"Chapters XL-L." by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
HARRY and I entered Cambridge with honor. It was a matter of pride with Mr. Rossiter that his boys should go more than ready, – that an open and abundant entrance should be administered unto them in the classic halls; and so it was with us. We were fully prepared on the conditions of the sophomore year, and thus, by Mr. Rossiter's drill, had saved the extra expenses of one year of college life.
We had our room in common, and Harry's improved means enabled him to fit it up and embellish it in an attractive manner. Tina came over and presided at the inauguration, and helped us hang our engravings, and fitted up various little trifles of shell and moss work, – memorials of Cloudland.
Tina was now visiting at the Kitterys', in Boston, dispensing smiles and sunbeams, inquired after and run after by every son of Adam who happened to come in her way, all to no purpose, so far as her heart was concerned.
"Favors to none, to all she smiles extends;
Oft she rejects, but never once offends."
Tina's education was now, in the common understanding of society, looked upon as finished. Harry's and mine were commencing; we were sophomores in college. She was a young lady in society; yet she was younger than either of us, and had, I must say, quite as good a mind, and was fully as capable of going through our college course with us as of having walked thus far.
However, with her the next question was, Whom will she marry? – a question that my young lady seemed not in the slightest hurry to answer. I flattered myself on her want of susceptibility that pointed in the direction of marriage. She could feel so much friendship, – such true affection, – and yet was apparently so perfectly devoid of passion.
She was so brilliant, and so fitted to adorn society, that one would have thought she would have been ennuyée in the old Rossiter house, with only the society of Miss Mehitable and Polly; but Tina was one of those whose own mind and nature are sufficient excitement to keep them always burning. She loved her old friend with all her little heart, and gave to her all her charms and graces, and wound round her in a wild-rose garland, like the eglantine that she was named after.
She had cultivated her literary tastes and powers. She wrote and sketched and painted for Miss Mehitable, and Miss Mehitable was most appreciative. Her strong, shrewd, well-cultivated mind felt and appreciated the worth and force of everything there was in Tina, and Tina seemed perfectly happy and satisfied with one devoted admirer. However, she had two, for Polly still survived, being of the dry immortal species, and seemed, as Tina told her, quite as good as new. And Tina once more had uproarious evenings with Miss Mehitable and Polly, delighting herself with the tumults of laughter which she awakened.
She visited and patronized Sam Lawson's children, gave them candy and told them stories, and now and then brought home Hepsie's baby for a half-day, and would busy herself dressing it up in something new of her own invention and construction. Poor Hepsie was one of those women fated always to have a baby in which she seemed to have no more maternal pleasure than an old fowling-piece. But Tina looked at her on the good-natured and pitiful side, although, to be sure, she did study her with a view to dramatic representation, and made no end of capital of her in this way in the bosom of her own family. Tina's mimicry and mockery had not the slightest tinge of contempt or ill-feeling in it; it was pure merriment, and seemed to be just as natural to her as the freakish instincts of the mocking-bird, who sits in the blossoming boughs above your head, and sends back every sound that you hear with a wild and airy gladness.
Tina's letters to us were full of this mirthful, effervescent sparkle, to which everything in Oldtown afforded matter of amusement; and the margins of them were scrawled with droll and lifelike caricatures, in which we recognized Sam Lawson, and Hepsie, and Uncle Fliakim, and, in fact, all the Oldtown worthies, – not even excepting Miss Mehitable and Polly, the minister and his lady, my grandmother, Aunt Lois, and Aunt Keziah. What harm was there in all this, when Tina assured us that aunty read the letters before they went, and laughed until she cried over them?
"But, after all," I said to Harry one day, "it 's rather a steep thing for girls that have kept step with us in study up to this point, and had their minds braced just as ours have been, with all the drill of regular hours and regular lessons, to be suddenly let down, with nothing in particular to do."
"Except to wait the coming man," said Harry, "who is to teach her what to do."
"Well," said I, "in the interval, while this man is coming, what has Tina to do but to make a frolic of life? to live like a bobolink on a clover-head, to sparkle like a dewdrop in a thorn bush, to whirl like a bubble on a stream? Why could n't she as well find the coming man while she is doing something as while she is doing nothing? Esther and you found each other while you were working side by side, your minds lively and braced, toiling at the same great ideas, knowing each other in the very noblest part of your natures; and you are true companions; it is a mating of souls and not merely of bodies."
"I know that," said Harry, "I know, too, that in these very things that I set my heart on in the college course Esther is by far my superior. You know, Horace, that she was ahead of us in both Greek and mathematics; and why should she not go through the whole course with us as well as the first part? The fact is, a man never sees a subject thoroughly until he sees what a woman will think of it, for there is a woman's view of every subject, which has a different shade from a man's view, and that is what you and I have insensibly been absorbing in all our course hitherto. How splendidly Esther lighted up some of those passages of the Greek tragedy! and what a sparkle and glitter there were in some of Tina's suggestions! All I know, Horace, is that it is confoundedly dull being without them; these fellows are well enough, but they are cloddish and lumpish."
Well," said I, "that is n't the worst of it. When such a gay creature of the elements as Tina is has nothing earthly to do to steady her mind and task her faculties, and her life becomes a mere glitter, and her only business to amuse the passing hour, it throws her open to all sorts of temptations from that coming man, whoever he may be. Can we wonder that girls love to flirt, and try their power on lovers? And then they are fair game for men who want to try their powers on them, and some man who has a vacation in his life purpose, and wants something to amuse him, makes an episode by getting up some little romance, which is an amusement to him, but all in all to her. Is that fair?"
"True," said Harry, "and there 's everything about Tina to tempt one; she is so dazzling and bewildering and exciting that a man might intoxicate himself with her for the mere pleasure of the thing, as one takes opium or champagne; and that sort of bewilderment and intoxication girls often mistake for love! I would to Heaven, Horace, that I were as sure that Tina loves you as I am that Esther loves me."
"She does love me with her heart," said I, "but not with her imagination. The trouble with Tina, Harry, is this: she is a woman that can really and truly love a man as a sister, or as a friend, or as a daughter, and she is a woman that no man can love in that way long. She feels nothing but affection, and she always creates passion. I have not the slightest doubt that she loves me dearly, but I have a sort of vision that between her and me will come some one who will kindle her imagination; and all the more so that she has nothing serious to do, nothing to keep her mind braced, and her intellectual and judging faculties in the ascendant, but is fairly set adrift, just like a little flowery boat, without steersman or oars, on a bright, swift-rushing river. Did you ever notice, Harry, what a singular effect Ellery Davenport seems to have on her?"
"No," said Harry, starting and looking surprised. "Why, Horace, Ellery Davenport is a good deal older than she is, and a married man too."
"Well, Harry, did n't you ever hear of married men that liked to try experiments with girls? and in our American society they can do it all the more safely, because here, thank Heaven! nobody ever dreams but what marriage is a perfect regulator and safeguard."
"But," said Harry, rubbing his eyes like a person just waking up, "Horace, it must be the mere madness of jealousy that would put such a thing into your head. Why, there has n't been the slightest foundation for it."
"That is to say, Harry, you 've been in love with Esther, and your eyes and ears and senses have all run one way. But I have lived in Tina, and I believe I have a sort of divining power, so that I can almost see into her heart. I feel in myself how things affect her, and I know, by feeling and sensation, that from her childhood Ellery Davenport has had a peculiar magnetic effect upon her."
"But, Horace, he is a married man," persisted Harry.
"A fascinating married man, victimized by a crazy wife, and ready to throw himself on the sympathies of womanhood in this affliction. The fair sex are such Good Samaritans that some fellows make capital of their wounds and bruises."
"Well, but," said Harry, "there 's not the slightest thing that leads me to think that he ever cared particularly about Tina."
"That 's because you are Tina's brother, and not her lover," said I. "I remember as long ago as when we were children, spending Easter at Madam Kittery's, how Ellery Davenport's eyes used to follow her, – how she used constantly to seem to excite and interest him; and all this zeal about your affairs, and his coming up to Oldtown, and cultivating Miss Mehitable's acquaintance so zealously, and making himself so necessary to her; and then he has always been writing letters or sending messages to Tina, and then, when he was up in Cloudland, did n't you see how constantly his eyes followed her? He came there for nothing but to see her, – I 'm perfectly sure of it."
"Well, Horace, you are about as absurd as a lover need be!" said Harry. "Mr. Davenport is rather a conceited man of the world; I think he patronized me somewhat extensively; but all this about Tina is a romance of your own spinning, you may be sure of it."
This conversation occurred one Saturday morning, while we were dressing and arraying ourselves to go into Boston, where we had engaged to dine at Madam Kittery's.
From the first of our coming to Cambridge, we had remembered our old-time friendship for the Kitterys, and it was an arranged thing that we were to dine with them every Saturday. The old Kittery mansion we had found the same still, charming, quaint, inviting place that it seemed to us in our childhood. The years that had passed over the silvery head of dear old Madam Kittery had passed lightly and reverently, each one leaving only a benediction.
She was still to be found, when we called, seated, as in days long ago, on her little old sofa in the sunny window, and with her table of books before her, reading her Bible and Dr. Johnson, and speaking on "Peace and good-will to men."
As to Miss Debby, she was as up and down, as high-stepping and outspoken and pleasantly sub-acid as ever. The French Revolution had put her in a state of good-humor hardly to be conceived of. It was so delightful to have all her theories of the bad effects of republics on lower classes illustrated and confirmed in such a striking manner, that even her indignation at the destruction of such vast numbers of the aristocracy was but a slight feature in comparison with it.
She kept the newspapers and magazines at hand which contained all the accounts of the massacres, mobbings, and outrages, and read them, in a high tone of voice, to her serving-women, butler, and footman after family prayers. She catechized more energetically than ever, and bore more stringently on ordering one's self lowly and reverently to one's betters, enforcing her remarks by the blood-and-thunder stories of the guillotine in France.
We were hardly seated in the house, and had gone over the usual track of inquiries which fill up the intervals, when she burst forth on us, triumphant.
"Well, my English papers have come in. Have you seen the last news from France? They 're at it yet, hotter than ever. One would think that murdering the king and queen might have satisfied them, but it don't a bit. Everybody is at it now, cutting everybody's else throat, and there really does seem to be a prospect that the whole French nation will become extinct."
"Indeed," said Harry, with an air of amusement. "Well, Miss Debby, I suppose you think that would be the best way of settling things."
"Don't know but it would," said Miss Debby, putting on her spectacles in a manner which pushed her cap-border up into a bristling, helmet-like outline, and whirling over her file of papers, seemingly with a view to edifying us with the most startling morsels of French history for the six months past.
"Here 's the account of how they worshipped 'the Goddess of Reason'!" She cried, eyeing us fiercely, as if we had been part and party in the transaction. "Here 's all about how their philosophers and poets, and what not, put up a drab, and worshipped her as their 'Goddess of Reason'! And then they annulled the Sabbath, and proclaimed that 'death is an Eternal Sleep'! Now, that is just what Tom Jefferson likes; it 's what suits him. I read it to Ellery Davenport yesterday, to show him what his principles come to."
Harry immediately hastened to assure Miss Debby that we were stanch Federalists, and not in the least responsible for any of the acts or policy of Thomas Jefferson.
"Don't know anything about that; you see it 's the Democrats that have got the country, and are running as hard as they can after France. Ah, here it is," Miss Debby added, still turning over her files of papers. "Here are the particulars of the execution of the queen. You can see, – they had her on a common cart, hands tied behind her, rattling and jolting, with all the vile fishwomen and dirty drabs of Paris leering and jeering at her, and they even had the cruelty," she added, coming indignantly at us as if we were responsible for it, "to stop the cart in front of her palace, so that she might be agonized at seeing her former home, and they might taunt her in her agonies! Anybody that can read that, and not say the French are devils, I 'd like to know what they are made of!"
"Well," said Harry, undismayed by the denunciations; "the French are an exceedingly sensitive and excitable people, who had been miseducated and mismanaged, and taught brutality and cruelty by the examples of the clergy and nobility."
"Excitable fiddlesticks!" said Miss Debby, who, like my grandmother, had this peculiar way of summing up an argument. "I don't believe in softening sin and iniquity by such sayings as that."
"But you must think," said Harry, "that the French are human beings, and only act as any human beings would under their circumstances."
"Don't believe a word of it!" said she, shortly. "I agree with the man who said, 'God made two kinds of nature, – human nature and French nature.' Voltaire, was n't it, himself, that said the French were a compound of the tiger and the monkey? I wonder what Tom Jefferson thinks of his beautiful, darling French Republic now! I presume he likes it. I don't doubt it is just such a state of things as he is trying to bring to pass here in America."
"O," said I, "the Federalists will head him at the next election."
"I don't know anything about your Democrats and your Federalists," said she. "I thank Heaven I wash my hands of this government."
"And does King George still reign here?" said Harry.
"Certainly he does, young gentleman! Whatever happens to this government, I have no part in it."
Miss Debby, upon this, ushered us to the dinner-table, and said grace in a resounding, and belligerent voice, and, sitting down, began to administer the soup to us with great determination.
Old Madam Kittery, who had listened with a patient smile to all the preceding conversation, now began in a gentle aside to me.
"I really don't think it is good for Debby to read those bloody-bone stories morning, noon, and night, as she does," she said. "She really almost takes away my appetite some days, and it does seem as if she would n't talk about anything else. Now, Horace," she said to me, appealingly, "the Bible says 'Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity,' and I can't help feeling that Debby talks as if she were really glad to see those poor French making such a mess of things. I can't feel so. If they are French, they 're our brothers, you know, and Debby really seems to go against the Bible, – not that she means to, dear," she added, earnestly, laying her hand on mine; "Debby is an excellent woman; but, between you and me, I think she is a little excitable."
"What 's that mother 's saying?" said Miss Debby, who kept a strict survey over all the sentiments expressed in her household. "What was mother saying?"
"I was saying, Debby, that I did n't think it did any good for you to keep reading over and over those dreadful things."
"And who does keep reading them over?" said Miss Debby, "I should like to know. I 'm sure I don't; except when it is absolutely necessary to instruct the servants and put them on their guard. I 'm sure I am as averse to such details as anybody can be."
Miss Debby said this with that innocent air with which good sort of people very generally maintain that they never do things which most of their acquaintances consider them particular nuisances for doing.
"By the by, Horace," said Miss Debby, by way of changing the subject, "have you seen Ellery Davenport since he came home?"
"No," said I, with a sudden feeling as if my heart was sinking down into my boots. "Has he come home to stay?"
"O yes," said Miss Debby; "his dear, sweet, model, Republican France grew too hot to hold him. He had to flee to England, and now he has concluded to come home and make what mischief he can here, with his democratic principles and his Rousseau and all the rest of them."
"Debby is n't as set against Ellery as she seems to be," said the old lady, in an explanatory aside to me. "You know, dear, he 's her cousin."
"And you really think he intends to live in this country for the future?" said I.
"Well, I suppose so." said Miss Debby. "You know that poor, miserable, crazy wife of his is dead, and my lord is turned loose on society as a widower at large, and all the talk here in good circles is, Who is the blessed woman that shall be Mrs. Ellery Davenport the second? The girls are all pulling caps for him, of course."
It was perfectly ridiculous and absurd, but I suddenly lost all appetite for my dinner, and sat back in my chair playing with my knife and fork, until the old lady said to me compassionately: –
"Why, dear, you don't seem to be eating anything! Debby, put an oyster-paté on Horace's plate; he don't seem to relish his chicken."
I had to submit to the oyster-paté, and sit up and eat it like a man, to avoid the affectionate importunity of my dear old friend. In despair, I plunged into the subject least agreeable to me, and remarked: –
"Mr. Davenport is a very brilliant man, and I suppose in very good circumstances; is he not?"
"Yes, enormously rich," said Miss Debby. "He still passes for young, with that face of his that never will grow old, I believe. And then he has a tongue that could wheedle a bird out of a tree; so I don't know what is to hinder him from having as many wives as Solomon, if he feels so disposed. I don't imagine there is anybody would say 'No' to him."
"Well, I hope he will marry a good girl," said the old lady, "poor dear boy. I always loved Ellery; and he would make any woman happy, I am sure."
"That depends," said Miss Debby, "on what the woman wants. If she wants laces and cashmere shawls, and horses and carriages, and a fine establishment, Ellery Davenport will give her those. But if she wants a man to love her all her life, that 's what Ellery Davenport can't do for any woman. He is a man that never cares for anything he has got. It 's always the thing that he has n't got that he 's after. It 's the 'pot of money at the end of the rainbow,' or the 'philosopher's stone,' or any other thing that keeps a man all his life on a canter, and never getting anywhere. And no woman will ever be anything to him but a temporary diversion. Ho can amuse himself in too many ways to want her."
"Yes," said the old lady, "but when a man marries he promises to cherish her."
"My dear mother, that is in the Church Service, and I assure you Ellery Davenport has got beyond that. He 's altogether too fine and wise and enlightened to think that a man should spend his days in cherishing a woman merely because he went through the form of marriage with her in church. Much cherishing his crazy wife got of him! but he used his affliction to get half a dozen girls in love with him, so that he might be cherished himself. I tell you what, – Ellery Davenport lays out to marry a real angel. He 's to swear and she 's to pray! He is to wander where he likes, and she is always to meet him with a smile and ask no questions. That is the part for Mrs Ellery Davenport to act."
"I don't believe a word of it, Debby," said the old lady "You 'll see now, – you 'll see."
WE walked home that night by starlight, over the long bridge between Boston and Cambridge, and watched the image of the great round yellow moon just above the horizon, breaking and shimmering in the water into a thousand crystal fragments, like an orb of golden glass. We stopped midway in the calm obscurity, with our arms around each other, and had one of those long talks that friends, even the most confidential, can have only in the darkness. Cheek to cheek under the soft dim mantle of the starlight, the night flowers of the innermost soul open.
We talked of our loves, our hopes, of the past, the present, and the great hereafter, in which we hoped forever to mingle. And then Harry spoke to me of his mother, and told in burning words of that life of bitterness and humiliation and sorrow through which he had passed with her.
"O Harry," said I, "did it not try your faith, that God should have left her to suffer all that?"
"No, Horace, no, because in all that suffering she conquered, – she was more than conqueror. O, I have seen such divine peace in her eyes, at the very time when everything earthly was failing her! Can I ever doubt? I who saw into heaven when she entered? No, I have seen her crowned, glorified, in my soul as plainly as if it had been a vision."
At that moment I felt in myself that magnetic vibration of the great central nerves which always prefaced my spiritual visions, and looking up I saw that the beautiful woman I had seen once before was standing by Harry, but now more glowing and phosphorescent than I saw her last; there was a divine, sweet, awful radiance in her eyes, as she raised her hands above his head, he, meanwhile, stooping down and looking intently into the water.
"Harry," said I, after a few moments of silence, "do you believe your mother sees and knows what you do in this world, and watches over you?"
"That has always been one of those things that I have believed without reasoning," said Harry, musingly. "I never could help believing it; and there have been times in my life when I felt so certain that she must be near me, that it seemed as though, if I spoke, she must answer, – if I reached out my hand, it would touch hers. It is one of my instinctive certainties. It is curious," he added, "that the difference between Esther and myself is just the reverse kind of that which generally subsists between man and woman. She has been all her life so drilled in what logicians call reasoning, that, although she has a glorious semi-spiritual nature, and splendid moral instincts, she never trusts them. She is like an eagle that should insist upon climbing a mountain by beak and claw instead of using wings. She must always see the syllogism before she will believe."
"For my part," said I, "I have always felt the tyranny of the hard New England logic, and it has kept me from really knowing what to believe about many phenomena of my own mind that are vividly real to me." Here I faltered and hesitated, and the image that seemed to stand by us slowly faded. I could not and did not say to Harry how often I had seen it.
"After all I have heard and thought on this subject," said Harry, "my religious faith is what it always was, – a deep, instinctive certainty, an embrace by the soul of something which it could not exist without. My early recollections are stronger than anything else of perfect and utter helplessness, of troubles entirely beyond all human aid. My father – " He stopped and shuddered. "Horace, he was one of those whom intemperance makes mad. For a great part of his time he was a madman, with all the cunning, all the ingenuity, the devilishness of insanity, and I have had to stand between him and my mother, and to hide Tina out of his way." He seemed to shudder as one convulsed. "One does not get over such a childhood," he said. "It has made all my religious views, my religious faith, rest on two ideas, – man's helplessness, and God's helpfulness. We are sent into this world in the midst of a blind, confused jangle of natural laws, which we cannot by any possibility understand, and which cut their way through and over and around us. They tell us nothing; they have no sympathy; they hear no prayer; they spare neither vice nor virtue. And if we have no friend above to guide us through the labyrinth, if there is no Father's heart, no helping hand, of what use is life? I would throw myself into this river, and have it over with at once."
"I always noticed your faith in prayer," said I. "But how can it consist with this known inflexibility of natural laws?"
"And what if natural laws were meant as servants of man's moral life? What if Jesus Christ and his redeeming, consoling work were the first thing, and all things made by him for this end? Inflexible physical laws are necessary; their very inflexibility is divine order; but 'what law cannot do, in that it is weak through the flesh, God did by sending his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.' Christ delivers us from slavery to natural law; he comes to embody and make visible the paternal idea; and if you and I, with our small knowledge of physical laws, can so turn and arrange them that their inflexible course shall help, and not hinder, much more can their Maker."
"You always speak of Christ as God."
"I have never thought of God in any other way," he answered. "Christ is the God of sufferers; and those who learn religion by sorrow always turn to him. No other than a suffering God could have helped my mother in her anguish."
"And do you think," said I, "that prayer is a clew strong enough to hold amid the rugged realities of life?"
"I do," said Harry. "At any rate, there is my great venture; that is my life-experiment. My mother left me that as her only legacy."
"It certainly seems to have worked well for you so far, Harry," said I, "and for me too, for God has guided us to what we scarcely could have hoped for, two poor boys as we were, and so utterly helpless. But then, Harry, there must be a great many prayers that are never answered."
"Of course," said Harry, "I do not suppose that God has put the key of all the universe into the hand of every child; but it is a comfort to have a Father to ask of, even though he refuse five times out of six, and it makes all the difference between having a father and being an orphan. Yes," he added, after a few moments of thought, "my poor mother's prayers seemed often to be denied, for she prayed that my father might reform. She often prayed from day to day that we might be spared miseries that he still brought upon us. But I feel sure that she has seen by this time that her Father heard the prayers that he seemed to deny, and her faith in him never failed. What is that music?" he said.
At this moment there came softly over the gleaming water, from the direction of the sea, the faintest possible vibration of a sound, like the dying of an organ tone. It might be from some ship, hidden away far off in the mist, but the effect was soft and dreamy as if it came from some spirit-land.
"I often think," said Harry, listening for a moment, "that no one can pronounce on what this life has been to him until he has passed entirely through it, and turns around and surveys it from the other world. I think then we shall see everything in its true proportions; but till then we must walk by faith and not by sight, – faith that God loves us, faith that our Saviour is always near us, and that all things are working together for good."
"Harry," said I, "do you ever think of your father now?"
"Horace, there is where I wish I could be a more perfect Christian than I am. I have a bitter feeling toward him, that I fear is not healthful, and that I pray God to take away. Tonight, since we have been standing here, I have had a strange, remorseful feeling about him, as if some good spirit were interceding for him with me, and trying to draw me to love and forgive him. I shall never see him, probably, until I meet him in the great Hereafter, and then, perhaps, I shall find that her prayers have prevailed for him."
It was past twelve o'clock when we got to our room that night and Harry found lying on his table a great sealed package from England. He opened it and found in it, first, a letter from his father, Sir Harry Percival. The letter was as follows: –
"MY SON HARRY: –
"I have had a dozen minds to write to you before now, having had good accounts of you from Mr. Davenport; but, to say truth, have been ashamed to write. I did not do right by your mother, nor by you and your sister, as I am now free to acknowledge. She was not of a family equal to ours, but she was too good for me. I left her in America like a brute as I was, and God has judged me for it.
"I married the woman my father picked out for me, when I came home, and resolved to pull up and live soberly like a decent man. But nothing went well with me. My children died one after another; my boy lived to be seven years old, but he was feeble, and now he is dead too, and you are the heir. I am thinking that I am an old sinner, and in a bad way. Have had two turns of gout in the stomach that went hard with me, and the doctor don't think I shall stand many such. I have made my will with a provision for the girl, and you will have the estate in course. I do wish you would come over and see a poor old sinner before he dies. It is n't in the least jolly being here, and I am dev'lish cross, they say. I suppose I am, but if you were minded to come I 'd try and behave myself, and so make amends for what 's past beyond recall.
Accompanying this letter was a letter from the family lawyer, stating that on the 18th day of the month past Sir Harry Percival had died of an attack of gout. The letter went on to give various particulars about the state of the property, and the steps which had been taken in relation to it, and expressing the hope that the arrangements made would meet with his approbation.
It may well be imagined that it was almost morning before we closed our eyes, after so very startling a turn in our affairs. We lay long discussing it in every possible light, and now first I found courage to tell Harry of my own peculiar experiences, and of what I had seen that very evening. "It seems to me," said Harry, when I had told him all, "as if I felt what you saw. I had a consciousness of a sympathetic presence, something breathing over me like wind upon harp-strings, something particularly predisposing me to think kindly of my father. My feeling towards him has been the weak spot of my inner life always, and I had a morbid horror of him. Now I feel at peace with him. Perhaps her prayers have prevailed to save him from utter ruin."
IT was the spring vacation, and Harry and I were coming again to Oldtown; and ten miles back, where we changed horses, we had left the crawling old Boston stage and took a footpath through a patch of land known as the Spring Pasture. Our road lay pleasantly along the brown, sparkling river, which was now just waked up, after its winter nap, as fussy and busy and chattering as a housekeeper that has overslept herself. There were downy catkins on the willows, and the water-maples were throwing out their crimson tassels. The sweet-flag was just showing its green blades above the water, and here and there, in nooks, there were yellow cowslips reflecting their bright gold faces in the dark water.
Harry and I had walked this way that we might search under the banks and among the dried leaves for the white waxen buds and flowers of the trailing arbutus. We were down on our knees, scraping the leaves away, when a well-known voice came from behind the bushes.
"Wal, lordy massy, boys! Here ye be! Why, I ben up to Siah's tahvern, an' looked inter the stage, an' did n't see yer. I jest thought I 'd like to come an' kind o' meet yer. Lordy massy, they 's all a lookin' out for yer 't all the winders; 'n' Aunt Lois, she 's ben bilin' up no end o' doughnuts, an' tearin' round 'nough to drive the house out o' the winders, to git everything ready for ye. Why, it beats the Prodigal Son all holler, the way they 're killin' the fatted calves for yer; an' everybody in Oldtown 's a wantin' to see Sir Harry."
"O nonsense, Sam!" said Harry, coloring. "Hush about that! We don't have titles over here in America."
"Lordy massy, that 's just what I wus a tellin' on 'em up to store. It 's a pity, ses I, this yere happened arter peace was signed, 'cause we might ha' had a real live Sir Harry round among us. An' I think Lady Lothrop, she kind o' thinks so too."
"O nonsense!" said Harry. "Sam, are the folks all well?"
"O lordy massy, yes! Chirk and chipper as can be. An there 's Tiny, they say she 's a goin' to be an heiress nowadays, an' there 's no end of her beaux. There 's Ellery Devenport ben down here these two weeks, a puttin' up at the tahvern, with a landau an' a span o' crack horses, a takin' on her out to ride every day, and Miss Mehitable, she 's so sot up, she 's reelly got a bran-new bonnet, an' left off that 'ere old un o' hern that she 's had trimmed over spring an' fall goin' on these 'ere ten years. I thought that 'ere bonnet 's going to last out my time, but I see it hain't. An' she 's got a new Injy shawl, that Mr. Devenport gin her. Yeh see, he understan's courtin', all round."
This intelligence, of course, was not the most agreeable to me. I hope, my good friends, that you have never known one of those quiet hours of life, when, while you are sitting talking and smiling, and to all appearance quite unmoved, you hear a remark or learn a fact that seems to operate on you as if somebody had quietly turned a faucet that was letting out your very life. Down, down, down, everything seems sinking, the strength passing away from you as the blood passes when an artery is cut. It was with somewhat this sensation that I listened to Sam's chatter, while I still mechanically poked away the leaves and drew out the long waxy garlands that I had been gathering for her!
Sam seated himself on the bank, and, drawing his knees up to his chin and clasping his hands upon them, began moralizing in his usual strain.
"Lordy massy, lordy massy, what a changin' world this 'ere is! It 's jest see-saw, teeter-tawter, up an' down. To-day it 's I 'm up an' you 're down, an' to-morrow it 's you 're up and I 'm down! An' then, by an' by, death comes an' takes us all. I 've been kind o' dwellin' on some varses to-day. –
'death, like a devourin' deluge,That 'ere is what Betty Poganut repeated to me the night we sot up by Statiry's corpse. Yeh 'member Statiry Poganut? Well, she 's dead at last. Yeh see, we all gits called in our turn. We hain't here no continuin' city."
Sweeps all away.
The young, the old, the middle-aged,
To him become a prey.'
"But, Sam," said I, "how does business get along? Have n't you anything to do but tramp the pastures and moralize? "
"Wal," said Sam, "I 've hed some pretty consid'able spells of blacksmithin' lately. There 's Mr. Devenport, he 's sech a pleasant-spoken man, he told me he brought his team all the way up from Bostin a purpose so that I might 'tend to their huffs. I 've been a shoein' on 'em fresh all round, an' the off horse, he 'd kind o' got a crack in his huff, an' I 've been a doctorin' on 't; an' Mr Devenport, he said he had n't found nobody that knew how to doctor a horse's huffs ekal to me. Very pleasant-spoken man Mr. Devenport is; he 's got a good word for everybody. They say there ain't no end to his fortin, an' he goes a flingin' on 't round, right en' left, like a prince. Why, when I 'd done shoein' his hosses, he jest put his hand inter his pocket en' handed me out ten dollars! ripped it out, he did, jest as easy as water runs! But there was Tiny a standin' by; I think she kind o' sot him on. O lordy massy, it 's plain to be seen that she rules him. It 's all cap in hand to her, an' 'What you will, madam,' an' 'Will ye have the end o' the rainbow, or a slice out o' the moon, or what is it?' It 's all ekal to him, so as Miss Tiny wants it. Lordy massy," he said lowering his voice confidentially to Harry, "course these 'ere things is all temporal, an' our hearts ought n't to be too much sot on 'em; still he 's got about the most amazin' fortin there is round Bostin. Why, if you b'lieve me, 'tween you an' me, it 's him as owns the Dench Place, where you and Tiny put up when you wus children! Don't ye 'member when I found ye? Ye little guessed whose house ye wus a puttin' up at then; did yer? Lordy massy, lordy massy, who 'd ha' thought it? The wonderful ways of Providence! 'He setteth the poor on high, an letteth the runagates continoo in scarceness.' Wal, wal, it 's a kind o' instructive world."
"Do you suppose," said Harry to me, in a low voice, "that this creature knows anything of what he is saying? "
"I 'm afraid he does," said I. "Sam seems to have but one talent, and that is picking up news; and generally his guesses turn out to be about true."
"Sam," said I, by way of getting him to talk of something else, rather than on what I dreaded to hear, "you have n't said a word about Hepsy and the children. How are they all?"
"Wal, the young uns hes all got the whoopin' cough," said Sam, "an' I 'm e'en a 'most beat out with 'em. For fust it 's one barks, an then another, an' then all together. An' then Hepsy, she gets riled an' she scolds; an', take it all together, a feller's head gits kind o' turned. When ye hes a lot o' young uns, there 's allus suthin' a goin' on among 'em; ef 't ain't whoopin' cough, it 's measles; an' ef 't ain't measles, it 's chicken-pox, or else it 's mumps, or scarlet-fever, or suthin'. They 's all got to be gone through, fust an' last. It 's enough to wean a body from this world. Lordy massy, yest 'day arternoon I see yer Aunt Keziah an' yer Aunt Lois out a cuttin' cowslip greens t'other side o' th' river, an' the sun it shone so bright, an' the turtles an' frogs they kind o' peeped so pleasant, an' yer aunts they sot on the bank so kind o' easy an' free, an' I stood there a lookin' on 'em, an' I could n't help a thinkin', 'Lordy messy, I wish t' I wus an old maid.' Folks 'scapes a great deal that don't hev no young uns a hangin' onter 'em."
"Well, Sam," said Harry, "is n't there any news stirring round in the neighborhood?"
"S'pose ye had n't heerd about the great church-quarrel over to Needmore?" he said.
"Quarrel? Why, no," said Harry. "What is it about?"
"Wal, ye see, there 's a kind o' quarrel ris 'tween Parson Perry and Deacon Bangs. I can't jest git the right on 't, but it 's got the hull town afire. I b'lieve it cum up in a kind o' dispute how to spell Saviour. The Deacon he 's on the school committee, en' Person Perry he 's on 't; an' the Deacon he spells it iour, an' Parson Perry he spells it ior, an' they would n't neither on 'em give up. Wal, ye know Deacon Bangs, – I s'pose he 's a Christian, – but, lordy massy, he 's one o' yer dreadful ugly kind o' Christians, that, when they gits their backs up, will do worse things than sinners will. I reelly think they kind o' take advantage o' their position, an' think, es they 're goin' to be saved by grace, grace shell hev enough on 't. Now, to my mind, ef either on 'em wus to give way, the Deacon oughter give up to the Parson; but the Deacon he don't think so. Between you and me," said Sam, "it 's my opinion that ef Ma'am Perry hed n't died jest when she did, this 'ere thing would never ha' growed to where 't is. But ye see Ma'am Perry she died, an' that left Parson Perry a widower, an' folks did talk about him an' Mahaley Bangs, an' fact was, 'long about last spring, Deacon Bangs an' Mis' Bangs an' Mahaley wus jest as thick with the Parson as they could be. Why, Granny Watkins told me about their havin' on him to tea two an' three times a week, an' Mahaley 'd make two kinds o' cake, an' they 'd have preserved watermelon rinds an' peaches an' cranberry saace, an' then 't was all sugar an' all sweet, an' the Deacon he talked bout raisin' Parson Perry's salary. Wal, then, ye see, Parson Perry he went over to Oldtown an' married Jerushy Peabody. Now, Jerushy's a nice, pious gal, an' it 's a free country, an' parsons hes a right to suit 'emselves as well's other men. But Jake Marshall, he ses to me, when he heerd o' that, ses he, 'They 'll be findin' fault with Parson Perry's doctrines now afore two months is up; ye see if they don't.' Wal, sure enuff, this 'ere quarrel 'bout spellin' Saviour come on fuss, an' Deacon Bangs he fit the Parson like a bulldog. An' next town-meetin' day he told Parson Perry right out before everybody thet he was wuss then 'n Armenian, – thet he was a rank Pelagian; 'n' he said there was folks thet hed taken notes o' his sermons for two years back, n' they could show thet he hed n't preached the real doctrine of total depravity, nor 'riginal sin, an' thet he 'd got the plan o' salvation out o' j'int intirely; he was all kind o' flattin' out onter morality. An' Parson Perry he sed he 'd preached jest 's he allers hed. 'Tween you 'n me, we know he must ha' done that, cause these 'ere ministers thet nev to go preachin' round 'n' round like a hoss in a cider-mill, – wal', course they must preach the same sermons over. I s'pose they kind o' trim 'em up with new collars 'n' wristbands. But we used to say thet Parson Lothrop hed a bar'l o' sermons, 'n' when he got through the year he turned his bar'l t'other side up, and begun at t'other end. Lordy massy, who 's to know it, when half on em 's asleep? And I guess the preachin 's full as good as the pay anyhow. Wal, the upshot on 't all is, they got a gret counsel there, an they 're a tryin' Mr. Perry for heresy an' what not. Wal, I don't b'lieve there 's a yeller dog goes inter the Needmore meetin'-house now that ain't got his mind made up one way or t'other about it. Yer don't hear nothin' over there now 'xcept about Armenians an' Pelagians an' Unitarians an' total depravity. Lordy massy! wal, they lives up to that doctrine any way. What do ye think of old Sphyxy Smith 's bein' called in as one o' the witnesses in council? She don' know no more 'bout religion than an' old hetchel, but she 's ferce as can be on Deacon Bangs's side, an' Old Crab Smith he hes to hev' his say 'bout it."
"Do tell," said Harry, wonderingly, "if that old creature is alive yet!"
"'Live? Why, yis, ye may say so," said Sam. "Much alive as ever he was. Ye see he kind o' pickles himself in hard cider, an' I dunno but he may live to hector his wife till he 's ninety. But he 's gret on the trial now, an' very much interested 'bout the doctrines. He ses thet he had n't heard a sermon on sovereignty or 'lection, or reprobation, sence he can remember. Wal, t'other side, they say they don't see what business Old Crab an' Miss Sphxyx hev to be meddlin' so much, when they ain't church-members. Why, I was over to Needmore town-meetin' day jest to hear 'em fight over it; they talked a darned sight more 'bout that than 'bout the turnpikes or town business. Why, I heard Deacon Brown (he 's on the parson's side) tellin' Old Crab he did n't see what business he had to boss the doctrines, when he warn't a church-member, and Old Crab said it was his bisness about the doctrines, 'cause he paid to hev 'em. 'Ef I pay for good strong doctrine, why, I want to hev good strong doctrine, says Old Crab, says he. 'Ef I pays for hell-fire, I want to hev hell-fire, and hev it hot too. I don't want none o' your prophesyin' smooth things. Why,' says he, 'look at Dr. Stern. His folks hes the very hair took off their heads 'most every Sunday, and he don't get no more 'n we pay Parson Perry. I tell yew,' says Old Crab, 'he 's a lettin' on us all go to sleep, and it 's no wonder I ain't in the church.' Ye see, Old Crab and Sphyxy, they seem to be kind o' settin' it down to poor old Parson Perry's door that he hain't converted 'em, an' made saints on 'em long ago, when they 've paid up their part o' the salary reg'lar, every year. Jes' so onreasonable folks will be; they give a man two hunderd dollars a year an' his wood, an' spect him to git all on em' inter the kingdom o' heaven, whether they will or no, jest as the angels got Lot's wife and daughters out o' Sodom."
"That poor little old woman!" said Harry. "Do tell if she is living yet!"
"O yis, she 's all right," said Sam; "she 's one o' these 'ere little thin, dry old women that keep a good while. But ain't ye heerd? their son Obid's come home an' bought a farm, an' married a nice gal, and he insists on it his mother shall live with him. An' so Old Crab and Miss Sphyxy, they fight it out together. So the old woman is delivered from him most o' the time. Sometimes he walks over there an' stays a week, an' takes a spell o' aggravatin' on 'er, that kind o' sets him up, but he 's so busy now 'bout the quarrel 't I b'lieve he lets her alone."
By this time we had reached the last rail-fence which separated us from the grassy street of Oldtown, and here Sam took his leave of us.
"I promised Hepsy when I went out," he said, "thet I 'd go to the store and git her some corn meal, but I 'll be round agin in th' evening. Look 'ere," he added, "I wus out this mornin', an' I dug some sweet-flag root for yer. I know ye used ter like sweet-flag root. 'T ain't time for young wintergreen yit, but here 's a bunch I picked yer, with the berries an' old leaves. Do take 'em, boys, jest for sake o' old times!"
We thanked him, of course; there was a sort of aroma of boyhood about these things, that spoke of spring days and melting snows, and long Saturday afternoon rambles that we had had with Sam years before. And we saw his lean form go striding off with something of an affectionate complacency.
"Horace," said Harry, the minute we were alone, "you must n't mind too much about Sam's gossip."
"It is just what I have been expecting," said I;" but in a few moments we shall know the truth."
We went on until the square white front of the old Rossiter house rose upon our view. We stopped before it, and down the walk from the front door to the gate, amid the sweet budding lilacs came gleaming and glancing the airy form of Tina. So airy she looked, so bright, so full of life and joy, and threw herself into Harry's arms, laughing and crying.
"O Harry, Harry! God has been good to us! And you, dear brother Horace," she said, turning to me and giving me both her hands, with one of those frank, loving looks that said as much as another might say by throwing herself into your arms. "We are all so happy!" she said.
I determined to have it over at once, and I said, "Am I then to congratulate you, Tina, on your engagement?"
She laughed and blushed, and held up her hand, on which glittered a great diamond, and hid her face for a moment on Harry's shoulder.
"I could n't write to you about it, boys, – I could n't! But I meant to tell you myself and tell you the first thing too. I wanted to tell you about him, because I think you none of you know him, or half how noble and good he is! Come, come in," she said, taking us each by the hand and drawing us along with her. "Come in and see Aunty; she 'll be so glad to see you!"
If there was any one thing for which I was glad at this moment, it was that I had never really made love to Tina. It was a comfort to me to think that she did not and could not possibly know the pain she was giving me. All I know is that, at the moment, I was seized with a wild, extravagant gayety, and rattled and talked and laughed with a reckless abandon that quite astonished Harry. It seemed to me as if every ludicrous story and every droll remark that I had ever heard came thronging into my head together. And I believe that Tina really thought that I was sincere in rejoicing with her. Miss Mehitable talked with us gravely about it while Tina was out of the room. It was most sudden and unexpected, she said, to her; she always had supposed that Ellery Davenport had admired Tina, but never that he had thought of her in this way. In a worldly point of view, the match was a more brilliant one than could ever have been expected. He was of the best old families in the country, – of the Edwards and the Davenport stock, – his talents were splendid, and his wealth would furnish everything that wealth could furnish. "There is only one thing," she continued gravely; "I am not satisfied about his religious principles. But Tina is an enthusiast, and has perfect faith that he will come all right in this respect. He seems to be completely dazzled and under her influence now," said Miss Mehitable, taking a leisurely pinch of snuff, "but then, you see, that 's a common phenomenon, about this time in a man's life. But," she added, "where there is such a strong attachment on both sides, all we can do is to wish both sides well, and speed them on their way. Mr. Davenport has interested himself in the very kindest manner in regard to both Tina and Harry, and I suppose it is greatly owing to this that affairs have turned out as prosperously as they have. As you know, Sir Harry made a handsome provision for Tina in his will. I confess I am glad of that," she said, with a sort of pride. "I would n't want my little Tina to have passed into his arms altogether penniless. When first love is over, men sometimes remember those things."
"If my father had not done justice to Tina in his will," said Harry, "I should have done it. My sister should not have gone to any man a beggar."
"I know that, my dear," said Miss Mehitable, "but still it is a pleasure to think that your father did it. It was a justice to your mother's memory that I am glad he rendered."
And when is this marriage to take place?" said I.
"Mr. Davenport wants to carry her away in June," said Miss Mehitable. "That leaves but little time; but he says he must go to join the English Embassy, certainly by midsummer, and as there seems to be a good reason for his haste, I suppose I must not put my feelings in the way. It seems now as if I had had her only a few days, and she has been so very sweet and lovely to me. Well," said she, after a moment, "I suppose the old sweetbrier-bushes feel lonesome when we cut their blossoms and carry them off; but the old thorny things must n't have blossoms if they don't expect to have them taken. That 's all we scraggly old people are good for."
AT home, that evening, before the great open fire, still the same subject was discussed. Tina's engagement to Ellery Davenport was spoken of as the next most brilliant stroke of luck to Harry's accession to the English property. Aunt Lois was all smiles and suavity, poor dear old soul! How all the wrinkles and crinkles of her face smoothed out under the influence of prosperity! and how providential everything appeared to her!
"Providence gets some pay-days," said an old divine. Generally speaking, his account is suffered to run on with very lax attention. But when a young couple make a fortunate engagement, or our worldly prospects take a sudden turn to go as we would, the account of Providence is gladly balanced; praise and thanksgiving come in over-measure.
For my part, I could n't see the Providence at all in it, and found this looking into happiness through other people's eyes a very fatiguing operation.
My grandfather and grandmother, as they sat pictured out by the light of a magnificent hickory fire, seemed scarcely a year older; but their faces this evening were beaming complacently; and my mother, in her very quiet way, could scarcely help triumphing over Aunt Lois. I was a sophomore in Cambridge, and Harry a landed proprietor, and Tina an heiress to property in her own right, instead of our being three poor orphan children without any money, and with the up-hill of life to climb.
In the course of the evening, Miss Mehitable came in with Ellery Davenport and Tina. Now, much as a man will dislike the person who steps between him and the lady of his love, I could not help, this evening, myself feeling the power of that fascination by which Ellery Davenport won the suffrages of all hearts.
Aunt Lois, as usual, was nervous and fidgety with the thought that the call of the splendid Mr. Davenport had surprised them all at the great kitchen-fire, when there was the best room cold as Nova Zembla. She looked almost reproachfully at Tina, and said apologetically to Mr. Davenport, "We are rough working folks, and you catch us just as we are. If we 'd known you were coming, we 'd have had a fire in the parlor."
"Then, Miss Badger, you would have been very cruel, and deprived us of a rare enjoyment," said he. "What other land but our own America can give this great, joyous, abundant home-fire? The great kitchen-fire of New England," he added, seating himself admiringly in front of it, "gives you all the freshness and simplicity of forest life, with a sense of shelter and protection. It 's like a camp-fire in the woods, only that you have a house over you, and a good bed to sleep in at hand; and there is nothing that draws out the heart like it. People never can talk to each other as they do by these great open fires. For my part," he said, "I am almost a Fire-worshipper. I believe in the divine properties of flame. It purifies the heart and warms the affections, and when people sit and look into the coals together, they feel a sort of glow of charity coming over them that they never feel anywhere else."
"Now, I should think," said Aunt Lois, "Mr. Davenport, that you must have seen so much pomp and splendor and luxury abroad, that our rough life here would seem really disagreeable to you."
"Quite the contrary," said Ellery Davenport. "We go abroad to appreciate our home. Nature is our mother, and the life that is lived nearest to nature is, after all, the one that is the pleasantest. I met Brant at court last winter. You know he was a wild Indian to begin with, and he has seen both extremes, for now he is Colonel Brant, and has been moving in fashionable society in London. So I thought he must be a competent person to decide on the great question between savage and civilized life and he gave his vote for the savage."
"I wonder at him," said my grandmother.
"Well, I remember," said Tina, "we had one day and night of savage life – don't you remember, Harry? – that was very pleasant. It was when we stayed with the old Indian woman, – do you remember? It was all very well, so long as the son shone; but then when the rain fell, and the wind blew, and the drunken Indian came home, it was not so pleasant."
"That was the time, young lady," said Ellery Davenport, looking at her with a flash in his blue eyes, "that you established yourself as housekeeper on my premises! If I had only known it, I might have picked you up then, as a waif on my grounds."
"It 's well you did not," said Tina, laughing; "you would have found me troublesome to keep. I don't believe you would have been as patient as dear old Aunty, here," she added, laying her head on Miss Mehitable's shoulder. "I was a perfect brier-rose, – small leaves and a great many prickles."
"By the by," said Harry, "Sam Lawson has been telling us, this morning, about our old friends Miss Asphyxia Smith and Old Crab."
"Is it possible," said Tina, laughing, "that those creatures are living yet? Why, I look back on them as some awful pre-Adamite monsters."
"Who was Miss Asphyxia?" said Ellery Davenport. "I have n't heard of her."
"O, 't was a great threshing-machine of a woman that caught me between its teeth some years ago," said Tina. "What do you suppose would ever have become of me, Aunty, if she had kept me? Do you think she ever could have made me a great stramming, threshing, scrubbing, floor-cleaning machine, like herself? She warned Miss Mehitable," continued Tina, looking at Ellery and laughing shyly, "that I never should grow up to be good for anything; and she spoke a fatal truth, for, since she gave me up, every mortal creature has tried to pet and spoil me. Dear old Aunty and Mr. Rossiter have made some feeble attempts to make me good for something, but they have n't done much at it."
"Thank Heaven!" said Ellery Davenport. "Who would think of training a wild rose? I sometimes look at the way a sweet-brier grows over one of our rough stone walls, and think what a beautiful defiance it is to gardeners."
"That is all very pretty to say," said Tina, "when you happen to be where there are none but wild roses; but when you were among marchionesses and duchesses, how was it then?"
For answer, Ellery Davenport bent over her, and said something which I could not hear. He had the art, without seeming to whisper, of throwing a sentence from him so that it should reach but one ear; and Tina laughed and blushed and dimpled, and looked as if a thousand little graces were shaking their wings around her.
It was one of Tina's great charms that she was never for a moment at rest. In this she was like a bird, or a brook, or a young tree, in which there is always a little glancing shimmer of movement. And when anything pleased her, her face sparkled as a river does when something falls into it. I noticed Ellery Davenport's eyes followed all these little motions as if he had been enchanted. O, there was no doubt that the great illusion, the delicious magic, was in full development between them. And Tina looked so gladly satisfied, and glanced about the circle and at him with such a quiet triumph of possession, and such satisfaction in her power over him, that it really half reconciled me to see that she was so happy. And, after all, I thought to myself as I looked at the airy and spirituel style of her beauty, – a beauty that conveyed the impression of fragility and brilliancy united to the highest point, – such a creature as that is made for luxury, made for perfume and flowers and jewelry and pomp of living and obsequious tending, for old aristocratic lands and court circles, where she would glitter as a star. And what had I to offer, – I, a poor sophomore in Harvard, owing that position to the loving charity of my dear old friend? My love to her seemed a madness and a selfishness, – as if I had wished to take the evening star out of the heavens and burn it for a household lamp. "How fortunate, how fortunate," I thought to myself," that I have never told her! For now I shall keep the love of her heart. We are friends, and she shall be the lady of my heart forever, – the lady of my dreams."
I knew, too, that I had a certain hold upon her; and even at this moment I saw her eye often, as from old habit, looking across to me, a little timidly and anxiously, to see what I thought of her prize. She was Tina still, – the same old Tina, that always needed to be approved and loved and sympathized with, and have all her friends go with her, heart and hand, in all her ways. So I determined to like him.
At this moment Sam Lawson came in. I was a little curious to know how he had managed it with his conscience to leave his domestic circle under their trying circumstances, but I was very soon satisfied as to this point.
Sam, who had watched the light flaring out from the windows, and flattened his nose against the window-pane while he announced to Hepsy that "Mr. Davenport and Miss Mehitable and Tiny were all a goin' into the Deacon's to spend th' evenin'," could not resist the inexpressible yearning to have a peep himself at what was going on there.
He came in with a most prostrate air of dejection. Aunt Lois frowned with stern annoyance, and looked at my grandmother, as much as to say, "To think he should come in when Mr. Davenport is making a call here!"
Ellery Davenport, however, received him with a patronizing cheerfulness, – "Why, hulloa, Sam, how are you?" It was Ellery Davenport's delight to start Sam's loquacity and develop his conversational powers, and he made a welcoming movement toward the block of wood in the chimney-corner. "Sit down," he said,– "sit down, and tell us how Hepsy and the children are."
Tina and he looked at each other with eyes dancing with merriment.
"Wal, wal," said Sam, sinking into the seat and raising his lank hands to the fire, while his elbows rested on his knees, "the children 's middlin – Doctor Merrill ses he thinks they 've got past the wust on 't, – but Hepsy, she 's clean tuckered out, and kind o' discouraged. An' I thought I 'd come over an' jest ask Mis' Badger ef she would n't kind o' jest mix 'er up a little milk punch to kind o' set 'er up agin.'"
"What a considerate husband!" said Ellery Davenport, glancing around the circle with infinite amusement.
My grandmother, always prompt at any call on her charity was already half across the floor toward her buttery, whence she soon returned with a saucepan of milk.
"I 'll watch that 'ere, Mis' Badger," said Sam. "Jest rake out the coals this way, an' when it begins ter simmer I 'll put in the sperits, ef ye 'll gin 'em to me. 'Give strong drink ter him as is ready to perish,' the Scriptur' says. Hepsy 's got an amazin sight o' grit in 'er, but I 'clare for 't, she 's ben up an' down nights so much lately with them young uns thet she 's a 'most clean wore out. An' I should be too, ef I did n't take a tramp now 'n' then to kind o' keep me up. Wal, ye see, the head o' the family, he hes to take car' o' himself, 'cause ye see, ef he goes down, all goes down. 'The man is the head o' the woman,' ye know," said Sam, as he shook his skillet of milk.
I could see Tina's eyes dancing with mirthfulness as Ellery Davenport answered, "I 'm glad to see, Sam, that you have a proper care of your health. You are such an important member of the community, that I don't know what Oldtown would be without you!"
"Wal, now, Mr. Devenport, ye flatter me; but then everybody don't seem to think so. I don't think folks like me, as does for this one an' does for that one, an' kind o' spreads out permiskus is appreciated allers. There 's Hepsy, she 's allers at me, a sayin' I don't do nothin' for her, an' yet there las' night I wus up in my shirt, a shiverin' an' a goin' round, fust ter one and then ter 'nuther, a hevin' on em up an' a thumpin' on their backs, an clarin' the phlegm out o' their thruts, till I wus e'en a 'most fruz and Hepsy, she lay there abed scoldin' 'cause I hed n't sawed no wood thet arternoon to keep up the fire. Lordy massy, I jest went out ter dig a leetle sweet-flag root ter gin ter the boys, 'cause I wus so kind o' wore out. I don't think these 'ere women ever 'flects on men's trials. They railly don't keep count o' what we do for 'em."
"What a picture of conjugal life!" said Ellery Davenport glancing at Tina. "Yes, Sam, it is to be confessed that the female sex are pretty exorbitant creditors. They make us pay dear for serving them."
"Jes' so, jes' so!" said Sam. "They don't know nothin' what we undergo. I don't think Hepsy keeps no sort o' count o' the nights an' nights I 've walked the floor with the baby, whishin' an' shooin' on 't, and singin' to 't till my thrut wus sore, an' then hed to git up afore daylight to split oven-wood, an then right to my blacksmithin', jest to git a little money to git the meat an meal an' suthin' comfort'ble fur dinner! An' then, ye see, there don't nothin' last, when there 's so many mouths to eat it up; an' there 't is, it 's jest roun' an' roun'. Ye git a good piece o' beef Tuesday an' pay for 't, an' by Thursday it 's all gone, an' ye hev to go to work agin! Lordy massy, this 'ere life don't seem hardly wuth hevin'. I s'pose, Mr. Devenport, you 've been among the gret folks o' th' earth, over there in King George's court? Why, they say here that you 've ben an' tuk tea with the king, with his crown on 's head! I s'pose they all goes roun' with their crowns on over there; don't they?"
"Well, no, not precisely," said Ellery Davenport "I think they rather mitigate their splendors when they have to do with us poor republicans, so as not to bear us down altogether."
"Jes' so," said Sam, "like Moses, that put a veil over 's face 'cause th' Israelites could n't bear the glory."
"Well," said Ellery Davenport, "I 've not been struck with any particular resemblance between King George and Moses."
"The folks here 'n Oldtown, Mr. Davenport, 's amazin' curus to hear the partic'lars 'bout them grand things 't you must ha' seen; I 's a tellin' on 'em up to store how you 'd ben with lords 'n' ladies 'n' dukes 'n' duchesses, 'n' seen all the kingdoms o' the world, an' the glory on 'em. I told 'em I did n't doubt you 'd et off 'm plates o' solid gold, an' ben in houses where the walls was all a crust o' gold 'n' diamonds 'n' precious stones, 'n' yit ye did n't seem ter be one bit lifted up nor proud, so 't yer could n't talk ter common folks. I s'pose them gret fam'lies they hes as much 's fifty ur a hunderd servants, don't they?"
"Well, sometimes," said Ellery Davenport.
"Wal, now," said Sam "I sh'd think a man 'd feel kind o' curus, – sort o' 's ef he was keepin' a hotel, an' boardin' all the lower classes."
"It is something that way, Sam," said Ellery Davenport. "That 's one way of providing for the lower classes."
"Jest what th' Lord told th' Israelites when they would hev a king," said Sam. "Ses he, 'He 'll take yer daughters to be confectioners 'n' cooks 'n' bakers, an' he 'll take the best o' yer fields 'n' yer vineyards 'n' olive-yards, an' give 'em to his sarvints, an' he 'll take a tenth o' yer seed 'n' give 'em ter his officers, an' he'll take yer men-sarvints 'n' yer maid-sarvints, 'n' yer goodliest young asses, an' put 'em ter his works."
"Striking picture of monarchical institutions, Sam," said Ellery Davenport.
"Wal, now, I tell ye what," said Sam, slowly shaking his shimmering skillet of milk, "I should n't want ter git inter that ere' pie, unless I could be some o' the top crust. It 's jest like a pile o' sheepskins, –'s only the top un lies light. I guess th' undermost one 's squeezed putty flat."
"I 'll bet it is, Sam," said Ellery Davenport, laughing.
"Wal," said Sam, "I go for republics, but yit it 's human natur' ter kind o' like ter hold onter titles. Now over here a man likes ter be a deacon 'n' a cap'n 'n' a colonel in the military 'n' a sheriff 'n' a judge, 'n' all thet. Lordy massy, I don't wonder them grand English folks sticks to their grand titles, an' the people all kind o' bows down to 'em, as they did to Nebuchadnezzar's golden image."
"Why, Sam," said Ellery Davenport, "your speculations on politics are really profound."
"Wal," said Sam, "Mr. Davenport, there 's one pint I want ter consult ye 'bout, an' thet is, what the king o' England's name is. There 's Jake Marshall 'n' me, we 's argood that pint these many times. Jake ses his name is George Rix, – R-i-x, – an' thet ef he 'd come over here, he 'd be called Mr. Rix. I ses to him, 'Why, Jake, 't ain't Rix, it 's Rex, an' 't ain't his name, it 's his title, ses I, – 'cause the boys told me thet Rex was Latin 'n' meant king; but Jake 's one o' them fellers thet allers thinks he knows. Now, Mr. Devenport, I 'd like to put it down from you ter him 'cause you 've just come from the court o' England an' you 'd know."
"Well, you may tell your friend Jake that you are quite in the right," said Ellery Davenport. "Give him my regards, and tell him he 's been mistaken."
"But you don't call the king Rex when ye speak to 'im, d' yer?" said Sam.
"Not precisely," said Ellery Davenport.
"Mis' Badger," said Sam, gravely, "this 'ere milk 's come to the bile, 'n' ef you 'll be so kind 's to hand me the sperits 'n' the sugar. I 'll fix this 'ere. Hepsy likes her milk punch putty hot."
"Well, Sam," said my grandmother, as she handed him the bottle, "take an old woman's advice, and don't go stramming off another afternoon. If you 'd been steady at your blacksmithin', you might have earned enough money to buy all these things yourself, and Hepsy 'd like it a great deal better."
"I suppose it 's about the two hundred and forty-ninth time mother has told him that," said Aunt Lois, with an air of weary endurance.
"Wal, Mis' Badger," said Sam, "'all work an' no play makes Jack a dull boy,' ye know. I hes to recreate, else I gits quite wore out. Why, lordy massy, even a saw-mill hes ter stop sometimes ter be greased. 'Tain't everybody thet 's like Sphyxy Smith, but she grits and screeches all the time, jest 'cause she keeps to work without bein' 'iled. Why, she could work on, day 'n' night, these twenty years, 'n' never feel it. But, lordy massy, I gits so 'xhausted, an' hes sech a sinking 't my stomach, 'n' then I goes out 'n' kind o' Injunin' round, an' git flag-root 'n' wintergreen 'n' spruce boughs 'n' gensing root 'n' sarsafrass 'n' sich fur Hepsy to brew up a beer. I ain't a wastin' my time ef I be enjoyin' myself. I say it 's a part o' what we 's made for."
"You are a true philosopher, Sam," said Ellery Davenport.
"Wal," said Sam, "I look at it this 'ere way, – ef I keep on a grindin' and a grindin' day 'n' night, I never shell hev nothin', but ef I takes now 'n' then an arternoon to lie roun' in the sun, I gits suthin' 's I go 'long. Lordy massy, it 's jest all the comfort I hes, kind o' watchin' the clouds 'n' the birds, 'n' kind o' forgettin' all 'bout Hepsy 'n' the children 'n' the blacksmithin'."
"Well," said Aunt Lois, smartly, "I think you are forgetting all about Hepsy and the children now, and I advise you to get that milk punch home as quick as you can, if it 's going to do her any good. Come, here 's a tin pail to put it into. Cover it up and do let the poor woman have some comfort as well as you!"
Sam received his portion in silence, and, with reluctant glances at the warm circle, went out into the night.
"I don't see how you all can bear to listen to that man's maundering!" said Aunt Lois. "He puts me out of all sort of patience. 'Head of the woman' to be sure! when Hepsy earns the most of what that family uses, except what we give 'em. And I know exactly how she feels; the poor woman is mad with shame and humiliation half the time at the charities he will accept from us."
"O come, Miss Lois," said Ellery Davenport, "you must take an aesthetic view of him. Sam 's a genuine poet in his nature, and poets are always practically useless. And now Sam 's about the only person in Oldtown, that I have seen, that has the least idea that life is meant, in any way, for enjoyment. Everybody else seems to be sword in hand, fighting against the possibility of future suffering, toiling and depriving themselves of all present pleasure, so that they may not come to want by and by. Now I 've been in countries where the whole peasantry are like Sam Lawson."
"Good gracious!" said Aunt Lois, "what a time they must have of it!"
"Well, to say the truth, there 's not much progress in such communities, but there is a great deal of clear, sheer animal enjoyment. And when trouble comes, it comes on them as it does on animals, unfeared and unforeseen, and therefore unprovided for."
"Well," said my grandmother, "you don't think that is the way for rational and immortal creatures to live?"
"Well," said Ellery Davenport, "taking into account the rational and immortal, perhaps not; but I think if we could mix the two races together it would be better. The Yankee lives almost entirely for the future, the Italian enjoys the present."
"Well, but do you think it is right to live merely to enjoy the present?" persisted Aunt Lois.
"The eternal question!" said Ellery." After all, who knows anything about it? What is right, and what is wrong? Mere geographical accidents! What is right for the Greenlander is wrong for me; what is right for me is wrong for the Hindoo. Take the greatest saint on earth to Greenland, and feed him on train oil and candles, and you make one thing of him; put him under the equator, with the thermometer at one hundred in the shade, and you make another."
"But right is right and wrong is wrong," said Aunt Lois, persistently, "after all."
"I sometimes think," said Ellery Davenport, "that right and wrong are just like color, mere accidental properties. There is no color where there 's no light, and a thing is all sorts of colors according to the position you stand in and the hour of the day. There 's your rocking-chair in the setting sun becomes a fine crimson, and in the morning comes out dingy gray. So it is with human actions. There 's nothing so bad that you cannot see a good side to it, nothing so good that you cannot see a bad side to it. Now we think it 's shocking for our Indian tribes, some of them, to slay their old people; but I 'm not sure, if the Indian could set forth his side of the case, with all the advantages of our rhetoric, but that he would have the best of it. He does it as an act of filial devotion, you see. He loves and honors his father too much to let him go through all that horrid process of draining out life drop by drop that we think the thing to protract in our high civilization. For my part, if I were an Indian chief, I should prefer, when I came to be seventy, to be respectfully knocked on the head by my oldest son, rather than to shiver and drivel and muddle and cough my life out a dozen years more."
"But God has given his commandments to teach us what is right," said Aunt Lois. "'Honor thy father and mother."
"Precisely," said Ellery; "and my friends the Sioux would tell you that they do honor their fathers and mothers by respectfully putting them out of the way when there is no more pleasure in living. They send them to enjoy eternal youth in the hunting-grounds of the fathers, you know."
"Positively, Ellery," said Tina, "I sha' n't have this sort of heathen stuff talked any longer. Why, you put one's head all in a whirl and you know you don't believe a word of it yourself. What 's the use of making everybody think you 're worse than you are?"
"My dear," said Ellery, "there 's nothing like hearing all that can be said on both sides of subjects. Now there 's my good grandfather made an argument on the will, that is, and forever will remain, unanswerable, because he proves both sides of a flat contradiction perfectly; that method makes a logic-trap out of which no mortal can get his foot."
"Well," said my grandmother, "Mr. Davenport, if you 'll take an old woman's advice, you 'll take up with your grandfather's good resolutions, and not be wasting your strength in such talk."
"I believe there were about seventy-five – or eighty, was it? – of those resolutions," said Ellery.
"And you would n't be the worse for this world or the next if you 'd make them yourself," said my grandmother.
"Thank you, madam," said Ellery, bowing, "I 'll think of it."
"Well, come," said Tina, rising, "it 's time for us to go; and," she said, shaking her finger warningly at Ellery Davenport, "I have a private lecture for you."
"I don't doubt it," he said, with a shrug of mock apprehension; "the preaching capacities of the fair sex are something terrific. I see all that is before me."
They bade adieu, the fire was raked up in the great fireplace, all the members of the family went their several ways to bed, but Harry and I sat up in the glimmer and gloom of the old kitchen, lighted, now and then, by a sputtering jet of flame, which burst from the sticks. All round the large dark hearth the crickets were chirping as if life were the very merriest thing possible.
"Well, Harry," I said, "you see the fates have ordered it just as I feared."
"It is almost as much of a disappointment to me as it can be to you," said Harry. "And it is the more so because I cannot quite trust this man."
"I never trusted him," said I. "I always had an instinctive doubt of him."
"My doubts are not instinct," said Harry, "they are founded on things I have heard him say myself. It seems to me that he has formed the habit of trifling with all truth, and that nothing is sacred in his eyes."
"And yet Tina loves him," said I. "I can see that she has gone to him heart and soul, and she believes in him with all her heart, and so we can only pray that he may be true to her. As for me, I can never love another. It only remains to live worthily of my love."
When Harry and I returned to college, we spent one day with our friends the Kitterys, and found it the one engrossing subject there, as everywhere.
Dear old Madam Kittery was dissolved in tenderness, and whenever the subject was mentioned reiterated all her good opinions of Ellery, and her delight in the engagement, and her sanguine hopes of its good influence on his spiritual prospects.
Miss Debby took the subject up energetically. Ellery Davenport was a near family connection, and it became the Kitterys to make all suitable and proper advances. She insisted upon addressing Harry by his title, notwithstanding his blushes and disclaimers.
"My dear sir," she said to him, "it appears that you are an Englishman and a subject of his Majesty; and I should not be surprised, at some future day, to hear of you in the House of Commons; and it becomes you to reflect upon your position and what is proper in relation to yourself; and, at least under this roof, you must allow me to observe these proprieties, however much they may be disregarded elsewhere. I have already informed the servants that they are always to address you as Sir Harry, and I hope that you will not interfere with my instructions."
"O certainly not," said Harry. "It will make very little difference with me."
"Now, in regard to this marriage," said Miss Debby, "as there is no church in Oldtown, and no clergyman, I have felt that it would be proper in me, as a near kinswoman to Mr. Davenport, to place the Kittery mansion at Miss Mehitable Rossiter's disposal, for the wedding."
"Well, I confess," said Harry, blushing, "I never thought but that the ceremony would be performed at home, by Parson Lothrop."
"My dear Sir Harry!" said Miss Debby, laying her hand on his arm with solemnity, "consider that your excellent parents, Harry and Lady Percival, were both members of the Established Church of England, the only true Apostolic Protestant Church, – and can you imagine that their spirits, looking down from heaven, would be pleased and satisfied that their daughter should consummate the most solemn union of her life out of the Church? and in fact at the hands of a man who has never received ordination?"
It was with great difficulty that Harry kept his countenance during this solemn address. His blue eyes actually laughed, though he exercised a rigid control over the muscles of his face.
"I really had not thought about it at all, Miss Debby," he said. "I think you are exceedingly kind."
"And I 'm sure," said she, "that you must see the propriety of it now that it is suggested to you. Of course, a marriage performed by Mr. Lothrop would be a legal one, so far as the civil law is concerned; but I confess I always have regarded marriage as a religious ordinance, and it would be a disagreeable thing to me to have any connections of mine united merely by a civil tie. These Congregational marriages," said Miss Debby, in a contemptuous voice, "I should think would lead to immorality. How can people feel as if they were married that don't utter any vows themselves, and don't have any wedding-ring put on their finger? In my view, it 's not respectable; and, as Mrs. Ellery Davenport will probably be presented in the first circles of England, I desire that she should appear there with her wedding-ring on, like an honest woman. I have therefore despatched an invitation to Miss Mehitable to bring your sister and spend the month preceding the wedding with us in Boston. It will be desirable for other reasons, as all the shopping and dressmaking and millinery work must be done in Boston. Oldtown is a highly respectable little village, but, of course, affords no advantages for the outfit of a person of quality, such as your sister is and is to be. I have had a letter from Lady Widgery this morning. She is much delighted, and sends congratulations. She always, she said, believed that you had distinguished blood in your veins when she first saw you at our house."
There was something in Miss Debby's satisfied, confiding faith in everything English and aristocratic that was vastly amusing to us. The perfect confidence she seemed to have that Harry Percival, after all the sins of his youth, had entered heaven ex officio as a repentant and glorified baronet, a member of the only True Church, was really naïve and affecting. What would a church be good for that allowed people of quality to go to hell, like the commonalty? Sir Harry, of course, repented, and made his will in a proper manner, doubtless received the sacrament and absolution, and left all human infirmities, with his gouty toes, under the family monument, where his body reposed in sure and certain hope of a blessed and glorious resurrection. The finding of his children under such fortunate circumstances was another evidence of the good Providence who watches over the fortunes of the better classes, and does not suffer the steps of good Churchmen to slide beyond recovery.
There were so many reasons of convenience for accepting Madam Kittery's hospitable invitation, it was urged with such warmth and affectionate zeal by Madam Kittery and Miss Debby, and seconded so energetically by Ellery Davenport, to whom this arrangement would secure easy access to Tina's society during the intervening time, that it was accepted.
Harry and I were glad of it, as we should thus have more frequent opportunities of seeing her. Ellery Davenport was refurbishing and refurnishing the old country house, where Harry and Tina had spent those days of their childhood which it was now an amusement to recall, and Tina was as gladly, joyously beautiful as young womanhood can be in which, as in a transparent vase, the light of pure love and young hope has been lighted.
"You like him, Horace, don't you?" she had said to me, coaxingly, the first opportunity after the evening we had spent together. What was I to do? I did not like him, that was certain; but have you never, dear reader, been over-persuaded to think and say you liked where you did not? Have you not scolded and hushed down your own instinctive distrusts and heart-risings, blamed and schooled yourself for them, and taken yourself sharply to task, and made yourself acquiesce in somebody that was dear and necessary to some friend? So did I. I called myself selfish, unreasonable, foolish. I determined to be generous to my successful rival, and to like him. I took his frankly offered friendship, and I forced myself to be even enthusiastic in his praise. It was a sure way of making Tina's cheeks glow and her eyes look kindly on me, and she told me so often that there no person in the world whose good opinion she had such a value for, and she was so glad I liked him. Would it not be perfectly abominable after this to let sneaking suspicions harbor in my breast?
Besides, if a man cannot have love, shall he therefore throw away friendship? and may I not love with the love of chivalry, – the love that knights dedicated to queens and princesses, the love that Tasso gave to Leonora D'Este, the love that Dante gave to Beatrice, love that hopes little and asks nothing?
I was frequently in at the Kittery house in leisure hours, and when, as often happened, Tina was closeted with Ellery Davenport, I took sweet counsel with Miss Mehitable.
"We all stand outside now, Horace," she said. "I remember when I had the hearing of all these thousand pretty little important secrets of the hour that now must all be told in another direction. Such is life. What we want always comes to us with pain. I wanted Tina to be well married. I would not for the world she should marry without just this sort of love; but of course it leaves me out in the cold. I would n't say this to her for the world, – poor little thing, it would break her heart."
One morning, however, I went down and found Miss Mehitable in a very excited state. She complained of a bad headache, but she had all the appearance of a person who is constantly struggling with something which she is doubtful of the expediency of uttering.
At last, just as I was going, she called me into the library. "Come here, Horace," she said; "I want to speak to you."
I went in, and she made a turn or two across the room in an agitated way, then sat down at a table, and motioned me to sit down. "Horace, my dear boy," she said, "I have never spoken to you of the deepest sorrow of my life, and yet it often seems to me as if you knew it."
"My dear Aunty," said I, for we had from childhood called her thus, "I think I do know it, – somewhat vaguely. I know about your sister."
"You know how strangely, how unaccountably she left us, and that nothing satisfactory has ever been heard from her. I told Mr. Davenport all about her, and he promised to try to learn something of her in Europe. He was so successful in relation to Tina and Harry, I hoped he might learn something as to her; but he never seemed to. Two or three times within the last four or five years I have received letters from her, but without date, or any mark by which her position could be identified. They told me, in the vaguest and most general way, that she was well, and still loved me, but begged me to make no inquiries. They were always postmarked at Havre; but the utmost research gives no clew to her residence there."
"Well?" said I.
"Well," said Miss Mehitable, trembling in every limb, "yesterday, when Mr. Davenport and Tina had been sitting together in this room for a long time, they went out to ride. They had been playing at verse-making, or something of the kind, and there were some scattered papers on the floor, and I thought I would remove them, as they were rather untidy, and among them I found – " she stopped, and panted for breath – "I found THIS!"
She handed me an envelope that had evidently been around a package of papers. It was postmarked Geneva, Switzerland, and directed to Ellery Davenport.
"Horace," said Miss Mehitable, "that is Emily Rossiter's handwriting; and look, the date is only two months back! What shall we do?"
There are moments when whole trains of thought go through the brain like lightning. My first emotion was, I confess, a perfectly fierce feeling of joy. Here was a clew! My suspicions had not then been unjust; the man was what Miss Debby had said, – deep, artful, and to be unmasked. In a moment I sternly rebuked myself, and thought what a wretch I was for my suspicions. The very selfish stake that I held in any such discovery imposed upon me, in my view, a double obligation to defend the character of my rival. I so dreaded that I should be carried away that I pleaded strongly and resolutely with myself for him. Besides, what would Tina think of me if I impugned Ellery Davenport's honor for what might be, after all, an accidental resemblance in handwriting.
All these things came in one blinding flash of thought as I held the paper in my hands. Miss Mehitable sat, white and trembling, looking at me piteously.
"My dear Aunty," I said, "in a case like this we cannot take one single step without being perfectly sure. This handwriting may accidentally resemble your sister's. Are you perfectly sure that it is hers? It is a very small scrap of paper to determine by."
"Well, I can't really say," said Miss Mehitable, hesitating. "It may be that I have dwelt on this subject until I have grown nervous and my very senses deceive me. I really cannot say, Horace; that was the reason I came to you to ask what I should do."
"Let us look the matter over calmly, Aunty."
"Now," she said, nervously drawing from her pocket two or three letters and opening them before me, "here are those letters, and your head is cool and steady. I wish you would compare the writing, and tell me what to think of it."
Now the letters and the directions were in that sharp, decided English hand which so many well-educated women write, and in which personal peculiarities are lost, to a great degree, in a general style. I could not help seeing that there was a resemblance which might strike a person, – especially a person so deeply interested, and dwelling with such intentness upon a subject, as Miss Mehitable evidently was.
"My dear Aunty," said I, "I see a resemblance; but have you not known a great many ladies who wrote hands like this?"
"Yes, I must say I have," said Miss Mehitable, still hesitating, – "only, somehow, this impressed me very strongly."
"Well," said I, "supposing that your sister has written to Ellery Davenport, may she not have intrusted him with communications under his promise of secrecy, which he was bound in honor not to reveal?"
"That may be possible," said Miss Mehitable, sighing deeply, "but O, why should she not make a confidante of me?"
"It may be, Aunty," said I, hesitatingly, "that she is living in relations that she feels could not be justified to you."
"O Horace!" said Miss Mehitable.
"You know," I went on, "that there has been a very great shaking of old established opinions in Europe. A great many things are looked upon there as open questions, in regard to morality, which we here in New England never think of discussing. Ellery Davenport is a man of the European world, and I can easily see that there may be circumstances in which your sister would more readily resort to the friendship of such a man than to yours."
"May God help me!" said Miss Mehitable.
"My dear Aunty, suppose you find that your sister has adopted a false theory of life, sincerely and conscientiously, and under the influence of it gone astray from what we in New England think to be right. Should we not make a discrimination between errors that come from a wrong belief and the mere weakness that blindly yields to passion? Your sister's letters show great decision and strength of mind. It appears to me that she is exactly the woman to be misled by those dazzling, unsettling theories with regard to social life which now bear such sway, and are especially propagated by French literature. She may really and courageously deem herself doing right in a course that she knows she cannot defend to you and Mr. Rossiter."
"Horace, you speak out and make plain what has been the secret and dreadful fear of my life. I never have believed that Emily could have gone from us all, and stayed away so long, without the support of some attachment. And while you have been talking I have become perfectly certain that it is so; but the thought is like death to me."
"My dear Aunty," I said, "our Father above, who sees all the history of our minds, and how they work, must have a toleration and a patience that we have not with each other. He says that he will bring the blind by a way they knew not, and 'make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight'; and he adds, 'These things will I do unto them, and will not forsake them.' That has always seemed to me the most godlike passage in the Bible."
Miss Mehitable sat for a long time, leaning her head upon her hand.
"Then, Horace, you would n't advise me," she said, after a pause, "to say anything to Ellery Davenport about it?"
"Supposing," said I, "that there are communications that he is bound in honor not to reveal, of what use could be your inquiries? It can only create unpleasantness; it may make Tina feel unhappy, who is so very happy now, and probably, at best, you cannot learn anything that would satisfy you."
"Probably not," said she, sighing.
"I can hand this envelope to him," I said after a moment's thought, "this evening, if you think best, and you can see how he looks on receiving it."
"I don't know as it will be of any use," said Miss Mehitable, 'but you may do it."
Accordingly, that evening, as we were all gathered in a circle around the open fire, and Tina and Ellery, seated side by side, were carrying on that sort of bantering warfare of wit in which they delighted, I drew this envelope from my pocket and said, carelessly, "Mr. Davenport, here is a letter of yours that you dropped in the library this morning."
He was at that moment playing with a silk tassel which fluttered from Tina's wrist. He let it go, and took the envelope and looked at it carelessly.
"A letter!" said Tina, snatching it out of his hand with saucy freedom, – "dated at Geneva, and a lady's handwriting! I think I have a right to open it!"
"Do so by all means," said Ellery.
"O pshaw! there 's nothing in it," said Tina.
"Not an uncommon circumstance in a lady's letter," said Ellery.
"You saucy fellow!" said Tina.
"Why," said Ellery, "is it not the very province and privilege of the fair sex to make nothing more valuable and more agreeable than something? that 's the true secret of witchcraft."
"But I sha' n't like it," said Tina, half pouting, "if you call my letters nothing."
"Your letters, I doubt not, will be an exception to those of all the sex," said Ellery. "I really tremble, when I think how profound they will be!"
"You are making fun of me!" said she, coloring.
"I making fun of you? And what have you been doing with all your hapless lovers up to this time? Behold Nemesis arrayed in my form."
"But seriously, Ellery, I want to know whom this letter was from?"
"Why don't you look at the signature?" said he.
"Well, of course you know there is no signature, but I mean what came in this paper?"
"What came in the paper," said Ellery, carelessly, "was, a neat little collection of Alpine flowers, that, if you are interested in botany, I shall have the honor of showing you one of these days."
"But you have n't told me who sent them," said Tina.
"Ah, ha! we are jealous!" said he, shaking the letter at her. "What would you give to know, now? Will you be very good if I will tell you? Will you promise me for the future not to order me to do more than forty things at one time, for example?"
"I sha' n't make any promises," said Tina; "you ought to tell me!"
"What an oppressive mistress you are!" said Ellery Davenport. "I begin to sympathize with Sam Lawson, – lordy massy, you dunno nothin' what I undergo!"
"You don't get off that way," said Tina.
"Well," said Ellery Davenport, "if you must know, it 's Mrs. Breck."
"And who is she?" said Tina.
"Well, my dear, she was my boarding-house keeper at Geneva, and a very pretty, nice Englishwoman, – one that I should recommend as an example to her sex."
"Oh!" said Tina, "I don't care anything about it now."
"Of course," said Ellery. "Modest, unpretending virtue never excites any interest. I have labored under that disadvantage all my days."
The by-play between the two had brought the whole circle around the fire into a careless, laughing state. I looked across to Miss Mehitable; she was laughing with the rest. As we started to go out, Miss Mehitable followed me into the passageway. "My dear Horace," she said, "I was very absurd; it comes of being nervous and thinking of one thing too much."
THE fourteenth of June was as bright a morning as if it had been made on purpose for a wedding-day, and of all the five thousand inauspicious possibilities which usually encumber weddings, not one fell to our share.
Tina's dress, for example, was all done two days beforehand, and fitted to a hair; and all the invited guests had come, and were lodged in the spacious Kittery mansion.
Esther Avery was to stand as bridesmaid, with me as groomsman, and Harry, as nearest relative, was to give the bride away. The day before, I had been in and seen both ladies dressed up in the marriage finery, and we had rehearsed the situation before Harry, as clergyman, Miss Debby being present, in one of her most commanding frames of mind, to see that everything was done according to the Rubric. She surveyed Esther, while she took an approving pinch of snuff, and remarked to me, aside, "That young person, for a Congregational parson's daughter, has a surprisingly distinguished air."
Lady Widgery and Lady Lothrop, who were also in at the inspection, honored Esther with their decided approbation.
"She will be quite presentable at court," Lady Widgery remarked. "Of course Sir Harry will wish her presented."
All this empressement in regard to Harry's rank and title, among these venerable sisters, afforded great amusement to our quartette, and we held it a capital joke among ourselves to make Esther blush by calling her Lady Percival, and to inquire of Harry about his future parliamentary prospects, his rent-rolls and tenants. In fact, when together, we were four children, and played with life much as we used to in the dear old days.
Esther, under the influence of hope and love, had bloomed out into a beautiful woman. Instead of looking like a pale image of abstract thought, she seemed like warm flesh and blood, and Ellery Davenport remarked, "What a splendid contrast her black hair and eyes will make to the golden beauty of Tina!"
All Oldtown respectability had exerted itself to be at the wedding. All, however humble, who had befriended Tina and Harry during the days of their poverty, were bidden. Polly had been long sojourning in the house, in the capacity of Miss Mehitable's maid, and assisting assiduously in the endless sewing and fine laundry work which precedes a wedding.
On this auspicious morning she came gloriously forth, rustling in a stiff changeable lutestring, her very Sunday best, and with her mind made up to enter an Episcopal church for the first time in her life. There had, in fact, occurred some slight theological skirmishes between Polly and the High Church domestics of Miss Debby's establishment, and Miss Mehitable was obliged to make stringent representations to Polly concerning the duty of sometimes repressing her testimony for truth under particular circumstances.
Polly had attended one catechising, but the shock produced upon her mind by hearing doctrines which seemed to her to have such papistical tendencies was so great that Miss Mehitable begged Miss Debby to allow her to be excused in future. Miss Debby felt that the obligations of politeness owed by a woman of quality to an invited guest in her own house might take precedence even of theological considerations. In this point of view, she regarded Congregationalists with a well-bred, compassionate tolerance, and very willingly acceded to whatever Miss Mehitable suggested.
Harry and I had passed the night before the wedding-day at the Kittery mansion, that we might be there at the very earliest hour in the morning, to attend to all those thousand and one things that always turn up for attention at such a time.
Madam Kittery's garden commanded a distant view of the sea, and I walked among the stately alleys looking at that splendid distant view of Boston harbor, which seemed so bright and sunny, and which swooned away into the horizon with such an ineffable softness, as an image of eternal peace.
As I stood there looking, I heard a light footstep behind me, and Tina came up suddenly and spattered my cheek with a dewy rose that she had just been gathering.
"You look as mournful as if it were you that is going to be married!" she said.
"Tina!" I said, "you out so early too?"
"Yes, for a wonder. The fact was, I had a bad dream, and could not sleep. I got up and looked out of my window, and saw you here, Horace, so I dressed me quickly and ran down. I feel a little bit uncanny, – and eerie, as the Scotch say, – and a little bit sad, too, about the dear old days, Horace. We have had such good times together, – first we three, and then we took Esther in, and that made four; and now, Horace, you must open the ranks a little wider and take in Ellery."
"But five is an uneven number," said I; "it leaves one out in the cold."
"O Horace! I hope you will find one worthy of you," she said. "I shall have a place in my heart all ready for her. She shall be my sister. You will write to me, won't you? Do write. I shall so want to hear of the dear old things. Every stick and stone, every sweetbrier-bush and huckleberry patch in Oldtown, will always be dear to me. And dear old precious Aunty, what ever set it into her good heart to think of taking poor little me to be her child? and it 's too bad that I should leave her so. You know, Horace, I have a small income all my own, and that I mean to give to Aunty."
Now there were many points in this little valedictory of Tina to which I had no mind to respond, and she looked, as she was speaking, with tears coming in her great soft eyes, altogether too loving and lovely to be a safe companion to one forbidden to hold her in his arms and kiss her, and I felt such a desperate temptation in that direction that I turned suddenly from her. "Does Mr. Davenport approve such a disposition of your income?" said I, in a constrained voice.
"Mr. Davenport! Mr. High and Mighty," she said, mimicking my constrained tone, "what makes you so sulky to me this morning?"
"I am not sulky, Tina, only sad," I said.
"Come, come, Horace, don't be sad," she said, coaxingly, and putting her hand through my arm. "Now just be a good boy, and walk up and down with me here a few moments, and let me tell you about things."
I submitted and let her lead me off passively. "You see, Horace," she said, "I feel for poor old Aunty. Hers seems to me such a dry, desolate life; and I can't help feeling a sort of self-reproach when I think of it. Why should I have health and youth and strength and Ellery, and be going to see all the beauty and glory of Europe, while she sits alone at home, old and poor, and hears the rain drip off from those old lilac-bushes? Oldtown is a nice place, to be sure, but it does rain a great deal there, and she and Polly will be so lonesome without me to make fun for them. Now, Horace, you must promise me to go there as much as you can. You must cultivate Aunty for my sake; and her friendship is worth cultivating for its own sake."
"I know it," said I; "I am fully aware of the value of her mind and character."
"You and Harry ought both to visit her," said Tina, "and write to her, and take her advice. Nothing improves a young man faster than such female friendship; it 's worth that of dozens of us girls."
Tina always had a slight proclivity for sermonizing, but a chapter in Ecclesiastes, coming from little preachers with lips and eyes like hers, is generally acceptable.
"You know," said Tina, "that Aunty has some sort of a trouble on her mind."
"I know all about it," said I.
"Did she tell you?"
"Yes," said I, "after I had divined it."
"I made her tell me," said Tina. "When I came home from school, I determined I would not be treated like a child by her any longer, – that she should tell me her troubles, and let me bear them with her. I am young and full of hope, and ought to have troubles to bear. And she is worn out and weary with thinking over and over the same sad story. What a strange thing it is that that sister treats her so! I have been thinking so much about her lately, Horace; and, do you know? I had the strangest dream about her last night. I dreamed that Ellery and I were standing at the altar being married, and, all of a sudden, that lady that we saw in the closet and in the garret rose up like a ghost between us."
"Come, come," said I, "Tina, you are getting nervous. One should n't tell of one's bad dreams, and then one forgets them easier."
"Well," said Tina, "it made me sad to think that she was a young girl like me, full of hope and joy. They did n't treat her rightly over in that Farnsworth family, – Miss Mehitable told me all about it. O, it was a dreadful story! they perfectly froze her heart with their dreary talk about religion. Horace, I think the most irreligious thing in the world is that way of talking, which takes away our Heavenly Father, and gives only a dreadful Judge. I should not be so happy and so safe as I am now, if I did not believe in a loving God."
"Tina," said I, "are you satisfied with the religious principles of Mr. Davenport?"
"I 'm glad you asked me that, Horace, because Mr. Davenport is a man that is very apt to be misunderstood. Nobody really does understand him but me. He has seen so much of cant, and hypocrisy, and pretence of religion, and is so afraid of pretensions that do not mean anything, that I think he goes to the other extreme. Indeed, I have told him so. But he says he is always delighted to hear me talk on religion, and he likes to have me repeat hymns to him; and he told me the other day that he thought the Bible contained finer strains of poetry and eloquence than could be got from all other books put together. Then he has such a wonderful mind, you know. Mr. Avery said that he never saw a person that appreciated all the distinctions of the doctrines more completely than he did. He does n't quite agree with Mr. Avery, nor with anybody; but I think he is very far from being an irreligious man. I believe he thinks very seriously on all these subjects, indeed."
"I am glad of it," said I, half convinced by her fervor, more than half by the magic of her presence, and the touch of the golden curls that the wind blew against my cheek, – true Venetian curls, brown in the shade and gold in the sun. Certainly, such things as these, if not argument, incline man to be convinced of whatever a fair preacher says; and I thought it not unlikely that Ellery Davenport liked to hear her talk about religion. The conversation was interrupted by the breakfast-bell, which rung us in to an early meal, where we found Miss Debby, brisk and crisp with business and authority, apologizing to Lady Widgery for the unusually early hour, "but, really, so much always to be done in cases like these."
Breakfast was hurried over, for I was to dress myself, and go to Mr. Davenport's house, and accompany him, as groomsman, to meet Tina and Harry at the church door.
I remember admiring Ellery Davenport, as I met him this morning, with his easy, high-bred, cordial air, and with that overflow of general benevolence which seems to fill the hearts of happy bridegrooms on the way to the altar. Jealous as I was of the love that ought to be given to the idol of my knight-errantry, I could not but own to myself that Ellery Davenport was most loyally in love.
Then I have a vision of the old North Church, with its chimes playing, and the pews around the broad aisle filled with expectant guests. The wedding had excited a great deal of attention in the upper circles of Boston. Ellery Davenport was widely known, having been a sort of fashionable meteor, appearing at intervals in the select circles of the city, with all the prestige of foreign travel and diplomatic reputation. Then the little romance of the children had got about, and had proved as sweet a morsel under the tongues of good Bostonians as such spices in the dulness of real life usually do. There was talk everywhere of the little story, and, as usual, nothing was lost in the telling; the beauty and cleverness of the children had been reported from mouth to mouth, until everybody was on tiptoe to see them.
The Oldtown people, who were used to rising at daybreak, found no difficulty in getting to Boston in season. Uncle Fliakim's almost exhausted wagon had been diligently revamped, and his harness assiduously mended, for days beforehand, during which process the good man might have been seen flying like a meteor in an unceasing round, between the store, the blacksmith's shop, my grandfather's, and his own dwelling; and in consequence of these arduous labors, not only his wife, but Aunt Keziah and Hepsy Lawson were secured a free passage to the entertainment.
Lady Lothrop considerately offered a seat to my grandmother and Aunt Lois in her coach; but my grandmother declined the honor in favor of my mother.
"It 's all very well," said my grandmother, "and I send my blessing on 'em with all my heart; but my old husband and I are too far along to be rattling our old bones to weddings in Boston. I should n't know how to behave in their grand Episcopal church."
Aunt Lois, who, like many other good women, had an innocent love of the pomps and vanities, and my mother, to whom the scene was an unheard-of recreation, were, on the whole, not displeased that her mind had taken this turn. As to Sam Lawson, he arose before Aurora had unbarred the gates of dawn, and strode off vigorously on foot, in his best Sunday clothes, and arrived there in time to welcome Uncle Fliakim's wagon, and to tell him that "he 'd ben a lookin' out for 'em these two hours."
So then for as much as half an hour before the wedding coaches arrived at the church door there was a goodly assemblage in the church, and, while the chimes were solemnly pealing the tune of old Wells, there were bibbing and bobbing of fashionable bonnets, and fluttering of fans, and rustling of silks, and subdued creakings of whalebone stays, and a gentle undertone of gossiping conversation in the expectant audience. Sam Lawson had mounted the organ loft, directly opposite the altar, which commanded a most distinct view of every possible transaction below, and also gave a prominent image of himself, with his lanky jaws, protruding eyes, and shackling figure, posed over all as the inspecting genius of the scene. And every once in a while he conveyed to Jake Marshall pieces of intelligence with regard to the amount of property or private history – the horses, carriages, servants, and most secret internal belongings – of the innocent Bostonians, who were disporting themselves below, in utter ignorance of how much was known about them. But when a man gives himself seriously, for years, to the task of collecting information, thinking nothing of long tramps of twenty miles in the acquisition, never hesitating to put a question and never forgetting an answer, it is astonishing what an amount of information he may pick up. In Sam, a valuable reporter of the press has been lost forever. He was born a generation too soon, and the civilization of his time had not yet made a place for him. But not the less did he at this moment feel in himself all the responsibilities of a special reporter for Oldtown.
"Lordy massy," he said to Jake, when the chimes began to play, "how solemn that 'ere does sound!
' Life is the time to sarve the Lord,I ben up in the belfry askin' the ringer what Mr. Devenport 's goin' to give him for ringin' them 'ere chimes; and how much de ye think 't was? Wal, 't was just fifty dollars, for jest this 'ere one time! an' the weddin' fee 's a goin' t' be a hunderd guineas in a gold puss. I tell yer, Colonel Devenport 's a man as chops his mince putty fine. There 's Parson Lothrop down there; he 's got a spick span new coat an' a new wig! That 's Mis' Lothrop's scarlet Injy shawl; that 'ere cost a hunderd guineas in Injy, – her first husband gin 'er that. Lordy massy, ain't it a providence that Parson Lothrop 's married her? 'cause sence the war that 'ere s'ciety fur sendin' the Gospil to furrin parts don't send nothin' to 'em, an' the Oldtown people they don't pay nothin'. All they can raise they gin to Mr. Mordecai Rossiter, 'cause they say ef they hev to s'port a colleague it 's all they can do, 'specially sence he 's married. Yeh see, Mordecai, he wanted to git Tiny, but he could n't come it, and so he 's tuk up with Delily Barker. The folks, some on 'em, kind o' hinted to old Parson Lothrop thet his sermons was n't so interestin 's they might be, 'n' the parson, ses he, 'Wal, I b'lieve the sermons 's about 's good 's the pay; ain't they?' He hed 'em there. I like Parson Lothrop, – he 's a fine old figger-head, and keeps up stiff for th' honor o' the ministry. Why, folks 's gittin' so nowadays thet ministers won't be no more 'n common folks, 'n' everybody 'll hev their say to 'em jest 's they do to anybody else. Lordy massy, there 's the orgin, – goin' to hev all the glories, orgins 'n' bells 'n' everythin'; guess the procession must ha' started. Mr. Devenport's got another spick an' span new landau, 't he ordered over from England, special, for this 'casion, an' two prancin' white hosses! Yeh see I got inter Bostin 'bout daybreak, an' I 's around ter his stables a lookin' at 'em a polishin' up their huffs a little, 'n' givin' on 'em a wipe down, 'n' I asked Jenkins what he thought he gin for 'em, an' he sed he reely should n't durst to tell me. I tell ye, he 's like Solomon, – he 's a goin' to make gold as the stones o' the street."
The time to insure the gret reward.'
And while Sam's monologue was going on, in came the bridal procession, – first, Harry, with his golden head and blue eyes, and, leaning on his arm, a cloud of ethereal gauzes and laces, out of which looked a face, pale now as a lily, with wandering curls of golden hair like little gleams of sunlight on white clouds; then the tall, splendid figure of Ellery Davenport, his haughty blue eyes glancing all around with a triumphant assurance. Miss Mehitable hung upon his arm, pale with excitement and emotion. Then came Esther and I. As we passed up the aisle, I heard a confused murmur of whisperings and a subdued drawing in of breath, and the rest all seemed to me to be done in a dream. I heard the words, "Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?" and saw Harry step forth, bold, and bright, and handsome, amid the whisperings that pointed him out as the hero of a little romance. And he gave her away forever, – our darling, our heart of hearts. And then those holy, tender words, those vows so awful, those supporting prayers, all mingled as in a dream, until it was all over, and ladies, laughing and crying, were crowding around Tina, and there were kissing and congratulating and shaking of hands, and then we swept out of the church, and into the carriages, and were whirled back to the Kittery mansion, which was thrown wide open, from garret to cellar, in the very profuseness of old English hospitality.
There was a splendid lunch laid out in the parlor, with all the old silver in muster, and with all the delicacies that Boston confectioners and caterers could furnish.
Ellery Davenport had indeed tendered the services of his French cook, but Miss Debby had respectfully declined the offer.
"He may be a very good cook, Ellery; I say nothing against him. I am extremely obliged to you for your polite offer, but good English cooking is good enough for me, and I trust that whatever guests I invite will always think it good enough for them."
On that day, Aunt Lois and Aunt Keziah and my mother and Uncle Fliakim sat down in proximity to some of the very selectest families of Boston, comporting themselves, like good republican Yankees, as if they had been accustomed to that sort of thing all their lives, though secretly embarrassed by many little points of etiquette.
Tina and Ellery sat at the head of the table, and dispensed hospitalities around them with a gay and gracious freedom; and Harry, in whom the bridal dress of Esther had evidently excited distracting visions of future probabilities, was making his seat by her at dinner an opportunity, in the general clatter of conversation, to enjoy a nice little tête-à-tête.
Besides the brilliant company in the parlor, a long table was laid out upon the greensward at the back of the house, in the garden, where beer and ale flowed freely, and ham and bread and cheese and cake and eatables of a solid and sustaining description were dispensed to whomsoever would. The humble friends of lower degree – the particular friends of the servants, and all the numerous tribe of dependants and hangers-on, who wished to have some small share in the prosperity of the prosperous – here found ample entertainment. Here Sam Lawson might be seen, seated beside Hepsy, on a garden-seat near the festive board, gallantly pressing upon her the good things of the hour.
"Eat all ye want ter, Hepsy, – it comes free 's water; ye can hev 'wine an' milk without money 'n' without price,' as 't were Lordy massy, 's jest what I wanted. I hed sech a stram this mornin', 'n' hain't hed nothin' but a two-cent roll, 't I bought 't the baker's. Thought I should ha' caved in 'fore they got through with the weddin'. These 'ere 'Piscopal weddin's is putty long. What d' ye think on 'em, Polly?"
"I think I like our own way the best," said Polly, stanchly, "none o' your folderol, 'n' kneelin', 'n' puttin' on o' rings."
"Well," said Hepsy, with the spice of a pepper-box in her eyes, "I liked the part that said, 'With all my worldly goods, I thee endow.'"
"Thet 's putty well, when a man hes any worldly goods," said Sam; "but how about when he hes n't?"
"Then he 's no business to git married!" said Hepsy, definitely.
"So I think" said Polly; "but, for my part, I don't want no man's worldly goods, ef I 've got to take him with 'em. I 'd rather work hard as I have done, and hev 'em all to myself, to do just what I please with."
"Wal, Polly," said Sam, "I dare say the men 's jest o' your mind, – none on 'em won't try very hard to git ye' out on 't."
"There 's bin those thet hes, though!" said Polly; "but 't ain't wuth talkin' about, any way."
And so conversation below stairs and above proceeded gayly and briskly, until at last the parting hour came.
"Now jest all on ye step round ter the front door, an' see 'em go off in their glory. Them two white hosses is imported fresh from England, 'n' they could n't ha' cost less 'n' a thousan' dollars apiece, ef they cost a cent."
"A thousand!" said Jenkins, the groom, who stood in his best clothes amid the festive throng. "Who told you that?"
"Wal!" said Sam, "I thought I 'd put the figger low enough, sence ye would n't tell me perticklers. I like to be accurate 'bout these 'ere things. There they be! they 're comin' out the door now. She 's tuk off her white dress now, an' got on her travellin' dress, don't ye see? Lordy massy, what a kissin' an' a cryin'! How women allers does go on 'bout these 'ere things. There, he 's got 'er at last. See 'em goin' down the steps! ain't they a han'some couple! There, he 's handin on 'er in. The kerrige's lined with blue satin, 'n' never was sot in afore this mornin'. Good luck go with 'em! There they go."
And we all of us stood on the steps of the Kittery mansion, kissing hands and waving handkerchiefs, until the beloved one, the darling of our hearts, was out of sight.
WEDDING joys are commonly supposed to pertain especially to the two principal personages, and to be of a kind with which the world doth not intermeddle; but a wedding in such a quiet and monotonous state of existence as that of Oldtown is like a glorious sunset, which leaves a long after-glow, in which trees and rocks, farm-houses, and all the dull, commonplace landscape of real life have, for a while, a roseate hue of brightness. And then the long after-talks, the deliberate turnings and revampings, and the re-enjoying, bit by bit, of every incident!
Sam Lawson was a man who knew how to make the most of this, and for a week or two he reigned triumphant in Oldtown on the strength of it. Others could relate the bare, simple facts, but Sam Lawson could give the wedding, with variations, with marginal references, and explanatory notes, and enlightening comments, that ran deep into the history of everybody present. So that even those who had been at the wedding did not know half what they had seen until Sam told them.
It was now the second evening after that auspicious event. Aunt Lois and my mother had been pressed to prolong their stay over one night after the wedding, to share the hospitalities of the Kittery mansion, and had been taken around in the Kittery carriage to see the wonders of Boston town. But prompt, on their return, Sam came in to assist them in dishing up information by the evening fireside.
"Wal, Mis' Badger," said he, "'t was gin'ally agreed, on all hands, there had n't ben no weddin' like it seen in Boston sence the time them court folks and nobility used to be there. Old Luke there, that rings the chimes, he told me he hed n't seen no sech couple go up the broad aisle o' that church. Luke, says he to me, 'I tell yew, the grander o' Boston is here to-day,' and ye 'd better b'lieve every one on 'em had on their Sunday best. There was the Boylstons, an' the Bowdoins, an' the Brattles, an' the Winthrops, an' the Bradfords, an' the Penhallows up from Portsmouth, an' the Quinceys, an' the Sewells. Wal, I tell yer, there was real grit there! – folks that come in their grand kerridges I tell you! – there was such a pawin' and a stampin' o' horses and kerridges round the church as if all the army of the Assyrians was there!"
"Well, now, I 'm glad I did n't go," said my grandmother. "I 'm too old to go into any such grandeur."
"Wal, I don't see why folks hes so much 'bjections to these here 'Piscopal weddin's, neither," said Sam. "I tell yer, it 's a kind o' putty sight now; ye see I was up in the organ loft, where I could look down on the heads of all the people. Massy to us! the bunnets, an' the feathers, an' the Injy shawls, an' the purple an' fine linen, was all out on the 'casion. An' when our Harry come in with Tiny on his arm, tha' was a gineral kind o' buzz, an' folks a risin' up all over the house to look at 'em. Her dress was yer real Injy satin, thick an' yaller, kind o' like cream. An' she had on the Pierpont pearls an' diamonds –"
"How did you know what she had on?" said Aunt Lois.
"O, I hes ways o' findin' out!" said Sam. "Yeh know old Gineral Pierpont, his gret-gret-grandfather, was a gineral in the British army in Injy, an' he racketed round 'mong them nabobs out there, an' got no end o' gold an' precious stones, an' these 'ere pearls an' diamonds that she wore on her neck and in her ears hes come down in the Devenport family. Mis' Delily, Miss Deborah Kittery's maid, she told me all the partic'lars 'bout it, an' she ses there ain't no family so rich in silver and jewels, and sich, as Ellery Devenport's is, an' hes ben for generations back. His house is jest chock-full of all sorts o' graven images and queer things from Chiny an' Japan, 'cause, ye see, his ancestors they traded to Injy, an' they seem to hev got the abundance o' the Gentiles flowin' to 'em."
"I noticed those pearls on her neck," said Aunt Lois; "I never saw such pearls."
"Wal," said Sam, "Mis' Delily, she ses she 's tried 'em 'long side of a good-sized pea, an' they 're full as big. An' the earrings 's them pear-shaped pearls, ye know, with diamond nubs atop on 'em. Then there was a great pearl cross, an' the biggest kind of a diamond right in the middle on 't. Wal, Mis' Delily she told me a story 'bout them 'ere pearls," said Sam. "For my part, ef it hed ben a daughter o' mine, I 'd ruther she 'd 'a' worn suthin on her neck that was spic an' span new. I tell yew, these 'ere old family jewels, I think sometimes they gits kind o' struck through an' through with moth an' rust, so to speak."
"I 'm sure I don't know what you mean, Sam," said Aunt Lois, literally, "since we know gold can't rust, and pearls and diamonds don't hurt with any amount of keeping."
"Wal, ye see, they do say that 'ere old Gineral Pierpont was a putty hard customer; he got them 'ere pearls an' diamonds away from an Injun princess; I s'pose she thought she 'd as much right to 'em 's he hed; an' they say 't was about all she hed was her jewels, an' so nat'rally enough she cussed him for taking on 'em. Wal, dunno 's the Lord minds the cusses o' these poor old heathen critturs; but 's ben a fact, Mis' Delily says, thet them jewels hain't never brought good luck. Gineral Pierpont, he gin 'em to his fust wife, an' she did n't live but two months arter she was married. He gin 'em to his second wife, 'n' she tuck to drink and le 'd him sech a life 't he would n't ha' cared ef she had died too; 'n' then they come down to Ellery Davenport's first wife, 'n' she went ravin' crazy the fust year arter she was married. Now all that 'ere does look a little like a cuss; don't it?"
"O nonsense, Sam!" said Aunt Lois, "I don't believe there 's a word of truth in any of it! You can hatch more stories in one day than a hen can eggs in a month."
"Wal, any way," said Sam, "I like the 'Piscopal sarvice, all ceppin' the minister 's wearin' his shirt outside; that I don't like."
"'T is n't a shirt!" said Aunt Lois, indignantly.
"O, lordy massy!" said Sam, "I know what they calls it. I know it 's a surplice, but it looks for all the world like a man in his shirt-sleeves; but the words is real solemn. I wondered when he asked 'em all whether they hed any objections to 't, an' told 'em to speak up ef they hed, what would happen ef anybody should speak up jest there."
"Why, of course 't would stop the wedding," said Aunt Lois, "until the thing was inquired into."
"Wal, Jake Marshall, he said thet he 'd heerd a story when he was a boy, about a weddin' in a church at Portsmouth, that was stopped jest there, 'cause, ye see, the man he hed another wife livin. He said 't was old Colonel Penhallow. 'mazin' rich the old Colonel was, and these 'ere rich old cocks sometimes does seem to strut round and cut up pretty much as if they hed n't heard o' no God in their parts. The Colonel he got his wife shet up in a lunatic asylum, an' then spread the word that she was dead, an' courted a gal, and come jest as near as that to marryin' of her."
"As near as what?" said Aunt Lois.
"Why, when they got to that 'ere part of the service, there was his wife, good as new. She 'd got out o' the 'sylum, and stood up there 'fore 'em all. So you see that 'ere does some good."
"I 'd rather stay in an asylum all my life than go back to that man," said Aunt Lois.
"Wal, you see she did n't," said Sam; "her friends they made him make a settlement on her, poor woman, and he cleared out t' England."
"Good riddance to bad rubbish," said my grandmother.
"Wal, how handsome that 'ere gal is that Harry 's going to marry!" continued Sam. "She did n't have on nothin' but white muslin', an' not a snip of a jewel; but she looked like a queen. Ses I to Jake, ses I, there goes the woman 't 'll be Lady Percival one o' these days, over in England, an' I bet ye, he 'll find lots o' family jewels for her, over there. Mis' Delily she said she did n't doubt there would be."
"I hope," said my grandmother, "that she will have more enduring riches than that; it 's a small matter about earthly jewels."
"Lordy massy, yes, Mis' Badger," said Sam, "jes' so, jes' so; now that 'ere was bein' impressed on my mind all the time. Folks oughtenter lay up their treasures on airth; I could n't help thinkin' on 't, when I see Tiny a wearin' them jewels, jest how vain an' transitory everythin' is, an' how the women 't has worn 'em afore is all turned to dust, an' lyin' in their graves. Lordy massy, these 'ere things make us realize what a transitory world we 's a livin' in. I was tellin' Hepsy 'bout it, – she 's so kind o' worldly, Hepsy is, – seemed to make her feel so kind o' gritty to see so much wealth 'n' splendor, when we hed n't none. Ses I, 'Hepsy, there ain't no use o' wantin' worldly riches, 'cause our lives all passes away like a dream, an' a hundred years hence 't won't make no sort o' diffurnce what we 've hed, an' what we heve n't hed.' But wal, Miss Lois, did ye see the kerridge?" said Sam, returning to temporal things with renewed animation.
"I just got a glimpse of it," said Aunt Lois, "as it drove to the door."
"Lordy massy," said Sam, "I was all over that 'ere kerridge that mornin' by daylight. "T ain't the one he had up here, – that was jest common doin's, – this 'ere is imported spic an' span new from England for the 'casion, an' all made jest 's they make 'em for the nobility. Why, 't was all quilted an' lined with blue satin, ever so grand, an' Turkey carpet under their feet, an' the springs was easy 's a rockin'-chair. That 's what they 've gone off in. Wal, lordy massy! I don't grudge Tina nothin'! She 's the chipperest, light-heartedest, darlin'est little creetur that ever did live, an' I hope she 'll hev good luck in all things."
A rap was heard at the kitchen door, and Polly entered. It was evident from her appearance that she was in a state of considerable agitation. She looked pale and excited, and her hands shook.
"Mis' Badger," she said to my grandmother, "Miss Rossiter wants to know 'f you won't come an' set up with her to-night."
"Why, is she sick?" said grandmother. "What 's the matter with her?"
"She ain't very well," said Polly, evasively; "she wanted Mis' Badger to spend the night with her."
"Perhaps, mother, I 'd better go over," said Aunt Lois.
"No, Miss Lois," said Polly, eagerly, "Miss Rossiter don' wanter see anybody but yer mother."
"Wal, now I wanter know!" said Sam Lawson.
"Well, you can't know everything," said Aunt Lois, "so you may want!"
"Tell Miss Rossiter, ef I can do anythin' for 'er, I hope she 'll call on me," said Sam.
My grandmother and Polly went out together. Aunt Lois bustled about the hearth, swept it up, and then looked out into the darkness after them. What could it be?
The old clock ticked drowsily in the kitchen corner, and her knitting-needles rattled.
"What do you think it is?" said my mother, timidly, to Aunt Lois.
"How should I know?" said Aunt Lois, sharply.
In a few moments Polly returned again.
"Miss Mehitable says she would like to see Sam Lawson."
"O, wal, wal, would she? Wal, I 'll come!" said Sam, rising with joyful alertness. "I 'm allers ready at a minute's warnin'!"
Any they went out into the darkness together.
IN the creed of most story-tellers marriage is equal to translation. The mortal pair whose fortunes are traced to the foot of the altar forthwith ascend, and a cloud receives them out of our sight as the curtain falls. Faith supposes them rapt away to some unseen paradise, and every-day toil girds up its loins and with a sigh prepares to return to its delving and grubbing.
But our story must follow the fortunes of our heroine beyond the prescribed limits.
It had been arranged that the wedding pair, after a sunny afternoon's drive through some of the most picturesque scenery in the neighborhood of Boston, should return at eventide to their country home, where they were to spend a short time preparatory to sailing for Europe. Even in those early days the rocky glories of Nahant and its dashing waves were known and resorted to by Bostonians, and the first part of the drive was thitherward, and Tina climbed round among the rocks, exulting like a sea-bird with Ellery Davenport ever at her side, laughing, admiring, but holding back her bold, excited footsteps, lest she should plunge over by some unguarded movement, and become a vanished dream.
So near lies the ever possible tragedy at the hour of our greatest exultation; it is but a false step, an inadvertent movement, and all that was joy can become a cruel mockery! We all know this to be so. We sometimes start and shriek when we see it to be so in the case of others, but who is the less triumphant in his hour of possession for this gloomy shadow of possibility that forever dogs his steps?
Ellery Davenport was now in the high tide of victory. The pursuit of the hour was a success; he had captured the butterfly. In his eagerness he had trodden down and disregarded many teachings and impulses of his better nature that should have made him hesitate; but now he felt that he had her; she was his, – his alone and forever.
But already dark thoughts from the past were beginning to flutter out like ill-omened bats, and dip down on gloomy wing between him and the innocent, bright, confiding face. Tina he could see had idealized him entirely. She had invested him with all her conceptions of knighthood, honor, purity, religion, and made a creation of her own of him; and sometimes he smiled to himself, half amused and half annoyed at the very young and innocent simplicity of the matter. Nobody knew better than himself that what she dreamed he was he neither was nor meant to be, – that in fact there could not be a bitterer satire on his real self than her conceptions; but just now, with her brilliant beauty, her piquant earnestness, her perfect freshness, there was an indescribable charm about her that bewitched him.
Would it all pass away and get down to the jog-trot dustiness of ordinary married life, he wondered, and then, ought he not to have been a little more fair with her in exchange for the perfect transparence with which she threw open the whole of her past life to him? Had he not played with her as some villain might with a little child, and got away a priceless diamond for a bit of painted glass? He did not allow himself to think in that direction.
"Come, my little sea-gull," he said to her, after they had wandered and rambled over the rocks for a while, "you must come down from that perch, and we must drive on, if we mean to be at home before midnight."
"O Ellery, how glorious it is!"
"Yes, but we cannot build here three tabernacles, and so we must say, Au revoir. I will bring you here again "; – and Ellery half led, half carried her in his arms back to the carriage.
"How beautiful it is!" said Tina, as they were glancing along a turfy road through the woods. The white pines were just putting out their long fingers, the new leaves of the silvery birches were twinkling in the light, the road was fringed on both sides with great patches of the blue violet, and sweet-fern, and bayberry and growing green tips of young spruce and fir were exhaling a spicy perfume. "It seems as if we two alone were flying through fairy-land." His arm was around her, tightening its clasp of possession as he looked down on her.
"Yes," he said, "we two are alone in our world now; none can enter it; none can see into it; none can come between us."
Suddenly the words recalled to Tina her bad dream of the night before. She was on the point of speaking of it, but hesitated to introduce it; she felt a strange shyness in mentioning that subject.
Ellery Davenport turned the conversation upon things in foreign lands, which he would soon show her. He pictured to her the bay of Naples, the rocks of Sorrento, where the blue Mediterranean is overhung with groves of oranges, where they should have a villa some day, and live in a dream of beauty. All things fair and bright and beautiful in foreign lands were evoked, and made to come as a sort of airy pageant around them while they wound through the still, spicy pine-woods.
It was past sunset, and the moon was looking white and sober through the flush of the evening sky, when they entered the grounds of their own future home.
"How different everything looks here from what it did when I was here years ago!" said Tina, – "the paths are all cleared, and then it was one wild, dripping tangle. I remember how long we knocked at the door, and could n't make any one hear, and the old black knocker frightened me, – it was a black serpent with his tail in his mouth. I wonder if it is there yet."
"O, to be sure it is," said Ellery; "that is quite a fine bit of old bronze, after something in Herculaneum, I think; you know serpents were quite in vogue among the ancients."
"I should think that symbol meant eternal evil," said Tina, – "a circle is eternity, and a serpent is evil."
"You are evidently prejudiced against serpents, my love," said Ellery. "The ancients thought better of them; they were emblems of wisdom, and the ladies very appropriately wore them for bracelets and necklaces."
"I would n't have one for the world," said Tina. "I always hated them, they are so bright, and still, and sly."
"Mere prejudice," said Ellery, laughing. "I must cure it by giving you, one of these days, an emerald-green serpent for a bracelet, with ruby crest and diamond eyes; you 've no idea what pretty fellows they are. But here, you see, we are coming to the house; you can smell the roses."
"How lovely and how changed!" said Tina. "O, what a world of white roses over that portico, – roses everywhere, and white lilacs. It is a perfect paradise!"
"May you find it so, my little Eve," said Ellery Davenport, as the carriage stopped at the door. Ellery sprang out lightly, and, turning, took Tina in his arms and set her down in the porch.
They stood there a moment in the moonlight, and listened to the fainter patter of the horses' feet as they went down the drive.
"Come in, my little wife," said Ellery, opening the door; "and may the black serpent bring you good luck."
The house was brilliantly lighted by wax candles in massive silver candlesticks.
"O, how strangely altered!" said Tina, running about, and looking into the rooms with the delight of a child. "How beautiful everything is!"
The housekeeper, a respectable female, now appeared and offered her services to conduct her young mistress to her rooms. Ellery went with her, almost carrying her up the staircase on his arm. Above, as below, all was light and bright. "This room is ours," said Ellery, drawing her into that chamber which Tina remembered years before as so weirdly desolate. Now it was all radiant with hangings and furniture of blue and silver; the open windows let in branches of climbing white roses, the vases were full of lilies. The housekeeper paused a moment at the door.
"There is a lady in the little parlor below that has been waiting more than an hour to see you and madam," she said.
"A lady!" said both Tina and Ellery, in tones of surprise. "Did she give her name?" said Ellery.
"She gave no name; but she said that you, sir, would know her."
"I can't imagine who it should be," said Ellery. "Perhaps, Tina, I had better go down and see while you are dressing," said Ellery.
"Indeed, that would be a pretty way to do! No, sir, I allow no private interviews," said Tina, with authority, – "no, I am all ready and quite dressed enough to go down.
"Well, then, little positive," said Ellery, "be it as you will; let 's go together."
"Well, I must confess," said Tina, "I did n't look for wedding callers out here to-night; but never mind, it 's a nice little mystery to see what she wants."
They went down the staircase together, passed across the hall, and entered the little boudoir, where Tina and Harry had spent their first night together. The door of the writing cabinet stood open, and a lady all in black, in a bonnet and cloak, stood in the doorway.
As she came forward, Tina exclaimed, "O Ellery, it is she, – the lady in the closet!" and sank down pale and half fainting.
Ellery Davenport turned pale too; his cheeks, his very lips were blanched like marble; he looked utterly thunderstruck and appalled.
"Emily!" he said. "Great God!"
"Yes, Emily!" she said, coming forward slowly and with dignity. "You did not expect to meet ME here and now, Ellery Davenport!"
There was for a moment a silence that was perfectly awful. Tina looked on without power to speak, as in a dreadful dream. The ticking of the little French mantel clock seemed like a voice of doom to her.
The lady walked close up to Ellery Davenport, drew forth a letter, and spoke in that fearfully calm way that comes from the very white-heat of passion.
"Ellery," she said, "here is your letter. You did not know me – you could not know me – if you thought, after that letter, I would accept anything from you! I live on your bounty! I would sooner work as a servant!"
"Ellery, Ellery!" said Tina, springing up and clasping his arm, "O, tell me who she is! What is she to you? Is she – is she – "
"Be quiet, my poor child," said the woman, turning to her with an air of authority. "I have no claims; I come to make none. Such as this man is, he is your husband, not mine. You believe in him; so did I, – love him; so did I. I gave up all for him, – country, home, friends, name, reputation, – for I thought him such a man that a woman might well sacrifice her whole life to him! He is the father of my child! But fear not. The world, of course, will approve him and condemn me. They will say he did well to give up his mistress and take a wife; it 's the world's morality. What woman will think the less of him, or smile the less on him, when she hears it? What woman will not feel herself too good even to touch my hand?"
"Emily," said Ellery Davenport, bitterly, "if you thought I deserved this, you might, at least, have spared this poor child."
"The truth is the best foundation in married life, Ellery," she said, "and the truth you have small faculty for speaking. I do her a favor in telling it. Let her start fair from the commencement, and then there will be no more to be told. Besides," she added, "I shall not trouble you long. There," she said, putting down a jewel-case, – " there are your gifts to me, – there are your letters." Then she threw on the table a miniature set in diamonds, "There is your picture. And now God help me! Farewell."
She turned and glided swiftly from the room.
* * * * *
Readers who remember the former part of this narrative will see at once that it was, after all, Ellery Davenport with whom, years before, Emily Rossiter had fled to France. They had resided there, and subsequently in Switzerland, and she had devoted herself to him, and to his interests, with all the single-hearted fervor of a true wife.
On her part, there was a full and conscientious belief that the choice of the individuals alone constituted a true marriage, and that the laws of human society upon this subject were an oppression which needed to be protested against.
On his part, however, the affair was a simple gratification of passion, and the principles, such as they were, were used by him as he used all principles, – simply as convenient machinery for carrying out his own purposes. Ellery Davenport spoke his own convictions when he said that there was no subject which had not its right and its wrong side, each of them capable of being unanswerably sustained. He had played with his own mind in this manner until he had entirely obliterated conscience. He could at any time dazzle and confound his own moral sense with his own reasonings; and it was sometimes amusing, but, in the long run, tedious and vexatious to him, to find that what he maintained merely for convenience and for theory should be regarded by Emily so seriously, and with such an earnest eye to logical consequences. In short, the two came, in the course of their intimacy, precisely to the spot to which many people come who are united by an indissoluble legal tie. Slowly, and through an experience of many incidents, they had come to perceive an entire and irrepressible conflict of natures between them.
Notwithstanding that Emily had taken a course diametrically opposed to the principles of her country and her fathers, she retained largely the Puritan nature. Instances have often been seen in New England of men and women who had renounced every particle of the Puritan theology, and yet retained in their fibre and composition all the moral traits of the Puritans – their uncompromising conscientiousness, their inflexible truthfulness, and their severe logic in following the convictions of their understandings. And the fact was, that while Emily had sacrificed for Ellery Davenport her position in society, – while she had exposed herself to the very coarsest misconstructions of the commonest minds, and made herself liable to be ranked by her friends in New England among abandoned outcasts, – she was really a woman standing on too high a moral plane for Ellery Davenport to consort with her in comfort. He was ambitious, intriguing, unscrupulous, and it was an annoyance to him to be obliged to give an account of himself to her. He was tired of playing the moral hero, the part that he assumed and acted with great success during the time of their early attachment. It annoyed him to be held to any consistency in principles. The very devotion to him which she felt, regarding him, as she always did, in his higher and nobler nature, vexed and annoyed him.
Of late years he had taken long vacations from her society, in excursions to England and America. When the prospect of being ambassador to England dawned upon him, he began seriously to consider the inconvenience of being connected with a woman unpresentable in society. He dared not risk introducing her into those high circles as his wife. Moreover, he knew that it was a falsehood to which he never should gain her consent; and running along in the line of his thoughts came his recollections of Tina. When he returned to America, with the fact in his mind that she would be the acknowledged daughter of a respectable old English family, all her charms and fascinations had a double power over him. He delivered himself up to them without scruple.
He wrote immediately to a confidential friend in Switzerland, enclosing money, with authority to settle upon Emily a villa near Geneva, and a suitable income. He trusted to her pride for the rest.
Never had the thought come into his head that she would return to her native country, and brave all the reproach and humiliation of such a step, rather than accept this settlement at his hands.
HARRY and I had gone back to our college room after the wedding. There we received an earnest letter from Miss Mehitable, begging us to come to her at once. It was brought by Sam Lawson, who told us that he had got up at three o'clock in the morning to start away with it.
"There 's trouble of some sort or other in that 'ere house," said Sam. "Last night I was in ter the Deacon's, and we was a talkin' over the weddin', when Polly came in all sort o' flustered, and said Miss Rossiter wanted to see Mis' Badger; and your granny she went over, and did n't come home all night. She sot up with somebody, and I 'm certain 't wa' n't Miss Rossiter, 'cause I see her up tol'able spry in the mornin'; but, lordy massy, somethin' or other's ben a usin' on her up, for she was all wore out, and looked sort o' limpsy, as if there wa' n't no starch left in her. She sent for me last night. 'Sam,' says she, 'I want to send a note to the boys just as quick as I can, and I don't want to wait for the mail; can't you carry it? ' 'Lordy massy, yes,' says I. 'I hope there ain't nothin' happened,' says I; and ye see she did n't answer me; and puttin' that with Mis' Badger's settin' there all night, it 'peared to me there was suthin', I can 't make out quite what."
Harry and I lost no time in going to the stage-house, and found ourselves by noon at Miss Mehitable's door.
When we went in, we found Miss Mehitable seated in close counsel with Mr. Jonathan Rossiter. His face looked sharp, and grave, and hard; his large gray eyes had in them a fiery, excited gleam. Spread out on the table before them were files of letters, in the handwriting of which I had before had a glimpse. The brother and sister had evidently been engaged in reading them, as some of them lay open under their hands.
When we came into the room, both looked up. Miss Mehitable rose, and offered her hands to us in an eager, excited way, as if she were asking something of us. The color flashed into Mr. Rossiter's cheeks, and he suddenly leaned forward over the papers and covered his face with his hands. It was a gesture of shame and humiliation infinitely touching to me.
"Horace," said Miss Mehitable, "the thing we feared has come upon us. O Horace, Horace! why could we not have known it in time?"
I divined at once. My memory, like an electric chain, flashed back over sayings and incidents of years.
"The villain!" I said.
Mr. Rossiter ground his foot on the floor with a hard, impatient movement, as if he were crushing some poisonous reptile.
"It 's well for him that I 'm not God," he said through his closed teeth.
Harry looked from one to the other of us in dazed and inquiring surprise. He had known in a vague way of Emily's disappearance, and of Miss Mehitable's anxieties, but it never had occurred to his mind to connect the two. In fact, our whole education had been in such a wholesome and innocent state of society, that neither of us had the foundation, in our experience or habits of thought, for the conception of anything like villany. We were far enough from any comprehension of the melodramatic possibilities suggested in our days by that heaving and tumbling modern literature, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
Never shall I forget the shocked, incredulous expression on Harry's face as he listened to my explanations, nor the indignation to which it gave place.
"I would sooner have seen Tina in her grave than married to such a man," he said huskily.
"O Harry!" said Miss Mehitable.
"I would!" he said, rising excitedly. "There are things that men can do that still leave hope of them; but a thing like this is final, – it is decisive."
"That is my opinion, Harry," said Mr. Rossiter. "It is a sin that leaves no place for repentance."
"We have been reading these letters," said Miss Mehitable; "they were sent to us by Tina, and they do but confirm what I always said, – that Emily fell by her higher nature. She learned, under Dr. Stern, to think and to reason boldly, even when differing from received opinion; and this hardihood of mind and opinion she soon turned upon the doctrines he taught. Then she abandoned the Bible, and felt herself free to construct her own system of morals. Then came an intimate friendship with a fascinating married man, whose domestic misfortunes made a constant demand on her sympathy; and these charming French friends of hers – who were, as far as I see, disciples of the new style of philosophy, and had come to America to live in a union with each other which was not recognized by the laws of France – all united to make her feel that she was acting heroically and virtuously in sacrificing her whole life to her lover, and disregarding what they called the tyranny of human law. In Emily's eyes, her connection had all the sacredness of marriage."
"Yes," said Mr. Rossiter, "but see now how all these infernal, fine-spun, and high-flown notions, always turn out to the disadvantage of the weaker party! It is man who always takes advantage of woman in relations like these: it is she that gives all, and he that takes all; it is she risks everything, and he risks nothing. Hard as marriage bonds bear in individual cases, it is for woman's interest that they should be as stringently maintained as the Lord himself has left them. When once they begin to be lessened, it is always the weaker party that goes to the wall!"
"But," said I, "suppose a case of confirmed and hopeless insanity on either side."
He made an impatient gesture. "Did you ever think," he said, "if men had the laws of nature in their hands, what a mess they would make of them? What treatises we should have against the cruelty of fire in always burning, and of water in always drowning! What saints and innocents has the fire tortured, and what just men made perfect has water drowned, making no exceptions! But who doubts that this inflexibility in natural law is, after all, the best thing? The laws of morals are in our hands, and so reversible, and, therefore, we are always clamoring for exceptions. I think they should cut their way like those of nature, inflexibly and eternally! "
Here the sound of wheels startled us. I went to the window, and, looking through the purple spikes of the tall old lilacs, which came up in a bower around the open window, I saw Tina alighting from a carriage.
"O Aunty," I said involuntarily, "it is she. She is coming, poor child."
We heard a light fluttering motion and a footfall on the stairs, and the door opened, and in a moment Tina stood among us.
She was very pale, and there was an expression such as I never saw in her face before. There had been a shock which had driven her soul inward, from the earthly upon the spiritual and the immortal. Something deep and pathetic spoke in her eyes, as she looked around on each of us for a moment without speaking. As she met Miss Mehitable's haggard, careworn face, her lip quivered. She ran to her, threw her arms round her, and hid her face on her shoulder, and sobbed out, "O Aunty, Aunty! I did n't think I should live to make you this trouble."
"You, darling!" said Miss Mehitable "It is not you who have made it."
"I am the cause," she said. "I know that he has done dreadfully wrong. I cannot defend him, but oh! I love him still. I cannot help loving him; it is my duty to," she added. "I promised, you know, before God, 'for better, for worse'; and what I promised I must keep. I am his wife; there is no going back from that."
"I know it, darling," said Miss Mehitable, stroking her head. "You are right, and my love for you will never change."
"I am come," she said, "to see what can be done."
"NOTHING can be done!" spoke out the deep voice of Jonathan Rossiter. "She is lost and we disgraced beyond remedy!"
"You must not say that," Tina said, raising her head, her eyes sparkling through her tears with some of her old vivacity. "Your sister is a noble, injured woman. We must shield her and save her; there is every excuse for her."
"There is NEVER any excuse for such conduct," said Mr. Rossiter harshly.
Tina started up in her headlong, energetic fashion. "What right have you to talk so, if you call yourself a Christian?" she said. "Think a minute. WHO was it said, 'Neither do I condemn thee'? and whom did he say it to? Christ was not afraid or ashamed to say that to a poor friendless woman, though he knew his words would never pass away."
"God bless you, darling, – God bless you!" said Miss Mehitable, clasping her in her arms.
"I have read those letters," continued Tina, impetuously. "He did not like me to do it, but I claimed it as my right, and I would do it, and I can see in all a noble woman, gone astray from noble motives. I can see that she was grand and unselfish in her love, that she was perfectly self-sacrificing, and I believe it was because Jesus understood these things in the hearts of women that he uttered those blessed words. The law was against that poor woman, the doctors, the Scribes and Pharisees, all respectable people, were against her, and Christ stepped between all and her; he sent them away abashed and humbled, and spoke those lovely words to her. O, I shall forever adore him for it! He is my Lord and my God!"
There was a pause for a few moments, and then Tina spoke again
"Now, Aunty, hear my plan. You, perhaps, do not believe any good of him, and so I will not try to make you; only I will say that he is anxious to do all he can. He has left everything in my hands. This must go no farther than us few who now know it. Your sister refused the property he tried to settle on her. It was noble to do it. I should have felt just as she did. But, dear Aunty, my fortune I always meant to settle on you, and it will be enough for you both. It will make you easy as to money, and you can live together."
"Yes, my dear," said Miss Mehitable; "but how can this be kept secret when there is the child?"
"I have thought of that, Aunty. I will take the poor little one abroad with me, – children always love me. I can make her so happy; and O, it will be such a motive to make amends to her for all this wrong. Let me see your sister, aunty, and tell her about it."
"Dear child," said Miss Mehitable, "you can do nothing with her. All last night I thought she was dying. Since then she seems to have recovered her strength; but she neither speaks nor moves. She lies with her eyes open, but notices nothing you say to her."
"Poor darling!" said Tina. "But, Aunty, let me go to her. I am so sure that God will help me, – that God sends me to her. I must see her!"
Tina's strong impulses seemed to carry us all with her. Miss Mehitable arose, and, taking her by the hand, opened the door of a chamber on the opposite side of the hall. I looked in, and saw that it was darkened. Tina went boldly in, and closed the door. We all sat silent together. We heard her voice, at times soft and pleading; then it seemed to grow more urgent and impetuous as she spoke continuously and in tones of piercing earnestness.
After a while, there were pauses of silence, and then a voice in reply.
"There," said Miss Mehitable, "Emily has begun to answer her, thank God! Anything is better than this oppressive silence. It 's frightful!"
And now the sound of an earnest conversation was heard, waxing on both sides more and more ardent and passionate. Tina's voice sometimes could be distinguished in tones of the most pleading entreaty; sometimes it seemed almost like sobbing. After a while, there came a great silence, broken by now and then an indistinct word; and then Tina came out, softly closing the door. Her cheeks were flushed, her hair partially dishevelled, but she smiled brightly, – one of her old triumphant smiles when she had carried a point.
"I 've conquered at last! I 've won!" she said, almost breathless. "O, I prayed so that I might, and I did. She gives all up to me; she loves me. We love each other dearly. And now I 'm going to take the little one with me, and by and by I will bring her back to her, and I will make her so happy. You must give me the darling at once, and I will take her away with us; for we are going to sail next week. We sail sooner than I thought," she said; "but this makes it best to go at once."
Miss Mehitable rose and went out, but soon reappeared, leading in a lovely little girl with great round, violet blue eyes, and curls of golden hair. The likeness of Ellery Davenport was plainly impressed on her infant features.
Tina ran towards her, and stretched out her arms. "Darling," she said, "come to me."
The little one, after a moment's survey, followed that law of attraction which always drew children to Tina. She came up confidingly, and nestled her head on her shoulder.
Tina gave her her watch to play with, and the child shook it about, well pleased.
"Emily want to go ride?" said Tina, carrying her to the window and showing her the horses.
The child laughed, and stretched out her hand.
"Bring me her things, Aunty," she said. "Let there not be a moment for change of mind. I take her with me this moment."
A few moments after, Tina went lightly tripping down the stairs, and Harry and I with her, carrying the child and its little basket of clothing.
"There, put them in," she said. "And now, boys," she said, turning and offering both her hands, "good by. I love you both dearly, and always shall."
She kissed us both, and was gone from our eyes before I awoke from the dream into which she had thrown me.
* * * * *
"Well," said Miss Mehitable, when the sound of wheels died away, "could I have believed that anything could have made my heart so much lighter as this visit?"
"She was inspired," said Mr. Rossiter.
"Tina's great characteristic," said I. "What makes her differ from others is this capacity of inspiration. She seems sometimes to rise, in a moment, to a level above her ordinary self, and to carry all up with her!"
"And to think that such a woman has thrown herself away on such a man!" said Harry.
"I foresee a dangerous future for her," said Mr. Rossiter "With her brilliancy, her power of attraction, with the temptations of a new and fascinating social life before her; and with only that worthless fellow for a guide, I am afraid she will not continue our Tina."
"Suppose we trust in Him who has guided her hitherto," said Harry.
"People usually consider that sort of trust a desperate resort," said Mr. Rossiter. "'May the Lord help her,' means, 'It 's all up with her.'"
"We see," said I, "that the greatest possible mortification and sorrow that could meet a young wife has only raised her into a higher plane. So let us hope for her future."
THE next week Mr. and Mrs. Ellery Davenport sailed for England.
I am warned by the increased quantity of manuscript which lies before me that, if I go on recounting scenes and incidents with equal minuteness, my story will transcend the limits of modern patience. Richardson might be allowed to trail off into seven volumes, and to trace all the histories of all his characters, even unto the third and fourth generations; but Richardson did not live in the days of railroad and steam, and mankind then had more leisure than now.
I am warned, too, that the departure of the principal character from the scene is a signal for general weariness through the audience, – for looking up of gloves, and putting on of shawls, and getting ready to call one's carriage.
In fact, when Harry and I had been down to see Tina off, and had stood on the shore, watching and waving our handkerchiefs, until the ship became a speck in the blue airy distance, I turned back to the world with very much the feeling that there was nothing left in it. What I had always dreamed of, hoped for, planned for, and made the object of all my endeavors, so far as this world was concerned, was gone, – gone, so far as I could see, hopelessly and irredeemably; and there came over me that utter languor and want of interest in every mortal thing, which is one of the worst diseases of the mind.
But I knew that it would never do to give way to this lethargy. I needed an alterative; and so I set myself, with all my might and soul, to learning a new language. There was an old German emigrant in Cambridge, with whom I became a pupil, and I plunged into German as into a new existence. I recommend everybody who wishes to try the waters of Lethe to study a new language, and learn to think in new forms; it is like going out of one sphere of existence into another.
Some may wonder that I do not recommend devotion for this grand alterative; but it is a fact, that, when one has to combat with the terrible lassitude produced by the sudden withdrawal of an absorbing object of affection, devotional exercises sometimes hinder more than they help. There is much in devotional religion of the same strain of softness and fervor which is akin to earthly attachments, and the one is almost sure to recall the other. What the soul wants is to be distracted for a while, – to be taken out of its old grooves of thought, and run upon entirely new ones. Religion must be sought in these moods, in its active and preceptive form, – what we may call its business character, – rather than in its sentimental and devotional one.
It had been concluded among us all that it would be expedient for Miss Mehitable to remove from Oldtown and take a residence in Boston.
It was desirable, for restoring the health of Emily, that she should have more change and variety, and less minute personal attention fixed upon her, than could be the case in the little village of Oldtown. Harry and I did a great deal of house-hunting for them, and at last succeeded in securing a neat little cottage on an eminence overlooking the harbor in the outskirts of Boston.
Preparing this house for them, and helping to establish them in it, furnished employment for a good many of our leisure hours. In fact, we found that this home so near would be quite an accession to our pleasures. Miss Mehitable had always been one of that most pleasant and desirable kind of acquaintances that a young man can have; to wit, a cultivated, intelligent, literary female friend, competent to advise and guide one in one's scholarly career. We became greatly interested in the society of her sister. The strength and dignity of character shown by this unfortunate lady in recovering her position commanded our respect. She was never aware, and was never made aware by anything in our manner, that we were acquainted with her past history.
The advice of Tina on this subject had been faithfully followed. No one in our circle, or in Boston, except my grandmother, had any knowledge of how the case really stood. In fact, Miss Mehitable had always said that her sister had gone abroad to study in France, and her reappearance again was only noticed among the few that inquired into it at all, as her return. Harry and I used to study French with her, both on our own account and as a means of giving her some kind of employment. On the whole, the fireside circle at the little cottage became a cheerful and pleasant retreat. Miss Mehitable had gained what she had for years been sighing for, – the opportunity to devote herself wholly to this sister. She was a person with an enthusiastic power of affection, and the friendship that arose between the two was very beautiful.
The experiences of the French Revolution, many of whose terrors she had witnessed, had had a powerful influence on the mind of Emily, in making her feel how mistaken had been those views of human progress which come from the mere unassisted reason, when it rejects the guidance of revealed religion. She was in a mood to return to the faith of her fathers, receiving it again under milder and more liberal forms. I think the friendship of Harry was of great use to her in enabling her to attain to a settled religious faith. They were peculiarly congenial to each other, and his simplicity of religious trust was a constant corrective to the habits of thought formed by the sharp and pitiless logic of her early training.
A residence in Boston was also favorable to Emily's recovery, in giving to her what no person who has passed through such experiences can afford to be without, – an opportunity to help those poorer and more afflicted. Emily very naturally shrank from society; except the Kitterys, I think there was no family which she visited. I think she always had the feeling that she would not accept the acquaintance of any who would repudiate her were all the circumstances of her life known to them. But with the poor, the sick, and the afflicted, she felt herself at home. In their houses she was a Sister of Mercy, and the success of these sacred ministrations caused her, after a while, to be looked upon with a sort of reverence by all who knew her.
Tina proved a lively and most indefatigable correspondent. Harry and I heard from her constantly, in minute descriptions of the great gay world of London society, into which she was thrown as wife of the American minister. Her letters were like her old self, full of genius, of wit, and of humor, sparkling with descriptions and anecdotes of character, and sometimes scrawled on the edges with vivid sketches of places, or scenes, or buildings that hit her fancy. She was improving, she told us, taking lessons in drawing and music, and Ellery was making a capital French scholar of her. We could see through all her letters an evident effort to set forth everything relating to him to the best advantage; every good-natured or kindly action, and all the favorable things that were said of him, were put in the foreground, with even an anxious care.
To Miss Mehitable and Emily came other letters, filled with the sayings and doings of the little Emily, recording minutely all the particulars of her growth, and the incidents of the nursery, and showing that Tina, with all her going out, found time strictly to fulfil her promises in relation to her.
"I have got the very best kind of a maid for her," she wrote, "just as good and true as Polly is, only she is formed by the Church Catechism instead of the Cambridge Platform. But she is faithfulness itself, and Emily loves her dearly."
In this record, also, minute notice was taken of all of the presents made to the child by her father, – of all his smiles and caressing words. Without ever saying a word formally in her husband's defence, Tina thus contrived, through all her letters, to produce the most favorable impression of him. He was evidently, according to her showing, proud of her beauty and her talents, and proud of the admiration which she excited in society.
For a year or two there seemed to be a real vein of happiness running through all these letters of Tina's. I spoke to Harry about it one day.
"Tina," said I, "has just that fortunate kind of constitution, buoyant as cork, that will rise to the top of the stormiest waters."
"Yes," said Harry. "With some women it would have been an entire impossibility to live happily with a man after such a disclosure, – with Esther, for example. I have never told Esther a word about it; but I know that it would give her a horror of the man that she never could recover from."
"It is not," said I, "that Tina has not strong moral perceptions, but she has this buoyant hopefulness; she believes in herself and she believes in others. She always feels adequate to manage the most difficult circumstances. I could not help smiling that dreadful day, when she came over and found us all so distressed and discouraged, to see what a perfect confidence she had in herself and in her own power to arrange the affair, – to make Emily consent, to make the child love her; in short, to carry out everything according to her own sweet will, just as she has always done with us all ever since we knew her."
"I always wondered," said Harry, "that, with all her pride, and all her anger, Emily did consent to let the child go."
"Why," said I, "she was languid and weak, and she was overborne by simple force of will. Tina was so positive and determined, so perfectly assured, and so warming and melting, that she carried all before her. There was n't even the physical power to resist her."
"And do you think" said Harry, "that she will hold her power over a man like Ellery Davenport?"
"Longer, perhaps, than any other kind of woman," said I, "because she has such an infinite variety about her. But, after all, you remember what Miss Debby said about him, – that he never cared long for anything that he was sure of. Restlessness and pursuit are his nature, and therefore the time may come when she will share the fate of other idols."
"I regard it," said Harry, "as the most dreadful trial to a woman's character that can possibly be, to love, as Tina loves, a man whose moral standard is so far below hers. It is bad enough to be obliged to talk down always to those who are below us in intellect and comprehension; but to be obliged to live down, all the while, to a man without conscience or moral sense, is worse. I think often, 'What communion hath light with darkness?' and the only hope I can have is that she will fully find him out at last."
"And that," said I, "is a hope full of pain to her; but it seems to me likely to be realized. A man who has acted as he has done to one woman certainly never will be true to another."
Harry and I were now thrown more and more exclusively upon each other for society.
He had received his accession of fortune with as little exterior change as possible. Many in his situation would have rushed immediately over to England, and taken delight in coming openly into possession of the estate. Harry's fastidious reticence, however, hung about him even in this. It annoyed him to be an object of attention and gossip, and he felt no inclination to go alone into what seemed to him a strange country, into the midst of social manners and customs entirely different from those among which he had been brought up. He preferred to remain and pursue his course quietly, as he had begun, in the college with me; and he had taken no steps in relation to the property except to consult a lawyer in Boston.
Immediately on leaving college, it was his design to be married, and go with Esther to see what could be done in England. But I think his heart was set upon a home in America. The freedom and simplicity of life in this country were peculiarly suited to his character, and he felt a real vocation for the sacred ministry, not in the slightest degree lessened by the good fortune which had rendered him independent of it.
Two years of our college life passed away pleasantly enough in hard study, interspersed with social relaxation among the few friends nearest to us. Immediately after our graduation came Harry's marriage, – a peaceful little idyllic performance, which took us back to the mountains, and to all the traditions of our old innocent woodland life there.
After the wholesome fashion of New England clergymen, Mr. Avery had found a new mistress for the parsonage, so that Esther felt the more resigned to leaving him. When I had seen them off, however, I felt really quite alone in the world. The silent, receptive, sympathetic friend and brother of my youth was gone. But immediately came the effort to establish myself in Boston. And, through the friendly offices of the Kitterys, I was placed in connection with some very influential lawyers, who gave me that helping hand which takes a young man up the first steps of the profession. Harry had been most generous and liberal in regard to all our family, and insisted upon it that I should share his improved fortunes. There are friends so near to us that we can take from them as from ourselves. And Harry always insisted that he could in no way so repay the kindness and care that had watched over his early years as by this assistance to me.
I received constant letters from him, and from their drift it became increasingly evident that the claims of duty upon him would lead him to make England his future home. In one of these he said: "I have always, as you know looked forward to the ministry, and to such a kind of ministry as you have in America, where a man, for the most part, speaks to cultivated, instructed people, living in a healthy state of society, where a competence is the rule, and where there is a practical equality.
"I had no conception of life, such as I see it to be here, where there are whole races who appear born to poverty and subjection; where there are woes, and dangers, and miseries pressing on whole classes of men, which no one individual can do much to avert or alleviate. But it is to this very state of society that I feel a call to minister. I shall take orders in the Church of England, and endeavor to carry out among the poor and the suffering that simple Gospel which my mother taught me, and which, after all these years of experience, after all these theological discussions to which I have listened, remains in its perfect simplicity in my mind; namely, that every human soul on this earth has One Friend, and that Friend is Jesus Christ its Lord and Saviour.
"There is a redeeming power in being beloved, but there are many human beings who have never known what it is to be loved. And my theology is, once penetrate any human soul with the full belief that God loves him, and you save him. Such is to be my life's object and end; and, in this ministry, Esther will go with me hand in hand. Her noble beauty and gracious manners make her the darling of all our people, and she is above measure happy in the power of doing good which is thus put into her hands.
"As to England, mortal heart cannot conceive more beauty than there is here. It is lovely beyond all poets' dreams. Near to our place are some charming old ruins, and I cannot tell you the delightful hours that Esther and I have spent there. Truly, the lines have fallen to us in pleasant places.
"I have not yet seen Tina, – she is abroad travelling on the Continent. She writes to us often; but, Horace, her letters begin to have the undertone of pain in them, – her skies are certainly beginning to fade. From some sources upon which I place reliance, I hear Ellery Davenport spoken of as a daring, plausible, but unscrupulous man. He is an intrigant in politics, and has no domestic life in him; while Tina, however much she loves and appreciates admiration, has a perfect woman's heart. Admiration without love would never satisfy her. I can see, through all the excuses of her letters, that he is going very much one way and she another, that he has his engagements, and she hers, and that they see, really, very little of each other, and that all this make her sad and unhappy. The fact is, I suppose, he has played with his butterfly until there is no more down on its wings, and he is on the chase after new ones. Such is my reading of poor Tina's lot."
When I took this letter to Miss Mehitable, she told me that a similar impression had long since been produced on her mind by passages, which she had read in hers. Tina often spoke of the little girl as very lovely, and as her greatest earthly comfort. A little one of her own, born in England, had died early, and her affections seemed thus to concentrate more entirely upon the child of her adoption. She described her with enthusiasm, as a child of rare beauty and talent, with capabilities of enthusiastic affection.
"Let us hope," said I, "that she does take her heart from her mother. Ellery Davenport is just one of those men that women are always wrecking themselves on, – men that have strong capabilities of passion, and very little capability of affection, – men that have no end of sentiment, and scarcely the beginning of real being. They make bewitching lovers, but terrible husbands."
One of the greatest solaces of my life during this period was my friendship with dear old Madam Kittery. Ever since the time when I had first opened to her my boyish heart, she had seemed to regard me with an especial tenderness, and to connect me in some manner with the image of her lost son. The assistance that she gave me in my educational career was viewed by her as a species of adoption. Her eye always brightened, and a lovely smile broke out upon her face, when I came to pass an hour with her. Time had treated her kindly; she still retained the gentle shrewdness, the love of literature, and the warm kindness which had been always charms in her. Some of my happiest hours were passed in reading to her. Chapter after chapter in her well-worn Bible needed no better commentary than the sweet brightness of her dear old face, and her occasional fervent responses. Many Sabbaths, when her increasing infirmities detained her from church, I spent in a tender, holy rest by her side. Then I would read from her prayer-book the morning service, not omitting the prayer that she loved, for the King and the royal family, and then, sitting hand in hand, we talked together of sacred things, and I often wondered to see what strength and discrimination there were in the wisdom of love, and how unerring were the decisions that she often made in practical questions. In fact, I felt myself drawn to Madam Kittery by a closer, tenderer tie than even to my own grandmother. I had my secret remorse for this, and tried to quiet myself by saying that it was because, living in Boston, I saw Madam Kittery oftener. But, after all, is it not true that, as we grow older, the relationship of souls will make itself felt? I revered and loved my grandmother, but I never idealized her; but my attachment to Madam Kittery was a species of poetic devotion. There was a slight flavor of romance in it, such as comes with the attachments of our maturer life oftener than with those of our childhood.
Miss Debby looked on me with eyes of favor. In her own way she really was quite as much my friend as her mother. She fell into the habit of consulting me upon her business affairs, and asking my advice in a general way about the arrangements of life.
"I don't see," I said to Madam Kittery, one day, "why Miss Deborah always asks my advice; she never takes it."
"My dear," said she, with the quiet smile with which she often looked on her daughter's proceedings, "Debby wants somebody to ask advice of. When she gets it, she is settled at once as to what she don't want to do; that 's something."
Miss Debby once came to me with a face of great perplexity.
"I don't know what to do, Horace. Our Thomas is a very valuable man, and he has always been in the family. I don't know anything how we should get along without him, but he is getting into bad ways."
"Ah," said I, "what?"
"Well, you see it all comes of this modern talk about the rights of the people. I 've instructed Thomas as faithfully as ever a woman could; but – do you believe me? – he goes to the primary meetings. I have positive, reliable information that he does."
"My dear Miss Kittery, I suppose it 's his right as a citizen."
"O, fiddlestick and humbug!" said Miss Debby; "and it may be my right to turn him out of my service."
"And would not that, after all, be more harm to you than to him?" suggested I.
Miss Debby swept up the hearth briskly, tapped on her snuffbox, and finally said she had forgotten her handkerchief, and left the room.
Old Madam Kittery laughed a quiet laugh. "Poor Debby," she said, "she 'll have to come to it; the world will go on."
Thomas kept his situation for some years longer, till, having bought a snug place, and made some favorable investments, he at last announced to Miss Debby that, having been appointed constable, with a commission from the governor, his official duties would not allow of his continuance in her service.
IT was eight years after Tina left us on the wharf in Boston when I met her again. Ellery Davenport had returned to this country, and taken a house in Boston. I was then a lawyer established there in successful business.
Ellery Davenport met me with open-handed cordiality, and Tina with warm sisterly affection; and their house became one of my most frequent visiting-places. Knowing Tina by a species of divination, as I always had, it was easy for me to see through all those sacred little hypocrisies by which good women instinctively plead and intercede for husbands whom they themselves have found out. Michelet says, somewhere, that "in marriage the maternal feeling becomes always the strongest in woman, and in time it is the motherly feeling with which she regards her husband." She cares for him, watches over him, with the indefatigable tenderness which a mother gives to a son.
It was easy to see that Tina's affection for her husband was no longer a blind, triumphant adoration for an idealized hero, nor the confiding dependence of a happy wife, but the careworn anxiety of one who constantly seeks to guide and to restrain. And I was not long in seeing the cause of this anxiety.
Ellery Davenport was smitten with that direst curse, which, like the madness inflicted on the heroes of some of the Greek tragedies, might seem to be the vengeance of some incensed divinity. He was going down that dark and slippery road, up which so few return. We were all fully aware that at many times our Tina had all the ghastly horrors of dealing with a mad man. Even when he was himself again, and sought, by vows, promises, and illusive good resolutions, to efface the memory of the past, and give security for the future, there was no rest for Tina. In her dear eyes I could read always that sense of overhanging dread, that helpless watchfulness, which one may see in the eyes of so many poor women in our modern life, whose days are haunted by a fear they dare not express, and who must smile, and look gay, and seem confiding, when their very souls are failing them for fear. Still these seasons of madness did not seem for a while to impair the vigor of Ellery Davenport's mind, nor the feverish intensity of his ambition. He was absorbed in political life, in a wild, daring, unprincipled way, and made frequent occasions to leave Tina alone in Boston, while he travelled around the country, pursuing his intrigues. In one of these absences, it was his fate at last to fall in a political duel.
* * * * *
Ten years after the gay and brilliant scene in Christ Church, some of those who were present as wedding guests were again convened to tender the last offices to the brilliant and popular Ellery Davenport. Among the mourners at the grave, two women who had loved him truly stood arm in arm.
After his death, it seemed, by the general consent of all, the kindest thing that could be done for him, to suffer the veil of silence to fall over his memory.
* * * * *
Two years after that, one calm, lovely October morning, a quiet circle of friends stood around the altar of the old church, when Tina and I were married. Our wedding journey was a visit to Harry and Esther in England. Since then, the years have come and gone softly.
Ellery Davenport now seems to us as a distant dream of another life, recalled chiefly by the beauty of his daughter, whose growing loveliness is the principal ornament of our home.
Miss Mehitable and Emily form one circle with us. Nor does the youthful Emily know why she is so very dear to the saintly woman whose prayers and teachings are such a benediction in our family.
* * * * *
Not long since we spent a summer vacation at Oldtown, to explore once more the old scenes, and to show to young Master Harry and Miss Tina the places that their parents had told them of. Many changes have taken place in the old homestead. The serene old head of my grandfather has been laid beneath the green sod of the burying-ground; and my mother, shortly after, was laid by him.
Old Parson Lothrop continued for some years, with his antique dress and his antique manners, respected in Oldtown as the shadowy minister of the past; while his colleague, Mr. Mordecai Rossiter, edified his congregation with the sharpest and most stringent new school Calvinism. To the last Dr. Lothrop remained faithful to his Arminian views, and regarded the spread of the contrary doctrines, as a decaying old minister is apt to, as a personal reflection upon himself. In his last illness, which was very distressing, he was visited by a zealous Calvinistic brother from a neighboring town, who, on the strength of being a family connection, thought it his duty to go over and make one last effort to revive the orthodoxy of his venerable friend. Dr. Lothrop received him politely, and with his usual gentlemanly decorum remained for a long time in silence listening to his somewhat protracted arguments and statements. As he gave no reply, his friend at last said to him, "Dr. Lothrop, perhaps you are weak, and this conversation disturbs you?"
"I should be weak indeed, if I allowed such things as you have been saying to disturb me," replied the stanch old doctor.
"He died like a philosopher, my dear," said Lady Lothrop to me, "just as he always lived."
My grandmother, during the last part of her life, was totally blind. One would have thought that a person of her extreme activity would have been restless and wretched under this deprivation; but in her case blindness appeared to be indeed what Milton expressed it as being, "an overshadowing of the wings of the Almighty." Every earthly care was hushed, and her mind turned inward, in constant meditation upon those great religious truths which had fed her life for so many years.
Aunt Lois we found really quite lovely. There is a class of women who are like winter apples, – all their youth they are crabbed and hard, but at the further end of life they are full of softness and refreshment. The wrinkles had really almost smoothed themselves out in Aunt Lois's face, and our children found in her the most indulgent and painstaking of aunties, ready to run, and wait, and tend, and fetch, and carry, and willing to put everything in the house at their disposal. In fact, the young gentleman and lady found the old homestead such very free and easy ground that they announced to us that they preferred altogether staying there to being in Boston, especially as they had the barn to romp in.
One Saturday afternoon, Tina and I drove over to Needmore with a view to having one more gossip with Sam Lawson. Hepsy, it appears, had departed this life, and Sam had gone over to live with a son of his in Needmore. We found him roosting placidly in the porch on the sunny side of the house.
"Why, lordy massy, bless your soul an' body, ef that ain't Horace Holyoke!" he said, when he recognized who I was.
"An' this 'ere 's your wife, is it? Wal, wal, how this 'ere world does turn round! Wal, now, who would ha' thought it? Here you be, and Tiny with you. Wal, wal!"
"Yes," said I, "here we are."
"Wal, now, jest sit down," said Sam, motioning us to a seat in the porch. "I was jest kind o' 'flectin' out here in the sun; ben a readin' in the Missionary Herald; they 've ben a sendin' missionaries to Otawhity, an' they say that there ain't no winter there, an' the bread jest grows on the trees, so 't they don't hev to make none, an' there ain't no wood-piles nor splittin' wood, no nothing' o' that sort goin' on, an' folks don't need no clothes to speak on. Now, I 's just thinkin' that 'ere 's jest the country to suit me. I wonder, now, ef they could n't find suthin' for me to do out there. I could shoe the hosses, ef they hed any, and I could teach the natives their catechize, and kind o' help round gin'ally. These 'ere winters gits so cold here I 'm been a 'most crooked up with the rheumatiz – "
"Why Sam," said Tina, "where is Hepsy?"
"Law, now, hain't ye heerd? Why, Hepsy, she 's been dead, wal, let me see, 't was three year the fourteenth o' last May when Hepsy died, but she was clear worn out afore she died. Wal, jest half on her was clear paralyzed, poor crittur; she could n't speak a word; that 'ere was a gret trial to her. I don't think she was resigned under it. Hepsy hed an awful sight o' grit. I used to talk to Hepsy, an' talk, an' try to set things afore her in the best way I could, so 's to git 'er into a better state o' mind. D' you b'lieve, one day when I 'd ben a talkin' to her, she kind o' made a motion to me with her eye, an' when I went up to 'er, what d' you think? why, she jest tuk and BIT me! she did so!"
"Sam," said Tina, "I sympathize with Hepsy. I believe if I had to be talked to an hour, and could n't answer, I should bite."
"Jes' so, jes' so," said Sam. "I 'spex 't is so. You see, women must talk, there 's where 't is. Wal, now, don't ye remember that Miss Bell, – Miss Miry Bell? She was of a good family in Boston. They used to board her out to Oldtown, 'cause she was 's crazy 's a loon. They jest let 'er go 'bout 'cause she did n't hurt nobody, but massy, her tongue used ter run 's ef 't was hung in the middle and run both ends. Ye really could n't hear yourself think when she was round. Wal, she was a visitin' Parson Lothrop, an' ses he, 'miss Bell, do pray see ef you can't be still a minute.' 'Lord, bless ye, Dr. Lothrop, I can't stop talking!' ses she. "Wal,' ses he, 'you jest take a mouthful o' water an' hold in your mouth, an' then mebbe ye ken stop.' Wal, she took the water, an' she sot still a minute or two, an' it kind o' worked on 'er so 't she jumped up an' twitched off Dr. Lothrop's wig an' spun it right acrost the room inter the fireplace. 'Bless me! Miss Bell,' ses he, 'spit out yer water an' talk, ef ye must!' I 've offun thought on 't," said Sam. "I s'pose Hepsy 's felt a good 'eal so. Wal, poor soul, she 's gone to 'er rest. We 're all on us goin;, one arter another. Yer grandther 's gone, an' yer mother, an' Parson Lothrop, he 's gone, an' Lady Lothrop, she 's kind o' solitary. I went over to see 'er last week, an' ses she to me, 'Sam, I dunno nothin' what I shell do with my hosses. I feed 'em well, an' they ain't worked hardly any, an' yet they act so 't I 'm 'most afeard to drive out with 'em. I 'm thinkin' 'it would be a good thing ef she 'd give up that 'ere place o' hern, an' go an' live in Boston with her sister."
"Well, Sam," said Tina, "what has become of Old Crab Smith? Is he alive yet?"
"Law, yis, he 's creepin' round here yit; but the old woman she 's dead," said Sam. "I tell you she 's a hevin' her turn o' hectorin' him now, 'cause she keeps appearin' to him, an' scares the old critter 'most to death."
"Appears to him?" said I. "Why, what do you mean, Sam?"
"Wal, jest as true 's you live an' breathe, she does 'pear to him," said Sam. "Why, 't was only last week my son Luke an' I, we was a settin' by the fire here, an' I was a holdin' a skein o' yarn for Malviny to wind (Malviny, she 's Luke's wife), when who should come in but Old Crab, head first, lookin' so scart an white about the gills thet Luke, ses he, 'Why, Mistur Smith what ails ye?' ses he. Wal, the critter was so scared 't he could n't speak, he jest set down in the chair, an' he shuk so 't he shuk the chair, an' his teeth, they chattered, an' 't was a long time 'fore they could git it out on him. But come to, he told us, 't was a bright moonlight night, an' he was comin' 'long down by the Stone pastur, when all of a suddin he looks up an' there was his wife walkin right 'long-side on him, – he ses he never see nothin' plainer in his life then he see the old woman, jest in her short gown an' petticut 't she allers wore, with her gold beads round her neck, an' a cap on with a black ribbon round it, an' there she kep' a walkin' right 'long-side of 'im, her elbow a touchin' hisn, all 'long the road, an' when he walked faster, she walked faster, an' when he walked slower, she walked slower, an' her eyes was sot, an' fixed on him, but she did n't speak no word, an' he did n't darse to speak to her. Finally, he ses he gin a dreadful yell an' run with all his might, an' our house was the very fust place he tumbled inter. Lordy massy, wal, I could n't help thinkin' 't sarved him right. I told Sol 'bout it, last town-meetin' day, an' Sol, I thought he 'd ha' split his sides. Sol said he did n't know 's the old woman had so much sperit. 'Lordy massy,' ses he, 'ef she don't do nothin' more 'n take a walk 'long-side on him now an' then, why, I say, let 'er rip, – sarves him right."
"Well," said Tina, "I 'm glad to hear about Old Sol; how is he?"
"O, Sol? Wal, he 's doin' fustrate. He married Deacon 'Bijah Smith's darter, an' he 's got a good farm of his own, an' boys bigger 'n you be, considerable."
"Well," said Tina, "how is Miss Asphyxia?"
"Wal, Sol told me 't she 'd got a cancer or suthin' or other the matter with 'er; but the old gal, she jest sets her teeth hard, an' goes on a workin'. She won't have no doctor, nor nothin' done for 'er, an' I expect bimeby she 'll die, a standin' up in the harness."
"Poor old creature! I wonder, Horace, if it would do any good for me to go and see her. Has she a soul, I wonder, or is she nothing but a 'workin machine'?"
"Wal, I dunno," said Sam. "This 'er world is cur'us. When we git to thinkin' about it, we think ef we 'd ha' had the makin' on 't, things would ha' ben made someways diffurnt from what they be. But then things is just as they is, an' we can't help it. Sometimes I think" said Sam, embracing his knee profoundly, "an' then agin I dunno. – There 's all sorts o' folks hes to be in this 'ere world, an' I s'pose the Lord knows what he want 'em fur; but I 'm sure I don't. I kind o 'hope the Lord 'll fetch everybody out 'bout right some o' these 'ere times. He ain't got nothin' else to do, an' it 's his lookout, an' not ourn, what comes of 'em all. – But I should like to go to Otawhity, an' ef you see any o' these missionary folks, Horace, I wish you 'd speak to 'em about it."
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