MEANTIME Reuben was gaining, month by month, in a knowledge of the world, — at least of such portion of it as came within the range of his vision in New York. He imagined it, indeed, a very large portion, and took airs upon himself in consequence. He thought with due commiseration of the humble people of Ashfield. He wonders how he could have tolerated so long their simple ways. The Eagle Tavern, with its creaking sign-board, does not loom so largely as it once did upon the horizon of his thought. That he should ever have trembled as a lad at walking up to the little corner bar, in company with Phil ! And as for Nat Boody, whose stories he once listened to admiringly, what a scrubby personage he has become in his eye ! Fighting - dogs, indeed ! “Scamp” would be nothing to what he has seen a score of times in the city!
He has put Phil through some of the “ sights ” : for that great lout of a country lad (as Reuben could not help counting him, though he liked his big, honest heart for all that) had found him out, when he came to New York to take ship for the West Indies.
“ I say. Phil,” Reuben had said, as he marched his old schoolmate up Broadway, “it’s rather a touch beyond Ashfield, this, is n’t it ? How do you think Old Boody’s tavern and sign - board would look along here ? ”
And Phil laughed, quietly.
“ I should like to see old Deacon Tourtelot,” continued Reuben, “with Huldyon his arm, sloping down Broadway. Would n’t the old people stare ? ”
“ I guess they would,” Phil said, demurely.
“ I wonder if they’d knock off at sundown Saturday night,” continued Reuben, mockingly.
And his tone somehow hurt Phil, who had the memories of the old home — a very dear one to him — fresh upon him.
“ And I suppose Miss Almiry keeps at her singing ? ”
“Yes,” said Phil, straining a point in favor of his townswoman ; “ and I think she sings pretty well.”
“ Pretty well ! By Jove, Phil, you should have been at the Old Park night before last; you would have heard what I call singing. It would have stirred up the old folks of Ashfield.”
And Phil met it all very seriously. It seemed to him, in his honesty, that Reuben was wantonly cutting asunder all the ties that once bound him to the old home. It pained him, moreover, to think —as he did, with a good deal of restiveness — that his blessed mother, and Rose perhaps, and the old Squire, his father, were among the Ashfield people at whom Reuben sneered so glibly. And when he parted with him upon the dock, — for Reuben had gone down to see him off, — it was with a secret conviction that their old friendship had come to an end, and that thenceforth they two could have no sympathies in common.
But in this Phil was by no means wholly right. The talk of Reuben was, after all, but the ebullition of a city conceit, — a conceit which is apt to belong to all young men at some period of their novitiate in city life. He was mainly anxious to impress upon Phil the great gain which he had made in knowledge of the world in the last few years, and to astound him with the great difference between his present standpoint and the old one, when they were boys together on the benches of the Ashfield meetinghouse. We never make such gains, or apparent gains, at any period of life, it is to be feared, without wishing to demonstrate their magnitude to the slow coaches we have left behind.
And on the very night after Reuben had parted from Phil, when he came late to his chamber, dazed with some new scene at the theatre, and his brain flighty with a cup too much, it may well have happened, that, in his fevered restlessness, as the clock near by chimed midnight, his thoughts ran back to that other chamber where once sweet sleep always greeted him, — to the overhanging boughs that rustled in the evening air at the window, — to the shaded street that stretched away between the silent houses,—to the song of the katydids, chattering their noisy chorus, — to the golden noons when light feet tripped along the village walks, — to the sunny smiles of Rose, —to the kindly entreaty of good Mrs. Elderkin,— and more faintly, yet more tenderly, than elsewhere, to a figure and face far remote, and so glorified by distance that they seem almost divine, a figure and a face that are somehow associated with the utterance of his first prayer, — and with the tender vision before him, he mumbles the same prayer and falls asleep with it upon his lip.
Only on his lip, however, — and the next day, when he steals a half-hour for a stroll upon Broadway with that dashing girl, Miss Sophie Bowrigg, (she is really a stylish creature,) he has very little thought of the dreamy sentiments of the night before, which seemed for the time to keep his wilder vagaries in subjection, and to kindle aspirations toward a better life. It is doubtful, even, if he did not indulge in an artful compliment or two to the dashing Miss Sophie, the point of which lay in a cleverly covered contrast of herself with the humdrum manners of the fair ones of Ashfield. Yet, to tell truth, he is not wholly untouched by certain little rallying, coquettish speeches of Miss Sophie in respect to Adèle, who, in her open, girl-like way, has very likely told the full story of Reuben’s city attentions.
Reuben had, indeed, been piqued by the French girl’s reception of his patronage, and he had been fairly carried off his feet in view of her easy adaptation to the ways of the city, and of her graceful carriage under all the toilet equipments which had been lavished upon her, under the advice of Mrs. Brindlock. A raw boy comes only by long aptitude into the freedom of a worldly manner ; but a girl — most of all a French girl, in whom the instincts of her race are strong — leaps to such conquest in a day. Of course he had intimated to Adele no wonder at the change ; but he had thrust a stray glove of hers into his pocket, counting it only a gallant theft; and there had been days when he had drawn out that little relic of her visit from its hidden receptacle, and smoothed it upon his table, and pressed it, very likely, to his lips, in the same way in which youth of nineteen or twenty are used to treat such feminine tokens of grace.
It was a dainty glove, to be sure. It conjured up her presence in its most alluring aspect. The rustle of her silk, the glow of her check, the coyness of her touch, whenever she had dropped that delicate hand on his. came with the sight of it. He ventures, in a moment of gallant exuberance, to purchase a half-dozen of the same number, of verycharming tints, (to his eye,) and sends them as a gift to Adele, saying, —
“ I found your stray glove we had a search for in the carriage, but did not tell of it. I hope these will fit.”
“ They fit nicely,” said Adele, writing back to him,— “so nicely, I may be tempted to throw another old glove of mine some time in your way.”
Miss Eliza Johns was of course delighted with this attention of Reuben’s, and made it the occasion of writing him a long letter, (and her letters were very rare, by reason of the elaboration she counted necessary,) in which she set forth the excellence of Adèle’s character, her “ propriety of speech,” her “lady-like deportment,” her “cheerful observance of duty.” and her “ eminent moral worth,” in such terms as stripped all romance from Reuben’s recollection of her, and made him more than half regret his gallant generosity.
The Doctor writes to him regularly once a fortnight; of which missives Reuben reads as regularly the last third, containing, as it does usually, a little home news or casual mention of Miss Rose Elderkin or of the family circle. The other two thirds, mainly expostulatory, he skips, only allowing his eye to glance over them, and catch such scattered admonitions as these :—“ Be steadfast in the truth. . . . . Let your light shine before men. . . . . Be not tempted of the Devil; for if you resist him, he will flee from you. . . . . The wisdom of this world is foolishness. . . . . Trust not, my son, in any arm of flesh.”
Ah, how much of such good advice had been twisted into tapers for the lighting of Reuben’s cigars ! Not because it was absolutely scorned ; not because it was held in contempt, or its giver held in contempt; but because there was so much of it. If the old gentleman had been in any imminent bodily peril, it is certain that Reuben would have rushed far and wide to aid him. It is certain that he loved him; it is certain that he venerated him ; and yet. and yet. (he said to himself,) “I do wish he would keep this solemn stuff for his sermons. Who cares to read it ? Who cares to hear it, except on Sundays ? ”
Our good reader will exclaim, — A bad young man ! And yet we think our good readers — nay, our best of readers — have shirked godly counsel over and over, with very much the same promptitude. We all grow so weary with the iteration of even the best of truths ! we all love youth so much ! we all love the world so much ! we all trust to an arm of flesh so much !
Not for a moment did the Doctor believe that his recreant son pondered wisely and deeply these successive epistles of his. He knew him too well for that. But for him duty was always duty. “Here a little, and there a little.” It would have pained the old gentleman grievously to know the full extent of the wickedness of his boy, — to have looked for a moment into the haunts to which he was beguiled by his companions of the city, — to have seen his flushed and swollen face after some of those revels to which Reuben was a party. But the good Doctor was too ignorant of the world to conceive, even, of larger latitude than an occasional cigar or a stolen sight at the orgies of the theatre. And when Mr. Brindlock wrote, as he took occasion to do about this period, regretting the extravagance of Reuben and the bad associations into which he had fallen, and urging the Doctor to impress upon him the advantages of regularity and of promptitude, and to warn him that a very advantageous business career which was opening upon him would be blighted by his present habits, the poor gentleman was fairly taken aback.
That even this worldly gentleman, Mr. Brindlock, should take exception to the courses of his son was a most startling fact. What admonition could the Doctor add to those which he had addressed to his poor son fortnightly for years past ? Had he not warned him over and over that he was standing upon slippery places ? Had he not unfolded the terrors of God’s wrath upon sinners ? Had he not set before him in " line upon line ” the awful truth that his immortal career was at stake ? And should he descend from this ground to plead with him upon the score of his shortlived worldly career ? What were all business prospects, however they might wane, compared with that dreadiul prospect which lies before him who refuseth godly counsel and hardeneth his heart ? Was it not a fearful confirmation of Satan’s reign upon earth, that peril to a temporal career should serve tor warning against criminal excesses, when the soul’s everlasting peril was urged vainly ? The Doctor wrote to Reuben with even more than his usual unction. But he could not bring himself to warn his boy of the mere blight to his worldly career, — that was so small a matter! Yet he laid before him in graver terms than he had ever done before the weight of the judgment of an offended God, and the fearful retribution that would certainly overtake the ungodly. Reuben lighted his cigar with the letter, not unfeelingly, but indifferently, and ventured even upon a blasphemous joke with his companions.
“It ought to burn,” he says. “There 's plenty of brimstone in it! ”
It would have crazed the minister of Ashfield to have heard the speech. In his agony of mind he went to consult Squire Elderkin, and laid before him the dire accounts he had heard.
“ Ah, young men will be young men, Doctor. There’s time for him to come out right yet. It ’s the blood of the old Major ; it must have vent.”
As the Doctor recalled what he counted his father's godless death, he shuddered. Presently he talked of summoning his boy home immediately.
“Well, Doctor,” said the Squire, meditatively, “ there are two sides to that matter. There are great temptations in the city, to be sure ; but if God puts a man in the way of great temptations, I suppose He gives him strength to resist them. Is n’t that good theology ? ”
The parson nodded assent.
“We can always resist, if we will, Squire,” said he.
“ Very good, Doctor. Suppose, now, you bring your boy home ; he 'll fret desperately under your long lectures, and with Miss Eliza, and perhaps run off into deviltries that will make him worse than those of the city. You must humor him a little, Doctor ; touch his pride ; there ’s a tine, frank spirit at the bottom ; give him a good word now and then.”
“ I know no word so good as prayer,” said the Doctor, gravely.
“ That's very well, Doctor, very well. Mrs. Elderkin gives him help that way ; and between you and me. Doctor, if any woman's prayers can call down blessings, I think that little woman’s can,”— and the Squire’s eyes fairly flashed with the dew that came into them.
“An estimable lady,—most estimable ! ” said the Doctor.
“ Pray, if you will, Doctor ; it ’s all right; and for my part, I ’ll drop him a line, telling him the town feels an ownership in him, and hopes he 'll do us all credit. I think we can bring him out all right.”
“ Thank you, — thank you, Squire,” said the Doctor, with an unusual warmth.
And he wrought fervently in prayer that night; may-be, too, the hearty invocation of that good woman, Mrs. Elderkin, joined with his in the Celestial Presence ; and if the kindly letter of the Squire did not rank with the prayers, we may believe, without hardihood, that the recording angel took note of it, and gave credit on the account current of human charities.
MR. BRINDLOCK had, may-be, exaggerated somewhat the story of Reuben’s extravagances, but he was anxious that a word of caution should be dropped in his ear from some other lips than his own. The allowance from the Doctor, notwithstanding all the economies of Miss Eliza’s frugal administration, would have been, indeed, somewhat narrow, and could by no means have kept Reuben upon his feet in the ambitious citycareer upon which he had entered. But Mr. Brindlock had taken a great fancy to the lad, and, besides the stipend, granted for his duties about the counting-room, had given him certain shares in a few private ventures which had resulted very prosperously, — so prosperously, indeed, that the prudent merchant had determined to hold the full knowledge of the success in reserve. The prospects of Reuben, however, he being the favorite nephew of a well-established merchant, were regarded by the most indifferent observers as extremely flattering; and Mr. Bowrigg was not disposed to look unfavorably upon the young man’s occasional attentions to the dashing Sophie.
But the Brindlocks, though winking at a great deal which the Doctor would have counted grievous sin, still were uneasy at the lad's growing dissoluteness of habit. Would the prayers of the good people of Ashfield help him?
It was some time in the month of September, of the same autumn in which poor Adele lay sick at the parsonage, that Reuben came in one night, at twelve or thereabout, to his home at the Brindlocks’, (living at this time in the neighborhood of Washington Square.) with his head cruelly battered, and altogether in a very piteous plight. Mrs. Brindlock, terribly frightened, — in her woman’s way,—was for summoning the Doctor at once ; but Reuben pleaded against it; he had been in a row, that was all, and had caught a big knock or two. The truth was. he had been upon one of his frolics with his old boon companions ; and it so happened that one had spoken sneeringIy of the parson’s son, in a way which to the fiery young fellow seemed to cast ridicule upon the old gentleman. And thereupon Reuben, though somewhat maudlin with wine, yet with the generous spirit not wholly quenched in him, had entered upon a glowing little speech in praise of the old gentleman and of his profession, — a speech which, if it were garnished with here and there an objectionable expletive, was very earnest and did him credit
“ Good for Reuben ! ” the party had cried out. “Get him a pulpit!”
“ Hang me, if he would n’t preach better now than the old man ! ” said one.
“And a deused sight livelier,” said another.
“ Hold your tongue, you blackguard ! ” burst out Reuben.
And from this the matter came very shortly to blows, in the course of which poor Reuben was severely punished, though he must have hit some hard blows, for he was wondrously active, and not a few boxing-lessons had gone to make up the tale of his city accomplishments.
Howbeit, he was housed now, in view of his black eye, for many days, and had ample time for reflection. In aid of this came a full sheet of serious expostulations from the Doctor, and that letter of advice which Squire Elderkin had promised, with a little warm-hearted postscript from good Mrs. Elderkin,— so unlike to the carefully modulated letters of Aunt Eliza ! The Doctor’s missive, very likely, did not impress him more than the scores that had gone before it; but there was a practical tact, and good-natured, common-sense homeliness, in the urgence of the Squire, which engaged all Reuben’s attention ; and the words of the good woman, his wife, were worth more than a sermon to him. “ We all want.” she writes, “to think well of you, Reuben ; we do think well of you. Don’t disappoint us. I can’t think of the cheery, bright face, that for so many an evening shone amid our household, as anything but bright and cheery now. We all pray for your well-being and happiness, Reuben ; and I do hope you have not forgotten to pray for it yourself.”
And with the memory of the kindly woman which this letter called up came a pleasant vision of the winsome face of Rose, as she used to sit, with downcast eyes, beside her mother in the old house of Ashfield,—of Rose, as she used to lower upon him in their frolic, with those great hazel eyes sparkling with indignation. And if the vision did not quicken any lingering sentiment, it at the least gave a mellow tint to his thought,—a mellowness which even the hardness of Aunt Eliza could not wholly do away.
“ I feel it my duty to write you, Reuben,” she says, “and to inform you how very much we have all been shocked and astonished by the accounts which reach us of your continued indifference to religious duties, and your reckless extravagance. Let me implore you to be frugal and virtuous. If you learn to save now, the habit will be of very great service when you come to take your stand on the arena of life. I am aware that the temptations of a great city are almost innumerable ; but I need hardly inform you that you will greatly consult your own interests and mitigate our harassment of feeling by practising a strict economy with your funds, and by attending regularly at church. You will excuse all errors in my writing, since I indite this by the sick-bed of Adele.”
Adele, then, is sick; and upon that point alone in the Aunt’s letter the thought of Reuben fastens. Adele is sick ! He knows where she must be lying,—in that little room at the parsonage looking out upon the orchard ; there are white hangings to the bed; careful steps go up and down the stairway. There had never been much illness in the parson’s home, indeed, but certain early awful days Reuben just remembers ; there were white bed-curtains, (he recalls those,) and a face as white lying beneath ; the nurse, too, lifting a warning finger at him with a low “hist! ” the knocker tied over thickly with a great muffler of cloth, lest the sound might come into the chamber ; and then, awful stillness. On a morning later, all the windows are suddenly thrown open, and strange men bring a red coffin into the house, which, after a day or two, goes out borne by different people, who tread uneasily and awkwardly under the weight, but very softly; and after this a weary, weary loneliness. All which drifting over the mind of Reuben, and stirring his sensibilities with a quick rush of vague, boyish griefs, induces a train of melancholy religious musings, which, if they do no good, can hardly, it would seem, work harm. Under their influence, indeed, (which lasted for several days.) he astonished his Aunt Mabel, on the next Sunday, by declaring his intention to attend church.
It is not the ponderous Dr. Mowry, fortunately or unfortunately, that he is called upon to listen to ; but a younger man, of ripe age, indeed, but full of fervor and earnestness, and with a piercing magnetic quality of voice that electrifies from the beginning. And Reuben listens to his reading of the hymn,
with parted lips, and with an exaltation of feeling that is wholly strange to him. With the prayer it seems to him that all the religious influences to which he has ever been subject are slowly and surely converging their forces upon his mind ; and, rapt as he is in the preacher’s utterance, there come to him shadowy recollections of some tender admonition addressed to him by dear womanly lips in boyhood, which now, on a sudden, flames into the semblance of a Divine summons. Then comes the sermon, from the text, “ My son, give me thine heart.” There is no repulsive formality, no array of logical presentment to arouse antagonism of thought, but only inglowing enthusiasm, that transfuses the Scriptural appeal, and illuminates it with winning illustration. Reuben sees that the evangelist feels in his inmost soul what he utters ; the thrill of his voice and the touching earnestness of his manner declare it. It is as if our eager listener were, by every successive appeal, placed in full rapport with a great battery of religious emotions, and at every touch were growing into fuller and fuller entertainment of the truths which so fired and sublimed the speaker’s utterance.
Do we use too gross a figure to represent what many people would call the influences of the Spirit? Heaven forgive us, if we do ; but nothing can more definitely describe the seemingly electrical influences which were working upon the mind of Reuben, as he caught, ever and again, breaking through the torrent of the speaker’s language, the tender, appealing refrain, “ My son, give me thine heart! ”
All thought of God the Avenger and of God the Judge, which had been so linked with most of his boyish instructions, seemed now to melt away in an aureole of golden light, through which he saw only God the Father! And the first prayer he ever learned comes to his mind with a grace and a meaning and a power that he never felt before.
“Whether we obey Him,” (it is the preacher we quote,) “or distrust Him, or revile Him, or forget Him, or struggle to ignore Him, always, always He is our Father. And whatever we may do, however we may sin, however recreant we may be to early faith or early teaching, however unmoved by the voice of conscience, — which is smiting on your hearts, as it is on mine to-day,—whatever we are, or whatever we may be, yet, ever while life is in us, that great, serene voice of the All-Merciful is sounding in our ears, ‘ My son, give me thine heart! ’ Ay, the flowers repeat it in their bloom, the birds in their summer carol, the rejoicing brooks, and the seasons in their courses, all, all repeat it, ‘ My son, give me thine heart!'
“ Oh, my hearers, this is real, this is true ! It is our Father who says it; and we, unworthy ministers of His word and messengers to declare His beneficence, repeat it for Him, ' My son, give me thine heart !' Not to crush, not to spurn, not for a toy. The great God asks your hearts because He wishes your gratitude and your love. Do you believe He asks it ? Yes, you do. Do you believe He asks It idly ? No. you do not. What, then, does this appeal mean ? It means, that God is love, — that you are His children, — straying, outcast, wretched, may-be, but still His children, — and by the abounding love which is in Him, He asks your love in return. Will you give it?”
And Reuben says to himself, yet almost audibly, “ I will.”
The sermon was altogether such a one as to act with prodigious force upon so emotional a nature as that of Reuben. Yet we dare say there were gray-haired men in the church, and sallow-faced young men, who nodded their heads wisely and coolly, as they went out, and said, “ An eloquent sermon, quite ; but not much argument in it.” As if all men were to plod to heaven on the vertebrae of an inexorable logic, and not—God willing—to be rapt away thitherward by the clinging force of a glowing and confiding heart! Alas, how the intellect droops in its attempt to measure or comprehend the infinite ! How the heart leaps and grows large in its reach toward the altitude of Boundless Love, if only it be buoyed with faith !
“ Is this religion ? ” Reuben asked himself, as he went out of the church, with his pride all subdued. And the very atmosphere .seemed to wear a new glory, and a new lien of brotherhood to tie him to every creature he met upon the thronged streets. All the time, too, was sounding in his ears (as if he had yielded full assent) the mellow and grateful cadence of the hymn,
REUBEN wrote to the Doctor, under the influence of this new glow of feeling, in a way that at once amazed and delighted the good old gentleman. And yet there were ill-defined, but very decided, terrors and doubts in his delight Dr. Johns, by nature as well as by education, was disposed to look distrustfully upon any sudden conviction of duty which had its spring in any extraordinary exaltation of feeling, rather than in that full intellectual seizure of the Divine Word, which it seemed to him could come only after a determiner wrestling with those dogmas that to his mind were the aptest and compactest expression of the truth toward which we must agonize. The day of Pentecost showed a great miracle, indeed ; but was not the day of miracles past ?
The Doctor, however, did not allow his entertainment of a secret fear to color in any way his letters of earnest gratulation to his son. If God has miraculously snatched him from the ways that lead to destruction, (such was his thought,) let us rejoice.
“ Be steadfast, my dear Reuben,” he writes. “ You have now a cross to bear. Do not dishonor its holy character ; do not faint upon the way. Our beloved Adele, as you have been told, is trembling upon the verge of the grave. May God in His mercy spare her, until, at least, she gain some more fitting sense of the great mission of His Son, and of the divine scheme of atonement ! I fear greatly that she has but loose ideas upon these all-important subjects. It pains me beyond belief to find her indifferent to the godly counsels of your pious aunt, which she does not fail to urge upon her, 'in season and out of season ’; and she has shown a tenacity in guarding that wretched relic of her early life, the rosary and crucifix, which, I fear, augurs the worst. Pray for her, my son ; pray that all the vanities and idolatries of this world may be swept from her thoughts.”
And Reuben, still living in that roseate atmosphere of religious meditation, is shocked by this story of the danger of Adele. Is he not himself in some measure accountable? In those days when they raced through the Catechism together, did he never provoke her mocking smiles by his sneers at the ponderous language ? Did he not tempt her to some mischievous sally of mirth, on many a day when they were kneeling in couple about the family altar ?
And in the flush of his exalted feeling he writes her how bitterly he deplores all this, and, borrowing his language from the sermons he now listens to with greed, he urges Adèle “ to plant her feet upon the Rock of Ages, to eschew all vanities, and to trust to those blessed promises which were given from the foundation of the world.”
Indeed, there is a fervor in his feeling which pushes him into such extravagances of expression as the Doctor would have found it necessary to qualify, if Adele, poor child, had not been by far too weak for their comprehension.
The Brindlocks were, of course, utterly amazed at this new aspect in the character of their pet young nephew from the country. Mr. Brindlock said, consolingly, to his wife, when the truth became only too apparent, “ My dear, it's atmospheric, I think. It ’s a ‘revival’ season; there was such a one, I remember, in my young days.”
(Mrs. Brindlock laughed at this quite merrily.)
“ To be sure there was, my dear, and I was really quite deeply affected. Reuben will come out all right; we shall see him settling down soon to good merchant habits again.”
But the animus of the new tendency was far stronger than Brindlock had supposed ; and within a month Reuben had come to a quiet rupture with his city patron. The smack of worldliness was too strong for him. He felt that he must go back to his old home, and place himself again under the instructions of the father whose counsels he had once so spurned.
“You don’t say you mean to become a parson ? ” said Mr. Brindlock, more than ever astounded.
“It is very likely,” said Reuben ; “or possibly a missionary.”
“ Well, Reuben, if you must, you must. But I don’t see things in that light. However, my boy, we ’ll keep our little private ventures astir; you may need them some day.”
And so they parted ; and Reuben went home to Ashfield, taking an affectionate leave of his Aunt Mabel, who had been over-kind to him, and praying in his heart that that good, but exceedingly worldly woman, might some day look on serious things as he looked on them.
He had thought in his wild days, that, when he should go back to Ashfield for any lengthened stay, (for thus far his visits had been few and flying ones.) he should considerably astonish the old people there by his air and city cultivation. It is quite possible that he had laid by certain flaming cravats which he thought would have a killing effect in the country church, and anticipated a very handsome triumph by the easy swagger with which he would greet old Deacon Tourtelot and ask after the health of Miss Almira. But the hope of all such triumphs was now dropped utterly. Such things clearly belonged to the lusts of the eye and the pride of life. He even left behind him some of the most flashy articles of his attire, with the request to Aunt Mabel that she would bestow them upon some needy person, or, in default of this, make them over to the Missionary Society for distribution among the heathen, — a purpose for which some of them, by reason of their brilliant colors, were certainly most admirably adapted. Under his changed view of life, it appeared to Reuben that every unnecessary indulgence, whether of dress or food, was a sin. With the glowing enthusiasm of youth, he put such beautiful construction upon the rules of Christian faith as would hardly survive the rough everyday wear of the world. Even the stiff dignity of Dr. Mowry he was inclined to count only an accidental incrustation of manner, beneath which the heart of the parson was all aglow with the tenderest benevolence. We hope he may have been right in this ; it is certain, that, if he could carry forward the same loving charity to the end of his days, he would have won the best third of the elements of a Christian career, without respect to dogmas.
So Reuben goes back to Ashfield with a very modest and quiet bearing. He is to look with other eyes now upon the life there, and to judge how far it will sustain his new-found religious sympathies. All meet him kindly. Old Squire Elderkin, who chances to .be the first to greet him as he alights from the coach, shakes him warmly by the hand, and taps him patronizingly upon the shoulder.
“ Welcome home again, Reuben! Well, well, they thought you were given over to bad courses ; but it’s all right now, I hear ; quite upon the other tack, eh, Reuben ? That’s well, my good fellow, that ’s well.”
And Reuben thanked him, thinking perhaps how odd it was that this worldly old gentleman, of whom he had thought, since his late revulsion of feeling, with a good deal of quiet pity, should commend what was so foreign to his own habit. There were, then, some streaks of good-natured worldliness which tallied with Christian duty. The serene, kindly look of Mrs. Elderkin was in itself the tenderest welcome ; and it was an ennobling thought to Reuben, that he had at last placed himself (or fancied he had) upon the same moral plane with that good woman. As for Rose, the joyous, frolicsome, charming Rose, whom he had thought at one time to electrify by his elegant city accomplishments, — was not even the graceful Rose a veteran in the Christian army in which he had but now enlisted ? Why, then, should she show timidity and shyness at this meeting with him ? Yet her little fingers had a quick tremor in them as she took his hand, and a swift change of color (he knew it of old) ran over her face like a rosy cloud,
“ It is delightful to think that Reuben is safe at last,” said Mrs. Elderkin, after he had gone.
“ Yes, mamma,” said Rose.
“ It must be a great delight to them all at the parsonage.”
“ I suppose so, mamma. I wish Phil were here,” said Rose again, in a plaintive little tone.
“ I wish he were, my child ; it might have a good influence upon him : and poor Adele, too ; she must surely listen to Reuben, he is so earnest and impassioned. Don’t you think so, Rose ? ”
Rose is working with nervous rapidity.
“ But, my child,” says the mother ; “ are you not sewing that breadth upon the wrong side ? ”
True enough, upon the wrong side, — so many weary stitches to undo !
Miss Eliza had shown a well-considered approval of Reuben’s change of opinions ; but this had not forbidden a certain reserve of worldly regret that he should give up so promising a business career. She had half hinted as much to the Doctor.
“ I do not see, brother,” she had said, “ that his piety will involve the abandonment of mercantile life.”
“His piety,” said the Doctor, “if it be of the right stamp, will involve an obedience to conscience.”
And there the discussion had rested. The spinster received Reuben with much warmth, in which her stately proprieties of manner, however, were never for one moment forgotten.
Adele, who was now fortunately in a fair way of recovery, but who was still very weak, and who looked charmingly in her white chamber-dress with its simple black belt, received him with a tender-heartedness of manner which he had never met in her before. The letter of Reuben had been given her, and, with all its rawness of appeal, had somehow touched her religious sentiment in a way it had never been touched before. He had put so much of his youthful enthusiasm into his language, it showed such an elasticity of hope and joy, as impressed her very strangely. It made the formal homilies of Miss Eliza seem more harsh than ever. She had listened, in those fatiguing and terrible days of illness, to psalms long drawn out, and wearily ; but here was some wild bird that chanted a glorious carol in her ear, — a carol that seemed touched with Heaven’s own joy. And under its influence— exaggerated as it was by extreme youthful emotion — she seemed to see the celestial gates of jasper and pearl swing open before her, and the beckonings of the great crowd of celestial inhabitants to enter and enjoy.
For a long time she had been hovering (how nearly she did not know) upon the confines of the other world ; but with a vague sense that its mysteries might open upon her in any hour, she had, in her sane intervals, ranked together the promises and penalties that had been set before her by the good Doctor: now worrying her spirit, as it confronted some awful catechismal dogma, that it sought vainly to solve ; and then, from sheer weakness and disappointment, seizing upon the symbol of the cross, (of which the effigy was always near at hand,) and by a kiss and a tear seeking to ally her fainting heart with the mystic company of the elect who would find admission to the joys of paradise. But the dogmas were vain, because she could not grapple them to her heart; the cross was vain, because it was an empty symbol; the kisses and the tears left her groping blindly for the key that would surely unlock for her the wealth of the celestial kingdom. In this attitude of mind, wearied by struggle and by fantasies, came to her the letter of Reuben, — the joyous outburst of a pioneer who had found the way. She never once doubted that the good Doctor had found it, too, — but so long ago, and by so hard a road, that she despaired of following in his steps. But Reuben had leaped to the conquest, and carried a blithe heart with him. Surely, then, there must be a joy in believing.
“ I thank you very' much for your letter, Reuben,” said Adele, and she looked eagerly into his face for traces of that triumph which so glittered throughout his letter.
And she did not look in vain ; for, whether it were from the warm, electric touch of those white, thin fingers of hers, or the eager welcome in her eyes, or from more sacred cause, a great joyshone in his face, — a joy that from thenceforward they began to share in common. At last — at last, a bright illumination was spread over the dreary teachings of these last years. Not a doubt, not a penalty, not a mystic, blind utterance of the Catechism, but the glowing enthusiasm of Reuben invested it with cheery promise, or covered it with the wonderful glamour of his hope. Between these two young hearts:—the one, till then, all doubt and weariness, and the other, just now, all impassioned exuberance — there came a grafting, by virtue of which the religious sentiment in Adèle shot away from, all the severities around her into an atmosphere of peace and joy.
The Doctor saw it, and wondered at the abounding mercies of God. The spinster saw it, and rejoiced at the welding of this new link in the chain of her purposes. The village people all saw it, and said among themselves, “ If he has won her from the iniquities of the world, he can win her for a wife, if he will.”
And the echoes of such speeches come, as they needs must, to the ear of Rose, without surprising her, so much do they seem the echo of her own thought; and if her heart may droop a little under it, she conceals it bravely, and abates no jot in her abounding love for Adele.
“ I wish Phil were here,” she says in the privacy of her home.
“ So do I, darling,” says the mother, and looks at her with a tender inquisitiveness that makes the sweet girl flinch, and affect for a moment a noisy gayety, which is not in her heart.
Rose ! Rose ! are you not taking wrong stitches again?