"Chapters XXX-XXXIX." by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
WE begin to be grown-up people. We cannot always remain in the pleasant valley of childhood. I myself, good reader, have dwelt on its scenes longer, because, looking back on it from the extreme end of life, it seems to my weary eyes so fresh and beautiful; the dew of the morning-land lies on it, – that dew which no coming day will restore.
Our childhood, as the reader has seen, must be confessed to have been reasonably enjoyable. Its influences were all homely, innocent, and pure. There was no seductive vice, no open or covert immorality. Our worst form of roaring dissipation consisted in being too fond of huckleberry parties, or in the immoderate pursuit of chestnuts and walnuts. Even the vagrant associates of uncertain social standing who abounded in Oldtown were characterized by a kind of woodland innocence, and were not much more harmful than woodchucks and squirrels.
Sam Lawson, for instance, though he dearly loved lazy lounging, and was devoted to idle tramps, was yet a most edifying vagrant. A profane word was an abomination in his sight; his speculations on doctrines were all orthodox, and his expositions of Scripture as original and abundant as those of some of the dreamy old fathers. As a general thing he was a devout Sunday keeper and a pillar of the sanctuary, playing his bass-viol to the most mournful tunes with evident relish.
I remember being once left at home alone on Sunday, with an incipient sore-throat, when Sam volunteered himself as my nurse. In the course of the forenoon stillness, a wandering Indian came in, who, by the joint influence of a large mug of cider and the weariness of his tramp, fell into a heavy sleep on our kitchen floor, and somehow Sam was beguiled to amuse himself by tickling his nose with a broom-straw, and laughing, until the tears rolled down his cheeks, at the sleepy snorts and struggles and odd contortions of visage which were the results. Yet so tender was Sam's conscience, that he had frequent searchings of heart, afterward, on account of this profanation of sacred hours, and indulged in floods of longwinded penitence.
Though Sam abhorred all profanity, yet for reasons of extreme provocation he was well provided with that gentler Yankee litany which affords to the irritated mind the comfort of swearing, without the commission of the sin. Under great pressure of provocation Sam Lawson freely said, "Darn it!" The word "darn," in fact, was to the conscientious New England mind a comfortable resting-place, a refreshment to the exacerbated spirit, that shrunk from that too similar word with m in it.
In my boyhood I sometimes pondered that other hard word, and vaguely decided to speak it, with that awful curiosity which gives to an unknown sin a hold upon the imagination. What would happen if I should say "damn"? I dwelt on that subject with a restless curiosity which my grandmother certainly would have told me was a temptation of the Devil. The horrible desire so grew on me, that once, in the sanctity of my own private apartment, with all the doors shut and locked, I thought I would boldly try the experiment of saying"damn" out loud, and seeing what would happen. I did it, and looked up apprehensively to see if the walls were going to fall on me, but they did n't, and I covered up my head in the bedclothes and felt degraded. I had committed the sin, and got not even the excitement of a catastrophe. The Lord apparently did not think me worth his notice.
In regard to the awful questions of my grandmother's blue book, our triad grew up with varying influences. Harry, as I have said, was one of those quiet human beings, of great force in native individuality, who silently draw from all scenes and things just those elements which their own being craves, and resolutely and calmly think their own thoughts, and live their own life, amid the most discordant influences; just as the fluid, sparkling waters of a mountain brook dart this way and that amid stones and rubbish, and hum to themselves their own quiet, hidden tune.
A saintly woman, whose heart was burning itself away in the torturing fires of a slow martyrdom, had been for the first ten years of his life his only companion and teacher, and, dying, had sealed him with a seal given from a visibly opened heaven; and thenceforward no theologies, and no human authority, had the power and weight with him that had the remembrance of those dying eyes, and the sanctity of those last counsels.
By native descent Harry was a gentleman of the peculiarly English stock. He had the shy reserve, the silent, self-respecting pride and delicacy, which led him to keep his own soul as a castle, and that interested, because it left a sense of something veiled and unexpressed.
We were now eighteen years old, and yet, during all these years that he had lived side by side with me in closest intimacy, he had never spoken to me freely and frankly of that which I afterwards learned was always the intensests and bitterest mortification of his life, namely, his father's desertion of his mother and himself. Once only do I remember ever to have seen him carried away by anger, and that was when a coarse and cruel bully among the school-boys applied to him a name which reflected on his mother's honor. The anger of such quiet people is often a perfect convulsion, and it was so in this case. He seemed to blaze with it, – to flame up and redden with a delirious passion; and he knocked down and stamped upon the boy with a blind fury which it was really frightful to see, and which was in singular contrast with his usual unprovokable good-humor.
Ellery Davenport had made good his promise of looking for the pocket-book which Harry's father had left in his country seat, and the marriage certificate of his mother had been found in it, and carefully lodged in the hands of Lady Lothrop; but nothing had been said to us children about it; it was merely held quietly, as a document that might be of use in time in bringing some property to the children. And even at the time of this fight with the school-boy, Harry said so little afterward, that the real depth of his feeling on this subject was not suspected.
I have reason to believe, also, that Ellery Davenport did succeed in making the father of Harry and Tina aware of the existence of two such promising children, and of the respectability of the families into which they had been adopted. Captain Percival, now Sir Harry Percival, had married again in England, so Ellery Davenport had informed Miss Mehitable in a letter, and had a son by this marriage, and so had no desire to bring to view his former connection. It was understood, I believe, that a sum of money was to be transmitted yearly to the hands of the guardians of the children, for their benefit, and that they were to be left undisturbed in the possession of those who had adopted them.
Miss Mehitable had suffered so extremely herself by the conflict of her own earnest, melancholy nature with the theologic ideas of her time, that she shrunk with dread from imposing them on the gay and joyous little being whose education she had undertaken. Yet she was impressed by that awful sense of responsibility which is one of the most imperative characteristics of the New England mind; and she applied to her brother earnestly to know what she should teach Tina with regard to her own spiritual position. The reply of her brother was characteristic, and we shall give it here: –
"MY DEAR SISTER: – I am a Puritan, – the son, the grandson, the great-grandson of Puritans, – and I say to you, Plant the footsteps of your child on the ground of the old Cambridge Platform, and teach her as Winthrop and Dudley and the Mathers taught their children, – that she 'is already a member in the Church of Christ, – that she is in covenant with God, and hath the seal thereof upon her, to wit, baptism; and so, if not regenerate, is yet in a more hopeful way of attaining regeneration and all spiritual blessings, both of the covenant and seal.' * By teaching the child this, you will place her mind in natural and healthful relations with God and religion. She will feel in her Father's house, and under her Father's care, and the long and weary years of a sense of disinheritance with which you struggled will be spared to her.
I hold Jonathan Edwards to have been the greatest man, since St. Augustine, that Christianity has turned out. But when a great man, instead of making himself a great ladder for feeble folks to climb on, strikes away the ladder and bids them come to where he stands at a step, his greatness and his goodness both may prove unfortunate for those who come after him. I go for the good old Puritan platform.
"Your affectionate brother,
The consequence of all this was, that Tina adopted in her glad and joyous nature the simple, helpful faith of her brother, – the faith in an ever good, ever present, ever kind Father, whose child she was and in whose household she had grown up. She had a most unbounded faith in prayer, and in the indulgence and tenderness of the Heavenly Power. All things to her eyes were seen through the halo of a cheerful, sanguine, confiding nature. Life had for her no cloud or darkness or mystery.
As to myself, I had been taught in the contrary doctrines, – that I was a disinherited child of wrath. It is true that this doctrine was contradicted by the whole influence of the minister, who, as I have said before, belonged to the Arminian wing of the Church, and bore very mildly on all these great topics. My grandmother sometimes endeavored to stir him up to more orthodoxy, and especially to a more vigorous presentation of the doctrine of native human depravity. I remember once in her zeal, her quoting to him as a proof-text the quatrain of Dr. Watts: –
"Conceived in sin, O woful state!
Before we draw our breath,
The first young pulse begins to beat
Iniquity and death."
"That, madam," said Dr. Lothrop, who never forgot to be the grand gentleman under any circumstances, – "that, madam, is not the New Testament, but Dr. Isaac Watts, allow me to remind you."
"Well," said my grandmother, "Dr. Watts got it from the Bible."
"Yes, madam, a very long way from the Bible, allow me to say."
And yet, after all, though I did not like my grandmother's Calvinistic doctrines, I must confess that she, and all such as thought like her, always impressed me as being more earnestly religious than those that held the milder and more moderate belief.
Once in a while old Dr. Stern would preach in our neighborhood, and I used to go to hear him. Everybody went to hear him. A sermon on reprobation from Dr. Stern would stir up a whole community in those days, just as a presidential election stirs one up now. And I remember that he used to impress me as being more like a messenger from the other world than most ministers. Dr. Lothrop's sermons, by the side of his, were like Pope's Pastorals beside the Tragedies of Æschylus. Dr. Lothrop's discourses were smooth, they were sensible, they were well worded, and everybody went to sleep under them; but Dr. Stern shook and swayed his audience like a field of grain under a high wind. There was no possibility of not listening to him, or of hearing him with indifference, for he dealt in assertions that would have made the very dead turn in their graves. One of his sermons was talked of for months afterwards, with a sort of suppressed breath of supernatural awe, such as men would se in discussing the reappearance of a soul from the other world.
But meanwhile I believed neither my grandmother, nor Dr. Stern, nor the minister. The eternal question seethed and boiled and burned in my mind without answer. It was not my own personal destiny that lay with weight on my mind; it was the incessant, restless desire to know the real truth from some unanswerable authority. I longed for a visible, tangible communion with God; I longed to see the eternal beauty, to hear a friendly voice from the eternal silence. Among all the differences with regard to doctrinal opinion, I could see clearly that there were two classes of people in the world, – those who had found God and felt him as a living power upon their spirits, and those who had not; and that unknown experience was what I sought.
Such, then, were we three children when Harry and I were in our eighteenth year and Tina in her fifteenth. And just at this moment there was among the high consulting powers that regulated our destiny a movement as to what further was to be done with the three that had hitherto grown up together.
Now, if the reader has attentively read ancient and modern history, he will observe that there is a class of women to be found in this lower world, who, wherever they are, are sure to be in some way the first or the last cause of everything that is going on. Everybody knows, for instance, that Helen was the great instigator of the Trojan war, and if it had not been for her we should have had no Homer. In France, Madam Récamier was, for the time being, reason enough for almost anything that any man in France did; and yet one cannot find out that Madame Récamier had any uncommon genius of her own, except the sovereign one of charming every human being that came in her way, so that all became her humble and subservient subjects. The instance is a marked one, because it operated in a wide sphere, on very celebrated men, in an interesting historic period. But it individualizes a kind of faculty which, generally speaking, is peculiar to women, though it is in some instances exercised by men, – a faculty of charming and controlling every person with whom one has to do.
Tina was now verging toward maturity; she was in just that delicious period in which the girl has all the privileges and graces of childhood, its freedom of movement and action, brightened with a sort of mysterious aurora by the coming dawn of womanhood; and everything indicated that she was to be one of this powerful class of womankind. Can one analyze the charm which such women possess? I have a theory that, in all cases, there is a certain amount of genius with it, – genius which does not declare itself in literature, but in social life, and which devotes itself to pleasing, as other artists devote themselves to painting or to poetry.
Tina had no inconsiderable share of self-will; she was very pronounced in her tastes, and fond of her own way; but she had received from nature this passion for entertaining, and been endowed with varied talents in this line which made her always from early childhood, the coveted and desired person in every circle. Not a visage in Oldtown was so set in grimness of care, that it did not relax its lines when it saw Tina coming down the street; for Tina could mimic and sing and dance, and fling back joke for joke in a perfect meteoric shower. So long as she entertained, she was perfectly indifferent who the party was. She would display her accomplishments to a set of strolling Indians, or for Sam Lawson and Jake Marshall, as readily as for any one else. She would run up and catch the minister by the elbow as he solemnly and decorously moved down street, and his face always broke into a laugh at the sight of her.
The minister's lady, and Aunt Lois, and Miss Deborah Kittery, while they used to mourn in secret places over her want of decorum in thus displaying her talents before the lower classes, would afterward laugh till the tears rolled down their cheeks and their ancient whalebone stays creaked, when she would do the same thing over in a select circle for them.
We have seen how completely she had conquered Polly, and what difficulty Miss Mehitable found in applying the precepts of Mrs. Chapone and Miss Hannah More to her case. The pattern young lady of the period, in the eyes of all respectable females, was expressed by Lucilla Stanley, in "Coelebs in Search of a Wife." But when Miss Mehitable, after delighting herself with the Johnsonian balance of the rhythmical sentences which described this paragon as "not so much perfectly beautiful as perfectly elegant," – this model of consistency, who always blushed at the right moment, spoke at the right moment, and stopped at the right moment, and was, in short, a woman made to order, precisely to suit a bachelor who had traversed the whole earth, "not expecting perfection, but looking for consistency," – when, after all these charming visions, she looked at Tina, she was perfectly dismayed at contemplating her scholar. She felt the power by which Tina continually charmed and beguiled her, and the empire which she exercised over her; and with wonderful good sense, she formally laid down the weapons of authority when she found she had no heart to use them.
"My child," she said to her one day, when that young lady was about eleven years of age, "you are a great deal stronger than I. I am weak because I love you, and because I have been broken by sorrow, and because, being a poor old woman, I don't trust myself. And you are young and strong and fearless; but remember, dear, the life you have to live is yours and not mine. I have not the heart to force you to take my way instead of your own, but I shall warn you that it will be better you should do so, and then leave you free. If you don't take my way, I shall do the very best for you that I can in your way, and you must take the responsibility in the end."
This was the only kind of system which Miss Mehitable was capable of carrying out. She was wise, shrewd, and loving, and she gradually controlled her little charge more and more by simple influence, but she had to meet in her education the opposition force of that universal petting and spoiling which everybody in society gives to an entertaining child.
Life is such a monotonous, dull affair, that anybody who has the gift of making it pass off gaily is in great demand. Tina was sent for to the parsonage, and the minister took her on his knee and encouraged her to chatter all sorts of egregious nonsense to him. And Miss Deborah Kittery insisted on having her sent for to visit them in Boston, and old Madam Kittery overwhelmed her with indulgence and caresses. Now Tina loved praises and caresses; incense was the very breath of her nostrils; and she enjoyed being fêted and petted as much as a cat enjoys being stroked.
It will not be surprising to one who considers the career of this kind of girl to hear that she was not much of a student. What she learned was by impulses and fits and starts, and all of it immediately used for some specific purpose of entertainment, so that among simple people she had the reputation of being a prodigy of information, on a very small capital of actual knowledge. Miss Mehitable sighed after thorough knowledge and discipline of mind for her charge, but she invariably found all Tina's teachers becoming accomplices in her superficial practices by praising and caressing her when she had been least faithful, always apologizing for her deficiencies, and speaking in the most flattering terms of her talents. During the last year the schoolmaster had been observed always to walk home with her and bring her books, with a humble, trembling subserviency and prostrate humility which she rewarded with great apparent contempt; and finally she announced to Miss Mehitable that she "did n't intend to go to school any more, because the master acted so silly."
Now Miss Mehitable, during all her experience of life, had always associated with the men of her acquaintance without ever being reminded in any particular manner of the difference of sex, and it was a subject which, therefore, was about the last to enter into her calculations with regard to her little charge. So she said, "My dear, you should n't speak in that way about your teacher; he knows a great deal more than you do."
"He may know more than I do about arithmetic, but he does n't know how to behave. What right has he to put his old hand under my chin? and I won't have him putting his arm round me when he sets my copies! And I told him to-day he should n't carry my books home any more, – so there!"
Miss Mehitable was struck dumb. She went that afternoon and visited the ministers' lady.
"Depend upon it, my dear," said Lady Lothrop, "it 's time to try a course of home reading."
A bright idea now struck Miss Mehitable. Her cousin, Mr. Mordecai Rossiter, had recently been appointed a colleague with the venerable Dr. Lothrop. He was a young man, finely read, and of great solidity and piety, and Miss Mehitable resolved to invite him to take up his abode with them for the purpose of assisting her educational efforts. Mr. Mordecai Rossiter accordingly took up his abode in the family, used to conduct family worship, and was expected now and then to drop words of good advice and wholesome counsel to form the mind to Miss Tina. A daily hour was appointed during which he was to superintend her progress in arithmetic.
Mr. Mordecai Rossiter was one of the most simple-minded, honest, sincere human beings that ever wore a black coat. He accepted his charge in sacred simplicity, and took a prayerful view of his young catechumen, whom he was in hopes to make realize, by degrees, the native depravity of her own heart, and to lead through a gradual process to the best of all results.
Miss Tina also took a view of her instructor, and without any evil intentions, simply following her strongest instinct, which was to entertain and please, she very soon made herself an exceedingly delightful pupil. Since religion was evidently the engrossing subject in his mind, Tina also turned her attention to it, and instructed and edified him with flights of devout eloquence which were to him perfectly astonishing. Tina would discourse on the goodness of God, and ornament her remarks with so many flowers, and stars, and poetical fireworks, and be so rapt and carried away with her subject, that he would sit and listen to her as if she was an inspired being, and wholly forget the analysis which he meant to propose to her, as to whether her emotions of love to God proceeded from self-love or from disinterested benevolence.
As I have said, Tina had a genius for poetry, and had employed the dull hours which children of her age usually spend in church in reading the psalm-book and committing to memory all the most vividly emotional psalms and hymns. And these she was fond of repeating with great fervor and enthusiasm to her admiring listener.
Miss Mehitable considered that the schoolmaster had been an ill-taught, presumptuous man, who had ventured to take improper liberties with a mere child; but, when she established this connection between this same child and a solemn young minister, it never occurred to her to imagine that there would be any embarrassing consequences from the relation. She considered Tina as a mere infant, – as not yet having approached the age when the idea of anything like love or marriage could possibly be suggested to her.
In course of time, however, she could not help remarking that her cousin was in some respects quite an altered man. He reformed many little negligences in regard to his toilet which Miss Tina had pointed out to him with the nonchalant freedom of a young empress. And he would run and spring and fetch and carry in her service with a zeal and alertness quite wonderful to behold. He expressed privately to Miss Mehitable the utmost astonishment at her mental powers, and spoke of the wonderful work of divine grace which appeared to have made such progress in her heart. Never had he been so instructed and delighted before by the exercises of any young person. And he went so far as to assure Miss Mehitable that in many things he should be only too happy to sit at her feet and learn of her.
"Good gracious me!" said Miss Mehitable to herself, with a sort of half start of awakening, though not yet fully come to consciousness; "what does ail everybody that gets hold of Tina?"
What got hold of her cousin in this case she had an opportunity of learning, not long after, by overhearing him tell her young charge that she was an angel, and that he asked nothing more of Heaven than to be allowed to follow her lead through life. Now Miss Tina accepted this, as she did all other incense, with great satisfaction. Not that she had the slightest idea of taking this clumsy-footed theological follower round the world with her; but having the highest possible respect for him, knowing that Miss Mehitable and the minister and his wife thought him a person of consideration, she had felt it her duty to please him, – had taxed her powers of pleasing to the utmost, in his own line, and had met with this gratifying evidence of success.
Miss Mehitable was for once really angry. She sent for her cousin to a private interview, and thus addressed him: –
"Cousin Mordecai, I thought you were a man of sense when I put this child under your case! My great trouble in bringing her up is, that everybody flatters her and defers to her; but I thought that in you I had got a man that could be depended on!"
"I do not flatter her, cousin," replied the young minister, earnestly.
"You pretend you don't flatter her? Did n't I hear you calling her an angel?"
"Well, I don't care if I did; she is an angel," said Mr. Mordecai Rossiter, with tears in his eyes; "she is the most perfectly heavenly being I ever saw!"
"Ah! bah!" said Miss Mehitable, with intense disgust; "what fools you men are!"
Miss Mehitable now, much as she disliked it, felt bound to have some cautionary conversation with Miss Tina.
'my dear," she said; "you must be very careful in your treatment of Cousin Mordecai. I overheard some things he said to you this morning which I do not approve of."
"O yes, Aunty, he does talk in a silly way sometimes. Men always begin to talk that way to me. Why, you 've no idea the things they will say. Well, of course I don't believe them; it 's only a foolish way they have, but they all talk just alike."
"But I thought my cousin would have had his mind on better things," said Miss Mehitable. "The idea of his making love to you!"
"I know it; only think of it, Aunty! How very funny it is! and there, I have n't done a single thing to make him. I 've been just as religious as I could be, and said hymns to him, and everything, and given him good advice, – ever so much, – because, you see, he did n't know about a great many things till I told him."
"But, my dear, all this is going to make him too fond of you; you know you ought not to be thinking of such things now."
"What things, Aunty?" said the catechumen, innocently.
"Why, love and marriage; that 's what such feelings will come to, if you encourage them."
"Marriage! O dear me, what nonsense!" and Tina laughed till the room rang again. "Why, dear Aunty, what absurd ideas have got into your head! Of course you can't think that he 's thinking of any such thing; he 's only getting very fond of me, and I 'm trying to make him have a good time, – that 's all."
But Miss Tina found that was not all, and was provoked beyond endurance at the question proposed to her in plain terms, whether she would not look upon her teacher as one destined in a year or two to become her husband. Thereupon at once the whole gay fabric dissolved like a dream. Tina was as vexed at the proposition as a young unbroken colt is at the sight of a halter. She cried, and said she did n't like him, she could n't bear him, and she never wanted to see him again, – that he was silly and ridiculous to talk so to a little girl. And Miss Mehitable sat down to write a long letter to her brother, to inquire what she should do next.
"MY DEAR BROTHER: – I am in a complete embarras what to do with Tina. She is the very light of my eyes, – the sweetest, gayest, brightest, and best-meaning little mortal that ever was made; but somehow or other I fear I am not the one that ought to have undertaken to bring her up.
"She has a good deal of self-will; so much that I have long felt it would be quite impossible for me to control her merely by authority. In fact I laid down my sceptre long ago, such as it was. I never did have much of a gift in that way. But Tina's self-will runs in the channel of a most charming persuasiveness. She has all sorts of pretty phrases, and would talk a bird off from a bush, or a trout out of a brook, by dint of sheer persistent eloquence; and she is always so delightfully certain that her way is the right one and the best for me and all concerned. Then she has no end of those peculiar gifts of entertainment which are rather dangerous things for a young woman. She is a born mimic, she is a natural actress, and she has always a repartee or a smart saying quite apropos at the tip of her tongue. All this makes her an immense favorite with people who have no responsibility about her, – who merely want to be amused with her drolleries, and then shake their heads wisely when she is gone, and say that Miss Mehitable Rossiter ought to keep a close hand on that girl.
"It seems to be the common understanding that everybody but me is to spoil her for there is n't anybody, not even Dr. Lothrop and his wife, that won't connive at her mimicking and fripperies, and then talk gravely with me afterward about the danger of these things, as if I were the only person to say anything disagreeable to her. But then, I can see very plainly that the little chit is in danger on all sides of becoming trivial and superficial, – of mistaking wit for wisdom, and thinking she has answered an argument when she has said a smart thing and raised a laugh.
"Of late, trouble of another kind has been added. Tina is a little turned of fifteen; she is going to be very beautiful; she is very pretty now; and, in addition to all my other perplexities the men are beginning to talk that atrocious kind of nonsense to her which they seem to think they must talk to young girls. I have had to take her away from the school on account of the schoolmaster, and when I put her under the care of Cousin Mordecai Rossiter, whom I thought old enough, and discreet enough, to make a useful teacher to her, he has acted like a natural fool. I have no kind of patience with him. I would not have believed a man could be so devoid of common sense. I shall have to send Tina somewhere, – though I can't bear to part with her, and it seems like taking the very sunshine out of the house; so I remember what you told me about sending her up to you.
"Lady Lothrop and Lois Badger and I have been talking together, and we think the boys might as well go up too to your academy, as our present schoolmaster is not very competent, and you will give them a thorough fitting for college."
To this came the following reply: –
"SISTER MEHITABLE: – The thing has happened that I have foreseen. Send her up here; she shall board in the minister's family; and his daughter Esther, who is wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best, shall help keep her in order.
"Send the boys along, too; they are bright fellows, as I remember, and I would like to have a hand at them. One of them might live with us and do the out-door chores and help hoe in the garden, and the other might do the same for the minister. So send them along.
"Your affectionate brother,
This was an era in our lives. Harry and I from this time felt ourselves to be men, and thereafter adopted the habit of speaking of ourselves familiarly as "a man of my character," "a man of my age," and "a man in my circumstances." The comfort and dignity which this imparted to us were wonderful. We also discussed Tina in a very paternal way, and gravely considered what was best for her. We were, of course, properly shocked at the behavior of the schoolmaster, and greatly applauded her spirit in defending herself against his presumption.
Then Tina had told Harry and me all about her trouble with the minister, and I remember at this time how extremely aged and venerable I felt, and what quantities of good advice I gave to Tina, which was all based on the supposition of her dangerously powerful charms and attractions. This is the edifying kind of counsel with which young gentlemen of my age instruct their lady friends, and it will be seen at once that advice and admonition which rest on the theory of superhuman excellence and attractions in the advised party are far more agreeable than the rough, common admonitions, generally addressed to boys at this time of life, which are unseasoned by any such pleasing hallucination.
There is now a general plea in society that women shall be educated more as men are, and we hear much talk as if the difference between them and our sex is merely one of difference in education. But how could it be helped that Tina should be educated and formed wholly unlike Harry and myself, when every address made to her from her childhood was of necessity wholly different from what would be made to a boy in the same circumstances? And particularly when she carried with her always that dizzying, blinding charm which turned the head of every boy and man that undertook to talk reason to her?
In my own mind I had formed my plan of life. I was to go to college, and therefrom soar to an unmeasured height of literary distinction, and when I had won trophies and laurels and renown, I was to come back and lay all at Tina's feet. This was what Harry and I agreed on, in many a conversation, as the destined result of our friendship.
Harry and I had sworn friendship by all the solemn oaths and terms known in ancient or modern history. We changed names with each other, and in our private notes and letters addressed each by the name of the other, and felt as if this was some sacred and wonderful peculiarity. Tina called us both brothers, and this we agreed was the best means of preserving her artless mind unalarmed and undisturbed until the future hour of the great declaration. As for Tina, she absolutely could not keep anything to herself if she tried. Whatever agitated her mind or interested it had to be told to us. She did not seem able to rest satisfied with herself till she had proved to us that she was exactly right, or made us share her triumphs in her achievements, or her perplexity in her failures.
At this crisis Miss Mehitable talked very seriously and sensibly with her little charge. She pointed out to her the danger of living a trivial and superficial life, – of becoming vain, and living merely for admiration. She showed her how deficient she had been in those attainments which require perseverance and steadiness of mind, and earnestly recommended her now to devote herself to serious studies.
Nobody was a better subject to preach such a sermon to than Tina. She would even take up the discourse and enlarge upon it, and suggest new and fanciful illustrations; she entered into the project of Miss Mehitable with enthusiasm; she confessed all her faults, and resolved hereafter to become a pattern of the contrary virtues. And then she came and related the whole conversation to us, and entered into the project of devoting herself to study with such a glow of enthusiasm, that we formed at once the most brilliant expectations.
The town of Cloudland, whither we were going, was a two days' journey up into the mountains; and, as travelling facilities then were, it was viewed as such an undertaking to send us there, that the whole family conclave talked gravely of it and discussed it in every point of view, for a fortnight before we started. Our Uncle Jacob, the good, meek, quiet farmer of whom I have spoken, had a little business in regard to some property that had been left by a relative of his wife in that place, and suggested the possibility of going up with us himself. So weighty a move was at first thrown out as mere proposal to be talked of in the family circle. Grandmother and Aunt Lois and Aunt Keziah and my mother picked over and discussed this proposition for days, as a lot of hens will pick over an ear of corn, turning it from side to side, and looking at it from every possible point of view. Uncle Fliakim had serious thoughts of offering his well-worn equipage, but it was universally admitted that his constant charities had kept it in such a condition of frailty that the mountain roads would finish it, and thus deprive multitudes of the female population of Oldtown of an establishment which was about as much their own as if they had the care and keeping of it.
I don't know anybody who could have been taken from Oldtown whose loss would have been more universally felt and deplored than little Miss Tina's. In the first place, Oldtown had come into the way of regarding her as a sort of Child of the Regiment, and then Tina was one of those sociable, acquaintance-making bodies that have visited everybody, penetrated everybody's affairs, and given a friendly lift now and then in almost everybody's troubles.
"Why, lordy massy!" said Sam Lawson, "I don't know nothin' what we 're any on us goin' to do when Tiny's gone. Why, there ain't a dog goes into the meetin'-house but wags her tail when he sees her a comin'. I expect she knows about every yellow-bird's nest an' blue jay's an' bobolink's an' meadowlark's that there 's ben round here these five years, an' how they 's goin' to set an' hatch without her 's best known to 'emselves, I s'pose. Lordy massy! That child can sing so like a skunk blackbird that you can't tell which is which. Wal, I 'll say one thing for her; she draws the fire out o' Hepsy, an' she 's 'bout the only livin' critter than can; but some nights when she 's ben inter our house a playin' checkers or fox an' geese with the child'en, she 'd railly git Hepsy slicked down so that 't was kind o' comfortable bein' with her. I 'm sorry she 's goin', for my part, an' all the child'en 'll be sorry."
As for Polly, she worked night and day on Tina's outfit, and scolded and hectored herself for certain tears that now and then dropped on the white aprons that she was ironing. On the night before Tina was to depart, Polly came into her room and insisted upon endowing her with her string of gold beads, the only relic of earthly vanity in which that severe female had ever been known to indulge. Tina was quite melted, and fell upon her neck..
"Why, Polly! No, no; you dear old creature, you, you 've been a thousand times too good for me, and I 've nearly plagued the life out of you, and you sha' n't give me your poor, dear, old gold beads, but keep them yourself, for you 're as good as gold any day, and so it 's a great deal better that you should wear them."
"O Tina, child, you don't know my heart," said Polly, shaking her head solemnly; "if you could see the depths of depravity that there are there!"
"I don't believe a word of it, Polly."
"Ah! But, you see, the Lord seeth not as man sees, Tina."
"I know he don't," said Tina; "he 's a thousand times kinder, and makes a thousand more excuses for us than we ever do for ourselves or each other. You know the Bible says, 'He knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust.'"
"O Tina, Tina, you always was a wonderful child to talk," said Polly, shaking her head doubtfully; "but then you know the heart is so deceitful, and then you see there 's the danger that we should mistake natural emotions for grace."
"O, I dare say there are all sorts of dangers," said Tina; "of course there are. I know I 'm nothing but just a poor little silly bird; but He knows it too, and he 's taken care of ever so many such little silly people as I am, so that I 'm not afraid. He won't let me deceive myself. You know, when that bird got shut in the house the other day, how much time you and I and Miss Mehitable all spent in trying to keep it from breaking its foolish head against the glass, and flying into the fire, and all that, and how glad we were when we got it safe out into the air. I 'm sure we are not half as good as God is, and, if we take so much care about a poor little bird that we did n't make and had nothing to do with, he must care a good deal more about us where we are his children. And God is all the Father I have or ever knew."
This certainly looked to Polly like very specious reasoning, but, after all, the faithful creature groaned in spirit. Might not this all be mere natural religion and not the supernatural grace? So she said trembling: "O Tina, did you always feel so towards God? wa'n't there a time when your heart rose in opposition to him?"
"O, certainly," said Tina, "when Miss Asphyxia used to talk to me about it, I thought I never wanted to hear of him, and I never said my prayers; but as soon as I came to Aunty, she was so loving and kind that I began to see what God must be like, – because I know he is kinder than she can be, or you, or anybody can be. That 's so, is n't it? You know the Bible says his loving-kindness is infinite."
The thing in this speech which gave Polly such peculiar satisfaction was the admission that there had been a definite point of time in which the feelings of her little friend had undergone a distinct change. Henceforth she was better satisfied, – never reflecting how much she was trusting to a mere state of mind in the child, instead of resting her faith on the Almighty Friend who so evidently had held her in charge during the whole of her short history.
As for me, the eve of my departure was to me one of triumph. When I had seen all my father's Latin books fairly stowed away in my trunk, with the very simple wardrobe which belonged to Harry and me, and the trunk had been shut and locked and corded, and we were to start at sunrise the next morning, I felt as if my father's unfulfilled life-desire was at last going to be accomplished in me.
It was a bright, clear, starlight night in June, and we were warned to go to bed early, that we might be ready in season the next morning. As usual, Harry fell fast asleep, and I was too nervous and excited to close my eyes. I began to think of the old phantasmagoria of my childish days, which now so seldom appeared to me. I felt stealing over me that peculiar thrill and vibration of the great central nerves which used to indicate the approach of those phenomena, and, looking up, I saw distinctly my father, exactly as I used to see him, standing between the door and the bed. It seemed to me that he entered by passing through the door, but there he was, every line and lineament of his face, every curl of his hair, exactly as I remembered it. His eyes were fixed on mine with a tender human radiance. There was something soft and compassionate about the look he gave me, and I felt it vibrating on my nerves with that peculiar electric thrill of which I have spoken. I learned by such interviews as these how spirits can communicate with one another without human language.
The appearance of my father was vivid and real even to the clothing that he used to wear, which was earthly and homelike, precisely as I remembered it. Yet I felt no disposition to address him, and no need of words. Gradually the image faded; it grew thinner and fainter, and I saw the door through it as if it had been a veil, and then it passed away entirely.
What are these apparitions? I know that this will be read by many who have seen them quite as plainly as I have, who, like me, have hushed back the memory of them into the most secret and silent chamber of their hearts.
I know, with regard to myself, that the sight of my father was accompanied by such a vivid conviction of the reality of his presence, such an assurance radiated from his serene eyes that he had at last found the secret of eternal peace, such an intense conviction of continued watchful affection and of sympathy in the course that I was now beginning, that I could not have doubted if I would. And when we remember that, from the beginning of the world, some such possible communication between departed love and the beloved on earth has been among the most cherished legends of humanity, why must we always meet such phenomena with a resolute determination to account for them by every or any supposition but that which the human heart most craves? Is not the great mystery of life and death made more cruel and inexorable by this rigid incredulity? One would fancy, to hear some moderns talk, that there was no possibility that the departed, even when most tender and most earnest, could, if they would, recall themselves to their earthy friends.
For my part, it was through some such experiences as these that I learned that there are truths of the spiritual life which are intuitive, and above logic, which a man must believe because he cannot help it, – just as he believes the facts of his daily experience in the world of matter, though most ingenious and unanswerable treatises have been written to show that there is no proof of its existence.
THE next morning Aunt Lois rapped at our door, when there was the very faintest red streak in the east, and the birds were just in the midst of that vociferous singing which nobody knows anything about who is n't awake at this precise hour. We were forward enough to be up and dressed, and before our breakfast was through, Uncle Jacob came to the door.
The agricultural population of Massachusetts, at this time, were a far more steady set as regards locomotion than they are in these days of railroads. At this time, a journey from Boston to New York took a fortnight, – a longer time than it now takes to go to Europe, – and my Uncle Jacob had never been even to Boston. In fact, the seven-mile tavern in the neighborhood had been the extent of his wanderings, and it was evident that he regarded the two days' journey as quite a solemn event in his life. He had given a fortnight's thought to it; he had arranged all his worldly affairs, and given charges and messages to his wife and children, in case, as he said, "anything should happen to him." And he informed Aunt Lois that he had been awake the biggest part of the night thinking it over. But when he had taken Tina and her little trunk on board, and we had finished all our hand-shakings, and Polly had told us over for the fourth or fifth time exactly where she had put the cold chicken and the biscuits and the cakes and pie, and Miss Mehitable had cautioned Tina again and again to put on her shawl in case a shower should come up, and my grandmother and Aunt Lois had put in their share of parting admonitions, we at last trolled off as cheery and merry a set of youngsters as the sun ever looked upon in a dewy June morning.
Our road lay first along the beautiful brown river, with its sweeping bends, and its prattling curves of water dashing and chattering over mossy rocks. Towards noon we began to find ourselves winding up and up amid hemlock forests, whose solemn shadows were all radiant and aglow with clouds of blossoming laurel. We had long hills to wind up, when we got out and walked, and gathered flowers, and scampered, and chased the brook up stream from one little dashing waterfall to another, and then, suddenly darting out upon the road again, we would meet the wagon at the top of the hill.
Can there be anything on earth so beautiful as these mountain rides in New England? At any rate we were full in the faith that there could not. When we were riding in the wagon, Tina's powers of entertainment were brought into full play. The great success of the morning was her exact imitation of a squirrel eating a nut, which she was requested to perform many times, and which she did, with variations, until at last Uncle Jacob remarked, with a grin, that "if he should meet her and a squirrel sitting on a stone fence together, he believed he should n't know which was which."
Besides this, we acted various impromptu plays, assuming characters and supporting them as we had been accustomed to do in our theatrical rehearsals in the garret, till Uncle Jacob declared that he never did see such a musical set as we were. About nightfall we came to Uncle Sim Geary's tavern, which had been fixed upon for our stopping-place. This was neither more nor less than a mountain farm-house, where the few travellers who ever passed that way could find accommodation.
Uncle Jacob, after seeing to his horses, and partaking of a plentiful supper, went immediately to bed, as was his innocent custom every evening, as speedily as possible. To bed, but not to sleep, for when, an hour or two afterward, I had occasion to go into his room, I found him lying on his bed with his clothes on, his shoes merely slipped off, and his hat held securely over the pit of his stomach.
"Why, Uncle Jacob," said I, "are n't you going to bed?"
"Well, I guess I 'll just lie down as I be; no knowin' what may happen when you 're travelling. It 's a very nice house, and a very respectable family, but it 's best always to be prepared for anything that may happen. So I think you children had better all go to bed and keep quiet."
What roars of laughter there were among us when I described this scene and communicated the message of Uncle Jacob! It seemed as if Tina could not be got to sleep that night, and we could hear her giggling, through the board partition that separated our room from hers, every hour of the night.
Happy are the days when one can go to sleep and wake up laughing. The next morning, however, Uncle Jacob reaped the reward of his vigilance by finding himself ready dressed at six o'clock, when I came in and found him sleeping profoundly. The fact was that, having kept awake till near morning, he was sounder asleep at this point of time than any of us, and was snoring away like a grist-mill. He remarked that he should n't wonder if he had dropped asleep, and added, in a solemn tone, "We 've got through the night wonderfully, all things considered."
The next day's ride was the same thing over, only the hills were longer; and by and by we came into great vistas of mountains, whose cloudy purple heads seemed to stretch and veer around our path like the phantasmagoria of a dream. Sometimes the road seemed to come straight up against an impenetrable wall, and we would wonder what we were to do with it; but lo! as we approached, the old mountain seemed gracefully to slide aside, and open to us a passage round it. Tina found ever so many moralities and poetical images in these mountains. It was like life, she said. Your way would seem all shut up before you, but, if you only had faith and went on, the mountains would move aside for you and let you through.
Towards night we began to pull in earnest up a series of ascents toward the little village of Cloudland. Hill after hill, hill after hill, how long they seemed! but how beautiful it was when the sun went down over the distant valleys! and there was such a pomp and glory of golden clouds and rosy vapors wreathing around the old mountain-tops as one must go to Cloudland to know anything about.
At last we came to a little terrace of land, where were a white meeting-house, and a store, and two or three houses, and to the door of one of these our wagon drove. There stood Mr. Jonathan Rossiter and the minister and Esther. You do not know Esther, do you? neither at this minute did we. We saw a tall, straight, graceful girl, who looked at us out of a pair of keen, clear, hazel eyes, with a sort of inquisitive yet not unkindly glance, but as if she meant to make up her mind about us; and when she looked at Tina I could see that her mind was made up in a moment.
LETTER FROM TINA TO MISS MEHITABLE.
"CLOUDLAND, JUNE 6.
"Here we are, dear Aunty, up in the skies, in the most beautiful place that you can possibly conceive of. We had such a good time coming! you 've no idea of the fun we had. You know I am going to be very sober, but I did n't think it was necessary to begin while we were travelling, and we kept Uncle Jacob laughing so that I really think he must have been tired.
"Do you know, Aunty, I have got so that I can look exactly like a squirrel? We saw every so many on the way, and I got a great many new hints on the subject, and now I can do squirrel in four or five different attitudes, and the boys almost killed themselves laughing.
"Harry is an old sly-boots. Do you know, he is just as much of a mimic as I am, for all he looks so sober; but when we get him a going he is perfectly killing. He and I and Horace acted all sorts of plays on the way. We agreed with each other that we 'd give a set of Oldtown representations, and see if Uncle Jacob would know who they were, and so Harry was Sam Lawson and I was Hepsy, and I made an unexceptionable baby out of our two shawls, and Horace was Uncle Fliakim come in to give us moral exhortations. I do wish you could hear how we did it. Uncle Jacob is n't the brightest of all mortals, and not very easily roused, but we made him laugh till he said his sides were sore; and to pay for it he made us laugh when we got to the tavern where we stopped all night. Do you believe, Aunty, Uncle Jacob really was frightened, or care-worn, or something, so that he hardly slept any all night? It was just the quietest place that ever you saw, and there was a good motherly woman, who got us the nicest kind of supper, and a peaceable, slow, dull old man, just like Uncle Jacob. There was n't the least thing that looked as if we had fallen into a cave of banditti, or a castle in the Apennines, such as Mrs. Radcliffe tells about in the Mysteries of Udolpho; but, for all that, Uncle Jacob's mind was so oppressed with care that he went to bed with all his clothes on, and lay broad awake with his hat in his hand all night. I did n't think before that Uncle Jacob had such a brilliant imagination. Poor man! I should have thought he would have lain down and slept as peaceably as one of his own oxen.
"We got up into Cloudland about half past six o'clock in the afternoon, the second day; and such a sunset! I thought of a good subject for a little poem, and wrote two or three verses, which I 'll send you some time; but I must tell you now about the people here.
"I don't doubt I shall become very good, for just think what a place I am in, – living at the minister's! and then I room with Esther! You ought to see Esther. She 's a beautiful girl; she 's tall, and straight, and graceful, with smooth black hair, and piercing dark eyes that look as if they could read your very soul. Her face has the features of a statue, at least such as I think some of the beautiful statues that I 've read about might have; and what makes it more statuesque is, that she 's so very pale; she is perfectly healthy, but there does n't seem to be any red blood in her cheeks; and, dear Aunty, she is alarmingly good. She knows so much, and does so much, that it is really discouraging to me to think of it. Why, do you know, she has ready through Virgil, and is reading a Greek tragedy now with Mr. Rossiter; and she teaches a class in mathematics in school, besides being her father's only housekeeper, and taking care of her younger brothers.
"I should be frightened to death at so much goodness, if it were not that she seems to have taken the greatest possible fancy to me. As I told you, we room together; and such a nice room as it is! everything is just like wax; and she gave me half of everything, – half the drawers and half the closet, and put all my things so nicely in their places, and then in the morning she gets up at unheard-of hours, and she was beginning to pet me and tell me that I need n't get up. Now you know, Aunty, that 's just the way people are always doing with me, and the way poor dear old Polly would spoil me; but I told Esther all about my new resolutions and exactly how good I intended to be, and that I thought I could n't do better than to do everything that she did, and so when she gets up I get up; and really, Aunty, you 've no idea what a sight the sunrise is here in the mountains; it really is worth getting up for.
"We have breakfast at six o'clock, and then there are about three hours before school, and I help Esther wash up the breakfast things, and we make our bed and sweep our room, and put everything up nice, and then I have ever so long to study, while Esther is seeing to all her family cares and directing black Dinah about the dinner, and settling any little cases that may arise among her three younger brothers. They are great, strong, nice boys, with bright red cheeks, and a good capacity for making a noise, but she manages them nicely. Dear Aunty, I hope some of her virtues will rub off on to me by contact; don't you?
"I don't think your brother likes me much. He hardly noticed me at all when I was first presented to him, and seemed to have forgotten that he had ever seen me. I tried to talk to him, but he cut me quite short, and turned round and went to talking to Mr. Avery, the minister, you know. I think that these people that know so much might be civil to us little folks, but then I dare say it 's all right enough; but sometimes it does seem as if he wanted to snub me. Well, perhaps it 's good for me to be snubbed: I have such good times generally that I ought to have something that is n't quite so pleasant.
"Life is to me such a beautiful story! and every morning when I open my eyes and see things looking so charming as they do here, I thank God that I am alive.
"Mr. Rossiter has been examining the boys in their studies. He is n't a man that ever praises anybody, I suppose, but I can see that he is pretty well pleased with them. We have a lady principal, Miss Titcomb. She is about forty years old, I should think, and very pleasant and affable. I shall tell you more about these things by and by.
"Give my love to dear old Polly, and to grandma and Aunt Lois, and all the nice folks in Oldtown.
"Dear Aunty, sometimes I used to think that you were depressed, and had troubles that you did not tell me; and something you said once about your life being so wintry made me quite sad. Do let me be your little Spring, and think always how dearly I love you, and how good I am going to try to be for your sake.
"Your own affectionate little
THE academy in Cloudland was one of those pure wells from which the hidden strength of New England is drawn, as her broad rivers are made from hidden mountain brooks. The first object of every colony in New England, after building the church, was to establish a school-house; and a class of the most superior men of New England, in those days of simple living, were perfectly satisfied to make it the business of their lives to teach in the small country academies with which the nooks and hollows of New England were filled.
Could materials be got as profuse as Boswell's Life of Johnson to illustrate the daily life and table-talk of some of the academy schoolmasters of this period, it would be an acquisition for the world.
For that simple, pastoral germ-state of society is a thing forever gone. Never again shall we see that union of perfect repose in regard to outward surroundings and outward life with that intense activity of the inward and intellectual world, that made New England, at this time, the vigorous, germinating seed-bed for all that has since been developed of politics, laws, letters, and theology, through New England to America, and through America to the world. The hurry of railroads, and the rush and roar of business that now fill it, would have prevented that germinating process. It was necessary that there should be a period like that we describe, when villages were each a separate little democracy, shut off by rough roads and forests from the rest of the world, organized round the church and school as a common centre, and formed by the minister and the schoolmaster.
The academy of Cloudland had become celebrated in the neighborhood for the skill and ability with which it was conducted, and pupils had been drawn, even from as far as Boston, to come and sojourn in our mountain town to partake of these advantages. They were mostly young girls, who were boarded at very simple rates in the various families of the place. In all, the pupils of the academy numbered about a hundred, equally divided between the two sexes. There was a class of about fifteen young men who were preparing for college, and a greater number of boys who were studying with the same ultimate hope.
As a general rule, the country academies of Massachusetts have been equally open to both sexes. Andover and Exeter, so far as I know, formed the only exceptions to this rule, being by their charters confined rigorously to the use of the dominant sex. But, in the generality of country academies, the girls and boys studied side by side, without any other restriction as to the character of their studies than personal preference. As a general thing, the classics and the higher mathematics were more pursued by the boys than the girls. But if there were a daughter of Eve who wished, like her mother, to put forth her hand to the tree of knowledge, there was neither cherubim nor flaming sword to drive her away.
Mr. Rossiter was always stimulating the female part of his subjects to such undertakings, and the consequence was that in his school an unusual number devoted themselves to these pursuits, and the leading scholar in Greek and the higher mathematics was our new acquaintance, Esther Avery.
The female principal, Miss Titcomb, was a thorough-bred, old-fashioned lady, whose views of education were formed by Miss Hannah More, and whose style, like Miss Hannah More's, was profoundly Johnsonian. This lady had composed a set of rules for the conduct of the school, in the most ornate and resounding periods. The rules, briefly epitomized, required of us only absolute moral perfection, but they were run into details which caused the reading of them to take up about a quarter of an hour every Saturday morning. I would that I could remember some of the sentences. It was required of us all, for one thing, that we should be perfectly polite. "Persons truly polite," it was added, "invariably treat their superiors with reverence, their equals with exact consideration, and their inferiors with condescension." Again, under the head of manners, we were warned, "not to consider romping as indicative of sprightliness, or loud laughter as a mark of wit."
The scene every Saturday morning, when these rules were read to a set of young people on whom the mountain air acted like champagne, and among whom both romping and loud laughter were fearfully prevalent, was sufficiently edifying.
There was also a system of marks, quite complicated, by which our departures from any of these virtuous properties was indicated. After a while, however, the reciting of these rules, like the reading of the Ten Commandments in churches, and a great deal of other good substantial reading, came to be looked upon only as a Saturday morning decorum, and the Johnsonian periods, which we all knew by heart, were principally useful in pointing a joke. Nevertheless, we were not a badly behaved set of young people.
Miss Titcomb exercised a general supervision over the manners, morals, and health of the young ladies connected with the institution, taught history and geography, and also gave especial attention to female accomplishments. These, so far as I could observe, consisted largely in embroidering mourning pieces, with a family monument in the centre, a green ground worked in chenille and floss silk, with an exuberant willow-tree, and a number of weeping mourners, whose faces were often concealed by flowing pocket-handkerchiefs.
Pastoral pieces were also in great favor, representing fair young shepherdesses sitting on green chenille banks, with crooks in their hands, and tending some animals of uncertain description, which were to be received by faith as sheep. The sweet, confiding innocence which regarded the making of objects like these as more suited to the tender female character than the pursuit of Latin and mathematics, was characteristic of the ancient régime. Did not Penelope embroider, and all sorts of princesses, ancient and modern? and was not embroidery a true feminine grace? Even Esther Avery, though she found no time for works of this kind, looked upon it with respect, as an accomplishment for which nature unfortunately not given her a taste.
Mr. Rossiter, although he of course would not infringe on the kingdom of his female associate, treated these accomplishments with a scarce concealed contempt. It was, perhaps, the frosty atmosphere of scepticism which he breathed about him touching those works of art, that prevented his favorite scholars from going far in the direction of such accomplishments. The fact is, that Mr. Rossiter, during the sailor period of his life, had been to the Mediterranean, had seen the churches of Spain and Italy, and knew what Murillos and Titians were like, which may account somewhat for the glances of civil amusement which he sometimes cast over into Miss Titcomb's department, when the adjuncts and assessories of a family tombstone were being eagerly discussed.
Mr. Jonathan Rossiter held us all by the sheer force of his personal character and will, just as the ancient mariner held the wedding guest with his glittering eye. He so utterly scorned and contemned a lazy scholar, that trifling and inefficiency in study were scorched and withered by the very breath of his nostrils. We were so awfully afraid of his opinion, we so hoped for his good word and so dreaded his contempt, and we so verily believed that no such man ever walked this earth, that he had only to shake his ambrosial locks and give the nod, to settle us all as to any matter whatever.
In an age when in England schools were managed by the grossest and most brutal exercise of corporal punishment, the schoolmasters of New England, to a great extent, had entirely dropped all resort to such barbarous measures, and carried on their schools as republics, by the sheer force of moral and intellectual influences. Mr. Jonathan Rossiter would have been ashamed of himself at even the suggestion of caning a boy, – as if he were incapable of any higher style of government. And yet never was a man more feared and his will had in more awful regard. Mr. Rossiter was sparing of praise, but his praise bore a value in proportion to its scarcity. It was like diamonds and rubies, – few could have it, but the whole of his little commonwealth were working for it.
He scorned all conventional rules in teaching, and he would not tolerate a mechanical lesson, and took delight in puzzling his pupils and breaking up all routine business by startling and unexpected questions and assertions. He compelled every one to think, and to think for himself. "Your heads may not be the best in the world," was one of his sharp, off-hand sayings, "but they are the best God has given you, and you must use them for yourselves."
To tell the truth, he used his teaching somewhat as a mental gratification for himself. If there was a subject he wanted to investigate, or an old Greek or Latin author that he wanted to dig out, he would put a class on it, without the least regard to whether it was in the course of college preparation or not, and if a word was said by any poor mechanical body, he would blast out upon him with a sort of despotic scorn.
"Learn to read Greek perfectly," he said, "and it 's no matter what you read"; or, "Learn to use your own heads, and you can learn anything."
There was little idling and no shirking in his school, but a slow, dull, industrious fellow, if he showed a disposition to work steadily, got more notice from him than even a bright one.
Mr. Rossiter kept house by himself in a small cottage adjoining that of the minister. His housekeeper, Miss Minerva Randall, generally known to the village as "Miss Nervy Randall," was one of those preternaturally well-informed old mermaids who, so far as I know, are a peculiar product of the State of Maine. Study and work had been the two passions of her life and in neither could she be excelled by man or woman. Single handed, and without a servant, she performed all the labors of Mr. Jonathan Rossiter's little establishment. She washed for him, ironed for him, plaited his ruffled shirts in neatest folds, brushed his clothes, cooked his food, occasionally hoed in the garden, trained flowers around the house, and found, also, time to read Greek and Latin authors, and to work out problems in mathematics and surveying and navigation, and to take charge of boys in reading Virgil.
Miss Minerva Randall was one of those female persons who are of Sojourner Truth's opinion, – that if women want any rights they had better take them, and say nothing about it. Her sex had never occurred to her as a reason for doing or not doing anything which her hand found to do. In the earlier part of her life, for the mere love of roving and improving her mind by seeing foreign countries, she had gone on a Mediterranean voyage with her brother Zachariah Randall, who was wont to say of her that she was a better mate than any man he could find. And true enough, when he was confined to his berth with a fever, Miss Minerva not only nursed him, but navigated the ship home in the most matter of-fact way in the world. She had no fol-de-rol about woman's rights, but she was always wide-awake to perceive when a thing was to be done, and to do it. Nor did she ever after in her life talk of this exploit as a thing to be boasted of, seeming to regard it as a matter too simple, and entirely in the natural course of things, to be mentioned. Miss Minerva, however, had not enough of the external illusive charms of her sex, to suggest to a casual spectator any doubt on that score of the propriety of her doing or not doing anything. Although she had not precisely the air of a man, she had very little of what usually suggests the associations of femininity. There was a sort of fishy quaintness about her that awakened grim ideas of some unknown ocean product, – a wild and withered appearance, like a wind-blown juniper on a sea promontory, – unsightly and stunted, yet not, after all, commonplace or vulgar. She was short, square, and broad, and the circumference of her waist was if anything greater where that of other females decreases. What the color of her hair might have been in days of youthful bloom was not apparent; but she had, when we knew her, thin tresses of a pepper-and salt mixture of tint, combed tightly, and twisted in a very small nut on the back of her head, and fastened with a reddish-yellowish horn comb. Her small black eyes were overhung by a grizzled thicket of the same mixed color as her hair. For the graces of the toilet, Miss Nervy had no particular esteem. Her clothing and her person, as well as her housekeeping and belongings, were of a scrupulous and wholesome neatness; but the idea of any other beauty than that of utility had never suggested itself to her mind. She wore always a stuff petticoat of her own spinning, with a striped linen short gown, and probably in all her life never expended twenty dollars a year for clothing; and yet Miss Nervy was about the happiest female person whose acquaintance it has ever been my fortune to make. She had just as much as she wanted of exactly the two things she liked best in the world, – books and work, and when her work was done, there were the books, and life could give no more. Miss Nervy had no sentiment, – not a particle of romance, – she was the most perfectly contented mortal that could possibly be imagined. As to station and position, she was as well known and highly respected in Cloudland as the schoolmaster himself: she was one of the fixed facts of the town, as much as the meeting-house. Days came and went, and spring flowers and autumn leaves succeeded each other, and boys and girls, like the spring flowers and autumn leaves, came and went in Cloudland Academy, but there was always Miss Nervy Randall, not a bit older, not a bit changed, doing her spinning and her herb-drying, working over her butter and plaiting Mr. Jonathan's ruffled shirts and teaching her Virgil class. What gave a piquancy to Miss Nervy's discourse was, that she always clung persistently to the racy Yankee dialect of her childhood, and when she was discoursing of Latin and the classics the idioms made a droll mixture. She was the most invariably good-natured of mortals, and helpful to the last degree: and she would always stop her kitchen work, take her hands out of the bread, or turn away from her yeast in a critical moment, to show a puzzled boy the way through a hard Latin sentence.
"Why, don't you know what that 'ere is?" she would say. "That 'ere is part of the gerund in dum; you 've got to decline it, and then you 'll find it. Look here!" she 'd say; "run that 'ere through the moods an' tenses, and ye 'll git it in the subjunctive"; or, "Massy, child! that 'ere is one o' the deponent verbs. 'Tain't got any active form; them deponent verbs allus does trouble boys till they git used to 'em."
Now these provincialisms might have excited the risibles of so keen a set of grammarians as we were, only that Miss Randall was a dead shot in any case of difficulty presented by the learned languages. No matter how her English phrased it, she had taught so many boys that she knew every hard rub and difficult stepping-stone and tight place in the Latin grammar by heart, and had relief at her tongue's end for any distressed beginner.
In the cottage over which Miss Randall presided, Harry and I had our room, and we were boarded at the master's table; and so far we were fortunate. Our apartment, which was a roof-room of a gambrel-roofed cottage, was, to be sure, unplastered and carpetless; but it looked out through the boughs of a great apple-tree, up a most bewildering blue vista of mountains, whence the sight of a sunset was something forever to be remembered. All our physical appointments, though rustically plain, were kept by Miss Nervy in the utmost perfection of neatness. She had as great a passion for soap and sand as she had for Greek roots, and probably for the same reason. These wild seacoast countries seemed to produce a sort of superfluity of energy which longed to wreak itself on something, and delighted in digging and delving mentally as well as physically.
Our table had a pastoral perfection in the articles of bread and butter, with honey furnished by Miss Minerva's bees, and game and fish brought in by the united woodcraft of the minister and Mr. Rossiter.
Mr. Rossiter pursued all the natural sciences with an industry and enthusiasm only possible to a man who lives in so lonely and retired a place as Cloudland, and who has, therefore, none of the thousand dissipations of time resulting from our modern system of intercommunication, which is fast producing a state of shallow and superficial knowledge. He had a ponderous herbarium, of some forty or fifty folios, of his own collection and arrangement, over which he gloated with affectionate pride. He had a fine mineralogical cabinet; and there was scarcely a ledge of rocks within a circuit of twelve miles that had not resounded to the tap of his stone hammer and furnished specimens for his collection; and he had an entomologic collection, where luckless bugs impaled on steel pins stuck in thin sheets of cork struggled away a melancholy existence, martyrs to the taste for science. The tender-hearted among us sometimes ventured a remonstrance in favor of these hapless beetles, but were silenced by the authoritative dictum of Mr. Rossiter. "Insects," he declared, "are unsusceptible of pain, the structure of their nervous organization forbidding the idea, and their spasmodic action being simply nervous contraction." As nobody has ever been inside of a beetle to certify to the contrary, and as the race have no mode of communication, we all found it comfortable to put implicit faith in Mr. Rossiter's statements till better advised.
It was among the awe-inspiring legends that were current of Mr. Rossiter in the school, that he corresponded with learned men in Norway and Sweden, Switzerland and France, to whom he sent specimens of American plants and minerals and insects, receiving in return those of other countries. Even in that remote day, little New England had her eyes and her thoughts and her hands everywhere where ship could sail.
Mr. Rossiter dearly loved to talk and to teach, and out of school-hours it was his delight to sit surrounded by his disciples, to answer their questions, and show them his herbarium and his cabinet, to organize woodland tramps, and to start us on researches similar to his own. It was fashionable in his school to have private herbariums and cabinets, and before a month was passed our garret-room began to look quite like a grotto. In short, Mr. Rossiter's system resembled that of those gardeners who, instead of bending all their energies toward making a handsome head to a young tree, encourage it to burst out in suckers clear down to the root, bringing every part of it into vigorous life and circulation.
I still remember the blessed old fellow, as he used to sit among us on the steps of his house, in some of those resplendent moonlight nights which used to light up Cloudland like a fairy dream. There he still sits, in memory, with his court around him, – Esther, with the thoughtful shadows in her eyes and the pensive Psyche profile, and Tina, ever restless, changing, enthusiastic, Harry with his sly, reticent humor and silent enjoyment, and he, our master, talking of everything under the sun, past, present, and to come, – of the cathedrals and pictures of Europe, describing those he had not seen apparently with as minute a knowledge as those he had, – of plants and animals, – of the ancients and the moderns, – of theology, metaphysics, grammar, rhetoric, or whatever came uppermost, – always full and suggestive, startling us with paradoxes, provoking us to arguments, setting us out to run eager tilts of discussion with him, yet in all holding us in a state of unmeasured admiration. Was he conscious, our great man and master, of that weakness of his nature which made an audience, and an admiring one, always a necessity to him? Of a soul naturally self-distrustful and melancholy, he needed to be constantly reinforced and built up in his own esteem by the suffrage of others. What seemed the most trenchant self-assertion in him was, after all, only the desperate struggles of a drowning man to keep his head above water; and, though he seemed at times to despise us all, our good opinion, our worship and reverence, were the raft that kept him from sinking in despair.
The first few weeks that Tina was in school, it was evident that Mr. Rossiter considered her as a spoiled child of fortune, whom the world had conspired to injure by over-much petting. He appeared resolved at once to change the atmosphere and the diet. For some time in school it seemed as if she could do nothing to please him. He seemed determined to put her through a sort of Spartan drill, with hard work and small praise.
Tina had received from nature and womanhood that inspiration in dress and toilet attraction which led her always and instinctively to some little form of personal adornment. Every wild spray or fluttering vine in our woodland rambles seemed to suggest to her some caprice of ornamentation. Each day she had some new thing in her hair, – now a feathery fern-leaf, and anon some wild red berry, whose presence just where she placed it was as picturesque as a French lithograph; and we boys were in the habit of looking each day to see what she would wear next. One morning she came into school, fair as Ariadne, with her viny golden curls rippling over and around a crown of laurel blossoms. She seemed to us like a little woodland poem. We all looked at her, and complimented her, and she received our complements, as she always did coin of that sort, with the most undisguised and radiant satisfaction. Mr. Rossiter was in one of his most savage humors this morning, and eyed the pretty toilet grimly. "If you had only an equal talent for ornamenting the inside of your head," he said to her, "there might be some hopes of you."
Tears of mortification came into Tina's eyes, as she dashed the offending laurel-blossoms out of the window, and bent resolutely over her book. At recess-time she strolled out with me into the pine woods back of the school-house, and we sat down on a mossy log together, and I comforted her and took her part.
"I don't care, Horace," she said, – "I don't care!" and she dashed the tears out of her eyes. "I 'll make that man like me yet, – you see if I don't. He shall like me before I 'm done with him, so there! I don't care how much he scolds. I 'll give in to him, and do exactly as he tells me, but I 'll conquer him, – you see if I don't."
And true enough Miss Tina from this time brushed her curly hair straight as such rebellious curls possibly could be brushed, and dressed herself as plainly as Esther, and went at study as if her life depended in it. She took all Mr. Rossiter's snubs and despiteful sayings with the most prostrate humility, and now we began to learn, to our astonishment, what a mind the little creature had. In all my experience of human beings, I never saw one who learned so easily as she. It was but a week or two after she began the Latin grammar before, jumping over all the intermediate books, she alighted in a class in Virgil among scholars who had been studying for a year, and kept up with them, and in some respects stood clearly as the first scholar. The vim with which the little puss went at it, the zeal with which she turned over the big dictionary and whirled the leaves of the grammar, the almost inspiration which she showed in seizing the poetical shading of words over which her more prosaic companions blundered, were matters of never-ending astonishment and admiration to Harry and myself. At the end of the first week she gravely announced to us that she intended to render Virgil into English verse; and we had not the smallest doubt that she would do it, and were so immensely wrought up about it that we talked of it after we went to bed that night. Tina, in fact, had produced quite a clever translation of the first ten lines of "Arma virumque,"&c. and we wondered what Mr. Rossiter would say to it. One of us stepped in and laid it on his writing-desk.
"Which of you boys did this?" he said the next morning, in not a disapproving tone.
There was a pause, and he slowly read the lines aloud.
"Pretty fair!" he said, – "pretty fair! I should n't be surprised if that boy should be able to write English one of these days."
"If you please, sir," said I, "it 's Miss Tina Percival that wrote that."
Tina's cheeks were red enough as he handed her back her poetry.
"Not bad," he said, – "not bad; keep on as you 've begun, and you may come to something yet."
This scanty measure of approbation was interpreted as high praise, and we complimented Tina on her success. The project of making a poetical translation of Virgil, however, was not carried out, though every now and then she gave us little jets and spurts, which kept up our courage.
Bless me, how we did study everything in that school! English grammar, for instance. The whole school was divided into a certain number of classes, each under a leader, and at the close of every term came on a great examination, which was like a tournament or passage at arms in matters of the English language. To beat in this great contest of knowledge was what excited all our energies. Mr. Rossiter searched out the most difficult specimens of English literature for us to parse, and we were given to understand that he was laying up all the most abstruse problems of grammar to propound to us. All that might be raked out from the coarse print and the fine print of grammar was to be brought to bear on us; and the division that knew the most – the division that could not be puzzled by any subtlety that had anticipated every possible question, and was prepared with an answer – would be the victorious division, and would be crowned with laurels as glorious in our eyes as those of the old Olympic games. For a week we talked, spoke, and dreamed of nothing but English grammar. Each division sat in solemn, mysterious conclave, afraid lest one of its mighty secrets of wisdom should possibly take wing and be plundered by some of the outlying scouts of another division.
We had for a subject Satan's address to the sun, in Milton, which in our private counsels we tore limb from limb with as little remorse as the anatomist dissects a once lovely human body.
The town doctor was a noted linguist and grammarian, and his son was contended for by all the divisions, as supposed to have access to the fountain of his father's wisdom on these subjects; and we were so happy in the balloting as to secure him for our side. Esther was our leader, and we were all in the same division, and our excitement was indescribable. We had also to manage a quotation from Otway, which I remember contained the clause, "Were the world on fire." To parse "on fire" was a problem which kept the eyes of the whole school waking. Each division had its theory, of which it spoke mysteriously in the presence of outsiders; but we had George Norton, and George had been in solemn consultation with Dr. Norton. Never shall I forget the excitement as he came rushing up to our house at nine o'clock at night with the last results of his father's analysis. We shut the doors and shut the windows, – for who knew what of the enemy might be listening? – and gathered breathlessly around him, while in a low, mysterious voice he unfolded to us how to parse "on fire." At that moment George Norton enjoyed the full pleasure of being a distinguished individual, if he never did before or after.
Mr. Rossiter all this while was like the Egyptian Sphinx, perfectly unfathomable, and severely resolved to sift and test us to the utmost.
Ah, well! to think of the glories of the day when our division beat! – for we did beat. We ran along neck and neck with Ben Baldwin's division, for Ben was an accomplished grammarian, and had picked up one or two recondite pieces of information wherewith he threatened for a time to turn our flank, but the fortunes of the field were reversed when it came to the phrase "on fire," and our success was complete and glorious. It was well to have this conflict over, for I don't believe that Tina slept one night that week without dreams of particles and prepositions, – Tina, who was as full of the enthusiasm of everything that was going on as a flossy evening cloud is of light, and to whose health I really do believe a defeat might have caused a serious injury.
Never shall I forget Esther, radiant, grave, and resolved, as she sat in the midst of her division through all the fluctuations of the contest. A little bright spot had come in each of her usually pale cheeks, and her eyes glowed with a fervor which showed that she had it in her to have defended a fortress, or served a cannon, like the Maid of Saragossa. We could not have felt more if our division had been our country and she had led us in triumph through a battle.
Besides grammar, we gave great attention to rhetoric. We studied Dr. Blair with the same kind of thoroughness with which we studied the English grammar. Every week a division of the school was appointed to write compositions; but there was, besides, a call for volunteers, and Mr. Rossiter had a smile of approbation for those who volunteered to write every week; and so we were always among that number.
It was remarkable that the very best writers, as a general thing, were among the female part of the school. There were several young men, of nineteen and twenty years of age, whose education had been retarded by the necessity of earning for themselves the money which was to support them while preparing for college. They were not boys, they were men, and, generally speaking, men of fine minds and fine characters. Some of them have since risen to distinction, and acted leading parts at Washington. But, for all that, the best writers of the school, as I have before said, were the girls. Nor was the standard of writing low: Mr. Rossiter had the most withering scorn for ordinary sentimental nonsense and school-girl platitudes. If a bit of weakly poetry got running among the scholars, he was sure to come down upon it with such an absurd parody that nobody could ever recall it again without a laugh.
We wrote on such subjects as "The Difference between the Natural and Moral Sublime," "The Comparative Merits of Milton and Shakespeare," "The Comparative Merits of the Athenian and Lacedæmonian Systems of Education." Sometimes, also, we wrote criticisms. If, perchance, the master picked up some verbose Fourth of July oration, or some sophomorical newspaper declamation, he delivered it over to our tender mercies with as little remorse as a huntsman feels in throwing a dead fox to the dogs. Hard was the fate of any such composition thrown out to us. With what infinite zeal we attacked it! how we riddled and shook it! how we scoffed, and sneered, and jeered at it! how we exposed its limping metaphors, and hung up in triumph its deficient grammar! Such a sharp set of critics we became that our compositions, read to each other, went through something of an ordeal.
Tina, Harry, Esther, and I were a private composition club. Many an hour have we sat in the old school-room long after all the other scholars had gone, talking to one another of our literary schemes. We planned poems and tragedies; we planned romances that would have taken many volumes to write out; we planned arguments and discussions; we gravely criticised each other's style, and read morsels of projected compositions to one another.
It was characteristic of the simple, earnest fearlessness of those times in regard to all matters of opinion, that the hardest theological problems were sometimes given out as composition subjects, and we four children not infrequently sat perched on the old high benches of the school-room during the fading twilight hours, and, like Milton's fallen angels, –
Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate;
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,....
Of happiness and final misery."
Esther, Harry, and I were reading the "Prometheus Bound" with Mr. Rossiter. It was one of his literary diversions, into which he carried us; and the Calvinism of the old Greek tragedian mingling with the Calvinism of the pulpit and of modern New England life, formed a curious admixture in our thoughts.
Tina insisted on reading this with us, just as of old she insisted on being carried in a lady chair over to our woodland study in the island. She had begun Greek with great zeal under Mr. Rossiter, but of course was in no situation to venture upon any such heights; but she insisted upon always being with us when we were digging out our lesson, and in fact, when we were talking over doubtfully the meaning of a passage, would irradiate with such a flood of happy conjecture as ought to have softened the stern facts of moods and tenses, and made itself the meaning. She rendered some parts of it into verse much better than any of us could have done it, and her versifications, laid on Mr. Rossiter's desk, called out a commendation that was no small triumph to her.
"My forte lies in picking knowledge out of other folks and using it," said Tina, joyously. "Out of the least bit of ore that you dig up, I can make no end of gold-leaf!" O Tina, Tina, you never spoke a truer word, and while you were with us you made everything glitter with your "no end of gold-leaf."
It may seem to some impossible that, at so early an age as ours, our minds should have striven with subjects such as have been indicated here; but let it be remembered that these problems are to every human individual a part of an unknown tragedy in which he is to play the rôle either of the conqueror or the victim. A ritualistic church, which places all souls under the guardianship of a priesthood, of course shuts all these doors of discussion so far as the individual is concerned. "The Church" is a great ship, where you have only to buy your ticket and pay for it, and the rest is none of your concern. But the New England system, as taught at this time, put on every human being the necessity of crossing the shoreless ocean alone on his own raft; and many a New England child of ten or twelve years of age, or even younger, has trembled at the possibilities of final election or reprobation.
I remember well that at one time the composition subject given out at school was, "Can the Benevolence of the Deity be proved by the Light of Nature?" Mr. Rossiter generally gave out the subject, and discussed it with the school in an animated conversation, stirring up all the thinking matter that there was among us by vigorous questions, and by arguing before us first on one side and then on the other, until our minds were strongly excited about it; and, when he had wrought up the whole school to an intense interest, he called for volunteers to write on either side. Many of these compositions were full of vigor and thought; two of those on the above-mentioned subject were very striking. Harry took the affirmative ground, and gave a statement of the argument, so lucid, and in language so beautiful, that it has remained fixed in my mind like a gem ever since. It was the statement of a nature harmonious and confiding, naturally prone to faith in goodness, harmonizing and presenting all those evidences of tenderness, mercy, and thoughtful care which are furnished in the workings of natural laws. The other composition was by Esther; it was on the other and darker side of the subject, and as perfect a match for it as the "Penseroso" to the "Allegro." It was condensed and logical, fearfully vigorous in conception and expression, and altogether a very melancholy piece of literature to have been conceived and written by a girl of her age. It spoke of that fearful law of existence by which the sins of parents who often themselves escape punishment are visited on the heads of innocent children, as a law which seems made specifically to protect and continue the existence of vice and disorder from generation to generation. It spoke of the apparent injustice of an arrangement by which human beings, in the very outset of their career in life, often inherit almost uncontrollable propensities to evil. The sorrows, the perplexities, the unregarded wants and aspirations, over which the unsympathetic laws of nature cut their way regardless of quivering nerve or muscle, were all bitterly dwelt upon. The suffering of dumb animals, and of helpless infant children, apparently so useless and so needless, and certainly so undeserved, were also energetically mentioned. There was a bitter intensity in the style that was most painful. In short, the two compositions were two perfect pictures of the world and life as they appear to two classes of minds. I remember looking at Esther while her composition was read, and being struck with the expression of her face, – so pale, so calm, so almost hopeless, – its expression was very like despair. I remember that Harry noticed it as well as I, and when school was over he took a long and lonely ramble with her, and from that time a nearer intimacy arose between them.
Esther was one of those intense, silent, repressed women that have been a frequent outgrowth of New England society. Moral traits, like physical ones, often intensify themselves in course of descent, so that the child of a long line of pious ancestry may sometimes suffer from too fine a moral fibre, and become a victim to a species of morbid spiritual ideality.
Esther looked to me, from the first, less like a warm, breathing, impulsive woman, less like ordinary flesh and blood, than some half-spiritual organization, every particle of which was a thought.
Old Dr. Donne says of such a woman, "One might almost say her body thought"; and it often came in my mind when I watched the movements of intense yet repressed intellect and emotion in Esther's face.
With many New England women at this particular period, when life was so retired and so cut off from outward sources of excitement, thinking grew to be a disease. The great subject of thought was, of course, theology; and woman's nature has never been consulted in theology. Theologic systems, as to the expression of their great body of ideas, have, as yet, been the work of man alone. They have had their origin, as in St. Augustine, with men who were utterly ignorant of moral and intellectual companionship with woman, looking on her only in her animal nature as a temptation and a snare. Consequently, when, as in this period of New England, the theology of Augustine began to be freely discussed by every individual in society, it was the women who found it hardest to tolerate or to assimilate it, and many a delicate and sensitive nature was utterly wrecked in the struggle.
Plato says somewhere that the only perfect human thinker and philosopher who will ever arise will be the MAN-WOMAN, or a human being who unites perfectly the nature of the two sexes. It was Esther's misfortune to have, to a certain degree, this very conformation. From a long line of reasoning, thinking, intellectual ancestry she had inherited all the strong logical faculties, and the tastes and inclinations for purely intellectual modes of viewing things, which are supposed to be more particularly the characteristic of man. From a line of saintly and tender women, half refined to angel in their nature, she had inherited exquisite moral perceptions, and all that flattering host of tremulous, half-spiritual, half-sensuous intuitions that lie in the borderland between the pure intellect and the animal nature. The consequence of all this was the internal strife of a divided nature. Her heart was always rebelling against the conclusions of her head. She was constantly being forced by one half of her nature to movements, inquiries, and reasonings which brought only torture to the other half.
Esther had no capacity for illusions; and in this respect her constitution was an unfortunate one.
Tina, for example, was one of those happily organized human beings in whom an intellectual proposition, fully assented to, might lie all her life dormant as the wheat-seed which remained thousands of years ungerminate in the wrappings of a mummy. She thought only of what she liked to think of; and a disagreeable or painful truth in her mind dropped at once out of sight, – it sank into the ground and roses grew over it.
Esther never could have made one of those clinging, submissive, parasitical wives who form the delight of song and story, and are supposed to be the peculiar gems of womanhood. It was her nature always to be obliged to see her friends clearly through the understanding, and to judge them by a refined and exquisite conscientiousness. A spot or stain on the honor of the most beloved could never have become invisible to her. She had none of that soft, blinding, social aura, – that blending, blue haze, such as softens the sharp outlines of an Italian landscape, and in life changes the hardness of reality into illusive and charming possibilities. Her clear, piercing hazel eyes seemed to pass over everything with a determination to know only and exactly the truth, hard and cold and unwelcome though it might be.
Yet there is no doubt that the warm, sunny, showery, rainbow nature of Tina acted as a constant and favorable alterative upon her. It was a daily living poem acting on the unused poetical and imaginative part of her own nature; for Esther had a suppressed vigor of imagination, and a passionate capability of emotion, stronger and more intense than that of Tina herself.
I remarked this to Harry, as we were talking about them one day. "Both have poetical natures," I said; "both are intense; but how different they are!"
"Yes," said Harry, "Tina's is electricity, and that snaps and sparkles and flashes; Esther's is galvanism, that comes in long, intense waves, and shakes and convulses; she both thinks and feels too much on all subjects."
"That was a very strange composition," I said.
"It is an unwholesome course of thought," said Harry, after thinking for a few moments with his head on his hands; "none but bitter berries grow on those bushes."
"But the reasoning was very striking," said I.
"Reasoning!" said Harry, impatiently; "we must trust the intuition of our hearts above reason. That is what I am trying to persuade Esther to do. To me it is an absolute demonstration, that God never could make a creature who would be better than himself. We must look at the noblest, best human beings. We must see what generosity, what tenderness, what magnanimity can be in man or woman, and believe all that and more in God. All that there is in the best fathers and best mothers must be in him."
"But the world's history does not look like this, as Mr. Rossiter was saying."
"We have not seen the world's history yet," said Harry. "What does this green aphide, crawling over this leaf, know of the universe?"
THE picture of our life in Cloudland, and of the developing forces which were there brought to bear upon us, would be incomplete without the portrait of the minister.
Even during the course of my youth, the principles of democratic equality introduced and maintained in the American Revolution were greatly changing the social position and standing of the clergy. Ministers like Dr. Lothrop, noble men of the theocracy, men of the cocked hat, were beginning to pass away, or to appear among men only as venerable antiquities, and the present order of American citizen clergy was coming in.
Mr. Avery was a cheerful, busy, manly man, who posed himself among men as a companion and fellow-citizen, whose word on any subject was to go only so far as its own weight and momentum should carry it. His preaching was a striking contrast to the elegant Addisonian essays of Parson Lothrop. It was a vehement address to our intelligent and reasoning powers, – an address made telling by a back force of burning enthusiasm. Mr. Avery preached a vigorous system of mental philosophy in theology, which made our Sundays, on the whole, about as intense an intellectual drill as any of our week-days. If I could describe its character by any one word, I should call it manly preaching.
Every person has a key-note to his mind which determines all its various harmonies. The key-note of Mr. Avery's mind was "the free agency of man." Free agency was with him the universal solvent, the philosopher's stone in theology; every line of his sermons said to every human being, "You are free, and you are able." And the great object was to intensify to its highest point, in every human being, the sense of individual, personal responsibility.
Of course, as a Calvinist, he found food for abundant discourse in reconciling this absolute freedom of man with those declarations in the standards of the Church which assert the absolute government of God over all his creatures and all their actions. But the cheerfulness and vigor with which he drove and interpreted and hammered in the most contradictory statements, when they came in the way of his favorite ideas, was really quite inspiring.
During the year we had a whole course of systematic theology, beginning with the history of the introduction of moral evil, the fall of the angels, and the consequent fall of man and the work of redemption resulting therefrom. In the treatment of all these subjects, the theology and imagery of Milton figured so largely that one might receive the impression that Paradise Lost was part of the sacred canon.
Mr. Avery not only preached these things in the pulpit, but talked them out in his daily life. His system of theology was to him the vital breath of his being. His mind was always running upon it, and all nature was, in his sight, giving daily tributary illustrations to it. In his farming, gardening, hunting, or fishing, he was constantly finding new and graphic forms of presenting his favorite truths. The most abstract subject ceased to be abstract in his treatment of it, but became clothed upon with the homely, every-day similes of common life.
I have the image of the dear good man now, as I have seen him, seated on a hay-cart, mending a hoe-handle, and at the same moment vehemently explaining to an inquiring brother minister the exact way that Satan first came to fall, as illustrating how a perfectly holy mind can be tempted to sin. The familiarity that he showed with the celestial arcana, – the zeal with which he vindicated his Maker, – the perfect knowledge that he seemed to have of the strategic plans of the evil powers in the first great insurrection, – are traits strongly impressed on my memory. They seemed as vivid and as much a matter of course to his mind as if he had read them out of a weekly newspaper.
Mr. Avery indulged the fond supposition that he had solved the great problem of the origin of evil in a perfectly satisfactory manner. He was fond of the Socratic method, and would clench his reasoning in a series of questions, thus: –
"Has not God power to make any kind of thing he pleases?"
"Then he can make a kind of being incapable of being governed except by motive?"
"Then, when he has made that kind of being, he cannot govern them except by motive, can he?"
"Now if there is no motive in existence strong enough to govern them by, he cannot keep them from falling, can he?"
"You see then the necessity of moral evil: there must be experience of evil to work out motive."
The Calvinism of Mr. Avery, though sharp and well defined, was not dull, as abstractions often are, nor gloomy and fateful like that of Dr. Stern. It was permeated through and through by cheerfulness and hope.
Mr. Avery was one of the kind of men who have a passion for saving souls. If there is such a thing as apostolic succession, this passion is what it ought to consist in. It is what ought to come with the laying on of hands, if the laying on of hands is what it is sometimes claimed to be.
Mr. Avery was a firm believer in hell, but he believed also that nobody need go there, and he was determined, so far as he was concerned, that nobody should go there if he could help it. Such a tragedy as the loss of any one soul in his parish he could not and would not contemplate for a moment; and he had such a firm belief in the truths he preached, that he verily expected with them to save anybody that would listen to him.
Goethe says, "Blessed is the man who believes that he has an idea by which he may help his fellow-creatures." Mr. Avery was exactly that man. He had such faith in what he preached that he would have gone with it to Satan himself, could he have secured a dispassionate and unemployed hour, with a hope of bringing him round.
Generous and ardent in his social sympathies, Mr. Avery never could be brought to believe that any particular human being had finally perished. At every funeral he attended he contrived to see a ground for hope that the departed had found mercy. Even the slightest hints of repentance were magnified in his warm and hopeful mode of presentation. He has been known to suggest to a distracted mother, whose thoughtless boy had been suddenly killed by a fall from a horse, the possibilities of the merciful old couplet, –
"Between the saddle and the ground,
Mercy was sought, and mercy found."
Like most of the New England ministers, Mr. Avery was a warm believer in the millennium. This millennium was the favorite recreation ground, solace, and pasture land, where the New England ministry fed their hopes and courage. Men of large hearts and warm benevolence, their theology would have filled them with gloom, were it not for this overplus of joy and peace to which human society on earth was in their view tending. Thousands of years, when the poor old earth should produce only a saintly race of perfected human beings, were to them some compensation for the darkness and losses of the great struggle.
Mr. Avery believed, not only that the millennium was coming, but that it was coming fast, and, in fact, was at the door. Every political and social change announced it. Our Revolution was a long step towards it, and the French Revolution, now in progress, was a part of that distress of nations which heralded it; and every month, when the Columbia Magazine brought in the news from Europe, Mr. Avery rushed over to Mr. Rossiter, and called him to come and hear how the thing was going.
Mr. Rossiter took upon himself that right which every freeborn Yankee holds sacred, – the right of contravening his minister. Though, if he caught one of his boys swelling or ruffling with any opposing doctrine, he would scath and scorch the youngster with contemptuous irony, and teach him to comport himself modestly in talking of his betters, yet it was the employment of a great many of his leisure hours to run argumentative tilts against Mr. Avery. Sometimes, when we were sitting in our little garret window digging out the Greek lessons, such a war of voices and clangor of assertion and contradiction would come up from among the tassels of the corn, where the two were hoeing together in the garden, as would have alarmed people less accustomed to the vigorous manners of both the friends.
"Now, Rossiter, that will never do. Your system would upset moral government entirely. Not an angel could be kept in his place upon your supposition."
"It is not my supposition. I have n't got any supposition, and I don't want any; but I was telling you that, if you must have a theory of the universe, Origen's was a better one than yours."
"And I say that Origen's system would upset everything, and you ought to let it alone."
"I sha' n't let it alone!"
"Why, Rossiter, you will destroy responsibility, and annihilate all the motives of God's government."
"That 's just what you theologians always say. You think the universe will go to pieces if we upset your pine-shingle theology."
"Rossiter, you must be careful how you spread your ideas."
"I don't want to spread my ideas; I don't want to interfere with your system. It 's the best thing you can make your people take, but you ought to know that no system is anything more than human theory."
"It 's eternal truth."
"There 's truth in it, but it is n't eternal truth."
"It 's Bible."
"Part, and part Milton and Edwards, and part Mr. Avery."
Harry and I were like adopted sons in both families, and the two expressed their minds about each other freely before us. Mr. Avery would say: "The root of the matter is in Rossiter. I don't doubt that he 's a really regenerate man, but he has a head that works strangely. We must wait for him, he 'll come along by and by."
And Mr. Rossiter would say of Mr. Avery: "That 's a growing man, boys; he has n't made his terminal buds yet. Some men make them quick, like lilac-bushes. They only grow a little way and stop. And some grow all the season through, like locust-trees. Avery is one of that sort: he 'll never be done thinking and growing, particularly if he has me to fight him on all hands. He 'll grow into different opinions on a good many subjects, before he dies."
It was this implied liberty of growth – the liberty to think and to judge freely upon all subjects – that formed the great distinctive educational force of New England life, particularly in this period of my youth. Monarchy, aristocracy, and theocracy, with their peculiar trains of ideas, were passing away, and we were coming within the sweep of pure republican influences, in which the individual is everything. Mr. Avery's enthusiastic preaching of free agency and personal responsibility was more than an individual impulse. It was the voice of a man whose ideas were the reflection of a period in American history. While New England theology was made by loyal monarchists, it reflected monarchical ideas. The rights and immunities of divine sovereignty were its favorite topics. When, as now, the government was becoming settled in the hands of the common people, the freedom of the individual, his absolute power of choice, and the consequent reasonableness of the duties he owed to the Great Sovereign Authority, began to be the favorite subjects of the pulpit.
Mr. Avery's preaching was immensely popular. There were in Cloudland only about half a dozen families of any prestige as to ancestral standing or previous wealth and cultivation. The old aristocratic idea was represented only in one street that went over Cloudland Hill, where was a series of wide, cool, roomy, elm-shadowed houses, set back in deep door-yards, and flanked with stately, well-tended gardens. The doctor, the lawyer, the sheriff of the county, the schoolmaster, and the minister, formed here a sort of nucleus; but outlying in all the hills and valleys round were the mountain and valley farmers. Their houses sat on high hills or sunk in deep valleys, and their flaming windows at morning and evening looked through the encircling belts of forest solitudes as if to say, "We are here, and we are a power." These hard-working farmers formed the body of Mr. Avery's congregation. Sunday morning, when the little bell pealed out its note of invitation loud and long over the forest-feathered hills, it seemed to evoke a caravan of thrifty, well-filled farm-wagons, which, punctual as the village-clock itself, came streaming from the east and west, the north and south. Past the parsonage they streamed, with the bright cheeks and fluttering ribbons of the girls, and the cheery, rubicund faces of children, and with the inevitable yellow dog of the family faithfully pattering in the rear. The audience that filled the rude old meeting-house every Sunday would have astonished the men who only rode through the village of a week-day. For this set of shrewd, toil-hardened, vigorous, full-blooded republicans I can think of no preaching more admirably adapted than Mr. Avery's. It was preaching that was on the move, as their minds were, and which was slowly shaping out and elaborating those new forms of doctrinal statement that inevitably grow out of new forms of society. Living, as these men did, a lonely, thoughtful, secluded life, without any of the thousand stimulants which railroads and magazine and newspaper literature cast into our existence, their two Sunday sermons were the great intellectual stimulus which kept their minds bright, and they were listened to with an intense interest of which the scattered and diversified state of modern society gives few examples. They felt the compliment of being talked to as if they were capable of understanding the very highest of subjects, and they liked it. Each hard, heroic nature flashed like a flint at the grand thought of a free agency with which not even their Maker would interfere. Their God himself asked to reign over them, not by force, but by this free, voluntary choice of their own hearts. "Choose you this day whom ye will serve. If the Lord be God, serve him, and if Baal be God, serve him," was a grand appeal, fit for freemen.
The reasoning on moral government, on the history of man, – the theories of the universe past, present, and to come, – opened to these men a grand Miltonic poem, in which their own otherwise commonplace lives shone with a solemn splendor. Without churches or cathedrals or physical accessories to quicken their poetic nature, their lives were redeemed only by this poetry of ideas.
Calvinism is much berated in our days, but let us look at the political, social, and materialistic progress of Calvinistic countries, and ask if the world is yet far enough along to dispense with it altogether. Look at Spain at this hour, and look back at New England at the time of which I write, – both having just finished a revolution, both feeling their way along the path of national independence, – and compare the Spanish peasantry with the yeomen of New England, such as made up Mr. Avery's congregation; – the one set made by reasoning, active-minded Calvinism, the other by pictures, statues, incense, architecture, and all the sentimental paraphernalia of ritualism.
If Spain had had not a single cathedral, if her Murillos had been all sunk in the sea, and if she had had, for a hundred years past, a set of schoolmasters and ministers working together as I have described Mr. Avery and Mr. Rossiter as working, would not Spain be infinitely better off for this life at least, whether there is any life to come or not? This is a point that I humbly present to the consideration of society.
Harry and I were often taken by Mr. Avery on his preaching tours to the distant farm parishes. There was a brown school-house in this valley, and a red school-house in that, and another on the hill, and so on for miles around, and Mr. Avery kept a constant stream of preaching going in one or other of these every evening. We liked these expeditions with him, because they were often excursions amid the wildest and most romantic of the mountain scenery, and we liked them furthermore because Mr. Avery was a man that made himself, for the time being, companionable to every creature of human shape that was with him.
With boys he was a boy, – a boy in the vigor of his animal life, his keen delight in riding, hunting, fishing. With farmers he was a farmer. Brought up on a farm, familiar during all his early days with its wholesome toils, he still had a farmer's eye and a farmer's estimates, and the working-people felt him bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh. It used to be a saying among them, that, when Mr. Avery hoed more than usual in his potato-field, the Sunday sermon was sure to be better.
But the best sport of all was when some of Mr. Avery's preaching tours would lead up the course of a fine mountain trout-brook in the vicinity. Then sometimes Mr. Rossiter, Mr. Avery, Harry, and I would put our supper in our pockets, and start with the sun an hour or two high, designing to bring up at the red school-house, as the weekly notice phrased it, at "early candle-lighting."
A person who should accidentally meet Mr. Avery on one of these tours, never having seen him before, might imagine him to be a man who had never thought or dreamed of anything but catching trout all his days, he went into it with such abandon. Eye, voice, hand, thought, feeling, all were concentrated on trout. He seemed to have the quick perception, the rapid hand, and the noiseless foot of an Indian, and the fish came to his hook as if drawn there by magic. So perfectly absorbed was he that we would be obliged to jog his memory, and, in fact, often to drag him away by main force, when the hour for the evening lecture arrived. Then our spoils would be hid away among the bushes, and with wet feet he would hurry in; but, once in, he was as completely absorbed in his work of saving sinners as he had before been in his temporal fishery. He argued, illustrated, stated, guarded, answered objections, looking the while from one hard, keen, shrewd face to another, to see if he was being understood. The phase of Calvinism shown in my grandmother's blue book had naturally enough sowed through the minds of a thoughtful community hosts of doubts and queries. A great part of Mr. Avery's work was to remove these doubts by substituting more rational statements. It was essential that he should feel that he had made a hit somewhere, said something that answered a purpose in the minds of his hearers, and helped them at least a step or two on their way.
After services were over, I think of him and Mr. Rossiter cheerily arguing with and contradicting each other a little beyond us in the road, while Harry and I compared our own notes behind. Arrived at the parsonage, there would be Tina and Esther coming along the street to meet us. Tina full of careless, open, gay enthusiasm, Esther with a shy and wistful welcome, that said far less, and perhaps meant more. Then our treasures were displayed and exulted over; the supper-table was laid, and Mr. Avery, Mr. Rossiter, and we boys applied ourselves to dressing our fish; and then Mr. Avery, disdaining Dinah, and, in fact, all female supervision, presided himself over the frying-pan, and brought our woodland captives on the table in a state worthy of a trout brook. It should have comforted the very soul of a trout taken in our snares to think how much was made of him, and how perfectly Mr. Avery respected his dignity, and did him justice in his cookery.
We two boys were in fact domesticated as sons in the family. Although our boarding-place was with the master, we were almost as much with the minister as if we had been of his household. We worked in his garden, we came over and sat with Esther and Tina. Our windows faced their windows, so that in study hours we could call to one another backward and forward, and tell where the lesson began, and what the root of the verb was, or any other message that came into our heads. Sometimes, of a still summer morning, while we were gravely digging at our lessons, we would hear Esther in tones of expostulation at some madcap impulse of Tina, and, looking across, would see her bursting out in some freak of droll pantomimic performance, and then an immediate whirlwind of gayety would seize us all. We would drop our dictionaries and grammars, rush together, and have a general outbreak of jollity.
In general, Tina was a most praiseworthy and zealous student, and these wild, sudden whisks of gayety seemed only the escape-valves by which her suppressed spirits vented themselves; but, when they came, they were perfectly irresistible. She devoted herself to Esther with that sympathetic adaptation which seemed to give her power over every nature. She was interested in her housekeeping, in all its departments, as if it had been her own glory and pride; and Tina was one that took glory and pride in everything of her friends, as if it had been her own. Esther had been left by the death of her mother only the year before the mistress of the parsonage. The great unspoken sorrow of this loss lay like a dark chasm between her and her father, each striving to hide from the other its depth and coldness by a brave cheerfulness.
Esther, strong as was her intellectual life, had that intense sense of the worth of a well-ordered household, and of the dignity of house-economies, which is characteristic of New England women. Her conscientiousness pervaded every nook and corner of her domestic duties with a beautiful perfection; nor did she ever feel tempted to think that her fine mental powers were a reason why these homely details should be considered a slavery. Household cares are a drudgery only when unpervaded by sentiment. When they are an offering of love, a ministry of care and devotion to the beloved, every detail has its interest.
There were certain grand festivals of a minister's family which fill a housekeeper's heart and hands, and in which all of us made common interest with her. The Association was a reunion when all the ministers of the county met together and spent a social day with the minister, dining together, and passing their time in brotherly converse, such as reading essays, comparing sermons, taking counsel with each other in all the varied ups and downs of their pastoral life. The Consociation was another meeting of the clergy, but embracing also with each minister a lay delegate, and thus uniting, not only the ministry, but the laymen of the county, in a general fraternal religious conference.
The first Association that Esther had to manage quite alone as sole mistress of the parsonage occurred while we were with her. Like most solemn festivals of New England, these seasons were announced under the domestic roof by great preparatory poundings and choppings, by manufacture, on a large scale, of cakes, pies, and provisions for the outer man; and at this time Harry, Tina and I devoted all our energies, and made ourselves everywhere serviceable. We ran to the store on errands, we chopped mince for pies with a most virtuous pertinacity, we cut citron and stoned raisins, we helped put up curtains and set up bedsteads. We were all of us as resolved as Esther that the housekeeping of the little parsonage should be found without speck or flaw, an should reflect glory upon her youthful sovereignty.
Some power or other gilded and glorified these happy days, – for happy enough they were. What was it that made every thing that we four did together so harmonious and so charming? "Friendship, only friendship," sang Tina, with silver tongue. "Such a perfect friendship," she remarked, "was never known except just in our particular case"; it exceeded all the classical records, all the annals, ancient and modern.
But what instinct or affinity in friendship made it a fact that when we four sat at table together, with our lessons before us, Harry somehow was always found on Esther's side? I used to notice it because his golden-brown mat of curls was such a contrast to the smooth, shining black satin bands of her hair as they bent together over the dictionary, and looked up innocently into each other's eyes, talking of verbs and adjectives and terminations, innocently conjugating "amo, amare" to each other. Was it friendship that made Esther's dark, clear eyes, instinctively look towards Harry for his opinion, when we were reading our compositions to one another? Was it friendship, that starry brightness that began to come in Harry's eyes, and made them seem darker and bluer and deeper, with a sort of mysterious meaning, when he looked at Esther? Was it friendship that seemed to make him feel taller, stronger, more manly, when he thought of her, and that always placed him at her hand when there was some household task that required a manly height or handiness? It was Harry and Esther together who put up the white curtains all through the parsonage that spring, that made it look so trim and comely for the ministers' meeting. Last year, Esther said, innocently, she had no one to help her, and the work tired her so. How happy, how busy, how bright they were as they measured and altered, and Harry, in boundless complacency, went up and down at her orders, and changed and altered and arranged, till her fastidious eye was satisfied, and every fold hung aright! It was Harry who took down and cleansed the family portraits, and hung them again, and balanced them so nicely; it was Harry who papered over a room where the walls had been disfigured by an accident and it was Esther by him who cut the paper and trimmed the bordering and executed all her little sovereignities of taste and disposal by his obedient hands. And Tina and I at this time gathered green boughs and ground-pine for the vases, and made floral decorations without end, till the bare little parsonage looked like a woodland bower.
I have pleasant recollections of those ministers' meetings. Calvinistic doctrines, in their dry, abstract form, are, I confess, rather hard; but Calvinistic ministers, so far as I have ever had an opportunity to observe, are invariably a jolly set of fellows. In those early days the ministry had not yet felt the need of that generous decision which led them afterwards to forego all dangerous stimulants, as an example to their flock. A long green wooden case, full of tobacco-pipes and a quantity of papers of tobacco, used to be part of the hospitable stock prepared for the reception of the brethren. No less was there a quantity of spirituous liquor laid in. In those days its dispensation was regarded as one of the inevitable duties of hospitality. The New England ministry of this period were men full of interest. Each one was the intellectual centre of his own district, and supplied around him the stimulus which is now brought to bear through a thousand other sources. It was the minister who overlooked the school, who put parents upon the idea of giving their sons liberal educations. In poor districts the minister often practised medicine, and drew wills and deeds, thus supplying the place of both lawyer and doctor. Apart from their doctrinal theology, which was a constant source of intellectual activity to them, their secluded life led them to many forms of literary labor.
As a specimen of these, it is recorded of the Rev. Mr. Taylor of Westfield, that he took such delight in the writings of Origen, that, being unable to purchase them, he copied them in four quarto volumes that he might have them for his own study. These are still in the possession of his descendants. Other instances of literary perseverance and devotion, equally curious, might be cited.
The lives that these men led were simple and tranquil. Almost all of them were practical farmers, preserving about them the fresh sympathies and interests of the soil, and laboring enough with their hands to keep their muscles in good order, and prevent indigestion. Mingling very little with the world, each one a sort of autocrat in his way, in his own district, and with an idea of stability and perpetuity in his office, which, in these days, does not belong to the position of a minister anywhere, these men developed many originalities and peculiarities of character, to which the simple state of society then allowed full scope. They were humorists, – like the mossy old apple-trees which each of them had in his orchard, bending this way and turning that, and throwing out their limbs with quaint twists and jerks, yet none the less acceptable, so long as the fruit they bore was sound and wholesome.
We have read of "Handkerchief Moody," who for some years persisted in always appearing among men with his face covered with a handkerchief, – an incident which Hawthorne has worked up in his weird manner into the story of "The Minister with the Black Veil."
Father Mills, of Torringford, was a gigantic man who used to appear in the pulpit in a full-bottomed white horse-hair wig. On the loss of a beloved wife, he laid aside his wig for a year, and appeared in the pulpit with his head tied up in a black handkerchief, representing to the good housewives of his parish that, as he always dressed in black, he could in no other way testify to his respect for his dear wife's memory; and this tribute was accepted by his parish with the same innocent simplicity with which it was rendered.
On the whole, the days which brought all the brother ministers to the parsonage were days of enlivenment to all us young people. They seemed to have such a hearty joy in their meeting, and to deliver themselves up to mirth and good-fellowship with such a free and hearty abandon, and the jokes and stories which they brought with them were chorused by such roars of merriment as made us think a ministers' meeting the most joyous thing on earth.
I know that some say this jocund mirthfulness indicated a want of faith in the doctrines they taught. But do not you and I, honest friends, often profess our belief in things which it would take away our appetite and wither our strength to realize, but notwithstanding which we eat and drink and sleep joyously? You read in your morning paper that the city of so-and-so has been half submerged by an earthquake, and that after the earthquake came a fire and burnt the crushed inhabitants alive in the ruins of their dwellings. Nay, if you are an American, you may believe some such catastrophe to have happened on the Erie Railroad a day or two before, and that men, women, and children have been cooped up and burnt, in lingering agonies, in your own vicinity. And yet, though you believe these things, you laugh and talk and are gay, and plan for a party in the evening and a ride on the same road the next week.
No; man was mercifully made with the power of ignoring what he believes. It is all that makes existence in a life like this tolerable. And our ministers, conscious of doing the very best they can to keep the world straight, must be allowed their laugh and joke, sin and Satan to the contrary notwithstanding.
There was only one brother, in the whole confraternity that used to meet at Mr. Avery's, who was not a married man; and he, in spite of all the snares and temptations which must beset a minister who guides a female flock of parishioners, had come to the afternoon of life in the state of bachelorhood. But O the jokes and witticisms which always set the room in a roar at his expense! It was a subject that never wearied or grew old. To clap Brother Boardman on the back and inquire for Mrs. Boardman, – to joke him about some suitable widow, or bright-eyed young lamb of his flock, at each ministers' meeting, – was a provocative of mirth ever fresh and ever young. But the undaunted old bachelor was always a match for these attacks, and had his rejoinder ready to fling back into the camp of the married men. He was a model of gallant devotion to womanhood in the abstract, and seemed loath to give up to one what was meant for womankind. So, the last that I ever heard of him, he was still unmarried, – a most unheard-of thing for a New England parson.
Mr. Avery was a leader among the clergy of his State. His zeal, enthusiasm, eloquence, and doctrinal vigor, added to a capacity for forming an indefinite number of personal friendships, made him a sort of chief among them.
What joyous hours they spent together in the ins and the outs, the highways and by-ways, of metaphysics and theology! Harry and Esther and Tina and I learned them all. We knew all about the Arminians and Pelagians and the Tasters and the Exercisers, and made a deal of fun with each other over it in our private hours. We knew precisely every shade of difference between tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee which the different metaphysicians had invented, and tossed our knowledge joyously back and forward at one another in our gayer hours, just as the old ministers did, when they smoked and argued in the great parsonage dining-room. Everything is joyful that is learned by two young men in company with two young women with whom they are secretly in love. Mathematics, metaphysics, or no matter what of dry and desolate, buds and blossoms as the rose under such circumstances.
Did you ever go out in the misty gray of morning dawn, when the stars had not yet shut their eyes, and still there were rosy bands lying across the east? And then have you watched a trellis of morning-glories, with, all the buds asleep, but ready in one hour to waken? The first kiss of sunlight and they will be open! That was just where we were.
NO New England boy or girl comes to maturity without a full understanding of what is meant by the term at the head of this chapter.
Religion was, perhaps, never so much the governing idea in any Commonwealth before. Nowhere has there been a people, the mass of whom acted more uniformly on considerations drawn from the unseen and future life; yet nowhere a people who paid a more earnest attention to the life that is seen and temporal.
The New England colonies were, in the first instance, the out-growth of a religious enthusiasm. Right alongside of them, at the same period of time, other colonies were founded from a religious enthusiasm quite as intense and sincere. The French missionary settlers in Canada had a grandeur of self-sacrifice, and intensity of religious devotion, which would almost throw in the shade that of the Pilgrim Fathers; and the sole reason why one set of colonists proved the seed of a great nation, and the other attained so very limited success, is the difference between the religions taught by the two.
The one was the religion of asceticism, in view of which contempt of the body and of material good was taught as a virtue, and its teachers were men and women to whom marriage and its earthly relations were forbidden. The other was the spirit of the Old Testament, in which material prosperity is always spoken of as the lawful reward of piety, in which marriage is an honor, and a numerous posterity a thing to be desired. Our fore fathers were, in many essential respects, Jews in their thoughts and feelings with regard to this life, but they superadded to this broad physical basis the intense spiritualism of the New Testament. Hence came a peculiar race of men, uniting the utmost extremes of the material and the spiritual.
Dr. Franklin represents that outgrowth of the New England mind which moves in the material alone, and scarcely ever rises to the spiritual. President Edwards represents the mind so risen to the spiritual as scarcely to touch the material. Put these two together, and you have the average New England character, – that land in which every ism of social or religious life has had its origin, – that land whose hills and valleys are one blaze and buzz of material and manufacturing production.
A revival of religion in New England meant a time when that deep spiritual undercurrent of thought and emotion with regard to the future life, which was always flowing quietly under its intense material industries, exhaled and steamed up into an atmosphere which pervaded all things, and made itself for a few weeks the only thought of every person in some town or village or city. It was the always-existing spiritual becoming visible and tangible.
Such periods would come in the labors of ministers like Mr. Avery. When a man of powerful mind and shrewd tact and great natural eloquence lives among a people already thoughtfully predisposed, for no other purpose than to stir them up to the care of their souls, it is evident that there will come times when the results of all his care and seeking, his public ministrations, his private conversations with individuals, will come out in some marked social form; and such a period in New England is called a revival of religion.
There were three or four weeks in the autumn of the first year that we spent in Cloudland, in which there was pervading the town a sort of subdued hush of emotions, – a quiet sense of something like a spiritual presence brooding through the mild autumn air. This was accompanied by a general inclination to attend religious services, and to converse on religious subjects. It pervaded the school; it was to be heard at the store. Every kind of individual talked on and about religion in his own characteristic way, and in a small mountain town like Cloudland everybody's characteristic way is known to every one else.
Ezekiel Scranton, the atheist of the parish, haunted the store where the farmers tied up their wagons when they brought their produce, and held, after his way, excited theological arguments with Deacon Phineas Simons, who kept the store, – arguments to which the academy boys sometimes listened, and of which they brought astounding reports to the school-room.
Tina, who was so intensely sympathetic with all social influences that she scarcely seemed to have an individuality of her own, was now glowing like a luminous cloud with religious zeal.
"I could convert that man," she said; "I know I could! I wonder Mr. Avery has n't converted him long ago!"
At this time, Mr. Avery, who had always kept a watchful eye upon us, had a special conversation with Harry and myself, the object of which was to place us right in our great foundation relations. Mr. Avery stood upon the basis that most good New England men, since Jonathan Edwards, have adopted, and regarded all young people, as a matter of course, out of the fold of the Church, and devoid of anything truly acceptable to God, until they had passed through a mental process designated, in well-known language, as conviction and conversion.
He began to address Harry, therefore, upon this supposition I well remember the conversation.
"My son," he said, "is it not time for you to think seriously of giving your heart to God?"
"I have given my heart to God," replied Harry, calmly.
"Indeed!" said Mr. Avery, with surprise; "when did that take place?"
"I have always done it."
Mr. Avery looked at him with a gentle surprise.
"Do you mean to say, my son, that you have always loved God?"
"Yes, sir," said Harry, quietly.
Mr. Avery felt entirely incredulous, and supposed that this must be one of those specious forms of natural piety spoken of depreciatingly by Jonathan Edwards, who relates in his own memoirs similar exercises of early devotion as the mere fruits of the ungrafted natural heart. Mr. Avery, therefore, proceeded to put many theological questions to Harry on the nature of sin and holiness, on the difference between manly, natural affections and emotions, and those excited by the supernatural movement of a divine power on the soul, – the good man begging him to remember the danger of self-deception, saying that nothing was more common than for young people to mistake the transient movements of mere natural emotions for real religion.
I observed that Harry, after a few moments, became violently agitated. Two large blue veins upon his forehead swelled out, his eyes had that peculiar flash and fire that they had at rare intervals, when some thought penetrated through the usual gentle quietude of his surface life to its deepest internal recesses. He rose and walked up and down the room, and finally spoke in a thick, husky voice, as one who pants with emotion. He was one of the most reserved human beings I have ever known. There was a region of emotion deep within him, which it was almost like death to him to express. There is something piteous and even fearful in the convulsions by which such natures disclose what is nearest to their hearts.
"Mr. Avery," he said, "I have heard your preaching ever since I have been here, and thought of it all. It has done me good, because it has made me think deeply. It is right and proper that our minds should be forced to think on all these subjects; but I have not thought, and cannot think, exactly like you, nor exactly like any one that I know of. I must make up my opinions for myself. I suppose I am peculiar, but I have been brought up peculiarly. My lot in life has been very different from that of ordinary boys. The first ten years of my life, all that I can remember is the constant fear and pain and distress and mortification and want through which my mother and I passed together, – she a stranger in this strange land, – her husband and my father worse than nothing to us, oftentimes our greatest terror. We should both of us have died, if it had not been for one thing: she believed that her Saviour loved her, and loved us all. She told me that these sorrows were from him, – that he permitted them because he loved us, – that they would be for good in the end. She died at last alone and utterly forsaken by everybody but her Saviour, and yet her death was blessed. I saw it in her eyes, and she left it as her last message to me, whatever happened to me, never to doubt God's love, – in all my life to trust him, to seek his counsel in all things, and to believe that all that happened to me was ordered by him. This was and is my religion; and, after all that I have heard, I can have no other. I do love God because he is good, and because he has been good to me. I believe that Jesus Christ is God, and I worship God always through him, and I leave everything for myself, for life and death are in his hands. I know that I am not very good. I know, as you say, I am liable to make mistakes, and to deceive myself in a thousand ways; but He knows all things, and he can and will teach me; he will not let me lose myself, I feel sure."
"My son," said Mr. Avery, "you are blessed. I thank God with all my heart for you. Go on, and God be with you!"
It is to be seen that Mr. Avery was a man who always corrected theory by common sense. When he perceived that a child could be trained up a Christian, and grow into the love of a Heavenly Father as he grows into the love of an earthly one, by a daily and hourly experience of goodness, he yielded to the perceptions of his mind in that particular case.
Of course our little circle of four had, at this time, deep communings. Tina was buoyant and joyous, full of poetic images, delighted with the news of every conversion, and taking such an interest in Mr. Avery's preaching that she several times suggested to him capital subjects for sermons. She walked up to Ezekiel Scranton's, one afternoon, for no other object than to convert him from his atheism, and succeeded so far as to exact a promise from him that he would attend all Mr. Avery's meetings for a fortnight. Ezekiel was one of the converts of that revival, and Harry and I, of course, ascribed it largely to Tina's influence.
A rough old New England farmer, living on the windy side of a high hill, subsisting largely on codfish and hard cider, does not often win the flattering attention of any little specimen of humanity like Tina; and therefore it was not to be wondered at that the results of her missionary zeal appeared to his mind something like that recorded in the New Testament, where "an angel went down at a certain season and troubled the waters."
But, while Tina was thus buoyant and joyous, Esther seemed to sink into the very depths of despondency. Hers, as I have already intimated, was one of those delicate and sensitive natures, on which the moral excitements of New England acted all the while with too much power. The work and care of a faithful pastor are always complicated by the fact that those truths, and modes of presenting truths, which are only just sufficient to arouse the attention of certain classes of hearers, and to prevent their sinking into apathetic materialism, are altogether too stimulating and exciting for others of a more delicate structure.
Esther Avery was one of those persons for whom the peculiar theory of religious training which prevailed in New England at this period, however invigorating to the intellect of the masses, might be considered as a personal misfortune. Had she been educated in the tender and paternal manner recommended by the Cambridge platform, and practised among the earlier Puritans, recognized from infancy as a member of Christ's Church, and in tender covenant relations with him, her whole being would have responded to such an appeal; her strongest leading faculties would have engaged her to fulfil, in the most perfect manner, the sacred duties growing out of that relation, and her course into the full communion of the Church would have been gentle and insensible as a flowing river.
"'T is a tyranny," says old Dr. Cotton Mather, "to impose upon every man a record of the precise time and way of their conversion to God. Few that have been restrained by a religious education can give such an one."
Esther, however, had been trained to expect a marked and decided period of conversion, – a change that could be described in the same language in which Paul described the conversion of the heathen at dissolute Corinth and Ephesus. She was told, as early as she was capable of understanding language, that she was by nature in a state of alienation from God, in which every thought of her heart and action of her life was evil, and evil only; and continually that she was entirely destitute of holiness and exposed momently to the wrath of God; and that it was her immediate duty to escape from this state by an act of penitence for sin and supreme love to God.
The effort to bring about in her heart that state of emotion was during all her youth a failure. She was by constitution delicately, intensely self-analytic, and her analysis was guided by the most exacting moral ideality. Every hopeful emotion of her higher nature, as it rose, was dissolved in this keen analysis, as diamond and pearls disappeared in the smelting furnaces of the old alchemists. We all know that self-scrutiny is the death of emotion, and that the analytic, self-inspective habit is its sure preventive. Had Esther applied to her feelings for her own beloved father the same tests by which she tried every rising emotion of love to the Divine Being, the result would have been precisely the same.
Esther was now nineteen years of age; she was the idol of her father's heart; she was the staff and stay of her family; she was, in all the duties of life, inspired by a most faultless conscientiousness. Her love of the absolute right was almost painful in its excess of minuteness, and yet, in her own view, in the view of the Church, in the view even of her admiring and loving father, she was no Christian. Perfectly faultless in every relation so far as human beings could observe, reverent to God, submissive to his will, careful in all outward religious observances, yet wanting in a certain emotional experience, she judged herself to be, and was judged to be by the theology which her father taught, utterly devoid of virtue or moral excellence of any kind in the sight of God. The theology of the times also taught her that the act of grace which should put an end to this state, and place her in the relation of a forgiven child with her Heavenly Father, was a voluntary one, momently in her power, and that nothing but her own persistent refusal prevented her performing it; yet taught at the same time that, so desperate was the obstinacy of the human heart, no child of Adam ever would, or ever could, perform it without a special interposition of God, – an interposition which might or might not come. Thus all the responsibility and the guilt rested upon her. Now, when a nature intensely conscientious is constantly oppressed by a sense of unperformed duty, that sense becomes a gnawing worm at the very root of life. Esther had in vain striven to bring herself into the required state of emotion. Often for weeks and months she offered daily, and many times a day, prayers which brought no brightness and no relief, and read conscientiously that Bible, all whose tender words and comforting promises were like the distant vision of Eden to the fallen exiles, guarded by a flaming sword which turned every way. Mute and mournful she looked into the paradise of peace possessed by the favored ones whom God had chosen to help through the mysterious passage, and asked herself, would that helping hand ever open the gate to her?
Esther had passed through two or three periods of revival of religion, and seen others far less consistent gathered into the fold of the Church, while she only sunk at each period into a state of hopeless gloom and despondency which threatened her health. Latterly, her mind, wounded and bruised, had begun to turn in bitter reactions. From such experiences as hers come floods of distracting intellectual questions. Scepticism and doubt are the direct children of unhappiness. If she had been, as her standards stated, born "utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil," was not this an excuse for sin? Was it her fault that she was born so? and, if her Creator had brought her into being in this state, was it not an act of simple justice to restore her mind to a normal condition?
When she addressed these questions to her father, he was alarmed, and warned her against speculation. Mr. Avery did not consider that the Assembly's catechism and the Cambridge platform and a great part of his own preaching were, after all, but human speculation, – the uninspired inferences of men from the Bible, and not the Bible itself, – and that minds once set going in this direction often cannot help a third question after a second, any more than they can help breathing; and that third question may be one for which neither God nor nature has an answer. Such inquiries as Esther's never arose from reading the parables of Christ, the Sermon on the Mount: they are the legitimate children of mere human attempts at systematic theology.
How to deliver a soul that has come from excessive harassments, introspections, self-analysis, into that morbid state of half-sceptical despondency, was a problem over which Mr. Avery sighed in vain. His cheerful hopefulness, his sympathetic vitality, had drawn many others through darkness into light, and settled them in cheerful hope. But with his own daughter he felt no power, – his heart trembled, – his hand was weak as the surgeon's who cannot operate when it is the life of his best beloved that lies under his hands.
Esther's deliverance came through that greatest and holiest of all the natural sacraments and means of grace, – LOVE.
An ancient gem has upon it a figure of a Psyche sitting with bound wings and blindfolded and weeping, whose bonds are being sundered by Love. It is an emblem of what often occurs in woman's life.
It has sometimes been thrown out as a sneer on periods of religious excitement, that they kindle the enthusiasm of man and woman towards each other into earthly attachments; but the sneer should wither as something satanic before the purity of love as it comes to noble natures. The man who has learned to think meanly of that, to associate it with vulgar thoughts and low desires, – the man who has not been lifted by love to aspire after unworldly excellence, to sigh for unworldly purity, to reverence unworldly good, – has lost his one great chance of regeneration.
Harry and Esther had moved side by side for months, drawn daily to each other, – showing each other their compositions, studying out of the same book, arguing together in constant friendly differences, – and yet neither of them exactly conscious whither they were tending. A great social, religious excitement has often this result, that it throws open between friends the doors of the inner nature. How long, how long we may live in the same house, sit at the same table, hold daily converse with friends to whom and by whom these inner doors are closed! We cannot even tell whether we should love them more or less if they were open, – they are a mystery. But a great, pure, pervading, social excitement breaks like some early spring day around us; the sun shines, the birds sing; and forthwith open fly all the doors and windows, and let in the sunshine and the breeze and the bird-song!
In such an hour Esther saw that she was beloved! – beloved by a poet soul, – one of that rare order to whom the love of woman is a religion! – a baptism! – a consecration!
Her life, hitherto so chill and colorless, so imprisoned and bound in the chains of mere and cold intellect, awoke with a sudden thrill of consciousness to a new and passionate life. She was as changed as the poor and silent Jungfrau of the Swiss mountains, when the gray and ghostly cold of the night bursts into rosy light, as the morning sunbeams rise upon it. The most auspicious and beautiful of all phenomena that ever diversify this weary life is that wonderful moment in which two souls, who hitherto have not known each other, suddenly, by the lifting of a veil or the falling of a barrier, become in one moment and forever after one. Henceforth each soul has in itself the double riches of the other. Each weakness is made strong by some corresponding strength in the other; for the truest union is where each soul has precisely the faculty which the other needs.
Harry was by nature and habit exactly the reverse of Esther. His conclusions were all intuitions. His religion was an emanation from the heart, a child of personal experience, and not a formula of the head. In him was seen the beginning of that great reaction which took place largely in the young mind of New England against the tyranny of mere logical methods as applied to the ascertaining of moral truths.
The hour of full heart union that made them one placed her mind under the control of his. His simple faith in God's love was an antidote to her despondent fears. His mind bore hers along on its current. His imagination awakened hers. She was like one carried away by a winged spirit, lifted up and borne heavenward by his faith and love. She was a transfigured being. An atmosphere of joy brightened and breathed around her, her eyes had a mysterious depth, her cheeks a fluttering color. The winter was over and past for her, and the time of the singing of the birds had come.
Mr. Avery was in raptures. The long agony was past. He had gained a daughter and a son, and he was too joyful, too willing to believe, to be analytic or critical. Long had he secretly hoped that such faultless consistency, such strict attention to duty, might perhaps indicate a secret work of divine grace, which would spring into joy if only recognized and believed in. But now, when the dove that had long wandered actually bent her white wings at the window of the ark, he stretched forth his hand and drew her in with a trembling eagerness.
BUT the revival could not always last. The briefness of these periods, and the inevitable gravitation of everybody back to the things of earth, has sometimes been mentioned with a sneer.
"Where 's your revival now?"
The deacon whose face was so radiant as he talked of the love of Christ now sits with the same face drawn into knots and puckers over his account-book; and he thinks the money for the mortgage is due, and the avails for the little country store are small; and somehow a great family of boys and girls eat up and wear out; and the love of Christ seems a great way off, and the trouble about the mortgage very close at hand; and so the deacon is cross, and the world has its ready sneer for the poor man. "He can talk about the love of Christ, but he 's a terrible screw at a bargain," they say. Ah, brother, have mercy! The world screws us, and then we are tempted to screw the world. The soil is hard, the climate cold, labor incessant, little to come of it, and can you sneer that a poor soul has, for a brief season, forgotten all this and risen out of his body and above his cares, and been for a little while a glorified deacon instead of a poor, haggling, country store-keeper?
Plato says that we all once had wings, and that they still tend to grow out in us, and that our burnings and aspirations for higher things are like the teething pangs of children. We are trying to cut our wings. Let us not despise these teething seasons. Though the wings do not become apparent, they may be starting under many a rough coat, and on many a clumsy pair of shoulders.
But in our little town of Cloudland, after the heavenly breeze had blown over, there were to be found here and there immortal flowers and leaves from the tree of life, which had blown into many a dwelling.
Poor old drunken Culver, who lived under the hill, and was said to beat his wife, had become a changed man, and used to come out to weekly prayer-meetings. Some tough old family quarrels, such as follow the settlement of wills in a poor country, had at last been brought to an end, and brother had shaken hands with brother; the long root of bitterness had been pulled up and burned on the altar of love. It is true that nobody had become an angel. Poor sharp-tongued Miss Krissy Pike still went on reporting the wasteful excesses she had seen in the minister's swill-barrel. And some that were crabbed and cross-grained before were so still, and some, perhaps, were a little more snarly than usual, on account of the late over-excitement.
A revival of religion merely makes manifest for a time what religion there is in a community, but it does not exalt men above their nature or above their times. It is neither revelation nor inspiration; it is impulse. It give no new faculties, and it goes at last into that general average of influences which go to make up the progress of a generation.
One terrestrial result of the revival in our academy was that about half a dozen of the boys fell desperately in love with Tina. I have always fancied Tina to be one of that species of womankind that used to be sought out for priestesses to the Delphic oracle. She had a flame-like, impulsive, ethereal temperament, a capacity for sudden inspirations, in which she was carried out of herself, and spoke winged words that made one wonder whence they came. Her religious zeal had impelled her to be the adviser of every one who came near her, and her sayings were quoted, and some of our shaggy, rough-coated mountain boys thought that they had never had an idea of the beauty of holiness before. Poor boys! they were so sacredly simple about it. And Tina came to me with wide brown eyes that sparkled like a cairngorm-stone, and told me that she believed she had found what her peculiar calling was; it was to influence young men in religion! She cited, with enthusiasm, the wonderful results she had been able to produce, the sceptical doubts she had removed, the conceptions of heavenly things that she had been able to pour into their souls.
The divine priestess and I had a grand quarrel one day, because I insisted upon it that these religious ministrations on the part of a beautiful young girl to those of the opposite sex would assuredly end in declarations of love and hopes of marriage.
Girls like Tina are often censured as flirts, – most unjustly so, too. Their unawakened nature gives them no power of perceiving what must be the full extent of their influence over the opposite sex. Tina was warmly social; she was enthusiastic and self-confident, and had precisely that spirit which should fit a woman to be priestess or prophetess, to inspire and to lead. She had a magnetic fervor of nature, an attractive force that warmed in her cheeks and sparkled in her eyes, and seemed to make summer around her. She excited the higher faculties, – poetry, ideality, blissful dreams seemed to be her atmosphere, – and she had a power of quick sympathy, of genuine, spontaneous outburst, that gave to her looks and words almost the value of a caress, so that she was an unconscious deceiver, and seemed always to say more for the individual than she really meant. All men are lovers of sunshine and spring gales, but they are no one's in particular; and he who seeks to hold them to one heart finds his mistake. Like all others who have a given faculty, Tina loved its exercise, – she loved to influence, loved to feel her power, alike, over man and woman. But who does not know that the power of the sibyl is doubled by the opposition of sex? That which is only acquiescence in a woman friend becomes devotion in a man. That which is admiration from a woman becomes adoration in a man. And of all kinds of power which can be possessed by man or woman, there is none which I think so absolutely intoxicating as this of personal fascination. You may as well blame a bird for wanting to soar and sing as blame such women for the instinctive pleasure they feel in their peculiar king of empire. Yet, in simple good faith, Tina did not want her friends of the other sex to become lovers. She was willing enough that they should devote themselves, under all sorts of illusive names of brother and friend and what-not, but when they proceeded to ask her for herself there was an instant revulsion, as when some person has unguardedly touched a strong electric circle. The first breath of passion repelled her; the friend that had been so agreeable the hour before was unendurable. Over and over again I had seen her go to the same illusive round, always sure that in this instance it was understood that it was to be friendship, and only friendship, or brotherly or Christian love, till the hour came for the electric revulsion, and the friend was lost.
Tina had not learned the modern way of girls, who count their lovers and offers as an Indian does his scalps, and parade the number of their victims before their acquaintances. Every incident of this kind struck her as a catastrophe; and, as Esther, Harry, and I were always warning her, she would come to us like a guilty child, and seek to extenuate her offence. I think the girl was sincere in the wish she often uttered, that she could be a boy, and be loved as a comrade and friend only. "Why must, why would, they always persist in falling into this tiresome result?" "O Horace!" she would say to me, "if I were only Tom Percival, I should be perfectly happy! but it is so stupid to be a girl!"
In my own secret soul I had no kind of wish that she should be Tom Percival, but I did not tell her so. No, I was too wise for that. I knew that my only chance of keeping my position as father confessor to this elastic young penitent consisted in a judicious suppression of all peculiar claims or hopes on my part, and I was often praised and encouraged for this exemplary conduct, and the question pathetically put to me, "Why could n't the others do as I did?" O Tina, Tina! did your brown eyes see, and your quick senses divine, that there was something in me which you dreaded to awaken, and feared to meet?
There are some men who have a faculty of making themselves the confidants of women. Perhaps because they have a certain amount of the feminine element in their own composition. They seem to be able to sympathize with them on their feminine side, and are capable of running far in a friendship without running fatally into love.
I think I had this power, and on it I founded my hopes in this regard. I enjoyed, in my way, almost as much celebrity in our little circle for advising and guiding my friends of the other sex as Tina did, and I took care to have on hand such a list of intimates as would prevent my name from being coupled with hers in the school gossip.
In these modern times, when man's fair sister is asking admission at the doors of classic halls, where man has hitherto reigned in monastic solitude, the query is often raised by our modern sociologists, Can man and woman, with propriety, pursue their studies together? Does the great mystery of sex, with its wide laws of attraction, and its strange, blinding, dazzling influences, furnish a sufficient reason why the two halves of creation, made for each other, should be kept during the whole course of education rigorously apart? This question, like a great many others, was solved without discussion by the good sense of our Puritan ancestors, in throwing the country academies, where young men were fitted for college, open alike to both sexes, and in making the work of education of such dignity in the eyes of the community, that first-rate men were willing to adopt it for life. The consequences were, that, in some lonely mountain town, under some brilliant schoolmaster, young men and women actually were studying together the branches usually pursued in college.
"But," says the modern objector, "bring young men and young women together in these relations, and there will be flirtations and love affairs."
Even so, my friend, there will be. But flirtations and love affairs among a nice set of girls and boys, in a pure and simple state of community, where love is never thought of, except as leading to lawful marriage, are certainly not the worst things that can be thought of, – not half so bad as the grossness and coarseness and roughness and rudeness of those wholly male schools in which boys fight their way on alone, with no humanizing influences from the other sex.
There was, to be sure, a great crop of love affairs, always green and vigorous, in our academy, and vows of eternal constancy interchanged between boys and girls who afterwards forgot and outgrew them, without breaking their hearts on either side; but for my own part, I think love-making over one's Latin and Greek much better than the fisting and cuffing and fagging of English schools, or than many another thing to which poor, blindly fermenting boyhood runs when separated from home, mother, and sister, and confined to an atmosphere and surroundings sharply and purely male. It is certain that the companionship of the girl improves the boy, but more doubt has been expressed whether the delicacy of womanhood is not impaired by an early experience of the flatteries and gallantries of the other sex. But, after all, it is no worse for a girl to coquette and flirt in her Latin and mathematical class than to do it in the German or the polka. The studies and drill of the school have a certain repressive influence, wholly wanting in the ball-room and under the gas-light of fashionable parties. In a good school, the standard of attraction is, to some extent, intellectual. The girl is valued for something besides her person; her disposition and character are thoroughly tested, the powers of her mind go for something, and, what is more, she is known in her every-day clothes. On the whole, I do not think a better way can be found to bring the two sexes together, without that false glamour which obscures their knowledge of each other, than to put them side by side in the daily drill of a good literary institution.
Certainly, of all the days that I look back upon, this academy life in Cloudland was the most perfectly happy. It was happier than college life, because of the constant intertwining and companionship with woman, which gave a domestic and family charm to it. It was happy because we were in the first flush of belief in ourselves, and in life.
O that first belief! those incredible first visions! when all things look possible, and one believes in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and sees enchanted palaces in the sunset clouds!
What faith we had in one another, and how wonderful we were in one another's eyes! Our little clique of four was a sort of holy of holies in our view. We believed that we had secrets of happiness and progress known only to ourselves. We had full faith in one another's destiny; we were all remarkable people, and destined to do great things.
At the close of the revival, we four, with many others, joined Mr. Avery's church, – a step which in New England, at this time, meant a conviction of some spiritual experience gained, of some familiar communion with the Great Invisible. Had I found it then? Had I laid hold of that invisible hand, and felt its warmth and reality? Had I heard the beatings of a warm heart under the cold exterior of the regular laws of nature, and found a living God? I thought so. That hand and heart were the hand and heart of Jesus, – the brother, the friend, and the interpreting God for poor, blind, and helpless man.
As we stood together before the pulpit, with about fifty others, on that Sunday most joyful to Mr. Avery's heart, we made our religious profession with ardent sincerity. The dear man found in that day the reward of all his sorrows, and the fruit of all his labors. He rejoiced in us as first fruits of the millennium, which, having already dawned in his good honest heart, he thought could not be far off from the earth.
Ah! those days of young religion were vaguely and ignorantly beautiful, like all the rest of our outlook on life. We were sincere, and meant to be very good and true and pure, and we knew so little of the world we were living in! The village of Cloudland, without a pauper, with scarcely an ignorant person it, with no temptation, no dissipation, no vice, – what could we know there of the appalling questions of real life? We were hid there together, as in the hollow of God's hand; and a very sweet and lovely hiding-place it was.
Harry had already chosen his profession; he was to be a clergyman, and study with Mr. Avery when his college course was finished. In those days the young aspirants for the pulpit were not gathered into seminaries, but distributed through the country, studying, writing, and learning the pastoral work by sharing the labors of older pastors. Life looked, therefore, very bright to Harry, for life was, at that age, to live with Esther. Worldly care there was none. Mr. Avery was rich on two hundred and fifty dollars, and there were other places in the mountains where birds sung and flowers grew, where Esther could manage another parsonage, as now her father's. She lived in the world of taste and intellect and thought. Her love of the beautiful was fed by the cheap delights of nature, and there was no onerous burden of care in looking forward to marriage, such as now besets a young man when he meditates taking to himself some costly piece of modern luxury, – some exotic bird, who must be fed on incense and odors, and for whom any number of gilded cages and costly surroundings may be necessary. Marriage, in the days of which I speak, was a very simple and natural affair, and Harry and Esther enjoyed the full pleasure of talking over and arranging what their future home should be; and Tina, quite as interested as they, drew wonderful pictures of it, and tinted them with every hue of the rainbow.
Mr. Avery talked with me many times to induce me to choose the same profession. He was an enthusiast for it; it was to him a calling that eclipsed all others, and he could wish the man he loved no greater blessedness than to make him a minister.
But I felt within myself a shrinking doubt of my own ability to be the moral guide of others, and my life-long habit of half-sceptical contemplation made it so impossible to believe the New England theology with the perfect, undoubting faith that Mr. Avery had, that I dared not undertake. I did not disbelieve. I would not for the world controvert; but I could not believe with his undoubting enthusiasm. His sword and spear, so effective in his hands, would tremble in mine. I knew that Harry would do something. He had a natural call, a divine impulse, that led him from childhood to sacred ministries; and though he did not more than I accept the system of new-school theology as complete truth, yet I could see that it would furnish to his own devotional nature a stock from which vigorous grafts would shoot forth.
Shall I say, also, that my future was swayed unconsciously by a sort of instinctive perception of what yet might be desired by Tina. Something a little more of this world I seemed to want to lay at her feet. I felt, somehow, that there was in her an aptitude for the perfume and brightness and gayeties of this lower world. And as there must be, not only clergymen, but lawyers, and as men will pay more for getting their own will than for saving their souls, I dreamed of myself, in the future, as a lawyer, – of course a rising one; of course I should win laurels at the bar, and win them by honorable means. I would do it; and Tina should be mistress of a fine, antique house in Boston, like the Kittery's, with fair, large gardens and pleasant prospects, and she should glitter and burn and twinkle like a gem, in the very front ranks of society. Yes, I was ambitious, but it was for her.
One thing troubled me; every once in a while, in the letters from Miss Mehitable, came one from Ellery Davenport, written in a free, gay, dashing, cavalier style, and addressing Tina with a kind of patronizing freedom that made me ineffably angry. I wanted to shoot him. Such are the risings of the ancient Adam in us, even after we have joined the Church. Tina always laughed at me because I scolded and frowned at these letters, and, I thought, seemed to take rather a perverse pleasure in them. I have often speculated on that trait wherein lovely woman slightly resembles a cat; she cannot, for the life of her, resist the temptation to play with her mouse a little, and rouse it with gentle pats of her velvet paw, just to see what it will do.
I was, of course, understood to be under solemn bond and promise to love Tina only as a brother; but was it not a brother's duty to watch over his sister? With what satisfaction did I remember all Miss Debby Kittery's philippics against Ellery Davenport! Did I not believe every word of them heartily? I hated the French language with all my soul, and Ellery Davenport's proficiency in it; and Tina could not make me more angry than by speaking with admiration of his graceful fluency in French, and expressing rather wilful determinations that, when she got away from Mr. Rossiter's dictation, she would study it. Mr. Davenport had said that, when he came back to America, he would give her French lessons. He was always kind and polite, and she did n't doubt that he 'd give me lessons, too, if I 'd take them. "French is the language of modern civilization," said Tina, with the decision of a professor. But she made me promise that I would n't say a word to her about it before Mr. Rossiter.
"Now, Horace dear, you know," she said, "that French to him is just like a red rag to a bull; he 'd begin to roar and lash his sides the minute you said the words, and Mr. Rossiter and I are capital friends now. You 've no idea, Horace, how good he is to me. He takes such an interest in the development of my mind. He writes me a letter or note almost every week about it, and I take his advice, you know, and I would n't want to hurt his feelings about French, or anything else. What do you suppose he hates the French so for? I should think he was a genuine Englishman, that had been kept awake nights during all the French wars."
"Well, Tina," I said, "you know there is a great deal of corrupt and dangerous literature in the French language."
"What nonsense, Horace! just as if there was n't in the English language, too, and I none the worse for it. And I 'm sure there are no ends of bad things in the classical dictionary, and in the mythology. He 'd better talk about the French language! No, you may depend upon it, Horace, I shall learn French as soon as I leave school."
It will be inferred from this that my young lady had a considerable share of that quality which Milton represents to have been the ruin of our first mother; namely, a determination to go her own way and see for herself, and have little confidential interviews with the serpent, notwithstanding all that could be urged to the contrary by sober old Adam.
"Of course, Adam," said Eve, "I can take care of myself, and don't want you always lumbering after me with your advice. You thing the serpent will injure me, do you? That just shows how little you know about me. The serpent, Adam, is a very agreeable fellow, and helps one to pass away one's time; but he don't take me in. O no! there 's no danger of his ever getting around me! So, my dear Adam, go your own way in the garden, and let me manage for myself."
Whether in the celestial regions there will be saints and angels who develop this particular form of self-will, I know not; but in this world of what Mr. Avery called "imperfect sanctification," religion does n't prevent the fair angels of the other sex from developing this quality in pretty energetic forms. In fact, I found that, if I was going to guide my Ariadne at all, I must let out my line fast, and let her feel free and unwatched.
IT was in the winter of this next year that the minister's "wood-spell" was announced.
"What is a wood-spell?" you say. Well, the pastor was settled on the understanding of receiving two hundred dollars a year and his wood; and there was a certain day set apart in the winter, generally in the time of the best sleighing, when every parishioner brought the minister a sled-load of wood; and thus, in the course of time, built him up a mighty wood-pile.
It was one of the great seasons of preparation in the minister's family, and Tina, Harry, and I had been busy for two or three days beforehand, in helping Esther create the wood-spell cake, which was to be made in quantities large enough to give ample slices to every parishioner. Two days beforehand, the fire was besieged with a row of earthen pots, in which the spicy compound was rising to the necessary lightness, and Harry and I split incredible amounts of oven-wood, and in the evening we sat together stoning raisins round the great kitchen fire, with Mr. Avery in the midst of us, telling us stories and arguing with us, and entering into the hilarity of the thing like a boy. He was so happy in Esther, and delighted to draw the shy color into her cheeks, by some sly joke or allusion, when Harry's head of golden curls came into close proximity with her smooth black satin tresses.
The cake came out victorious, and we all claimed the merit of it; and a mighty cheese was bought, and every shelf of the closet, and all the dressers of the kitchen, were crowded with the abundance.
We had a jewel of a morning, – one of those sharp, clear sunny winter days, when the sleds squeak over the flinty snow and the little icicles tingle along on the glittering crust as they fell from the trees, and the breath of the slow-pacing oxen steams up like a rosy cloud in the morning sun, and then falls back condensed in little icicles on every hair.
We were all astir early, full of life and vigor. There was a holiday in the academy. Mr. Rossiter had been invited over to the minister's to chat and tell stories with the farmers, and give them high entertainment. Miss Nervy Randall, more withered and wild in her attire than usual, but eminently serviceable, stood prepared to cut cake and cheese without end, and dispense it with wholesome nods and messages of comfort. The minister himself heated two little old andirons red-hot in the fire, and therewith from time to time stirred up a mighty bowl of flip, which was to flow in abundance to every comer. Not then had the temperance reformation dawned on America, though ten years later Mr. Avery would as soon have been caught in a gambling-saloon as stirring and dispensing a bowl of flip to his parishioners.
Mr. Avery had recently preached a highly popular sermon on agriculture, in which he set forth the dignity of the farmer's life, from the text, "For the king himself is served of the field"; and there had been a rustle of professional enthusiasm in all the mountain farms around, and it was resolved, by a sort of general consent, that the minister's wood-pile this year should be of the best; none of your old make-shifts, – loads made out with crooked sticks and snapping chestnut logs, most noisy, and destructive to good wives' aprons. Good straight shagbark-hickory was voted none too good for the minister. Also the axe was fifed up on many a proud oak and beech and maple. What destruction of glory and beauty there was in those mountain regions! How ruthlessly man destroys in a few hours that which centuries cannot bring again!
What an idea of riches in those glorious woodland regions! We read legends of millionnaires who fed their fires with cinnamon and rolled up thousand-dollar bills into lamp-lighters, in the very wantonness of profusion. But what was that compared to the prodigality which fed our great roaring winter fires on the thousand-leafed oaks, whose conception had been ages ago, – who were children of the light and of the day, – every fragment and fibre of them made of most celestial influences, of sunshine and rain-drops, and night-dews and clouds, slowly working for centuries until they had wrought the wondrous shape into a gigantic miracle of beauty? And then snuffling old Heber Atwood with his two hard-fisted boys, cut one down in a forenoon and made logs of it for the minister's wood-pile. If this is n't making light of serious things, we don't know what is. But think of your wealth, O ye farmers! – think what beauty and glory every year perish to serve your cooking-stoves and chimney-corners.
To tell the truth, very little of such sentiment was in Mr. Avery's mind or in any of ours. We lived in a woodland region, and we were blasé with the glory of trees. We did admire the splendid elms that hung their cathedral arches over the one central street of Cloudland Village, and on this particular morning they were all aflame like Aladdin's palace, hanging with emeralds and rubies and crystals, flashing and glittering and dancing in the sunlight. And when the first sled came squeaking up the village street, we did not look upon it as the funereal hearse bearing the honored corpse of a hundred summers, but we boys clapped our hands and shouted, "Hurrah for old Heber!" as his load of magnificent oak, well-breaded with gray moss, came scrunching into the yard. Mr. Avery hastened to draw the hot flip-iron from the fire and stir the foaming bowl. Esther began cutting the first loaf of cake, and Mr. Rossiter walked out and cracked a joke on Heber's shoulder, whereat all the cast-iron lineaments of his hard features relaxed. Heber had not the remotest idea at this moment that he was to be branded as a tree-murderer. On the contrary, if there was anything for which he valued himself, and with his heart was at this moment swelling with victorious pride, it was his power of cutting down trees. Man he regarded in a physical point of view as principally made to cut down trees, and trees as the natural enemies of man. When he stood under a magnificent oak, and heard the airy rustle of its thousand leaves, to his ear it was always a rustle of defiance, as if the old oak had challenged him to single combat; and Heber would feel of his axe and say, "Next winter, old boy, we 'll see, – we 'll see!" And at this moment he and his two tall, slab-sided, big-handed boys came into the kitchen with an uplifted air, in which triumph was but just repressed by suitable modesty. They came prepared to be complimented, and they were complimented accordingly.
"Well, Mr. Atwood," said the minister, "you must have had pretty hard work on that load; that 's no ordinary oak; it took strong hands to roll those logs, and yet I don't see but two of your boys. Where are they all now?"
"Scattered, scattered!" said Heber, as he sat with a great block of cake in one hand, and sipped his mug of flip, looking, with his grizzly beard and shaggy hair and his iron features, like a cross between a polar bear and a man, – a very shrewd, thoughtful, reflective polar bear, however, quite up to any sort of argument with a man.
"Yes, they 're scattered," he said. "We 're putty lonesome now 't our house. Nobody there but Pars, Dass, Dill, Noah, and 'Liakim. I ses to Noah and 'Liakim this mornin', 'Ef we had all our boys to hum, we sh'd haf to take up two loads to the minister, sartin, to make it fair on the wood-spell cake.'"
"Where are your boys now?" said Mr. Avery. "I have n't seen them at meeting now for a good while."
"Wal, Sol and Tim 's gone up to Umbagog, lumberin'; and Tite, he 's sailed to Archangel; and Jeduth, he 's gone to th' West Injies for molasses; and Pete, he 's gone to the west. Folks begins to talk now 'bout that 'ere Western kentry, and so Pete, he must go to Buffalo, and see the great West. He 's writ back about Niagry Falls. His letters is most amazin'. The old woman, she can't feel easy 'bout him no way. She insists 'pon it them Injuns 'll scalp him. The old woman is just as choice of her boys as ef she had n't got just es many es she has."
"How many sons have you?" said Harry, with a countenance of innocent wonder.
"Wal," said Heber, "I 've seen the time when I had fourteen good, straight boys, – all on 'em a turnin' over a log together."
"Dear me!" said Tina. "Had n't you any daughters?"
"Gals?" said Heber, reflectively. "Bless you yis. There 's been a gal or two 'long, in between, here an' there, – don't jest remember where they come; but, any way, there 's plenty of women-folks 't our house."
"Why!" said Tina, with a toss of her pretty head, "you don't seem to think much of women."
"Good in their way," said Heber, shaking his head; "but Adam was fust formed, and then Eve, you know." Looking more attentively at Tina as she stood bridling and dimpling before him, like a bird just ready to fly, Heber conceived an indistinct idea that he must say something gallant, so he added, "Give all honor to the women, as weaker vessels, ye know; that 's sound doctrine, I s'pose."
Heber having now warmed and refreshed himself, and endowed his minister with what he conceived to be a tip-top, irreproachable load of wood, proceeded, also, to give him the benefit of a little good advice, prefaced by gracious words of encouragement. "I was tellin' my old woman this mornin' that I did n't grudge a cent of my subscription, 'cause your preachin' lasts well and pays well. Ses I, ' Mr. Avery ain't the kind of man that strikes twelve the fust time. He 's a man that 'll wear.' That 's what I said fust, and I 've followed y' up putty close in yer preachin'; but then I 've jest got one word to say to ye. Ain't free agency a gettin' a leetle too top-heavy in yer preachin'? Ain't it kind o' overgrowin' sovereignty? Now, ye see, divine sovereignty hes got to be took care of as well as free agency. That 's all, that 's all. I thought I 'd jest drop the thought, ye know, and leave you to think on 't. This 'ere last revival you run along considerable on 'Whosoever will may come,' an' all that. Now p'r'aps, ef you 'd jest tighten up the ropes a leetle t'other side, and give 'em sovereignty, the hull load would sled easier."
"Well," said Mr. Avery, "I 'm much obliged to you for your suggestions."
"Now there 's my wife's brother Josh Baldwin," said Heber, "he was delegate to the last Consociation, and he heerd your openin' sermon, and ses he to me, ses he, 'Your minister sartin doos slant a leetle towards th' Arminians; he don't quite walk the crack,' Josh says, ses he. Ses I, 'Josh, we ain't none on us perfect; but,' ses I, 'Mr. Avery ain't no Arminian, I can tell you. Yeh can't judge Mr. Avery by one sermon, ' ses I. You hear him preach the year round, and ye 'll find that all the doctrines git their place.' Ye see I stood up for ye, Mr. Avery, but I thought 't would n't do no harm to kind o' let ye know what folks is sayin'."
Here the theological discussion was abruptly cut short by Deacon Zachary Chipman's load, which entered the yard amid the huzzahs of the boys. Heber and his boys were at the door in a minute. "Wal, railly, ef the deacon hain't come down with his shagbark! Wal, wal, the revival has operated on him some, I guess. Last year the deacon sent a load that I 'd ha' been ashamed to had in my back yard, an' I took the liberty o' tellin' on him so. Good, straight-grained shagbark. Wal, wal! I 'll go out an' help him onload it. Ef that 'ere holds out to the bottom, the deacon 's done putty wal, an' I shall think grace has made some progress."
The deacon, a mournful, dry, shivery-looking man, with a little round bald head, looking wistfully out of a great red comforter, all furry and white with the sharp frosts of the morning, and, with his small read eyes weeping tears through the sharpness of the air, looked as if he had come as chief mourner at the hearse of his beloved hickory-trees. He had cut down the very darlings of his soul, and come up with his precious load, impelled by a divine impulse like that which made the lowing kine, in the Old Testament story, come slowly bearing the ark of God, while their brute hearts were turning toward the calves that they had left at home. Certainly, if virtue is in proportion to sacrifice, Deacon Chipman's load of hickory had more of self-sacrifice in it than a dozen loads from old Heber; for Heber was a forest prince in his way of doing things, and, with all his shrewd calculations of money's worth, had an open-handed generosity of nature that made him take a pride in liberal giving.
The little man shrank mournfully into a corner, and sipped his tumbler of flip and ate his cake and cheese as if he had been at a funeral.
"How are you all at home, deacon?" said Mr. Avery heartily.
"Just crawlin', thank you, – just crawlin'. My old woman don't git out much; her rheumatiz gits a dreadful strong hold on her; and, Mr. Avery, she hopes you 'll be round to visit her 'fore long. Since the revival she 's kind o' fell into darkness, and don't see no cheerin' views. She ses sometimes the universe ain't nothin' but blackness and darkness to her."
"Has she a good appetite?" said Mr. Avery.
"Wal, no. She don't enjoy her vittles much. Some say she 's got the jaunders. I try to cosset her up, and git her to take relishin' things. I tell her ef she 'd a good sassage for breakfast of a cold mornin', with a hearty bit o' mince-pie, and a cup o' strong coffee, 't would kind o' set her up for the day; but, somehow, she don't git no nourishment from her food."
"There, Rossiter," we heard Mr. Avery whisper aside, "you see what a country minister has to do, – give cheering views to a dyspeptic that breakfasts on sausage and mince-pies."
And now the loads began coming thick and fast. Sometimes two and three, and sometimes four and five, came stringing along, one after another, in unbroken procession. For every one Mr. Avery had an appreciative word. Its especial points were noticed and commended, and the farmers themselves, shrewdest observers, looked at every load and gave it their verdict. By and by the kitchen was full of a merry, chatting circle, and Mr. Rossiter and Mr. Avery were telling their best stories, and roars of laughter came from the house.
Tina glanced in and out among the old farmers, like a bright tropical bird, carrying the cake and cheese to each one, laughing and telling stories, dispensing smiles to the younger ones, – treacherous smiles, which meant nothing, but made the hearts beat faster under their shaggy coats; and if she saw a red-fisted fellow in a corner, who seemed to be having a bad time, she would go and sit down by him, and be so gracious and warming and winning that his tongue would be loosened, and he would tell her all about his steers and his calves and his last crop of corn and his load of wood, and then wonder all the way home whether he should ever have, in a house of his own, a pretty little woman like that.
By afternoon, the minister's wood-pile was enormous. It stretched beyond anything before seen in Cloudland; it exceeded all the legends of neighboring wood-piles and wood-spells related by deacons and lay delegates in the late Consociation. And truly, among things picturesque and graceful, among childish remembrances, dear and cheerful, there is nothing that more speaks to my memory than the dear, good old mossy wood-pile. Harry, Tina, Esther, and I ran up and down and in and about the piles of wood that evening with joyous satisfaction. How fresh and spicy and woodsy it smelt! I can smell now the fragrance of the hickory, whose clear, oily bark in burning cast forth perfume quite equal to cinnamon. Then there was the fragrant black birch, sought and prized by us all for the high-flavored bark on the smaller limbs, which was a favorite species of confectionery to us. There were also the logs of white birch, gleaming up in their purity, from which we made sheets of woodland parchment.
It is recorded of one man who stands in a high position at Washington, that all his earlier writing-lessons were performed upon leaves of the white birch bark, the only paper used in the family.
There there were massive trunks of oak, veritable worlds of mossy vegetation in themselves, with tufts of green velvet nestled away in their bark, and sheets of greenness carpeting their sides, and little white, hoary trees of moss, with little white, hoary apples upon them, like miniature orchards.
One of our most interesting amusements was forming landscapes in the snow, in which we had mountains and hills and valleys, and represented streams of water by means of glass, and clothed the sides of our hills with orchards of apple-trees made of this gray moss. It was an incipient practice at landscape-gardening, for which we found rich material in the wood-pile. Esther and Tina had been filling their aprons with these mossy treasures, for which we had all been searching together, and now we all sat chatting in the evening light. The sun was going down. The sleds had ceased to come, the riches of our woodland treasures were all in, the whole air was full of the trembling, rose-colored light that turned all the snow-covered landscape to brightness. All around us not a fence to be seen, – nothing but waning hollows of spotless snow, glowing with the rosy radiance, and fading away in purple and lilac shadows; and the evening stars began to twinkle, one after another, keen and clear through the frosty air, as we all sat together in triumph on the highest perch of the wood-pile. And Harry said to Esther, "One of these days they 'll be bringing in our wood," and Esther's cheeks reflected the pink of the sky.
"Yes, indeed!" said Tina. "And then I am coming to live with you. I 'm going to be an old maid, you know, and I shall help Esther as I do now. I never shall want to be married."
Just at this moment the ring of sleigh-bells was heard coming up the street. Who and what now? A little one-horse sleigh drove swiftly up to the door, the driver sprang out with a lively alacrity, hitched his horse, and came forward toward the house. In the same moment Tina and I recognized Ellery Davenport!
TINA immediately turned and ran into the house, laughing, and up stairs into her chamber, leaving Esther to go seriously forward, – Esther always tranquil and always ready. For myself, I felt such a vindictive hatred at the moment as really alarmed me. What had this good-natured man done, with his frank, merry face and his easy, high-bred air, that I should hate him so? What sort of Christian was I, to feel in this way? Certainly it was a temptation of the Devil, and I would put it down, and act like a reasonable being. So I went forward with Harry, and he shook hands with us.
"Hulloa, fellows!" he said, "you 've made the great leap since I saw you, and changed from boys into men."
"Good evening, Miss Avery," he said, as we presented him to her. "May I trench on your hospitality a little? I am a traveller in these arctic regions, and Miss Mehitable charged me to call and see after the health and happiness of our young friends here. I see," he said, looking at us, "that there need be no inquiries after health; your looks speak for themselves."
"Why, Percival!" he said, turning to Harry, "what a pair of shoulders you are getting! Genuine Saxon blood runs in your veins plainly enough, and one of these days, when you get to be Sir Harry Percival, you 'll do honor to the name."
The proud, reserved blood flushed into Harry's face, and his blue eyes, usually so bright and clear, sparkled with displeasure. I was pleased to see that Ellery Davenport had made him angry. Yes, I said to myself, "What want of tact for him to dare to touch on a subject that Harry's most intimate friends never speak of!"
Esther looked fixedly at him with those clear, piercing hazel eyes, as if she were mentally studying him. I hoped she would not like him, yet why should I hope so?
He saw in a moment that he had made a mistake, and glided off quickly to another subject.
"Where 's my fair little enemy, Miss Tina?" he said.
His "fair little enemy" was at this moment attentively studying him through the crack in the window-curtain. Shall I say, too, that the first thing she did, on rushing up to her room, was to look at her hair, and study herself in the glass, wondering how she would look to him now. Well, she had not seen herself for some hours, and self-knowledge is a virtue, we all know. And then our scamper over the wood-pile, in the fresh, evening air must have deranged something, for Tina had one of those rebellious heads of curls that every breeze takes liberties with, and that have to be looked after and watched and restrained. Esther's satin bands of hair could pass though a whirlwind, and not lose their gloss. It is curious how character runs even to the minutest thing, – the very hairs of our heads are numbered by it, – Esther, always in everything self-poised, thoughtful, reflective; Tina, the child of every wandering influence, tremulously alive to every new excitement, a wind-harp for every air of heaven to breathe upon.
It would be hard to say what mysterious impulse for good or ill made her turn and run when she saw Ellery Davenport. That turning and running in girls means something; it means that the electric chain had been struck in some way; but how?
Mr. Davenport came into the house, and was received with frank cordiality by Mr. Avery. He was a grandson of Jonathan Edwards, and the good man regarded him as, in some sort, a son of the Church, and had, no doubt, instantaneous promptings for his conversion. Mr. Avery, though he believed stringently in the doctrine of total depravity, was very innocent in his application of it to individuals. That Ellery Davenport was a sceptic was well known in New England, wherever the reputation of his brilliant talents and person had circulated, and Mr. Avery had often longed for an opportunity to convert him. The dear, good man had no possible idea that anybody could go wrong from any thing but mistaken views, and he was sure, in the case of Ellery Davenport, that his mind must have been perplexed about free agency and decrees, and thus he hailed with delight the Providence which had sent him to his abode. He plunged into an immediate conversation with him about the state of France, whence he had just returned.
Esther, meanwhile, went up stairs to notify Tina of his arrival.
"Mr. Ellery Davenport is below, and had inquired for you."
Nobody could be more profoundly indifferent to any piece of news.
"Was that Mr. Ellery Davenport? How stupid of him to come here when we are all so tired! I don't think I can go down; I am too tired."
Esther, straightforward Esther, took things as stated. Tina, to be sure, had exhibited no symptoms of fatigue up to that moment; but Esther now saw that she had been allowing her to over-exert herself.
"My darling," she said, "I have been letting you do too much altogether. You are quite right; you should lie down here quietly, and I 'll bring you up your tea. Perhaps by and by, in the evening, you might come down and see Mr. Davenport, when you are rested."
"O nonsense about Mr. Davenport! he does n't come to see me. He wants to talk to your father, I suppose."
"But he has inquired for you two or three times," said Esther, "and he really seems to be a very entertaining, well-informed man; so by and by, if you feel rested, I should think you had better come down."
Now I, for my part, wondered then and wonder now, and always shall, what all this was for. Tina certainly was not a coquette; she had not learned the art of trading in herself, and using her powers and fascinations as women do who have been in the world, and learnt the precise value of everything that they say and do. She was, at least now, a simple child of nature, yet she acted exactly as an artful coquette might have done.
Ellery Davenport constantly glanced at the door as he talked with Mr. Avery, and shifted uneasily on his chair; evidently he expected her to enter, and when Esther returned without her he was secretly vexed and annoyed. I was glad of it, too, like a fool as I was. It would have been a thousand times better for my hopes had she walked straight out to meet him, cool and friendly, like Esther. There was one comfort; he was a married man; but then that crazy wife of his might die, or might be dead now. Who knew? To be sure, Ellery Davenport never had the air of a married man, – that steady, collected, sensible, restrained air which belongs to the male individual, conscious, wherever he moves, of a home tribunal, to which he is responsible. He had gone loose in society, pitied and petted and caressed by ladies, and everybody said, if his wife should die, Ellery Davenport might marry whom he pleased. Esther knew nothing about him, except a faint general outline of his history. She had no prepossessions for or against, and he laid himself out to please her in conversation, with that easy grace and quick perception of character which were habitual with him. Ellery Davenport had been a thriving young Jacobin, and Mr. Avery and Mr. Rossiter were fierce Federalists.
Mr. Rossiter came in to tea, and both of them bore down exultingly on Ellery Davenport in regard to the disturbances in France.
"Just what I always said!" said Mr. Rossiter. "French democracy is straight from the Devil. It 's the child of misrule, and leads to anarchy. See what their revolution is coming to. Well, I may not be orthodox entirely on the question of total depravity, but I always admitted the total depravity of the French nation."
"O, the French are men of like passions with us!" said Ellery Davenport. "They have been ground down and debased and imbruted till human nature can bear no longer, and now there is a sudden outbreak of the lower classes, – the turning of the worm."
"Not a worm," said Mr. Rossiter, "a serpent, and a strong one."
"Davenport," said Mr. Avery, "don't you see that all this is because this revolution is in the hands of atheists?"
"Certainly I do, sir. These fellows have destroyed the faith of the common people, and given them nothing in its place."
"I am glad to see you recognize that," said Mr. Avery.
"Recognize, my dear sir! Nobody knows the worth of religion as a political force better than I do. Those French people are just like children, – full of sentiment, full of feeling, full of fire, but without the cold, judging, logical power that is frozen into men here by your New England theology. If I have got to manage a republic, give me Calvinists."
"You admit, then," said Mr. Avery, delightedly, "the worth of Calvinism."
"As a political agent, certainly I do," said Ellery Davenport. "Men must have strong, positive religious beliefs to give them vigorous self-government; and republics are founded on the self-governing power of the individual."
"Davenport," said Mr. Avery, affectionately laying his hand on his shoulder, "I should like to have said that thing myself, I could n't have put it better."
"But do you suppose," said Esther, trembling with eagerness, "that they will behead the Queen?"
"Certainly I do," said Ellery Davenport, with that air of cheerful composure with which the retailer of the last horror delights to shock the listener. "O certainly! I would n't give a pin for her chance. You read the account of the trial, I suppose; you saw that it was a foregone conclusion?"
"I did, indeed," said Esther, "But, O Mr. Davenport! can nothing be done? There is Lafayette; can he do nothing?"
"Lafayette may think himself happy if he keeps his own head on his shoulders," said Davenport. "The fact is, that there is a wild beast in every human being. In our race it is the lion. In the French race it is the tiger, – hotter, more tropical, more blindly intense in rage and wrath. Religion, government, education, are principally useful in keeping the human dominant over the beast; but when the beast gets above the human in the community, woe be to it."
"Davenport, you talk like an apostle," said Mr. Avery.
"You know the devils believe and tremble," said Ellery.
"Well, I take it," said Mr. Rossiter, "you 've come home from France disposed to be a good Federalist."
"Yes, I have," said Ellery Davenport. "We must all live and learn, you know."
And so in one evening, Ellery witched himself into the good graces of every one in the simple parsonage; and when Tina at last appeared she found him reigning king of the circle. Mr. Rossiter, having drawn from him the avowal that he was a Federalist, now looked complacently upon him as a hopeful young neophyte. Mr. Avery saw evident marks of grace in his declarations in favor of Calvinism, while yet there was a spicy flavor of the prodigal son about him, – enough to engage him for his conversation. Your wild, wicked, witty prodigal son is to a spiritual huntsman an attractive mark, like some rare kind of eagle, whose ways must be studied, and whose nest must be marked, and in whose free, savage gambols in the blue air and on the mountain-tops he has a kind of hidden sympathy.
When Tina appeared, it was with an air unusually shy and quiet. She took all his compliments on her growth and change of appearance with a negligent, matter-of-course air, seated herself in the most distant part of the room, and remained obstinately still and silent. Nevertheless, it was to be observed that she lost not a word that he said, or a motion that he made. Was she in that stage of attraction which begins with repulsion? Or did she feel stirring within her that intense antagonism which woman sometimes feels toward man, when she instinctively divines that he may be the one who shall one day send a herald and call on her to surrender. Woman are so intense, they have such prophetic, fore-reaching, nervous systems, that sometimes they appear to be endowed with a gift of prophecy. Tina certainly was an innocent child at this time, uncalculating, and acting by instinct alone, and she looked upon Ellery Davenport as a married man, who was and ought to be and would be nothing to her; and yet, for the life of her, she could not treat him as she treated other men.
If there was in him something which powerfully attracted there was also something of the reverse pole of the magnet that repelled, and inspired a feeling not amounting to fear by having an undefined savor of dread, as if some invisible spirit about him gave mysterious warning. There was a sense of such hidden, subtile power under his suavities, the grasp of the iron hand was so plain through the velvet glove, that delicate and impressible natures felt it. Ellery Davenport was prompt and energetic and heroic; he had a great deal of impulsive good-nature, as his history in all our affairs shows. He was always willing to reach out the helping hand, and helped to some purpose when he did so; and yet I felt, rather than could prove, in his presence, that he could be very remorseless and persistently cruel.
Ellery Davenport inherited the whole Edwards nature, without its religious discipline, – a nature strong both in intellect and passion. He was an unbelieving Jonathan Edwards. It was this whole nature that I felt in him, and I looked upon the gradual interest which I saw growing in Tina toward him, in the turning of her thoughts upon him, in her flights from him and attraction to him, as one looks on the struggles of a fascinated bird, who flees and returns, and flees and returns, each time drawn nearer and nearer to the diamond eyes.
These impressions which come to certain kinds of natures are so dim and cloudy, it is so much the habit of the counter-current of life to disregard them, and to feel that an impression of which you no physical, external proof is of necessity an absurdity and a weakness, that they are seldom acted on, – seldom, at least, in New England, where the habit of logic is so formed from childhood in the mind, and the believing of nothing which you cannot prove is so constant a portion of the life education. Yet with regard to myself, as I have stated before, there was always a sphere of impression surrounding individuals, for which often I could give no reasonable account. It was as if there had been an emanation from the mind, like that from the body. From some it was an emanation of moral health and purity and soundness; from others, the sickly effluvium of moral decay, sometimes penetrating through all sorts of outward graces and accomplishments, like the smell of death though the tube-roses and lilies on the coffin.
I could not prove that Ellery Davenport was a wicked man but I had an instinctive abhorrence of him, for which I reproached myself constantly, deeming it only the madness of an unreasonable jealousy.
His stay with us at this time was only for a few hours. The next morning he took Harry alone and communicated to him some intelligence quite important to his future.
"I have been to visit your father," he said, "and have made him aware what treasures he possesses in his children."
"His children have no desire that he should be made aware of it," said Harry, coldly. "He has broken all ties between them and him."
"Well, well!" said Ellery Davenport, "the fact is Sir Harry had gone into the virtuous stage of an Englishman's life, where a man is busy taking care of gouty feet, looking after his tenants, and repenting at his leisure of the sins of his youth. But you will find, when you come to enter college next year, that there will be a handsome allowance at your disposal; and, between you and me, I 'll just say to you that young Sir Harry is about as puny and feeble a little bit of mortality as I ever saw. To my way of thinking, they 'll never raise him; and his life is all that stands between you and the estate. You know that I got your mother's marriage certificate, and it is safe in Parson Lothrop's hands. So you see there may be a brilliant future before you and your sister. It is well enough for you to know it early, and keep yourself and her free from entanglements. School friendships and flirtations and all that sort of thing are pretty little spring flowers, – very charming in their way and time; but it is n't advisable to let them lead us into compromising ourselves for life. If your future home is to be England, of course you will want your marriage to strengthen your position there."
"My future home will never be England," said Harry, briefly. "America has nursed me and educated me, and I shall always be, heart and soul, an American. My life must be acted in this country."
The other suggestion contained in Ellery Davenport's advice was passed over without a word. Harry was not one that could discuss his private relations with a stranger. He could not but feel obliged to Ellery Davenport for the interest that he had manifested in him, and yet there was something about this easy patronizing manner of giving advice that galled him. He was not yet old enough not to feel vexed at being reminded he was young.
It seemed but a few hours, and Ellery Davenport was gone again; and yet how he had changed everything! The hour that he drove up, how perfectly innocently happy and united we all were! Our thoughts needed not to go beyond the present moment: the moss that we had gathered from the wood-pile, and the landscapes that we were going to make with it, were greater treasures than all those of that unknown world of brightness and cleverness and wealth and station, out of which Ellery Davenport had shot like a comet, to astonish us, and then go back and leave us in obscurity.
Harry communicated the intelligence given him by Ellery Davenport, first to me, then to Tina and Esther and Mr. Avery, but begged that it not be spoken of beyond our little circle. It could and it should make no change, he said. But can expectations of such magnitude be awakened in young minds without change?
On the whole, Ellery Davenport left a trail of brightness behind him, notwithstanding my sinister suspicions. "How open-handed and friendly it was of him," said Esther, "to come up here, when he had so much on his hands! He told father that he should have to be in Washington next week, to talk with them there about the French affairs."
"And I hope he may do Tom Jefferson some good!" said Mr. Avery, indignantly, – "teach him what he is doing in encouraging this hideous, atheistical French revolution! Why, it will bring discredit on republics, and put back the cause of liberty in Europe a century! Davenport sees into that as plainly as I do."
"He 's a shrewd fellow," said Mr. Rossiter. "I heard him talk three or four years ago, when he was over here, and he was about as glib-tongued a Jacobin as you 'd wish to see; but now my young man has come around handsomely. I told him he ought to tell Jefferson just how the thing is working. I go for government by the respectable classes of society."
"Davenport evidently is not a regenerated man," said Mr. Avery, thoughtfully; "but as far as speculative knowledge goes, he is as good a theologian as his grandfather. I had a pretty thorough talk with him, before we went to bed last night, and he laid down the distinctions with a clearness and a precision that were astonishing. He sees right through that point of difference between natural and moral inability, and he put it into a sentence that was as neat and compact and clear as a quartz crystal. I think there was a little rub in his mind on the consistency of the freedom of the will with the divine decrees and I just touched him off with an illustration or two there, and I could see, by the flash of his eye, how quickly he took it. 'davenport,' said I to him, 'you are made for the pulpit; you ought to be in it.'
"'I know it,' he said, 'mr. Avery; but the trouble is, I am not good enough. I think,' he said, 'sometimes I should like to have been as good a man as my grandfather; but then, you see, there 's the world, the flesh, and the Devil, who all have something to say to that.'
"'Well,' says I, 'davenport, the world and the flesh last only a little while – '
"'But the Devil and I last forever, I suppose you mean to say,' said he, getting up with a sort of careless swing; and then he said he must go to bed; but before he went he reached out his hand and smiled on me, and said, 'Good night, and thank you, Mr. Avery.' That man has a beautiful smile. It 's like a spirit in his face."
Had Ellery Davenport been acting the hypocrite with Mr. Avery? Supposing a man is made like an organ, with two or three bands of keys, and ever so many stops, so that he can play all sorts of tunes on himself; is it being a hypocrite with each person to play precisely the tune, and draw out exactly the stop, which he knows will make himself agreeable and further his purposes? Ellery Davenport did understand the New England theology as thoroughly as Mr. Avery. He knew it from turret to foundation-stone. He knew all the evidences of natural and revealed religion, and, when he chose to do so, could make most conclusive arguments upon them. He had a perfect appreciation of devotional religion, and knew precisely what it would do for individuals. He saw into politics with unerring precision, and knew what was in men, and whither things were tending. His unbelief was purely and simply what had been called in New England the natural opposition of the heart to God. He loved his own will, and he hated control, and he determined, per fas aut nefas, to carry his own plans in this world, and attend to the other when he got to it. To have his own way, and to carry his own points, and to do so as he pleased, were the ruling purposes of his life.
THE day was coming now that the idyl of Cloudland must end, and our last term wound up with a grand dramatic entertainment.
It was a time-honored custom in New England academics to act a play once a year as the closing exercise, and we resolved that our performance should surpass all other in scenic effect.
The theme of the play was to be the story of Jephthah's daughter, from the Old Testament. It had been suggested at first to take Miss Hannah More's sacred drama upon this subject; but Tina insisted upon it that it would be a great deal better to write an original drama ourselves, each taking a character, and composing one's own part.
Tina was to be Jephthah's daughter, and Esther her mother; and a long opening scene between them was gotten up by the two in a private session at their desks in the school-room one night, and, when perfected, was read to Harry and me for our critical judgement. The conversation was conducted in blank verse, with the usual appropriate trimmings and flourishes of that species of literature, and, on the whole, even at this time, I do not see but that it was quite as good as Miss Hannah More's.
There was some skirmishing between Harry and myself about our parts, Harry being, as I thought, rather too golden-haired and blue-eyed for the grim resolve and fierce agonies of Jephthah. Moreover, the other part was to be that of Tina's lover, and he was to act very desperate verses indeed, and I represented to Harry privately that here, for obvious reasons, I was calculated to succeed. But Tina overruled me with that easy fluency of good reasons which the young lady always had at command. "Harry would make altogether the best lover," she said; "he was just cut out for a lover. Then, besides, what does Horace know about it? Harry has been practising for six months, and Horace has n't even begun to think of such things yet."
This was one of those stringent declarations that my young lady was always making with regard to me, giving me to understand that her whole confidence in me was built entirely upon my discretion. Well, I was happy enough to let it go so, for Ellery Davenport had gone like an evening meteor, and we had ceased talking and thinking about him. He was out of our horizon entirely. So we spouted blank verse at each other, morning, noon, and night, with the most cheerful courage. Tina and Harry had, both of them, a considerable share of artistic talent, and made themselves very busy in drawing and painting scenery, – a work in which the lady principal, Miss Titcomb, gave every assistance; although, as Tina said, her views of scenery were mostly confined to what was proper for tombstones. "But then," she added, "let her have the whole planning of my grave, with a great weeping willow over it, – that 'll be superb! I believe the weeping willows will be out by that time, and we can have real branches. Won't that be splendid!"
Then there was the necessity of making our own drama popular, by getting in the greatest possible number of our intimate friends and acquaintances. So Jephthah had to marshal an army on the stage, and there was no end of paper helmets to be made. In fact, every girl in school who could turn her hand to anything was making a paper helmet.
There was to be a procession of Judæan maidens across the stage, bearing the body of Jephthah's daughter on a bier, after the sacrifice. This took in every leading girl in the school; and as they were all to be dressed in white, with blue ribbons, one may fancy the preparation going on in all the houses far and near. There was also to be a procession of youths, bearing the body of the faithful lover, who, of course, was to die, to keep departed company in the shades.
We had rehearsals every night for a fortnight, and Harry, Tina, and I officiated as stage-managers. It is incredible the trouble we had. Esther acted the part of Judæan matron to perfection, – her long black hair being let down and dressed after a picture in the Biblical Dictionary, which Tina insisted upon must be authentic. Esther, however, rebelled at the nose-jewels. There was no making her understand the Oriental taste of the thing; she absolutely declined the embellishment, and finally it was agreed among us that the nose-jewels should be left to the imagination.
Harry looked magnificent, with the help of a dark mustache, which Tina very adroitly compounded of black ravelled yarn, arranging it with such delicacy that it had quite the effect of hair. The difficulty was that in impassioned moments the mustache was apt to get awry; and once or twice, while on his knees before Tina in tragical attitudes, this occurrence set her off into hysterical giggles, which spoiled the effect of the rehearsal. But at last we contrived a plaster which the most desperate plunges of agony could not possibly disarrange.
As my eyes and hair were black, when I had mounted a towering helmet overshadowed by a crest of bear-skin, fresh from an authentic bear that Heber Atwood had killed only two weeks before, I made a most fateful and portentous Jephthah, and flattered myself secretly on the tragical and gloomy emotions excited in the breasts of divers of my female friends.
I composed for myself a most towering and lofty entrance scene, when I came in glory at the head of my troops. I could not help plagiarizing Miss Hannah More's first line: –
"On Jordan's banks proud Ammon's banners wave."
Any writer of poems will pity me, when he remembers his own position, if he has ever tried to make a verse on some subject and been stuck and pierced through by some line of another poet, which so sticks in his head and his memory that there is no possibility of his saying the thing any other way. I tried beginning, –
"On Salem's plains the summer sun is bright";but when I looked at my troop of helmets and the very startling banner which we were to display, and reflected that Josh Billings was to give an inspiring blast on a bugle behind the scenes, I perfectly longed to do the glorious and magnificent, and this resounding line stood right in my way.
"Well, dear me, Horace," said Tina, "take it, and branch off from it, – make a text of it."
And so I did. How martial and Miltonic I was! I really made myself feel quite serious and solemn with the pomp and glory of my own language; but I contrived to introduce into my resounding verses and most touching description of my daughter, in which I exhausted Oriental images and similes on her charms. Esther and I were to have rather a tender scene, on parting, as she was to be my wife; but then we minded it not a jot. The adroitness with which both these young girls avoided getting into relations that might savor of reality was an eminent instance of feminine tact. And while Harry was playing the impassioned lover at Tina's feet, Esther looked at him slyly, with just the slightest shade of consciousness, – something as slight as the quivering of an eyelash, or a tremulous flush on her fair cheek. There was fire under that rose-colored snow after all, and that was what gave a subtle charm to the whole thing.
We had an earnest discussion among us four as to what was proper to be done with the lover. Harry insisted upon it, that, after tearing his hair and executing all the proprieties of despair, he should end by falling on his sword; and he gave us two or three extemporaneous representations of the manner in which he intended to bring out this last scene. How we streamed with laughter over these discussions, as Harry, whose mat of curls was somewhat prodigious, ran up and down the room, howling distractedly, running his fingers through his hair until each separate curl stood on end, and his head was about the size of a half-bushel! We nearly killed ourselves laughing over our tragedy, but still the language thereof was none the less broken-hearted and impassioned.
Tina was vindictive and bloodthirsty in her determination that the tragedy should be of the deepest dye. She exhibited the ferocity of a little pirate in her utter insensibility to the details of blood and murder, and would not hear of any concealment, or half-measures, to spare anybody's feelings. She insisted upon being stabbed on the stage, and she had rigged up a kitchen carving-knife with a handle of gilt paper, ornamented with various breastpins of the girls, which was celebrated in florid terms in her part of the drama as a Tyrian dagger.
"Why Tyrian," objected Harry, "when it is the Jews that are fighting the Ammonites?"
"O nonsense, Harry! Tyrian sounds a great deal better, and the Ammonites, I don't doubt, had Tyrian daggers," said Tina, who displayed a feminine facility in the manufacture of facts. "Tyre, you know," she added, "was the country where all sorts of things were made: Tyrian purple and Tyrian mantles, – of course they must have made daggers, and the Jews must have got them, – of course they must! I 'm going to have it, not only a Tyrian dagger, but a sacred dagger, taken away from a heathen temple and consecrated to the service of the Lord. And only see what a sheath I have made for it! Why, at this distance it could n't be told from gold! And how do you suppose that embossed work is made? Why, it 's different-colored grains of rice and gilt paper rolled up!"
It must be confessed that nobody enjoyed Tina's successes more heartily than she did herself. I never knew anybody who had a more perfect delight in the work of her own hands.
It was finally concluded, in full concert, that the sacrifice was to be performed at an altar, and here came an opportunity for Miss Titcomb's proficiency in tombstones to exercise itself. Our altar was to be like the lower part of a monument, so we decided, and Miss Titcomb had numerous patterns of this kind, subject to our approval. It was to be made life-size, of large sheets of pasteboard, and wreathed with sacrificial garlands.
Tina was to come in at the head of a chorus of wailing maidens, who were to sing a most pathetic lamentation over her. I was to stand grim and resolved, with my eyes rolled up into my helmet, and the sacrificial Tyrian dagger in my hands, when she was to kneel down before the altar, which was to have real flame upon it. The top of the altar was made to conceal a large bowl of alcohol, and before the entering of the procession the lights were all to be extinguished, and the last scene was to be witnessed by the lurid glare of the burning light on the altar. Any one who has ever tried the ghostly, spectral, supernatural appearance which his very dearest friend may be made to have by this simple contrivance, can appreciate how very sanguine our hopes must have been of the tragical power of this dénouement.
All came about quite as we could have hoped. The academy hall was packed and crammed to the ceiling, and our acting was immensely helped by the loudly expressed sympathy of the audience, who entered into the play with the most undisguised conviction of its reality. When the lights were extinguished, and the lurid flame flickered up on the altar, and Tina entered dressed in white with her long hair streaming around her, and with an inspired look of pathetic resignation in her large, earnest eyes, a sort of mournful shudder of reality came over me, and the words I had said so many times concerning the sacrifice of the victim became suddenly intensely real; it was a sort of stage illusion, an overpowering belief in the present.
The effect of the ghastly light on Tina's face, on Esther's and Harry's, as they grouped themselves around in the preconcerted attitudes, was really overwhelming.
It had been arranged that, at the very moment when my hand was raised, Harry, as the lover, should rush forward with a shriek, and receive the dagger in his own bosom. This was the last modification of our play, after many successive rehearsals, and the success was prodigious. I stabbed Harry to the heart, Tina gave a piercing shriek and fell dead at his side, and then I plunged the dagger into my own heart, and the curtain fell, amid real weeping and wailing from many unsophisticated, soft-hearted old women.
Then came the last scene, – the procession of youths and maidens across the stage, bearing the bodies of the two lovers, – the whole ending in an admirably constructed monument, over which a large willow was seen waving. This last gave to Miss Titcomb, as she said, more complete gratification than any scene that had been exhibited. The whole was a most triumphant success.
Heber Atwood's "old woman" declared that she caught her breath, and thought she "should ha' fainted clean away when she see that gal come in." And as there was scarcely a house in which there was not a youth or a maiden who had borne a part in the chorus, all Cloudland shared in the triumph.
By way of dissipating the melancholy feelings consequent upon the tragedy, we had a farce called "Our Folks," which was acted extemporaneously by Harry, Tina, and myself, consisting principally in scenes between Harry as Sam Lawson, Tina as Hepsie, and myself as Uncle Fliakim, come in to make a pastoral visit, and exhort them how to get along and manage their affairs more prosperously. There had been just enough strain upon our nerves, enough reality of tragic exultation, to excite that hysterical quickness of humor which comes when the nervous system is well up. I let off my extra steam in Uncle Fliakim with a good will, as I danced in in my black silk tights, knocking down the spinning-wheel, upsetting the cradle, setting the babies to crying, and starting Hepsie's tongue, which lost nothing of force or fluency in Tina's reproduction. How the little elf could have transformed herself in a few moments into such a peaked, sharp, wiry-featured, virulent-tongued virago, was a matter of astonishment to us all; while Harry, with a suit of fluttering old clothes, with every joint dissolving in looseness, and with his bushy hair in a sort of dismayed tangle, with his cheeks sucked in and his eyes protruding, gave an inimitable Sam Lawson.
The house was convulsed; the screams and shrieks of laughter quite equalled the moans of distress in our tragedy.
And so the curtain fell on our last exhibition in Cloudland. The next day was all packing of trunks and taking of leave, and last words from Mr. Rossiter and Mr. Avery to the school, and settling of board-bills and school-bills, and sending back all the breastpins from the Tyrian dagger, and a confused kicking about of helmets, together with interchanges between various Johns and Joans of vows of eternal constancy, assurances from some fair ones that, "though they could not love, they should always regard as a brother," and from some of our sex to the same purport toward gentle-hearted Aramintas, – very pleasant to look upon and charming to dwell upon, – who were not, after all, our chosen Aramintas; and there was no end of three and four-paged notes written, in which Susan Ann told Susan Jane that "never, never shall we forget the happy hours we 've spent together on Cloudland hill, – never shall the hand of friendship grow cold, or the heart of friendship cease to beat with emotion."
Poor dear souls all of us! We meant every word that we said.
It was only the other day that I called in a house on Beacon Street to see a fair sister, to whom on this occasion I addressed a most pathetic note, and who sent me a very pretty curl of golden-brown hair. Now she is Mrs. Boggs, and the sylph that was is concealed under a most enormous matron; the room trembles when she sets her foot down. But I found her heart in the centre of the ponderous mass, and, as I am somewhat inclining to be a stout old gentleman, we shook the room with out merriment. Such is life!
The next day Tina was terribly out of spirits, and had two or three hours of long and bitter crying, the cause of which none of our trio could get out of her.
The morning that we were to leave she went around bidding good by to everybody and everything, for there was not a creature in Cloudland that did not claim some part in her, and for whom she had not a parting word. And, finally, I proposed that we should go in to the schoolmaster together and have a last good time with him, and then, with one of her sudden impulsive starts, she turned her back on me.
"No, no, Horace! I don't want to see him any more!"
I was in blank amazement for a moment, and then I remembered the correspondence on the improvement of her mind.
"Tina, you don't tell me," said I, "that Mr. Rossiter has – "
She turned quickly round and faced on the defensive.
"Now, Horace, you need not talk to me, for it is not my fault! Could I dream of such a thing, now? Could I? Mr. Rossiter, of all the men on earth! Why, Horace, I do love him dearly. I never had any father – that cared for me, at least," she said, with a quiver in her voice; "and he was beginning to seem so like a father to me. I loved him, I respected him, I reverenced him, – and now was I wrong to express it?"
"Why, but, Tina," said I, in amazement, "Mr. Rossiter cannot – he could not mean to marry you!"
"No, no. He says that he would not. He asked nothing. It all seemed to come out before he thought what he was saying, – that he has been thinking altogether too much of me, and that when I go it will seem as if all was gone that he cares for. I can't tell you how he spoke, Horace; there was something fearful in it, and he trembled. O Horace, he loves me nobly, disinterestedly, truly; but I felt guilty for it. I felt that such a power of feeling never ought to rest on such a bit of thistle-down as I am. Oh! why would n't he stay on the height where I had put him, and let me reverence and admire him, and have him to love as my father?"
"But Tina, you cannot, you must not now – "
"I know it, Horace. I have lost him for a friend and father and guide because he will love me too well."
And so ends Mr. Jonathan Rossiter's Spartan training.
My good friends of the American Republic, if ever we come to have mingled among the senators of the United States specimens of womankind like Tina Percival, we men remaining such as we by nature are and must be, will not the general hue of polities take a decidedly new and interesting turn?
Mr. Avery parted from us with some last words of counsel.
"You are going into college life, boys, and you must take care of your bodies. Many a boy breaks down because he keeps his country appetite and loses his country exercise. You must balance study and brain-work by exercise and muscle-work, or you 'll be down with dyspepsia, and won't know what ails you. People have wondered where the seat of original sin is; I think it 's in the stomach. A man eats too much and neglects exercise, and the Devil has him all his own way, and the little imps, with their long black fingers, play on his nerves like a piano. Never overwork either body or mind, boys. All the work that a man can do that can be rested by one night's sleep is good for him, but fatigue that goes into the next day is always bad. Never get discouraged at difficulties. I give you both this piece of advice. When you get into a tight place, and everything goes against you till it seems as if you could n't hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that 's just the place and time that the tide 'll turn. Never trust to prayer without using every means in your power, and never use the means without trusting in prayer. Get your evidences of grace by pressing forward to the mark, and not by groping with a lantern after the boundary-lines, – and so, boys, go, and God bless you!"
* Cambridge Platform Mather's Magnalia, page 227, article 7.
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