Doctor Johns

VII.

IT was not easy in that day to bring together the opinions of a Connecticut parish that had been jostled apart by a parochial quarrel, and where old grievances were festering. Indeed, it is never easy to do this, and unite opinions upon a new comer, unless he have some rare gift of eloquence, which so dazes the good people that they can no longer remember their petty griefs, or unless he manage with rare tact to pass lightly over the sore points, and to anoint them by a careful hand with such healing salves as he can concoct out of his pastoral charities. Mr. Johns had neither art nor eloquence, as commonly understood; yet he effected a blending of all interests by the simple, earnest gravity ot his character. He ignored all angry disputation ; he ignored its results. He came as a shepherd to a deserted sheepfold ; he came to preach the Bible doctrines in their literalness. He had no reproofs, save for those who refused the offers of God’s mercy, — no commendation, save for those who sought His grace whose favor is life everlasting. There were no metaphysical niceties in his discourses, athwart which keen disputants might poise themselves for close and angry conflict; he recognized no necessities but the great ones of repentance and faith ; and all the mysteries of the Will he was accustomed to solve by grand utterance of that text which he loved above all others, — however much it may have troubled him in his discussion of Election, — “ Whosoever will, let him come and drink of the water of life freely.”

Inheriting as he did all the religious affinities of his mother, these were compacted and made sensitive by years of silent protest against the proud worldly sufficiency of his father, the Major. Such qualities and experience found repose in the unyielding dogmas of the Westminster divines. At thirty the clergyman was as aged as most men of forty-five,—seared by the severity of his opinions, and the unshaken tenacity with which he held them. He was by nature a quiet, almost a timid man ; but over the old white desk and crimson cushion, with the choir of singers in his front and the Bible under his hand, he grew into wonderful boldness. He cherished an exalted idea of the dignity of his office, — a dignity which he determined to maintain to the utmost of his power ; but in the pulpit only did the full measure of this exaltation come over him. Thence he looked down serenely upon the flock of which he was the appointed guide, and among whom his duty lay. The shepherd leading his sheep was no figure of speech for him ; he was commissioned to their care, and was conducting them old men and maidens, boys and gray-haired women — athwart the dangers of the world, toward the great fold. On one side always the fires of hell were gaping ; and on the other were blazing the great candlesticks around the throne.

But when, on some occasion, he had, under the full weight of his office, inveighed against a damning evil, and, as he fondly hoped by the stillness in the old meeting-house, wrought upon sinners effectually, it was disheartening to be met by some hoary member of his flock, whom perhaps he had borne particularly in mind, and to be greeted cheerfully with, “Capital sermon, Mr. Johns ! those are the sort that do the business ! I like those, parson !" The poor man, humiliated, would bow his thanks. He lacked the art (it it be an art) to press the matter home, when he met one of his parishioners thus. Indeed, his sense of the importance of his calling and his extreme conscientiousness gave him an air of timidity outside the pulpit, which ottered great contrast to that which he wore in the heat of his sermonizing. Not that he forgot the dignity of his position for a moment, but he wore it too trenchantly ; he could never unbend to the free play of side-talk. Hence he could not look upon the familiar spirit of badinage in which some of his brethren of the profession indulged, without serious doubts of their complete submission to the Heavenly King. Always the weight of his solemn duties pressed sorely on him ; always amid pitfalls he was conducting his little flock toward the glories of the Great Court. There is many a man narrowed and sharpened by metaphysical inquiry to such a degree as to count the indirection and freedom ot kindly chat irksome, and the occasion of a needless blunting of that quick mental edge with which he must scathe all he touches. But the stiffness of Mr. Johns was not that of constant mental strain ; he did not refine upon his dogmas; but he gave them such hearty entertainment, and so inwrapped his spirit with their ponderous gravity, that he could not disrobe in a moment, or uncover to every chance comer.

It is quite possible that by reason of this grave taciturnity the clergyman won more surely upon the respect of his people. “He is engrossed,” said they, “ with greater matters ; and in all secular affairs he recognizes our superior discernment.” Thus his inaptitude in current speech was construed by them into a delicate flattery. They greatly relished his didactic, argumentative sermonizing, since theirs was a religion not so much of the sensibilities as of the intellect. They agonized toward the truth, if not by intense thinking, yet by what many good people are apt to mistake tor it, — immense endurance of the prolix thought of others.

If the idea of universal depravity had been ignored, — as it sometimes is in these latitudinarian days, — or the notion of any available or worthy Christian culture, as distinct from a direct and clearly defined agency, both as to time and force, of the Spirit, had been entertained, he would have lost half of the elements by which his arguments gained logical sequence. But, laboring his way from stake to stake of the old dogmas of the Westminster divines, he fastened to them stoutly, and swept round from each as a centre a great scathing circle of deductions, that beat wofully upon the heads of unbelievers. And if a preacher attack only unbelievers, he has the world with him, now as then ; it is only he who has the bad taste to meddle with the caprices of believers who gets the raps and the orders of dismissal.

Thus it happened that good Mr. Johns came to win the good-will of all the parish of Ashfield, while he challenged their respect by his uniform gravity. It is even possible that a consciousness of a certain stateliness and stiffness of manner became in some measure a source of pride to him, and that he enjoyed, in his subdued way, the disposition of the lads of the town to give him a wide pass, instead of brushing brusquely against him, as if he were some other than the parson.

In those days he wrote to his sister Eliza, —

“ We are fairly settled in a pleasant home upon the main street. The meeting-house, which you will remember, is near by; and I have, by the blessing of God, a full attendance every Lord’s day. They listen to my poor sermons with commendable earnestness ; and I trust they may prove to them ‘a savor of life unto life.’ We also find the people of the town neighborly and kind. Squire Elderkin has proved particularly so, and is a very energetic man in all matters relating to the parish. I fear greatly, however, that he still lacks the intimate favor of God, and has not humbled himself to entire submission. Yet he is constant in his observance of nearly all the outward forms of devotion and of worship ; and we hear of his charities in every house we enter. Strange mystery of Providence, that he should not long since have been broken down by grace, and become in all things a devout follower of the Master !

I hope yet to see him brought a humble suppliant into the fold. His wife is a most excellent person, lowly in her faith, and zealous of good works. The same may also be said of their worthy maiden sister, Miss Joanna Meacham, who is, of a truth, a matron in Israel. Rachel and myself frequently take tea at their house ; and she is much interested in the little family of Elderkins, who, I am glad to say, enjoy excellent advantages, and such of them as are of proper age are duly taught in the Shorter Westminster Catechism.

“ Deacon Tourtelot, another of our neighbors, is a devout man ; and Dame Tourtelot (as she is commonly called) is a woman of quite extraordinary zeal and capacity. Their daughter Almira is untiring in attendance, and aids the services by singing treble. Deacon Simmons, who lives at quite a distance from us, is represented to be a man of large means and earnest in the faith. He has a large farm, and also a distillery, both of which are said to be managed with great foresight and prudence. I trust that the reports which I hear occasionally of his penuriousness are not wholly true, and that in due time his hand will be opened by divine grace to a more effectual showing forth of the deeds of charity. I do not allow myself to entertain any of the scandals which unfortunately belong more or less to every parish, and which so interrupt the growth of that Christian love which is the parent of all virtues ; and I trust that these good people may come in time to see that it is better to live together in harmony than to foment those bickerings which have led so recently to the dismissal of my poor brother in the Gospel. Our home affairs are, I believe, managed prudently, — the two servants being most excellent persons, and my little Rachel a very sunbeam in the house.”

And the little sunbeam writes to Mrs. Handby at about the same date, —we will say from six to eight months after their entry, —

“ Everything goes on delightfully, dear mamma. Esther is a good creature, and helps me wonderfully. You would laugh to see me fingering the raw meats at the butcher’s cart to choose nice pieces, which I really can do now; and it is fortunate I can, for the goodman Benjamin knows positively nothing of such things, and I am sure would n't be able to tell mutton from beef.

“ The little parlor is nicely furnished ; there is an elegant hair sofa, and over the mantel is the portrait of Major Johns ; and then the goodman has insisted upon hanging under the looking-glass may old sampler in crewel, with a gilt frame around it ; on the table is the illustrated ' Pilgrim’s Progress ’ papa gave me, and a volume of ' Calmet’s Dictionary’ I have taken out of the study, — it is full of such beautiful pictures,— and ‘Mrs. Hannah More’ in full gilt. The big Bible you gave us, the goodman says, is too large for easy handling ; so it is kept on a stand in the corner, with the great fly-brush of peacock’s feathers hanging over it. I have put charming blue chintz curtains in the spare chamber, and arranged everything there very nicely ; so that, before a certain event, you must be sure to come and take possession.

“ Last night we took tea again with the Elderkins, and Mrs. Elderkin was as kind to me as ever, and Miss Meacham is an excellent woman, and the little ones are loves of children ; and I wish you could see them. But you will, you know, quite soon. Sometimes I fall to crying, when I think of it all; and then the goodman comes and puts his hand on my head, and says, — ‘ Rachel! Rachel, my dear ! is this your gratitude for all God’s mercies ? ’ And then I jump up, and kiss his grave face, and laugh through my tears. He is a dear good man. This is all very foolish, I suppose ; but, mamma, is n’t it the way with all women ?

“ Dame Tourtelot is a great storm of a creature, and she comes down upon us every now and then, and advises me about the housekeeping and the table, and the servants, and Benjamin, — giving me a great many good hints, I suppose ; but in such a way, and calling me ' my child,’ as makes me feel good for nothing, and as if I were not fit to be mistress. Miss Almira is a quiet thing, and has a piano. She dresses very queerly, and, I have been told, has written poetry for the ' Hartford Courant,’ over two stars — * *. She seems a good creature, though, and comes to see us often. The chaise is a great comfort, and our old horse Dobbins is a good, sober horse. Benjamin often takes me with him in his drives to see the parishioners who live out of town. He tells me about the trees and the flowers, and a thousand matters I never heard of. Indeed, he is a good man, and he knows a world of things.”

The tender-hearted, kind soul makes her way into the best graces of the people of Ashfield : the older ones charmed with that blithe spirit of hers, and all the younger ones mating easily with her simple, outspoken naturalness. She goes freely everywhere; she is not stiffened by any ceremony, nor does she carry any stately notions of the dignity of her office, — some few there may be who wish that she had a keener sense of the importance of her position ; she even bursts unannounced into the little glazed corner of the Tew partners, where she prattles away with the sedate Mistress Tew in good, kindly fashion, winning that stiff old lady’s heart, and moving her to declare to all customers that the parson’s wife has no pride about her, and is “a dear little thing, to be sure ! ”

On summer evenings, Dobbins is to be seen, two or three times in the week, jogging along before the square-topped chaise, upon some highway that leads into the town, with the parson seated within, with slackened rein, and in thoughtful mood, from which he rouses himself from time to time with a testy twitch and noisy chirrup that urge the poor beast into a faster gait. All the while the little wife sits beside him, as if a twittering sparrow had nestled itself upon the same perch with some grave owl, and sat with him side by side, watching for the big eyes to turn upon her, and chirping some pretty response for every solemn utterance of the wise old bird beside her.

VIII.

ON the return from one of these parochial drives, not long after their establishment at Ashfield, it happened that the good parson and his wife were not a little startled at sight of a stranger lounging familiarly at their door. A little roof jutted out over the entrance to the parsonage, without any apparent support, and flanking the door were two plank seats, with their ends toward the street, cut away into the shape of those “settles” which used to be seen in country taverns, and which here seemed to invite a quiet out-of-door gossip. But the grave manner of the parson had never invited to a very familiar use of this loitering-place, even by the most devoted of the parishioners ; and the appearance of a stranger of some two-and-thirty years, with something in his manner, as much as in his dress, which tokl of large familiarity with the world, lounging upon this little porch, had amazed the passers-by, as much as it now did the couple who drove up slowly in the square-topped chaise.

“Who can it be, Benjamin ?” says Rachel.

“ I really can’t say,” returns the parson.

“ He seems very much at home, my dear,” — as indeed he does, with his feet stretched out upon the bench, and eyeing curiously the approaching vehicle.

As it draws near, his observation being apparently satisfactory, he walks briskly down to the gate, and greets the parson with,—

“My dear Johns, I 'm delighted to see you ! ”

At this the parson knew him, and greets him,—

“ Maverick, upon my word ! ” and offers his hand.

“And this is Mrs. Johns, I suppose,” says the stranger, bowing graciously. “Allow me, Madam”; and he assists her to alight. “ Your husband and myself were old college-friends, partners of the same bench, and I ’ve used no ceremony, you see, in finding him out.”

Rachel, eyeing him furtively, and with a little rustic courtesy, “ is glad to see any of her husband’s old friends.”

The parson — upon his feet now — shakes the stranger’s hand heartily again.

“ I am very glad to see you, Maverick ; but I thought you were out of the country.”

“So I have been, Johns ; am home only upon a visit, and hearing by accident that you had become a clergyman— as I always thought you would — and were settled hereabout, I determined to run down and see you before sailing again.”

“ You must stop with me. Rachel, dear, will you have the spare room made ready tor Mr. Maverick ? ”

“ My dear Madam, don’t give yourself the least trouble ; I am an old traveller, and can make myself quite comfortable at the tavern yonder ; but if it ’s altogether convenient, I shall be delighted to pass the night under the roof of my old friend. I shall be off to-morrow noon,” continued he, turning to the parson, “and until then I want you to put off your sermons and make me one of your parishioners.”

So they all went into the parsonage together.

Frank Maverick, as he had said, had shared the same bench with Johns in college ; and between them, unlike as they were in character, there had grown up a strong friendship,—one of those singular intimacies which bind the gravest men to the most cheery and reckless. Maverick was forever running into scrapes and consulting the cool head of Johns to help him out of them. There was never a tutor’s windows to be broken in, or a callithumpian frolic, (which were in vogue in those days,) but Maverick bore a hand in both ; and somehow, by a marvellous address that belonged to him, always managed to escape, or at most to receive only some grave admonition from the academic authorities. Johns advised with him, (giving as serious advice then as he could give now,) and added from time to time such assistance in Ids studies as a plodding man can always lend to one of quick brain, who makes no reckoning of time.

Upon a certain occasion Maverick had gone over with Johns to his home, and the Major had taken an immense fancy to the buoyant young fellow, so full of spirits, and so charmingly frank. “ If your characters could only be welded together,” he used to say to his son, “you would both be the better for it; he a little of your gravity, and you something of his rollicking carelessness.” This bound Johns to his friend more closely than ever. There was, moreover. great honesty and conscientiousness in the lad’s composition : he could beat in a tutor’s window for the frolic of the thing, and by way of paying off some old grudge for a black mark ; but there was a strong spice of humanity at the bottom even of his frolics. It happened one day, that his friend Ben Johns told him that one of the bats which had done terrible execution on the tutor’s windows had also played havoc on his table, breaking a bottle of ink, and deluging some half-dozen of the tutor’s books ; “ and do you know,” said Johns, “the poor man who has made such a loss is saving up all his pay here for a mother and two or three fatherless children ? ”

“ The Dense he is ! ” said Maverick, and his hand went to his pocket, which was always pretty full. “ I say, Johns, don't peach on me, but I think I must have thrown that bat, (which Johns knew to be hardly possible, for he had only come up at the end of the row,) and I want you to get this money to him, to make those books good again. Will you do it, old fellow ? ”

This was the sort of character to win upon the quiet son of the Major. “ If he were only more earnest,” he used to say, — “ if he could give up his trifling, — if he would only buckle down to serious study, as some of us do, what great things he might accomplish ! ” A common enough fancy among those of riper years, — as if all the outlets of a man’s nerve-power could be dammed into what shape the possessor would !

Maverick was altogether his old self this night at the parsonage. Rachel listened admiringly, as he told of his travel and of his foreign experiences. He was the son of a merchant of an Eastern seaport who had been long engaged in the Mediterranean trade, with a branch house at Marseilles ; and thither Frank had gone two or three years after leaving college, to fill some subordinate post, and finally to work his way into a partnership, which he now held. Of course he had not lived there those seven or eight years last past without his visit to Paris ; and his easy, careless way of describing what he had seen there in Napoleon’s day — the fêtes, the processions, the display—was a kind of talk not often heard in a New England village, and which took a strong hold upon the imagination of Rachel.

“ And to think,” says the parson, “ that such a people are wholly infidel ! ”

“Well, well, I don’t know,” says Maverick ; “ I think I have seen a good deal of faith in the Popish churches.”

“ Faith in images ; faith in the Virgin ; faith in mummery,” says Johns, with a sigh. “ ’T is always the scarlet woman of Babylon ! ”

“ I know,” says Maverick, smiling, “ these things are not much to your taste ; but we have our Protestant chapels, too.”

“ Not much better, I fear,” says Johns. “ They are sadly impregnated with the Genevese Sociniamsm.”

This was about the time that the orthodox Louis Empaytaz was suffering the rebuke of the Swiss church authorities for his “Considerations upon the Divinity of Jesus Christ.” Aside from this, all the parson’s notions of French religion and of French philosophy were of the most aggravated degree of bitterness. That set of Voltaire, which the Major, his father, had once purchased, had not been without its fruit, — not legitimate, indeed, but most decided. The books so cautiously put out of sight — like all such—had caught the attention of the son ; whereupon his mother had given him so terrible an account of French infidelity, and such a fearful story of Voltaire’s dying remorse, — current in orthodox circles,

— as had caught strong hold upon the mind of the boy. All Frenchmen he had learned to look upon as the children of Satan, and their language as the language of hell. With these sentiments very sincerely entertained, he regarded his poor friend as one living at the very door-posts of Pandemonium, and hoped, by God’s mercy, to throw around him even now a little of the protecting grace which should keep him from utter destruction. But though this was uppermost in his mind, it did not forbid a grateful outflow of his old sympathies and expressions of interest in all that concerned his friend. It seemed to him that his easy refinement of manner, in such contrast with the ceremonious stiffness of the New England customs of speech, was but the sliming over of the Serpent’s tongue, preparatory to a dreadful swallowing of soul and body; and the careless grace of talk, which so charmed the innocent Rachel, appeared to the exacting Puritan a token of the enslavement of his old friend to sense and the guile of this world.

Nine o’clock was the time for evening prayers at the parsonage, which under no circumstances were ever omitted; and as the little clock in the dining-room chimed the hour, Mr. Johns rose to lead the way from his study, where they had passed the evening.

‘‘It ’s our hour for family prayer,” says Johns; “will you come with us ? ”

“ Most certainly,” says Maverick, rising. “ I should be sorry not to have this little scene of New England life to take back with me : it will recall home pleasantly.”

The servants were summoned, and the parson read in his wonted way a chapter, — not selected, but designated by the old book-mark, which was carried forward from day to day throughout the sacred volume. In his prayer the parson asked specially for Divine Grace to overshadow all those journeying from their homes, —to protect them, — to keep alive in their hearts the teachings of their youth, — to shield them from the insidious influences of sin and of the world, and to bring them in God’s own good time into the fold of the elect.

Shortly after prayers Rachel retired for the night. The parson and his old friend talked for an hour or more in the study, but always as men whose thoughts were unlike : Maverick filled and exuberant with the prospects of this life; and the parson, by a settled purpose, which seemed like instinct, making all his observations bear upon futurity.

“ The poor man has grown very narrow,” thought Maverick.

And yet Johns entered with friendly interest into the schemes of his companion.

“ So you count upon spending your life there ? ” says the parson.

“It is quite probable,” says Maverick. “ I am doing exceedingly well; the climate, bating some harsh winds in winter, is enjoyable. Why should n’t I ? ”

“ It’s a question to put to your conscience,” says Johns, “ not to me. A man can but do his duty, as well there as here perhaps. A little graft of NewEnglandism may possibly work good. Do you mean to marry in France, Maverick ? ”

A shade passed over the face of his friend ; but recovering himself, with a little musical laugh, he said, —

“ I really can’t say : there are very charming women there, Johns.”

“ I am afraid so,” uttered the parson, dryly.

“ By the way,” said Maverick, — “you will excuse me, — but you will be having a family by and by,” — at which the parson fairly blushed, — “you must let me send over some little gift for your first boy ; it sha’n’t be one that will harm him, though it comes from our heathen side of the world.”

“There’s a gift you might bestow, Maverick, that I should value beyond price.”

“ Pray what Is it ? ”

“ Live such a life, my friend, that I could say to any boy of mine, ‘ Follow the example of that man.’ ”

“ Ah,” said Maverick, with his easy, infectious laugh, “ that’s more than I can promise. To tell the truth, Johns, I don't believe I could by any possibility fall into the prim, stiff ways which make a man commendable hereabout. Even if I were religiously disposed, or should ever think of adopting your profession, I fancy I should take to the gown and liturgy, as giving a little freer movement to my taste. You don't like to think of that, I ’ll wager.”

“You might do worse things,” said the parson, sadly.

“ I know I might,” said Maverick, thoughtfully ; “ I greatly fear I shall. Yet it’s not altogether a bad life I ’m looking forward to, Johns: we 'll say ten or fifteen more years of business on the other side ; marrying sometime in the interval, — certainly not until I have a good revenue ; then, possibly, I may come over among you again, establish a pretty home in the neighborhood of one of your towns ; look after a girl and boy or two, who may have come into the family; get the title of Squire ; give fairly to the missionary societies ; take my place in a good big family-pew ; dabble in politics, perhaps, so that people shall dub me ‘ Honorable ’ : is n't that a fair show, Johns ? ”

There was a thief in the candle, which the parson removed with the snuffers.

“ As for yourself,” continued Maverick, “they ’ll give you the title of Doctor after a few years ! ” — The parson raised his hand, as if to put away the thought. — “I know,” continued his friend, “ you don’t seek worldly honors: but they will drift upon you ; they ’ll all love you hereabout, in spite of your seriousness (the parson smiled) ; you 11 have your house full of children ; you ’ll be putting a wing here and a wing there ; and when I come back, twenty years hence, if I live, I shall find you comfortably gray, and your pretty wife in spectacles, knitting mittens for the youngest boy, and the oldest at college, and your girls grown into tall village belles ; — but, Johns, don’t, I beg, be too strict with them ; you can’t make a merry young creature the better by insisting upon seriousness ; you can’t crowd goodness into a body by pounding upon it. What are you thinking of, Johns ? ”

The parson was sitting with his eyes bent upon a certain figure in the green and red Scotch carpet.

“ Thinking, Maverick, that in twenty years’ time, if alive, we may be less fit for heaven than we are to-day.”

There was a pitying kindliness in the tone of the minister, as he said this, which touched Maverick.

“ There ’s no doubt on your score, Johns, God bless you ! But we must paddle our own boats : I dare say you ’ll come out a long way before me ; you always did, you know. Every man to his path.”

“There’s but one,” said Johns, solemnly, “that leadeth to eternal rest.”

“ Yes, I know,” says Maverick, with a gay smile upon his face, which the parson remembered long after, “ we are the goats ; but you must have a little pity on us, for all that.”

With these words they parted for the night.

Next morning, before the minister was astir, Maverick was strolling about the garden and the village street, and at breakfast appeared with a little bunch of violets he had gathered from Rachel’s flower-patch, and laid them by her plate. (It was a graceful attention, that not even the clergyman had ever paid to her.) And he further delighted her with a description of some floral fête which he had witnessed at Marseilles, in the year of the Restoration.

“ They welcomed their old masters, then ? ” said the parson.

“ Perhaps so; one can never say. The French express their joy with flowers, and they bury their grief with flowers. I like them for it; I think there’s a ripe philosophy in it.”

“ A heathen philosophy,” said the minister.

At noon Maverick left upon the old swaying stage-coach,—looking out, as he passed, upon the parsonage, with its quaintly panelled door, and its diamond lights, of which he long kept the image in his mind. That brazen knocker he seemed to hear in later years, beating, — beating as it his brain lay under it.

“ I think Mr. Frank Maverick is a most charming man.” said the pretty Mrs. Johns to her husband.

“ He is, Rachel, and generous and open-hearted, — and yet, in the sight of Heaven, I fear, a miserable sinner.”

“ But, Benjamin, my dear, we are all sinners.”

“All, — all, Rachel, God help us ! ”

IX.

IN December of the year 1820 came about a certain event of which hint has been already given by the party chiefly concerned ; and Mrs. Johns presented her husband with a fine boy, who was in due time christened — Reuben.

Mrs. Handby was present at this eventful period, occupying the guestchamber, and delighting in all the little adornments that had been prepared by the loving hands of her daughter ; and upon the following Sabbath, Mr. Johns, for the first time since his entrance upon the pastoral duties of Ashfield, ventured to repeat an old sermon. Dame Tourtelot had been present on the momentous occasion, with such a tempest of suggestions in regard to the wrappings and feeding of the new comer, that the poor mother had quietly begged the good clergyman to decoy her, on her next visit, into his study. This he did, and succeeded in fastening her with a discussion upon the import of the word baptize, in which lie was in a fair way of being carried by storm, if he had not retreated under cover of his Greek Lexicon.

Mrs. Elderkin had been zealous in neighborly offices, and had brought, in addition to a great basket of needed appliances, a silver porringer, which, with wonderful foresight, had been ordered from a Hartford jeweller in advance. The out-of-door man. Larkin, took a well-meaning pride in this accession to the family, — walking up and down the street with a broad grin upon his face. He also became the bearer, in behalf of the Tew partners, of a certain artful contrivance of tin ware for the speedy stewing of pap, which, considering that the donors were childless people, was esteemed a very great mark of respect for the minister.

Would it be strange, if the father felt a new ambition stirring in him, as he listened from his study to that cry of a child in the house ? He does feel it, and struggles against it. Are not all his flock his spiritual children? and is he not appointed of Heaven to lead them toward the rest which is promised ? Should that babe be more to him than a hundred others who are struggling through life’s snares wearily ? It may touch him, indeed, cruelly to think it ; but is not the soul of the most worthless person of his parish as large in the eye of the Master as this of his first-born ? Shall these human ties supplant the spiritual ones by which we are all coheirs of eternal death or of eternal life ? And in this way the minister schools himself against too demonstrative a joy or love, and prays God silently that His gift may not be a temptation.

For all this, however, there is many a walk which would have been taken of old under the orchard trees now transferred to the chamber, where he paces back and forth with the babe in his arms, soothing its outcry, as he thinks out his discourse for the following Sabbath.

In due time Mrs. Handby returns to her home. The little child pushes through its first month of venturesome encounter with the rough world it has entered upon bravely; and the household is restored to its uniform placidity. The affairs of the parish follow their accustomed course. From time to time there are meetings of the “Consociation,” or other ministerial assemblages, in the town, when the parsonage is overflowing, and Rachel, with a simple grace, is compelled to do the honors to a corps of the Congregational brotherhood. As for the parson, he was like a child in all household matters. Over and over he would invite his brethren flocking in from the neighboring villages to pass the night with him, when Rachel would decoy him into a corner, and declare, with a most pitiable look of distress, that not a bed was unoccupied in the house. Whereupon the goodman would quietly take his hat, and trudge away to Squire Elderkin’s, or, on rarer occasions, to Deacon Tourtelot’s, and ask the favor of lodging with them one of his clerical brethren.

At other times, before some such occasion of clerical entertainment, the little housewife, supported by Esther with broom and a great array oi mops, would wait upon the parson in his study and order him away to his walk in the orchard, — an order which the poor man never ventured to resist; but, taking perhaps a pocket volume of Doddridge, or oi Cowper, — the only poet he habitually read, — he would sally out with hat and cane, — this latter a gitt of an admiring parishioner, which it pleased Rachel he should use, and which she always brought to him at such times, with a little childish mime of half-entreaty and half-command that it was not in his heart to resist, and which on rare occasions (that were subject of self-accusation afterward) provoked him to an answering kiss. At which Rachel: —

“ Now go and leave us, please ; there ’s a good man ! And mind,” (shaking her forefinger at him,) “ dinner at half past twelve: Larkin will blow the shell.”

The parson, as he paced back and forth under the apple-trees, out of sight, and feeling the need of more vigorous exercise than his usual meditative gait afforded, would on occasions brandish his cane and assume a military air and stride, (he remembered the Major’s only too well,) getting in a glow with the unusual movement, and in the heat of it thanking God for all the blessings that had befallen him : a pleasant home; a loving wife ; a little boy to bear the name, in which, with all his spiritual tendencies, he yet took a very human pride ; health,—and he whisked his cane as vigorously as ever the Major had done his cumbrous sword,—the world’s comforts ; a congregation that met him kindly, that listened kindly. Was he not leading them in the path of salvation, and rejoicing in the leadership ?

And then, to himself, — “ Be careful, careful, Benjamin Johns, that you take not too great a pride in this work and home of yours. You are but an instrument in greater hands ; He doeth with you what seemeth Him best. Let not the enticements of the world be too near your thought.” In this way it was that the minister pruned down all the shoots of his natural affections, lest they might prove a decoy to him, and wrapped himself ever more closely in the rigors of his chosen theology.

As the boy Reuben grows, and gains a firmer footing, he sometimes totters beside the clergyman in these orchard walks, clinging blindly to his hand, and lifting his uncertain feet with great effort over the interrupting tufts of grass, unheeded by the minister, who is pondering some late editorial of the “ Boston Recorder.” But far oftener the boy is with the mother, burying his face in that dear lap of hers, — lifting the wet face to have tears kissed away and forgotten. And as he thrives and takes the strength of three or four years, he walks beside her under the trees of the village street, clad in such humble finery as the Handby grandparents may have bestowed; and he happens oftenest, on these strolls with Rachel, into the hospitable home of the Elderkins, where there are little ones to romp with the boy. Most noticeable of all, just now, one Philip Elderkin, (of whom more will have to be said as this story progresses,) only a year the senior of Reuben, but of far stouter frame, who looks admiringly on the minister’s child, and as he grows warm in play frights him with some show of threat, which makes the little Reuben run for cover to the arms of Rachel. Whereat the mother kisses him into boldness, and tells him that Phil is a good boy and means no harm to him.

Often, too, in the square-topped chaise, the child is seated on a little stool between the parson and his wile, as they drive away upon their visits to the outskirts of the parish, — puzzling them with those strange questions which come from a boy just exploring his way into the world of talk.

“ Benjamin,” says Rachel, as they were nearing home upon one of these drives, “ Reuben is quite a large boy now, you know ; have you ever written to your friend, Mr. Maverick? You remember he promised a gift for him.”

“Never,” said the minister, whose goodness rarely took the shape of letter-writing, — least of all where the task would seem to remind of a promised favor.

“You’ve not forgotten it? You’ve not forgotten Mr. Maverick?”

“ Not forgotten, Rachel, — not forgotten to pray for him.”

“ I would write, Benjamin; it might be something that would be of service to Reuben. Please don't torget it, Benjamin.”

And the minister promised.

In the autumn of 1824, — the minister of Ashfield being still in good favor with nearly all his parishioners, and his wife Rachel being still greatly beloved, — a rumor ran through the town, one day, that there was serious illness at the parsonage, the Doctor’s horse and saddle-bags being observed in waiting at the front gate for two hours together. Following close upon this, the Tew partners reported — having received undoubted information from Larkin, who still kept in his old service — that a daughter was born to the minister, but so feeble that there were grave doubts if the young Rachel could survive. The report was well founded ; and after three or four days of desperate struggle with life, the poor child dropped away. Thus death came into the parsonage with so faint and shadowy a tread, it hardly startled one. The babe had been christened in the midst of its short struggle, and in this the father found such comfort as he could ; yet reckoning the poor, fluttering little soul as a sinner in Adam, through whom all men fell, he confided it with a great sigh to God.

It would have been well, if his grief had rested there. But two days thereafter there was a rumor on the village street, — flying like the wind, as such rumors do, from house to house, — “ The minister’s wife is dead ! ”

“ I want to know !” said Mrs. Tew, lifting herself from her task of assorting the mail, and removing her spectacles in nervous haste. “ Do tell ! It a’n't possible ! Miss Johns dead ? ”

“Yes,” says Larkin, “as true as I live, she’s dead ” ; and his voice broke as he said it, — the kind little woman had so won upon him.

Squire Elderkin, like a good Christian, came hurrying to the parsonage to know what this strange report could mean. The study was unoccupied. With the familiarity of an old friend he made his way up the cramped stairs. The chamber-door was flung wide open : there was no reason why the whole parish might not come in. The nurse, sobbing in a corner, was swaying back and forth, her hands folded across her lap. Reuben, clinging to the coverlet, was feeling his way along the bed, if by chance his mother’s hand might catch hold upon his ; and the minister standing with a chair before him, his eyes turned to heaven (the same calm attitude which he took at his evening prayer-meeting) was entreating God to “ be over his house, to strengthen him, to pour down his Spirit on him, to bind up the bruised hearts,—to spare,— spare”-

Even the stout Squire Elderkin withdraws outside the door, that he may the better conceal his emotion.

The death happened on a Friday. The Squire, after a few faltering expressions of sympathy, asked regarding the burial. “ Should it not be on Sunday ?”

“Not on Sunday,” says Mr. Johns; “ God help me, Squire, — but this is not a work of necessity or mercy. Let it be on Monday.”

“ On Monday, then,” said Elderkin, — “and let me take the arrangement of it all off your thought; and we will provide some one to preach for you on the Sabbath.”

“ No, Mr. Elderkin, no ; I am always myself in the pulpit. I shall find courage there.”

And he did. A stranger would not have suspected that the preacher’s wile lay dead at home ; the same unction and earnestness that had always characterized him ; the same unyielding rigidity of doctrine : “ Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

Once only —it was in the reading of the last hymn in the afternoon service

— his voice broke, and he sat down half through. But as the song rose under the old roof of the meeting-house, his courage rose with it. He seemed ashamed of the transitory weakness. What right had he to bring private griefs to such a place ? What right had the leader to faint, when the army were pressing forward to the triumph God had promised to the faithful? So it was in a kind of ecstasy that he rose, and joined with a firm, loud voice in the final doxology.

One or two of the good old ladies, with a sad misconception of the force that was in him, and of the divine aid which seemed vouchsafed to him during the service; came to him, as he passed out, to give him greeting and a word of condolence. For that time only he passed them by, as if they had been wooden images. His spirit had been strained to its uttermost, and would bear no more. He made his way home with an ungainly, swift gait, — home to the dear bedside, — down upon his knees, — struggling with his weakness,

— praying.

At the tea-hour Esther knocked ; but in vain. An hour after, his boy came, — came at the old woman’s suggestion, (who had now the care of him.) and knelt by his side.

“ Reuben, — my boy ! ”

“ She ’s in heaven, is n't she, father ? ’.’

“ God only knows, my son. He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy.”

Small as he was, the boy flushed at this : —

“ I think it’s a bad God, if she is n’t in heaven.’

“ Nay, Reuben, little one, blaspheme not : His ways are not as our ways. Kiss her now, and we will sit down to our supper.”

And so they passed out together to their lonely repast. It had been a cheerful meal in days gone, this Sunday’s supper. For the dinner, owing to the scruples of the parson, was but a cold lunch always ; and in the excited state in which the preacher found himself between services, there was little of speech; even Reuben’s prattle, if he ventured upon it, caught a quick “ Hist!" from the mamma. But with the return of Esther from the afternoon Bible-class, there was a big fire lighted in the kitchen, and some warm dishes served, such as diffused an appetizing odor through the house. The clergyman, too, wore an air Of relief, having preached his two sermons, and showing a capital appetite. like most men who have acquitted themselves of a fatiguing duty. Besides which, the parson guarded that old New England custom of beginning his Sabbath at sundown on Saturday, — so that, by the time the supper of Sunday was fairly over, Reuben could be counting it no sin, if he should steal a run into the orchard. Nay, it is quite probable that the poor little woman who was dead had always welcomed cheerily the opened door of Sunday evening, and the relaxing gravity, as night fell, of her husband’s starched look.

What wonder, if she had loved, even as much as the congregational singing, the music of the birds at the dusk of a summer’s day? It was hard measure which many of the old divines meted out, in excluding from their ideas of worship all alliance with the charms of Nature, or indeed with any beauties save those which were purely spiritual. It is certain that the poor woman had enjoyed immensely those Sabbath-evening strolls through the garden and orchard, hand in hand with Reuben and the minister, — with such keen and exhilarating sense of God’s goodness, of trust in Him, of hope, as was not invariably wakened by the sermons of her Benjamin.

On the evening of which we speak, the father and son walked down the orchard alone. The birds sang their merriest as day closed in ; and as they turned upon their walk, and the good man saw through the vista of garden and orchard a bright light flitting across an upper window of his house, the mad hope flashed upon him for an instant (such baseless fancies will sometimes possess the calmest minds) that she had waked,—his Rachel, — and was there to meet him. The next moment the light and the hope were gone. His fingers gave such a convulsive grip upon the hand of his little boy that Reuben cried out with pain, “ Papa, papa, you hurt me ! ”

The parson bent down and kissed him.