"Chapters XXI-XXIX." by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
"WELL," said my Aunt Lois, as she gave the last sweep to the hearth, after she had finished washing up the supper-dishes; "I 've been up to Ebal Scran's store this afternoon, to see about soling Horace's Sunday shoes. Ebal will do 'em as reasonable as any one; and he spoke to me to know whether I knew of any boy that a good family would like to bind out to him for an apprentice, and I told him I 'd speak to you about Horace. It 'll be time pretty soon to think of putting him at something."
Among the many unexplained and inexplicable woes of childhood, are its bitter antagonisms, so perfectly powerless, yet often so very decided, against certain of the grown people who control it. Perhaps some of us may remember respectable, well-meaning people, with whom in our mature years we live in perfect amity, but who in our childhood appeared to us bitter enemies. Children are remarkably helpless in this respect, because they cannot choose their company and surroundings as grown people can; and are sometimes entirely in the power of those with whom their natures are so unsympathetic that they may be almost said to have a constitutional aversion to them. Aunt Lois was such a one to me, principally because of her forecasting, untiring, pertinacious, care-taking propensities. She had already looked over my lot in life, and set down in her own mind what was to be done with me, and went at it with a resolute energy that would not wait for the slow development of circumstances.
That I should want to study, as my father did, – that I should for this cause hang as an unpractical, unproductive, dead weight on the family, – was the evil which she saw in prospective, against which my grandfather's placid, easy temper, and my grandmother's impulsive bountifulness, gave her no security. A student in the family, and a son in college, she felt to be luxuries to which a poor widow in dependent circumstances had no right to look forward, and therefore she opened the subject with prompt energy, by the proposition above stated.
My mother, who sat on the other side of the fireplace, looked at me with a fluttering look of apprehension. I flushed up in a sort of rage that somehow Aunt Lois always succeeded in putting me into. "I don't want to be a shoemaker, and I won't neither," I said.
"Tut, tut," said my grandfather, placidly, from his corner, "we don't let little boys say 'won't' here."
I now burst out crying, and ran to my grandmother, sobbing as if my heart would break.
"Lois, can't you let this boy alone?" said my grandmother vengefully; "I do wonder at you. Poor little fellow! his father ain't quite cold in his grave yet, and you want to pitch him out into the world," – and my grandmother seized me in her strong arms, and lulled me against her ample bosom. "There, poor boy, don't you cry; you sha' n't, no, you sha' n't; you shall stay and help grandma, so you shall."
"Great help he is," said Aunt Lois, contemptuously; "gets a book in his hand and goes round with his head in a bag; never gives a message right, and is always stumbling over things that are right in his way. There 's Harry, now, is as handy as a girl, and if he says he 'll do a thing, I know 't 'll be done," – and Aunt Lois illustrated her doctrine by calling up Harry, and making him stretch forth his arms for a skein of blue-mixed yarn which she was going to wind. The fire-light shone full on his golden curls and clear blue eyes, as he stood obediently and carefully yielding to Aunt Lois's quick, positive movements. As she wound, and twitched, and pulled, with certainly twice the energy that the work in hand required, his eyes followed her motions with a sort of quiet drollery; there was a still, inward laugh in them, as if she amused him greatly.
Such open comparisons between two boys might have gone far to destroy incipient friendship; but Harry seemed to be in a wonderful degree gifted with the faculties that made him a universal favorite. All the elders of the family liked him, because he was quiet and obedient, always doing with cheerful promptness exactly what he was bidden, unless, as sometimes happened in our family circle, he was bidden to do two or three different things at one and the same time, when he would stand looking innocently puzzled, till my grandmother and Aunt Lois and Aunt Keziah had settled it among them whose was to be the ruling will. He was deft and neat-handed as a girl about any little offices of a domestic nature; he was thoughtful and exact in doing errands; he was delicately clean and neat in his personal habits; he never tracked Aunt Lois's newly scoured floor with the traces of unwiped shoes; he never left shavings and litter on a cleanly swept hearth, or tumbled and deranged anything, so that he might safely be trusted on errands even to the most sacred precincts of a housekeeper's dominions. What boy with all these virtues is not held a saint by all women-folk? Yet, though he was frequently commended in all those respects, to my marked discredit, Harry was to me a sort of necessary of life. There was something in his nature that was wanting to mine, and I attached myself to him with a pertinacity which had never before marked my intercourse with any boy.
A day or two after the arrival of the children, the minister and Lady Lothrop had called on my grandmother in all the dignity of their station, and taken an approving view of the boy. Lady Lothrop had engaged to take him under her care, and provide a yearly sum for his clothing and education. She had never had a child of her own, and felt that diffidence about taking the entire charge of a boy which would be natural to a person of fastidious and quiet habits, and she therefore signified that it would be more agreeable to her if my grandmother would allow him to make one of her own family circle, – a proposal to which she cheerfully assented, saying, that "one more chick makes little difference to an old hen."
I immediately petitioned that I might have Harry for a bed-fellow, and he and I were allowed a small bedroom to ourselves at the head of the back stairs. It was a rude little crib, roughly fenced off from the passage-way by unplaned boards of different heights. A pine table, two stools, a small trundle-bed, and a rude case of drawers, were all its furniture. Harry's love of order was strikingly manifest in the care which he took of this little apartment. His few articles of clothing and personal belongings all had their exact place, and always were bestowed there with scrupulous regularity. He would adjust the furniture, straighten the bed-clothing, and quietly place and replace the things that I in my fitful, nervous eagerness was always disarranging; and when, as often happened in one of my spasms of enthusiasm, I turned everything in the room topsy-turvy, searching for something I had lost, or projecting some new arrangement, he would wait peaceably till I had finished, and then noiselessly get everything back again into its former order. He never quarrelled with me, or thwarted me in my turbulent or impatient moods, but seemed to wait for me to get through whatever I was doing, when he would come in and silently rearrange. He was, on the whole, a singularly silent child, but with the kind of silence which gives a sense of companionship. It was evident that he was always intensely observant and interested in whatever was going on before him, and ready at any moment to take a friendly part when he was wanted; but for the most part his place in the world seemed that of an amused listener and observer. Life seemed to present itself to him as a curious spectacle, and he was never tired of looking and listening, watching the ways and words of all our family circle, and often smiling to himself as if they afforded him great diversion. Aunt Lois with her quick, sharp movements, her determined, outspoken ways, seemed to amuse him as much as she irritated me, and I would sometimes see him turn away with a droll smile when he had been watching one of her emphatic courses round the room. He had a certain tact in avoiding all the sharp corners and angles of her character, which, in connection with his handiness and his orderly ways, caused him at last to become a prime favorite with her. With his quiet serviceableness and manual dexterity, he seemed to be always the one that was exactly wanting to do an odd turn, so that at last he came to be depended on for many little inferior offices, which he rendered with a goodwill none the less cheerful because of his silence.
"There 's time enough to think about what Horace is to do another year," said my grandfather, having reflected some moments after the passage of arms between my grandmother and Aunt Lois. "He 's got to have some schooling. The boys had both better go to school for this winter, and then we 'll see what next."
"Well, I just mentioned about Ebal Scran, because he 's a good man to take a boy, and he wants one now. If we don't take that chance it may not come again."
"Wal, Miss Lois," said Sam Lawson, who had sat silent in a dark corner of the chimney, "ef I was to say about Horace, I 'd say he 'd do better for somethin' else 'n shoemakin'. He 's the most amazin' little fellow to read I ever see. As much as a year ago Jake Marshall and me and the other fellers round to the store used to like to get him to read the Columbian Sentinel for us; he did it off slicker than any on us could, he did, – there wa' n't no kind o' word could stop him. I should say such a boy as that ought to have a liberal education."
"And who's going to pay for it?" said Aunt Lois, turning round on him sharply. "I suppose you know it costs something to get a man through college. We never can afford to send him to college. It 's all we can do to bring his Uncle Bill through."
"Well, well," said my grandmother, "there 's no use worrying the child, one way or the other."
"They can both go to district school this winter," said my grandfather.
"Well," said Aunt Lois, "the other day I found him down in a corner humping his back out over a Latin grammar that I 'd put away with all the rest of his father's books on the back side of the upper shelf in our closet, and I took it away from him. If he was going to college, why, it 's well enough to study for it; but if he is n't we don't want him idlin' round with scraps of Latin in his head like old Jock Twitchel, – got just Latin enough to make a fool of his English, and he 's neither one thing nor another."
"I do wonder, Lois, what there is under the sun that you don't feel called to see to," said my grandmother. "What do yon want to quarrel with the child for? He shall have his Latin grammar if he wants it, and any of the rest of his father's books, poor child. I s'pose he likes 'em because they were his poor father's."
I leaped for joy in my grandmother's lap, for my father's precious books had been in a state of blockade ever since we been in the house, and it was only by putting a chair on a table one day, when Aunt Lois and my mother were out, that I had managed to help myself to the Latin grammar, out of which my father had begun to teach me before he died.
"Well, well," said Aunt Lois, "at any rate it 's eight o'clock, and time these boys went to bed."
Upon this hint Harry and I went to our little bedroom without the ceremony of a candle. It was a frosty autumn night, but a good, clear square of moonlight lay on the floor.
Now Harry, in common with many other very quiet-natured people, was remarkable for a peculiar persistency in all his ways and manners. Ever since I had roomed with him, I had noticed with a kind of silent wonder the regularity of his nightly devotional exercises, to which he always addressed himself before he went to bed, with an appearance of simple and absorbed fervor, kneeling down by the bed, and speaking in a low, earnest tone of voice, never seeming to hurry or to abbreviate, as I was always inclined to do whenever I attempted similar performances. In fact, as usually I said no prayers at all, there was often an awkward pause and stillness on my part, while I watched and waited for Harry to be through with his devotions, so that I might resume the thread of worldly conversation.
Now to me the perseverance with which he performed these nightly exercises was unaccountable. The doctrines which in that day had been gaining ground in New England, with regard to the utter inutility and unacceptableness of any prayers or religious doings of the unregenerate, had borne their legitimate fruits in causing parents to become less and less particular in cultivating early habits of devotion in children; and so, when I had a room to myself, my mother had ceased to take any oversight of my religious exercises; and as I had overheard my Aunt Lois maintaining very stringently that there was no use in it so long as my heart was not changed, I very soon dropped the form. So, when night after night I noticed Harry going on with his devotions, it seemed to me, from my more worldly point of view, that he gave himself a great deal of unnecessary trouble, particularly if, after all, his prayers did no good. I thought I would speak with him about it, and accordingly this night I said to him, "Harry, do you think it does any good to say your prayers?"
"To be sure I do," he said.
"But if your heart has n't been changed, your prayer is an abomination to the Lord. Aunt Lois says so," I said, repeating a Scriptural form I had often heard quoted.
Harry turned over, and in the fading daylight I saw his eyes, large, clear, and tranquil. There was not the shadow of a cloud in them. "I don't know anything about that," he said quietly. "You see I don't believe that sort of talk. God is our Father; he loves us. If we want things, and ask him for them, he will give them to us if it is best; mother always told me so, and I find it is so. I promised her always to say these prayers, and to believe that God loves us. I always shall."
"Do you really think so, Harry?" I said.
"Why, yes; to be sure I do."
"I mean, do you ever ask God for things you want? I don't mean saying prayers, but asking for anything."
"Of course I do. I always have, and he gives them to me. He always has taken care of me, and he always will."
"Now, Harry," said I, "I want to go to college, and Aunt Lois says there is n't any money to send me there. She wants mother to bind me out to a shoemaker; and I 'd rather die than do that. I love to study, and I mean to learn. Now do you suppose if I ask God he will help me?"
"Certainly he will," said Harry, with an incredible firmness and quietness of manner. "Just you try it."
"Don't you want to study and go to college?" said I.
"Certainly I do. I ask God every night that I may if it is best," he said with simplicity.
"It will be a great deal harder for you than for me," I said, "because you have n't any relations."
"Yes, but God can do anything he pleases," said Harry, with a sort of energetic simplicity.
The confidence expressed in his manner produced a kind of effect upon me. I had urgent needs, too, – longings which I was utterly helpless ever to fulfil, – particularly that visionary desire to go to college and get an education. "Harry," I said, "you ask God that I may go to college."
"Yes, I will," he answered, – "I 'll ask every night. But then," he added, turning over and looking at me, "why don't you ask yourself, Horace?"
It was difficult for me to answer that question. I think that the differences among human beings in the natural power of faith are as great as any other constitutional diversity, and that they begin in childhood. Some are born believers, and some are born sceptics. I was one of the latter. There was an eternal query, – an habitual interrogation-point to almost every proposition in my mind, even from childhood, – a habit of looking at everything from so many sides, that it was difficult to get a settled assent to anything.
Perhaps the curious kind of double life that I led confirmed this sceptical tendency,. I was certain that I constantly saw and felt things, the assertion of whose existence as I saw them drew down on me stinging reproofs and radical doubts of my veracity. This led me to distrust my own perceptions on all subjects, for I was no less certain of what I saw and felt in the spiritual world than of what I saw and felt in the material; and, if I could be utterly mistaken in the one, I could also be in the other.
The repression and silence about this which became the habit of my life formed a covering for a constant wondering inquiry. The habit of reserve on these subjects had become so intense that even to Harry I never spoke of it. I think I loved Harry more than I loved anything; in fact, before he came to us, I do not think I knew anything of love as a sentiment. My devotion to my father resembled the blind, instinctive worship of a dog for his master. My feeling toward my mother and grandmother was that impulse of want that induces a chicken to run to a hen in any of its little straits. It was an animal instinct, – a commerce of helplessness with help.
For Harry I felt a sort of rudimentary, poetical tenderness, like the love of man for woman. I admired his clear blue eyes, his curling golden hair, his fair, pure complexion, his refined and quiet habits, and a sort of unconsciousness of self that there was about him. His simplicity of nature was incorruptible; he seemed always to speak, without disguise, exactly what he thought, without the least apparent consideration of anything but its truth; and this gave him a strange air of innocency. A sort of quaint humor always bubbling up in little quiet looks and ways, and in harmless practical jokes, gave me a constant sense of amusement in his society.
As the reader may have observed, we were a sharp-cut and peculiar set in our house, and sometimes, when the varied scenes of family life below stairs had amused Harry more than common, he would, after we had got into our chamber by ourselves, break into a sudden flow of mimicry, – imitating now Aunt Lois's sharp, incisive movements and decided tones, or flying about like my venerated grandmother in her most confused and hurried moments, or presenting a perfect image of Uncle Fliakim's frisky gyrations, till he would set me into roars of laughter; when he would turn gravely round and ask what I was at. He never mentioned a name, or made remarks about the persons indicated, – the sole reflection on them was the absurd truthfulness of his imitation; and when I would call out the name he would look at me with eyes brimful of mischief, but in utter silence.
Generally speaking, his language was characterized by a peculiar nicety in the selection of words, and an avoidance of clownish or vulgar phraseology, and was such as marks a child whose early years have all been passed in the intercourse of refined society; but sometimes he would absurdly introduce into his conversation scraps from Sam Lawson's vocabulary, with flashes of mimicry of his shambling gait, and the lanky droop of his hands; yet these shifting flashes of imitation were the only comment he ever made upon him.
After Harry began to share my apartment, my nightly visions became less frequent, because, perhaps, instead of lying wide-awake expecting them, I had him to talk to. Once or twice, indeed, I saw standing by him, after he had fallen asleep, that same woman whose blue eyes and golden hair I had remarked when we were lost in the forest. She looked down on him with an inexpressible tenderness, and seemed to bless him; and I used to notice that he spoke oftener of his mother the next day, and quoted her words to me with the simple, unquestioning veneration which he always showed for them.
One thing about Harry which was striking to me, and which he possessed in common with many still, retiring people, was great vigor in maintaining his individuality. It has been the experience of my life that it is your quiet people who, above all other children of men, are set in their ways and intense in their opinions. Their very reserve and silence are a fortification behind which all their peculiarities grow and thrive at their leisure, without encountering those blows and shocks which materially modify more outspoken natures. It is owing to the peculiar power of quietness that one sometimes sees characters fashioning themselves in a manner the least to be expected from the circumstances and associates which surround them. As a fair white lily grows up out of the bed of meadow muck, and without note or comment, rejects all in the soil that is alien from her being, and goes on fashioning her own silver cup side by side with weeds that are drawing coarser nutriment from the soil, so we often see a refined and gentle nature by some singular internal force unfolding itself by its own laws, and confirming itself in its own beliefs, as wholly different from all that surrounds it as is the lily from the rag-weed. There are persons, in fact, who seem to grow almost wholly from within, and on whom the teachings, the doctrines, and the opinions of those around them produce little or no impression.
Harry was modest in his bearing; he never put forth an opinion opposed to those around him, unless a special question was asked him; but, even from early childhood, the opinion of no human being seemed to have much power to modify or alter certain convictions on which his life was based.
I remember, one Sunday, our good Parson Lothrop took it into his head to preach one of those cool, philosophical sermons in which certain scholarly and rational Christians in easy worldly circumstances seem to take delight, – a sort of preaching which removes the providence of God as far off from human sympathy as it is possible to be. The amount of the matter as he stated it seemed to be, that the Creator had devised a very complicated and thorough-working machine, which he had wound up and set going ages ago, which brought out results with the undeviating accuracy of clock-work. Of course there was the declaration that "not a sparrow falleth to the ground without our Father," and that "the very hairs of our head are numbered," standing square across his way. But we all know that a text of Scripture is no embarrassment at all in the way of a thorough-paced theologian, when he has a favorite idea to establish.
These declarations were explained as an Oriental, metaphorical way of stating that the All-wise had started a grand world-machine on general laws which included the greatest good to the least of his creation.
I noticed that Harry sat gazing at him with clear, wide-open eyes and that fixed attention which he always gave to anything of a religious nature. The inference that I drew from it was, that Harry must be mistaken in his confidence in prayer, and that the kind of Fatherly intervention he looked for and asked for in his affairs was out of the question. As we walked home I expected him to say something about it, but he did not. When we were in our room at night, and he had finished his prayers, I said," Harry, did you notice Dr. Lothrop's sermon?"
"Yes, I noticed it," he said.
"Well, if that is true, what good does it do to pray?"
"It is n't true," he said, simply.
"How do you know it is n't?"
"O, I know better," he said.
"But, Harry, – Dr. Lothrop, you know, – why, he 's the minister," – and what could a boy of that day say more?
"He 's mistaken there, though," said Harry, quietly, as he would speak of a man who denied the existence of the sun or moon. He was too positive and too settled to be in any frame to argue about it, and the whole of the discourse, which had seemed to me so damaging to his opinions, melted over him like so much moonshine. He fell asleep saying to himself, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," and I lay awake, wondering in my own mind whether this was the way to live, and, if it were, why my grandmother and Aunt Lois, and my father and mother, and all the good people I had ever known, had so many troubles and worries.
Ages ago, in the green, flowery hollows of the hills of Bethlehem, a young shepherd boy took this view of life, and began his days singing, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," and ended them by saying, "Thou hast taught me from my youth up, and hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works"; and his tender communings with an unseen Father have come down to our days as witnesses of green pastures and still waters to be found in this weary work-a-day world, open ever to those who are simple-hearted enough to seek them. It would seem to be the most natural thing in the world that the child of an ever-present Father should live in this way, – that weakness and ignorance, standing within call and reach of infinite grace and strength, should lay hold of that divine helpfulness, and grow to it and by it, as the vine climbs upon the rock; but yet such lives are the exception rather than the rule, even among the good. But the absolute faith of Harry's mind produced about him an atmosphere of composure and restfulness which was, perhaps, the strongest attraction that drew me to him. I was naturally nervous, sensitive, excitable, and needed the repose which he gave me. His quiet belief that all would be right had a sort of effect on me, and, although I did not fall into his way of praying, I came to have great confidence in it for him, and to indulge some vague hopes that something good might come of it for me.
HENCEFORTH my story must be a cord with three strands, inexplicably intertwisted, and appearing and disappearing in their regular intervals, as each occupies for the moment the prominent place. And this threefold cord is composed of myself, Harry, and Tina. To show how the peculiar life of old Massachusetts worked upon us, and determined our growth and character and destinies, is a theme that brings in many personages, many subjects, many accessories. It is strange that no human being grows up who does not so intertwist in his growth the whole idea and spirit of his day, that rightly to dissect out his history would require one to cut to pieces and analyze society, law, religion, the metaphysics and the morals of his times; and, as all these things run back to those of past days, the problem is still further complicated. The humblest human being is the sum total of a column of figures which go back through centuries before he was born.
Old Crab Smith and Miss Asphyxia, if their biographies were rightly written, would be found to be the result and out-come of certain moral and social forces, justly to discriminate which might puzzle a philosopher. But be not alarmed, reader; I am not going to puzzle you, but to return in the briefest time possible to my story.
Harry was adopted into our family circle early in the autumn and, after much discussion, it was resolved in the family synod that he and I should go to the common school in the neighborhood that winter, and out of school-hours share between us certain family tasks or "chores," as they were called at home.
Our daily life began at four o'clock in the morning, when the tapping of Aunt Lois's imperative heels on the back stairs, and her authoritative rap at our door dispelled my slumbers. I was never much of a sleeper; my slumbers at best were light and cat-like; but Harry required all my help and my nervous wakefulness to get him to open his drowsy blue eyes, which he always did with the most perfectly amiable temper. He had that charming gift of physical good-humor which is often praised as a virtue in children and in grown people, but which is a mere condition of the animal nature. We all know that there are good-natured animals and irritable animals, – that the cow is tranquil and gentle, and the hyena snarly and fretful; but we never think of praising and rewarding the one, or punishing the other, for this obvious conformation. But in the case of the human animal it always happens that he who has the good luck to have a quiet, imperturbable nature has also the further good luck of being praised for it as for a Christian virtue, while he who has the ill fortune to be born with irritable nerves has the further ill fortune of being always considered a sinner on account of it.
Nobody that has not suffered from such causes can tell the amount of torture that a child of a certain nervous formation undergoes in the mere process of getting accustomed to his body, to the physical forces of life, and to the ways and doings of that world of grown-up people who have taken possession of the earth before him, and are using it, and determined to go on using it, for their own behoof and convenience in spite of his childish efforts to push in his little individuality and seize his little portion of existence. He is at once laid hold upon by the older majority as an instrument to work out their views of what is fit and proper for himself and themselves; and if he proves a hard-working or creaking instrument, has the further capability of being rebuked and chastened for it.
My first morning feeling was generally one of anger at the sound of Aunt Lois's heels, worthy soul! I have lived to see the day when the tap of those efficient little instruments has seemed to me a most praiseworthy and desirable sound; but in those days they seemed only to be the reveille by which I was awakened to that daily battle of my will with hers which formed so great a feature in my life. It imposed in the first place the necessity of my quitting my warm bed in a room where the thermometer must have stood below zero, and where the snow, drifting through the loosely framed window, often lay in long wreaths on the floor..
As Aunt Lois always opened the door and set in a lighted candle, one of my sinful amusements consisted in lying and admiring the forest of glittering frost-work which had been made by our breath freezing upon the threads of the blanket. I sometimes saw rainbow colors in this frost-work, and went off into dreams and fancies about it, which ended in a doze, from which I was awakened, perhaps, by some of the snow from the floor rubbed smartly on my face, and the words, "How many times must you be called?" and opened my eyes to the vision of Aunt Lois standing over me indignant and admonitory.
Then I would wake Harry. We would spring from the bed and hurry on our clothes, buttoning them with fingers numb with cold, and run down to the back sink-room, where, in water that flew off in icy spatters, we performed our morning ablutions, refreshing our faces and hands by a brisk rub upon a coarse rolling-towel of brown homespun linen. Then with mittens, hats, and comforters, we were ready to turn out with old Cæsar to the barn to help him fodder the cattle. I must say that, when it came to this, on the whole it began to be grand fun for us. As Cæsar went ahead of us with his snow-shovel, we plunged laughing and rolling into the powdery element, with which we plentifully pelted him. Arrived at the barn we climbed, like cats, upon the mow, whence we joyously threw down enough for all his foddering purposes, and with such superabundant good-will in our efforts, that, had need so required, we would have stayed all day and flung off all the hay upon the mow; in fact, like the broomstick in the fable, which would persist in bringing water without rhyme or reason, so we overwhelmed our sable friend with avalanches of hay, which we cast down upon him in an inconsiderate fury of usefulness, and out of which we laughed to see him tear his way, struggling, gesticulating and remonstrating, till his black face shone with perspiration, and his woolly head bristled with hayseeds and morsels of clover.
Then came the feeding of the hens and chickens and other poultry, a work in which we especially delighted, going altogether beyond Cæsar in our largesses of corn, and requiring a constant interposition of his authority to prevent our emptying the crib on every single occasion.
In very severe weather we sometimes found hens or turkeys so overcome with the cold as to require, in Cæsar's view, hospital treatment. This awoke our sympathies, and stimulated our sense of personal importance, and we were never so happy as when trudging back through the snow, following Cæsar with a great cock-turkey lying languidly over his shoulder like a sick baby, his long neck drooping, his wattles, erst so fiery red with pride and valor, now blue and despairing. Great on such occasions were our zeal and excitement, as the cavalcade burst into the kitchen with much noise, and upturning of everything, changing Aunt Lois's quiet arrangements into an impromptu sanitary commission. My grandmother bestirred herself promptly, compounding messes of Indian-meal enlivened with pepper-corns, which were forced incontinently down the long throat, and which in due time acted as a restorative.
A turkey treated in this way soon recovered his wonted pride of demeanor, and, with an ingratitude which is like the ways of this world, would be ready to bully my grandmother and fly at her back when she was picking up chips, and charge down upon us children with vociferous gobblings, the very first warm day afterwards. Such toils as these before breakfast gave a zest to the smoking hot brown bread, the beans and sausages, which formed our morning meal.
The great abundance of food in our New England life is one subject quite worthy of reflection, if we consider the hardness of the soil, the extreme severity of the climate, and the shortness of the growing season between the late frosts of spring and those of early autumn. But, as matter of fact, good, plain food was everywhere in New England so plentiful that at the day I write of nobody could really suffer for the want of it. The theocracy of New England had been so thoroughly saturated with the humane and charitable spirit of the old laws of Moses, in which, dealing "bread to the hungry" is so often reiterated and enforced as foremost among human duties, that no one ever thought of refusing food to any that appeared to need it; and a traveller might have walked on foot from one end of New England to the other, as sure of a meal in its season as he was that he saw a farm-house. Even if there was now and then a Nabal like Crab Smith, who, from a native viciousness hated to do kindness, there was always sure to be in his family an Abigail, ashamed of his baseness, who redeemed the credit of the house by a surreptitious practice of the Christian virtues.
I mention all this because it strikes me, in review of my childhood, that, although far from wealth, and living in many respects in a hard and rough way, I remember great enjoyment in that part of our physical life so important to a child, – the eating and drinking. Our bread, to be sure, was the black compound of rye and Indian which the economy of Massachusetts then made the common form, because it was the result of what could be most easily raised on her hard and stony soil; but I can inform all whom it may concern that rye and Indian bread smoking hot, on a cold winter morning, together with savory sausages, pork, and beans, formed a breakfast fit for a king, if the king had earned it by getting up in a cold room, washing in ice-water, tumbling through snow-drifts, and foddering cattle. We partook of it with a thorough cheeriness; and black Cæsar, seated on his block in the chimney-corner, divided his rations with Bose, the yellow dog of our establishment, with a contentment which it was pleasant to behold.
After breakfast grandfather conducted family prayers, commencing always by reading his chapter in the Bible. He read regularly through in course, as was the custom in those days, without note, comment, or explanation. Among the many insensible forces which formed the minds of New England children, was this constant, daily familiarity with the letter of the Bible. It was for the most part read twice a day in every family of any pretensions to respectability, and it was read as a reading-book in every common school, – in both cases without any attempt at explanation. Such parts as explained themselves were left to do so. Such as were beyond our knowledge were still read, and left to make what impression they could. For my part, I am impatient of the theory of those who think that nothing that is not understood makes any valuable impression on the mind of a child. I am certain that the constant contact of the Bible with my childish mind was a very great mental stimulant, as it certainly was a cause of a singular vague pleasure. The wild, poetic parts of the prophecies, with their bold figures, vivid exclamations, and strange Oriental names and images, filled me with a quaint and solemn delight. Just as a child is brought up under the shadow of the great cathedrals of the Old World, wandering into them daily, at morning, or eventide, beholding the many-colored windows flamboyant with strange legends of saints and angels, and neither understanding the legends, nor comprehending the architecture, is yet stilled and impressed, till the old minster grows into his growth and fashions his nature, so this wonderful old cathedral book insensibly wrought a sort of mystical poetry into the otherwise hard and sterile life of New England. Its passionate Oriental phrases, its quaint, pathetic stories, its wild, transcendent bursts of imagery, fixed an indelible mark in my imagination. Where Kedar and Tashish and Pul and Lud, Chittim and the Isles, Dan and Beersheba, were, or what they were, I knew not, but they were fixed stations in my realm of cloud-land. I knew them as well as I knew my grandmother's rocking-chair, yet the habit of hearing of them only in solemn tones, and in the readings of religious hours, gave to them a mysterious charm. I think no New-Englander, brought up under the régime established by the Puritans, could really estimate how much of himself had actually been formed by this constant face-to-face intimacy with Hebrew literature. It is worthy of remark, too, that, although in details relating to human crime and vice, the Old Bible is the most plain-spoken book conceivable, it never violated the chastity of a child's mind, or stimulated an improper curiosity. I have been astonished in later years to learn the real meaning of passages to which, in family prayers, I listened with innocent gravity.
My grandfather's prayers had a regular daily form, to which in time, I became quite accustomed. No man of not more than ordinary capacity ever ministered twice a day the year round, in the office of priest to his family, without soon learning to repeat the same ideas in the same phrases, forming to himself a sort of individual liturgy. My grandfather always prayed standing, and the image of his mild, silvery head, leaning over the top of the high-backed chair, always rises before me as I think of early days. There was no great warmth or fervor in these daily exercises, but rather a serious and decorous propriety. They were Hebraistic in their form; they spoke of Zion and Jerusalem, of the God of Israel, the God of Jacob, as much as if my grandfather had been a veritable Jew; and except for the closing phrase, "for the sake of thy Son, our Saviour," might all have been uttered in Palestine by a well-trained Jew in the time of David.
When prayers were over every morning, the first move of the day, announced in Aunt Lois's brief energetic phrases, was to "get the boys out of the way." Our dinner was packed in a small splint basket, and we were started on our way to the district school, about a mile distant. We had our sleds with us, – dear winter companions of boys, – not the gayly painted, genteel little sledges with which Boston boys in these days enliven the Common, but rude, coarse fabrics, got up by Cæsar in rainy days out of the odds and ends of old sleigh-runners and such rough boards as he could rudely fashion with saw and hatchet. Such as they were, they suited us well, – mine in particular, because upon it I could draw Tina to school; for already, children as we were, things had naturally settled themselves between us. She was supreme mistress, and I the too happy slave, only anxious to be permitted to do her bidding. With Harry and me she assumed the negligent airs of a little empress. She gave us her books to carry, called on us to tie her shoes, charged us to remember her errands, got us to learn her lessons for her, and to help her out with whatever she had no mind to labor at; and we were only too happy to do it. Harry was the most doting of brothers, and never could look on Tina in any other light than as one whom he must at any price save from every care and every exertion; and as for me, I never dreamed of disputing her supremacy.
One may, perhaps, wonder how a person so extremely aristocratic in all her ideas of female education as Miss Mehitable should commit her little charge to the chance comradeship and unselect society of the district school. But Miss Mehitable, like many another person who has undertaken the task of bringing up a human being, found herself reduced to the doing of a great many things which she had never expected to do. She prepared for her work in the most thorough manner; she read Locke and Milton, and Dr. Gregory's "Legacy to his Daughter," and Mrs. Chapone on the bringing up of girls, to say nothing of Miss Hannah More and all the other wise people; and, after forming some of the most carefully considered and select plans of operation for herself and her little charge, she was at length driven to the discovery that in education, as in all other things, people who cannot do as they would must do as they can. She discovered that a woman between fifty and sixty years of age, of a peculiar nature, and with very fixed, set habits, could not undertake to be the sole companion and educator of a lively, wilful, spirited little pilgrim of mortality, who was as active as a squirrel, and as inconsequent and uncertain in all her movements as a butterfly.
By some rare good fortune of nature or of grace, she found her little protégée already able to read with fluency, and a tolerable mistress of the use of the needle and thimble. Thus she possessed the key of useful knowledge and of useful feminine practice. But truth compels us to state that there appeared not the smallest prospect, during the first few weeks of Miss Mehitable's educational efforts, that she would ever make a good use of either. In vain Miss Mehitable had written a nice card, marking out regular hours for sewing, for reading, for geography and grammar, with suitable intervals of amusement; and in vain Miss Tina, with edifying enthusiasm, had promised, with large eyes and most abundant eloquence, and with many overflowing caresses, to be "so good." Alas! when it came to carrying out the programme, all alone in the old house, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and all days, Tina gaped and nestled, and lost her thimble and her needle, and was infinite in excuses, and infinite in wheedling caresses, and arguments, enforced with flattering kisses, in favor of putting off the duties now of this hour and then of that, and substituting something more to her fancy. She had a thousand plans of her own for each passing hour, and no end of argument and eloquence to persuade her old friend to follow her ways, – to hear her read an old ballad instead of applying herself to her arithmetic lesson, or listen to her recital of something that she had just picked out of English history, or let her finish a drawing that she was just inspired to commence, or spend a bright, sunny hour in flower-gatherings and rambles by the brown river-side; whence she would return laden with flowers, and fill every vase in the old, silent room till it would seem as if the wilderness had literally blossomed as the rose. Tina's knack for the arranging of vases and twining of vines and sorting of wild-flowers amounted to a species of genius; and, as it was something of which Miss Mehitable had not the slightest comprehension, the child took the lead in this matter with a confident assurance. And, after all, the effect was so cheerful and so delightful, that Miss Mehitable could not find it in her heart to call to the mind of the little wood-fairy how many hours these cheerful decorations had cost.
Thus poor Miss Mehitable found herself daily being drawn, by the leash that held this gay bird, into all sorts of unseemly gyrations and wanderings, instead of using it to tether the bird to her own well-considered purposes. She could not deny that the child was making her old days pass in a very amusing manner, and it was so much easier to follow the lively little sprite in all her airy ways and caprices, seeing her lively and spirited and happy, than to watch the ennui and the yawns and the restlessness that came over her with every effort to conform to the strict letter of the programme, that good Miss Mehitable was always yielding. Every night she went to bed with an unquiet conscience, sensible that, though she had had an entertaining day, she had been letting Tina govern her, instead of governing Tina.
Over that grave supposed necessity of governing Tina, this excellent woman groaned in spirit on many a night after the little wheedling tongue had become silent, and the bright, deluding eyes had gone down under their fringy lashes. "The fact is," said the sad old woman, "Miss Asphyxia spoke the truth. It is a fact, I am not fit to bring up a child. She does rule over me, just as she said she would, and I 'm a poor old fool; but then, what am I to do? She is so bright and sweet and pretty, and I 'm a queer-looking, dry, odd old woman, with nobody to love me if she does n't. If I cross her and tie her to rules, and am severe with her, she won't love me, and I am too selfish to risk that. Besides, only think what came of using severe measures with poor Emily! people can be spoilt by severity just as much as by indulgence, and more hopelessly. But what shall I do?"
Miss Mehitable at first had some hope of supporting and backing up the weaknesses of her own heart by having recourse to Polly's well-known energy. Polly was a veritable dragon of education, and strong in the most efficient articles of faith. Children must have their wills broken, as she expressed it, "short off"; they must mind the very first time you speak; they must be kept under and made to go according to rule, and, if they swerved, Polly recommended measures of most sanguinary severity.
But somehow or other Tina had contrived to throw over this grimmest and most Calvinistic of virgins the glamour of her presence, so that she ruled, reigned, and predominated in the most awful sanctuaries of Polly's kitchen, with a fearfully unconcerned and negligent freedom. She dared to peep into her yeast-jug in the very moment of projection, and to pinch off from her downy puffs of newly raised bread sly morsels for her own cooking experiments; she picked from Polly's very hand the raisins which the good woman was stoning for the most awfully sacred election cake, and resolutely persisted in banging on her chair and chattering in her ear during the evolution of high culinary mysteries with which the Eleusinian, or any other heathen trumperies of old, were not to be named. Had n't the receipt for election cake been in the family for one hundred years? and was not Polly the sacred ark and tabernacle in which that divine secret resided? Even Miss Mehitable had always been politely requested to step out of the kitchen when Polly was composing her mind for this serious work, but yet Tina neglected her geography and sewing to be present, chattered all the time, as Polly remarked, like a grist-mill, tasted the sugar and spices, and helped herself at intervals to the savory composition as it was gradually being put together, announcing her opinions, and giving Polly her advice, with an effrontery to which Polly's submission was something appalling.
It really used to seem to Miss Mehitable, as she listened to Polly's dissonant shrieks of laughter from the kitchen, as if that venerable old girl must be slightly intoxicated. Polly's laughter was in truth something quite formidable. All the organs in her which would usually be employed in this exercise were so rusty for want of use, so choked up with theological dust and débris that when brought into exercise they had a wild, grating dissonant sound, rather calculated to alarm. Miss Mehitable really wondered if this could be the same Polly of whom she herself stood in a certain secret awe, whose premises she never invaded, and whose will over and about her had been always done instead of her own; but if she ventured to open the kitchen door and recall Tina, she was sure to be vigorously snubbed by Polly, who walked over all her own precepts and maxims in the most shameless and astonishing manner.
Polly, however, made up for her own compliances by heaping up censures on poor Miss Mehitable when Tina had gone to bed at night. When the bright eyes were fairly closed, and the little bewitching voice hushed in sleep, Polly's conscience awoke like an armed man, and she atoned for her own sins of compliance and indulgence by stringently admonishing Miss Mebitable that she must be more particular about that child, and not let her get her own head so much, – most unblushingly ignoring her own share in abetting her transgressions, and covering her own especial sins under the declaration that "she never had undertaken to bring the child up, – she had to get along with her the best way she could, – but the child never would make anything if she was let to go on so." Yet, in any particular case that arose, Polly was always sure to go over to Tina's side and back her usurpations.
For example, it is to be confessed that Tina never could or would be got to bed at those hours which are universally admitted to be canonical for well-brought-up children. As night drew on, the little one's tongue ran with increasing fluency, and her powers of entertainment waxed more dizzy and dazzling; and so, oftentimes, as the drizzling, freezing night shut in, and the wind piped and howled lonesomely round the corners of the dusky old mansion, neither of the two forlorn women could find it in her heart to extinguish the little cheerful candle of their dwelling in bed; and so she was to them ballet and opera as she sung and danced, mimicked the dog, mimicked the cat and the hens and the tom-turkey, and at last talked and flew about the room like Aunt Lois, stirred up butter and pshawed like grandma, or invented imaginary scenes and conversations, or improvised unheard-of costumes out of strange old things she had rummaged out of Miss Mehitable's dark closets. Neither of the two worthy women had ever seen the smallest kind of dramatic representation, so that Tina's histrionic powers fascinated them by touching upon dormant faculties, and seemed more wonderful for their utter novelty; and more than once, to the poignant self-reproach of Miss Mehitable, and Polly's most moral indignation, nine o'clock struck, in the inevitable tones of the old family timepiece, before they were well aware what they were doing. Then Tina would be hustled off to bed, and Polly would preach Miss Mehitable a strenuous discourse on the necessity of keeping children to regular hours, interspersed with fragments of quotations from one of her venerable father's early sermons on the Christian bringing up of households. Polly would grow inexorable as conscience on these occasions, and when Miss Mehitable humbly pleaded in extenuation how charming a little creature it was, and what a pleasant evening she had given, Polly would shake her head, and declare that the ways of sin were always pleasant for a time, but at the last it would "bite like a serpent and sting like an adder"; and when Miss Mehitable, in the most delicate manner, would insinuate that Polly had been sharing the forbidden fruit, such as it was, Polly would flare up in sudden wrath, and declare that "everything that went wrong was always laid to her."
In consequence of this, though Miss Mehitable found the first few weeks with her little charge altogether the gayest and brightest that had diversified her dreary life, yet there was a bitter sense of self-condemnation and perplexity with it all. One day she opened her mind to my grandmother.
"Laws a massy! don't try to teach her yourself," said that plain-spoken old individual, – "send her to school with the boys. Children have to go in droves. What 's the use of fussing with 'em all day? let the schoolmaster take a part of the care. Children have to be got rid of sometimes, and we come to them all the fresher for having them out of our sight."
The consequence was, that Tina rode to school on our sleds in triumph, and made more fun, and did more mischief, and learned less, and was more adored and desired, than any other scholar of us all.
ONE of my most vivid childish remembrances is the length of our winters, the depth of the snows, the raging fury of the storms that used to whirl over the old farm-house, shrieking and piping and screaming round each angle and corner, and thundering down the chimney in a way that used to threaten to topple all down before it.
The one great central kitchen fire was the only means of warming known in the house, and duly at nine o'clock every night that was raked up, and all the family took their way to bedchambers that never knew a fire, where the very sheets and blankets seemed so full of stinging cold air that they made one's fingers tingle; and where, after getting into bed, there was a prolonged shiver, until one's own internal heat-giving economy had warmed through the whole icy mass. Delicate people had these horrors ameliorated by the application of a brass warming-pan, – an article of high respect and repute in those days, which the modern conveniences for warmth in our houses have entirely banished.
Then came the sleet storms, when the trees bent and creaked under glittering mail of ice, and every sprig and spray of any kind of vegetation was reproduced in sparkling crystals. These were cold days par excellence, when everybody talked of the weather as something exciting and tremendous, – when the cider would freeze in the cellar, and the bread in the milk-room would be like blocks of ice, – when not a drop of water could be got out of the sealed well, and the very chimney-back over the raked-up fire would be seen in the morning sparkling with a rime of frost crystals. How the sledges used to squeak over the hard snow, and the breath freeze on the hair, and beard, and woolly comforters around the necks of the men, as one and another brought in news of the wonderful, unheard-of excesses of Jack Frost during the foregone night! There was always something exhilarating about those extremely cold days, when a very forest of logs, heaped up and burning in the great chimney, could not warm the other side of the kitchen; and when Aunt Lois, standing with her back so near the blaze as to be uncomfortably warm, yet found her dish-towel freezing in her hand, while she wiped the teacup drawn from the almost boiling water. When things got to this point, we little folks were jolly. It was an excitement, an intoxication; it filled life full of talk. People froze the tips of their noses, their ears, their toes; we froze our own. Whoever touched a door-latch incautiously, in the early morning, received a skinning bite from Jack. The axe, the saw, the hatchet, all the iron tools, in short, were possessed of a cold devil ready to snap out at any incautious hand that meddled with him. What ponderous stalactites of ice used to hang from the eaves, and hung unmelted days, weeks, and months, dripping a little, perhaps, towards noon, but hardening again as night came on! and how long all this lasted! To us children it seemed ages.
Then came April with here and there a sunny day. A bluebird would be vaguely spoken of as having appeared. Sam Lawson was usually the first to announce the fact, to the sharp and sceptical contempt of his helpmeet.
On a shimmering April morning, with a half-mind to be sunshiny, Sam saw Harry and myself trotting by his door, and called to us for a bit of gossip.
"Lordy massy, boys, ain't it pleasant? Why, bless your soul and body, I do believe spring 's a comin', though Hepsy she won't believe it," he said, as he leaned over the fence contemplatively, with the axe in his hand. "I heard a bluebird last week, Jake Marshall and me, when we was goin' over to Hopkinton to see how Ike Saunders is. You know he is down with the measles. I went over to offer to sit up with him. Where be ye goin' this mornin'?"
"We 're going to the minister's. Grandfather is n't well, and Lady Lothrop told us to come for some wine."
"Jes' so," said Sam. "Wal, now, he orter take something for his stomach's sake, Scriptur' goes in for that. A little good hot spiced wine, it 's jest the thing; and Ma'am Lothrop she has the very best. Why, some o' that 'ere wine o' hern come over from England years ago, when her fust husband was living; and he was a man that knew where to get his things. Wal, you must n't stop to play; allers remember when you 're sent on errands not to be a idlin' on the road."
"Sam Lawson, will you split me that oven-wood or won't you?" said a smart, cracking voice, as the door flew open and Hepsy's thin face and snapping black eyes appeared, as she stood with a weird, wiry, sharp-visaged baby exalted on one shoulder, while in the other hand she shook a dish-cloth.
"Lordy massy, Hepsy, I 'm splittin' as fast as I can. There, run along, boys; don't stop to play."
We ran along, for, truth to say, the vision of Hepsy's sharp features always quickened our speed, and we heard the loud, high-pitched storm of matrimonial objurgation long after we had left them behind.
Timidly we struck the great knocker, and with due respect and modesty told our errand to the black doctor of divinity who opened the door.
"I 'll speak to Missis," he said; "but this ere's Missis' great day; it 's Good Friday, and she don't come out of her room the whole blessed day."
"But she sent word that we should come," we both answered in one voice.
"Well, you jest wait here while I go up and see," – and the important messenger creaked up stairs on tiptoe with infinite precaution, and knocked at a chamber door.
Now there was something in all this reception that was vaguely solemn and impressive to us. The minister's house of itself was a dignified and august place. The minister was in our minds great and greatly to be feared, and to be had in reverence of them that were about him. The minister's wife was a very great lady, who wore very stiff silks, and rode in a coach, and had no end of unknown wealth at her control, so ran the village gossip.
And now what this mysterious Good Friday was, and why the house was so still, and why the black doctor of divinity tiptoed up stairs so stealthily, and knocked at her door so timidly, we could not exactly conjecture; – it was all of a piece with the general marvellous and supernatural character of the whole establishment.
We heard above the silvery well-bred tones that marked Lady Lothrop.
"Tell the children to come up."
We looked at each other, and each waited a moment for the other to lead the way; finally I took the lead, and Harry followed. We entered a bedroom shaded in a sombre gloom which seemed to our childish eyes mysterious and impressive. There were three windows in the room, but the shutters were closed, and the only light that came in was from heart-shaped apertures in each one. There was in one corner a tall, solemn-looking, high-post bedstead with heavy crimson draperies. There were heavy carved bureaus and chairs of black, solid oak.
At a table covered with dark cloth sat Lady Lothrop, dressed entirely in black, with a great Book of Common Prayer spread out before her. The light from the heart-shaped hole streamed down upon this prayer-book in a sort of dusky shaft, and I was the more struck and impressed because it was not an ordinary volume, but a great folio bound in parchment, with heavy brass knobs and clasps, printed in black-letter, of that identical old edition first prepared in King Edward's time, and appointed to be read in churches. Its very unusual and antique appearance impressed me with a kind of awe.
There was at the other end of the room a tall, full-length mirror, which, as we advanced, duplicated the whole scene, giving back faithfully the image of the spare figure of Lady Lothrop, her grave and serious face, and the strange old book over which she seemed to be bending, with a dusky gleaming of crimson draperies in the background.
"Come here, my children," she said, as we hesitated; "how is your grandfather?"
"He is not so well to-day; and grandmamma said – "
"Yes, yes; I know," she said, with a gentle little wave of the hand; "I desired that you might be sent for some wine; Pompey shall have it ready for you. But tell me, little boys, do you know what day this is?"
"It 's Friday, ma'am," said I, innocently.
"Yes, my child; but do you know what Friday it is?" she said.
"No, ma'am," said I, faintly.
"Well, my child, it is Good Friday; and do you know why it is called Good Friday?"
"This is the day when our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ died on the cross for our salvation; so we call it Good Friday."
I must confess that these words struck me with a strange and blank amazement. That there had been in this world a personage called "Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ," I had learned from the repetition of his name as the usual ending of prayers at church and in the family; but the real literal fact that he had lived on earth had never presented itself to me in any definite form before; but this solemn and secluded room, this sombre woman shut out from all the ordinary ways of the world, devoting the day to lonely musing, gave to her words a strange reality.
"When did he die?" I said.
"More than a thousand years ago," she answered.
Insensibly Harry had pressed forward till he stood in the shaft of light, which fell upon his golden curls, and his large blue eyes now had that wide-open, absorbed expression with which he always listened to anything of a religious nature, and, as if speaking involuntarily, he said eagerly, "But he is not dead. He is living; and we pray to him."
"Why, yes, my son," said Lady Lothrop, turning and looking with pleased surprise, which became more admiring as she gazed, – "yes, he rose from the dead."
"I know. Mother told me all about that. Day after to-morrow will be Easter day," said Harry; "I remember."
A bright flush of pleased expression passed over Lady Lothrop's face as she said, "I am glad, my boy, that you at least have been taught. Tell me, boys," she said at last, graciously, "should you like to go with me in my carriage to Easter Sunday in Boston?"
Had a good fairy offered to take us on the rainbow to the palace of the sunset, the offer could not have seemed more unworldly and dream-like. What Easter Sunday was I had not the faintest idea, but I felt it to be something vague, strange, and remotely suggestive of the supernatural.
Harry, however, stood the thing in the simple, solemn, gentlemanlike way which was habitual with him.
"Thank you, ma'am, I shall be very happy, if grandmamma is willing."
It will be seen that Harry slid into the adoptive familiarity which made my grandmother his, with the easy good faith of childhood.
"Tell your grandmamma if she is willing I shall call for you in my coach to-morrow," – and we were graciously dismissed.
We ran home in all haste with our bottle of wine, and burst into the kitchen, communicating our message both at once to Aunt Lois and Aunt Keziah. The two women looked at each other mysteriously; there was a slight flush on Aunt Lois's keen, spare face.
"Well, if she 's a mind to do it, Kezzy, I don't see how we can refuse."
"Mother never would consent in the world," said Aunt Keziah.
"Mother must," said Aunt Lois, with decision. "We can't afford to offend Lady Lothrop, with both these boys on our hands. Besides, now father is sick, what a mercy to have 'em both out of the house for a Sunday!"
Aunt Lois spoke this with an intensive earnestness that deepened my already strong convictions that we boys were a daily load upon her life, only endured by a high and protracted exercise of Christian fortitude.
She rose and tapped briskly into the bedroom where my grandmother was sitting reading by my grandfather's bed. I heard her making some rapid statements in a subdued, imperative tone. There were a few moments of a sort of suppressed, earnest hum of conversation, and soon we heard sundry vehement interjections from my grandmother, – "Good Friday! – Easter! – pish, Lois! – don't tell me – old cast-off rags of the scarlet woman, – nothing else.
'Abhor the arrant whore of Rome,
And all her blasphemies;
Drink not of her accursed cup,
Obey not her decrees.'"
"Now, mother, how absurd!" I heard Aunt Lois say. "Who's talking about Rome? I 'm sure, if Dr. Lothrop can allow it, we can. It 's all nonsense to talk so. We don't want to offend our minister's wife; we must do the things that make for peace"; and then the humming went on for a few moments more and more earnestly, till finally we heard grandmother break out: –
"Well, well, have it your own way, Lois, – you always did and always will, I suppose. Glad the boys 'll have a holiday, anyhow. She means well, I dare say, – thinks she 's doing right."
I must say that this was a favorite formula with which my grandmother generally let herself down from the high platform of her own sharply defined opinions to the level of Christian charity with her neighbors.
"Who is the whore of Rome?" said Harry to me, confidentially, when we had gone to our room to make ready for our jaunt the next day.
"Don't you know?" said I. "Why, it 's the one that burnt John Rogers, in the Catechism. I can show it to you"; and, forthwith producing from my small stock of books my New England Primer, I called his attention to the picture of Mr. John Rogers in gown and bands, standing in the midst of a brisk and voluminous coil of fire and smoke, over which an executioner, with a supernatural broadaxe upon his shoulders, seemed to preside with grim satisfaction. There was a woman with a baby in her arms and nine children at her side, who stood in a row, each head being just a step lower than the preceding, so that they made a regular flight of stairs. The artist had represented the mother and all the children with a sort of round bundle on each of their heads, of about the same size as the head itself, – a thing which I always interpreted as a further device of the enemy in putting stones on their heads to crush them down; and I pointed it out to Harry as an aggravating feature of the martyrdom.
"Did the whore of Rome do that?" said Harry, after a few moments' reflection.
"Yes, she did, and it tells about it in the poetry which he wrote here to his children the night before his execution," and forthwith I proceeded to read to Harry that whole poetical production, delighted to find a gap in his education which I was competent to fill. We were both wrought up into a highly Protestant state by reading this.
"Horace," said Harry, timidly, "she would n't like such things, would she? she is such a good woman."
"What, Lady Lothrop? of course she 's a good woman; else she would n't be our minister's wife."
"What was grandma talking about?" said Harry.
"O, I don't know; grandmother talks about a great many things," said I. "At any rate, we shall see Boston, and I 've always wanted to see Boston. Only think, Harry, we shall go in a coach!"
This projected tour to Boston was a glorification of us children in the eyes of the whole family. To go, on the humblest of terms, to Boston, – but to be taken thither in Lady Lothrop's coach, to be trotted in magnificently behind her fat pair of carriage-horses, – that was a good fortune second only to translation.
Boston lay at an easy three hours' ride from Oldtown, and Lady Lothrop had signified to my grandmother that we were to be called for soon after dinner. We were to spend the night and the Sunday following at the house of Lady Lothrop's mother, who still kept the old family mansion at the north end, and Lady Lothrop was graciously pleased to add that she would keep the children over Easter Monday, to show them Boston. Faithful old soul, she never omitted the opportunity of reminding the gainsaying community among whom her lot was cast of the solemn days of her church and for one I have remembered Easter Sunday and Monday to this day.
Our good fortune received its crowning stroke in our eyes when, running over to Miss Mehitable's with the news, we found that Lady Lothrop had considerately included Tina in the invitation.
"Well, she must like children better than I do," was Aunt Lois's comment upon the fact, when we announced it. "Now, boys, mind and behave yourselves like young gentlemen," she added, "for you are going to one of the oldest families of Boston, among real genteel people."
"They 're Tories, Lois," put in Aunt Keziah, apprehensively.
"Well, what of that? that thing 's over and gone now," said Aunt Lois, "and nobody lays it up against the Kitterys, and everybody knows they were in the very first circles in Boston before the war, and connected with the highest people in England, so it was quite natural they should be Tories."
"I should n't wonder if Lady Widgery should be there," said Aunt Keziah, musingly, as she twitched her yarn; "she always used to come to Boston about this time o' the year."
"Very likely she will," said my mother. "What relation is she to Lady Lothrop?"
"Why, bless me, don't you know?" said Aunt Lois. "Why, she was Polly Steadman, and sister to old Ma'am Kittery's husband's first wife. She was second wife to Sir Thomas; his first wife was one of the Keatons of Penshurst, in England; she died while Sir Thomas was in the custom-house; she was a poor, sickly thing. Polly was a great beauty in her day. People said he admired her rather too much before his wife died, but I don't know how that was."
"I wonder what folks want to say such things for," quoth my grandmother. "I hate backbiters, for my part."
"We are n't backbiting, mother. I only said how the story ran. It was years ago, and poor Sir Thomas is in his grave long ago."
"Then you might let him rest there," said my grandmother. "Lady Widgery was a pleasant-spoken woman, I remember."
"She 's quite an invalid now, I heard," said Aunt Lois. "Our Bill was calling at the Kitterys' the other day, and Miss Deborah Kittery spoke of expecting Lady Widgery. The Kitterys have been very polite to Bill; they 've invited him there to dinner once or twice this winter. That was one reason why I thought we ought to be careful how we treat Lady Lothrop's invitation. It 's entirely through her influence that Bill gets these attentions."
"I don't know about their being the best thing for him," said my grandmother, doubtfully.
"Mother, how can you talk so? What can be better than for a young man to have the run of good families in Boston?" said Aunt Lois.
"I 'd rather see him have intimacy with one godly minister of old times," said my grandmother.
"Well, that 's what Bill is n't likely to do," quoth Aunt Lois, with a slight shade of impatience. "We must take boys as we find 'em."
"I have n't anything against Tories or Episcopalians," said my grandmother; "but they ain't our sort of folks. I dare say they mean as well as they know how."
"Miss Mehitable visits the Kitterys when she is in Boston," said Aunt Lois, "and thinks everything of them. She says that Deborah Kittery is a very smart, intelligent woman, – a woman of a very strong mind."
"I dare say they 're well enough," said my grandmother. "I 'm sure I wish 'em well with all my heart."
"Now, Horace," said Aunt Lois, "be careful you don't sniff, and be sure and wipe your shoes on the mat when you come in, and never on any account speak a word unless you are spoken to. Little boys should be seen and not heard; and be very careful you never touch anything you see. It is very good of Lady Lothrop to be willing to take all the trouble of having you with her, and you must make her just as little as possible."
I mentally resolved to reduce myself to a nonentity, to go out of existence, as it were, to be nobody and nowhere, if only I might escape making trouble.
"As to Harry, he is always a good, quiet boy, and never touches things, or forgets to wipe his toes," said my aunt. "I 'm sure he will behave himself."
My mother colored slightly at this undisguised partiality for Harry, but she was too much under Aunt Lois's discipline to venture a word.
"Lordy massy, Mis' Badger, how do ye all do?" said Sam Lawson, this moment appearing at the kitchen door. "I saw your winders so bright, I thought I 'd jest look in and ask after the Deacon. I ben into Miss Mehitable's, and there 's Polly, she telled me about the chillen goin' to Boston to-morrow. Tiny, she 's jest flying round and round like a lightning-bug, most out of her head, she 's so tickled; and Polly, she was a i'nin' up her white aprons to get her up smart. Polly, she says it 's all pagan flummery about Easter, but she 's glad the chillen are goin' to have the holiday." And with this Sam Lawson seated himself on his usual evening roost in the corner, next to black Cæsar, and we both came and stood by his knee.
"Wal, boys, now you 're goin' among real, old-fashioned gentility. Them Kitterys used to hold their heads 'mazin' high afore the war, and they 've managed by hook and crook to hold on to most what they got, and now by-gones is by-gones. But I believe they don't go out much, or go into company. Old Ma'am Kittery, she 's kind o' broke up about her son that was killed at the Delaware."
"Fighting on the wrong side, poor woman," said my grandmother. "Well, I s'pose he thought he was doing right."
"Yes, yes," said Sam, "there 's all sorts o' folks go to make up a world, and, lordy massy, we must n't be hard on nobody; can't 'spect everybody to be right all round; it 's what I tell Polly when she sniffs at Lady Lothrop keepin' Christmas and Easter and sich. 'Lordy massy, Polly,' says I, 'if she reads her Bible, and 's good to the poor, and don't speak evil o' nobody, why, let her have her Easter; what 's the harm on't?' But, lordy massy bless your soul an' body! there 's no kind o' use talkin' to Polly. She fumed away there, over her i'nin' table; she did n't believe in folks that read their prayers out o' books; and then she hed it all over about them tew thousan' ministers that was all turned out o' the church in one day in old King Charles's time. Now, raily, Mis' Badger, I don't see why Lady Lothrop should be held 'sponsible for that are, if she is 'Piscopalian."
"Well, well," said my grandmother; "they did turn out the very best men in England, but the Lord took 'em for seed to plant America with. But no wonder we feel it: burnt children dread the fire. I 've nothing against Lady Lothrop, and I don't wish evil to the Episcopalians nor to the Tories. There 's good folks among 'em all, and 'the Lord knoweth them that are his.' But I do hope, Horace, that, when you get to Boston, you will go out on to Copps Hill and see the graves of the Saints. There are the men that I want my children to remember. You come here, and let me read you about them in my 'magnaly' * here." And with this my grandmother produced her well-worn copy; and, to say the truth, we were never tired of hearing what there was in it. What legends, wonderful and stirring, of the solemn old forest life, – of fights with the Indians, and thrilling adventures, and captivities, and distresses, – of encounters with panthers and serpents, and other wild beasts, which made our very hair stand on end! Then there were the weird witch-stories, so wonderfully attested; and how Mr. Peter So-and-so did visibly see, when crossing a river, a cat's head swimming in front of the boat, and the tail of the same following behind; and how worthy people had been badgered and harassed by a sudden friskiness in all their household belongings, in a manner not unknown in our modern days. Of all these fascinating legends my grandmother was a willing communicator, and had, to match them, numbers of corresponding ones from her own personal observation and experience; and sometimes Sam Lawson would chime in with long-winded legends, which, being told by flickering firelight, with the wind rumbling and tumbling down the great chimney, or shrieking and yelling and piping around every corner of the house, like an army of fiends trying with tooth and claw to get in upon us, had power to send cold chills down our backs in the most charming manner.
For my part, I had not the slightest fear of the supernatural; it was to me only a delightful stimulant, just crisping the surface of my mind with a pleasing horror. I had not any doubt of the stories of apparitions related by Dr. Cotton, because I had seen so many of them myself; and I did not doubt that many of the witnesses who testified in these cases really did see what they said they saw, as plainly as I had seen similar appearances. The consideration of the fact that there really are people in whose lives such phenomena are of frequent occurrence seems to have been entirely left out of the minds of those who have endeavored to explain that dark passage in our history.
In my maturer years I looked upon this peculiarity as something resulting from a physical idiosyncrasy, and I have supposed that such affections may become at times epidemics in communities, as well as any other affection of the brain and nervous system. Whether the things thus discerned have an objective reality or not, has been one of those questions at which, all my life, the interrogation point has stood unerased.
On this evening, however, my grandmother thought fit to edify us by copious extracts from "The Second Part, entituled Sepher-Jearim, i.e. Liber Deum Timentium; or, Dead Abels; – yet speaking and spoken of."
The lives of several of these "Dead Abels" were her favorite reading, and to-night she designed especially to fortify our minds with their biographies; so she gave us short dips and extracts here and there from several of them, as, for example: "Janus Nov.-Anglicus; or, The Life of Mr. Samuel Higginson"; – "Cadmus Americanus; or, Life of Mr. Charles Chauncey"; – "Cygnea Cantio; or, The Death of Mr. John Avery"; – "Fulgentius; or, The Life of Mr. Richard Mather"; and "Elisha's Bones; or, Life of Mr. Henry Whitefield."
These Latin titles stimulated my imagination like the sound of a trumpet, and I looked them out diligently in my father's great dictionary, and sometimes astonished my grandmother by telling her what they meant.
In fact, I was sent to bed that night thoroughly fortified against all seductions of the gay and worldly society into which I was about to be precipitated; and my reader will see that there was need enough of this preparation.
All these various conversations in regard to differences of religion went on before us children with the freedom with which older people generally allow themselves to go on in the presence of the little non-combatants of life. In those days, when utter silence and reserve in the presence of elders was so forcibly inculcated as one of the leading virtues of childhood, there was little calculation made for the effect of such words on the childish mind. With me it was a perfect hazy mist of wonder and bewilderment; and I went to sleep and dreamed that John Rogers was burning Lady Lothrop at the stake, and Polly, as executioner, presided with a great broadaxe over her shoulder, while grandmother, with nine small children, all with stone bundles on their heads, assisted at the ceremony.
Our ride to Boston was performed in a most proper and edifying manner. Lady Lothrop sat erect and gracious on the back seat, and placed Harry, for whom she seemed to have conceived a special affection, by her side. Tina was perched on the knee of my lady's maid, a starched, prim woman who had grown up and dried in all the most sacred and sanctified essences of genteel propriety. She was the very crispness of old-time decorum, brought up to order herself lowly and reverently to all her betters, and with a secret conviction that, aside from Lady Lothrop, the whole of the Oldtown population were rather low Dissenters, whom she was required by the rules of Christian propriety to be kind to. To her master, as having been honored with the august favor of her mistress's hand, she looked up with respect, but her highest mark of approbation was in the oft-repeated burst which came from her heart in moments of confidential enthusiasm, – "Ah, ma'am, depend upon it, master is a churchman in his heart. If 'e 'ad only 'ad the good fortune to be born in Hengland, 'e would 'ave been a bishop!"
Tina had been talked to and schooled rigorously by Miss Mehitable as to propriety of manner during this ride; and, as Miss Mehitable well knew what a chatterbox she was, she exacted from her a solemn promise that she would only speak when she was spoken to. Being perched in Mrs. Margery's lap, she felt still further the stringent and binding power of that atmosphere of frosty decorum which encircled this immaculate waiting-maid. A more well-bred, inoffensive, reverential little trio never surrounded a lady patroness; and as Lady Lothrop was not much of a talker, and, being a childless woman, had none of those little arts of drawing out children which the maternal instinct alone teaches, our ride, though undoubtedly a matter of great enjoyment, was an enjoyment of a serious and even awful character. Lady Lothrop addressed a few kind inquiries to each one of us in turn, to which we each of us replied, and then the conversation fell into the hands of Mrs. Margery, and consisted mainly in precise details as to where and how she had packed her mistress's Sunday cap and velvet dress; in doing which she evinced the great fluency and fertility of language with which women of her class are gifted on the one subject of their souls. Mrs. Margery felt as if the Sunday cap of the only supporter of the true Church in the dark and heathen parish of Oldtown was a subject not to be lightly or unadvisedly considered; and, therefore, she told at great length how she had intended to pack it first all together, – how she had altered her mind and taken off the bow, and packed that in a little box by itself, and laid the strings out flat in the box, – what difficulties had met her in folding the velvet dress, – and how she had at first laid it on top of the trunk, but had decided at last that the black lutestring might go on top of that, because it was so much lighter, &c., &c., &c.
Lady Lothrop was so much accustomed to this species of monologue, that it is quite doubtful if she heard a word of it but poor Tina, who felt within herself whole worlds of things to say, from the various objects upon the road, of which she was dying to talk and ask questions, wriggled and twisted upon Mrs. Margery's knee, and finally gave utterance to her pent-up feelings in deep sighs.
"What 's the matter, little dear?" said Lady Lothrop.
"O dear! I was just wishing I could go to church."
"Well, you are going to-morrow, dear."
"I just wish I could go now to say one prayer."
"And what is that, my dear?"
"I just want to say, 'O Lord, open thou my lips,'" said Tina with effusion.
Lady Lothrop smiled with an air of innocent surprise, and Mrs. Margery winked over the little head.
"I 'm so tired of not talking!" said Tina, pathetically; "but I promised Miss Mehitable I would n't speak unless I was spoken to," she added, with an air of virtuous resolution.
"Why, my little dear, you may talk," said Lady Lothrop. "It won't disturb me at all. Tell us now about anything that interests you."
"O, thank you ever so much," said Tina; and from this moment, as a little elfin butterfly bursts from a cold, gray chrysalis, Tina rattled and chattered and sparkled, and went on with verve and gusto that quite waked us all up. Lady Lothrop and Mrs. Margery soon found themselves laughing with a heartiness which surprised themselves; and, the icy chains of silence being once broken, we all talked, almost forgetting in whose presence we were. Lady Lothrop looked from one to another in a sort of pleased and innocent surprise. Her still, childless, decorous life covered and concealed many mute feminine instincts which now rose at the voice and touch of childhood; and sometimes in the course of our gambols she would sigh, perhaps thinking of her own childless hearth.
IT was just at dusk that our carriage stood before the door of a respectable mansion at the north end of Boston.
I remember our alighting and passing through a wide hall with a dark oaken staircase, into a low-studded parlor, lighted by the blaze of a fire of hickory logs, which threw out tongues of yellow flame, and winked at itself with a thousand fanciful flashes, in the crinkles and angles of a singularly high and mighty pair of brass andirons.
A lovely, peaceful old lady, whose silvery white hair and black dress were the most striking features of the picture, kissed Lady Lothrop, and then came to us with a perfect outgush of motherly kindness. "Why, the poor little dears! the little darlings!" she said, as she began with her trembling fingers to undo Tina's bonnet-strings. "Did they want to come to Boston and see the great city? Well, they should. They must be cold; there, put them close by the fire, and grandma will get them a nice cake pretty soon. Here, I 'll hold the little lady," she said, as she put Tina on her knee.
The child nestled her head down on her bosom as lovingly and confidingly as if she had known her all her days. "Poor babe," said the old lady to Lady Lothrop, "who could have had a heart to desert such a child? and this is the boy," she said, drawing Harry to her and looking tenderly at him. "Well, a father of the fatherless is God in his holy habitation." There was something even grand about the fervor of this sentence as she uttered it, and Tina put up her hand with a caressing gesture around the withered old neck.
"Debby, get these poor children a cake," said the lady to a brisk, energetic, rather high-stepping individual, who now entered the apartment.
"Come now, mother, do let it rest till supper-time. If we let you alone, you would murder all the children in your neighborhood with cake and sugar-plums; you 'd be as bad as King Herod."
Miss Debby was a well-preserved, up-and-down, positive, cheery, sprightly maiden lady of an age lying somewhere in the indeterminate region between forty and sixty. There was a positive, brusque way about all her movements, and she advanced to the fire, rearranged the wood, picked up stray brands, and whisked up the coals with a brush, and then, seating herself bolt upright, took up the business of making our acquaintance in the most precise and systematic manner.
"So this is Master Horace Holyoke. How do you do, sir?"
As previously directed, I made my best bow with anxious politeness.
"And this is Master Harry Percival, is it?" Harry did the same.
"And this," she added, turning to Tina, "is Miss Tina Percival, I understand? Well, we are very happy to see good little children in this house always." There was a rather severe emphasis on the good, which, together with the somewhat martial and disciplinary air which invested all Miss Deborah's words and actions, was calculated to strike children with a wholesome awe.
Our resolution "to be very good indeed" received an immediate accession of strength. At this moment a serving-maid appeared at the door, and, with eyes cast down, and a stiff, respectful courtesy, conveyed the information, "If you please, ma'am, tea is ready."
This humble, self-abased figure – the utter air of self-abnegation with which the domestic seemed to intimate that, unless her mistress pleased, tea was not ready, and that everything in creation was to be either ready or not ready according to her sovereign will and good pleasure – was to us children a new lesson in decorum.
"Go tell Lady Widgery that tea is served," said Miss Deborah, in a loud, resounding voice. "Tell her that we will wait her ladyship's convenience."
The humble serving-maid courtesied, and closed the door softly with reverential awe. On the whole, the impression upon our minds was deeply solemn; we were about to see her ladyship.
Lady Widgery was the last rose of summer of the departed aristocracy. Lady Lothrop's title was only by courtesy; but Sir Thomas Widgery was a live baronet; and as there were to be no more of these splendid dispensations in America, one may fancy the tenderness with which old Tory families cherished the last lingering remnants.
The door was soon opened again, and a bundle of black silk appeared, with a pale, thin face looking out of it. There was to be seen the glitter of a pair of sharp, black eyes, and the shimmer of a thin white hand with a diamond ring upon it. These were the items that made up Lady Widgery, as she dawned upon our childish vision.
Lest the reader should conceive any false hopes or impressions, I may as well say that it turned out, on further acquaintance, that these items were about all there was of Lady Widgery. It was one of the cases where Nature had picked up a very indifferent and commonplace soul, and shut it up in a very intelligent-looking body. From her youth up, Lady Widgery's principal attraction consisted in looking as if there was a great deal more in her than there really was. Her eyes were sparkling and bright, and had a habit of looking at things in this world with keen, shrewd glances, as if she were thinking about them to some purpose, which she never was. Sometimes they were tender and beseeching, and led her distracted admirers to feel as if she were melting with emotions that she never dreamed of. Thus Lady Widgery had always been rushed for and contended for by the other sex; and one husband had hardly time to be cold in his grave before the air was filled with the rivalry of candidates to her hand; and after all the beautiful little hoax had nothing for it but her attractive soul-case. In her old age she still looked elegant, shrewd, and keen, and undeniably high-bred, and carried about her the prestige of rank and beauty. Otherwise she was a little dry bundle of old prejudices, of faded recollections of past conquests and gayeties, and weakly concerned about her own health, which, in her view and that of everybody about her, appeared a most sacred subject. She had a somewhat entertaining manner of rehearsing the gossip and scandals of the last forty years, and was, so far as such a person could be, religious: that is to say, she kept all the feasts and fasts of the Church scrupulously. She had, in a weakly way, a sense of some responsibility in this matter, because she was Lady Widgery, and because infidelity was prevailing in the land, and it became Lady Widgery to cast her influence against it. Therefore it was that, even at the risk of her precious life, as she thought, she had felt it imperative to come to Boston to celebrate Easter Sunday.
When she entered the room there was an immediate bustle of welcome. Lady Lothrop ran up to her, saluting her with an appearance of great fondness, mingled, I thought, with a sort of extreme deference. Miss Deborah was pressing in her attentions. "Will you sit a moment before tea to get your feet warm, or will you go out at once? The dining-room is quite warm."
Lady Widgery's feet were quite warm, and everybody was so glad to hear it, that we were filled with wonder.
Then she turned and fixed her keen, dark eyes on us, as if she were reading our very destiny, and asked who we were. We were all presented circumstantially, and the brilliant eyes seemed to look through us shrewdly, as we made our bows and courtesies. One would have thought that she was studying us with a deep interest, which was not the case.
We were now marshalled out to the tea-table, where we children had our plates put in a row together, and were waited on with obsequious civility by Mrs. Margery and another equally starched and decorous female, who was the attendant of Lady Widgery. We stood at our places a moment, while the lovely old lady, raising her trembling hand, pronounced the words of the customary grace: "For what we are now about to receive, the Lord make us truly thankful." Her voice trembled as she spoke, and somehow the impression of fragility and sanctity that she made on me awoke in me a sort of tender awe. When the blessing was over, the maids seated us, and I had leisure to notice the entirely new scene about me.
It was all conducted with an inexpressible stateliness of propriety, and, in an undefined way, the impression was produced upon my mind that the frail, shivery, rather thin and withered little being, enveloped in a tangle of black silk wraps, was something inexpressibly sacred and sublime. Miss Deborah waited on her constantly, pressingly, energetically; and the dear, sweet old white-haired lady tended her with obsequiousness, which, like everything else that she did, was lost in lovingness; and Lady Lothrop, to me the most awe-inspiring of the female race, paled her ineffectual fires, and bowed her sacred head to the rustling little black silk bundle, in a way that made me inwardly wonder. The whole scene was so different from the wide, rough, noisy, free-and-easy democracy of my grandmother's kitchen, that I felt crusted all over with an indefinite stiffness of embarrassment, as if I had been dipped in an alum-bath. At the head of the table there was an old silver tea-urn, looking heavy enough to have the weight of whole generations in it, into which, at the moment of sitting down, a serious-visaged waiting-maid dropped a red-hot weight, and forthwith the noise of a violent boiling arose. We little folks looked at each other inquiringly, but said nothing. All was to us like an enchanted palace. The great, mysterious tea-urn, the chased silver tea-caddy, the precise and well-considered movements of Miss Deborah as she rinsed the old embossed silver teapots in the boiling water, the India-china cups and plates, painted with the family initials and family crest, all were to us solemn signs and symbols of that upper table-land of gentility, into which we were forewarned by Aunt Lois we were to enter.
"There," said Miss Deborah, with emphasis, as she poured and handed to Lady Widgery a cup of tea, – "there 's some of the tea that my brother saved at the time of that disgraceful Boston riot, when Boston Harbor was floating with tea-chests. His cargo was rifled in the most scandalous manner, but he went out in a boat and saved some at the risk of his life."
Now my most sacred and enthusiastic remembrance was of the glow of patriotic fervor with which, seated on my grandfather's knee, I had heard the particulars of that event at a time when names and dates and dress, and time, place, and circumstance, had all the life and vividness of a recent transaction. I cannot describe the clarion tones in which Miss Deborah rung out the word disgraceful, in connection with an event which had always set my blood boiling with pride and patriotism. Now, as if convicted of sheep-stealing, I felt myself getting red to the very tips of my ears.
"It was a shameful proceeding," sighed Lady Widgery, in her pretty, high-bred tones, as she pensively stirred the amber fluid in her teacup. "I never saw Sir Thomas so indignant at any thing in all my life, and I 'm sure it gave me a sick-headache for three days, so that I had to stay shut up in a dark room, and could n't keep the least thing on my stomach. What a mysterious providence it is that such conduct should be suffered to lead to success!"
"Well," said Lady Lothrop, sipping her tea on the other side, "clouds and darkness are about the Divine dispensations; but let us hope it will be all finally overruled for the best."
"O, come," said Miss Debby, giving a cheerful, victorious crow of defiance from behind her teapots. "Dorothy will be down on us with the tip-end of one of her husband's sermons, of course. Having married a Continental Congress parson, she has to say the best she can; but I, Deborah Kittery, who was never yet in bondage to any man, shall be free to have my say to the end of my days, and I do say that the Continental Congress is an abomination in the land, and the leaders of it, if justice had been done, they would all have been hanged high as Haman; and that there is one house in old Boston, at the North End, and not far from the spot where we have the honor to be, where King George now reigns as much as ever he did, and where law and order prevail in spite of General Washington and Mrs. Martha, with her court and train. It puts me out of all manner of patience to read the papers, – receptions to 'em here, there, and everywhere; – I should like to give 'em a reception."
"Come, come, Deborah, my child, you must be patient," said the old lady. "The Lord's ways are not as our ways. He knows what is best."
"I dare say he does, mother, but we know he does let wickedness triumph to an awful extent. I think myself he 's given this country up."
"Let us hope not," said the mother, fervently.
"Just look at it," said Miss Deborah. "Has not this miserable rebellion broken up the true Church in this country just as it was getting a foothold? has it not shaken hands with French infidelity? Thomas Jefferson is a scoffing infidel, and he drafted their old Declaration of Independence, which, I will say, is the most abominable and blasphemous document that ever sinners dared to sign."
"But General Washington was a Churchman," said Lady Widgery, "and they were always very careful about keeping the feasts and fasts. Why, I remember, in the old times, I have been there to Easter holidays, and we had a splendid ball."
"Well, then, if he was in the true Church, so much the worse for him," said Miss Deborah. "There is some excuse for men of Puritan families, because their ancestors were schismatics and disorganizers to begin with, and came over here because they did n't like to submit to lawful government. For my part, I have always been ashamed of having been born here. If I 'd been consulted I should have given my voice against it."
"Debby, child, how you do talk!" said the old lady.
"Well, mother, what can I do but talk? and it 's a pity if I should n't be allowed to do that. If I had been a man, I 'd have fought; and, if I could have my way now, I 'd go back to England and live, where there 's some religion and some government."
"I don't see," said the old lady, "but people are doing pretty well under the new government."
"Indeed, mother, how can you know anything about it? There 's a perfect reign of infidelity and immorality begun. Why, look here, in Boston and Cambridge things are going just as you might think they would. The college fellows call themselves D'Alembert, Rousseau, Voltaire, and other French heathen names; and there 's Ellery Davenport! just look at him, – came straight down from generations of Puritan ministers, and has n't half as much religion as my cat there; for Tom does know how to order himself lowly and reverently to all his betters."
Here there was such a burst of pleading feminine eloquence on all hands as showed that general interest which often pervades the female breast for some bright, naughty, wicked prodigal son. Lady Widgery and old Mrs. Kittery and Lady Lothrop all spoke at once. "Indeed, Miss Deborah," – "Come, come, Debby," – "You are too bad, – he goes to church with us sometimes."
"To church, does he?" said Miss Debby, with a toss; "and what does he go for? Simply to ogle the girls."
"We should be charitable in our judgments," said Lady Widgery.
"Especially of handsome young men," said Miss Debby, with strong irony. "You all know he does n't believe as much as a heathen. They say he reads and speaks French like a native, and that 's all I want to know of anybody. I 've no opinion of such people; a good honest Christian has no occasion to go out of his own language, and when he does you may be pretty sure it 's for no good."
"O, come now, Deborah, you are too sweeping altogether," said Lady Lothrop; "French is of course an elegant accomplishment."
"I never saw any good of the French language, for my part, I must confess," said Miss Debby, "nor, for that matter, of the French nation either; they eat frogs, and break the Sabbath, and are as immoral as the old Canaanites. It 's just exactly like them to aid and abet this unrighteous rebellion. They always hated England, and they take delight in massacres and rebellions, and every kind of mischief, ever since the massacre of St. Bartholomew. Well, well, we shall see what 'll come of these ungodly levelling principles in them. 'All men created free and equal,' forsooth. Just think of that! clearly against the church catechism."
"Of course that is all infidelity," said Lady Widgery, confidently. "Sir Thomas used to say it was the effect on the lower classes he dreaded. You see these lower classes are something dreadful; and what 's to keep them down if it is n't religion? as Sir Thomas used to say when he always would go to church Sundays. He felt such a responsibility."
"Well," said Miss Deborah, "you 'll see. I predict we shall see the time when your butcher and your baker, and your candle-stick-maker will come into your parlor and take a chair as easy as if they were your equals, and every servant-maid will be thinking she must have a silk gown like her mistress. That 's what we shall get by our revolution."
"But let us hope it will be all overruled for good," said Lady Lothrop.
"O, overruled, overruled!" said Miss Deborah. "Of course, it will be overruled. Sodom and Gomorrah were overruled for good, but 't was a great deal better not to be living there about those times." Miss Debby's voice had got upon so high a key, and her denunciations began to be so terrifying, that the dear old lady interposed.
"Well, children, do let 's love one another, whatever we do," she said; "and, Debby, you must n't talk so hard about Ellery, – he 's your cousin, you know."
"Besides, my dear," said Lady Widgery, "great allowances should be made for his domestic misfortunes."
"I don't see why a man need turn infidel and rebel because his wife has turned out a madwoman," said Miss Debby; "what did he marry her for?"
"O my dear, it was a family arrangement to unite the two properties," said Lady Widgery. "You see all the great Pierrepoint estates came in through her, but then she was quite shocking, – very peculiar always, but after her marriage her temper was dreadful, – it made poor Ellery miserable, and drove him from home; it really was a mercy when it broke out into real insanity, so that they could shut her up. I 've always had great tenderness for Ellery on that account."
"Of course you have, because you 're a lady. Did I ever know a lady yet that did n't like Ellery Davenport, and was n't ready to go to the stake for him? For my part I hate him, because, after all, he humbugs me, and will make me like him in spite of myself. I have to watch and pray against him all the time."
And as if, by the odd law of attraction which has given birth to the proverb that somebody is always nearest when you are talking about him, at this moment the dining-room door was thrown open, and the old man-servant announced "Colonel Ellery Davenport."
"Colonel!" said Miss Debby, with a frown and an accent of contempt. "How often must I tell Hawkins not to use those titles of the old rebel mob army? Insubordination is beginning to creep in, I can see."
These words were lost in the bustle of the entrance of one on whom, after listening to all the past conversation, we children looked with very round eyes of attention. What we saw was a tall, graceful young man, whose air and movements gave a singular impression of both lightness and strength. He carried his head on his shoulders with a jaunty, slightly haughty air, like that of a thorough-bred young horse, and there was quality and breeding in every movement of his body. He was dressed in the imposing and picturesque fashion of those times, with a slight military suggestion in its arrangements. His hair was powdered to a dazzling whiteness, and brushed off his low Greek forehead, and the powder gave that peculiar effect to the eye and complexion which was one of the most distinctive traits of that style of costume. His eyes were of a deep violet blue, and of that lively, flashing brilliancy which a painter could only represent by double lights. They seemed to throw out light like diamonds. He entered the room bowing and smiling with the gay good-humor of one sure of pleasing. An inspiring sort of cheerfulness came in with him, that seemed to illuminate the room like a whole stream of sunshine. In short, he fully justified all Miss Deborah's fears.
In a moment he had taken a rapid survey of the party; he had kissed the hand of the dear old lady; he had complimented Lady Widgery; he had inquired with effusion after the health of Parson Lothrop, and ended all by an adroit attempt to kiss Miss Deborah's hand, which earned him a smart little cuff from that wary belligerent.
"No rebels allowed on these premises," said Miss Debby, sententiously.
"On my soul, cousin, you forget that peace has been declared," he said, throwing himself into a chair with a nonchalant freedom.
"Peace! not in our house. I have n't surrendered, if Lord Cornwallis has," said Miss Debby, "and I consider you as the enemy."
"Well, Debby, we must love our enemies," said the old lady, in a pleading tone.
"Certainly you must," he replied quickly; "and here I 've come to Boston on purpose to go to church with you to-morrow."
"That 's right, my boy," said the old lady. "I always knew you 'd come into right ways at last."
"O, there are hopes of me, certainly," he said; "if the gentler sex will only remember their mission, and be guardian angels, I think I shall be saved in the end."
"You mean that you are going to wait on pretty Lizzie Cabot to church to-morrow," said Miss Debby; "that 's about all the religion there is in it."
"Mine is the religion of beauty, fair cousin," said he. "If I had had the honor of being one of the apostles, I should have put at least one article to that effect into our highly respectable creed."
"Ellery Davenport, you are a scoffer."
"What, I? because I believe in the beautiful? What is goodness but beauty? and what is sin but bad taste? I could prove it to you out of my grandfather Edwards's works, passim, and I think nobody in New England would dispute him."
"I don't know anything about him," said Miss Debby, with a toss. "He was n't in the Church."
"Mere matter of position, cousin. Could n't very well be when the Church was a thousand miles across the water; but he lived and died a stanch loyalist, – an aristocrat in the very marrow of his bones, as anybody may see. The whole of his system rests on the undisputed right of big folks to eat up little folks in proportion to their bigness, and the Creator, being biggest of all, is dispensed from all obligation to seek any thing but his own glory. Here you have the root-doctrine of the divine right of kings and nobles, who have only to follow their Maker's example in their several spheres, as his blessed Majesty King George has of late been doing with his American colonies. If he had got the treatise on true virtue by heart, he could not have carried out its principles better."
"Well, now, I never knew that there was so much good in President Edwards before," said Lady Widgery, with simplicity. "I must get my maid to read me that treatise some time."
"Do, madam," said Ellery. "I think you will find it exactly adapted to your habits of thought, and extremely soothing."
"It will be a nice thing for her to read me to sleep with," said Lady Widgery, innocently.
"By all means," said Ellery, with an indescribable mocking light in his great blue eyes.
For my own part, having that strange, vibrating susceptibility of constitution which I have described as making me peculiarly impressible by the moral sphere of others, I felt in the presence of this man a singular and painful contest of attraction and repulsion, such as one might imagine to be produced by the near approach of some beautiful but dangerous animal. His singular grace and brilliancy awoke in me an undefined antagonism akin to antipathy, and yet, as if under some enchantment, I could not keep my eyes off from him, and eagerly listened to everything that he had to say.
With that quick insight into human nature which enabled him, as by a sort of instinct, to catch the reflex of every impression which he made on any human being, he surveyed the row of wide-open, wondering, admiring eyes, which followed him at our end of the table.
"Aha, what have we here?" he said, as he advanced and laid his hand on my head. I shuddered and shook it off with a feeling of pain and dislike amounting to hatred.
"How now, my little man?" he said; "what 's the matter here?" and then he turned to Tina. "Here 's a little lady will be more gracious, I know," and he stooped and attempted to kiss her.
The little lady drew her head back and repulsed him with the dignity of a young princess.
"Upon my word," he said, "we learn the tricks of our trade early, don't we? Pardon me, petite mademoiselle," he said as he retreated, laughing. "So you don't like to be kissed?"
"Only by proper persons," said Tina, with that demure gravity which she could at times so whimsically assume, but sending with the words a long mischievous flash from under her downcast eyelashes.
"Upon my word, if there is n't one that 's perfect in Mother Eve's catechism at an early age," said Ellery Davenport. "Young lady, I hope for a better acquaintance with you one of these days."
"Come Ellery, let the child alone," said Miss Debby; "why should you be teaching all the girls to be forward? If you notice her so much she will be vain."
"That 's past praying for, anyhow," said he, looking with admiration at the dimpling, sparkling face of Tina, who evidently was dying to answer him back. "Don't you see the monkey has her quiver full of arrows?" he said. "Do let her try her infant hand on me."
But Miss Debby, eminently proper, rose immediately, and broke up the tea-table session by proposing adjournment to the parlor.
After this we had family prayers, the maid-servants and man-servant being called in and ranged in decorous order on a bench that stood prepared for exactly that occasion in a corner of the room. Miss Deborah placed a stand, with a great quarto edition of the Bible and prayer-book, before her mother, and the old lady read in a trembling voice the psalm, the epistle, and the gospel for Easter evening, and then, all kneeling, the evening prayers. The sound of her tremulous voice, and the beauty of the prayers themselves, which I vaguely felt, impressed me so much that I wept, without knowing why, as one sometimes does at plaintive music. One thing in particular filled me with a solemn surprise; and that was the prayers, which I had never heard before, for "The Royal Family of England." The trembling voice rose to fervent clearness on the words, "We beseech Thee with Thy favor, to behold our most Sovereign Lord, King George, and so replenish him with the grace of Thy Holy Spirit, that he may always incline to Thy will, and walk in Thy way. Endue him plenteously with heavenly gifts, grant him in health and wealth long to live, strengthen him that he may vanquish and overcome all his enemies, and finally after this life may attain everlasting joy and felicity, through Jesus Christ our Lord."
The loud "Amen" from Miss Debby which followed this, heartily chorussed as it was by the well-taught man-servant and maid-servants, might have done any king's heart good. For my part, I was lost in astonishment; and when the prayer followed "for the gracious Queen Charlotte, Their Royal Highnesses, George, Prince of Wales, the Princess Dowager of Wales, and all the Royal Family," my confusion of mind was at its height. All these unknown personages were to be endued with the Holy Spirit, enriched with heavenly grace, and brought to an everlasting kingdom, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. I must confess that all I had heard of them previously, in my education, had not prepared me to see the propriety of any peculiar celestial arrangements in their favor; but the sweet and solemn awe inspired by the trembling voice which pleaded went a long way towards making me feel as if there must have been a great mistake in my bringing up hitherto.
When the circle rose from their knees, Ellery Davenport said to Miss Debby, "It 's a pity the king of England could n't know what stanch supporters he has in Boston."
"I don't see," said the old lady, "why they won't let us have that prayer read in churches now; it can't do any harm."
"I don't, either," said Ellery. "For my part, I don't know any one who needs praying for more than the King of England; but the prayers of the Church don't appear to have been answered in his case. If he had been in the slightest degree 'endowed with heavenly gifts,' he need n't have lost these American colonies."
"Come, Ellery, none of your profane talk," said Miss Debby; "you don't believe in anything good."
"On the contrary, I always insist on seeing the good before I believe; I should believe in prayer, if I saw any good comes from it."
"For shame, Ellery, when children are listening to you!" said Miss Debby. "But come, my little folks," she added, rising briskly, "it 's time for these little eyes to be shut."
The dear old lady called us all to her, and kissed us "good night," laying her hand gently on our heads as she did so. I felt the peaceful influence of that hand go through me like music, and its benediction even in my dreams.
FOR a marvel, even in the stormy clime of Boston, our Easter Sunday was one of those celestial days which seem, like the New Jerusalem of the Revelations, to come straight down from God out of heaven, to show us mortals what the upper world may be like. Our poor old Mother Boston has now and then such a day given to her, even in the uncertain spring-time; and when all her bells ring together, and the old North Church chimes her solemn psalm-tunes, and all the people in their holiday garments come streaming out towards the churches of every name which line her streets, it seems as if the venerable dead on Copps Hill must dream pleasantly, for "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord," and even to this day, in dear old Boston, their works do follow them.
At an early hour we were roused, and dressed ourselves with the most anxious and exemplary care. For the first time in my life I looked anxiously in the looking-glass, and scanned with some solicitude, as if it had been a third person, the little being who called himself "I." I saw a pair of great brown eyes, a face rather thin and pale, a high forehead, and a great profusion of dark curls, – the combing out of which, by the by, was one of the morning trials of my life. In vain Aunt Lois had cut them off repeatedly, in the laudable hope that my hair would grow out straight. It seemed a more inextricable mat at each shearing; but as Harry's flaxen poll had the same peculiarity, we consoled each other, while we labored at our morning toilet.
Down in the sunny parlor, a little before breakfast was on the table, we walked about softly with our hands behind us, lest Satan, who we were assured had always some mischief still for idle hands to do, should entice us into touching some of the many curious articles which we gazed upon now for the first time. There was the picture of a very handsome young man over the mantel-piece, and beneath it hung a soldier's sword in a large loop of black crape, a significant symbol of the last great sorrow which had overshadowed the household. On one side of the door, framed and glazed, was a large coat of arms of the Kittery family, worked in chenille and embroidery, – the labor of Miss Deborah's hands during the course of her early education. In other places on the walls hung oil paintings of the deceased master of the mansion, and of the present venerable mistress, as she was in the glow of early youth. They were evidently painted by a not unskilful hand, and their eyes always following us as we moved about the room gave us the impression of being overlooked, even while as yet there was nobody else in the apartment. Conspicuously hung on one side of the room was a copy of one of the Vandyck portraits of Charles the First, with his lace ruff and peaked beard. Underneath this was a printed document, framed and glazed; and I, who was always drawn to read any thing that could be read, stationed myself opposite to it and began reading aloud: –
"The Twelve Good Rules of the Most Blessed Martyr, King Charles First, of Blessed Memory."
I was reading these in a loud, clear voice, when Miss Debby entered the room. She stopped and listened to me, with a countenance beaming with approbation.
"Go on, sonny!" she said coming up behind me, with an approving nod, when I blushed and stopped on seeing her. "Read them through; those are good rules for a man to form his life by."
I wish I could remember now what these so highly praised rules were. The few that I can recall are not especially in accordance with the genius of our modern times. They began –
"1st. Profane no Divine Ordinances.
"2d. Touch no State Matter.
"3d. Pick no Quarrels.
"4th. Maintain no ill Opinions."
Here my memory fails me, but I remember that, stimulated by Miss Deborah's approbation, I did commit the whole of them to memory at the time, and repeated them with a readiness and fluency which drew upon me warm commendations from the dear old lady, and in fact from all in the house, though Ellery Davenport did shrug his shoulders contumaciously and give a sort of suppressed whistle of dissent.
"If we had minded those rules," he said, "we should n't where we are now."
"No, indeed, you would n't; the more 's the pity you did n't," said Miss Debby. "If I 'd had the bringing of you up, you should be learning things like that, instead of trumpery French and democratic nonsense."
"Speaking of French," said Ellery, "I declare I forgot a package of gloves that I brought over especially for you and Aunty here, – the very best of Paris kid."
"You may spare yourself the trouble of bringing them, cousin," said Miss Deborah, coldly." Whatever others may do, I trust I never shall be left to put a French glove on my hands. They may be all very fine, no doubt, but English gloves, made under her Majesty's sanction, will always be good enough for me."
"O, well, in that case I shall have the honor of presenting them to Lady Lothrop, unless her principles should be equally rigid."
"I dare say Dorothy will take them," said Miss Deborah. "When a woman has married a Continental parson, what can you expect of her? but, for my part, I should feel that I dishonored the house of the Lord to enter it with gloves on made by those atheistical French people. The fact is, we must put a stop to worldly conformities somewhere."
"And you draw the line at French gloves," said Ellery.
"No, indeed," said Miss Deborah; "by no means French gloves. French novels, French philosophy, and, above all, French morals, or rather want of morals, – these are what I go against, Cousin Ellery."
So saying, Miss Debby led the way to the breakfast-table, with an air of the most martial and determined moral principle.
I remember only one other incident of that morning before we went to church. The dear old lady had seemed sensibly affected by the levity with which Ellery Davenport generally spoke upon sacred subjects, and disturbed by her daughter's confident assertions of his infidel sentiments. So she administered to him an admonition in her own way. A little before church-time she was sitting on the sofa, reading in her great Bible spread out on the table before her.
"Ellery," she said, "come here and sit down by me. I want you to read me this text."
"Certainly, Aunty, by all means," he said, as he seated himself by her, bent his handsome head over the book, and, following the lead of her trembling finger, read: –
"And thou, Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy fathers, and serve him with a perfect heart and a willing mind. If thou seek him, he will be found of thee, but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off forever."
"Ellery," she said, with trembling earnestness, "think of that, my boy. O Ellery, remember!"
He turned and kissed her hand, and there certainly were tears in his eyes. "Aunty," he said, "you must pray for me; I may be a good boy one of these days, who knows?"
There was no more preaching, and no more said; she only held his hand, looked lovingly at him, and stroked his forehead. "There have been a great many good people among your fathers, Ellery."
"I know it," he said.
At this moment Miss Debby came in with the summons to church. The family carriage came round for the old lady, but we were better pleased to walk up the street under convoy of Ellery Davenport, who made himself quite delightful to us. Tina obstinately refused to take his hand, and insisted upon walking only with Harry, though from time to time she cast glances at him over her shoulder, and he called her "a little chip of mother Eve's block," – at which she professed to feel great indignation.
The reader may remember my description of our meetinghouse at Oldtowr., and therefore will not wonder that the architecture of the Old North and its solemn-sounding chimes, though by no means remarkable compared with European churches, appeared to us a vision of wonder. We gazed with delighted awe at the chancel and the altar, with their massive draperies of crimson looped back with heavy gold cord and tassels, and revealing a cloud of little winged cherubs, whereat Tina's eye grew large with awe, as if she had seen a vision. Above this there was a mystical Hebrew word emblazoned in a golden halo, while around the galleries of the house were marvellous little colored statuettes of angels blowing long golden trumpets. These figures had been taken from a privateer and presented to the church by a British man-of-war, and no child that saw them would ever forget them. Then there was the organ, whose wonderful sounds were heard by me for the first time in my life. There was also an indefinable impression of stately people that worshipped there. They all seemed to me like Lady Lothrop, rustling in silks and brocades; with gentlemen like Captain Brown, in scarlet cloaks and powdered hair. Not a crowded house by any means, but a well-ordered and select few, who performed all the responses and evolutions of the service with immaculate propriety. I was struck with every one's kneeling and bowing the head on taking a seat in the church; even gay Ellery Davenport knelt down and hid his face in his hat, though what he did it for was a matter of some speculation with us afterward. Miss Debby took me under her special supervision. She gave me a prayer-book, found the places for me, and took me up and down with her through the whole service, giving her responses in such loud, clear, and energetic tones as entirely to acquit herself of her share of responsibility in the matter. The "true Church" received no detriment, so far as she was concerned. I was most especially edified and astonished by the deep courtesies which she and several distinguished-looking ladies made at the name of the Saviour in the Creed; so much so, that she was obliged to tap me on the head to indicate to me my own part in that portion of the Church service.
I was surprised to observe that Harry appeared perfectly familiar with the ceremony; and Lady Lothrop, who had him under her particular surveillance, looked on with wonder and approbation, as he quietly opened his prayer-book and went through the service with perfect regularity. Tina, who stood between Ellery Davenport and the old lady, seemed, to tell the truth, much too conscious of the amused attention with which he was regarding her little movements, notwithstanding the kindly efforts of her venerable guardian to guide her through the service. She resolutely refused to allow him to assist her, half-turning her back upon him, but slyly watching him from under her long eyelashes, in a way that afforded him great amusement.
The sermon which followed the prayers was of the most droning and sleepy kind. But as it was dispensed by a regularly ordained successor of the Apostles, Miss Deborah, though ordinarily the shrewdest and sharpest of womankind, and certainly capable of preaching a sermon far more to the point herself, sat bolt upright and listened to all those slumberous platitudes with the most reverential attention.
It yet remains a mystery to my mind, how a church which retains such a stimulating and inspiring liturgy could have such drowsy preaching, – how men could go through with the "Te Deum," and the "Gloria in Excelsis," without one thrill of inspiration, or one lift above the dust of earth, and, after uttering words which one would think might warm the frozen heart of the very dead, settle sleepily down into the quietest commonplace. Such, however, has been the sin of ritualism in all days, principally because human nature is, above all things, lazy, and needs to be thorned and goaded up those heights where it ought to fly.
Harry and I both had a very nice little nap during sermon-time, while Ellery Davenport made a rabbit of his pocket-handkerchief by way of paying his court to Tina, who sat shyly giggling and looking at him. After the services came the Easter dinner, to which, as a great privilege, we were admitted from first to last; although children in those days were held to belong strictly to the dessert, and only came in with the nuts and raisins. I remember Ellery Davenport seemed to be the life of the table, and kept everybody laughing. He seemed particularly fond of rousing up Miss Debby to those rigorous and energetic statements concerning Church and King which she delivered with such freedom.
"I don't know how we are any of us to get to heaven now," he said to Miss Debby. "Supposing I wanted to be confirmed, there is n't a bishop in America."
"Well, don't you think they will send one over?" said Lady Widgery, with a face of great solicitude.
"Two, madam; it would take two in order to start the succession in America. The apostolic electricity cannot come down through one."
"I heard that Dr. Franklin was negotiating with the Archbishop of Canterbury," said Lady Lothrop.
"Yes, but they are not in the best humor toward us over there," said Ellery. "You know what Franklin wrote back, don't you?"
"No," said Lady Widgery; "what was it?"
"Well, you see, he found Canterbury & Co. rather huffy, and somewhat on the high-and-mighty order with him, and, being a democratic American, he did n't like it. So he wrote over that he did n't see, for his part, why anybody that wanted to preach the Gospel could n't preach it, without sending a thousand miles across the water to ask leave of a cross old gentleman at Canterbury."
A shocked expression went round the table, and Miss Debby drew herself up. "That 's what I call a profane remark, Ellery Davenport," she said.
"I did n't make it, you understand."
"No dear, you did n't," said the old lady. "Of course you would n't say such a thing."
"Of course I should n't, Aunty, – O no. I 'm only concerned to know how I shall be confirmed, if ever I want to be. Do you think there really is no other way to heaven, Miss Debby? Now, if the Archbishop of Canterbury won't repent, and I do, – if he won't send a bishop, and I become a good Christian, – don't you think now the Church might open the door a little crack for me?"
"Why, of course, Ellery," said Lady Lothrop. "We believe that many good people will be saved out of the Church."
"My dear madam, that 's because you married a Congregational parson; you are getting illogical."
"Ellery, you know better," said Miss Debby, vigorously. "You know we hold that many good persons out of the Church are saved, though they are saved by uncovenanted mercies. There are no direct promises to any but those in the Church; they have no authorized ministry or sacraments."
"What a dreadful condition these American colonies are in!" said Ellery; "it 's a result of our Revolution which never struck me before."
"You can sneer as much as you please, it 's a solemn fact, Ellery; it 's the chief mischief of this dreadful rebellion."
"Come, come, children," said the old lady; "let 's talk about something else. We 've been to the communion, and heard about 'peace on earth and good-will to men.' I always think of our blessed King George every time I take the communion wine out of those cups that he gave to our church."
"Yes, indeed," said Miss Debby; "it will be a long time before you get the American Congress to giving communion services, like our good, pious King George."
"It 's a pity pious folks are so apt to be pig-headed," said Ellery, in a tone just loud enough to stir up Miss Debby, but not to catch the ear of the old lady.
"I suppose there never was such a pious family as our royal family," said Lady Widgery. "I have been told that Queen Charlotte reads prayers with her maids regularly every night, and we all know how our blessed King read prayers beside a dying cottager."
"I do not know what the reason is," said Ellery Davenport, reflectively, "but political tyrants as a general thing are very pious men. The worse their political actions are, the more they pray. Perhaps it is on the principle of compensation, just as animals that are incapacitated from helping themselves in one way have some corresponding organ in another direction."
"I agree with you that kings are generally religious," said Lady Widgery, "and you must admit that, if monarchy makes men religious, it is an argument in its favor, because there is nothing so important as religion, you know."
"The argument, madam, is a profound one, and does credit to your discernment; but the question now is, since it has pleased Providence to prosper rebellion, and allow a community to be founded without any true church, or any means of getting at true ordinances and sacraments, what young fellows like us are to do about it."
"I 'll tell you, Ellery," said the old lady, laying hold of his arm. "' Know the God of thy fathers, and serve him with a perfect heart and willing mind,' and everything will come right."
"But, even then, I could n't belong to 'the true Church,'" said Ellery.
"You 'd belong to the church of all good people," said the old lady, "and that 's the main thing."
"Aunty, you are always right," he said.
Now I listened with the sharpest attention to all this conversation, which was as bewildering to me as all the rest of the scenery and surroundings of this extraordinary visit had been.
Miss Debby's martial and declaratory air, the vigorous faith in her statements which she appeared to have, were quite a match, it seemed to me, for similar statements of a contrary nature which I had heard from my respected grandmother; and I could n't help wondering in my own mind what strange concussions of the elementary powers would result if ever these two should be brought together. To use a modern figure, it would be like the meeting of two full-charged railroad engines, from opposite directions, on the same track.
After dinner, in the evening, instead of the usual Service of Family prayers, Miss Debby catechised her family in a vigorous and determined manner. We children went and stood up with the row of men and maid servants, and Harry proved to have a very good knowledge of the catechism, but Tina and I only compassed our answers by repeating them after Miss Debby; and she applied herself to teaching us as if this were the only opportunity of getting the truth we were ever to have in our lives.
In fact, Miss Debby made a current of electricity that, for the time being, carried me completely away, and I exerted myself to the utmost to appear well before her, especially as I had gathered from Aunt Lois and Aunt Keziah's conversations, that whatever went on in this mansion belonged strictly to upper circles of society, dimly known and revered. American democracy had not in those days become a practical thing, so as to outgrow the result of generations of reverence for the upper classes. And the man-servant and the maid-servants seemed so humble, and Miss Debby so victorious and dominant, that I could n't help feeling what a grand thing the true Church must be, and find growing in myself the desires of a submissive catechumen.
As to the catechism itself, I don't recollect that I thought one moment what a word of it meant, I was so absorbed and busy in the mere effort of repeating it after Miss Debby's rapid dictation.
The only comparison I remember to have made with that which I had been accustomed to recite in school every Saturday respected the superior case of answering the first question; which required me, instead of relating in metaphysical terms what "man's chief end" was in time and eternity, to give a plain statement of what my own name was on this mortal earth.
This first question, as being easiest, was put to Tina, who dimpled and colored and flashed out of her eyes, as she usually did when addressed, looked shyly across at Ellery Davenport, who sat with an air of negligent amusement contemplating the scene, and then answered with sufficient precision and distinctness, "Eglantine Percival."
He gave a little start, as if some sudden train or recollection had been awakened, and looked at her with intense attention; and when Ellery Davenport fixed his attention upon anybody, there was so much fire and electricity in his eyes that they seemed to be felt, even at a distance; and I saw that Tina constantly colored and giggled, and seemed so excited that she scarcely knew what she was saying, till at last Miss Debby, perceiving this, turned sharp round upon him, and said, "Ellery Davenport, if you have n't any religion yourself, I wish you would n't interrupt my instructions."
"Bless my soul, cousin! what was I doing? I have been sitting here still as a mouse; but I 'll turn my back, and read a good book"; – and round he turned, accordingly, till the catechising was finished.
When it was all over, and the servants had gone out, we grouped ourselves around the fire, and Ellery Davenport began: "Cousin Debby, I 'm going to come down handsomely to you. I admit that your catechism is much better for children than the one I was brought up on. I was well drilled in the formulas of the celebrated Assembly of dryvines of Westminster, and dry enough I found it. Now it 's a true proverb,' Call a man a thief, and he 'll steal'; 'give a dog a bad name, and he 'll bite you'; tell a child that he is 'a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven,' and he feels, to say the least, civilly disposed towards religion; tell him 'he is under God's wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself, and the pains of hell forever,' because somebody ate an apple five thousand years ago, and his religious associations are not so agreeable, – especially if he has the answers whipped into him, or has to go to bed without his supper for not learning them."
"You poor dear!" said the old lady; "did they send you to bed without your supper? They ought to have been whipped themselves, every one of them."
"Well, you see, I was a little fellow when my parents died, and brought up under brother Jonathan, who was the bluest kind of blue; and he was so afraid that I should mistake my naturally sweet temper for religion, that he instructed me daily that I was a child of wrath, and could n't, and did n't, and never should do one right thing till I was regenerated, and when that would happen no mortal knew; so I thought, as my account was going to be scored off at that time, it was no matter if I did run up a pretty long one; so I lied and stole whenever it came handy."
"O Ellery, I hope not!" said the old lady; "certainly you never stole anything!"
"Have, though, my blessed aunt, – robbed orchards and watermelon patches; but then St. Augustine did that very thing himself, and he did n't turn about till he was thirty years old, and I 'm a good deal short of that yet; so you see there is a great chance for me."
"Ellery, why don't you come into the true Church?" said Miss Debby. "That 's what you need."
"Well," said Ellery, "I must confess that I like the idea of a nice old motherly Church, that sings to us, and talks to us, and prays with us, and takes us in her lap and coddles us when we are sick and says, –
'Hush, my dear, lie still and slumber.'Nothing would suit me better, if I could get my reason to sleep; but the mischief of a Calvinistic education is, it wakes up your reason, and it never will go to sleep again, and you can't take a pleasant humbug if you would. Now, in this life, where nobody knows anything about anything, a capacity for humbugs would be a splendid thing to have. I wish to my heart I 'd been brought up a Roman Catholic! but I have not, – I 've been brought up a Calvinist, and so here I am."
"But if you 'd try to come into the Church and believe," said Miss Debby, energetically, "grace would be given you. You 've been baptized, and the Church admits your baptism. Now just assume your position."
Miss Debby spoke with such zeal and earnestness, that I, whom she was holding in her lap, looked straight across with the expectation of hearing Ellery Davenport declare his immediate conversion then and there. I shall never forget the expression of his face. There was first a flash of amusement, as he looked at Miss Debby's strong, sincere face, and then it faded into something between admiration and pity; and then he said to himself in a musing tone: "I a 'member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.'" And then a strange sarcastic expression broke over his face, as he added: "Could n't do it cousin; not exactly my style. Besides, I should n't be much of a credit to any church, and whichever catches me would be apt to find a shark in the net. You see," he added, jumping up and walking about rapidly, "I have the misfortune to have an extremely exacting nature, and, if I set out to be religious at all, it would oblige me to carry the thing to as great lengths as did my grandfather Jonathan Edwards. I should have to take up the cross and all that, and I don't want to, and don't mean to; and as to all these pleasant, comfortable churches, where a follow can get to heaven without it, I have the misfortune of not being able to believe in them; so there you see precisely my situation."
"These horrid old Calvinistic doctrines," said Miss Debby, "are the ruin of children."
"My dear, they are all in the Thirty-nine Articles as strong as in the Cambridge platform, and all the other platforms, for the good reason that John Calvin himself had the overlooking of them. And, what is worse, there is an abominable sight of truth in them. Nature herself is a high Calvinist, old jade; and there never was a man of energy enough to feel the force of the world he deals with that was n't a predestinarian, from the time of the Greek Tragedians down to the time of Oliver Cromwell, and ever since. The hardest doctrines are the things that a fellow sees with his own eyes going on in the world around him. If you had been in England, as I have, where the true Church prevails, you 'd see that pretty much the whole of the lower classes there are predestinated to be conceived and born in sin, and shapen in iniquity; and come into the world in such circumstances that to expect even decent morality of them is expecting what is contrary to all reason. This is your Christian country, after eighteen hundred years' experiment of Christianity. The elect, by whom I mean the bishops and clergy and upper classes, have attained to a position in which a decent and religious life is practicable, and where there is leisure from the claims of the body to attend to those of the soul. These, however, to a large extent are smothering in their own fat or, as your service to-day had it, 'Their heart is fat as brawn'; and so they don't, to any great extent, make their calling and election sure. Then, as for heathen countries, they are a peg below those of Christianity. Taking the mass of human beings in the world at this hour, they are in such circumstances, that, so far from it 's being reasonable to expect the morals of Christianity of them, they are not within sight of ordinary human decencies. Talk of purity of heart to a Malay or Hottentot! Why, the doctrine of a clean shirt is an uncomprehended mystery to more than half the human race at this moment. That 's what I call visible election and reprobation, get rid of it as we may or can."
"Positively, Ellery, I am not going to have you talk so before these children," said Miss Debby, getting up and ringing the bell energetically. "This all comes of the vile democratic idea that people are to have opinions on all subjects, instead of believing what the Church tells them; and, as you say, it 's Calvinism that starts people out to be always reasoning and discussing and having opinions. I hate folks who are always speculating and thinking, and having new doctrines; all I want to know is my duty, and to do it. I want to know what my part is, and it 's none of my business whether the bishops and the kings and the nobility do theirs or not, if I only do mine. 'To do my duty in that state of life in which it has pleased God to call me,' is all I want, and I think it is all anybody need want."
"Amen!" said Ellery Davenport, "and so be it."
Here Mrs. Margery appeared with the candles to take us to bed.
In bidding our adieus for the night, it was customary for good children to kiss all round; but Tina, in performing this ceremony both this night and the night before, resolutely ignored Ellery Davenport, notwithstanding his earnest petitions; and, while she would kiss with ostentatious affection those on each side of him, she hung her head and drew back whenever he attempted the familiarity, yet, by way of reparation, turned back at the door as she was going out, and made him a parting salutation with the air of a princess; and I heard him say, "Upon my word, how she does it!"
After we left the room (this being a particular which, like tellers of stories in general, I learned from other sources), he turned to Lady Lothrop and said: "Did I understand that she said her name was Eglantine Percival, and that she is a sort of foundling?"
"Certainly," said Lady Lothrop; "both these children are orphans, left on the parish by a poor woman who died in a neighboring town. They appear to be of good blood and breeding, but we have no means of knowing who they are."
"Well," said Ellery Davenport, "I knew a young English officer by the name of Percival, who was rather a graceless fellow. He once visited me at my country-seat, with several others. When he went away, being, as he often was, not very fit to take care of himself, he dropped and left a pocket-book, so some of the servants told me, which was thrown into one of the drawers, and for aught I know may be there now: it 's just barely possible that it may be, and that there may be some papers in it which will shed light on these children's parentage. If I recollect rightly, he was said to be connected with a good English family, and it might be possible, if we were properly informed, to shame him, or frighten him into doing something for these children. I will look into the matter myself, when I am in England next winter, where I shall have some business; that is to say, if we can get any clew. The probability is that the children are illegitimate."
"O, I hope not," said Lady Lothrop; "they appear to have been so beautifully educated."
"Well," said Ellery Davenport, "he may have seduced his curate's daughter; that 's a very simple supposition. At any rate he never produced her in society, never spoke of her, kept her in cheap, poor lodgings in the country, and the general supposition was that she was his mistress, not his wife."
"No," said a little voice near his elbow, which startled every one in the room, – "no, Mr. Davenport, my mother was my father's wife."
The fire had burnt low, and the candles had not been brought in, and Harry, who had been sent back by Mrs. Margery to give message as to the night arrangements, had entered the room softly, and stood waiting to get a chance to deliver it. He now came forward, and stood trembling with agitation, pale yet bold. Of course all were very much shocked as he went on: "They took my mother's wedding-ring, and sold it to pay for her coffin; but she always wore it and often told me when it was put on. But," he added," she told me, the night she died, that I had no father but God."
"And he is Father enough!" said the old lady, who, entirely broken down and overcome, clasped the little boy in her arms. "Never you mind it, dear, God certainly will take care of you."
"I know he will," said the boy, with solemn simplicity; "but I want you all to believe the truth about my mother."
It was characteristic of that intense inwardness and delicacy which were so peculiar in Harry's character, that, when he came back from this agitating scene, he did not tell me a word of what had occurred, nor did I learn it till years afterwards. I was very much in the habit of lying awake nights, long after he had sunk into untroubled slumbers, and this night I remember that he lay long but silently awake, so very still and quiet, that it was some time before I discovered that he was not sleeping.
The next day Ellery Davenport left us, but we remained to see the wonders of Boston. I remembered my grandmother's orders, and went on to Copps Hill, and to the old Granary burying-ground, to see the graves of the saints, and read the inscriptions. I had a curious passion for this sort of mortuary literature, even as a child, – a sort of nameless, weird, strange delight, – so that I accomplished this part of my grandmother's wishes con amore.
Boston in those days had not even arrived at being a city, but, as the reader may learn from contemporary magazines, was known as the Town of Boston. In some respects, however, it was even more attractive in those days for private residences than it is at present. As is the case now in some of our large rural towns, it had many stately old houses, which stood surrounded by gardens and grounds, where fruits and flowers were tended with scrupulous care. It was sometimes called "the garden town." The house of Madam Kittery stood on a high eminence overlooking the sea, and had connected with it a stately garden, which, just at the time of year I speak of, was gay with the first crocuses and snowdrops.
In the eyes of the New England people, it was always a sort of mother-town, – a sacred city, the shrine of that religious enthusiasm which founded the States of New England. There were the graves of her prophets and her martyrs, – those who had given their lives through the hardships of that enterprise in so ungenial a climate.
On Easter Monday Lady Lothrop proposed to take us all to see the shops and sights of Boston, with the bountiful intention of purchasing some few additions to the children's wardrobes. I was invited to accompany the expedition, and all parties appeared not a little surprised, and somewhat amused, that I preferred, instead of this lively tour among the living, to spend my time in a lonely ramble in the Copps Hill burying-ground.
I returned home after an hour or two spent in this way, and found the parlor deserted by all except dear old Madam Kittery. I remember, even now, the aspect of that sunny room, and the perfect picture of peace and love that she seemed to me, as she sat on the sofa with a table full of books drawn up to her, placidly reading.
She called me to her as soon as I came in, and would have me get on the sofa by her. She stroked my head, and looked lovingly at me, and called me "Sonny," till my whole heart opened toward her as a flower opens toward the sunshine.
Among all the loves that man has to woman, there is none so sacred and saint-like as that toward these dear, white-haired angels, who seem to form the connecting link between heaven and earth, who have lived to get the victory over every sin and every sorrow, and live perpetually on the banks of the dark river, in that bright, calm land of Beulah, where angels daily walk to and fro, and sounds of celestial music are heard across the water.
Such have no longer personal cares, or griefs, or sorrows. The tears of life have all been shed, and therefore they have hearts at leisure to attend to every one else. Even the sweet, guileless childishness that comes on in this period has a sacred dignity; it is a seal of fitness for that heavenly kingdom, which whosoever shall not receive as a little child, shall not enter therein.
Madam Kittery, with all her apparent simplicity, had a sort of simple shrewdness. She delighted in reading, and some of the best classical literature was always lying on her table. She began questioning me about my reading, and asking me to read to her, and seemed quite surprised at the intelligence and expression with which I did it.
I remember, in the course of the reading, coming across a very simple Latin quotation, at which she stopped me. "There," said she, "is one of those Latin streaks that always trouble me in books, because I can't tell what they mean. When George was alive, he used to read them to me."
Now, as this was very simple, I felt myself quite adequate to its interpretation, and gave it with a readiness which pleased her.
"Why! how came you to know Latin?" she said.
Then my heart opened, and I told her all my story, and how my poor father had always longed to go to college, "and died without the sight," and how he had begun to teach me Latin; but how he was dead, and my mother was poor, and grandpapa could only afford to keep Uncle Bill in college, and there was no way for me to go, and Aunt Lois wanted to bind me out to a shoemaker. And then I began to cry, as I always did when I thought of this.
I shall never forget the overflowing, motherly sympathy which had made it easy for me to tell all this to one who, but a few hours before, had been a stranger; nor how she comforted me, and cheered me, and insisted upon it that I should immediately eat a piece of cake, and begged me not to trouble myself about it, and she would talk to Debby, and something should be done.
Now I had not the slightest idea of what Madam Kittery could do in the situation, but I was exceedingly strengthened and consoled, and felt sure that there had come a favorable turn in my fortunes; and the dear old lady and myself forthwith entered into a league of friendship.
I was thus emboldened, now that we were all alone, and Miss Debby far away, to propound to her indulgent ear certain political doubts, raised by the conflict of my past education with the things I had been hearing for the last day or two.
"If King George was such a good man, what made him oppress the Colonies so?" said I.
"Why, dear, he did n't," she said, earnestly. "That 's all a great mistake. Our King is a dear, pious, good man, and wished us all well, and was doing just the best for us he knew how."
"Then was it because he did n't know how to govern us?" said I.
"My dear, you know the King can do no wrong; it was his ministers, if anybody. I don't know exactly how it was, but they got into a brangle, and everything went wrong; and then there was so much evil feeling and fighting and killing, and 'there was confusion, and every evil work.' There 's my poor boy," she said, pointing to the picture with a trembling hand, and to the sword hanging in its crape loop, – "he died for his King, doing his duty in that state of life in which it pleased God to call him. I must n't be sorry for that, but O, I wish there had n't been any war, and we could have had it all peaceful, and George could have stayed with us. I don't see, either, the use of all these new-fangled notions, but then I try to love everybody, and hope for the best."
So spoke my dear old friend; and has there ever been a step in human progress that has not been taken against the prayers of some good soul, and been washed by tears, sincerely and despondently shed? But, for all this, is there not a true unity of the faith in all good hearts? and when they have risen a little above the mists of earth, may not both sides – the conqueror and the conquered – agree that God hath given them the victory in advancing the cause of truth and goodness?
Only one other conversation that I heard during this memorable visit fixed itself very strongly in my mind. On the evening of this same day, we three children were stationed at a table to look at a volume of engravings of beautiful birds, while Miss Debby, Lady Widgery and Madam Kittery sat by the fire. I heard them talking of Ellery Davenport, and, though I had been instructed that it was not proper for children to listen when their elders were talking among themselves, yet it really was not possible to avoid hearing what Miss Debby said, because all her words were delivered with such a sharp and determinate emphasis.
As it appeared, Lady Widgery had been relating to them some of the trials and sorrows of Ellery Davenport's domestic life. And then there followed a buzz of some kind of story which Lady Widgery seemed relating with great minuteness. At last I heard Miss Deborah exclaim earnestly: "If I had a daughter, catch me letting her be intimate with Ellery Davenport! I tell you that man has n't read French for nothing."
"I do assure you, his conduct has been marked with perfect decorum," said lady Widgery.
"So are your French novels," said Miss Deborah; "they are always talking about decorum; they are full of decorum and piety! why, the kingdom of heaven is nothing to them! but somehow they all end in adultery."
"Debby," said the old lady, "I can't bear to hear you talk so. I think your cousin's heart is in the right place, after all; and he 's a good, kind boy as ever was."
"But mother, he 's a liar! that 's just what he is."
"Debby, Debby! how can you talk so?"
"Well, mother, people have different names for different things. I hear a great deal about Ellery Davenport's tact and knowledge of the world, and all that; but he does a great deal of what I call lying, – so there! Now there are some folks who lie blunderingly, and unskilfully, but I 'll say for Ellery Davenport that he can lie as innocently and sweetly and prettily as a French woman, and I can't say any more. And if a woman does n't want to believe him, she just must n't listen to him, that 's all. I always believe him when he is around, but when he 's away and I think him over, I know just what he is, and see just what an old fool he has made of me."
These words dropped into my childish mind as if you should accidentally drop a ring into a deep well. I did not think of them much at the time, but there came a day in my life when the ring was fished up out of the well, good as new.
WE children returned to Oldtown, crowned with victory, as it were. Then, as now, even in the simple and severe Puritanical village, there was much incense burnt upon the altar of gentility, – a deity somewhat corresponding to the unknown god whose altar Paul found at Athens, and probably more universally worshipped in all the circles of this lower world than any other idol on record.
Now we had been taken notice of, put forward, and patronized, in undeniably genteel society. We had been to Boston and come back in a coach; and what well-regulated mind does not see that that was something to inspire respect?
Aunt Lois was evidently dying to ask us all manner of questions, but was restrained by a sort of decent pride. To exhibit any undue eagerness would be to concede that she was ignorant of good society, and that the ways and doings of upper classes were not perfectly familiar to her. That, my dear reader, is what no good democratic American woman can for a moment concede. Aunt Lois therefore, for once in her life, looked complacently on Sam Lawson, who continued to occupy his usual roost in the chimney-corner, and who, embarrassed with no similar delicate scruples, put us through our catechism with the usual Yankee thoroughness.
"Well, chillen, I suppose them Kitterys has everythin' in real grander, don't they? I 've heerd tell that they hes Turkey carpets on th' floors. You know Josh Kittery, he was in the Injy trade. Turkey carpets is that kind, you know, that lies all up thick like a mat. They had that kind, did n't they?"
We eagerly assured him that they did.
"Want to know, now," said Sam, who always moralized as he went along. "Wal, wal, some folks does seem to receive their good thin's in this life, don't they? S'pose the tea-things all on 'em was solid silver, wa' n't they? Yeh did n't ask them, did yeh?"
"O no," said I; "you know we were told we must n't ask questions."
"Jes so; very right, – little boys should n't ask questions. But I 've heerd a good 'eal about the Kittery silver. Jake Marshall, he knew a fellah that had talked with one of their servants, that helped bury it in the cellar in war-times, and he said theh was porringers an' spoons an' tankards, say nothing of tablespoons, an' silver forks, an' sich. That 'ere would ha' been a haul for Congress, if they could ha' got hold on't in war-time, would n't it? S'pose yeh was sot up all so grand, and hed servants to wait on yeh, behind yer chairs, did n't yeh?"
"Yes," we assured him, "we did."
"Wal, wal; yeh must n't be carried away by these 'ere glories: they 's transitory, arter all: ye must jest come right daown to plain livin'. How many servants d' yeh say they kep'?"
"Why, there were two men and two women, besides Lady Widgery's maid and Mrs. Margery."
"And all used to come in to prayers every night," said Harry.
"Hes prayers reg'lar, does they?" said Sam. "Well, now, that 'ere beats all! Did n't know as these gran' families wus so pious as that comes to. Who prayed?"
"Old Madam Kittery," said I. "She used to read prayers out of a large book."
"O yis; these 'ere gran' Tory families is 'Piscopal, pretty much all on 'em. But now readin' prayers out of a book, that 'ere don' strike me as just the right kind o' thing. For my part, I like prayers that come right out of the heart better. But then, lordy massy, folks hes theh different ways; an' I ain't so set as Polly is. Why, I b'lieve, if that 'ere woman had her way, theh would n't nobody be 'lowed to do nothin', except just to suit her. Yeh did n't notice, did yeh, what the Kittery coat of arms was?"
Yes, we had noticed it; and Harry gave a full description of an embroidered set of armorial bearings which had been one of the ornaments of the parlor.
"So you say," said Sam, "'t was a lion upon his hind legs, – that 'ere is what they call 'the lion rampant,' – and then there was a key and a scroll. Wal! coats of arms is curus, and I don't wonder folks kind o' hangs onter um; but then, the Kitterys bein' Tories, they nat'ally has more interest in sech thin's. Do you know where Mis' Kittery keeps her silver nights?"
"No, really," said I; "we were sent to bed early, and did n't see."
Now this inquiry, from anybody less innocent than Sam Lawson, might have been thought a dangerous exhibition of burglarious proclivities; but from him it was received only as an indication of that everlasting thirst for general information which was his leading characteristic.
When the rigor of his cross-examination had somewhat abated, he stooped over the fire to meditate further inquiries. I seized the opportunity to propound to my grandmother a query which had been the result of my singular experiences for a day or two past. So, after an interval in which all had sat silently looking into the great coals of fire, I suddenly broke out with the inquiry, "Grandmother, what is The True Church?"
I remember the expression on my grandfather's calm, benign face as I uttered this query. It was an expression of shrewd amusement, such as befits the face of an elder when a younger has propounded a well-worn problem; but my grandmother had her answer at the tip of her tongue, and replied, "It is the whole number of the elect, my son."
I had in my head a confused remembrance of Ellery Davenport's tirade on election, and of the elect who did or did not have clean shirts; so I pursued my inquiry by asking, "Who are the elect?"
"All good people," replied my grandfather. "In every nation he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him."
"Well, how came you to ask that question?" said my grandmother, turning on me.
"Why," said I, "because Miss Deborah Kittery said that the war destroyed the true Church in this country."
"O, pshaw!" said my grandmother; "that 's some of her Episcopal nonsense. I really should like to ask her, now, if she thinks there ain't any one going to heaven but Episcopalians."
"O no, she does n't think so," said I, rather eagerly. "She said a great many good people would be saved out of the Church, but they would be saved by uncovenanted mercies."
"Uncovenanted fiddlesticks!" said my grandmother, her very cap-border bristling with contempt and defiance. "Now, Lois, you just see what comes of sending children into Tory Episcopal families, – coming home and talking nonsense like that!"
"Mercy, mother! what odds does it make?" said Aunt Lois. "The children have got to learn to hear all sorts of things said, – may as well hear them at one time as another. Besides, it all goes into one ear and out at the other."
My grandmother was better pleased with the account that I hastened to give her of my visit to the graves of the saints and martyrs, in my recent pilgrimage. Her broad face glowed with delight, as she told over again to our listening ears the stories of the faith and self-denial of those who had fled from an oppressive king and church, that they might plant a new region where life should be simpler, easier, and more natural. And she got out her "Cotton Mather," and, notwithstanding Aunt Lois's reminder that she had often read it before, read to us again, in a trembling yet audible voice, that wonderful document, in which the reasons for the first planting of New England are set forth. Some of these reasons I remember from often hearing them in my childhood. They speak thus quaintly of the old countries of Europe: –
"Thirdly. The land grows weary of her inhabitants, insomuch that man, which is the most precious of all creatures, is here more vile than the earth he treads upon, – children, neighbors, and friends, especially the poor, which, if things were right, would be the greatest earthly blessings.
"Fourthly. We are grown to that intemperance in all excess of riot, as no mean estate will suffice a man to keep sail with his equals, and he that fails in it must live in scorn and contempt hence it comes to pass that all arts and trades are carried in that deceitful manner and unrighteous course, as it is almost impossible for a good, upright man to maintain his constant charge, and live comfortably in them.
"Fifthly. The schools of learning and religion are so corrupted as (besides the insupportable charge of education) most children of the best, wittiest, and of the fairest hopes are perverted, corrupted, and utterly overthrown by the multitude of evil examples and licentious behaviours in these seminaries.
"Sixthly. The whole earth is the Lord's garden, and he hath given it to the sons of Adam to be tilled and improved by them. Why then should we stand starving here for places of habitation, and in the mean time suffer whole countries as profitable for the use of man to lie waste without any improvement?"
Language like this, often repeated, was not lost upon us. The idea of self-sacrifice which it constantly inculcated, – the reverence for self-denial, – the conception of a life which should look, not mainly to selfish interests, but to the good of the whole human race, prevented the hardness and roughness of those early New England days from becoming mere stolid, material toil. It was toil and manual labor ennobled by a new motive.
Even in those very early times there was some dawning sense of what the great American nation was yet to be. And every man, woman, and child was constantly taught, by every fireside, to feel that he or she was part and parcel of a great new movement in human progress. The old aristocratic ideas, though still lingering in involuntary manners and customs, only served to give a sort of quaintness and grace of Old-World culture to the roughness of new-fledged democracy.
Our visit to Boston was productive of good to us such as we little dreamed of. In the course of a day or two Lady Lothrop called, and had a long private interview with the female portion of the family; after which, to my great delight, it was announced to us that Harry and I might begin to study Latin, if we pleased, and if we proved bright, good boys, means would be provided for the finishing of our education in college.
I was stunned and overwhelmed by the great intelligence, and Harry and I ran over to tell it to Tina, who jumped about and hugged and kissed us both with an impartiality which some years later she quite forgot to practise.
"I 'm glad, because you like it," she said; "but I should think it would be horrid to study Latin."
I afterwards learned that I was indebted to my dear old friend Madam Kittery for the good fortune which had befallen me. She had been interested in my story, as it appears, to some purpose, and, being wealthy and without a son, had resolved to console herself by appropriating to the education of a poor boy a portion of the wealth which should have gone to her own child.
The searching out of poor boys, and assisting them to a liberal education, had ever been held to be one of the appropriate works of the minister in a New England town. The schoolmaster who taught the district school did not teach Latin; but Lady Lothrop was graciously pleased to say that, for the present, Dr. Lothrop would hear our lessons at a certain hour every afternoon; and the reader may be assured that we studied faithfully in view of an ordeal like this.
I remember one of our favorite places for study. The brown, sparkling stream on which my grandfather's mill was placed had just below the mill-dam a little island, which a boy could easily reach by wading through the shallow waters over a bed of many-colored pebbles. The island was overshadowed by thick bushes, which were all wreathed and matted together by a wild grape-vine; but within I had hollowed out for myself a green little arbor, and constructed a rude wigwam of poles and bark, after the manner of those I had seen among the Indians. It was one of the charms of this place, that nobody knew of it: it was utterly secluded; and being cut off from land by the broad belt of shallow water, and presenting nothing to tempt or attract anybody to its shores, it was mine, and mine alone. There I studied, and there I read; there I dreamed and saw visions.
Never did I find it in my heart to tell to any other boy the secret of this woodland shelter, this fairy-land, so near to the real outer world; but Harry, with his refinement, his quietude, his sympathetic silence, seemed to me as unobjectionable an associate as the mute spiritual companions whose presence had cheered my lonely, childish sleeping-room.
We moved my father's Latin books into a rough little closet that we constructed in our wigwam; and there, with the water dashing behind us, and the afternoon sun shining down through the green grape-leaves, with bluebirds and bobolinks singing to us, we studied our lessons. More than that, we spent many pleasant hours in reading; and I have now a résumé, in our boyish handwriting, of the greater part of Plutarch's Lives, which we wrote out during this summer.
As to Tina, of course she insisted upon it that we should occasionally carry her in a lady-chair over to this island, that she might inspect our operations and our housekeeping, and we read some of these sketches to her for her critical approbation; and if any of them pleased her fancy, she would immediately insist that we should come over to Miss Mehitable's, and have a dramatic representation of them up in the garret.
Saturday afternoon, in New England, was considered, from time immemorial, as the children's perquisite; and hard-hearted must be that parent or that teacher who would wish to take away from them its golden hours. Certainly it was not Miss Mehitable, nor my grandmother, that could be capable of any such cruelty.
Our Saturday afternoons were generally spent as Tina dictated; and, as she had a decided taste for the drama, one of our most common employments was the improvising of plays, with Miss Tina for stage manager. The pleasure we took in these exercises was inconceivable; they had for us a vividness and reality past all expression.
I remember our acting, at one time, the Book of Esther, with Tina, very much be-trinketed and dressed out in an old flowered brocade that she had rummaged from a trunk in the garret, as Queen Esther. Harry was Mordecai, and I was Ahasuerus.
The great trouble was to find a Haman; but, as the hanging of Haman was indispensable to any proper moral effect of the tragedy, Tina petted and cajoled and coaxed old Bose, the yellow dog of our establishment, to undertake the part, instructing him volubly that he must sulk and look cross when Mordecai went by, – a thing which Bose, who was one of the best-natured of dogs, found difficulty in learning. Bose would always insist upon sitting on his haunches, in his free-and-easy, jolly manner, and lolling out his red tongue in a style so decidedly jocular as utterly to spoil the effect, till Tina, reduced to desperation, ensconced herself under an old quilted petticoat behind him, and brought out the proper expression at the right moment by a vigorous pull at his tail. Bose was a dog of great constitutional equanimity, but there were some things that transcended even his powers of endurance, and the snarl that he gave to Mordecai was held to be a triumphant success; but the thing was, to get him to snarl when Tina was in front of him, where she could see it; and now will it be believed that the all-conquering little mischief-maker actually kissed and flattered and bejuggled old Polly into taking this part behind the scenes?
No words can more fitly describe the abject state to which that vehemently moral old soul was reduced.
When it came to the hanging of Haman, the difficulties thickened. Polly warned us that we must by no means attempt to hang Bose by the neck, as "the crittur was heavy, and 't was sartin to be the death of him." So we compromised by passing the rope under his fore paws, or, as Tina called it, "under his arms." But Bose was rheumatic, and it took all Tina's petting and caressing, and obliged Polly to go down and hunt out two or three slices of meat from her larder, to induce him fairly to submit to the operation; but hang him we did, and he ki-hied with a vigor that strikingly increased the moral effect. So we soon let him down again, and plentifully rewarded him with cold meat.
In a similar manner we performed a patriotic drama, entitled "The Battle of Bunker Hill," in which a couple of old guns that we found in the garret produced splendid effects, and salvoes of artillery were created by the rolling across the garret of two old cannon-balls; but this was suppressed by order of the authorities, on account of the vigor of the cannonade. Tina, by the by figured in this as the "Genius of Liberty," with some stars on her head cut out of gilt paper, and wearing an old flag which we had pulled out of one of the trunks.
We also acted the history of "Romulus and Remus," with Bose for the she-wolf. The difference in age was remedied by a vigorous effort of the imagination. Of course, operations of this nature made us pretty familiar with the topography of the old garret. There was, however, one quarter, fenced off by some barrels filled with pamphlets, where Polly strictly forbade us to go.
What was the result of such a prohibition, O reader? Can you imagine it to be any other than that that part of the garret became at once the only one that we really cared about investigating? How we hung about it, and considered it, and peeped over and around and between the barrels at a pile of pictures, that stood with their faces to the wall! What were those pictures, we wondered. When we asked Polly this, she drew on a mysterious face and said, "Them was things we must n't ask about."
We talked it over among ourselves, and Tina assured us that she dreamed about it at nights; but Polly had strictly forbidden us even to mention that corner of the garret to Miss Mehitable, or to ask her leave to look at it, alleging, as a reason, that "'twould bring on her hypos."
We did n't know what "hypos" were, but we supposed of course they must be something dreadful; but the very fearfulness of the consequences that might ensue from our getting behind those fatal barrels only made them still more attractive. Finally, one rainy Saturday afternoon, when we were tired of acting plays, and the rain pattered on the roof, and the wind howled and shook the casings, and there was a generally wild and disorganized state of affairs out of doors, a sympathetic spirit of insubordination appeared to awaken in Tina's bosom. "I declare, I am going inside of those barrels!" she said. "I don't care if Polly does scold us; I know I can bring her all round again fast enough. I can do about what I like with Polly. Now you boys just move this barrel a little bit, and I 'll go in and see!"
Just at this moment there was one of those chance lulls in the storm that sometimes occur, and as Tina went in behind the barrels, and boldly turned the first picture, a ray of sunshine streamed through the dusky window and lit it up with a watery light.
Harry and Tina both gave an exclamation of astonishment.
"O Tina! It 's the lady in the closet!"
The discovery seemed really to frighten the child. She retreated quickly to the outside of the barrels again, and stood with us, looking at the picture.
It was a pastel of a young girl in a plain, low-necked white dress, with a haughty, beautiful head, and jet-black curls flowing down her neck, and deep, melancholy black eyes, that seemed to fix themselves reproachfully on us.
"O dear me, Harry, what shall we do!" said Tina. "How she looks at us! This certainly is the very same one that we saw in the old house."
"You ought not to have done it, Tina," said Harry, in a rather low and frightened voice; "but I 'll go in and turn it back again."
Just at this moment we heard what was still more appalling, – the footsteps of Polly on the garret stairs.
"Well! now I should like to know if there 's any mischief you would n't be up to, Tina Percival," she said, coming forward, reproachfully. "When I give you the run of the whole garret, and wear my life out a pickin' up and puttin' up after you, I sh'd think you might let this 'ere corner alone!"
"Oh! but, Polly, you 've no idea how I wanted to see it, and do pray tell me who it is, and how came it here? Is it anybody that 's dead?" said Tina, hanging upon Polly caressingly.
"Somebody that 's dead to us, I 'm afraid," said Polly, solemnly.
"Do tell us, Polly, do! who was she?"
"Well, child, you must n't never tell nobody, nor let a word about it come out of your lips; but it 's Parson Rossiter's daughter Emily, and where she 's gone to, the Lord only knows. I took that 'ere pictur' down myself, and put it up here with Mr Theodore's, so 't Miss Mehitable need n't see 'em, 'cause they always give her the hypos."
"And don't anybody know where she is," said Tina," or if she 's alive or dead?"
"Nobody," said Polly, shaking her head solemnly. "All I hope is, she may never come back here again. You see, children, what comes o' follerin' the nateral heart; it 's deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. She followed her nateral heart, and nobody knows where she 's gone to."
Polly spoke with such sepulchral earnestness that, what with gloomy weather and the consciousness of having been accessory to an unlawful action, we all felt, to say the least, extremely sober.
"Do you think I have got such a heart as that?" said Tina, after a deep-drawn sigh.
"Sartain, you have," said the old woman. "We all on us has. Why, if the Lord should give any on us a sight o' our own heart just as it is, it would strike us down dead right on the spot."
"Mercy on us, Polly! I hope he won't, then," said Tina. "But, Polly," she added getting her arms round her neck and playing with her gold beads, "you have n't got such a very bad heart now; I don't believe a word of it. I 'm sure you are just as good as can be."
"Law, Miss Tina, you don't see into me," said Polly, who, after all, felt a sort of ameliorating gleam stealing over her. "You must n't try to wheedle me into thinking better of myself than I be; that would just lead to carnal security."
"Well, Polly, don't tell Miss Mehitable, and I 'll try and not get you into carnal security."
Polly went behind the barrels, gently wiped the dust from the picture, and turned the melancholy, beseeching face to the wall again; but we pondered and talked many days as to what it might be.
ON the whole, about this time in our life we were a reasonably happy set of children. The Thanksgiving festival of that year is particularly impressed on my mind as a white day.
Are there any of my readers who do not know what Thanksgiving day is to a child? Then let them go back with me, and recall the image of it as we kept it in Oldtown.
People have often supposed, because the Puritans founded a society where there were no professed public amusements, that therefore there was no fun going on in the ancient land of Israel, and that there were no cakes and ale, because they were virtuous. They were never more mistaken in their lives. There was an abundance of sober, well-considered merriment; and the hinges of life were well oiled with that sort of secret humor which to this day gives the raciness to real Yankee wit. Besides this, we must remember that life itself is the greatest possible amusement to people who really believe they can do much with it, – who have that intense sense of what can be brought to pass by human effort, that was characteristic of the New England colonies. To such it is not exactly proper to say that life is an amusement, but it certainly is an engrossing interest that takes the place of all amusements.
Looking over the world on a broad scale, do we not find that public entertainments have very generally been the sops thrown out by engrossing upper classes to keep lower classes from inquiring too particularly into their rights, and to make them satisfied with a stone, when it was not quite convenient to give them bread? Wherever there is a class that is to be made content to be plundered of its rights, there is an abundance of fiddling and dancing, and amusements, public and private, are in great requisition. It may also be set down, I think, as a general axiom, that people feel the need of amusements less and less, precisely in proportion as they have solid reasons for being happy.
Our good Puritan fathers intended to form a state of society of such equality of conditions, and to make the means of securing the goods of life so free to all, that everybody should find abundant employment for his faculties in a prosperous seeking of his fortunes. Hence, while they forbade theatres, operas, and dances, they made a state of unparalleled peace and prosperity, where one could go to sleep at all hours of day or night with the house door wide open, without bolt or bar, yet without apprehension of any to molest or make afraid.
There were, however, some few national fêtes: – Election day, when the Governor took his seat with pomp and rejoicing, and all the housewives outdid themselves in election cake, and one or two training days, when all the children were refreshed, and our military ardor quickened, by the roll of drums, and the flash of steel bayonets, and marchings and evolutions, – sometimes ending in that sublimest of military operations, a sham fight, in which nobody was killed. The Fourth of July took high rank, after the Declaration of Independence; but the king and high priest of all festivals was the autumn Thanksgiving.
When the apples were all gathered and the cider was all made, and the yellow pumpkins were rolled in from many a hill in billows of gold, and the corn was husked, and the labors of the season were done, and the warm, late days of Indian Summer came in, dreamy and calm and still, with just frost enough to crisp the ground of a morning, but with warm trances of benignant, sunny hours at noon, there came over the community a sort of genial repose of spirit, – a sense of something accomplished, and of a new golden mark made in advance on the calendar of life, – and the deacon began to say to the minister, of a Sunday, "I suppose it 's about time for the Thanksgiving proclamation."
Rural dress-makers about this time were extremely busy in making up festival garments, for everybody's new dress, if she was to have one at all, must appear on Thanksgiving day.
Aunt Keziah and Aunt Lois and my mother talked over their bonnets, and turned them round and round on their hands, and discoursed sagely of ribbons and linings, and of all the kindred bonnets that there were in the parish, and how they would probably appear after Thanksgiving. My grandmother, whose mind had long ceased to wander on such worldly vanities, was at this time officiously reminded by her daughters that her bonnet was n't respectable, or it was announced to her that she must have a new gown. Such were the distant horizon gleams of the Thanksgiving festival.
We also felt its approach in all departments of the household, – the conversation at this time beginning to turn on high and solemn culinary mysteries and receipts of wondrous power and virtue. New modes of elaborating squash pies and quince tarts were now ofttimes carefully discussed at the evening fireside by Aunt Lois and Aunt Keziah, and notes seriously compared with the experiences of certain other Aunties of high repute in such matters. I noticed that on these occasions their voices often fell into mysterious whispers, and that receipts of especial power and sanctity were communicated in tones so low as entirely to escape the vulgar ear. I still remember the solemn shake of the head with which my Aunt Lois conveyed to Miss Mehitable Rossiter the critical properties of mace, in relation to its powers of producing in corn fritters a suggestive resemblance to oysters. As ours was an oyster-getting district, and as that charming bivalve was perfectly easy to come at, the interest of such an imitation can be accounted for only by the fondness of the human mind for works of art.
For as much as a week beforehand, "we children" were employed in chopping mince for pies to a most wearisome fineness, and in pounding cinnamon, allspice, and cloves in a great lignum-vitæ mortar; and the sound of this pounding and chopping re-echoed through all the rafters of the old house with a hearty and vigorous cheer, most refreshing to our spirits.
In those days there were none of the thousand ameliorations of the labors of housekeeping which have since arisen, – no ground and prepared spices and sweet herbs; everything came into our hands in the rough, and in bulk, and the reducing of it into a state for use was deemed one of the appropriate labors of childhood. Even the very salt that we used in cooking was rock-salt, which we were required to wash and dry and pound and sift, before it became fit for use.
At other times of the year we sometimes murmured at these labors, but those that were supposed to usher in the great Thanksgiving festival were always entered into with enthusiasm. There were signs of richness all around us, – stoning of raisins, cutting of citron, slicing of candied orange-peel. Yet all these were only dawnings and intimations of what was coming during the week of real preparation, after the Governor's proclamation had been read.
The glories of that proclamation! We knew beforehand the Sunday it was to be read, and walked to church with alacrity, filled with gorgeous and vague expectations.
The cheering anticipation sustained us through what seemed to us the long waste of the sermon and prayers; and when at last the auspicious moment approached, – when the last quaver of the last hymn had died out, – the whole house rippled with a general movement of complacency, and a satisfied smile of pleased expectation might be seen gleaming on the faces of all the young people, like a ray of sunshine through a garden of flowers.
Thanksgiving now was dawning! We children poked one another, and fairly giggled with unreproved delight as we listened to the crackle of the slowly unfolding document. That great sheet of paper impressed us as something supernatural, by reason of its mighty size, and by the broad seal of the State affixed thereto; and when the minister read therefrom, "By his Excellency, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a Proclamation," our mirth was with difficulty repressed by admonitory glances from our sympathetic elders. Then, after a solemn enumeration of the benefits which the Commonwealth had that year received at the hands of Divine Providence, came at last the naming of the eventful day, and, at the end of all, the imposing heraldic words, "God save the Commonwealth of Massachusetts." And then, as the congregation broke up and dispersed, all went their several ways with schemes of mirth and feasting in their heads.
And now came on the week in earnest. In the very watches of the night preceding Monday morning, a preternatural stir below stairs, and the thunder of the pounding-barrel, announced that the washing was to be got out of the way before daylight, so as to give "ample scope and room enough" for the more pleasing duties of the season.
The making of pies at this period assumed vast proportions that verged upon the sublime. Pies were made by forties and fifties and hundreds, and made of everything on the earth and under the earth.
The pie is an English institution, which, planted on American soil, forthwith ran rampant and burst forth into an untold variety of genera and species. Not merely the old traditional mince pie, but a thousand strictly American seedlings from that main stock, evinced the power of American housewives to adapt old institutions to new uses. Pumpkin pies, cranberry pies, huckleberry pies, cherry pies, green-currant pies, peach, pear, and plum pies, custard pies, apple pies, Marlborough-pudding pies – pies with top crusts, and pies without, – pies adorned with all sorts of fanciful flutings and architectural strips laid across and around, and otherwise varied, attested the boundless fertility of the feminine mind, when once let loose in a given direction.
Fancy the heat and vigor of the great pan-formation, when Aunt Lois and Aunt Keziah, and my mother and grandmother, all in ecstasies of creative inspiration, ran, bustled, and hurried, – mixing, rolling, tasting, consulting, – alternately setting us children to work when anything could be made of us, and then chasing us all out of the kitchen when our misinformed childhood ventured to take too many liberties with sacred mysteries. Then out we would all fly at the kitchen door, like sparks from a blacksmith's window.
On these occasions, as there was a great looseness in the police department over us children, we usually found a ready refuge at Miss Mehitable's with Tina, who, confident of the strength of her position with Polly, invited us into the kitchen, and with the air of a mistress led us around to view the proceedings there.
A genius for entertaining was one of Tina's principal characteristics; and she did not fail to make free with raisins, or citron, or whatever came to hand, in a spirit of hospitality at which Polly seriously demurred. That worthy woman occasionally felt the inconvenience of the state of subjugation to which the little elf had somehow or other reduced her, and sometimes rattled her chains fiercely, scolding with a vigor which rather alarmed us, but which Tina minded not a whit. Confident of her own powers, she would, in the very midst of her wrath, mimic her to her face with such irresistible drollery as to cause the torrent of reproof to end in a dissonant laugh, accompanied by a submissive cry for quarter.
"I declare, Tina Percival," she said to her one day, "you 're saucy enough to physic a horn-bug! I never did see the beater of you! If Miss Mehitable don't keep you in better order, I don't see what 's to become of any of us!"
"Why, what did become of you before I came?" was the undismayed reply. "You know, Polly, you and Aunty both were just as lonesome as you could be till I came here, and you never had such pleasant times in your life as you 've had since I 've been here. You 're a couple of old beauties, both of you, and know just how to get along with me. But come, boys, let 's take our raisins and go up in the garret and play Thanksgiving."
In the corner of the great kitchen, during all these days, the jolly old oven roared and crackled in great volcanic billows of flame, snapping and gurgling as if the old fellow entered with joyful sympathy into the frolic of the hour; and then, his great heart being once warmed up, he brooded over successive generations of pies and cakes, which went in raw and came out cooked, till butteries and dressers and shelves and pantries were literally crowded with a jostling abundance.
A great cold northern chamber, where the sun never shone, and where in winter the snow sifted in at the window-cracks, and ice and frost reigned with undisputed sway, was fitted up to be the storehouse of these surplus treasures. There, frozen solid, and thus well preserved in their icy fetters, they formed a great repository for all the winter months; and the pies baked at Thanksgiving often came out fresh and good with the violets of April.
During this eventful preparation week, all the female part of my grandmother's household, as I have before remarked, were at a height above any ordinary state of mind, – they moved about the house rapt in a species of prophetic frenzy. It seemed to be considered a necessary feature of such festivals, that everybody should be in a hurry, and everything in the house should be turned bottom upwards with enthusiasm, – so at least we children understood it, and we certainly did our part to keep the ball rolling.
At this period the constitutional activity of Uncle Fliakim increased to a degree that might fairly be called preternatural. Thanksgiving time was the time for errands of mercy and benevolence through the country; and Uncle Fliakim's immortal old rubber horse and rattling wagon were on the full jump, in tours of investigation into everybody's affairs in the region around. On returning, he would fly through our kitchen like the wind, leaving open the doors, upsetting whatever came in his way, – now a pan of milk, and now a basin of mince, – talking rapidly, and forgetting only the point in every case that gave it significance, or enabled any one to put it to any sort of use. When Aunt Lois checked his benevolent effusions by putting the test questions of practical efficiency, Uncle Fliakim remembered that he 'd "forgotten to inquire about that," and skipping through the kitchen, and springing into his old wagon, would rattle off again on at full tilt to correct and amend his investigations.
Moreover, my grandmother's kitchen at this time began to be haunted by those occasional hangers-on and retainers, of uncertain fortunes, whom a full experience of her bountiful habits led to expect something at her hand at this time of the year. All the poor, loafing tribes, Indian and half-Indian, who at other times wandered, selling baskets and other light wares, were sure to come back to Oldtown a little before Thanksgiving time and report themselves in my grandmother's kitchen.
The great hogshead of cider in the cellar, which my grandfather called the Indian Hogshead, was on tap at all hours of the day; and many a mugful did I draw and dispense to the tribes that basked in the sunshine at our door.
Aunt Lois never had a hearty conviction of the propriety of these arrangements; but my grandmother, who had a prodigious verbal memory, bore down upon her with such strings of quotations from the Old Testament that she was utterly routed.
"Now," says my Aunt Lois, "I s'pose we 've got to have Betty Poganut and Sally Wonsamug, and old Obscue and his wife, and the whole tribe down, roosting around our doors, till we give 'em something. That 's just mother's way; she always keeps a whole generation at her heels."
"How many times must I tell you, Lois, to read your Bible?" was my grandmother's rejoinder; and loud over the sound of pounding and chopping in the kitchen could be heard the voice of her quotations: "If there be among you a poor man in any of the gates of the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thy heart, nor shut thy hand, from thy poor brother. Thou shalt surely give him; and thy heart shall not be grieved when thou givest to him, because that for this thing the Lord thy God shall bless thee in all thy works; for the poor shall never cease from out of the land."
These words seemed to resound like a sort of heraldic proclamation to call around us all that softly shiftless class, who, for some reason or other, are never to be found with anything in hand at the moment that it is wanted.
"There, to be sure," said Aunt Lois, one day when our preparations were in full blast, – "there comes Sam Lawson down the hill, limpsy as ever; now he 'll have his doleful story to tell, and mother 'll give him one of the turkeys."
And so, of course, it fell out.
Sam came in with his usual air of plaintive assurance, and seated himself a contemplative spectator in the chimney-corner, regardless of the looks and signs of unwelcome on the part of Aunt Lois.
"Lordy massy, how prosperous everything does seem here!" he said, in musing tones, over his inevitable mug of cider; "so different from what 't is t' our house. There 's Hepsy, she 's all in a stew, an' I 've just been an' got her thirty-seven cents' wuth o' nutmegs, yet she says she 's sure she don't see how she 's to keep Thanksgiving, an' she 's down on me about it, just as ef 't was my fault. Yeh see, last winter our old gobbler got froze. You know, Mis' Badger, that 'ere cold night we hed last winter. Wal, I was off with Jake Marshall that night; ye see, Jake, he hed to take old General Dearborn's corpse into Boston, to the family vault, and Jake, he kind o' hated to go alone; 't was a drefful cold time, and he ses to me, 'Sam you jest go 'long with me'; so I was sort o' sorry for him, and I kind o' thought I 'd go long. Wal, come 'long to Josh Bissel's tahvern, there at the Half-way House, you know, 't was so swinging cold, we stopped to take a little suthin' warmin', an' we sort o' sot an' sot over the fire, till, fust we knew, we kind o' got asleep; an' when we woke up we found we 'd left the old General hitched up t' th' post pretty much all night. Wal, did n't hurt him none, poor man; 't was allers a favorite spot o' his'n. But, takin' one thing with another, I did n't get home till about noon next day, an', I tell you, Hepsy she was right down on me. She said the baby was sick, and there had n't been no wood split, nor the barn fastened up, nor nothin'. Lordy massy, I did n't mean no harm; I thought there was wood enough, and I thought likely Hepsy 'd git out an' fasten up the barn. But Hepsy, she was in one o' her contrary streaks, an' she would n't do a thing; an' when I went out to look, why, sure 'nuff, there was our old tom-turkey froze as stiff as a stake, – his claws jist a stickin' right straight up like this." Here Sam struck an expressive attitude, and looked so much like a frozen turkey as to give a pathetic reality to the picture.
"Well now, Sam, why need you be off on things that 's none of your business?" said my grandmother. "I 've talked to you plainly about that a great many times, Sam," she continued, in tones of severe admonition. "Hepsy is a hard-working woman, but she can't be expected to see to everything, and you oughter 'ave been at home that night to fasten up your own barn and look after your own creeturs."
Sam took the rebuke all the more meekly as he perceived the stiff black legs of a turkey poking out from under my grandmother's apron while she was delivering it. To be exhorted and told of his shortcomings, and then furnished with a turkey at Thanksgiving, was a yearly part of his family programme. In time he departed, not only with the turkey, but with us boys in procession after him, bearing a mince and a pumpkin pie for Hepsy's children.
"Poor things!" my grandmother remarked; "they ought to have something good to eat Thanksgiving day; 't ain't their fault that they 've got a shiftless father."
Sam, in his turn, moralized to us children, as we walked beside him: "A body 'd think that Hepsy 'd learn to trust in Providence," he said, "but she don't. She allers has a Thanksgiving dinner pervided; but that 'ere woman ain't grateful for it, by no manner o' means. Now she 'll be jest as cross as she can be, cause this 'ere ain't our turkey, and these 'ere ain't our pies. Folks doos lose so much, that hes sech dispositions."
A multitude of similar dispensations during the course of the week materially reduced the great pile of chickens and turkeys which black Cæsar's efforts in slaughtering, picking, and dressing kept daily supplied.
Besides these offerings to the poor, the handsomest turkey of the flock was sent, dressed in first-rate style, with Deacon Badger's dutiful compliments, to the minister; and we children, who were happy to accompany black Cæsar on this errand, generally received a seed-cake and a word of acknowledgment from the minister's lady.
Well, at last, when all the chopping and pounding and baking and brewing, preparatory to the festival, were gone through with, the eventful day dawned. All the tribes of the Badger family were to come back home to the old house, with all the relations of every degree, to eat the Thanksgiving dinner. And it was understood that in the evening the minister and his lady would look in upon us, together with some of the select aristocracy of Oldtown.
Great as the preparations were for the dinner, everything was so contrived that not a soul in the house should be kept from the morning service of Thanksgiving in the church, and from listening to the Thanksgiving sermon, in which the minister was expected to express his views freely concerning the politics of the country, and the state of things in society generally, in a somewhat more secular vein of thought than was deemed exactly appropriate to the Lord's day. But it is to be confessed, that, when the good man got carried away by the enthusiasm of his subject to extend these exercises beyond a certain length, anxious glances, exchanged between good wives, sometimes indicated a weakness of the flesh, having a tender reference to the turkeys and chickens and chicken pies, which might possibly be overdoing in the ovens at home. But your old brick oven was a true Puritan institution, and backed up the devotional habits of good housewives, by the capital care which he took of whatever was committed to his capacious bosom. A truly well-bred oven would have been ashamed of himself all his days, and blushed redder than his own fires, if a God-fearing house-matron, away at the temple of the Lord, should come home and find her piecrust either burned or underdone by his over or under zeal; so the old fellow generally managed to bring things out exactly right.
When sermons and prayers were all over, we children rushed home to see the great feast of the year spread.
What chitterings and chatterings there were all over the house, as all the aunties and uncles and cousins came pouring in, taking off their things, looking at one another's bonnets and dresses, and mingling their comments on the morning sermon with various opinions on the new millinery outfits, and with bits of home news, and kindly neighborhood gossip.
Uncle Bill, whom the Cambridge college authorities released, they did all the other youngsters of the land, for Thanksgiving day, made a breezy stir among them all, especially with the young cousins of the feminine gender.
The best room on this occasion was thrown wide open, and its habitual coldness had been warmed by the burning down of a great stack of hickory logs, which had been heaped up unsparingly since morning. It takes some hours to get a room warn, where a family never sits, and which therefore has not in its walls one particle of the genial vitality which comes from the in-dwelling of human beings. But on Thanksgiving day, at least, every year, this marvel was effected in our best room.
Although all servile labor and vain recreation on this day were by law forbidden, according to the terms of the proclamation, it was not held to be a violation of the precept, that all the nice old aunties should bring their knitting-work and sit gently trotting their needles around the fire; nor that Uncle Bill should start a full-fledged romp among the girls and children, while the dinner was being set on the long table in the neighboring kitchen. Certain of the good elderly female relatives, of serious and discreet demeanor, assisted at this operation.
But who shall do justice to the dinner, and describe the turkey, and chickens, and chicken pies, with all that endless variety of vegetables which the American soil and climate have contributed to the table, and which, without regard to the French doctrine of courses, were all piled together in jovial abundance upon the smoking board? There was much carving and laughing and talking and eating, and all showed that cheerful ability to despatch the provisions which was the ruling spirit of the hour. After the meat came the plum-puddings, and then the endless array of pies, till human nature was actually bewildered and overpowered by the tempting variety; and even we children turned from the profusion offered to us, and wondered what was the matter that we could eat no more.
When all was over, my grandfather rose at the head of the table, and a fine venerable picture he made as he stood there, his silver hair flowing in curls down each side of his clear, calm face, while, in conformity to the old Puritan custom, he called their attention to a recital of the mercies of God in his dealings with their family.
It was a sort of family history, going over and touching upon the various events which had happened. He spoke of my father's death, and gave a tribute to his memory; and closed all with the application of a time-honored text, expressing the hope that as years passed by we might "so number our days as to apply our hearts unto wisdom"; and then he gave out that psalm which in those days might be called the national hymn of the Puritans.
"Let children hear the mighty deeds
Which God performed of old,
Which in our younger years we saw,
And which our fathers told.
"He bids us make his glories known,
His works of power and grace.
And we 'll convey his wonders down
Through every rising race.
"Our lips shall tell them to our sons,
And they again to theirs;
That generations yet unborn
May teach them to their heirs.
"Thus shall they learn in God alone
Their hope securely stands;.
That they may ne'er forget his works,
But practise his commands."
This we all united in singing to the venerable tune of St. Martin's, an air which, the reader will perceive, by its multiplicity of quavers and inflections gave the greatest possible scope to the cracked and trembling voices of the ancients, who united in it with even more zeal than the younger part of the community.
Uncle Fliakim Sheril, furbished up in a new crisp black suit, and with his spindle-shanks trimly incased in the smoothest of black silk stockings, looking for all the world just like an alert and spirited black cricket, outdid himself on this occasion in singing counter, in that high, weird voice that he must have learned from the wintry winds that usually piped around the corners of the old house. But any one who looked at him, as he sat with his eyes closed, beating time with head and hand, and, in short, with every limb of his body, must have perceived the exquisite satisfaction which he derived from this mode of expressing himself. I much regret to be obliged to state that my graceless Uncle Bill, taking advantage of the fact that the eyes of all his elders were devotionally closed, stationing himself a little in the rear of my Uncle Fliakim, performed an exact imitation of his counter, with such a killing facility that all the younger part of the audience were nearly dead with suppressed laughter. Aunt Lois, who never shut her eyes a moment on any occasion, discerned this from a distant part of the room, and in vain endeavored to stop it by vigorously shaking her head at the offender. She might as well have shaken it at a bobolink tilting on a clover-top. In fact, Uncle Bill was Aunt Lois's weak point, and the corners of her own mouth were observed to twitch in such a suspicious manner that the whole moral force of her admonition was destroyed.
And now, the dinner being cleared away, we youngsters, already excited to a tumult of laughter, tumbled into the best room, under the supervision of Uncle Bill, to relieve ourselves with a game of "blind-man's-buff," while the elderly women washed up the dishes and got the house in order, and the men-folks went out to the barn to look at the cattle, and walked over the farm and talked of the crops.
In the evening the house was all open and lighted with the best of tallow candles, which Aunt Lois herself had made with especial care for this illumination. It was understood that we were to have a dance, and black Cæsar, full of turkey and pumpkin pie, and giggling in the very jollity of his heart, had that afternoon rosined his bow, and tuned his fiddle, and practised jigs and Virginia reels, in a way that made us children think him a perfect Orpheus.
As soon as the candles were lighted came in Miss Mehitable with her brother Jonathan, and Tina, like a gay little tassel, hanging on her withered arm.
Mr. Jonathan Rossiter was a tall, well-made man, with a clear-cut, aquiline profile, and high round forehead, from which his powdered hair was brushed smoothly back and hung down behind in a long cue. His eyes were of a piercing dark gray, with that peculiar expression of depth and intensity which marks a melancholy temperament. He had a large mouth, which he kept shut with an air of firmness that suggested something even hard and dictatorial in his nature. He was quick and alert in all his movements, and his eyes had a searching quickness of observation, which seemed to lose nothing of what took place around him. There was an air of breeding and self-command about him; and in all his involuntary ways he bore the appearance of a man more interested to make up a judgment of others than concerned as to what their judgment might be about himself.
Miss Mehitable hung upon his arm with an evident admiration and pride, which showed that when he came he made summer at least for her.
After them soon arrived the minister and his lady, – she in a grand brocade satin dress, open in front to display a petticoat brocaded with silver flowers. With her well-formed hands shining out of a shimmer of costly lace, and her feet propped on high-heeled shoes, Lady Lothrop justified the prestige of good society which always hung about her. Her lord and master, in the spotless whiteness of his ruffles on wrist and bosom, and in the immaculate keeping and neatness of all his clerical black, and the perfect pose of his grand full-bottomed clerical wig, did honor to her conjugal cares. They moved through the room like a royal prince and princess, with an appropriate, gracious, well-considered word for each and every one. They even returned, with punctilious civility, the awe-struck obeisance of black Cæsar, who giggled over straightway with joy and exultation at the honor.
But conceive of my Aunt Lois's pride of heart, when, following in the train of these august persons, actually came Ellery Davenport, bringing upon his arm Miss Deborah Kittery. Here was a situation! Had the whole island of Great Britain waded across the Atlantic Ocean to call on Bunker Hill, the circumstance could scarcely have seemed to her more critical.
"Mercy on us!" she thought to herself, "all these Episcopalians coming! I do hope mother 'll be careful; I hope she won't feel it necessary to give them a piece of her mind, as she 's always doing."
Miss Deborah Kittery, however, knew her soundings, and was too genuine an Englishwoman not to know that "every man's house is his castle," and that one must respect one's neighbor's opinions on his own ground.
As to my grandmother, her broad and buxom heart on this evening was so full of motherliness, that she could have patted the very King of England on the head, if he had been there, and comforted his soul with the assurance that she supposed he meant well, though he did n't exactly know how to manage; so, although she had a full consciousness that Miss Deborah Kittery had turned all America over to uncovenanted mercies, she nevertheless shook her warmly by the hand, and told her she hoped she 'd make herself at home. And I think she would have done exactly the same by the Pope of Rome himself, if that poor heathen sinner had presented himself on Thanksgiving evening. So vast and billowy was the ocean of her loving-kindness, and so firmly were her feet planted on the rock of the Cambridge Platform, that on it she could stand breathing prayers for all Jews, Turks, Infidels, Tories, Episcopalians, and even Roman Catholics. The very man that burnt Mr. John Rogers might have had a mug of cider in the kitchen on this evening, with an exhortation to go and sin no more.
You may imagine the astounding wassail among the young people, when two such spirits as Ellery Davenport and my Uncle Bill were pushing each other on, in one house. My Uncle Bill related the story of "the Wry-mouth Family," with such twists and contortions and killing extremes of the ludicrous as perfectly overcame even the minister; and he was to be seen, at one period of the evening, with a face purple with laughter, and the tears actually rolling down over his well-formed cheeks, while some of the more excitable young people almost fell in trances, and rolled on the floor in the extreme of their merriment. In fact, the assemblage was becoming so tumultuous, that the scrape of Cæsar's violin, and the forming of sets for a dance, seemed necessary to restore the peace.
Whenever or wherever it was that the idea of the sinfulness of dancing arose in New:England, I know not; it is a certain fact that at Oldtown, at this time, the presence of the minister and his lady was held not to be in the slightest degree incompatible with this amusement. I appeal to many of my readers, if they or their parents could not recall a time in New England when in all the large towns dancing assemblies used to be statedly held, at which the minister and his lady, though never uniting in the dance, always gave an approving attendance, and where all the decorous, respectable old church-members brought their children, and stayed to watch an amusement in which they no longer actively partook. No one looked on with a more placid and patronizing smile than Dr. Lothrop and his lady, as one after another began joining the exercise, which, commencing first with the children and young people, crept gradually upwards among the elders.
Uncle Bill would insist on leading out Aunt Lois, and the bright color rising to her thin cheeks brought back a fluttering image of what might have been beauty in some fresh, early day. Ellery Davenport insisted upon leading forth Miss Deborah Kittery, notwithstanding her oft-repeated refusals and earnest protestations to the contrary. As to Uncle Fliakim, he jumped and frisked and gyrated among the single sisters and maiden aunts, whirling them into the dance as if he had been the little black gentleman himself. With that true spirit of Christian charity which marked all his actions, he invariably chose out the homeliest and most neglected, and thus worthy Aunt Keziah, dear old soul, was for a time made quite prominent by his attentions.
Of course the dances in those days were of a strictly moral nature. The very thought of one of the round dances of modern times would have sent Lady Lothrop behind her big fan in helpless confusion, and exploded my grandmother like a full-charged arsenal of indignation. As it was, she stood, her broad, pleased face radiant with satisfaction, as the wave of joyousness crept up higher and higher round her, till the elders, who stood keeping time with their heads and feet, began to tell one another how they had danced with their sweethearts in good old days gone by, and the elder women began to blush and bridle, and boast of steps that they could take in their youth till the music finally subdued them, and into the dance they went.
"Well, well!" quoth my grandmother; "they 're all at it so hearty, I don't see why I should n't try it myself." And into the Virginia reel she went, amid screams of laughter from all the younger members of the company.
But I assure you my grandmother was not a woman to be laughed at; for whatever she once set on foot, she "put through" with a sturdy energy befitting a daughter of the Puritans.
"Why should n't I dance?" she said, when she arrived red and resplendent at the bottom of the set. "Didn't Mr. Despondency and Miss Muchafraid and Mr. Readytohalt all dance together in the Pilgrim's Progress?" – and the minister in his ample flowing wig, and my lady in her stiff brocade, gave to my grandmother a solemn twinkle of approbation.
As nine o'clock struck, the whole scene dissolved and melted; for what well-regulated village would think of carrying festivities beyond that hour?
And so ended our Thanksgiving at Oldtown.
THE next morning after Thanksgiving, life resumed its usual hard, laborious course, with a sharp and imperative reaction, such as ensues when a strong spring, which has been for some time held back, is suddenly let fly again.
Certainly Aunt Lois appeared to be astir fully an hour in advance of the usual time, because Aunt Lois was under some vague impression of infinite disturbances in the house, owing to the latitude of the last two weeks, and of great furbishings and repairs to be done in the best room, before it could be again shut up and condemned to silence.
While we were eating our breakfast, Sam Lawson came in, with an air of great trepidation.
"Lordy massy, Mis' Badger! what do you s'pose has happened?" he exclaimed, holding up his hands. "Wal! if I ever – no, I never did!" – and, before an explanation could be drawn out of him, in fluttered Uncle Fliakim, and began dancing an indignant rigadoon round the kitchen.
"Perfectly abominable! the selectmen ought to take it up," he exclaimed, – "ought to make a State affair of it, and send to the Governor."
"Do for mercy's sake, Fliakim, sit down, and tell us what the matter is," said my grandmother.
"I can't! I can't! I can't!!! I 've just got to hitch right up and go on after 'em; and mebbe I 'll catch 'em before they get over the State line. I just wanted to borrow your breech-band, 'cause ours is broke. Where is it? Is it out in the barn, or where?"
By this time we had all arisen from table, and stood looking at one another, while Uncle Fliakim had shot out of the back door toward the barn. Of course our information must now be got out of Sam Lawson.
"Wal, you see, Deacon, who ever would ha' thought of it? They 've took every child on 'em, every one!"
"Who 's taken? what children?" said my grandmother. "Do pray begin at the right end of your story, and not come in here scaring a body to death."
"Wal, it 's Aunt Nancy Prime's children. Last night the kidnappers come to her house an' took her an' every single one of the child'en, an' goin' to carry 'em off to York State for slaves. Jake Marshall, he was round to our house this mornin', an' told me 'bout it. Jake, he 'd ben over to keep Thanksgivin', over t' Aunt Sally Proddy's; an' way over by the ten-mile tahvern he met the waggin, an' Aunt Nancy, she called out to him, an' he heerd one of the fellers swear at her. The' was two fellers in the waggin, an' they was a drivin' like mad, an' I jest come runnin' down to Mr. Sheril's, 'cause I know his horse never gits out of a canter, an' 's pretty much used to bein' twitched up sudden. But, Lordy massy, s'posin' he could ketch up with 'em, what could he do? He could n't much more 'n fly at 'em like an old hen; so I don't see what 's to be done."
"Well," said my grandfather, rising up, "if that 's the case, it 's time we should all be on the move; and I 'll go right over to Israel Scran's, and he and his two sons and I 'll go over, and I guess there 'll be enough of us to teach them reason. These kidnappers always make for the New York State line. Boys, you go out and tackle the old mare, and have our wagon round to the house; and, if Fliakim's wagon will hold together, the two will just carry the party."
"Lordy massy! I should like to go 'long too," said Sam Lawson. "I hain't got no special business to-day but what could be put off as well as not."
"You never do have," said Aunt Lois. "That 's the trouble with you."
"Wal, I was a thinkin'," said Sam, "that Jake and me hes been over them roads so often, and we kind o' know all the ups an' downs an' cross-roads. Then we 's pretty intimate with some o' them Injun fellers, an' ye git them sot out on a trail arter a body, they 's like a huntin' dog."
"Well, father," said Aunt Lois, "I think it 's quite likely that Sam may be right here. He certainly knows more about such things than any decent, industrious man ought to, and it 's a pity you should n't put him to some use when you can."
"Jes' so!" said Sam. "Now, there 's reason in that 'ere; an' I 'll jes' go over to Israel's store with the Deacon. Yeh see ye can't take both the boys, 'cause one on 'em 'll have to stay and tend the store; but I tell you what 't is, I ain't no bad of a hand a hittin' a lick at kidnappers. I could pound on 'em as willingly as ever I pounded a horseshoe; an' a woman 's a woman, an' child'en 's child'en, ef they be black; that 's jes' my 'pinion."
"Sam, you 're a good fellow," said my grandmother, approvingly. "But come, go right along."
Here, now, was something to prevent the wave of yesterday's excitement from flatting down into entire insipidity.
Harry and I ran over instantly to tell Tina; and Tina with all her eloquence set it forth to Miss Mehitable and Polly, and we gave vent to our emotions by an immediate rush to the garret and a dramatic representation of the whole scene of the rescue, conducted with four or five of Tina's rag-dolls and a little old box wagon, with which we cantered and re-cantered across the garret floor in a way that would have been intolerable to any less patient and indulgent person than Miss Mehitable.
The fact is, however, that she shared in the universal excitement to such a degree, that she put on her bonnet immediately, and rushed over to the minister's to give vent to her feelings, while Polly, coming up garret, shouldered one of the guns lovingly, and declared she 'd "like nothing better than to fire it off at one o' them fellers"; and then she told us how, in her young days, where she was brought up in Maine, the painters (panthers) used to come round their log cabin at night, and how ad growl; and how they always had to keep the guns loaded; and how once her mother, during her father's absence, had treed a painter, and kept him up in his perch for hours by threatening him whenever he offered to come down, until her husband came home and shot him.
Pretty stanch, reliant blood, about those times, flowed in the bosoms of the women of New England, and Polly relieved the excitement of her mind this morning by relating to us story after story of the wild forest life of her early days.
While Polly was thus giving vent to her emotions at home, Miss Mehitable had produced a corresponding excitement in the minister's family. Ellery Davenport declared his prompt intention of going up and joining the pursuing party, as he was young and strong, with all his wits about him; and, with the prestige of rank in the late Revolutionary war, such an accession to the party was of the greatest possible importance. As to Miss Deborah Kittery, she gave it as her opinion that such uprisings against law and order were just what was to be expected in a democracy. "The lower classes, my dear, you know, need to be kept down with a strong hand," she said with an instructive nod of the head; "and I think we shall find that there 's no security in the way things are going on now."
Miss Mehitable and the minister listened with grave amusement while the worthy lady thus delivered herself; and, as they did not reply, she had the comfort of feeling that she had given them something to think of.
All the village, that day, was in a ferment of expectation; for Aunt Nancy was a general favorite in all the families round, and was sent for in case of elections or weddings or other high merry-makings, so that meddling with her was in fact taking away part of the vested property of Oldtown. The loafers who tilted, with their heels uppermost, on the railings of the tavern veranda, talked stringently of State rights, and some were of opinion that President Washington ought to be apprised of the fact without loss of time. My grandmother went about house in a state of indignation all day, declaring it was a pretty state of things, to be sure, and that, next they should know, they should wake up some morning and find that Cæsar had been gobbled up in the night and run off with. But Harry and I calmed the fears which this seemed to excite in his breast, by a vivid description of the two guns over in Miss Mehitable's garret, and of the use that we should certainly make or them in case of an attack on Cæsar.
The chase, however, was conducted with such fire and ardor that before moonrise on the same night the captives were brought back in triumph to Oldtown village, and lodged for safe-keeping in my grandmother's house, who spared nothing in their entertainment.
A happy man was Sam Lawson that evening, as he sat in the chimney-corner and sipped his mug of cider, and recounted his adventures.
"Lordy massy! well, 't was providential we took Colonel Devenport 'long with us, I tell you; he talked to them fellers in a way that made 'em shake in their shoes. Why, Lordy massy, when we fust came in sight on 'em, Mr. Sheril an' me, we wus in the foremost waggin, an' we saw 'em before us just as we got to the top of a long, windin' hill, an' I tell you if they did n't whip up an' go lickity-split down that 'ere hill, – I tell you, they rattled them child'en as ef they 'd ben so many punkins, an' I tell you one of 'em darned old young-uns flew right over the side of the waggin, an' jest picked itself up as lively as a cricket, an' never cried. We did n't stop to take it up, but jes' kep' right along arter; an' Mr. Sheril, he hollers out, 'Whoa! whoa! stop! stop thief!' as loud as he could yell; but they jes' laughed at him; but Colonel Devenport, he come ridin' by on horseback, like thunder, an' driv' right by 'em, an' then turned round an' charged down on their horses so it driv' 'em right out the road, ar' the waggin was upsot, an' the fellers, they were pitched out, an' in a minute Colonel Devenport had one on 'em by the collar an' his pistol right out to the head o' t'other. 'Now,' ses he, 'if you stir you 're a dead man!'
"Wal, Mr. Sheril, he made arter the other one, – he always means mighty well, Mr. Sheril does, – he gin a long jump, he did, an' he lit right in the middle of a tuft of blackberry-bushes an' tore his breeches as ef the heavens an' 'arth was a goin' asunder. Yeh see, they never 'd a got 'em ef 't had n't ben for Colonel Devenport. He kep' the other feller under range of his pistol, an' told him he 'd shoot him ef he stirred; an' the feller, he was scart to death, an' he roared an' begged for mercy in a way 't would ha' done your heart good to hear.
"Wal, wal! the upshot on't all was, when Israel Scran come down with his boy (they was in the back waggin), they got out the ropes an' tied 'em up snug, an' have ben a fetchin' on 'em along to jail, where I guess they 'll have one spell o' considerin their ways. But, Lordy massy, yeh never see such a sight as your uncle's breeches wus. Mis' Sheril, she says she never see the beater of him for allus goin' off in his best clothes, 'cause, you see, he heard the news early, an' he jes' whips on his Thanksgivin' clothes an' went off in 'em just as he was. His intentions is allus so good. It 's a pity, though, he don't take more time to consider. Now I think folks ought to take things more moderate. Yeh see, these folks that hurries allus, they gits into scrapes, is just what I 'm allus a tellin' Hepsy."
"Who were the fellows, do you know?" said my grandmother.
"Wal, one on 'em was one of them Hessians that come over in the war times, – he is a stupid crittur; but the other is Widdah Huldy Miller's son, down to Black Brook there."
"Do tell," said my grandmother, with the liveliest concern; "has Eph Miller come to that?"
"Yes, yes!" said Sam, "it 's Eph, sure enough. He was exalted to heaven in p'int o' privilege, but he took to drink and onstiddy ways in the army, and now here he is in jail. I tell you, I tried to set it home to Eph, when I was a bringin' on him home in the waggin, but, Lordy massy, we don't none of us like to have our sins set in order afore us. There was David, now, he was crank as could be when he thought Nathan was a talkin' about other people's sins. Says David, 'The man that did that shall surely die'; but come to set it home, and say, 'Thou art the man,' David caved right in. 'Lordy massy bless your soul and body, Nathan,' says he, 'I don't want to die.'"
It will be seen by these edifying moralizings how eminently Scriptural was the course of Sam's mind. In fact, his turn for long-winded, pious reflection was not the least among his many miscellaneous accomplishments.
As to my grandmother, she busied herself in comforting the hearts of Aunt Nancy and the children with more than they could eat of the relics of the Thanksgiving feast, and bidding them not to be down-hearted nor afeard of anything, for the neighbors would all stand up for them, confirming her words with well-known quotations from the Old Testament, to the effect that "the triumphing of the wicked is short," and that "evil-doers shall soon be cut off from the earth."
This incident gave Ellery Davenport a wide-spread popularity in the circles of Oldtown. My grandmother was predisposed to look on him with complacency as a grandson of President Edwards, although he took, apparently, a freakish delight in shocking the respectable prejudices, and disappointing the reasonable expectations, of people in this regard, by assuming in every conversation precisely the sentiments that could have been least expected of him in view of such a paternity.
In fact, Ellery Davenport was one of those talkers who delight to maintain the contrary of every proposition started, and who enjoy the bustle and confusion which they thus make in every circle.
In good, earnest, intense New England, where every idea was taken up and sifted with serious solemnity, and investigated with a view to an immediate practical action upon it as true or false this glittering, fanciful system of fencing which he kept up on all subjects, maintaining with equal brilliancy and ingenuity this to-day and that to-morrow, might possibly have drawn down upon a man a certain horror, as a professed scoffer and a bitter enemy of all that is good; but Ellery Davenport, with all his apparent carelessness, understood himself and the world he moved in perfectly. He never lost sight of the effect he was producing on any mind, and had an intuitive judgment, in every situation, of exactly how far he might go without going too far.
The position of such young men as Ellery Davenport, in the theocratic state of society in New England at this time, can be understood only by considering the theologic movements of their period.
The colonists who founded Massachusetts were men whose doctrine of a Christian church in regard to the position of its children was essentially the same as that of the Church of England. Thus we find in Doctor Cotton Mather this statement: –
"They did all agree with their brethren at Plymouth in this point: that the children of the faithful were church-members with their parents; and that their baptism was a seal of their being so; only, before their admission to fellowship in any particular church, it was judged necessary that, being free from scandal in life, they should be examined by the elders of the church, upon whose approbation of their fitness they should publicly and personally own the covenant, and so be received unto the table of the Lord. And accordingly the eldest son of Mr. Higginson, being about fifteen years of age, and laudably answering all the characters expected in a communicant, was then so received."
The colony under Governor Winthrop and Thomas Dudley was, in fact, composed of men in all but political opinion warmly attached to the Church of England; and they published, on their departure, a tract called "The Humble Request of His Majesty's Loyal Subjects, the Governor and Company lately gone for New England, for the Obtaining of their Prayers, and the Removal of Suspicions and Misconstruction of their Intentions"; and in this address they called the Church of England their dear mother, acknowledging that such hope and part as they had attained in the common salvation, they had sucked from her breasts; and entreating their many reverend fathers and brethren to recommend them unto the mercies of God, in their constant prayers, as a church now springing out of their own bowels. Originally, therefore, the first young people who grew up in New England were taught in their earliest childhood to regard themselves as already members of the church, as under obligations to comport themselves accordingly, and at a very early age it was expected of them that they would come forward by their own act and confirm the action of their parents in their baptism, in a manner much the same in general effect as confirmation in England. The immediate result of this was much sympathy on the part of the children and young people with the religious views of their parents, and a sort of growing up into them from generation to generation. But, as the world is always tending to become unspiritual and mechanical in its views and sentiments, the defect of the species of religion thus engendered was a want of that vitality and warmth of emotion which attend the convert whose mind has come out of darkness into marvellous light, – who has passed through interior conflicts which have agitated his soul to the very depths. So there was always a party in New England who maintained that only those who could relate a change so marked as to be characterized as supernatural should hope that they were the true elect of God, or be received in churches and acknowledged as true Christians.
Many pages of Cotton Mather record the earnest attention which not only the ministers, but the governors and magistrates, of New England, in her early days, gave to the question, "What is the true position of the baptized children of the Church?" and Cotton Mather, who was warmly in favor of the Church of England platform in this respect, says: "It was the study of those prudent men who might be called our seers, that the children of the faithful should be kept, as far as may be, under a church watch, in expectation that they might be in a fairer way to receive the grace of God; so that the prosperous condition of religion in our churches might not be a matter of one age alone."
Old Cotton waxes warm in arguing this subject, as follows: –
"The Scriptures tell us that men's denying the children of the Church to have any part in the Lord hath a strong tendency in it to make them cease from fearing the Lord, and harden their hearts from his fear. But the awful obligations of covenant interest have a great tendency to soften the heart and break it and draw it home to God. Hence, when the Lord would powerfully win men to obedience, he often begins with this: that he is their God. The way of the Anabaptists, to admit none unto membership and baptism but adult professors, is the straitest way. One would think it should be a way of great purity, but experience hath shown that it has been an inlet unto great corruption, and a troublesome, dangerous underminer of reformation."
And then old Cotton adds these words, certainly as explicit as even the modern Puseyite could desire: –
"If we do not keep in the way of a converting, grace-giving covenant, and keep persons under those church dispensations wherein grace is given, the Church will die of a lingering, though not a violent death. The Lord hath not set up churches, only that a few old Christians may keep one another warm while they live and then carry away the Church into the cold grave with them when they die. No; but that they might with all care and with all the obligations and advantages to that care that may be, nurse up another generation of subjects to our Lord, that may stand up in his kingdom when they are gone."
It was for some time doubtful whether the New England Church would organize itself and seek its own perpetuation on the educational basis which has been the foundation of the majority of the Christian Church elsewhere; and the question was decided, as such society questions often are, by the vigor and power of one man. Jonathan Edwards, a man who united in himself the natures of both a poet and a metaphysician, all whose experiences and feelings were as much more intense than those of common men as Dante's or Milton's, fell into the error of making his own constitutional religious experience the measure and standard of all others, and revolutionizing by it the institutions of the Pilgrim Fathers.
Regeneration, as he taught it in his "Treatise on the Affections," was the implantation by Divine power of a new spiritual sense in the soul, as diverse from all the other senses as seeing is from hearing, or tasting from smelling. No one that had not received this new, divine, supernatural sense, could properly belong to the Church of Christ, and all men, until they did receive it, were naturally and constitutionally enemies of God to such a degree, that, as he says in a sermon to that effect, "If they had God in their power, they would kill him."
It was his power and his influence which succeeded in completely upsetting New England from the basis on which the Reformers and the Puritan Fathers had placed her, and casting out of the Church the children of the very saints and martyrs who had come to this country for no other reason than to found a church.
It is remarkable that, in all the discussions of depravity inherited from Adam, it never seemed to occur to any theologian that there might also be a counter-working of the great law of descent, by which the feelings and habits of thought wrought in the human mind by Jesus Christ might descend through generations of Christians, so that, in course of time, many might be born predisposed to good, rather than to evil. Cotton Mather fearlessly says that "the seed of the Church are born holy," – not, of course, meaning it in a strictly theological sense, but certainly indicating that, in his day, a mild and genial spirit of hope breathed over the cradle of infancy and childhood.
Those very persons whom President Edwards addresses in such merciless terms of denunciation in his sermons, telling them that the earth daily groans to open under them, – and that the wind and the sun and the waters are all weary of them and longing to break forth and execute the wrath of God upon them, – were the children for uncounted generations back of fathers and mothers nursed in the bosom of the Church, trained in habits of daily prayer, brought up to patience and self-sacrifice and self-denial as the very bread of their daily being, and lacking only this supernatural sixth sense, the want of which brought upon them a guilt so tremendous. The consequence was, that, immediately after the time of President Edwards, there grew up in the very bosom of the New England Church a set of young people who were not merely indifferent to religion, but who hated it with the whole energy of their being.
Ellery Davenport's feeling toward the Church and religion had all the bitterness of the disinherited son, who likes nothing better than to point out the faults in those favored children who enjoy the privileges of which he is deprived. All the consequences that good, motherly Cotton Mather had foreseen as likely to result from the proposed system of arranging the Church were strikingly verified in his case. He had not been able entirely to rid himself of a belief in what he hated. The danger of all such violent recoils from the religion of one's childhood consists in this fact, – that the person is always secretly uncertain that he may not be opposing truth and virtue itself; he struggles confusedly with the faith of his mother, the prayers of his father, with whatever there may be holy and noble in the profession of that faith from which he has broken away; and few escape a very serious shock to conscience and their moral nature in doing it.
Ellery Davenport was at war with himself, at war with the traditions of his ancestry, and had the feeling that he was regarded in the Puritan community as an apostate; but he took a perverse pleasure in making his position good by a brilliancy of wit and grace of manner which few could resist; and, truth to say, his success, even with the more rigid, justified his self-confidence. As during these days there were very few young persons who made any profession of religion at all, the latitude of expression which he allowed himself on these subjects was looked upon as a sort of spiritual sowing of wild oats. Heads would be gravely shaken over him. One and another would say, "Ah! that Edwards blood is smart; it runs pretty wild in youth, but the Lord's time may come by and by"; and I doubt not that my grandmother that very night, before she slept, wrestled with God in prayer for his soul with all the enthusiasm of a Monica for a St. Augustine.
Meantime, with that easy facility which enabled him to please everybody, he became, during the course of a somewhat extended visit which he made at the minister's, rather a hero in Oldtown. What Colonel Davenport said, and what Colonel Davenport did, were spoken of from mouth to mouth. Even his wicked wit was repeated by the gravest and most pious, – of course with some expressions of disclaimer, but, after all, with that genuine pleasure which a Yankee never fails to feel in anything smartly and neatly hit off in language.
He cultivated a great friendship with Miss Mehitable, – talking with her of books and literature and foreign countries, and advising her in regard to the education of Tina, with great unction and gravity. With that little princess there was always a sort of half whimsical flirtation, as she demurely insisted on being treated by him as a woman, rather than as a child, – a caprice which amused him greatly.
Miss Mehitable felt herself irresistibly drawn, in his society, as almost everybody else was, to make a confidant of him. He was so winning, so obliging, so gentle, and knew so well just where and how to turn the conversation to avoid anything that he did n't like to hear, and to hear anything that he did. So gently did his fingers run over the gamut of everbody's nature, that nobody dreamed of being played on.
Such men are not, of course, villains; but, if they ever should happen to wish to become so, their nature gives them every facility.
Before she knew what she was about, Miss Mehitable found herself talking with Ellery Davenport on the strange, mysterious sorrow which imbittered her life, and she found a most sympathetic and respectful listener.
Ellery Davenport was already versed in diplomatic life, and had held for a year or two a situation of importance at the court of France; was soon to return thither, and also to be employed on diplomatic service in England. Could he, would he, find any traces of the lost one there? On this subject there were long, and, on the part of Miss Mehitable, agitating interviews, which much excited Miss Tina's curiosity.
READER, this is to be a serious chapter, and I advise all those people who want to go through the world without giving five minutes' consecutive thought to any subject to skip it. They will not find it entertaining, and it may perhaps lead them to think on puzzling subjects, even for so long a time as half an hour; and who knows what may happen to their brains, from so unusual an exercise?
My grandmother, as I have shown, was a character in her way, full of contradictions and inconsistencies, brave, generous, energetic, large-hearted, and impulsive. Theoretically she was an ardent disciple of the sharpest and severest Calvinism, and used to repeat Michael Wigglesworth's "Day of Doom" to us in the chimney-corner, of an evening, with a reverent acquiescence in all its hard sayings, while practically she was the most pitiful, easy-to-be-entreated old mortal on earth, and was ever falling a prey to any lazy vagabond who chose to make an appeal to her abounding charity. She could not refuse a beggar that asked in a piteous tone; she could not send a child to bed that wanted to sit up; she could not eat a meal in peace when there were hungry eyes watching her; she could not, in cool deliberate moments, even inflict transient and necessary pain for the greater good of a child, and resolutely shut her eyes to the necessity of such infliction. But there lay at the bottom of all this apparent inconsistency a deep cause that made it consistent, and that cause was the theologic stratum in which her mind, and the mind of all New England, was embedded.
Never, in the most intensely religious ages of the world, did the insoluble problem of the WHENCE, the WHY, and the WHITHER of mankind receive such earnest attention. New England was founded by a colony who turned their backs on the civilization of the Old World, on purpose that they might have nothing else to think of. Their object was to form a community that should think of nothing else.
Working on a hard soil, battling with a harsh, ungenial climate, everywhere being treated by Nature with the most rigorous severity, they asked no indulgence, they got none, and they gave none. They shut out from their religious worship every poetic drapery, every physical accessory that they feared would interfere with the abstract contemplation of hard, naked truth, and set themselves grimly and determinately to study the severest problems of the unknowable and the insoluble. Just as resolutely as they made their farms by blasting rocks and clearing land of ledges of stone, and founded thrifty cities and thriving money-getting communities in places which one would think might more properly have been left to the white bears, so resolutely they pursued their investigations amid the grim mysteries of human existence, determined to see and touch and handle everything for themselves, and to get at the absolute truth if absolute truth could be got at.
They never expected to find truth agreeable. Nothing in their experience of life had ever prepared them to think it would be so. Their investigations were made with the courage of the man who hopes little, but determines to know the worst of his affairs. They wanted no smoke of incense to blind them, and no soft opiates of pictures and music to lull them; for what they were after was truth, and not happiness, and they valued duty far higher than enjoyment.
The underlying foundation of life, therefore, in New England, was one of profound, unutterable, and therefore unuttered, melancholy, which regarded human existence itself as a ghastly risk, and, in the case of the vast majority of human beings, an inconceivable misfortune.
My grandmother believed in statements which made the fortunate number who escaped the great catastrophe of mortal life as few and far between as the shivering, half-drowned mariners, who crawl up on to the shores of some desert island, when all else on board have perished. In this view she regarded the birth of an infant with a suppressed groan, and the death of one almost with satisfaction. That more than half the human race die in infancy, – that infanticide is the general custom in so many heathen lands, – was to her a comforting consideration, for so many were held to escape at once the awful ordeal, and to be gathered into the numbers of the elect.
As I have said, she was a great reader. On the round table that stood in her bedroom, next to the kitchen, there was an ample supply of books. Rollin's Ancient History, Hume's History of England, and President Edwards's Sermons, were among these.
She was not one of those systematic, skilful housewives who contrive with few steps and great method to do much in little time; she took everything the hardest end first, and attacked difficulties by sheer inconsiderate strength. For example, instead of putting on the great family pot, filling it with water, and afterwards putting therin the beef, pork, and vegetables of our daily meal, she would load up the receptacle at the sink in the back room, and then, with strong arm and cap-border erect, would fly across the kitchen with it and swing it over the fire by main strength. Thus inconsiderately she rushed at the daily battle of existence. But there was one point of system in which she never failed. There was, every day, a period, sacred and inviolable, which she gave to reading. The noon meal came exactly at twelve o'clock; and immediately after, when the dishes wee washed and wiped, and the kitchen reduced to order, my grandmother changed her gown, and retired to the sanctuary of her bedroom to read. In this way she accomplished an amount which a modern housekeeper, with four servants, would pronounce to be wholly incredible.
The books on her table came in time to be my reading as well as hers; for, as I have said, reading was with me a passion, a hunger, and I read all that came in my way.
Her favorite books had different-colored covers, thriftily put on to perserve them from the wear of handling; and it was by these covers they were generally designated in the family. Hume's History of England was known as "the brown book"; Rollin's History was "the green book"; but there was one volume which she pondered oftener and with more intense earnestness than any other, which received the designation of "the blue book." This was a volume by the Rev. Dr. Bellamy of Connecticut, called "True Religion delineated, and distinguished from all Counterfeits." It was originally published by subscription, and sent out into New England with a letter of introduction and recommendation from the Rev. Jonathan Edwards, who earnestly set it forth as being a condensed summary, in popular language, of what it is vital and important for human beings to know for their spiritual progress. It was written in a strong, nervous, condensed, popular style, such as is fallen into by a practical man speaking to a practical people, by a man thoroughly in earnest to men as deeply in earnest, and lastly, by a man who believed without the shadow of a doubt, and without even the comprehension of the possibility of a doubt.
I cannot give a better idea of the unflinching manner in which the deepest mysteries of religion were propounded to the common people than by giving a specimen of some of the headings of this book.
Page 288 considers, "Were we by the Fall brought into a State of Being worse than Not to Be?"
The answer to this comprehensive question is sufficiently explicit.
"Mankind were by their fall brought into a state of being worse than not to be. The damned in hell, no doubt, are in such a state, else their punishment would not be infinite, as justice requires it should be. But mankind, by the fall, were brought into a state, for substance, as bad as that which the damned are in."
The next inquiry to this is, "How could God, consistent with his perfections, put us into a state of being worse than not to be? And how can we ever thank God for such a being?"
The answer to this, as it was read by thousands of reflecting minds like mine, certainly shows that these hardy and courageous investigators often raised spirits that they could not lay. As, for instance, this solution of the question, which never struck me as satisfactory.
"Inasmuch as God did virtually give being to all mankind, when he blessed our first parents and said, 'Be fruitful and multiply'; and inasmuch as Being, under the circumstances that man was then put in by God, was very desirable: we ought, therefore, to thank God for our being, considered in this light, and justify God for all the evil that has come upon us by apostasy."
On this subject the author goes on to moralize thus: –
"Mankind, by the fall, were brought into a state of being infinitely worse than not to be; and were they but so far awake as to be sensible of it, they would, no doubt, all over the earth, murmur and blaspheme the God of Heaven. But what then? there would be no just ground for such conduct. We have no reason to think hard of God, – to blame him or esteem him e'er the less. What he has done was fit and right. His conduct was beautiful, and he is worthy to be esteemed for it. For that constitution was holy, just, and good, as has been proved. And, therefore, a fallen world ought to ascribe to themselves all the evil, and to justify God and say: 'God gave us being under a constitution holy, just, and good, and it was a mercy. We should have accounted it a great mercy in case Adam had never fallen; but God is not to blame for this, nor, therefore, is he the less worthy of thanks.'"
After this comes another and quite practical inquiry, which is stated as follows: –
"But if mankind are thus by nature children of wrath, in a state of being worse than not to be, how can men have the heart to propagate their kind?"
The answer to this inquiry it is not necessary to give at length. I merely state it to show how unblinking was the gaze which men in those days fixed upon the problems of life.
The objector is still further represented as saying, –
"It cannot be thought a blessing to have children, if most of them are thought to be likely to perish."
The answer to this is as follows: –
"The most of Abraham's posterity for these three thousand years, no doubt, have been wicked and perished. And God knew beforehand how it would be, and yet he promised such a numerous posterity under the notion of a great blessing. For, considering children as to this life, they may be a great blessing and comfort to their parents; and we are certain that God will do them no wrong in the life to come. All men's murmuring thoughts about this matter arise from their not liking God's way of governing the world."
I will quote but one more passage, as showing the hardy vigor of assertion on the darkest of subjects, – the origin of evil. The author says: –
"When God first designed the world, and laid out his scheme of government, it was easy for him to have determined that neither angels nor men should ever sin, and that misery should never be heard of in all his dominions; for he could easily have prevented both sin and misery. Why did not he? Surely not for want of goodness in his nature, for that is infinite; not from anything like cruelty, for there is no such thing in him; not for want of a suitable regard to the happiness of his creatures, for that he always has: but because in his infinite wisdom he did not think it best on the whole.
"But why was it not best? What could he have in view preferable to the happiness of his creatures? And, if their happiness was to him above all things most dear, how could he bear the thoughts of their ever any of them being miserable?
"It is certain that he had in view something else than merely the happiness of his creatures. It was something of greater importance. But what was that thing that was of greater worth and importance, and to which he had the greatest regard, making all other things give way to this? What was his great end in creating and governing the world? Why, look what end he is at last likely to obtain, when the whole scheme is finished, and the Day of Judgment passed, and heaven and hell filled with all their proper inhabitants. What will be the final result? What will he get by all? Why, this: that he will exert and display every one of his perfections to the life, and so by all will exhibit a most perfect and exact image of himself.
"Now it is evident that the fall of angels and of man, together with all those things which have and will come to pass in consequence thereof, from the beginning of the world to the Day of Judgment and throughout eternity, will serve to give a much more lively and perfect representation of God than could possibly have been given had there been no sin or misery."
This book also led the inquirer through all the mazes of mental philosophy, and discussed all the problems of mystical religion, such as, –
"Can a man, merely from self-love, love God more than himself?"
"Is our impotency only moral?"
"What is the most fundamental difference between Arminians and Calvinists?"
"How the love to our neighbor, which is commanded by God is a thing different from natural compassion, from natural affection, from party-spirited love, from any love whatever that arises merely from self-love, and from the love which enthusiasts and heretics have for one another."
I give these specimens, that the reader may reflect what kind of population there was likely to be where such were the daily studies of a plain country farmer's wife, and such the common topics discussed at every kitchen fireside.
My grandmother's blue book was published and recommended to the attention of New England, August 4, 1750, just twenty-six years before the Declaration of Independence. How popular it was, and how widely read in New England, appears from the list of subscribers which stands at the end of the old copy which my grandmother actually used. Almost every good old Massachusetts or Connecticut family name is there represented. We have the Emersons, the Adamses, the Brattles of Brattle Street, the Bromfields of Bromfield Street, the Brinsmaids of Connecticut, the Butlers, the Campbells, the Chapmans, the Cottons, the Daggetts, the Hawleys, the Hookers, with many more names of families yet continuing to hold influence in New England. How they regarded this book may be inferred from the fact that some subscribed for six books, some for twelve, some for thirty-six, and some for fifty. Its dissemination was deemed an act of religious ministry, and there is not the slightest doubt that it was heedfully and earnestly read in every good family of New England; and its propositions were discussed everywhere and by everybody. This is one undoubted fact; the other is, that it was this generation who fought through the Revolutionary war. They were a set of men and women brought up to think, – to think not merely on agreeable subjects, but to wrestle and tug at the very severest problems. Utter self-renunciation, a sort of grand contempt for personal happiness when weighed with things greater and more valuable, was the fundamental principle of life in those days. They who could calmly look in the face, and settle themselves down to, the idea of being resigned and thankful for an existence which was not so good as non-existence, – who were willing to be loyal subjects of a splendid and powerful government which was conducted on quite other issues than a regard for their happiness, – were possessed of a courage and a fortitude which no mere earthly mischance could shake. They who had faced eternal ruin with an unflinching gaze were not likely to shrink before the comparatively trivial losses and gains of any mere earthly conflict. Being accustomed to combats with the Devil, it was rather a recreation to fight only British officers.
If any should ever be so curious as to read this old treatise, as well as most of the writings of Jonathan Edwards, they will perceive with singular plainness how inevitably monarchical and aristocratic institutions influence theology.
That "the king can do no wrong," – that the subject owes everything to the king, and the king nothing to the subject, – that it is the king's first duty to take care of himself, and keep up state, splendor, majesty, and royalty, and that it is the people's duty to give themselves up, body and soul, without a murmuring thought, to keep up this state, splendor, and royalty, – were ideas for ages so wrought into the human mind, and transmitted by ordinary generation, – they so reflected themselves in literature and poetry and art, and all the great customs of society, – that it was inevitable that systematic theology should be permeated by them.
The idea of God in which theologians delighted, and which the popular mind accepted, was not that of the Good Shepherd that giveth his life for the sheep, – of him that made himself of no reputation, and took unto himself the form of a servant, – of him who on his knees washed the feet of his disciples, and said that in the kingdom of heaven the greatest was he who served most humbly, – this aspect of a Divine Being had not yet been wrought into their systematic theology; because, while the Bible come from God, theology is the outgrowth of the human mind, and therefore must spring from the movement of society.
When the Puritans arrived at a perception of the political rights of men in the state, and began to enunciate and act upon the doctrine that a king's right to reign was founded upon his power to promote the greatest happiness of his subjects, and when, in pursuance of this theory, they tried, condemned, and executed a king who had been false to the people, they took a long step forward in human progress. Why did not immediate anarchy follow, as when the French took such a step in regard to their king? It was because the Puritans transferred to God all those rights and immunities, all that unquestioning homage and worship and loyalty, which hitherto they had given to an earthly king.
The human mind cannot bear to relinquish more than a certain portion of its cherished past ideas in one century. Society falls into anarchy in too entire a change of base.
The Puritans had still a King. The French Revolutionists had nothing; therefore, the Puritan Revolution went on stronger and stronger. The French passed through anarchy back under despotism.
The doctrine of Divine sovereignty was the great rest to the human mind in those days, when the foundations of many generations were broken up. It is always painful to honest and loyal minds to break away from that which they have reverenced, – to put down that which they have respected. And the Puritans were by nature the most reverential and most loyal portion of the community. Their passionate attachment to the doctrine of Divine sovereignty, at this period, was the pleading and yearning within them of a faculty robbed of its appropriate object, and longing for support and expression.
There is something most affecting in the submissive devotion of these old Puritans to their God. Nothing shows more complete the indestructible nature of the filial tie which binds man to God, of the filial yearning which throbs in the heart of a great child of so great a Father, than the manner in which these men loved and worshipped and trusted God as the ALL LOVELY, even in the face of monstrous assertions of theology ascribing to him deeds which no father could imitate without being cast out of human society, and no governor without being handed down to all ages as a monster.
These theologies were not formed by the Puritans; they were their legacy from past monarchical and mediæval ages; and the principles of true Christian democracy upon which they founded their new state began, from the time of the American Revolution, to act upon them with a constantly ameliorating power; so that whosoever should read my grandmother's blue book now would be astonished to find how completely New England theology has changed its base.
The artist, in reproducing pictures of New England life during this period, is often obliged to hold his hand. He could not faithfully report the familiar conversations of the common people, because they often allude to and discuss the most awful and tremendous subjects. This, however, was the inevitable result of the honest, fearless manner in which the New England ministry of this second era discussed the Divine administration. They argued for it with the common people in very much the tone and with much the language in which they defended the Continental Congress and the ruling President; and every human being was addressed as a competent judge.
The result of such a mode of proceeding, in the long run, changed the theology of New England, from what it was when Jonathan Edwards recommended my grandmother's blue book, into what it is at this present writing. But, during the process of this investigation, every child born in New England found himself beaten backwards and forwards, like a shuttlecock, between the battledoors of discussion. Our kitchen used to be shaken constantly by what my grandfather significantly called "the battle of the Infinites," especially when my Uncle Bill came home from Cambridge on his vacations, fully charged with syllogisms, which he hurled like catapults back on the syllogisms which my grandmother had drawn from the armory of her blue book.
My grandmother would say, for example: "Whatever sin is committed against an infinite being is an infinite evil. Every infinite evil deserves infinite punishment; therefore every sin of man deserves an infinite punishment."
Then Uncle Bill, on the other side, would say: "No act of a finite being can be infinite. Man is a finite being; therefore no sin of man can be infinite. No finite evil deserves infinite punishment. Man's sins are finite evils; therefore man's sins do not deserve infinite punishment." When the combatants had got thus far, they generally looked at each other in silence.
As a result, my grandmother being earnest and prayerful, and my uncle careless and worldly, the thing generally ended in her believing that he was wrong, though she could not answer him; and in his believing that she, after all, might be right, though he could answer her; for it is noticeable, in every battle of opinion, that honest, sincere, moral earnestness has a certain advantage over mere intellectual cleverness.
It was inevitable that a people who had just carried through a national revolution and declared national independence on the principle that "governments owe their just power to the consent of the governed," and who recognized it as an axiom that the greatest good to the greatest number was the object to be held in view in all just governments, should very soon come into painful collision with forms of theological statement, in regard to God's government, which appeared to contravene all these principles, and which could be supported only by referring to the old notion of the divine right and prerogative of the King Eternal.
President Edwards had constructed a marvellous piece of logic to show that, while true virtue in man consisted in supreme devotion to the general good of all, true virtue in God consisted in supreme regard for himself. This "Treatise on True Virtue" was one of the strongest attempts to back up by reasoning the old monarchical and aristocratic ideas of the supreme right of the king and upper classes. The whole of it falls to dust before the one simple declaration of Jesus Christ, that, in the eyes of Heaven, one lost sheep is more prized than all the ninety and nine that went not astray, and before the parable in which the father runs, forgetful of parental prerogative and dignity, to cast himself on the neck of the far-off prodigal.
Theology being human and a reflection of human infirmities, nothing is more common than for it to come up point-blank in opposition to the simplest declarations of Christ.
I must beg my readers' pardon for all this, but it is a fact that the true tragedy of New England life, its deep, unutterable pathos, its endurances and its sufferings, all depended upon, and were woven into, this constant wrestling of thought with infinite problems which could not be avoided, and which saddened the days of almost everyone who grew up under it.
Was this entire freedom of thought and discussion a bad thing, then? Do we not see that strength of mind and strength of will, and the courage and fortitude and endurance which founded this great American government, grew up out of characters formed thus to think and struggle and suffer? It seems to be the law of this present existence, that all the changes by which the world is made better are brought about by the struggle and suffering, and sometimes the utter shipwreck, of individual human beings.
In regard to our own family, the deepest tragedy in it, and the one which for a time brought the most suffering and sorrow on us all, cannot be explained unless we take into consideration this peculiar state of society.
In the neighboring town of Adams there lived one of the most remarkable clergymen that New England has ever produced. His career influenced the thinking of Massachusetts, both in regard to those who adopted his opinions, and in the violent reaction from those opinions which was the result of his extreme manner of pushing them.
Dr. Moses Stern's figure is well remembered by me as I saw it in my boyhood. Everybody knew him, and when he appeared in the pulpit everybody trembled before him. He moved among men, but seemed not of men. An austere, inflexible, grand indifference to all things earthly seemed to give him the prestige and dignity of a supernatural being. His Calvinism was of so severe and ultra a type, and his statements were so little qualified either by pity of human infirmity, or fear of human censure, or desire of human approbation, that he reminded one of some ancient prophet, freighted with a mission of woe and wrath, which he must always speak, whether people would hear or whether they would forbear.
The Revolutionary war had introduced into the country a great deal of skepticism, of a type of which Paine's "Age of Reason" was an exponent; and, to meet this, the ministry of New England was not slow or unskillful.
Dr. Stern's mode of meeting this attitude of the popular mind was by an unflinching, authoritative, vehement reiteration of all the most unpopular and unpleasant points of Calvinism. Now as Nature is, in many of her obvious aspects, notoriously uncompromising, harsh, and severe, the Calvinist who begins to talk to common-sense people has this advantage on his side, – that the things which he represents the Author of Nature as doing and being ready to do, are not very different from what the common-sense man sees that the Author of Nature is already in the habit of doing.
The farmer who struggles with the hard soil, and with drouth and frost and caterpillars and fifty other insect plagues, – who finds his most persistent and well-calculated efforts constantly thwarted by laws whose workings he never can fully anticipate, and which never manifest either care for his good intentions or sympathy for his losses, is very apt to believe that the God who created nature may be a generally benevolent, but a severe and unsympathetic being, governing the world for some great, unknown purpose of his own, of which man's private improvement and happiness may or may not form a part.
Dr. Stern, with characteristic independence and fearlessness, on his own simple authority cut loose from and repudiated the whole traditional idea of the fall in Adam as having anything to do with the existence of human depravity; and made up his own theory of the universe, and began preaching it to the farmers of Adams. It was simply this: that the Divine Being is the efficient cause of all things, not only in matter but in mind, – that every good and every evil volition of any being in the universe is immediately caused by Him and tends equally well in its way to carry on his great designs. But, in order that this might not interfere with the doctrines of human responsibility, he taught that all was accomplished by Omniscient skill and knowledge in such a way as not in the slightest degree to interfere with human free agency; so that the whole responsibility of every human being's actions must rest upon himself.
Thus was this system calculated, like a skilful engine of torture, to produce all the mental anguish of the most perfect sense of helplessness with the most torturing sense of responsibility. Alternately he worked these two great levers with an almost supernatural power, – on one Sunday demonstrating with the most logical clearness, and by appeals to human consciousness, the perfect freedom of man, and, on the next, demonstrating with no less precision and logic the perfect power which an Omniscient Being possessed and exercised of controlling all his thoughts and volitions and actions.
Individually, Dr. Stern, like many other teachers of severe, uncompromising theories, was an artless, simple-hearted, gentle-mannered man. He was a close student, and wore two holes in the floor opposite his table in the spot where year after year his feet were placed in study. He refused to have the smallest thing to do with any temporal affair of this life. Like the other clergymen, he lived on a small salary, and the support of his family depended largely on the proceeds of a farm. But it is recorded of him, that once, when his whole summer's crop of hay was threatened with the bursting of a thunder-shower, and farmhands being short, he was importuned to lend a hand to save it, he resolutely declined, saying, that, if he once began to allow himself to be called on in any emergency for temporal affairs, he should become forgetful of his great mission.
The same inflexible, unbending perseverance he showed in preaching, on the basis of his own terrible theory, the most fearful doctrines of Calvinism. His sermons on Judas, on Jeroboam, and on Pharaoh, as practical examples of this doctrine of reprobation, were pieces of literature so startling and astounding, that, even in those days of interrupted travel, when there were neither railroads nor good roads of any kind, and almost none of our modern communicative system of magazines and newspapers, they were heard of all over New England. So great was the revulsion which his doctrines excited, that, when he exchanged with his brother ministers, his appearance in the pulpit was the signal for some of the most independent of the congregation to get up and leave the meeting-house. But, as it was one of his maxims that the minister who does not excite the opposition of the natural heart fails to do his work, he regarded such demonstrations as evident signs of a faithful ministry.
The science of Biblical criticism in his day was in its infancy; the Bible was mostly read by ministers, and proof-texts quoted from it as if it had been a treatise written in the English language by New-Englanders, and in which every word must bear the exact sense of a New England metaphysical treatise. And thus interpreting the whole wide labyrinth of poetry and history, and Oriental allegory and hyperbole, by literal rules, Dr. Stern found no difficulty in making it clear to those who heard him that there was no choice between believing his hard doctrines and giving up the Bible altogether. And it shows the deep and rooted attachment which the human heart has for that motherly book, that even in this dreadful dilemma the majority of his hearers did not revolt from the Bible.
As it was, in the town where he lived, his preaching formed the strongest, most controlling of all forces. No human being could hear his sermons unmoved. He would not preach to an inattentive audience, and on one occasion, observing a large number of his congregation asleep, he abruptly descended from the pulpit and calmly walked off home, leaving the astonished congregation to their own reflections; nor would he resume public services until messages of contrition and assurances of better conduct had been sent him.
Dr. Stern was in his position irresistible, simply because he cared nothing at all for the things which men ordinarily care for and which therefore could be used as motives to restrain the declarations and actions of a clergyman. He cared nothing about worldly prosperity; he was totally indifferent to money; he utterly despised fame and reputation and therefore from none of these sources could he be in the slightest degree influenced. Such a man is generally the king of his neighborhood, – the one whom all look up to, and all fear, and whose word in time becomes law.
Dr. Stern never sought to put himself forward otherwise than by the steady preaching of his system to the farming population of Adams. And yet, so great were his influence and his fame, that in time it became customary for young theological students to come and settle themselves down there as his students. This was done at first without his desire, and contrary to his remonstrance.
"I can't engage to teach you," he said; but still, when scholars came and continued to come, he found himself, without seeking it, actually at the head of a school of theology.
Let justice be done to all; it is due to truth to state that the theological scholars of Dr. Stern, wherever they went in the United States, were always marked men, – marked for an unflinching adherence to principle, and especially for a great power in supporting unpopular truths.
The Doctor himself lived to an extreme old age, always retaining and reiterating with unflinching constancy his opinions. He was the last of the New England ministers who preserved the old clerical dress of the theocracy. Long after the cocked hat and small-clothes, silk stockings and shoe-buckles, had ceased to appear in modern life, his venerable figure, thus apparelled, walked the ways of modern men, seeming like one of the primitive Puritans risen from the dead.
He was the last, also, of the New England ministers to claim for himself that peculiar position, as God's ambassador, which was such a reality in the minds of the whole early Puritan community. To extreme old age, his word was law in his parish, and he calmly and positively felt that it should be so. In time, his gray hairs, his fine, antique figure and quaint costume came to be regarded with the sort of appreciative veneration that every one gives to the monuments of the past. When he was near his ninetieth year, he was invited to New York to give the prestige of his venerable presence to the religious anniversaries which then were in the flush of newly organized enthusiasm, and which gladly laid hold of this striking accessory to the religious picturesque.
Dr. Stern was invited and fêted in the most select upper circles of New York, and treated with attentions which would have been flattering had he not been too entirely simple-minded and careless of such matters even to perceive what they meant.
But at this same time the Abolitionists, who were regarded as most improper people to be recognized in the religious circles of good society, came to New York, resolving to have their anniversary also; and, knowing that Dr. Stern had always professed to be an antislavery man, they invited him to sit on the stage with them; and Dr. Stern went. Shocking to relate, and dreadful to behold, this very cocked hat and these picturesque gray hairs, that had been brought to New York on purpose to ornament religious anniversaries which were all agreed in excluding and ignoring the Abolitionists, had gone right over into the camp of the enemy! And he was so entirely ignorant and uninstructible on the subject, and came back, after having committed this abomination, with a face of such innocent and serene gravity, that nobody dared to say a word to him on the subject.
He was at this time the accepted guest in a family whose very religion consisted in a gracious carefulness and tenderness lest they should wake up the feelings of their Southern brethren on the delicate subject of slavery. But then Dr. Stern was a man that it did no good to talk to, since it was well known that, wherever there was an unpopular truth to be defended, his cocked hat was sure to be in the front ranks.
Let us do one more justice to Dr. Stern, and say that his utter inflexibility toward human infirmity and human feeling spared himself as little as it spared any other. In this early life he records, in a most affecting autobiography, the stroke which deprived him, within a very short space, of a beloved wife and two charming children. In the struggle of that hour he says, with affecting simplicity, "I felt that I should die if I did not submit; and I did submit then, once for all." Thenceforward the beginning and middle and end of his whole preaching was submission, – utter, absolute, and unconditional.
In extreme old age, trembling on the verge of the grave, and looking back over sixty years of intense labor, he said, "After all, it is quite possible that I may not be saved"; but he considered himself as but one drop in the ocean, and his personal salvation as of but secondary account. His devotion to the King Eternal had no reference to a matter so slight. In all this, if there is something terrible and painful, there is something also which is grand, and in which we can take pride, as the fruit of our human nature. Peace to his ashes! He has learned better things ere now.
If my readers would properly understand the real depth of sorrowful perplexity in which our friend Miss Mehitable Rossiter was struggling, they must go back with us some years before, to the time when little Emily Rossiter was given up to the guardianship and entire control of her Aunt Farnsworth.
Zedekiah Farnsworth was one of those men who embody qualities which the world could not afford to be without, and which yet are far from being the most agreeable. Uncompromising firmness, intense self-reliance, with great vigor in that part of the animal nature which fits man to resist and to subdue and to hold in subjection the forces of nature, were his prominent characteristics. His was a bold and granite formation, – most necessary for the stability of the earth, but without a flower.
His wife was a woman who had once been gay and beautiful, but who, coming under the dominion of a stronger nature, was perfectly magnetized by it, so as to assimilate and become a modified reproduction of the same traits. A calm, intense, severe, conscientiousness, which judged alike herself and others with unflinching severity, was her leading characteristic.
Let us now imagine a child inheriting from the mother a sensitive, nervous organization, and from the father a predisposition of morbid action, with a mind as sensitive to external influence as a daguerreotype-plate, brought suddenly from the warmth of a too-indulgent household to the arctic regularity and frozen stillness of the Farnsworth mansion. It will be seen that the consequences must have been many conflicts, and many struggles of nature with nature, and that a character growing up thus must of course grow up into unnatural and unhealthy development.
The problem of education is seriously complicated by the peculiarities of womanhood. If we suppose two souls, exactly alike, sent into bodies, the one of man, the other of woman, that mere fact alone alters the whole mental and moral history of the two.
In addition to all the other sources of peril which beset the little Emily, she early developed a beauty so remarkable as to draw upon her constant attention, and, as she grew older, brought to her all the trials and the dangers which extraordinary beauty brings to woman. It was a part of her Aunt Farnsworth's system to pretend to be ignorant of this great fact, with a view, as she supposed, of checking any disposition to pride or vanity which might naturally arise therefrom. The consequence was that the child, hearing this agreeable news from every one else who surrounded her, soon learned the transparent nature of the hoax, and with it acquired a certain doubt of her aunt's sincerity.
Emily had a warm, social nature, and had always on hand during her school days a list of enthusiastic friends whose admiration of her supplied the light and warmth which were entirely wanting from every other source.
Mrs. Farnsworth was not insensible to the charms of her niece. She was, in fact, quite proud of them, but was pursuing conscientiously the course in regard to them which she felt that duty required of her. She loved the child, too, devotedly, but her own nature had been so thoroughly frozen by maxims of self-restraint, that this love seldom or never came into outward forms of expression.
It is sad to be compelled to trace the ill effects produced by the overaction and misapplication of the very noblest faculties of the human mind.
The Farnsworth family was one in which there was the fullest sympathy with the severest preaching of Dr. Stern. As Emily grew older, it was exacted of her, as one of her Sabbath duties, to take notes of his discourses at church, which were afterwards to be read over on Sunday evening by her aunt and uncle, and preserved in an extract-book.
The effect of such kinds of religious teaching on most of the children and young people in the town of Adams was to make them consider religion, and everything connected with it, as the most disagreeable of all subjects, and to seek practically to have as little to do with it as possible; so that there was among the young people a great deal of youthful gayety and of young enjoyment in life, notwithstanding the preaching from Sunday to Sunday of assertions enough to freeze every heart with fear. Many formed the habit of thinking of something else during the sermon-time, and many heard without really attaching any very definite meaning of what they heard.
The severest utterances, if constantly reiterated, lose their power and come to be considered as nothing. But Emily Rossiter had been gifted with a mind of far more than ordinary vigor, and with even a Greek passion for ideas, and with capabilities for logical thought which rendered it impossible for her to listen to discourses so intellectual without taking in their drift and responding to their stimulus by a corresponding intellectual activity.
Dr. Stern set the example of a perfectly bold and independent manner of differing from the popular theology of his day in certain importune respects; and, where he did differ, it was with a hardihood of self-assertion, and an utter disregard of popular opinion, and a perfect reliance on his own powers of discovering truth, which were very apt to magnetize these same qualities in other minds. People who thus set the example of free and independent thinking in one or two respects, and yet hope to constrain their disciples to think exactly as they do on all other subjects, generally reckon without their host; and there is no other region in Massachusetts where all sorts of hardy free-thinking are so rife at the present day as in the region formerly controlled by Dr. Stern.
Before Emily was fourteen years old she had passed through two or three of those seasons of convulsed and agonized feeling which are caused by the revolt of a strong sense of justice and humanity against teachings which seem to accuse the great Father of all of the most frightful cruelty and injustice. The teachings were backed up by literal quotations from the Bible, which in those days no common person possessed the means, or the habits of thought, for understanding, and thus were accepted by her at first as Divine declarations.
When these agonized conflicts occurred, they were treated by her aunt and uncle only as active developments of the natural opposition of the human heart to God. Some such period of active contest with the Divine nature was on record in the lives of some of the most eminent New England saints. President Edwards recorded the same; and therefore they looked upon them hopefully, just as the medical faculty of those same uninstructed times looked upon the writhings and agonies which their administration of poison produced in the body.
The last and most fearful of these mental struggles came after the death of her favorite brother Theodore; who, being supposed to die in an unregenerate state, was forthwith judged and sentenced, and his final condition spoken of with a grim and solemn certainty, by her aunt and uncle.
How far the preaching of Dr. Stern did violence to the most cherished feelings of human nature on this subject will appear by an extract from a sermon preached about this time.
The text was from Rev. xix, 3. "And again they said Alleluia. And her smoke rose up for ever and ever."
The subject is thus announced: –
"The heavenly hosts will praise God for punishing the finally impenitent forever."
In the improvement of practical application of this text, is the following passage: –
"Will the heavenly hosts praise God for all the displays of his vindictive justice in the punishment of the damned? – then we may learn that there is an essential difference between saints and sinners. Sinners often disbelieve and deny this distinction; and it is very difficult to make them see and believe it....They sometimes freely say that they do not think that heaven is such a place as has been described; or that the inhabitants of it say 'Amen, Alleluia,' while they see the smoke of the torments of the damned ascend up for ever and ever. They desire and hope to go to heaven, without ever being willing to speak such a language, or to express such feelings in the view of the damned. And is not this saying that their hearts are essentially different from those who feel such a spirit, and are willing to adopt the language of heaven? Good men do adopt the language of heaven before they arrive there. And all who are conscious that they cannot say 'Amen, Alleluia,' may know that they are yet sinners, and essentially different from saints, and altogether unprepared to go with them to heaven and join with them in praising God for the vindictive justice he displays in dooming all unholy creatures to a never-ending torment."
It was this sermon that finally broke those cords which years of pious descent had made so near and tender between the heart of Emily and her father's Bible.
No young person even takes a deliberate and final leave of the faith of the fathers without a pang; and Emily suffered so much in the struggle, that her aunt became alarmed for her health. She was sent to Boston to spend a winter under the care of another sister of her mother's, who was simply a good-natured woman of the world, who was proud of her niece's beauty and talents, and resolved to make the most of them in a purely worldly way.
At this time she formed the acquaintance of a very interesting French family of high rank, who for certain family reasons were just then exiled to America. She became fascinated with their society and plunged into the study of the French language and literature with all the enthusiasm of a voyager who finds himself among enchanted islands. And French literature at this time was full of the life of a new era, – the era which produced both the American and the French Revolution.
The writings of Voltaire were too cold and cynical for her enthusiastic nature; but Rousseau was to her like a sudden translation from the ice and snow of Massachusetts to the tropical flowers of a February in Florida. In "La Nouvelle Héloïse," she found, not merely a passionate love story, but the consideration, on the author's side, of just such problems as had been raised by her theological education.
When she returned from this visit she was apparently quiet and at peace. Her peace was the peace of a river which has found an underground passage, and therefore chafes and frets no more. Her philosophy was the philosophy of Émile, her faith the faith of the Savoyard vicar, and she imitated Dr. Stern only in utter self-reliance and fearlessness of consequences in pursuit of what she believed true.
Had her aunt and uncle been able to read the French language, they would have found her note-book of sermons sometimes interspersed by quotations from her favorite author, which certainly were quite in point; as, for instance, at the foot of a severe sermon on the doctrine of reprobation was written: –
"Quand cette dure et décourageante doctrince se déduit de l'Écriture elle-même, mon premier devoir n'est-il pas d'honorer Dieu? Quelque respect que je doive au texte sacré, j'en dois plus encore à son Auteur; et j'aimerais mieux croire la Bible falsifée ou inintelligible, que Dieu injuste ou malfaisant. St. Paul ne veut pas que le vase dise au potier, Pourquoi m'as-tu fait ainsi? Cela est fort bien si le potier n'exige du vase que les services qu'il l'a mis en état de lui rendre; mais s'il s'en prenait au vase de n'être pas propre à un usage pour lequel il ne l'aurait pas fait, le vase aurait-il tort de lui dire, Pourquoi m'as as-tu fait ainsi?" *
After a period of deceitful quite and calm, in which Emily read and wrote and studied alone in her room, and moved about in her daily circle like one whose heart is afar off, she suddenly disappeared from them all. She left ostensibly to go on a visit to Boston to her aunt, and all that was ever heard from her after that was a letter of final farewell to Miss Mehitable, in which she told her briefly, that, unable any longer to endure the life she had been leading, and to seem to believe what she could not believe, and being importuned to practise what she never intended to do, she had chosen her lot for herself, and requested her neither to seek her out nor to inquire after her, as all such inquiries would be absolutely vain.
All that could be ascertained on the subject was, that about this time the Marquis de Conté and his lady were found to have sailed for France.
This was the sad story which Miss Mehitable poured into the sympathetic ear of Ellery Davenport.
* Dr. Cotton Mather's "Magnalia."
* "When this harsh, discouraging doctrine is deduced from the Scriptures themselves, is not my first duty to honor God? Whatever respect I owe to the sacred text, I owe still more to its Author, and I should prefer to believe the Bible falsified or unintelligible to believing God unjust or cruel. St. Paul would not that the vase should say to the potter, Why hast thou made me thus? That is all very well if the potter exacts of the vase only such services as he has fitted it to render; but if he should require of it a usage for which he has not fitted it, would the vase be in the wrong for saying Why hast thou made me thus?"
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