The Minister's Wooing
OLD LOVE AND NEW DUTY.
THE sun was just setting, and the whole air and sea seemed flooded with rosy rays. Even the crags and rocks of the sea-shore took purple and lilac hues, and savins and junipers, had a painter been required to represent them, would have been found not without a suffusion of the same tints. And through the tremulous rosy sea of the upper air, the silver full-moon looked out like some calm superior presence which waits only for the flush of a temporary excitement to die away, to make its tranquillizing influence felt.
Mary, as she walked homeward with this dreamy light around her, moved with a slower step than when borne along by the vigorous arm and determined motion of her young friend.
It is said that a musical sound uttered with decision by one instrument always makes the corresponding chord of another vibrate ; and Mary felt, as she left her positive, but warm-hearted friend, a plaintive vibration of something in her own self, in which she was conscious her calm friendship for her future husband had no part. She fell into one of those reveries which she thought she had forever forbidden to herself, and there rose before her mind the picture of a marriage-ceremony,— but the eyes of the bridegroom were dark, and his curls were clustering in raven ringlets, and her hand throbbed in his as it had never throbbed in any other.
It was just as she was coming out of a little grove of cedars, where the high land overlooks the sea, and the dream which came to her overcame her with a vague and yearning sense of pain. Suddenly she heard footsteps behind her, and some one said, “ Mary ! ” It was spoken in a choked voice, as one speaks in the crisis of a great emotion ; and she turned and saw those very eyes, that very hair, yes, and the cold little hand throbbed with that very throb in that strong, living, manly hand ; and, whether in the body or out of the body God knoweth, she felt herself borne in those arms, and words that spoke themselves in her inner heart, words profaned by being repeated, were on her ear.
“ Oh ! is this a dream ? is this a dream ? James ! are we in heaven ? Oh, I have lived through such an agony ! I have been so worn out ! Oh, I thought you never would come ! ” And then the eyes closed, and heaven and earth faded away together in a trance of blissful rest.
But it was no dream ; for an hour later you might have seen a manly form sitting in that selfsame place, bearing in his arms a pale figure which he cherished as tenderly as a mother her babe. And they were talking together,—talking in low tones ; and in all this wide universe neither of them knew or felt anything but the great joy of being thus side by side.
They spoke of love mightier than death, which many waters cannot quench. They spoke of yearnings, each for the other,— of longing prayers,— of hopes deferred,— and then of this great joy,— for one had hardly yet returned to the visible world.
Scarce wakened from deadly faintness, she had not come back fully to the realm of life,— only to that of love,— to love which death cannot quench. And therefore it. was, that, without knowing that she spoke, she had said all, and compressed the history of those three years into one hour.
But at last, thoughtful of her health, provident of her weakness, he rose up and passed his arm around her to convey her home. And as he did so, he spoke one word that broke the whole charm.
“ You will allow me, Mary, the right of a future husband, to watch over your life and health.”
Then came back the visible world,— recollection, consciousness, and the great battle of duty, — and Mary drew away a little, and said,—
“ Oh, James, you are too late ! that can never be ! ”
He drew back from her.
“ Mary, are you married ? ”
“ Before God, I am, ” she said. “ My word is pledged. I cannot retract it. I have suffered a good man to place his whole faith upon it,— a man who loves me with his whole soul. ”
“ But, Mary, you do not love him. That is impossible ! ” said James, holding her off from him, and looking at her with an agonized eagerness. “ After what you have just said, it is not possible.”
“ Oh, James ! I am sure I don’t know what I have said,— it was all so sudden, and I didn’t know what I was saying,— but things that I must never say again. The day is fixed for next week. It is all the same as if you had found me his wife. ”
“ Not quite, ” said James, his voice cutting the air with a decided manly ring. “ I have some words to say to that yet. ”
“ Oh, James, will you be selfish ? will you tempt me to do a mean, dishonorable thing ? to be false to my word deliberately given? ”
“ But, ” said James, eagerly, " you know, Mary, you never would have given it, if you had known that I was living. ”
“ That is true, James; but I did give it. I have suffered him to build all his hopes of life upon it. I beg you not to tempt me,— help me to do right !”
“ But, Mary, did you not get my letter ? ”
“ Your letter ? ”
“ Yes,— that long letter that I wrote you.”
“ I never got any letter, James. ”
“ Strange ! ” he said. “ No wonder it seems sudden to you ! ”
“ Have you seen your mother ? ” said Mary, who was conscious this moment only of a dizzy instinct to turn the conversation from where she felt too weak to bear it.
“ No ; do you suppose I should see anybody before you ? ”
“ Oh, then, you must go to her ! ” said Mary. “ Oh, James, you don’t know how she has suffered ! ”
They were drawing near to the cottage-gate.
“ Do, pray !” said Mary. “ Go, hurry to your mother ! Don’t be too sudden, either, for she’s very weak ; she is almost worn out with sorrow. Go, my dear brother ! Dear you always will be to me. ”
James helped her into the house, and they parted. All the house was yet still. The open kitchen-door let in a sober square of moonlight on the floor. The very stir of the leaves on the trees could be heard. Mary went into her little room, and threw herself upon the bed, weak, weary, yet happy, — for deep and high above all other feelings was the great relief that he was living still. After a little while she heard the rattling of the wagon, and then the quick patter of Miss Prissy’s feet, and her mother’s considerate tones, and the Doctor’s grave voice,— and quite unexpectedly to herself, she was shocked to find herself turning with an inward shudder from the idea of meeting him. " How very wicked ! ” she thought,—“how ungrateful !”—and she prayed that God would give her strength to check the first rising of such feelings.
Then there was her mother, so ignorant and innocent, busy putting away baskets of things that she had bought in provision for the wedding-ceremony.
Mary almost felt as if she had a guilty secret. But when she reflected upon the last two hours, she felt no wish to take them back again. Two little hours of joy and rest they had been,— so pure, so perfect ! she thought God must have given them to her as a keepsake to remind her of His love, and to strengthen her in the way of duty.
Some will, perhaps, think it an unnatural thing that Mary should have regarded her pledge to the Doctor as of so absolute and binding force ; but they must remember the rigidity of her education. Self-denial and self-sacrifice had been the daily bread of her life. Every prayer, hymn, and sermon, from her childhood, had warned her to distrust her inclinations and regard her feelings as traitors. In particular had she been brought up to regard the sacredness of a promise with a superstitious tenacity ; and in this case the promise involved so deeply the happiness of a friend whom she had loved and revered all her life, that she never thought of any way of escape from it. She had been taught that there was no feeling so strong but that it might be immediately repressed at the call of duty ; and if the thought arose to her of this great love to another, she immediately answered it by saying, “ How would it have been, if I had been married ? As I could have overcome then, so I can now. ”
Mrs. Scudder came into her room with a candle in her hand, and Mary, accustomed to read the expression of her mother’s countenance, saw at a glance a visible discomposure there. She held the light so that it shone upon Mary’s face.
“ Are you asleep ? ” she said.
“ No, mother.”
“ Are you unwell ? ”
“ No, mother,— only a little tired. ”
Mrs. Scudder set down the candle, and shut the door, and, after a moment’s hesitation, said,—
“ My daughter, I have some news to tell you, which I want you to prepare your mind for. Keep yourself quite quiet.”
“ Oh, mother ! ” said Mary, stretching out her hands towards her, “ I know it. James has come home.”
“ How did you hear ? ” said her mother, with astonishment.
“ I have seen him, mother.”
Mrs. Scudder’s countenance fell.
“ Where ? ”
“ I went to walk home with Cerinthy Twitehel, and, as I was coming back, he came up behind me, just at Savin Rock.
Mrs. Scudder sat down on the bed and took her daughter's hand.
“ I trust, my dear child,” she said. She stopped.
“ I think I know what you are going to say, mother. It is a great joy, and a great relief ; but of course I shall be true to my engagement with the Doctor.”
Mrs. Scudder’s face brightened.
“ That is my own daughter ! I might have known that you would do so. You would not, certainly, so cruelly disappoint a noble man who has set his whole faith upon you.”
“ No, mother, I shall not disappoint him. I told James that I should be true to my word.”
“ He will probably see the justice of it,” said Mrs. Scudder, in that easy tone with which elderly people are apt to dispose of the feelings of young persons. “ Perhaps it may be something of a trial, at first.”
Mary looked at her mother with incredulous blue eyes. The idea that feelings which made her hold her breath when she thought of them could be so summarily disposed of ! She turned her face wearily to the wall, with a deep sigh, and said, —
“ After all, mother, it is mercy enough and comfort enough to think that he is living. Poor Cousin Ellen, too,— what a relief to her ! It is like life from the dead. Oh, I shall be happy enough ; no fear of that! ”
“ And you know,” said Mrs. Seudder, “ that there has never existed any engagement of any kind between you and James. He had no right to found any expectations on anything you ever told him.”
“ That is true also, mother,” said Mary. “ I had never thought of such a thing as marriage, in relation to James.”
“ Of course, " pursued Mrs. Seudder, “ he will always be to you as a near friend.”
“ There is but a week now, before your wedding,” continued Mrs. Scudder ; “ and I think Cousin James, if he is reasonable, will see the propriety of your mind being kept as quiet as possible. I heard the news this afternoon in town,” pursued Mrs. Scudder, “ from Captain Staunton, and, by a curious coincidence, I received from him this letter from James, which came from New York by post. The brig that brought it must have been delayed out of the harbor. ”
“ Oh, please, mother, give it to me ! ” said Mary, rising up with animation ; “ he mentioned having sent me one. ”
“ Perhaps you had better wait till morning,” said Mrs. Scudder ; “ you are tired and excited. ”
“ Oh, mother, I think I shall be more composed when I know all that is in it, ” said Mary, still stretching out her hand.
“ Well, my daughter, you are the best judge, ” said Mrs. Scudder ; and she set down the candle on the table, and left Mary alone.
It was a very thick letter of many pages, dated in Canton, and ran as follows : —
“ MY DEAREST MARY: &EMDASH;
“ I have lived through many wonderful scenes since I saw you last. My life has been so adventurous, that I scarcely know myself when I think of it. But it is not of that I am going now to write.
I have written all that to mother, and she will show it to you. But since I parted from you, there has been another history going on within me ; and that is what I wish to make you understand, if I can.
“ It seems to me that I have been a changed man from that afternoon when I came to your window, where we parted. I have never forgot how you looked then, nor what you said. Nothing in my life ever had such an effect upon me. I thought that I loved you before ; but I went away feeling that love was something so deep and high and sacred, that I was not worthy to name it to you. I cannot think of the man in the world who is worthy of what you said you felt for me.
“ From that hour there was a new purpose in my soul, — a purpose which has led me upward ever since. I thought to myself in this way : ‘ There is some secret source from whence this inner life springs,’—and I knew that it was connected with the Bible which you gave me ; and so I thought I would read it carefully and deliberately, to see what I could make of it.
“ I began with the beginning. It impressed me with a sense of something quaint and strange,— something rather fragmentary ; and yet there were spots all along that went right to the heart of a man who had to deal with life and things as I did. Now I must say that the Doctor’s preaching, as I told you, never impressed me much in any way. I could not make out any connection between it and the men I had to manage and the things I had to do in my daily life. But there were things in the Bible that struck me otherwise. There was one passage in particular, and that was where Jacob started off from all his friends to go and seek his fortune in a strange country, and laind down to sleep all alone in the field, with only a stone for his pillow. It seemed to me exactly the image of what every young man is like, when he leaves his home and goes out to shift for himself in this hard world. I tell you, Mary, that one man alone on the great ocean of life feels himself a very weak thing. We are held up by each other more than we know till we go off by ourselves into this great experiment. Well, there he was as lonesome as I upon the deck of my ship. And so lying with the stone under his head, he saw a ladder in his sleep between him and heaven, and angels going up and down. That was a sight which came to the very point of his necessities. He saw that there was a way between him and God, and that there were those above who did care for him, and who could come to him to help him. Well, so the next morning he got up, and set up the stone to mark the place ; and it says Jacob vowed a vow, saying, ‘ If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God.’ Now there was something that looked to me like a tangible foundation to begin upon.
“ If I understand Dr. H., I believe he would have called that all selfishness. At first sight it does look a little so ; but then I thought of it in this way : ‘ Here he was all alone. God was entirely invisible to him ; and how could he feel certain that He really existed, unless he could come into some kind of connection with Him ? the point that he wanted to be sure of, more than merely to know that there was a God who made the world ; — he wanted to know whether He cared anything about men, and would do anything to help them. And so, in fact, it was saying, “ If there is a God who interests Himself at all in me, and will be my Friend and Protector, I will obey Him, so far as I can find out His will.” ’
“ I thought to myself, ‘ This is the great experiment, and I will try it.’ I made in my heart exactly the same resolution, and just quietly resolved to assume for a while as a fact that there was such a God, and, whenever I came to a place where I could not help myself, just to ask His help honestly in so many words, and see what would come of it.
“ Well, as I went on reading through the Old Testament, I was more and more convinced that all the men of those times had tried this experiment, and found that it would bear them ; and in fact, I did begin to find, in my own experience, a great many things happening so remarkably that I could not but think that Somebody did attend even to my prayers,—I began to feel a trembling faith that Somebody was guiding me, and that the events of my life were not happening by accident, but working themselves out by His will.
“ Well, as I went on in this way, there were other and higher thoughts kept rising in my mind. I wanted to be better than I was. I had a sense of a life much nobler and purer than anything I had ever lived, that I wanted to come up to. But in the world of men, as I found it, such feelings are always laughed down as romantic, and impracticable, and impossible. But about this time I began to read the New Testament, and then the idea came to me, that the same Power that helped me in the lower sphere of life would help me carry out those higher aspirations. Perhaps the Gospels would not have interested me so much, if I had begun with them first ; but my Old Testament life seemed to have schooled me, and brought me to a place where I wanted something higher ; and I began to notice that my prayers now were more that I might be noble, and patient, and self-denying, and constant in my duty, than for any other kind of help. And then I understood what met me in the very first of Matthew : ‘ Thou shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.'
“ I began now to live a new life,— a life in which I felt myself coming into sympathy with you ; for, Mary, when I began to read the Gospels, I took knowledge of you, that yon had been with Jesus.
“ The crisis of my life was that dreadful night of the shipwreck. It was as dreadful as the Day of Judgment. No words of mine can describe to you what I felt when I knew that our rudder was gone, and saw those hopeless rocks before us. What I felt for our poor men ! But, in the midst of it all, the words came into my mind, ‘And Jesus was in the hinder part of the ship asleep on a pillow, ’ and at once I felt He was there ; and when the ship struck I was only conscious of an intense going out of my soul to Him, like Peter’s when he threw himself from the ship to meet Him in the waters.
“ I will not recapitulate what I have already written,—the wonderful manner in which I was saved, and in which friends and help and prosperity and worldly success came to me again, after life had seemed all lost ; but now I am ready to return to my country, and I feel as Jacob did when he said, ‘ With my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands. ’
“ I do not need any arguments now to convince me that the Bible is from above. There is a great deal in it that I cannot understand, a great deal that seems to me inexplicable ; but all I can say is, that I have tried its directions, and find that in my case they do work,—that it is a book that I can live by ; and that is enough for me.
“ And now, Mary, I am coming home again, quite another man from what I went out,—with a whole new world of thought and feeling in my heart, and a new purpose, by which, please God, I mean to shape my life. All this, under God, I owe to you ; and if you will let me devote my whole life to you, it will be a small return for what you have done for me.
“ You know I left you wholly free. Others must have seen your loveliness and felt your worth ; and you may have learnt to love some better man than me. But I know not what hope tells me that this will not be ; and I shall find true what the Bible says of love, that ' many waters cannot quench it, nor floods drown.’ In any case, I shall be always, from my very heart, yours, and yours only.
Mary rose, after reading this letter, rapt into a divine state of exaltation,— the pure joy, in contemplating an infinite good to another, in which the question of self was utterly forgotten.
He was, then, what she had always hoped and prayed he would be, and she pressed the thought triumphantly to her heart. He was that true and victorious man, that Christian able to subdue life, and to show, in a perfect and healthy manly nature, a reflection of the image of the superhuman excellence. Her prayers that night were aspirations and praises, and she felt how possible it might be so to appropriate the good and the joy and the nobleness of others as to have in them an eternal and satisfying treasure. And with this came the dearer thought, that she, in her weakness and solitude, had been permitted to put her hand to the beginning of a work so noble. The consciousness of good done to an immortal spirit is wealth that neither life nor death can take away.
And so, having prayed, she lay down to that sleep which God giveth to his beloved.
THE QUESTION OF DUTY.
IT is a hard condition of our existence here, that every exaltation must have its depression. God will not let us have heaven here below, but only such glimpses and faint showings as parents sometimes give to children, when they show them beforehand the jewelry and pictures and stores of rare and curious treasures which they hold for the possession of their riper years. So it very often happens that the man who has gone to bed an angel, feeling as if all sin were forever vanquished, and he himself immutably grounded in love, may wake the next morning with a sick-headache, and, if he be not careful, may scold about his breakfast like a miserable sinner.
We will not say that our dear little Mary rose in this condition next morning,— for, although she had the headache, she had one of those natures in which, somehow or other, the combative element seems to be left out, so that no one ever knew her to speak a fretful word. But still, as we have observed, she had the headache and the depression,— and there came the slow, creeping sense of waking up, through all her heart and soul, of a thousand, thousand things that could be said only to one person, and that person one that it would be temptation and danger to say them to.
She came out of her room to her morning work with a face resolved and calm, but expressive of languor, with slight signs of some inward struggle.
Madame de Frontignac, who had already heard the intelligence, threw two or three of her bright glances upon her at breakfast, and at once divined how the matter stood. She was ot a nature so delicately sensitive to the most refined shades of honor, that she apprehended at once that there must be a conflict,— though, judging by her own impulsive nature, she made no doubt that all would at once go down before the mighty force of reawakened love.
After breakfast she would insist upon following Mary about through all her avocations. She possessed herself of a towel, and would wipe the cups and saucers, while Mary washed. She clinked the glasses, and rattled the cups and spoons, and stepped about as briskly as if she had two or three breezes to carry her train, and chattered halt English and half French, for the sake of bringing into Mary’s cheek the shy, slow dimples that she liked to watch. But. still Mrs. Scudder was around, with an air as provident and forbidding as that of a sitting hen who watches her nest ; nor was it till after all things had been cleared away in the house, and Mary had gone up into her little attic to spin, that the long-sought opportunity came of diving to the bottom of this mystery.
“ Enfin Marie, nous voici! Are you not going to teli me anything, when I have turned my heart out to you like a bag ? Chere enfant! how happy you must be ! ” she said, embracing her.
“Yes, I am very happy,” said Mary, with calm gravity.
“ Very happy! ” said Madame de Frontignae, mimicking her manner. “ Is that the way you American girls show it, when you are very happy ? Come, come, ma belle! tell little Virginia something. Thou hast seen this hero, this wandering Ulysses, lie has come back at last; the tapestry will not be quite as long as Penelope’s? Speak to me of him. Has he beautiful black eyes, and hair that curls like a grape-vine ? Tell me, ma belie ! ”
“ I only saw him a little while, ” said Mary, " and I felt a great deal more than I saw. He could not have been any clearer to me than he always has been in my mind.”
“ But I think,” said Madame de Frontignac, seating Mary, as was her wont, and sitting down at her feet, “ I think you are a little triste about this. Very likely you pity the good priest. It is sad for him ; but a good priest has the Church for his bride, you know.”
“ You do not think,” said Mary, speaking seriously, “ that I shall break my promise given before God to this good man ? ”
“ Mon Dieu, mon enfant ! you do not mean to marry the priest, after all ? Quelle idée ! ”
“ But I promised him, ” said Mary.
Madame de Frontignac threw up her hands, with an expression of vexation.
“ What a pity, my little one, you are not in the True Church ! Any good priest could dispense you from that.”
“ I do not believe, ” said Mary, “ in any earthly power that can dispense us from solemn obligations which we have assumed before God, and on which we have suffered others to build the most precious hopes. If James had won the affections of some girl, thinking as I do, I should not think it right for him to leave her and come to me. The Bible says, that the just man is ‘ he that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.’ ”
“ C’est le sublime de devoir ! ” said Madame de Frontignac, who, with the airy frailty of her race, never lost her appreciation of the fine points of anything that went on under her eyes. But, nevertheless, she was inwardly resolved, that, picturesque as this “sublime of duty ” was, it must not be allowed to pass beyond the limits of a fine art, and so she recommenced.
“ Mais c’est absurde. This beautiful young man, with his black eyes, and his curls,— a real hero,—a Theseus, Mary,— just come home from killing a Minotaur, — and loves you with his whole heart,— and this dreadful promise ! Why, haven’t you any sort of people in your Church that can unbind you from promises ? I should think the good priest himself would do it! ”
“ Perhaps he would, ” said Mary, “ if I should ask him ; but that would be equivalent to a breach of it. Of course, no man would marry a woman that asked to be dispensed. ”
“ You are an angel of delicacy, my child ; c’est admirable! but, after all, Mary, this is not well. Listen now to me. You are a very sweet saint, and very strong in goodness. I think you must have a very strong angel that takes care of you. But think, chère enfant,— think what it is to marry one man while you love another ! ”
“ But I love the Doctor,” said Mary, evasively.
“ Love !” said Madame de Frontignac. “ Oh, Marie ! you may love him well, but you and I both know that there is something deeper than that. What will you do with this young man ? Must he move away from this place, and not be with his poor mother any more ? Or can you see him, and hear him, and be with him, after your marriage, and not feel that you love him more than your husband ? ”
“I should hope that God would help me to feel right, ” said Mary.
“ I am very much afraid He will not, ma chère. I asked Him a great many times to help me, when I found how wrong it all was ; but He did not. You remember what you told me the other day,— that, if I would do right, I must not see that man any more. You will have to ask him to go away from this place ; you can never see him ; for this love will never die till you die ; — that you may be sure of. Is it wise ? is it right, dear little one ? Must he leave his home forever for you ? or must you Struggle always, and grow whiter and whiter, and fall away into heaven, like the moon this morning, and nobody know what is the matter? People will say you have the liver-complaint, or the consumption, or something. Nobody ever knows what we women die of.”
Poor Mary’s conscience was fairly posed. This appeal struck upon her sense of right as having its grounds. She felt inexpressibly confused and distressed.
“ Oh, I wish somebody would tell me exactly what is right ! ” she said.
“ Well, I will,” said Madame de Frontignac. " Go down to the dear priest, and tell him the whole truth. My dear child, do you think, if he should ever find it out after your marriage, he would think you used him right? ”
“ And yet mother does not think so ; mother does not wish me to tell him. ”
“ Pauvrette, toujours les mères ! Yes, it is always the mothers that stand in the way of the lovers. Why cannot she marry the priest herself? ” she said between her teeth, and then looked up, startled and guilty, to see if Mary had heard her.
“ I cannot, ” said Mary,—“I cannot go against my conscience, and my mother, and my best friend. ”
At this moment, the conference was cut short by Mrs. Scudder’s provident footsteps on the garret-stairs. A vague suspicion of something French had haunted her during her dairy-work, and she resolved to come and put a stop to the interview, by telling Mary that Miss Prissy wanted her to come and be measured for the skirt of her dress.
Mrs. Scudder, by the use of that sixth sense peculiar to mothers, had divined that there had been some agitating conference, and, had she been questioned about it, her guesses as to what it might have been would probably have given no bad résumé of the real state of the case. She was inwardly resolved that there should be no more such for the present, and kept Mary employed about various matters relating to the dresses, so scrupulously that there was no opportunity for anything more of the sort that day.
In the evening James Marvyn came down, and was welcomed with the greatest demonstrations of joy by all but Mary, who sat distant and embarrassed, after the first salutations had passed.
The Doctor was innocently paternal ; but we fear that on the part of the young man there was small reciprocation of the sentiments he expressed.
Miss Prissy, indeed, had had her heart somewhat touched, as good little women’s hearts are apt to be by a true love-story, and had hinted something of her feelings to Mrs. Scudder, in a manner which brought such a severe rejoinder as quite humbled and abashed her, so that she coweringly took refuge under her former declaration, that, “ to be sure, there couldn’t be any man in the world better worthy of Mary than the Doctor,” while still at her heart she was possessed with that troublesome preference for unworthy people which stands in the way of so many excellent things. But she went on vigorously sewing upon the weddingdress, and pursing up her small mouth into the most perfect and guarded expression of non-committal ; though she said afterwards, “ it went to her heart to see how that poor young man did look, sitting there just as noble and as handsome as a picture. She didn’t see, for her part, how anybody’s heart could stand it ; though, to be sure, as Miss Scudder said, the poor Doctor ought to be thought about, dear blessed man ! What a pity it was things would turn out so ! Not that it was a pity that Jim came home,— that was a great providence,—but a pity they hadn’t known about it sooner. Well, for her part, she didn’t pretend to say ; the path of duty did have a great many hard places in it.”
As for James, during his interview at the cottage, he waited and tried in vain for one moment’s private conversation. Mrs. Scudder was immovable in her motherly kindness, sitting there, smiling and chatting with him, but never stirring from her place by Mary.
Madame do Frontignac was out of all patience, and determined, in her small way, to do something to discompose the fixed state of things. So, retreating to her room, she contrived, in very desperation, to upset and break a water-pitcher, shrieking violently in French and English at the deluge which came upon the sanded floor and the little piece of carpet by the bedside.
What housekeeper’s instincts are proof against the crash of breaking china ?
Mrs. Scudder fled from her seat, followed by Miss Prissy.
“ Ah ! then and there was hurrying to and fro,” while Mary sat quiet as a statue, bending over her sewing, and James, knowing that it must be now or never, was, like a flash, in the empty chair by her side, with his black moustache very near to the bent brown head.
“ Mary, ” he said, “ you must let me see you once more. All is not said, is it ? Just hear me, — hear me once alone ! ”
“ Oh, James, I am too weak ! — I dare not !—I am afraid of myself !”
“ You think,” he said, “ that you must take this course, because it is right. But is it right ? Is it right to marry one man, when you love another better ? I don’t put this to your inclination, Mary, — I know it would be of no use, — I put it to your conscience.”
“ Oh, I was never so perplexed before ! ” said Mary. “ I don’t know what I do think. I must have time to reflect. And you, — oh, James ! —you must let me do right ! There will never be any happiness for me, if I do wrong,— nor for you, either.”
All this while the sounds of running and hurrying in Madame de Frontignae’s room had been unintermitted ; and Miss Prissy, not without some glimmerings of perception, was holding tight on to Mrs. Scudder’s gown, detailing to her a most capital receipt for mending broken china, the history of which she traced regularly through all the families in which she had ever worked, varying the details with small items of family history, and little incidents as to the births, marriages, and deaths of different people for whom it had been employed, with all the particulars of how, where, and when, so that James's time for conversation was by this means indefinitely extended.
“ Now, ” he said to Mary, “let me propose one thing. Let me go to the Doctor, and tell him the truth.”
“James, it does not seem to me that I can. A friend who has been so considerate, so kind, so self-sacrificing and disinterested, and whom I have allowed to go on with this implicit faith in me so long. Should you, James, think of yourself only ? ”
“ I do not, I trust, think of myself only, ” said James ; “ I hope that I am calm enough, and have a heart to think for others. But, I ask you, is it doing right to him to let him marry you in ignorance of the state of your feelings ? Is it a kindness to a good and noble man to give yourself to him only seemingly, when the best and noblest part of your affections is gone wholly beyond your control ? I am quite sure of that, Mary. I know you do love him very well,— that you would make a most true, affectionate, constant wife to him ; but what I know you feel for me is something wholly out of your power to give to him,—is it not, now ? ”
“ I think it is,” said Mary, looking gravely and deeply thoughtful. “ But then, James, I ask myself, ‘ What if this had happened a week hence ? ’ My feelings would have been just the same, because they are feelings over which I have no more control than over my existence. I can only control the expression of them. But in that case you would not have asked me to break my marriage-vow ; and why now shall I break a solemn vow deliberately made before God? If what lean give him will content him, and he never knows that which would give him pain, what wrong is done him ?”
“ I should think the deepest possible wrong done me,” said Janies, “ if, when I thought I had married a wife with a whole heart, I found that the greater part of it had been before that given to another. If you tell him, or if I tell him, or your mother,— who is the proper person,—and he chooses to hold you to your promise, then, Mary, I have no more to say. I shall sail in a few weeks again, and carry your image forever in my heart ; — nobody can take that away ; that dear shadow will be the only wife I shall ever know. ”
At this moment Miss Prissy came rattling along towards the door, talking — we suspect designedly—on quite a high key. Mary hastily said,—
“ Wait, James,—let me think, — tomorrow is the Sabbath-day. Monday I will send you word, or see you. ”
And when Miss Prissy returned into the best room, James was sitting at one window and Mary at another, — he making remarks, in a style of most admirable commonplace, on a copy of Milton's “ Paradise Lost,” which he had picked up in the confusion of the moment, and which, at the time Mrs. Katy Scudder entered, he was declaring to be a most excellent book,— a really, truly, valuable work.
Mrs. Scudder looked keenly from one to the other, and saw that Mary’s cheek was glowing like the deepest heart of a pink shell, while, in all other respects, she was as cold and calm. On the whole, she felt satisfied that no mischief had been done.
We hope our readers will do Mrs. Scudder justice. It is true that she yet wore on her third finger the marriagering of a sailor lover, and his memory was yet fresh in her heart ; but even mothers who have married for love themselves somehow so blend a daughter's existence with their own as to conceive that she must marry their love, and not her own. Besides this, Mrs. Scudder was an Old Testament woman, brought up with that scrupulous exactitude of fidelity in relation to promises which would naturally come from familiarity with a book in which covenant-keeping is represented as one of the highest attributes of Deity, and covenant-breaking as one of the vilest sins of humanity. To break the word that had gone forth out of one’s mouth was to lose self-respect, and all claim to the respect of others, and to sin against eternal rectitude.
As we have said before, it is almost impossible to make our light-minded times comprehend the earnestness with which those people lived. It was, in the beginning, no vulgar nor mercenary ambition that made her seek the Doctor as a husband for her daughter. He was poor, and she had had offers from richer men. He was often unpopular ; but he of all the world was the man she most revered, the man she believed in with the most implicit faith, the man who embodied her highest ideas of the good ; and therefore it was that she was willing to resign her child to him.
As to James, she had felt truly sympathetic with his mother, and with Mary, in the dreadful hour when they supposed him lost ; and had it not been for the great perplexity occasioned by his return, she would have received him, as a relative, with open arms. But now she felt it her duty to be on the defensive,— an attitude not the most favorable for cherishing pleasing associations in regard to another. She had read the letter giving an account of his spiritual experience with very sincere pleasure, as a good woman should, but not without an internal perception how very much it endangered her favorite plans. When Mary, however, had calmly reiterated her determination, she felt sure of her ; for had she ever known her to say a thing she did not do ?
The uneasiness she felt at present was not the doubt of her daughter’s steadiness, but the fear that she might have been unsuitably harassed or annoyed.
THE next morning rose calm and fair. It was the Sabbath-day,— the last Sabbath in Mary’s maiden life, if her promises and plans were fulfilled.
Mary dressed herself in white,— her hands trembling with unusual agitation, her sensitive nature divided between two opposing consciences and two opposing affections. Her devoted filial love toward the Doctor made her feel the keenest sensitiveness at the thought of giving him pain. At the same time, the questions which James had proposed to her had raised serious doubts in her mind whether it was altogether right to suffer him blindly to enter into this union. So, after she was all prepared, she bolted the door of her chamber, and, opening her Bible, read, “ If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him ” ; and then, kneeling down by the bedside, she asked that God would give her some immediate light in her present perplexity. So praying, her mind grew calm and steady, and she rose up at the sound of the bell which marked that it was time to set forward for church.
Everybody noticed, as she came into church that morning, how beautiful Mary Scudder looked. It was no longer the beauty of the carved statue, the pale alabaster shrine, the sainted virgin, but a warm, bright, living light, that spoke of some summer breath breathing within her soul.
When she took her place in the singers’ seat, she knew, without turning her head, that he was in his old place, not far from her side ; and those whose eyes followed her to the gallery marvelled at her face there,—
“ her pure and eloquent blood Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought That you might almost say her body thought ” ;
for a thousand delicate nerves were becoming vital once more,— the holy mystery of womanhood had wrought within her.
When they rose to sing, the tune must needs be one which they had often sung together, out of the same book, at the singing-school, — one of those wild, pleading tunes, dear to the heart of New England,— born, if we may credit the report, in the rocky hollows of its mountains, and whose notes have a kind of grand and mournful triumph in their warbling wail, and in which different parts of the harmony, set contrary to all the canons of musical Pharisaism, had still a singular and romantic effect, which a true musical genius would not have failed to recognize. The four parts, tenor, treble, bass, and counter, as they were then called, rose and swelled and wildly mingled, with the fitful strangeness of an Æolian harp, or of winds in mountain-hollows, or the vague moanings of the sea on lone, forsaken shores. And Mary, while her voice rose over the waves of the treble, and trembled with a pathetic richness, felt, to her inmost heart, the deep accord of that other voice which rose to meet hers, so wildly melancholy, as if the soul in that manly breast had come to meet her soul in the disembodied, shadowy verity of eternity. The grand old tune, called by our fathers “ China, ” never, with its dirge-like melody, drew two souls more out of themselves, and entwined them more nearly with each other.
The last verse of the hymn spoke of the resurrection of the saints with Christ :
“ Then let the last dread trumpet sound
And bid the dead arise ;
Awake, ye nations under ground !
Ye saints, ascend the skies ! ’’
And as Mary sang, she felt sublimely upborne with the idea that life is but a moment and love is immortal, and seemed, in a shadowy trance, to feel herself and him past this mortal fane, far over on the shores of that other life, ascending with Christ, all-glorified, all tears wiped away, and with full permission to love and to be loved forever. And as she sang, the Doctor looked upward, and marvelled at the light in her eyes and the rich bloom on her cheek,—for where she stood, a sunbeam, streaming aslant through the dusty panes of the window, touched her head with a kind of glory, — and the thought he then received outbreathed itself in the yet more fervent adoration of his prayer.
THE ICE BROKEN.
OUR fathers believed in special answers to prayer. They were not stumbled by the objection about the inflexibility of the laws of Nature ; because they had the idea, that, when the Creator of the world promised to answer human prayers, He probably understood the laws of Nature as well as they did. At any rate, the laws of Nature were His affair, and not theirs. They were men, very apt, as the Duke of Wellington said, to “ look to their marching-orders,”—which, being found to read, “ Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God,” they did it. “ They looked unto Him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed.” One reads, in the Memoirs of Dr. Hopkins, of Newport Gardner, one of his African catechumens, a negro of singular genius and ability, who, being desirous of his freedom, that he might be a missionary to Africa, and having long worked without being able to raise the amount required, was counselled by Dr. Hopkins that it might be a shorter way to seek his freedom from the Lord, by a day of solemn fasting and prayer. The historical fact is, that, on the evening of a day so consecrated, his master returned from church, called Newport to him, and presented him with his freedom. Is it not possible that He who made the world may have established laws for prayer as invariable as those for the sowing of seed and raising of grain ? Is it not as legitimate a subject of inquiry, when petitions are not answered, which of these laws has been neglected ?
But be that as it may, certain it is, that Candace, who on this morning in church sat where she could see Mary and James in the singers' seat, had certain thoughts planted in her mind which bore fruit afterwards in a solemn and select consultation held with Miss Prissy at the end of the horse-shed by the meeting-house, during the intermission between the morning and afternoon services.
Candace sat on a fragment of granite boulder which lay there, her black face relieved against a clump of yellow mulleins, then in majestic altitude. On her lap was spread a checked pocket-handkerchief, containing rich slices of cheese, and a store of her favorite brown doughnuts.
“ Now, Miss Prissy,” she said, “ dar’s reason in all tings, an’ a good deal move in some tings dan dar is in oders. Dar's a good deal more reason in two young, handsome folks comin’ togeder dan dar is in ”—
Candace finished the sentence by an emphatic flourish of her doughnut.
“ Now, as long as eberybody thought Jim Marvyn was dead, dar wa'n 't nothin’ else in de world to be done but marry de Doctor. But, good lan ! I hearn him a-talkin’ to Miss Marvyn las’ night ; it kinder ’mos’ broke my heart. Why, dem two poor creeturs, dey’s jest as onhappy’s dey can be ! An’ she’s got too much feelin’ for de Doctor to say a word ; an’
I say he oughter be told on’t ! dat’s what I say, ” said Candace, giving a decisive bite to her doughnut.
“ I say so, too,” said Miss Prissy. “ Why, I never had such bad feelings in my life as I did yesterday, when that young man came down to our house. He was just as pale as a cloth. I tried to say a word to Miss Scudder, but she snapped me up so ! She’s an awful decided woman when her mind’s made up. I was telling Cerinthy Ann Twitchel,—she came round me this noon, — that it didn’t exactly seem to me right that things should go on as they are going. And says I, ‘Cerinthy Ann, I don’t know anything what to do.’ And says she, ‘ If I was you, I know what I'd do,— I’d tell the Doctor,’ says she. ' Nobody ever takes offence at anything you do, Miss Prissy.’ To be sure, " added Miss Prissy, “ I have talked to people about a good many things that it’s rather strange I should ; ’cause I a’n’t one, somehow, that can let things go that seem to want doing. I always told folks that I should spoil a novel before it got half-way through the first volume, by blurting out some of those things that they let go trailing on so, till everybody gets so mixed up they don’t know what they’re doing.”
“ Well, now, honey,” said Candace, authoritatively, “ ef you’s got any notions o’ dat kind, I tink it mus’ come from de good Lord, an’ I ’dvise you to be ’tendin’ to’t, right away. You jes’ go ’long an’ tell de Doctor yourself all you know, an’ den le’s see what’ll come on’t.
I tell you, I b’liebe it’ll be one o’ de bes’ day’s works you eber did in your life ! ”
“ Well, " said Miss Prissy, " I guess tonight, before I go to bed, I’ll make a dive at him. When a thing’s once out, it’s out, and can’t be got in again, even it people don’t like it ; and that’s a mercy, anyhow. It really makes me feel ’most wicked to think of it, for he is the most blessedest man ! ”
“ Dat’s what he is,” said Candace.
“ But de blessedest man in de world oughter know de truth ; dat’s what I link !”
“ Yes, — true enough ! ” said Miss Prissy. “ I’ll tell him, anyway.”
Miss Prissy was as good as her word ; for that evening, when the Doctor had retired to his study, she took her life in her hand, and, walking swiftly as a cat, tapped rather timidly at the study-door, which the Doctor opening said, benignantly,—
“ Ah, Miss Prissy !”
“ If you please, Sir,” said Miss Prissy, “ I’d like a little conversation. ”
The Doctor was well enough used to such requests from the female members of his church, which, generally, were the prelude to some disclosures of internal difficulties or spiritual experiences. He therefore graciously motioned her to a chair.
“ I thought I must come in,” she began, busily twirling a bit of her Sunday gown. “I thought—that is — I felt it my duty — I thought—perhaps—I ought to tell you — that perhaps you ought to know.”
The Doctor looked civilly concerned. He did not know but Miss Prissy’s wits were taking leave of her. He replied, however, with his usual honest stateliness,—
“I trust, dear Madam, that you will feel perfect freedom to open to me any exercises of mind that you may have.”
“ It isn’t about myself,” said Miss Prissy. “ If you please, it’s about you and Mary! ”
The Doctor now looked awake in right earnest, and very much astonished besides ; and he looked eagerly at Miss Prissy, to have her go on.
“ I don’t know how you would view such a matter,” said Miss Prissy ; “ but the fact is, that James Marvyn and Mary always did love each other, ever since they were children.”
Still the Doctor was unawakened to the real meaning of the words, and he answered, simply,—
“ I should be far from wishing to interfere with so very natural and universal a sentiment, which, I make no doubt, is all quite as it should be.”
“ No, — but,” said Miss Prissy, “ you don’t understand what I mean. I mean that James Marvyn wanted to marry Mary, and that she was—well — she wasn’t engaged to him, but”—
“ Madam ! ” said the Doctor, in a voice that frightened Miss Prissy out of her chair, while a blaze like sheet-lightning shot from his eyes, and his face flushed crimson.
“ Mercy on us ! Doctor, I hope you’ll excuse me ; but there the fact is,—I’ve said it out,— the fact is, they wa’n’t engaged ; but that Mary loved him ever since he was a boy, as she never will and never can love any man again in this world, is what I’m just as sure of as that I’m standing here ; and I’ve felt you ought to know it ; ’cause I'm quite sure, thar, if he’d been alive, she’d never given the promise she has,— the promise that she means to keep, if her heart breaks, and his too. They wouldn’t anybody tell you, and I thought I must tell you ; ’cause I thought you’d know what was right to do about it. ”
During all this latter speech the Doctor was standing with his back to Miss Prissy, and his face to the window, just as he did some time before, when Mrs. Scudder came to tell him of Mary’s consent. He made a gesture backward, without speaking, that she should leave the apartment ; and Miss Prissy left, with a guilty kind of feeling, as if she had been striking a knife into her pastor, and, rushing distractedly across the entry into Mary’s little bedroom, she bolted the door, threw herself on the bed, and began to cry.
“ Well, I’ve done it! ” she said to herself. “ He’s a very strong, hearty man, ” she soliloquized, “ so I hope it won’t put him in a consumption ; — men do go into a consumption about such things sometimes. I remember Abner Seaforth did ; but then he was always narrow-chested, and had the liver-complaint, or something. I don’t know what Miss Scudder will say ;— but I've done it. Poor man ! such a good man, too ! I declare, I feel just like Herod taking off John the Baptist’s head. Well, well ! it’s done, and can’t be helped.”
Just at this moment Miss Prissy heard a gentle tap at the door, and started, as if it had been a ghost,— not being able to rid herself of the impression, that, somehow, she had committed a great crime, for which retribution was knocking at the door.
It was Mary, who said, in her sweetest and most natural tones, “ Miss Prissy, the Doctor would like to see you.”
Mary was much astonished at the frightened, discomposed manner with which Miss Prissy received this announcement, and said,—
“ I’m afraid I’ve waked you up out of sleep. I don’t think there’s the least hurry.”
Miss Prissy didn’t, either ; but she reflected afterwards that she might as well get through with it at once ; and therefore, smoothing her tumbled cap-border, she went to the Doctor’s study. This time he was quite composed, and received her with a mournful gravity, and requested her to be seated.
“I beg, Madam,” be said, “you will excuse the abruptness of my manner in our late interview. I was so little prepared for the communication you had to make, that I was, perhaps, unsuitably discomposed. Will you allow me to ask whether you were requested by any of the parties to communicate to me what you did ? ”
“ No, Sir,” said Miss Prissy.
“Have any of the parties ever communicated with you on the subject at all ? ” said the Doctor.
“ No, Sir,” said Miss Prissy.
“ That is all,” said the Doctor. “ I will not detain you. I am very much obliged to you, Madam.”
He rose, and opened the door for her to pass out,— and Miss Prissy, overawed by the stately gravity of his manner, went out in silence.
WHEN Miss Prissy left the room, the Doctor sat down by the table and covered his face with his hands. He had a large, passionate, determined nature ; and he had just come to one of those cruel crises in life in which it is apt to seem to us that the whole force of our being, all that we can hope, wish, feel, enjoy, has been suffered to gather itself into one great wave, only to break upon some cold rock of inevitable fate, and go back, moaning, into emptiness.
In such hours men and women have cursed God and life, and thrown violently down and trampled under their feet what yet was left of life’s blessings, in the fierce bitterness of despair. “ This, or nothing ! ” the soul shrieks, in her frenzy. At just such points as these, men have plunged into intemperance and wild excess,— they have gone to be shot down in battle,— they have broken life, and thrown it away, like an empty goblet, and gone, like wailing ghosts, out into the dread unknown.
The possibility of all this lay in that heart which had just received that stunning blow. Exercised and disciplined as he had been, by years of sacrifice, by constant, unsleeping self-vigilance, there was rising there, in that great heart, an ocean-tempest of passion, and for a while his cries unto God seemed as empty and as vague as the screams of birds tossed and buffeted in the clouds of mighty tempests.
The will that he thought wholly subdued seemed to rise under him as a rebellious giant. A few hours before, he thought himself established in an invincible submission to God’s will that nothing could shake. Now he looked into himself as into a seething vortex of rebellion, and against all the passionate cries of his lower nature could, in the language of an old saint, cling to God only by the naked force of his will. That will rested unmelted amid the boiling sea of passion, waiting its hour of renewed sway. He walked the room for hours, and then sat down to his Bible, and roused once or twice to find his head leaning on its pages, and his mind far gone in thoughts from which he woke with a bitter throb. Then he determined to set himself to some definite work, and, taking his Concordance, began busily tracing out and numbering all the prooftexts for one of the chapters of his theological system ! till, at last, he worked himself down to such calmness that he could pray ; and then he schooled and reasoned with himself, in a style not unlike, in its spirit, to that in which a great modern author has addressed suffering humanity : —
“ What is it that thou art fretting and self-tormenting about ? Is it because thou art not happy ? Who told thee that thou wast to be happy ? Is there any ordinance of the universe that thou shouldst be happy ? Art thou nothing but a vulture screaming for prey ? Canst thou not do without happiness ? Yea, thou canst do without happiness, and, instead thereof, find blessedness.”
The Doctor came, lastly, to the conclusion, that blessedness, which was all the portion his Master had on earth, might do for him also ; and therefore he kissed and blessed that silver dove of happiness, which he saw was weary of sailing in his clumsy old ark, and let it go out of his hand without a tear.
He slept little that night ; but when he came to breakfast, all noticed an unusual gentleness and benignity of manner, and Mary, she knew not why, saw tears rising in his eyes when he looked at her.
After breakfast he requested Mrs. Scudder to step with him into his study, and Miss Prissy shook in her little shoes as she saw the matron entering. The door was shut for a long time, and two voices could be heard in earnest conversation.
Meanwhile James Marvyn entered the cottage, prompt to remind Mary of her promise that she would talk with him again this morning.
They had talked with each other but a few moments, by the sweetbrier-shaded window in the best room, when Mrs. Scudder appeared at the door of the apartment, with traces of tears upon her cheeks.
“ Good morning, James,” she said. “ The Doctor wishes to see you and Mary a moment, together.”
Both looked sufficiently astonished, knowing, from Mrs. Scudder’s looks, that something was impending. They followed her, scarcely feeling the ground they trod on.
The Doctor was sitting at his table, with his favorite large-print Bible open before him. He rose to receive them, with a manner at once gentle and grave.
There was a pause of some minutes, during which he sat with his head leaning upon his hand.
“ You all know, ” he said, turning toward Mary, who sat very near him, “ the near and dear relation in which I have been expected to stand towards this friend. I should not have been worthy of that relation, if I had not felt in my heart the true love of a husband, as set forth in the New Testament, — who should love his wife even as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it ; and in case any peril or danger threatened this dear soul, and I could not give myself for her, I had never been worthy the honor she has done me. For, I take it, whenever there is a cross or burden to be borne by one or the other, that the man, who is made in the image of God as to strength and endurance, should take it upon himself, and not lay it upon her that is weaker ; for he is therefore strong, not that he may tyrannize over the weak, but bear their burdens for them, even as Christ for his Church.
“I have just discovered,” he added, looking kindly upon Mary, “that there is a great cross and burden which must come, either on this dear child or on myself, through no fault of either of us, but through God’s good providence ; and therefore let, me bear it.
“ Mary, my dear child,” he said, “ I will be to thee as a father, but I will not force thy heart.”
At this moment, Mary, by a sudden, impulsive movement, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, and lay sobbing on his shoulder.
“ No! no I ” she said,—I will marry you, as I said ! ”
“ Not, if I will not,” he replied, with a benign smile. “ Come here, young man, ” he said, with some authority, to James. “ I give thee this maiden to wife. ” And he lifted her from his shoulder, and placed her gently in the arms of the young man, who, overawed and overcome, pressed her silently to his heart.
“ There, children, it is over,” he said. “ God bless you! ”
“ Take her away,” he added ; “ she will be more composed soon.”
Before James left, he grasped the Doctor’s hand in his, and said,—
“ Sir, this tells on my heart more than any sermon you ever preached. I shall never forget it. God bless you, Sir ! ”
The Doctor saw them slowly quit the apartment, and, following them, closed the door ; and thus ended THE MINISTER’S WOOING.
OF the events which followed this scene we are happy to give our readers more minute and graphic details than we ourselves could furnish, by transcribing for their edification an autograph letter of Miss Prissy’s, still preserved in a black oaken cabinet of our great-grandmother’s ; and with which we take no further liberties than the correction of a somewhat peculiar orthography. It is written to that sister “ Lizabeth, ” in Boston, of whom she made such frequent mention, and whom, it appears, it was her custom to keep well-informed in all the gossip of her immediate sphere.
“ MY DEAR SISTER : &EMDASH;
“ You wonder, I s’pose, why I haven’t written you ; but the fact is, I’ve been run just off ray feet, and worked till the flesh aches so it seems as if it would drop off my bones, with this wedding of Mary Scudder’s. And, after all, you’ll be astonished to hear that she ha’n’t married the Doctor, but that Jim Marvyn that I told you about. You see, he came home a week before the wedding was to be, and Mary, she was so conscientious she thought ’twa’n’t right to break off with the Doctor, and so she was for going right on with it ; and Mrs. Scudder, she was for going on more yet ; and the poor young man, he couldn’t get a word in edgeways, and there wouldn’t anybody tell the Doctor a word about it, and there ’twas drifting along, and both on ’em feeling dreadful, and so I thought to myself, ' I’ll just take my life in my hand, like Queen Esther, and go in and tell the Doctor all about it.’ And so I did. I’m scared to death always when I think of it. But that dear blessed man, he took it like a saint. He just gave her up as serene and calm as a psalm-book, and called Jim in and told him to take her.
“ Jim was fairly overcrowed,— it really made him feel small, — and he says he’ll agree that there is more in the Doctor’s religion than most men’s : which shows how important it is for professing Christians to bear testimony in their works,— as I was telling Cerinthy Ann Twitchel ; and she said there wa’n’t anything made her want to be a Christian so much, if that was what religion would do for people.
“ Well, you see, when this came out, it wanted just three days of the wedding, which was to be Thursday, and that wedding-dress I told you about, that had lilies-of-the-valley on a white ground, was pretty much made, except puffing the gauze round the neck, which I do with white satin piping-cord, and it looks beautiful too ; and so Mrs. Scudder and I, we were thinking ’twould do just as well, when in come Jim Marvyn, bringing the sweetest thing you ever saw, that he had got in China, and I think I never did see anything lovelier. It was a white silk, as thick as a board, and so stiff that it would stand alone, and overshot with little fine dots of silver, so that it shone, when you moved it, just like frostwork ; and when I saw it, I just clapped my hands, and jumped up from the floor, and says I, ‘If I have to sit up all night, that dress shall be made, and made well, too.’ For, you know, I thought I could get Miss Olladine Hocum to run the breadths and do such parts, so that I could devote myself to the fine work. And that French woman I told you about, she said she'd help, and she’s a master hand for touching things up. There seems to be work provided for all kinds of people, and French people seem to have a gift in all sorts of dressy things, and ’tisn’t a bad gift either.
“ Well, as I was saying, we agreed that this was to be cut open with a train, and a petticoat of just the palest, sweetest, loveliest blue that ever you saw, and gauze puffings down the edgings each side, fastened in, every once in a while, with lilies-of-the-valley ; and ’twas cut square in the neck, with puffings and flowers to match, and then tight sleeves, with full ruffles of that old Mechlin lace that you remember Mrs. Katy Scudder showed you once in that great camphorwood trunk.
“ Well, you see, come to get all things together that were to be done, we concluded to put off the wedding till Tuesday ; and Madame de Frontignac, she would dress the best room for it herself, and she spent nobody knows what time in going round and getting evergreens and making wreaths, and putting up green boughs over the pictures, so that the room looked just like the Episcopal church at Christmas. In fact, Mrs. Scudder said, if it had been Christmas, she shouldn’t have felt it right, but, as it was, she didn’t think anybody would think it any harm.
“ Well, Tuesday night, I and Madame de Frontignae, we dressed Mary ourselves, and, I tell you, the dress fitted as if it was grown on her ; and Madame de Frontignaec she dressed her hair ; and she had on a wreath of lilies-of-the-valley, and a gauze veil that came a’most down to her feet, and came all around her like a cloud, and you could see her white shining dress through it every time she moved, and she looked just as white as a snow-berry ; but there were two little pink spots that came coming and going in her cheeks, that kind of lightened up when she smiled, and then faded down again. And the French lady put a string of real pearls round her neck, with a cross of pearls, which went down and lay hid in her bosom.
“ She was mighty calm-like while she was being dressed ; but just as I was putting in the last pin, she heard the rumbling of a coach down-stairs, for Jim Marvyn had got a real elegant carriage to carry her over to his father’s in, and so she knew he was come. And pretty soon Mrs, Marvyn came in the room, and when she saw Mary, her brown eyes kind of danced, and she lifted up both hands, to see how beautiful she looked. And Jim Marvyn, he was standing at the door, and they told him it wasn’t proper that he should see till the time come ; but he begged so hard that he might just have one peep, that I let him come in, and he looked at her as if she was something he wouldn’t dare to touch ; and he said to me softly, says he, ' I’m ’most afraid she has got wings somewhere that will fly away from me, or that I shall wake up and find it is a dream.’
“ Well, Cerinthy Ann Twitchel was the bridesmaid, and she came next with that young man she is engaged to. It is all out now, that she is engaged, and she don’t deny it. And Cerinthy, she looked handsomer than I ever saw her, in a white brocade, with rosebuds on it, which I guess she got in reference to the future, for they say she is going to be married next month.
“ Well, we all filled up the room pretty well, till Mrs. Scudder came in to tell us that the company were all together ; and then they took hold of arms, and they had a little time practising how they must stand, and Cerinthy Ann’s beau would always get her on the wrong side, ’cause he’s rather bashful, and don’t know very well what he’s about ; and Cerinthy Ann declared she was afraid that she should laugh out in prayer-time, ’cause she always did laugh when she knew she mus’n’t. But finally Mrs. Scudder told us we must go in, and looked so reproving at Cerinthy that she had to hold her mouth with her pocket-handkerchief.
“ Well, the old Doctor was standing there in the very silk gown that the ladies gave him to be married in himself,— poor, dear man ! — and he smiled kind of peaceful on ’em when they came in, and walked up to a kind of bower of evergreens and flowers that Madame de Frontignae had fixed for them to stand in. Mary grew rather white, as if she was going to faint ; but Jim Marvyn stood up just as firm, and looked as proud and handsome as a prince, and he kind of looked down at her, — ’cause, you know, he is a great deal taller,— kind of wondering, as if he wanted to know if it was really so. Well, when they got all placed, they let the doors stand open, and Cato and Candace came and stood in the door. And Candace had on her great splendid Mogadore turban, and a crimson and yellow shawl, that she seemed to take comfort in wearing, although it was pretty hot.
“ Well, so when they were all fixed, the Doctor, he begun his prayer,— and as ’most all of us knew what a great sacrifice he had made, I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the room ; and when he had done, there was a great time, — people blowing their noses and wiping their eyes, as if it had been a funeral. Then Cerinthy Ann, she pulled off Mary's glove pretty quick ; but that poor beau of hers, he made such work of James’s that he had to pull it off himself, after all, and Cerinthy Ann, she liked to have laughed out loud. And so when the Doctor told them to join hands, Jim took hold of Mary's hand as if he didn’t mean to let go very soon, and so they were married.
“ I was the first one that kissed the bride after Mrs. Scudder ; — I got that promise out of Mary when I was making the dress. And Jim Marvyn, he insisted upon kissing me,— ‘ ’Cause,’ says he, ‘ Miss Prissy, you are as young and handsome as any of ’em ’; and I told him he was a saucy fellow, and I’d box his ears, if I could reach them.
“ That French lady looked lovely, dressed in pale pink silk, with long pink wreaths of flowers in her hair ; and she came up and kissed Mary, and said something to her in French.
“ And after a while old Candace came up, and Mary kissed her ; and then Candace put her arms round Jim’s neck, and gave him a real hearty smack, so that everybody laughed.
“ And then the cake and the wine was passed round, and everybody had good times till we heard the nine-o’elock-bell ring. And then the coach come up to the door, and Mrs. Scudder, she wrapped Mary up, kissing her, and crying over her, while Mrs. Marvyn stood stretching her arms out of the coach after her ; and then Cato and Candace went after in the wagon behind, and so they all went off together ; and that was the end of the wedding ; and ever since then we ha’n’t any of us done much but rest, for we were pretty much beat out. So no more at present from your affectionate sister,
“ P.S. — I forgot to tell you that Jim Marvyn has come home quite rich. He fell in with a man in China who was at the head of one of their great merchanthouses, whom he nursed through a long fever, and took care of his business, and so, when he got well, nothing would do but he must have him for a partner ; and now he is going to live in this country and attend to the business of the firm here. They say he is going to build a house as grand as the Vernons’. And we hope he has experienced religion ; and he means to join our church, which is a providence, for he is twice as rich and generous as that old Simeon Brown that snapped me up so about my wages. I never believed in him, for all his talk. I was down to Mrs. Scudder’s when the Doctor examined Jim about his evidences. At first the Doctor seemed a little anxious, ’cause he didn’t talk in the regular way ; for you know Jim always did have his own way of talking, and never could say things in other people’s words ; and sometimes he makes folks laugh, when he himself don’t know what they laugh at, because he hits the nail on the head in some strange way they aren’t expecting. If I was to have died, I couldn’t help laughing at some things he said ; and yet I don’t think I ever felt more solemnized. He sat up there in a sort of grand, straightforward, noble way, and told all the way the Lord had been leading of him, and all the exercises of his mind, and all about the dreadful shipwreck, and how he was saved, and the loving-kindness of the Lord, till the Doctor’s spectacles got all blinded with tears, and he couldn’t see the notes he made to examine him by ; and we all cried, Mrs. Scudder, and Mary, and I ; and as to Mrs. Marvyn, she just sat with her hands clasped, looking into her son’s eyes, like a picture of the Virgin Mary. And when Jim got through, there wa’n’t nothing to be heard for some minutes ; and the Doctor, he wiped his eyes, and wiped his glasses, and looked over his papers, but he couldn’t bring out a word, and at last says he, “ Let us pray,”—for that was all there was to be said ; for I think sometimes things so kind of fills folks up that there a’n’t nothing to be done but pray, which, the Lord be praised, we are privileged to do always. Between you and I, Martha, I never could understand all the distinctions our dear, blessed Doctor sets up ; but when he publishes his system, if I work my fingers to the bone, I mean to buy one and study it out, because he is such a blessed man ; though, after all’s said, I have come back to my old place, and trust to the loving-kindness of the Lord, who takes care of the sparrow on the house-top, and all small, lone creatures like me ; though I can’t say I’m lone either, because nobody need say that, so long as there’s folks to be done for. So if I don't understand the Doctor’s theology, or don't get eyes to read it, on account of the fine stitching on his shirtruffles I‘ve been trying to do, still I hope I may be accepted on account of the Lord’s great goodness ; for if we can’t trust that, it’s all over with us all.”
WE know it is fashionable to drop the curtain over a newly married pair, as they recede from the altar ; but we cannot but hope our readers may by this time have enough of interest in our little history to wish for a few words on the lot of the personages whose acquaintance they have thereby made.
The conjectures of Miss Prissy in regard to the grand house which James was to build for his bride were as speedily as possible realized. On a beautiful elevation, a little out of the town of Newport, rose a fair and stately mansion, whose windows overlooked the harbor, and whose wide, cool rooms were adorned by the constant presence of the sweet face and form which has been the guiding star of our story. The fair poetic maiden, the seeress, the saint, has passed into that appointed shrine for woman, more holy than cloister, more saintly and pure than church or altar, — a Christian home. Priestess, wife, and mother, there she ministers daily in holy works of household peace, and by faith and prayer and love redeems from grossness and earthliness the common toils and wants of life.
The gentle guiding force that led James Marvyn from the maxims and habits and ways of this world to the higher conception of an heroic and Christ-like manhood was still ever present with him, gently touching the springs of life, brooding peacefully with dovelike wings over his soul, and he grew up under it noble in purpose and strong in spirit. He was one of the most energetic and fearless supporters of the Doctor in his life-long warfare against an inhumanity which was intrenched in all the mercantile interests of the day, and which at last fell before the force of conscience and moral appeal.
Candace in time transferred her allegiance to the growing family of her young master and mistress, and predominated proudly in gorgeous raiment with her butterfly turban over a rising race of young Marvyns. All the care not needed by them was bestowed upon the somewhat querulous old age of Cato, whose never-failing cough furnished occupation for all her spare hours and thought.
As for our friend the Doctor, we trust our readers will appreciate the magnanimity with which he proved a real and disinterested love, in a point where so many men experience only the graspings of a selfish one, A mind so severely trained as his had been brings to a great crisis, involving severe self-denial, an amount of reserved moral force quite inexplicable to those less habituated to self-control. He was like a warrior whose sleep even was in armor, always ready to be roused to the conflict.
In regard to his feelings for Mary, he made the sacrifice of himself to her happiness so wholly and thoroughly that there was not a moment of weak hesitation,— no going back over the past, — no vain regret. Generous and brave souls find a support in such actions, because the very exertion raises them to a higher and purer plane of existence.
His diary records the event only in these very calm and temperate words :— “ It was a trial to me, — a very great trial ; but as she did not deceive me, I shall never lose my friendship for her.”
The Doctor was always a welcome inmate in the house of Mary and James, as a friend revered and dear. Nor did he want in time a hearthstone of his own, where a bright and loving face made him daily welcome ; for we find that he married at last a woman of a fair countenance, and that sons and daughters grew up around him.
In time, also, his theological system was published. In that day, it was customary to dedicate new or important works to the patronage of some distinguished or powerful individual. The Doctor had no earthly patron. Four or five simple lines are found in the commencement of his work, in which, in a spirit reverential and affectionate, he dedicates it to our Lord Jesus Christ, praying Him to accept the good, and to overrule the errors to His glory.
Quite unexpectedly to himself, the work proved a success, not, only in public acceptance and esteem, but even in a temporal view, bringing to him at last a modest competence, which he accepted with surprise and gratitude. To the last of a very long life, he was the same steady, undiscouraged worker, the same calm witness against popular sins and proclaimer of unpopular truths, ever saying and doing what he saw to be eternally right, without the slightest consultation with worldly expediency or earthly gain ; nor did his words cease to work in New England till the evils he opposed were finally done away.
Colonel Burr leaves the Scene of our story to pursue those brilliant and unscrupulous political intrigues so well known to the historian of those times, and whose results were so disastrous to himself. His duel with the ill-fated Hamilton, the awful retribution of public opinion that followed, and the slow downward course of a doomed life are all on record. Chased from society, pointed at everywhere by the finger of hatred, so accursed in common esteem that even the publican who lodged him for a night refused to accept his money when he knew his name, heart-stricken in his domestic relations, his only daughter taken by pirates and dying amid untold horrors,— one seems to see in a doom so much above that of other men the power of an avenging Nemesis for sins beyond those of ordinary humanity.
But we who have learned of Christ may humbly hope that these crushing miseries in this life came not because he was a sinner above others,—not in wrath alone,— but that the prayers of the sweet saint who gave him to God even before his birth brought to him those friendly adversities, that thus might be slain in his soul the evil demon of pride, which had been the opposing force to all that was noble within him. Nothing is more affecting than the account of the last hours of this man, whom a woman took in and cherished in his poverty and weakness with that same heroic enthusiasm with which it was his lot to inspire so many women. This humble keeper of lodgings was told, that, if she retained Aaron Burr, all her other lodgers would leave. “ Let them do it, then, ” she said ; “ but he shall remain. ” In the same uncomplaining and inscrutable silence in which he had borne the reverses and miseries of his life did this singular being pass through the shades of the dark vatley. The New Testament was always under his pillow, and when alone he was often found reading it attentively ; but of the result of that communion with Higher Powers he said nothing. Patient, gentle, and grateful, he was, as to all his inner history, entirely silent and impenetrable. He died with the request, which has a touching significance, that he might be buried at the feet of those parents whose lives had finished so differently from his own.
“ No farther seek his errors to disclose,
Or draw his frailties from their dread abode. ”
Shortly after Mary’s marriage, Madame de Frontignac sailed with her husband for home, where they lived in a very retired way on a large estate in the South of France. An intimate correspondence was kept up between her and Mary for many years, from which we shall give our readers a few extracts. Her first letter is dated shortly after her return to France.
“ At last, my sweet Marie, you behold us in peace after our wanderings. I wish you could see our lovely nest in the hills which overlook the Mediterranean, whose blue waters remind me of Newport harbor and our old days there. Ah, my sweet saint, blessed was the day I first learned to know you ! for it was you, more than anything else, that kept me back from sin and misery. I call you my Sibyl, dearest, because the Sibyl was a prophetess of divine things out of the Church ; and so are you. The Abbé says, that all true, devout persons of all persuasions belong to the True Catholic Apostolic Church, and will in the end be enlightened to know it. What do you think of that, ma belle ? I fancy I see you look at me with your grave, innocent eyes, just as you used to ; but you say nothing.
“ I am far happier, ma Marie, than I ever thought I could be. I took your advice, and told my husband all I had felt and suffered. It was a very hard thing to do ; but I felt how true it was, as you said, that there could be no real friendship without perfect truth at bottom ; so I told him all, and he was very good and noble and helpful to me ; and since then he has been so gentle and patient and thoughtful, that no mother could be kinder ; and I should be a very bad woman, if I did not love him truly and dearly,— as I do.
“ I must confess that there is still a weak, bleeding place in my heart that aches yet, but I try to bear it bravely ; and when I am tempted to think myself very miserable, I remember how patiently you used to go about your house-work and spinning, in those sad days when you thought your heart was drowned in the sea; and I try to do like you. I have many duties to my servants and tenants, and mean to be a good châtelaine ; and I find, when I nurse the sick and comfort the poor, that my sorrows are lighter. For, after all, Marie, I have lost nothing that ever was mine,— only my foolish heart has grown to something that it should not, and bleeds at being torn away. Nobody but Christ and His dear Mother can tell what this sorrow is ; but they know, and that is enough.”
The next letter is dated some three years after.
“ You see me now, my Marie, a proud and happy woman. I was truly envious, when you wrote me of the birth of your little son ; but now the dear good God has sent a sweet little angel to me, to comfort my sorrows and lie close to my heart ; and since he came, all pain is gone. Ah, if you could see him ! he has black eyes, and lashes like silk, and such little hands ! — even his finger-nails are all perfect, like little gems ; and when he puts his little hand on my bosom, I tremble with joy. Since he came, I pray always, and the good God seems very near to me. Now I realize, as I never did before, the sublime thought that God revealed Himself in the infant Jesus ; and I bow before the manger of Bethlehem where the Holy Babe was laid. What comfort, what adorable condescension for us mothers in that scene ! — My husband is so moved, he can scarce stay an hour from the cradle. He seems to look at me with a sort of awe, because I know how to care for this precious treasure that he adores without daring to touch. We are going to call him Henri, which is my husband’s name and that of his ancestors for many generations back. I vow for him an eternal friendship with the son of my little Marie ; and I shall try and train him up to be a brave man and a true Christian. Ah, Marie, this gives me something to live for ! My heart is full,— a whole new life opens before me ! ”
Somewhat later, another letter announces the birth of a daughter,— and later still, the birth of another son ; but we shall add only one more, written some years after, on hearing of the great reverses of popular feeling towards Burr, subsequently to his duel with the ill-fated Hamilton.
“ Ma chère Marie, — Your letter has filled me with grief. My noble Henri, who already begins to talk of himself as my protector, (these boys feel their manhood so soon, ma Marie !) saw by my face, when I read your letter, that something pained me, and he would not rest till I told him something about it. Ah, Marie, how thankful I then felt that I had nothing to blush for before my son ! how thankful for those dear children whose little hands had healed all the morbid places of my heart, so that I could think of all the past without a pang ! I told Henri that the letter brought bad news of an old friend, but that it pained me to speak of it ; and you would have thought, by the grave and tender way he talked to his mamma, that the boy was an experienced man of forty, to say the least.
“ But, Marie, how unjust is the world ! how unjust both in praise and blame ! Poor Burr was the petted child of Society ; yesterday she doted on him, flattered him, smiled on his faults, and let him do what he would without reproof ; to-day she flouts and scorns and scoffs him, and refuses to see the least good in him. I know that man, Marie, — and I know, that, sinful as he may be before Infinite Purity, he is not so much more sinful than all the other men of his time. Have I not been in America ? I know Jefferson ; I knew poor Hamilton,—peace be with the dead ! Neither of them had a life that could bear the sort of trial to which Burr’s is subjected. When every secret fault, failing, and sin is dragged out, and held up without mercy, what man can stand ?
“ But I know what irritates the world is that proud, disdainful calm which will give neither sigh nor tear. It was not that he killed poor Hamilton, but that he never seemed to care ! Ah, there is that evil demon of his life, — that cold, stoical pride, which haunts him like a fate ! But I know he does feel ; I know he is not as hard at heart as he tries to be ; I have seen too many real acts of pity to the unfortunate, of tenderness to the weak, of real love to his friends, to believe that. Great have been his sins against our sex, and God forbid that the mothers of children should speak lightly of them ! but is not so susceptible a temperament, and so singular a power to charm as he possessed, to be taken into account in estimating his temptations ? Because he is a sinning man, it does not follow that he is a demon. If any should have cause to think bitterly of him, I should. He trifled inexcusably with my deepest feelings ; he caused me years of conflict and anguish, such as he little knows ; I was almost shipwrecked ; yet I will still say to the last that what I loved in him was a better self, — something really noble and good, however concealed and perverted by pride, ambition, and self-will. Though all the world reject him, I still have faith in this better nature, and prayers that he may be led right at last. There is at least one heart that will always intercede with God for him.”
It is well known, that, for many years after Burr's death, the odium that covered his name was so great that no monument was erected, lest it should become a mark for popular violence. Subsequently, however, in a mysterious manner, a plain granite slab marked his grave ; by whom erected has never been known. It was placed in the night by some friendly, unknown hand. A laborer in the vicinity, who first discovered it, found lying near the spot a small porte.-monnaie, which had perhaps been used in paying for the workmanship. It contained no papers that could throw any light on the subject, except the fragment of the address of a letter on which was written “ Henri de Frontignae.”
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