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As we have said before, it is almost impossible to make our light-minded times comprehend the earnestness with which those people lived. It was, in the beginning, no vulgar nor mercenary ambition that made her seek the Doctor as a husband for her daughter. He was poor, and she had had offers from richer men. He was often unpopular; but he of all the world was the man she most revered, the man she believed in with the most implicit faith, the man who embodied her highest ideas of the good; and therefore it was that she was willing to resign her child to him.
As to James, she had felt truly sympathetic with his mother, and with Mary, in the dreadful hour when they supposed him lost; and had it not been for the great perplexity occasioned by his return, she would have received him, as a relative, with open arms. But now she felt it her duty to be on the defensive,— an attitude not the most favorable for cherishing pleasing associations in regard to another. She had read the letter giving an account of his spiritual experience with very sincere pleasure, as a good woman should, but not without an internal perception how very much it endangered her favorite plans. When Mary, however, had calmly reiterated her determination, she felt sure of her; for had she ever known her to say a thing she did not do?
The uneasiness she felt at present was not the doubt of her daughter's steadiness, but the fear that she might have been unsuitably harassed or annoyed.
THE next morning rose calm and fair. It was the Sabbath-day,—the last Sabbath in Mary's maiden life, if her promises and plans were fulfilled.
Mary dressed herself in white,- her hands trembling with unusual agitation, her sensitive nature divided between two opposing consciences and two opposing affections. Her devoted filial love to
ward the Doctor made her feel the keenest sensitiveness at the thought of giving him pain. At the same time, the questions which James had proposed to her had raised serious doubts in her mind whether it was altogether right to suffer him blindly to enter into this union. So, after she was all prepared, she bolted the door of her chamber, and, opening her Bible, read, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him"; and then, kneeling down by the bedside, she asked that God would give her some immediate light in her present perplexity. So praying, her mind grew calm and steady, and she rose up at the sound of the bell which marked that it was time to set forward for church.
Everybody noticed, as she came into church that morning, how beautiful Mary Scudder looked. It was no longer the beauty of the carved statue, the pale alabaster shrine, the sainted virgin, but a warm, bright, living light, that spoke of some summer breath breathing within her soul.
When she took her place in the singers' seat, she knew, without turning her head, that he was in his old place, not far from her side; and those whose eyes followed her to the gallery marvelled at her face there,
"her pure and eloquent blood Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought That you might almost say her body thought"; for a thousand delicate nerves were becoming vital once more,-the holy mystery of womanhood had wrought within her.
When they rose to sing, the tune must needs be one which they had often sung together, out of the same book, at the singing-school,—one of those wild, pleading tunes, dear to the heart of New England,-born, if we may credit the report, in the rocky hollows of its mountains, and whose notes have a kind of grand and mournful triumph in their warbling wail, and in which different parts of the harmony, set contrary to all the canons
of musical Pharisaism, had still a singular and romantic effect, which a true musical genius would not have failed to recognize. The four parts, tenor, treble, bass, and counter, as they were then called, rose and swelled and wildly mingled, with the fitful strangeness of an Æolian harp, or of winds in mountain-hollows, or the vague moanings of the sea on lone, forsaken shores. And Mary, while her voice rose over the waves of the treble, and trembled with a pathetic richness, felt, to her inmost heart, the deep accord of that other voice which rose to meet hers, so wildly melancholy, as if the soul in that manly breast had come to meet her soul in the disembodied, shadowy verity of eternity. grand old tune, called by our fathers
China," never, with its dirge-like melody, drew two souls more out of themselves, and entwined them more nearly with each other.
The last verse of the hymn spoke of the resurrection of the saints with Christ: "Then let the last dread trumpet sound And bid the dead arise; Awake, ye nations under ground!
Ye saints, ascend the skies!" And as Mary sang, she felt sublimely upborne with the idea that life is but a moment and love is immortal, and seemed, in a shadowy trance, to feel herself and him past this mortal fane, far over on the shores of that other life, ascending with Christ, all-glorified, all tears wiped away, and with full permission to love and to be loved forever. And as she sang, the Doctor looked upward, and marvelled at the light in her eyes and the rich bloom on her cheek,-for where she stood, a sunbeam, streaming aslant through the dusty panes of the window, touched her head with a kind of glory, and the thought he then received outbreathed itself in the yet more fervent adoration of his prayer.
THE ICE BROKEN.
OUR fathers believed in special answers to prayer. They were not stumbled by
the objection about the inflexibility of the laws of Nature; because they had the idea, that, when the Creator of the world promised to answer human prayers, He probably understood the laws of Nature as well as they did. At any rate, the laws of Nature were His affair, and not theirs. They were men, very apt, as the Duke of Wellington said, to "look to their marching-orders," which, being found to read, "Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God," they did it. "They looked unto Him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed." One reads, in the Memoirs of Dr. Hopkins, of Newport Gardner, one of his African catechumens, a negro of singular genius and ability, who, being desirous of his freedom, that he might be a missionary to Africa, and having long worked without being able to raise the amount required, was counselled by Dr. Hopkins that it might be a shorter way to seek his freedom from the Lord, by a day of solemn fasting and prayer. The historical fact is, that, on the evening of a day so consecrated, his master returned from church, called Newport to him, and presented him with his freedom. Is it not possible that He who made the world may have established laws for prayer as invariable as those for the sowing of seed and raising of grain? Is it not as legitimate a subject of inquiry, when petitions are not answered, which of these laws has been neglected?
But be that as it may, certain it is, that Candace, who on this morning in church sat where she could see Mary and James in the singers' seat, had certain thoughts planted in her mind which bore fruit afterwards in a solemn and select consultation held with Miss Prissy at the end of the horse-shed by the meeting-house, during the intermission between the morning and afternoon services.
Candace sat on a fragment of granite boulder which lay there, her black face relieved against a clump of yellow mul leins, then in majestic altitude. On her
lap was spread a checked pocket-handkerchief, containing rich slices of cheese, and a store of her favorite brown doughnuts.
"Now, Miss Prissy," she said, "dar's reason in all tings, an' a good deal more in some tings dan dar is in oders. Dar's a good deal more reason in two young, handsome folks comin' togeder dan dar is in "
Candace finished the sentence by an emphatic flourish of her doughnut.
Now, as long as eberybody thought Jim Marvyn was dead, dar wa'n't nothin' else in de world to be done but marry de Doctor. But, good lan! I hearn him a-talkin' to Miss Marvyn las' night; it kinder 'mos' broke my heart. Why, dem two poor creeturs, dey's jest as onhappy's dey can be! An' she's got too much feelin' for de Doctor to say a word; an' I say he oughter be told on't! dat's what I say," said Candace, giving a decisive bite to her doughnut.
“I say so, too,” said Miss Prissy. "Why, I never had such bad feelings in my life as I did yesterday, when that young man came down to our house. He was just as pale as a cloth. I tried to say a word to Miss Scudder, but she snapped me up so! She's an awful decided woman when her mind's made up. I was telling Cerinthy Ann Twitchel,- she came round me this noon, - that it didn't exactly seem to me right that things should go on as they are going. And says I, Cerinthy Ann, I don't know anything what to do.' And says she,If I was you, I know what I'd do,- I'd tell the Doctor,' says she. Nobody ever takes offence at anything you do, Miss Prissy.' To be sure," added Miss Prissy, "I have talked to people about a good many things that it's rather strange I should; 'cause I a'n't one, somehow, that can let things go that seem to want doing. I always told folks that I should spoil a novel before it got half-way through the first volume, by blurting out some of those things that they let go trailing on so, till everybody gets so mixed up they don't know what they're doing."
"Well, now, honey," said Candace, authoritatively, "ef you's got any notions o' dat kind, I tink it mus' come from de good Lord, an' I 'dvise you to be 'tendin' to't, right away. You jes' go 'long an' tell de Doctor yourself all you know, an' den le's see what'll come on't. I tell you, I b'liebe it'll be one o' de bes' day's works you eber did in your life!"
Well," said Miss Prissy, "I guess tonight, before I go to bed, I'll make a dive at him. When a thing's once out, it's out, and can't be got in again, even if people don't like it; and that's a mercy, anyhow. It really makes me feel 'most wicked to think of it, for he is the most blessedest man!"
"Dat's what he is," said Candace. "But de blessedest man in de world oughter know de truth; dat's what I tink!"
"If you please, Sir," said Miss Prissy, "I'd like a little conversation."
The Doctor was well enough used to such requests from the female members of his church, which, generally, were the prelude to some disclosures of internal difficulties or spiritual experiences. He therefore graciously motioned her to a chair.
"I thought I must come in," she began, busily twirling a bit of her Sunday gown. "I thought that is-I felt it my duty -I thought—perhaps—I ought to tell you that perhaps you ought to know."
The Doctor looked civilly concerned. He did not know but Miss Prissy's wits were taking leave of her. He replied, however, with his usual honest stateliness,—
"I trust, dear Madam, that you will feel perfect freedom to open to me any exercises of mind that you may have.”
The Doctor now looked awake in right earnest, and very much astonished besides; and he looked eagerly at Miss Prissy, to have her go on.
"I don't know how you would view such a matter," said Miss Prissy; "but the fact is, that James Marvyn and Mary always did love each other, ever since they were children."
Still the Doctor was unawakened to the real meaning of the words, and he answered, simply,
"I should be far from wishing to interfere with so very natural and universal a sentiment, which, I make no doubt, is all quite as it should be."
No,- but," said Miss Prissy, "you don't understand what I mean. I mean that James Marvyn wanted to marry Mary, and that she was- - well-she wasn't engaged to him, but"
"Madam!" said the Doctor, in a voice that frightened Miss Prissy out of her chair, while a blaze like sheet-lightning shot from his eyes, and his face flushed crimson.
Mercy on us! Doctor, I hope you'll excuse me; but there the fact is, I've said it out,—the fact is, they wa’n't engaged; but that Mary loved him ever since he was a boy, as she never will and never can love any man again in this world, is what I'm just as sure of as that I'm standing here; and I've felt you ought to know it; 'cause I'm quite sure, that, if he'd been alive, she'd never given the promise she has, the promise that she means to keep, if her heart breaks, and his too. They wouldn't anybody tell you, and I thought I must tell you; 'cause I thought you'd know what was right to do about it."
During all this latter speech the Doctor was standing with his back to Miss Prissy, and his face to the window, just as he did some time before, when Mrs. Scudder came to tell him of Mary's consent. He made a gesture backward, without speaking, that she should leave the apart
ment; and Miss Prissy left, with a guilty kind of feeling, as if she had been striking a knife into her pastor, and, rushing distractedly across the entry into Mary's little bedroom, she bolted the door, threw herself on the bed, and began to cry.
Well, I've done it!" she said to her
"He's a very strong, hearty man," she soliloquized, "so I hope it won't put him in a consumption;- -men do go into a consumption about such things sometimes. I remember Abner Seaforth did; but then he was always narrow-chested, and had the liver-complaint, or something. I don't know what Miss Scudder will say; but I've done it. Poor man! such a good man, too! I declare, I feel just like Herod taking off John the Baptist's head. Well, well! it's done, and can't be helped."
Just at this moment Miss Prissy heard a gentle tap at the door, and started, as if it had been a ghost,-not being able to rid herself of the impression, that, somehow, she had committed a great crime, for which retribution was knocking at the door.
It was Mary, who said, in her sweetest and most natural tones, Miss Prissy, the Doctor would like to see you." Mary was much astonished at the frightened, discomposed manner with which Miss Prissy received this announcement, and said,
"I'm afraid I've waked you up out of sleep. I don't think there's the least hurry."
Miss Prissy didn't, either; but she reflected afterwards that she might as well get through with it at once; and therefore, smoothing her tumbled cap-border, she went to the Doctor's study. This time he was quite composed, and received her with a mournful gravity, and requested her to be seated.
"I beg, Madam," he said, "you will excuse the abruptness of my manner in our late interview. I was so little prepared for the communication you had to make, that I was, perhaps, unsuitably discomposed. Will you allow me to ask
whether you were requested by any of the parties to communicate to me what you did?"
"No, Sir," said Miss Prissy.
"Have any of the parties ever communicated with you on the subject at all?" said the Doctor.
"No, Sir," said Miss Prissy.
“That is all,” said the Doctor. "I will not detain you. I am very much obliged to you, Madam."
He rose, and opened the door for her to pass out, and Miss Prissy, overawed by the stately gravity of his manner, went out in silence.
WHEN Miss Prissy left the room, the Doctor sat down by the table and covered his face with his hands. He had a large, passionate, determined nature; and he had just come to one of those cruel crises in life in which it is apt to seem to us that the whole force of our being, all that we can hope, wish, feel, enjoy, has been suffered to gather itself into one great wave, only to break upon some cold rock of inevitable fate, and go back, moaning, into emptiness.
In such hours men and women have cursed God and life, and thrown violently down and trampled under their feet what yet was left of life's blessings, in the fierce bitterness of despair. "This, or nothing!" the soul shrieks, in her frenzy. At just such points as these, men have plunged into intemperance and wild excess, they have gone to be shot down in battle,- they have broken life, and thrown it away, like an empty goblet, and gone, like wailing ghosts, out into the dread unknown.
The possibility of all this lay in that heart which had just received that stunning blow. Exercised and disciplined as he had been, by years of sacrifice, by constant, unsleeping self-vigilance, there was rising there, in that great heart, an ocean-tempest of passion, and for a while nis cries unto God seemed as empty and
as vague as the screams of birds tossed and buffeted in the clouds of mighty tempests.
The will that he thought wholly subdued seemed to rise under him as a rebellious giant. A few hours before, he thought himself established in an invincible submission to God's will that nothing could shake. Now he looked into himself as into a seething vortex of rebellion, and against all the passionate cries of his lower nature could, in the language of an old saint, cling to God only by the naked force of his will. That will rested unmelted amid the boiling sea of passion, waiting its hour of renewed sway. He walked the room for hours, and then sat down to his Bible, and roused once or twice to find his head leaning on its pages, and his mind far gone in thoughts from which he woke with a bitter throb. Then he determined to set himself to some definite work, and, taking his Concordance, began busily tracing out and numbering all the prooftexts for one of the chapters of his theological system! till, at last, he worked himself down to such calmness that he could pray; and then he schooled and reasoned with himself, in a style not unlike, in its spirit, to that in which a great modern author has addressed suffering humanity:
"What is it that thou art fretting and self-tormenting about? Is it because thou art not happy? Who told thee that thou wast to be happy? Is there any ordinance of the universe that thou shouldst be happy? Art thou nothing but a vulture screaming for prey? Canst thou not do without happiness? Yea, thou canst do without happiness, and, instead thereof, find blessedness."
The Doctor came, lastly, to the conclusion, that blessedness, which was all the portion his Master had on earth, might do for him also; and therefore he kissed and blessed that silver dove of happiness, which he saw was weary of sailing in his clumsy old ark, and let it go out of his hand without a tear.
He slept little that night; but when he