Doctor Johns


IN the summer of 1812, when the good people of Connecticut were feeling uncommonly bitter about the declaration of war against England, and were abusing Mr. Madison in the roundest terms, there lived in the town of Canterbury a fiery old gentleman, of near sixty years, and a sterling Democrat, who took up the cudgels bravely for the Administration, and stoutly belabored Governor Roger Griswold for his tardy obedience to the President in calling out the militia, and for what he called his absurd pretensions in regard to State sovereignty. He was a man, too, who meant all that he said, and gave the best proof of it by offering his military Services,—first to the Governor, and then to the United States General commanding the Department.

Nor was he wholly unfitted: he was erect, stanch, well knit together, and had served with immense credit in the local militia, in which he wore the title of Major. It does not appear that his offer was immediately accepted; but the following season he was invested with the command of a company, and was ordered back and forth to various threatened points along the seaboard. His home affairs, meantime, were left in charge of his son, a quiet young man of four-and-twenty, who for three years had been stumbling with a very reluctant spirit through the law-books in the Major’s office, and who shared neither his father’s ardor of temperament nor his political opinions. Eliza, a daughter of twenty summers, acted as mistress of the house, and stood in place of mother to a black-eyed little girl of thirteen, — the Major’s daughter by a second wife, who had died only a few years before.

Notwithstanding the lack of political sympathy, there was yet a strong attachment between father and son. The latter admired immensely the energy and fullsouled ardor of the old gentleman ; and the father, in turn, was proud of the calm, meditative habit of mind which the son had inherited from his mother. “ There is metal in the boy to make a judge of,” the Major used to say. And when Benjamin, shortly after his graduation at one of the lesser New England colleges, had given a hint of his possible study of theology, the Major answered with a “ Pooh ! pooh ! ” which disturbed the son, — possibly weighed with him, — more than the longest opposing argument could have done. The manner of the father had conveyed, unwittingly enough, a notion of absurdity as attaching to the lad’s engaging in such sacred studies, which overwhelmed him with a sense of his own unworthiness.

The Major, like all sound Democrats, had always been an ardent admirer of Mr. Jefferson and of the French political school. Benjamin had a wholesome horror of both,—not so much from any intimate knowledge of their theories, as by reason of a strong religious instinct, which had been developed under his mother’s counsels into a rigid and exacting Puritanism.

The first wife of the Major had left behind her the reputation of “ a saint.” It was not undeserved : her quiet, constant charities, — her kindliness of look and manner, which were in themselves the best of charities, — a gentle, Christian way she had of dealing with all the vagrant humors of her husband, — and the constancy of her devotion to all duties, whether religious or domestic, gave her better claim to the saintly title than most who wear it. The Major knew this, and was very proud of it. “If,” he was accustomed to say, “ I am the most godless man in the parish, my wife is the most godly woman.” Yet his godlessness was. after all, rather outside than real: it was a kind of effrontery, provoked into noisy display by the extravagant bigotries of those about him. He did not believe in monopolies of opinion, but in good average dispersion of all sorts of thinking. On one occasion he had horrified his poor wife by bringing home a full set of Voltaire’s Works; but having reasoned her — or fancying he had — into a belief in the entire harmlessness of the offending books, he gratified her immensely by placing them out of all sight and reach of the boy Benjamin.

He never interfered with the severe home course of religious instruction entered upon by the mother. On the contrary, he said, “ The boy will need it all as an offset to the bedevilments that will overtake him in our profession.” The Major had a very considerable country practice, and had been twice a member of the Legislature.

His second wife, a frivolous, indolent person, who had brought him a handsome dot, and left him the pretty blackeyed Mabel, never held equal position with the first. It was observed, however, with some surprise, that under the sway of the latter he was more punctilious and regular in religious observances than before,—a fact which the shrewd ones explained by his old doctrine of adjusting averages.

Benjamin, Eliza, and Mabel,— each in their way, — waited news from the military campaign of the Major with great anxiety; all the more because he was understood to be a severe disciplinarian, and it had been rumored in the parish that two or three of his company, of rank Federal opinions, had vowed they would sooner shoot the captain than any foreign enemy of the State. The Major, however, heard no guns in either front or rear up to the time of the British attack upon the borough of Stonington, in midsummer of 1814. In the defence here he was very active, in connection with a certain artillery force that had come down the river from Norwich ; and although the attack of the British Admiral was a mere feint, yet for a while there was a very lively sprinkling of shot. The people of the little borough were duly frightened, the “ Ramilies ” seventy-four gun-ship of his Majesty enjoyed an excellent opportunity for long-range practice, and the militia gave an honest airing to their patriotism. The Major was wholly himself. “ If the rascals would only attempt a landing ! ” said he ; and as he spoke, a fragment of shell struck his sword-arm at the elbow. The wound was a grievous one, and the surgeon in attendance declared amputation to be necessary. The Major combated the decision for a while, but loss of blood weakened his firmness, and the operation was gone through with very bunglingly. Next morning a country wagon was procured to transport him home. The drive was an exceeding rough one, and the stump fell to bleeding. Most men would have lain by for a day or two, but the Major insisted upon pushing on for Canterbury, where he arrived late at night, very much exhausted.

The country physician declared, on examination next morning, that some readjustment of the amputated limb was necessary, which was submitted to by the Major in a very irritable humor. Friends and enemies of the wounded man were all kind and full of sympathy. Miss Eliza was in a flutter of dreary apprehension that rendered her incapable of doing anything effectively. Benjamin was as tender and as devoted as a woman. The wound healed in due time, but the Major did not rally. The drain upon his vitality had been too great; he fell into a general decline, which within a fortnight gave promise of fatal results. The Major met the truth like a veteran ; he arranged his affairs, by the aid of his son, with a great show of method, — closed all in due time ; and when he felt his breath growing short, called Benjamin, and like a good officer gave his last orders.

“Mabel,” said he, “is provided for; it is but just that her mother’s property should be settled on her; I have done so. For yourself and Eliza, you will have need of a close economy. I don’t think you ’ll do much at law ; you once thought of preaching; if you think so now, preach, Benjamin ; there’s something in it ; at least it ’s better than Fed — Federalism.”

A fit of coughing seized him here, from which he never fairly rallied. Benjamin took his hand when he grew quiet, and prayed silently, while the Major slipped off the roll militant forever.


THE funeral was appointed for the second day thereafter. The house was set in order for the occasion. Chairs were brought in from the neighbors. A little table, with a Bible upon it, was placed in the entrance-way at the foot of the stairs, that all might hear what the clergyman should say. The body lay in the parlor, with the Major’s sword and cocked hat upon the coffin; and the old gentleman’s face had never worn an air of so much dignity as it wore now. Death had refined away all trace of his irritable humors, of his passionate, hasty speech, It looked like the face of a good man, — so said nine out of ten who gazed on it that day ; yet when the immediate family came up to take their last glimpse, — the two girls being in tears, — in that dreary half-hour after all was arranged, and the flocking-in of the neighbors was waited for, Benjamin, as calm as the dead face below him, was asking himself if the poor gentleman, his father, had not gone away to a place of torment. He feared it; nay, was he not bound to believe it by the whole force of his education ? and his heart, in that hour, made only a feeble revolt against the belief. In the very presence of the grim messenger of the Eternal, who had come to seal the books and close the account, what right had human affection to make outcry ? Death had wrought the work given him to do, like a good servant; had not he, too, — Benjamin, — a duty to fulfil? the purposes of Eternal Justice to recognize, to sanction, to approve ? In the exaltation of his religious sentiment it seemed to him, for one crazy moment at least, that he would be justified in taking his place at the little table where prayer was to be said, and in setting forth, as one who knew so intimately the shortcomings of the deceased, all those weaknesses of the flesh and spirit by which the Devil had triumphed, and in warning all those who came to his burial of the judgments of God which would surely fall on them as on him. except they repented and believed. Was he not, indeed, commissioned, as it were, by the lips of the dead man to cry aloud and spare not ” ?

Happily, however, the officiating clergyman was of a more even temper, and he said what little he had to say in way of “improvement of the occasion” to the text of “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

“ We are too apt,” said he, (and he was now addressing a company that crowded the parlors and flowed over into the yard in front, where the men stood with heads uncovered,) “we are too apt to measure a man’s position in the eye of God, and to assign him his rank in the future, by his conformity to the external observances of religion,—not remembering, in our complacency, that we see differently from those who look on from beyond the world, and that there are mysterious and secret relations of God with the conscience of every man, which we cannot measure or adjust. Let us hope that our deceased friend profited by such to insure his entrance into the Eternal City, whose streets are of gold, and the Lamb the light thereof.”

The listeners said “Amen” to this in their hearts ; but the son, still exalted by the fervor of that new purpose which he had formed by the father’s deathbed, and riveted more surely as he looked last on his face, asked himself, if the old preacher had not allowed a kindly worldly prudence to blunt the sharpness of the Word. “ Why not tell these friendly mourners,” thought he, “ that they may well shed their bitterest tears, for that this old man they mourn over has lived the life of the ungodly, has neglected all the appointed means of escape, has died the death of the unrighteous, and must surely suffer the pains of the second death ? Should not the swift warning be brought home to me and to them ? ”

Sudden contact with Death had refined all his old religious impressions to an intensity that shaped itself into a flaming sword of retribution. All this, however, as yet, lay within his own mind, not beating down his natural affection, or his grief, but struggling for reconcilement with them ; no outward expression, even to those who clung to him so nearly, revealed it. The memorial-stone which he placed over his father’s grave, and which possibly is standing now within the old churchyard of Canterbury, bore only this : —


IST SEPT., 1814.

And a little below,—

“Christ died for all.”


IT will be no contravention of the truth of this epitaph, to say that the Major had been always a most miserable manager of his private business affairs ; it is even doubtful if the kindest fathers and best husbands are not apt to be. Certain it is, that, when Benjamin came to examine, in connection with a village attorney, (for the son had inherited the father’s inaccessibility to “profit and loss” statements.) such loose accounts as the Major had left, it was found that the poor gentleman had lived up so closely to his income — whether as lawyer or military chieftain — as to leave his little home property subject to the payment of a good many outstanding debts. There appeared, indeed. a great parade of ledgers and daybooks and statements of accounts ; but it is by no means unusual for those who are careless or ignorant of business system to make a pretty show of the requisite implements, and to confuse themselves, in a pleasant way, with the intricacy of their own figures.

The Major sinned pretty largely in this way ; so that it was plain, that, after the sale of all his available effects, including the library with its inhibited Voltaire, there would remain only enough to secure a respectable maintenance for Miss Eliza. To this end, Benjamin determined at once that the residue of the estate should be settled upon her,— reserving only so much as would comfortably maintain him during a three years’ course of battling with Theology.

The younger sister, Mabel, — as has already been intimated,— was provided for by an interest in certain distinct and dividend-bearing securities, which — to the honor of the Major — had never been submitted to the alembic of his figures and “accounts current.” She was placed at a school where she accomplished herself for three or four years ; and put the seal to her accomplishments by marrying very suddenly, and without family consultation, — under which she usually proved restive,— a young fellow, who by aid of her snug fortune succeeded in establishing himself in a thriving business ; and as early as the year 1820, Mabel, under her new name of Mrs. Brindlock, was the mistress of one of those fine merchantpalaces at the lower end of Greenwich Street in New York City, which commanded a view of the elegant Battery, and were the admiration of all country visitors.

Benjamin had needed only his father’s hint, (for which he was ever grateful.) and the solemn scenes of his death and burial, to lead him to an entire renunciation of his law-craft and to an engagement in fervid study for the ministry. This he prosecuted at first with a devout old gentleman who had been a pupil of President Edwards ; and this private reading was finished off by a course at Andover. His studies completed, he was licensed to preach ; and not long after, without any consideration ot what the future of this world might have in store for him. he committed the error which so many grave and serious men are prone to commit, — that is to say, he married hastily, after only two or three months of solemn courtship, a charming girl of nineteen, whose only idea of meeting the difficulties of this life was to love her dear Benjamin with her whole heart, and to keep the parlor dusted.

But unfortunately there was no parlor to dust. The consequence was that the newly married couple were compelled to establish a temporary home upon the second door of the comfortable house of Mr. Handby, a well-to-do farmer, and the father of the bride. Here the new clergyman devoted himself resolutely to Tillotson, to Edwards, to John Newton, and in the intervals prepared some score or more of sermons,— to all which Mrs. Johns devoutly listening in their fresh state, without ever a wink, entered upon the conscientious duties of a wife. From time to time some old clergyman of the neighborhood would ask the Major’s son to assist him in the Sabbath services ; and at rarer intervals the Reverend Mr. Johns was invited to some far-away township where the illness or absence of the settled minister might keep the new licentiate for four or five wreeks ; on which occasions the late Miss Handby was most zealous in preparing a world of comforts for the journey, and invariably followed him up with one or two double letters, ‘‘hoping her dear Benjamin was careful to wear the muffler which his Rachel had knit for him, and not to expose his precious throat,”—or “longing for that quiet home of their own, which would not make necessary these cruel separations, and where she should have the uninterrupted society of her dear Benjamin.”

To all such the conscientious husband dutifully replied, “thankful for his Rachel’s expression of interest in such a sinner as himself, and trusting that she would not forget that health or the comforts of this world were but of comparatively small importance, since this was ‘not our abiding city.’ He trusted, too, that she would not allow the transitory affections of this life, however dear they might be, to engross her to the neglect of those which were far more important. He permitted himself to hope that Rachel ” (he was chary of endearing epithets) “would not murmur against the dispensations of Providence, and would be content with whatever He might provide ; and hoping that Mr. Handby and family were in their usual health, remained her Christian friend and devoted husband, Benjamin Johns.”

It so happened, that, after this discursive life had lasted for some ten months, a serious difficulty arose between the clergyman and the parish of the neighboring town of Ashfield. The person who served as the spiritual director of the people was suspected of leaning strongly toward some current heresy of the day ; and the suspicion being once set on foot, there was not a sermon the poor man could preach but some quidnunc of the parish snuffed somewhere in it the taint of the false doctrine. The due convocations and committees of inquiry followed sharply after, and the incumbent received his dismissal in due form at the hands of some “ brother in the bonds of the Gospel.”

A few weeks later, Giles Elderkin of Ashfield, “ Society’s Committee,” invited, by letter, the Reverend Benjamin Johns to come and “fill their pulpit the following Lord’s day ” ; and added, — “If you conclude to preach for us, I shall be pleased to have you put up at my house over the Sabbath.”

“ There you are,” said Mr. Handby. when the matter was announced in family conclave, — “just the man for them. They like sober, solid preaching in Ashfield.”

“ I call it real providential,” said Mrs. Handby ; “ fust-rate folks, and 't a’n 't a long drive over for Rachel.”

Little Mrs. Johns looked upon the grave, earnest face of her husband with delight and pride, but said nothing.

“ I know Squire Elderkin,” says Mr. Handby, meditatively, — “ a clever man, and a forehanded man, very. It’s a rich parish, son-in-law ; they ought to do well by you.”

“I don’t like,” says Mr. Johns, “to look at what may become my spiritual duty in that light.”

“ I would n’t,” returned Mr. Handby ; “but when you are as old as I am, son-in-law, you ’ll know that we have to keep a kind of side-look upon the good things of this world, — else we should n't be placed in it.”

He heareth the young ravens when they cry,” said the minister, gravely.

“ Just it,” says Mr. Handby ; “but I don't want your young ravens to be crying.”

At which Rachel, with the slightest possible suffusion of color, and a pretty affectation of horror, said, —

“ Now, papa ! ”

There was an interuption here, and the conclave broke up ; but Rachel, stepping briskly to the place she loved so well, beside the minister, said, softly, —

“ I hope you ’ll go, Benjamin ; and do, please, preach that beautiful sermon on Revelations.”


THIRTY or forty years ago there lay scattered about over Southern New England a great many quiet inland towns, numbering from a thousand to two or three thousand inhabitants, which boasted a little old - fashioned “society” of their own, — which had their important men who were heirs to some snug country property, and their gambrel - roofed houses odorous with traditions of old - time visits by some worthies of the Colonial period, or of the Revolution. The good, prim dames, in starched caps and spectacles, who presided over such houses, were proud of their tidy parlors, — of their old India china, — of their beds of thyme and sage in the garden, — of their big Family Bible with brazen clasps,— and, most times, of their minister.

One Orthodox Congregational Society extended its benignant patronage over all the people of such town ; or, if a stray Episcopalian or Seven-Day Baptist were here and there living under the wing of the parish, they were regarded with a serene and stately gravity, as necessary exceptions to the law of Divine Providence,— like scattered instances of red hair or of bow-legs in otherwise well-favored families.

There were no wires stretching over the country to shock the nerves of the good gossips with the thought that their neighbors knew more than they. There were no heathenisms of the cities, no tenpins, no travelling circus, no progressive young men of heretical tendencies. Such towns were as quiet as a sheepfold. Sauntering down their broad central street, along which all the houses were clustered with a somewhat dreary uniformity of aspect, one might of a summer’s day hear the rumble of the town mill in some adjoining valley, busy with the town grist ; in autumn, the flip-flap of the flails came pulsing on the ear from half a score of wideopen barns that yawned with plenty ; and in winter, the clang of axes on the near hills smote sharply upon the frosty stillness, and would be straightway followed by the booming crash of some great tree.

But civilization and the railways have debauched all such quiet, stately, steady towns. There are none of them left. If the iron cordon of travel, by a little divergence, has spared their quietude, leaving them stranded upon a beach where the tide of active business never flows, all their dignities are gone. The men of foresight and enterprise have drifted away to new centres of influence. The bustling dames in starched caps have gone down childless to their graves, or, disgusted with gossip at second hand, have sought more immediate contact with the world. A German tailor, may be, has hung out his sign over the door of some mouldering mansion, where, in other days, a doughty judge of the county court, with a great raft of children, kept his honors and his family warm. A slatternly “carryall,” with a driver who reeks of bad spirit, keeps up uneasy communication with the outside world, traversing twice or three times a day the league of drive which lies between the post-office and the railway-station. A few iron-pated farmers, and a few gentlemen of Irish extraction who keep tavern and stores, divide among themselves the official honors of the town.

If, on the other hand, the people maintain their old thrift and importance by actual contact with some great thoroughfare of travel, their old quietude is exploded ; a mushroom station has sprung up ; mushroom villas flank all the hills ; the girls wear mushroom hats. A turreted monster of a chapel from some flamboyant tower bellows out its Sunday warning to a new set of church-goers. There is a little coterie of “ superior intelligences,” who talk of the humanities, and diffuse their airy rationalism over here and there a circle of the progressive town. Even the meeting-house, which was the great congregational centre of the town religion, has lost its venerable air, taken off by some new fancy of variegated painting. The high, square pews are turned into low-backed seats, that flame on a summer Sunday with such gorgeous millinery as would have shocked the grave people of thirty years ago. The deep bass note which once pealed from the belfry with a solemn and solitary dignity of sound has now lost it all amid the jangle of a half-dozen bells of lighter and airier twang. Even the parson himself will not be that grave man of stately bearing, who met the rarest fun only benignantlv, and to whom all the villagers bowed, — but some new creature full of the logic of the schools and the latest conventionalisms of manner. The homespun disciples of other days would be brought grievously to the blush, if some deep note of the old bell should suddenly summon them to the presence of so fine a teacher, encompassed with such pretty appliances of upholstery ; and, counting their chances better in the strait path they knew on uncarpeted floors and between high pews, they would slink back into their graves content, — all the more content, perhaps, it they should listen to the service of the new teacher, and, in their commonsense way, reckon what chance the dapper talker might have, — as compared with the solemn soberness of the old pastor, — in opening the ponderous doors for them upon the courts above.

Into this metamorphosed condition the town of Ashfield has possibly fallen in these latter days ; but in the good year 1819, when the Reverend Benjamin Johns was invited for the first time to fill its pulpit of an early autumn Sunday, it was still in possession of all its palmy quietude and of its ancient cheery importance. And to that old date we will now transfer ourselves.


EVERY other day the stage-coach comes into Ashfield from the north, on the Hartford turnpike, and rumbles through the main street of the town, seesawing upon its leathern thoroughbraces. Just where the pike forks into the main northern road, and where the scattered farm-houses begin to group more thickly along the way, the country Jehu prepares for a triumphant entry by giving a long, clean cut to the lead-horses, and two or three shortened, sharp blows with his doubled lash to those upon the wheel ; then, moistening his lip, he disengages the tin horn from its socket, and, with one more spirited “chirrup” to his team and a petulant flirt of the lines, he gives out, with tremendous explosive efforts, a series of blasts that are heard all down the street. Here and there a blind is coyly opened, and some old dame in ruffled cap peers out, or some stout wench at a back door stands gazing with her arms a-kimbo. The horn rattles back into its socket again ; the lines are tightened, and the long lash smacks once more around the reeking flanks of the leaders. Yonder, in his sooty shop, stands the smith, keeping up with his elbow a lazy sway upon his bellows, while he looks admiringly over coach and team, and gives an inquisitive glance at the nigh leader’s foot, that he shod only yesterday. A flock ofgeese, startled from a mud-puddle through which the coach dashes on, rush away with outstretched necks, and wings at their widest, and a great uproar of gabble. Two school-girls — home for the nooning — are idling over a gateway, half swinging, half musing, gazing intently. There is a gambrel-roofed mansion, with a balustrade along its upper pitch, and quaint ogees of ancient joinery over the hall-door ; and through the cleanly scrubbed parlor-windows is to be seen a prim dame, who turns one spectacled glance upon the passing coach, and then resumes her sewing. There are red houses, with their corners and barge-boards dressed off with white, and on the door-step of one a green tub that flames with a great pink hydrangea. Scattered along the way are huge ashes, sycamores, elms, in somewhat devious line ; and from a pendent bough of one of these last a trio of school-boys are seeking to beat down the swaying nest of an oriole with a convergent fire of pebbles.

The coach flounders on, — past an old house with stone chimney, (on which an old date stands coarsely cut,) and with front door divided down its middle, with a huge brazen knocker upon its right half,— with two St. Luke’s crosses in its lower panels, and two diamond-shaped “ lights ” above. Hereabout the street widens into what seems a common ; and not far below, sitting squarely and authoritatively in the middle of the common, is the red-roofed meeting-house, with tall spire, and in its shadow the humble belfry of the town academy. Opposite these there comes into the main street a highway from the east ; and upon one of the corners thus formed stands the Eagle Tavern, its sign creaking appetizingly on a branch of an overhanging sycamore, under which the stage-coach dashes up to the tavern-door, to unlade its passengers for dinner, and to find a fresh relay of horses.

Upon the opposite corner is the country store of Abner Tew, Esq., postmaster during the successive administrations of Mr. Madison and Mr. Monroe. He comes out presently from his shop-door, which is divided horizontally, the upper half being open in all ordinary weathers ; and the lower half, as he closes it after him, gives a warning jingle to a little bell within. A spare, short, hatchet-faced man is Abner Tew, who walks over with a prompt business-step to receive a leathern pouch from the stage-driver. He returns with it, — a few eager townspeople following upon his steps, — reenters his shop, and delivers the pouch within a glazed door in the corner, where the postmistress ex officio, Mrs. Abner Tew, a tall, gaunt woman in black bombazine and spectacles, proceeds to assort the Ashfield mail. By reason of this division of duties, the shop is known familiarly as the shop of “ the Tew partners.”

Among the waiting expectants who loiter about among the sugar-barrels of the grocery department, there presently appears — with a new tinkle of the little bell — a stout, ruddy man, just past middle age, in broad-brimmed white beaver and sober homespun suit, who is met with a deferential “Good day, Squire,” from one and another, as he falls successively into short parley with them. A selfpossessed, cheery man, who has strong opinions, and does not fear to express them ; Selectman for the last eight years, whp has presided in town-meeting time out of mind ; member of the Legislature, and once a Senator for the district. This was Giles Elderkin, Esq., the gentleman who, on behalf of the Ecclesiastical Society, had conducted the correspondence with the Reverend Mr. Johns ; and he was now waiting his reply. This is presently brought to him by the postmistress, who, catching a glimpse of the Squire through the glazed door, has taken the precaution to adjust her cap-strings and dexterously to flirt one or two of the more apparent creases out of her dingy bombazine. The letter brings acceptance, which the Squire, having made out by private study near to the dusky window, announces to Mrs.Tew,— begging her to inform the people who should happen in from “ up the road.”

“ I hope he ’ll suit, Squire,” says Mrs. Tew.

“ I hope he may, — hope he may, Mrs. Tew ; I hear well of him ; there’s good blood in him. I knew his lather, the Major, — likely man. I hope he may, Mrs. Tew.”

And the Squire, having penned a little notice, by favor of one of the Tew partners, proceeds to affix it to the meeting-house door ; after which he walks to his own house, with the assured step of a man who is conscious of having accomplished an important duty. It is the very house we just now saw with the ponderous ogees over its front, the balustrade upon its roof, and the dame in spectacles at the window : this latter being the spinster, Miss Meacham, elder sister to the wife of the Squire, and taking upon herself, with active zeal and a neatness that knew no bounds, the office of housekeeper. This was rendered necessary in a manner by the engagement of Mrs. Elderkin with a group of young flaxhaired children, and periodic threats of addition to the same. The hospitalities of the house were fully established, and no state official could visit the town without hearty invitation to the Squire’s table. The spinster received the announcement of the minister’s coming with a quiet gravity, and betook herself to the needed preparation.


MR. JOHNS, meantime, when he had left the Handby parlor, where we saw him last, and was fairly upon the stair, had replied to the suggestion of his little wife about the sermon on Revelations with a fugitive kiss, and said, “ I will think of it, Rachel.”

And he did think of it, — thought of it so well, that he left the beautiful sermon in his drawer, and took with him a Couple of strong doctrinal discourses. upon the private hearing of which his charming wife had commented by dropping asleep (poor thing !) in her chair.

But the strong men and women of Ashfield relished them better. There was a sermon for the morning on “ Regeneration the work only of grace ”; and another for the afternoon, on the outer leaf of which was written, in the parson’s bold hand, “ The doctrine of Election compatible with the infinite goodness of God.” It is hard to say which of the two was the better, or which commended itself most to the church full of people who listened. Deacon Tourtelot, — a short, wiry man, with reddish whiskers brushed primly forward, — sitting under the very droppings of the pulpit, with painful erectness, and listening grimly throughout, was inclined to the sermon of the morning. Dame Tourtelot, who overtopped her husband by half a head, and from her great scoop hat, trimmed with green, kept her keen eyes fastened intently upon the minister on trial, was enlisted in the same belief, until she heard the Deacon’s timid expression of preference, when she pounced upon him, and declared for the Election discourse. It was not her way to allow him to enjoy an opinion of his own getting. Miss Almira, their only child, and now grown into a spare womanhood, that was decorated with another scoop hat akin to the mother’s, — from under which hung two yellow festoons of ringlets tied with lively blue ribbons, — was steadfastly observant; though wearing a fagged air before the day was over, and consulting on one or two occasions a little vial of “salts,” with a side movement of the head, and an inquiring nostril.

Squire Elderkin, having thrown himself into a comfortable position in the corner of his square pew, is cheerfully attentive; and at one or two of the more marked passages of the sermon bestows a nod of approval, and a glance at Miss Meacham and Mrs. Elderkin, to receive their acknowledgment of the same. The young Elderkins (of whom three are of meeting-house size) are variously affected : Miss Dora, being turned of six, wears an air of some weariness, and having despatched all the edible matter upon a stalk of caraway, she uses the despoiled brush in keeping the youngest boy, Ned, in a state of uneasy wakefulness. Bob, ranking between the two in point of years, and being mechanically inclined, devotes himself to turning in their sockets the little bobbins which form a balustrade around the top of the pew ; but being diverted from this very suddenly by a sharp squeak that calls the attention of his Aunt Joanna, he assumes the penitential air of listener for full five minutes ; afterward he relieves himself by constructing a small meeting-house out of the psalm-books and Bible, his Aunt Joanna’s spectacle-case serving for a steeple.

There was an air of subdued reverence in the new clergyman, which was not only agreeable to the people in itself, but seemed to very many thoughtful ones to imply a certain respect for them and for the parish. The men of that day in Ashfield were intolerant of mere elegances, or of any jauntiness of manner. But Mr. Johns was so calm and serious, and yet gave so earnest expression to the old beliefs they had so long cherished, — he was so clearly wedded to all those rigidities by which the good people thought it a merit to cramp their religious thinking,— that there was but one opinion of his fitness.

Deacon Tourtelot, sidling down the aisle after service, out of hearing of his consort, says to Elderkin, “ Smart man, Squire.”

And tiie Squire nods acquiescence. “Sound sermonizer, — sound sermonizer, Deacon.”

These two opinions were as good as a majority-vote in the town of Ashfield, — all the more since the Squire was a thorough-going Jeffersonian Democrat, and the Deacon a warm Federalist, so far as the poor man could be warm at anything, who was on the alert every hour of his life to escape the hammer of his wife’s reproaches.

So it happened that the parish was called together, and an invitation extended to Brother Johns to continue his ministrations for a month further. Of course the novitiate understood this to be the crucial test ; and he accepted it with a composure, and a lack of impertinent effort to please them overmuch, which altogether charmed them. On four successive Saturdays he drove over to Ashfield, — sometimes stopping with one or the other of the two deacons, and at other times with Squire Elderkin, — and on one or two occasions taking his wife by special invitation. Of her, too, the people of Ashfield had but one opinion : that she was of a ductile temper was most easy to be seen ; and there was not a strong-minded woman of the parish but anticipated with delight the power and pleasure of moulding her to her wishes. The husband continued to preach agreeably to their notions of orthodoxy, and at the end of the month they gave him a “ call,” with the promise of four hundred dollars a year, besides sundry odds and ends made up by donation visits and otherwise.

This sum, which was not an inconsiderable one for those days, enabled the clergyman to rent as a parsonage the old house we have seen, with the big brazen knocker, and diamond lights in either half of its green door. It stood under the shade of two huge ashes, at a little remove back from the street, and within easy walk from the central common. A heavy dentilated cornice, from which the paint was peeling away in flaky patches, hung over the windows of the second floor. Within the door was a little entry — (for years and years the pastor’s hat and cane used to lie upon a table that stood just within the door) ; from the entry a cramped stairway, by three sharp angles, led to the floor above. To the right and left were two low parlors. The sun was shining broadly in the south one when the couple first entered the house.

“ Good ! ” said Rachel, with her pleasant, brisk tone,— “this shall be your study, Benjamin ; the bookcase here, the table there, a nice warm carpet, we 'll paper it with blue, the Major’s sword shall be hung over the mantel.”

“ Tut! tut! ” says the clergyman, “ a sword, Rachel, —in my study ? ”

“ To be sure! why not?” says Rachel. “And if you like, I will hang my picture, with the doves and the olive-branch, above it ; and there shall be a shelf for hyacinths in the window.”

Thus she ran on in her pretty housewifely manner, cooing like the doves she talked of, plotting the arrangement of the parlor opposite, of the long dining-room stretching athwart the house in the rear, and of the kitchen under a roof of its own, still farther back, — he all the while giving grave assent, as if he listened to her contrivance : he was only listening to the music of a sweet voice that somehow charmed Ids ear, and thanking God in his heart that such music was bestowed upon a sinful world, and praying that he might never listen too fondly.

Behind the house were yard, garden, orchard, and this last drooping away to a meadow. Over all these the pair of light feet pattered beside the master. “Here shall be lilies,” she said ; “there, a great bunch of mother’s peonies ; and by the gate, hollyhocks ” ; —he, by this time, plotting a sermon upon the vanities of the world.

Yet in due time it came to pass that the parsonage was all arranged according to the fancies of its mistress, — even to the Major’s sword and the twin doves. Esther, a stout middle-aged dame, and stanch Congregationalist, recommended by the good women of the parish, is installed in the kitchen as maid-of-allwork. As gardener, groom, (a sedate pony and square-topped chaise forming part of the establishment.) factotum, in short, — there is the frowzy-headed man Larkin, who has his quarters in an airy loft above the kitchen.

The brass knocker is scoured to its brightest. The parish is neighborly. Dame Tourtelot is impressive in her proffers of advice. The Tew partners, Elderkin, Meacham, and all the rest, meet the new housekeepers open-handed. Before mid-winter, the smoke of this new home was piling lazily into the sky above the tree-tops of Ashfield,— a home, as we shall find by and by, of much trial and much cheer. Twenty years after, and the master of it was master of it still, — strong, seemingly, as ever ; the brass knocker shining on the door ; the sword and the doves in place. But the pattering feet, — the voice that made music, — the tender, wifely plotting, — the cheery sunshine that smote upon her as she talked, — alas for us ! — “ All is Vanity ! ”