people, I am told, arrange their marriages among themselves before the consent of the parents is asked. This is very strange to us. I must not weary you, however, with the details.
I watch my little romance daily, and will let you hear further as it progresses.
“With a thousand kisses, I am, ever, your loving
CONSULTATIONS AND CONFIDENCES.
MEANWHILE, the wedding-preparations were going on at the cottage with that consistent vigor with which Yankee people always drive matters when they know precisely what they are about.
The wedding-day was definitely fixed for the first of August ; and each of the two weeks between had its particular significance and value precisely marked out and arranged in Mrs. Katy Scudder’s comprehensive and systematic schemes.
It was settled that the newly wedded pair were, for a while at least, to reside at the cottage. It might have been imagined, therefore, that no great external changes were in contemplation ; but it is astonishing, the amount of discussion, the amount of advising, consulting, and running to and fro, which can be made to result out of an apparently slight change in the relative position of two people in the same house.
Dr. H. really opened his eyes with calm amazement. Good, modest soul! he had never imagined himself the hero of so much preparation. From morning to night, he heard his name constantly occurring in busy consultations that seemed to be going on between Miss Prissy and Mrs. Deacon Twitchel and Mrs. Scudder and Mrs. Jones, and quietly wondered what they could have so much more than usual to say about him. For a while it seemed to him that the whole house was about to be torn to pieces. He was even requested to step out of his study, one day, into which immediately entered, in his absence, two of the most vigorous women of the parish, who proceeded to uttermost measures,—first pitching everything into pie, so that the Doctor, who returned disconsolately to look for a book, at once gave up himself and his system of divinity as entirely lost, until assured by one of the ladies, in a condescending manner, that he knew nothing about the matter, and that, if he would return after half a day, he would find everything right again, — a declaration in which he tried to have unlimited faith, and which made him feel the advantage of a mind accustomed to believing in mysteries. And it is to be remarked, that on his return he actually found his table in most perfect order, with not a single one of his papers missing ; in fact, to his ignorant eye the room looked exactly as it did before ; and when Miss Prissy eloquently demonstrated to him, that every inch of that paint had been scrubbed, and the windows taken out, and washed inside and out, and rinsed through three waters, and that the curtains had been taken down, and washed, and put through a blue water, and starched, and ironed, and put up again, — he only innocently wondered, in his ignorance, what there was in a man’s being married that made all these ceremonies necessary. But the Doctor was a wise man, and in cases of difficulty kept his mind to himself; and therefore he only informed these energetic practitioners that he was extremely obliged to them, accepting it by simple faith,—an example which we recommend to all good men in similar circumstances.
The house throughout was subjected to similar renovation. Everything in every chest or box was vigorously pulled out and hung out on lines in the clothes-yard to air; for when once the spirit of enterprise has fairly possessed a group of women, it assumes the form of a “prophetic fury,” and carries them beyond themselves. Let not any ignorant mortal of the masculine gender, at such hours, rashly dare to question the promptings of the genius that inspires them. Spite of all the treatises that have lately appeared, to demonstrate that there are no particular inherent diversities between men and women, we hold to the opinion that one thorough season of house-cleaning is sufficient to prove the existence of awful and mysterious difference between the sexes, and of subtile and reserved forces in the female line, before which the lords of creation can only veil their faces with a discreet reverence, as our Doctor has done.
In fact, his whole deportment on the occasion was characterized by humility so edifying as really to touch the hearts of the whole synod of matrons ; and Miss Prissy rewarded him by declaring impressively her opinion, that he was worthy to have a voice in the choosing of the wedding-dress ; and she actually swooped him up, just in a very critical part of a distinction between natural and moral ability, and conveyed him bodily, as fairy sprites knew how to convey the most ponderous of mortals, into the best room, where three specimens of brocade lay spread out upon a table for inspection.
Mary stood by the side of the table, her pretty head bent reflectively downward, her cheek just resting upon the tip of one of her fingers, as she stood looking thoughtfully through the brocades at something deeper that seemed to lie under them ; and when the Doctor was required to give judgment on the articles, it was observed by the matrons that his large blue eyes were resting upon Mary, with an expression that almost glorified his face ; and it was not until his elbow was repeatedly shaken by Miss Prissy, that he gave a sudden start, and fixed his attention, as was requested, upon the silks. It had been one of Miss Prissy's favorite theories, that “that dear blessed man had taste enough, if he would only give his mind to things” ; and, in fact, the Doctor rather verified the remark on the present occasion, for he looked very conscientiously and soberly at the silks, and even handled them cautiously and respectfully with his fingers, and listened with grave attention to all that Miss Prissy told him of their price and properties, and then laid his finger down on one whose snowwhite ground was embellished with a pattern representing lilies of the valley on a background of green leaves. “This is the one,” he said, with an air of decision ; and then he looked at Mary, and smiled, and a murmur of universal approbation broke out.
“Il a de la délicatesse,” said Madame de Frontignac, who had been watching this scene with bright, amused eyes,—while a chorus of loud acclamations, in which Miss Prissy’s voice took the lead, conveyed to the innocent-minded Doctor the idea, that in some mysterious way he had distinguished himself in the eyes of his feminine friends ; whereat he retired to his study slightly marvelling, but on the whole well pleased, as men generally are when they do better than they expect ; and Miss Prissy, turning out all profaner persons from the apartment, held a solemn consultation, to which only Mary, Mrs. Scudder, and Madame de Frontignac were admitted. For it is to be observed that the latter had risen daily and hourly in Miss Prissy’s esteem, since her entrance into the cottage ; and she declared, that, if she only would give her a few hints, she didn’t believe but that she could make that dress look just like a Paris one ; and rather intimated that in such a case she might almost be ready to resign all mortal ambitions.
The afternoon of this day, just at that cool hour when the clock ticks so quietly in a New England kitchen, and everything is so clean and put away that there seems to be nothing to do in the house, Mary sat quietly down in her room to hem a ruffle. Everybody had gone out of the house on various errands. The Doctor, with implicit faith, had surrendered himself to Mrs. Scudder and Miss Prissy, to be conveyed up to Newport, and attend to various appointments in relation to his outer man, which he was informed would be indispensable in the forthcoming solemnities. Madame de Frontignac had also gone to spend the day with some of her Newport friends. And Mary, quite well pleased with the placid and orderly stillness which reigned through the house, sat pleasantly murmuring a little tune to her sewing, when suddenly the trip of a very brisk foot was heard in the kitchen, and Miss Cerinthy Ann Twitchel made her appearance at the door, her healthy glowing cheek wearing a still brighter color from the exercise of a three-mile walk in a July day.
“Why, Cerinthy,” said Mary, “how glad I am to see you ! ”
“Well,” said Cerinthy, “ I have been meaning to come down all this week, but there’s so much to do in haying-time, — but to-day I told mother I must come.
I brought these down,” she said, unfolding a dozen snowy damask napkins, “that I spun myself, and was thinking of you almost all the while I spun them, so I suppose they aren’t quite so wicked as they might be.”
We will observe here, that Cerinthy Ann, in virtue of having a high stock of animal spirits and great fulness of physical vigor, had very small proclivities towards the unseen and spiritual, but still always indulged a secret resentment at being classed as a sinner above many others, who, as church-members, made such professions, and were, as she remarked, “not a bit better than she was.” She had always, however, cherished an unbounded veneration for Mary, and had made her the confidante of most of her important secrets. It soon became very evident that she had come with one on her mind now.
“Don’t you want to come and sit out in the lot?” she said, after sitting awhile, twirling her bonnet-strings with the air of one who has something to say and doesn’t know exactly how to begin upon it.
Mary cheerfully gathered up her thread, scissors, and ruffling, and the two stepped over the window-sill, and soon found themselves seated cozily under the boughs of a large apple-tree, whose descending branches, meeting the tops of the high grass all around, formed a seclusion as perfect as heart could desire.
They sat down, pushing away a place in the grass; and Cerinthy Ann took off her bonnet, and threw it among the clover, exhibiting to view her black hair, always trimly arranged in shining braids, except where some glossy curls fell over the rich high color of her cheeks. Something appeared to discompose her this afternoon. There were those evident signs of a consultation impending, which, to an experienced eye, are as unmistakable as the coming up of a shower in summer.
Cerinthy began by passionately demolishing several heads of clover, remarking, as she did so, that she “didn’t see, for her part, how Mary could keep so calm when things were coming so near.” And as Mary answered to this only with a quiet smile, she broke out again:—
“I don’t see, for my part, how a young girl could marry a minister, anyhow ; but then I think you are just cut out for it. But what would anybody say, if I should do such a thing?”
“ I don’t know,” said Mary, innocently.
“Well, I suppose everybody would hold up their hands ; and yet, if I do say it myself,”—she added, coloring,— “there are not many girls who could make a better minister’s wife than I could, if I had a mind to try.”
“That I am sure of,” said Mary, warmly.
“I guess you are the only one that ever thought so,” said Cerinthy, giving an impatient toss. “There’s father and mother all the while mourning over me ; and yet I don't see but what I do pretty much all that is done in the house, and they say I am a great comfort in a temporal point of view. But, oh, the groanings and the sighings that there are over me ! I don’t think it is pleasant to know that your best friends are thinking such awful things about you, when you are working your fingers off to help them. It is kind o’ discouraging, but I don’t know what to do about it ”;—and for a few moments Cerinthy sat demolishing buttercups, and throwing them up in the air till her shiny black head was covered with golden flakes, while her cheeks grew redder with something that she was going to say next.
“Now, Mary, there is that creature. Well, you know, he won’t take ' No ’ for an answer. What shall I do ? ”
“Suppose, then, you try ‘ Yes,’” said Mary, rather archly.
“Oh, pshaw ! Mary Scudder, you know better than that, now. I look like it, don’t I ? ”
“Why, yes,” said Mary, looking at Cerinthy, deliberately ; “ on the whole, I think you do.”
“Well ! one thing I must say,” said Cerinthy,—“I can’t see what he finds in me, I think he is a thousand times too good for me. Why, you have no idea, Mary, how I have plagued him. I believe that man really is a Christian,” she added, while something like a penitent tear actually glistened in those sharp, saucy, black eyes. “Besides,” she added, “I have told him everything I could think of to discourage him. I told him that I had a bad temper, and didn’t believe the doctrines, and couldn’t promise that I ever should ; and after all, that creature keeps right on, and I don’t know what to tell him.”
“Well,” said Mary, mildly, “do you think you really love him ? ”
“Love him ? ” said Cerinthy, giving a great flounce, “ to be sure I don’t! Catch me loving any man! I told him last night I didn’t ; but it didn’t do a bit of good. I used to think that man was bashful, but I declare I have altered my mind ; he will talk and talk till I don’t know what to do. I tell you, Mary, he talks beautifully, too, sometimes.”
Here Cerinthy turned quickly away, and began reaching passionately after clover-heads. After a few moments, she resumed:—
“The fact is, Mary, that man needs somebody to take care of him ; for he never thinks of himself. They say he has got the consumption ; but he hasn’t, any more than I have. It is just the way he neglects himself,—preaching, talking, and visiting ; nobody to take care of him, and see to his clothes, and nurse him up when he gets a little hoarse and run down. Well, I suppose if I am unregenerate, I do know how to keep things in order ; and if I should keep such a man’s soul in his body, I should be doing some good in the world ; because, if ministers don’t live, of course they can’t convert anybody. Just think of his saying that I could be a comfort to him! I told him that it was perfectly ridiculous. ‘And besides,’ says I, ‘what will everybody think?’ I thought that I had really talked him out of the notion of it last night; but there he was in again this morning, and told me he had derived great encouragement from what I had said. Well, the poor man really is lonesome,—his mother’s dead, and he hasn’t any sisters. I asked him why he didn’t go and take Miss Olladine Slocum : everybody says she would make a first-rate minister’s wife.”
“Well, and what did he say to that ? ” said Mary.
“Well, something really silly, — about my looks,” said Cerinthy, looking down.
Mary looked up, and remarked the shining black hair, the long dark lashes lying down over the glowing cheek, where two arch dimples were nestling, and said, quietly,—
“Probably he is a man of taste, Cerinthy ; I advise you to leave the matter entirely to his judgment.”
“You don’t, really, Mary ! ” said the damsel, looking up. “Don’t you think it would injure him, if I should?”
“I think not, materially,” said Mary.
“Well,” said Cerinthy, rising, “the men will be coming home from the mowing, before I get home, and want their supper. Mother has got one of her headaches on this afternoon, so I can’t stop any longer. There isn’t a soul in the house knows where anything is, when I am gone. If I should ever take it into my head to go off, I don’t know what would become of father and mother. I was telling mother, the other day, that I thought unregenerate folks were of some use in this world, any way.”
“Does your mother know anything about it ? " said Mary.
“Oh, as to mother, I believe she has been hoping and praying about it these three months. She thinks that I am such a desperate case, it is the only way I am to be brought in, as she calls it. That’s what set me against him at first ; but the fact is, if girls will let a man argue with them, he always contrives to get the best of it. I am kind of provoked about it, too. But, mercy on us! be is so meek, there is no use of getting provoked at him. Well, I guess I will go home and think about it.”
As she turned to go, she looked really pretty. Her long lashes were wet with a twinkling moisture, like meadow-grass after a shower ; and there was a softened, childlike expression stealing over the careless gayety of her face.
Mary put her arms round her with a gentle caressing movement, which the other returned with a hearty embrace. They stood locked in each other’s arms, —the glowing, vigorous, strong-hearted girl, with that pale, spiritual face resting on her breast, as when the morning, songful and radiant, clasps the pale silver moon to her glowing bosom.
“Look here now, Mary,” said Cerinthy; “your folks are all gone. You may as well walk with me. It’s pleasant now.”
“Yes, I will,” said Mary ; “wait a minute, till I get my bonnet.”
In a few moments the two girls were walking together in one of those little pasture foot-tracks which run so cozily among huckleberry and juniper bushes, while Cerinthy eagerly pursued the subject she could not leave thinking of. Their path now wound over high ground that overlooked the distant sea, now lost itself in little copses of cedar and pitch-pine, and now there came on the air the pleasant breath of new hay, which mowers were harvesting in adjoining meadows.
They walked on and on, as girls will; because, when a young lady has once fairly launched into the enterprise of telling another all that he said, and just how he looked, for the last three months, walks are apt to be indefinitely extended.
Mary was, besides, one of the most seductive little confidantes in the world. She was so pure from selfishness, so heartily and innocently interested in what another was telling her, that people in talking with her found the subject constantly increasing in interest,—although, if they really had been called upon afterwards to state the exact portion in words which she added to the conversation, they would have been surprised to find it so small.
In fact, before Cerinthy Ann had quite finished her confessions, they were more than a mile from the cottage, and Mary began to think of returning, saying that her mother would wonder where she was, when she came home.
[To be continued.]
- * Copyright secured by the Author in Great Britain and France.↩