"Well, I must say, Mr. Crowfield, you are allowing us all a very generous margin," said Humming-Bird.
"But, now," said I, "I am coming to the restrictions. When is love of dress excessive and wrong? To this I answer by stating my faith in one of old Plato's ideas, in which he speaks of beauty and its uses. He says there were two impersonations of beauty worshipped under the name of Venus in the ancient times,—the one celestial, born of the highest gods, the other earthly. To the earthly Venus the sacrifices were such as were more trivial; to the celestial, such as were more holy. 'The worship of the earthly Venus,' he says, 'sends us oftentimes on unworthy and trivial errands, but the worship of the celestial to high and honorable friendships, to noble aspirations and heroic actions.'
"Now it seems to me that, if we bear in mind this truth in regard to beauty, we shall have a test with which to try ourselves in the matter of physical adornment. We are always excessive when we sacrifice the higher beauty to attain the lower one. A woman who will sacrifice domestic affection, conscience, self-respect, honor, to love of dress, we all agree, loves dress too much. She loses the true and higher beauty of womanhood for the lower beauty of gems and flowers and colors. A girl who sacrifices to dress all her time, all her strength, all her money, to the neglect of the cultivation of her mind and heart, and to the neglect of the claims of others on her helpfulness, is sacrificing the higher to the lower beauty. Her fault is not the love of beauty, but loving the wrong and inferior kind.
"It is remarkable that the directions of Holy Writ, in regard to the female dress, should distinctly take note of this difference between the higher and the lower beauty which we find in the works of Plato. The Apostle gives no rule, no specific costume, which should mark the Christian woman from the Pagan; but says, 'whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.' The gold and gems and apparel are not forbidden; but we are told not to depend on them for beauty, to the neglect of those imperishable, immortal graces that belong to the soul. The makers of fashion among whom Christian women lived when the Apostle wrote, were the same class of brilliant and worthless Aspasias who make the fashions of modern Paris; and all womankind was sunk into slavish adoration of mere physical adornment when the Gospel sent forth among them this call to the culture of a higher and immortal beauty.
"In fine, girls," said I, "you may try yourselves by this standard. You love dress too much when you care more for your outward adornings than for your inward dispositions,—when it afflicts you more to have torn your dress than to have lost your temper,—when you are more troubled by an ill-fitting gown than by a neglected duty,—when you are less concerned at having made an unjust comment, or spread a scandalous report, than at having worn a passee bonnet,—when you are less troubled at the thought of being found at the last great feast without the wedding garment, than at being found at the party to-night in the fashion of last year. No Christian woman, as I view it, ought to give such attention to her dress as to allow it to take up all of three very important things, viz.:—
All her time. All her strength. All her money.
Whoever does this lives not the Christian, but the Pagan life,—worships not at the Christian's altar of our Lord Jesus, but at the shrine of the lower Venus of Corinth and Rome."
"O now, Mr. Crowfield, you frighten me," said Humming-Bird. "I'm so afraid, do you know, that I am doing exactly that."
"And so am I," said Pheasant; "and yet, certainly, it is not what I mean or intend to do."
"But how to help it," said Dove.
"My dears," said I, "where there is a will, there is a way. Only resolve that you will put the true beauty first,—that, even if you do have to seem unfashionable, you will follow the highest beauty of womanhood,—and the battle is half gained. Only resolve that your time, your strength, your money, such as you have, shall not all—nor more than half—be given to mere outward adornment, and you will go right. It requires only an army of girls animated with this noble purpose to declare independence in America, and emancipate us from the decrees and tyrannies of French actresses and ballet-dancers. En avant, girls! You yet can, if you will, save the republic."
THE PRESIDENT AND CONGRESS.
The President of the United States was not elected to the office he holds by the voice of the people of the loyal States; in voting for him as Vice-President nobody dreamed that, by the assassination of Mr. Lincoln, he would constitutionally succeed to the more important post. The persons who now form the Congress of the United States were elected by the people or the States for the exact positions they hold. In any comparison between the two as to the direct derivation of their power from the people and the States, Congress has everything in its favor; Mr. Johnson, nothing. The immense power he enjoys, a power not merely greater than that of Queen Victoria, but greater than that of Earl Russell, the real British Executive, is the result not of design, but of accident. That the executive power he holds is legitimate, within its just constitutional bounds, must not blind us to the fact that it did not have its origin in the popular vote, especially now when he is appealing to the people to support him against their direct representatives.
For the event which the Union party of the country was so anxious to avert, but which some clearly foresaw as inevitable, has occurred; the President has come to an open rupture with Congress on the question of reconstruction. No one who has witnessed during the past eight months the humiliating expedients to which even statesmen and patriots have resorted, in order to avoid giving Mr. Johnson offence, without at the same time sacrificing all decent regard for their own convictions and the will of the people, can assert that this rupture was provoked by Congress. The President has, on the whole, been treated with singular tenderness by the national party whose just expectations he has disappointed; the opposition to his schemes has, indeed, exhibited, if anything, too much of the style of "bated breath" to befit the dignity of independent legislators; and the only result of this timorous dissent has been to inflame him with the notion that the public men who offered it were conscious that the people were on his side, and concealed anxiety for their own popularity under a feigned indisposition to quarrel with him.
The President seems to belong to that class of men who act not so much from principles as from moods; as his moods vary, his conduct changes; but while he is possessed by one of them, his mind is inaccessible to evidence which does not sustain his dominant feeling, and uninfluenced by arguments which do not confirm his dominant ideas. Mr. Covode and Mr. Schurz could get no hearing from him, because they were sent south to collect evidence while he was in one mood, and had to report the results of their investigations when he had passed into another. This peculiarity of his mind makes the idea of a "Johnson party" so difficult of realization; for a party cannot be founded on a man, unless that man's intellect and integrity are so manifestly pre-eminent as to dwarf all comparison with others, or unless his conduct obeys laws, and can therefore be calculated. Thus the gentlemen who spoke for him in New York, on the 22d of February, at the time he was speaking for himself in Washington, found that they were unwittingly his opponents, while appearing as his mouth-pieces, and had accordingly to send telegrams to Washington of such fond servility, that the vindication of their partisanship could only be made at the expense of provoking the hilarity of the public. But one principle, taken up from personal feeling, at the time he resented the idea that "Tennessee had ever gone out of the Union," has had a mischievous influence in directing his policy, though it has never been consistently carried out; for Mr. Johnson's mode of dealing with a principle is strikingly individual. He uses it to justify his doing what he desires, while he does not allow it to restrain him from doing what he pleases. The principle which he thus adopted was, that the seceded States had never been out of the Union as States. It would seem to be clear that, constitutionally speaking, a State in the American Union is a vital part of the government, to which, at the same time, it owes allegiance. The seceded States solemnly, by conventions of their people, broke away from this allegiance, and have not, up to the present moment, formed a part of the government. The condition in which they were left by their own acts may be variously stated; it may be said that they were "States out of practical relations to the Union,"—which is simply to decline venturing farther than one step in the analysis of their condition,—or "States in rebellion," or "States whose governments have lapsed," or "Territories"; but certainly, neither in principle nor in fact, were they States in the Union, according to the constitutional meaning of that phrase. The one thing certain is, that their criminal acts did not affect at all the rights of the United States over their geographical limits and population; for these rights were given by conventions of the people of all the States, and could not therefore be abrogated by the will of the particular States that rebelled. Whether or not the word "Territories" fits their condition, it is plain that they cannot be brought back to their old "practical relations to the Union" without a process similar to that by which Territories are organized into States and brought into the Union. If they were, during the Rebellion, States in the Union, then the only clause in the Constitution which covers their case is that in which each house of Congress is authorized "to compel the attendance of absent members"; but, even conceding that we have waged war in the character of a colossal sergeant-at-arms, we should, by another clause of the Constitution, be bound to compel their attendance as members, only to punish their absence as traitors.
Still, even if we should admit, against all the facts and logic of the case, that the Rebel communities have never been out of the Union as States, it is plain that the conduct of the Executive has not, until recently, conformed to that theory. He violated it constantly in the processes of his scheme of reconstruction, only to make it reappear as mandatory in the results. All the steps he took in creating State governments were necessarily subversive of universally recognized State rights. The Secessionists had done their work so completely, as regards their respective localities, that there was left no possible organic connection between the old States and any new ones which might be organized under the lead of the Federal government. The only persons who could properly call State conventions were disqualified, by treason, for the office, and might have been hanged as traitors while occupied in preserving unbroken the unity of their State life. In other words, the only persons competent to act constitutionally were the persons constitutionally incompetent to act,—a gigantic practical bull and absurdity, which met Mr. Johnson as the first logical consequence of his fundamental maxim. He accordingly was forced to go to work as if no principle hampered him. He assumed, at the start, the most radical and important of all State rights; that is, from a mixed population of black and white freemen he selected a certain number, whose distinguishing mark was color; and these persons were, after they had taken an extra-constitutional oath, constituted by him the people of each of the seceded States. A provisional governor, nominated by himself, directed this people, constituted such by himself, to elect delegates to a convention which was to pass ordinances dictated by himself. In this, he may have simply accepted the condition of things; he may have done the best with the materials he had to work with; still he plainly did not deal with South Carolina, Mississippi, and the rest, as if they were States that "had never been out of the Union," and entitled to any of the rights enjoyed by Pennsylvania or New York. But the hybrid States, which are thus purely his own creations, he now presents, in a veto message, to the Senate of the United States as the equals of the States it represents; informs that body that he is constitutionally the President of the States he has made, as well as the President of the States which have not enjoyed the advantage of his formative hand; and unmistakably hints that Congress, unless it admits the representatives of the States he has reconstructed, is not a complete and competent legislative body for the whole Union,—is, in plain words, a Rump. The President, to be sure, qualifies his suggestion by asking for the admission only of loyal men, who can take the oaths. But is it not plain that Congress, if it admits Senators and Representatives, admits the States from which they come? The Constitution says that "the Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State"; that "the House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several States." Now let us suppose that some of the South Carolina members are admitted on the President's plan, and that others are rejected. What is the result? Is not South Carolina in the Union? Can a fraction of the State be in, and another fraction out, by the terms of the United States Constitution? Are not the "loyal men" in for their term of office simply, and the State in permanently? The proposition to let in what are called loyal men, and then afterwards to debate the terms on which the States which sent them shall be admitted, might be seriously discussed in a Fenian Congress, but it would prove too much for the gravity of an American assembly. The President thinks Congress is bound to admit "loyal men"; but in conceding this claim, would not the great legislative bodies of the nation practically confess that they had no right or power to exact guaranties, no business whatever with "reconstruction"? It is the office of the President, it seems, to reconstruct States; the duty of Congress is confined to accepting, placidly, the results of his work. Such is the only logical inference from Mr. Johnson's last position. And thus a man, who was intended by the people who voted for him to have no other connection with reconstruction than what a casting vote in the Senate might possibly give him, has taken the whole vast subject into his exclusive control. Was there ever acted on the stage of history such a travesty of constitutional government?
The loyal States, indeed, come out of the war separated from the disloyal, not by such thin partitions as the President so cavalierly breaks through, but by a great sea of blood. It is across that we must survey their rights and duties; it is with that in view we must settle the terms of their readmission. It is idle to apply to 1866 the word-twisting of 1860. The Rebel communities which began the war are not the same communities which were recognized as States in the Union before the war occurred. No sophistry that perplexes the brain of the people can prevent this fact being felt in their hearts. The proposition that States can plunge into rebellion, and, after waging against the government a war which is put down only at the expense of enormous sacrifices of treasure and blood, can, when defeated, return of right to form a part of the government they have labored to subvert, is a proposition so repugnant to common sense that its acceptance by the people would send them down a step in the zooelogical scale. Have we been fighting in order to compel the South to resume its reluctant role of governing us? Are we to be told that the States which have sent mourning into every loyal family in the land, and which have loaded every loyal laborer's back with a new and unexampled burden of taxation, have the same right to seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives which New York and Illinois can claim? The question is not whether the victorious party shall exercise magnanimity and mercy, whether it shall attempt to heal wounds rather than open them afresh, but whether its legal representatives, constituting, as it was supposed, the legislative department of the United States government, shall have anything to do with the matter at all. The President seems to think they have not; and finding that Congress, by immense majorities, declined to abdicate its functions, he and his partisans appealed to such legislative assemblies as could be extemporized for the occasion. Congress did not fairly represent the people of the whole Union; and Mr. Johnson accordingly unfolded his measures to a body which, in his opinion, we must suppose did, namely, a Copperhead mob which gathered under his windows at Washington. The Secretary of State addressed a meeting in New York, assembled in a hall which is the very symbol of mutation. Some collectors and postmasters have, we believe, been kind enough to take upon themselves the trouble of calling similar legislative assemblies in their respective cities; and Keokuk, it is well known, has won deserved celebrity for the rapidity with which its gathering of publicists passed the President's plan. Still more important, perhaps, is the unanimity with which the "James Page Library Company," of Philadelphia, fulfilled its duty of legislating for the whole republic. This mode of taking the opinion of the people, if considered merely as an innocent amusement of great officials, may be harmless; but political farces played by actors who do not seem to take their own jokes sometimes lead to serious consequences; and the effect upon the South of suggesting that the Congress of the United States not only misrepresents its constituents, but excludes "loyal men" who have a right to seats, cannot but give fierce additional stimulants to Southern disaffection.
We are accordingly, it would seem, in danger of having a President, who is at variance with nearly two thirds of Congress, using his whole executive power and influence against the party he was supposed to represent, and having on his side the Southerners who made the Rebellion, the Northerners whose sympathies were on the side of the Rebellion, a small collection of Republican politicians called "the President's friends," and the undefined political force passing under the name of "the Blairs." But Congress is stronger than the whole body of its opponents, and is backed by the great mass of the loyal people, determined not to surrender all the advantages of the position which has been gained by the profuse shedding of so much loyal blood.
"Constitutional government is on trial" in this contest; and Mr. Johnson seems neither to have the constitutional instinct in his blood, nor the constitutional principle in his brain. The position of the President of the United States is analogous, not so much to that of a Napoleon or a Bismark, as to that of an English prime-minister. In the theory and ordinary working of the government, he is one of a body of statesmen, agreeing in their general views, and elected by the same party; what are called his measures are passed by Congress, because the majority of Congress and he are in general accord on all important questions; and it is against the whole idea of constitutional government that the executive will is a fair offset to the legislative reason,—that one man is the equal of the whole body of the people's representatives. The powers of an executive are of such a character, that, pushed wilfully to their ultimate expression, they can absorb all the other departments of the government, as when James the Second practically repealed laws by pushing to its abstract logical consequences his undoubted power of pardon; but a constitutional government implies, as a condition of its existence, that the executive will have that kind of mind and temper which instinctively recognizes the practical limitations of powers in themselves vague; for if the executive can defy the legislature, the legislature can bring the whole government to an end by a simple refusal to grant supplies. In his Washington speech, the President selected for special attack the chairman of the House Committee of Ways and Means, and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations; but it would be difficult to conjecture how he could carry on the government without the aid of what these men represent, for Mr. Stevens pays him his salary, and Mr. Sumner gives effect to his treaties. Bismark, in Prussia, snaps his fingers in the faces of the Prussian Chambers, and still contrives to get along very comfortably; but an American President does not enjoy similar advantages. He can follow his own will or caprice only by the toleration of the legislative body he defames and disregards. His great power is the veto; but the perverse use of this could easily be checked by the perverse use of many a legislative power which a mere majority of Congress can effectively use. The fallacy of the argument of "the President's friends," in their proposition that Congress should settle the dispute by the easy method of allowing Mr. Johnson to have his own way, consists in its entire oversight of the essential character of constitutional government.
And now what would be the consequences of the yielding of Congress in this struggle? The first effect would be the concession that, in respect to the most important matter that will probably ever be brought before the United States government, the executive branch was everything, and the legislative nothing. The second effect would be, that the Rebel Slates would re-enter the Union, not only without giving additional guaranties for their good behavior, but with the elated feeling that they had gained a great triumph over the "fanatical" North. The third effect would be the establishment of the principle, that they had never been out of the Union as States; that, accordingly, a doubt was over the legality of the legislation which had been transacted in the absence of their representatives; and that, Congress having, for the past five years, represented only a section of the country, that section was alone bound by its measures. The moment it is admitted that the national legislature, as now constituted, is an incomplete body, and that it needs Southern "loyal men" to make its laws operative over the South, a whole brood of deductive reasoners will spring up in that region, eager to carry the principle out to its remotest logical consequences. After two or three of those cotton crops on which some persons rely so much to make the South contented have given it the requisite leisure to follow long trains of reasoning, it will by degrees convince itself that the whole national legislation during the war, including the debt and the Anti-Slavery Amendment, was unconstitutional, and that, as far as it concerns the Southern States, it is void, and should be of no effect. Persons who are accustomed to nickname as "radicals" all those statesmen who do not consider that the removal of an immediate inconvenience exhausts the whole science of practical politics, are wont to make merry over this possibility of Southern repudiation, or to look down upon its fanatical suggesters with the benevolent pity of serenely superior intelligence; but nobody who has watched the steps by which Calhoun's logic was inwrought into the substance of the Southern mind,—nobody who has noted the process by which the justification of one of the bloodiest rebellions in the history of the world was deduced from the definition of an abstraction,—nobody who explores the meaning of the phrase, common in many mouths, that "the South thought itself in the right,"—will doubt that the seeming bugbear may turn out a dreadful reality. It is impossible, in fact, for the most far-sighted mind to predict all the evils which may flow from the heedless adoption of a vicious principle; if the war has not taught us this, it has taught us nothing.
But it is not to be supposed that Congress will yield, for to yield would be to commit suicide. There is not an interest in the nation which is not concerned in its adherence to the principle, that in it the whole legislative power of the United States government is vested, and that it has the right to exact irreversible guaranties of the Rebel States as the conditions of the admission of their Senators and Representatives. They are not in the Union until they are in its government; and Congress has the same power to keep them out that it has to let them in. By the very nature of the case, the whole question must be left to its judgment of what is necessary for the public safety and honor. Its members may be mistaken, but the only method to correct their mistake is to elect other persons in their places, when their limited period of service has expired; and any new Congress will, unless it is scandalously neglectful of the public interests, admit the Rebel States to their old places in the Union, not because it must, but because it thinks that a sufficient number of guaranties have been obtained to render their admission prudent and safe. It is in this form that the subject is coming before the people in the autumn elections; and this explains the eager haste of the President's friends to forestall and mislead the public mind, and sacrifice a great party, founded on principles, to the will of an individual, veering with his moods.
We think, if the vote were taken now, that Congress would be overwhelmingly sustained by the people. We think this, in spite of such expressions of the popular will as found vent in the President's meeting at Washington and Mr. Seward's meeting in New York,—in spite even of the resolutions of Keokuk and the address of the "James Page Library Company" of Philadelphia,—in spite, above all, of the perfect felicity in which, if we may believe the Secretary of State, the President's speech left the American people. The loyal men of the loyal States do not intend that the war they carried on for great ends shall pass into history as the bloodiest of all purposeless farces, beginning in an ecstasy of public spirit and ending in an ignominious surrender of the advantages of hard-won victory. They demand such guaranties, in the shape of amendments to the Constitution, as shall insure security for the future from such evils as have scourged them in the past; and these guaranties they do not think have been yet obtained. They make this demand in no spirit of rancorous hostility to the South, for they require nothing which it is not for the permanent welfare of the South to grant. They feel that, if a settlement is patched up on the President's plan, it will leave Southern society a prey to most of the influences which have so long been its curse, which have narrowed its patriotism, checked its progress, vitiated its character, educated it in disloyalty, and impelled it into war. They desire that a settlement shall be effected which shall make the South republican, like the North, homogeneous with it in institutions, as well as nominally united to it under one government,—a settlement which shall annihilate the accursed heresy of Secession by extinguishing the accursed prejudice of caste.
Such a settlement the people have not in the "President's plan." What confidence, indeed, can they place in the professions of the cunning Southern politicians who have taken the President captive, and used him as an instrument while seeming to obey him as agents? There is something to make us distrust the stability of the firmest and most upright statesman in the spectacle of that remarkable conquest. Mr. Johnson, when elected, appeared to represent the most violent radical ideas and the most vindictive passions engendered by the war. He spoke as if the blacks were to find in him a Moses, and the Rebels a Nemesis. It seemed as if there could not be in the whole land a sufficient number of sour-apple trees to furnish hanging accommodations for the possible victims of his patriotic wrath. One almost feared that reconciliation would be indefinitely postponed by the relentless severity with which he would visit treason with death. But the Southern politicians, finding that further military resistance was hopeless, resorted at once to their old game of intrigue and management, and proved that, fresh as they were from the experience of violent methods, they had not forgotten their old art of manipulating Presidents. They adapted themselves with marvellous flexibility to the changed condition of things, in order to become masters of the situation, and began to declaim in favor of the Union, even while their curses against it were yet echoing in the air. They wheedled the President into pardoning, in the place of hanging them; they made themselves serviceable agents in carrying out his plan of reconstruction; they gave up what it was impossible for them to retain, in order to retain what it would destroy their influence to give up; they got possession of him to the extent of insinuating subtly into his mind ideas which they made him think he himself originated; and finally they capped the climax of their skilful audacity, by taking him out of "practical relations" with the party to which he was indebted for his elevation, and made him the representative of the small party which voted against him, and of the defeated Rebel Confederacy, which, of course, could not do even that. The Southern politicians have succeeded in many shrewd political contrivances in the course of our history, but this last is certainly their masterpiece. Its only parallel or precedent is to be found in Richard's wooing of Anne:—
"What! I, that killed her husband and his father, To take her in her heart's extremest hate; With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes, The bleeding witness of my hatred by, Having God, her conscience, and these bars against me, And I no friends to back my suit withal, But the plain devil, and dissembling looks, And yet to win her,—all the world to nothing!"
Now can the people trust these politicians to the extent of placing in their hands the powers of their State governments, and the representative power of their States in Congress, without exacting irreversible guaranties necessary for the public safety? Can the people uphold, as against Congress, a President whose mind seems to be so much under the influence of these men that he publicly insults the legislature of the nation? Is the President to be supported because he sustains State Rights against Centralization? The only centralization which is to be feared, in this case, is the centralization of all the powers of the government in its executive branch. Is the President to be supported because he represents the principle of "no taxation without representation"? The object of Congress is to see to it that there shall not be a "representation" which, in respect to the national debt, shall endeavor to abolish "taxation" altogether,—which, in respect to the freedmen, shall tax permanently a population it misrepresents,—which, in respect to the balance of political power, shall use the black freemen as a basis of representation, while it excludes them from having a voice in the selection of the representatives. Is the President to be supported because he is determined the defeated South shall not be oppressed? The purpose of Congress is not to commit, but prevent oppression; not to oppress the Rebel whites, but to guard from oppression the loyal blacks; not to refuse full political privileges to the late armed enemies of the nation, but to avoid the intolerable ignominy of giving those enemies the power to play the robber and tyrant over its true and tried friends. Is the President to be supported because he is magnanimous and merciful? Congress doubts the magnanimity which sacrifices the innocent in order to propitiate the guilty, and the mercy which abandons the helpless and weak to the covetousness of the powerful and strong. Is the President to be supported because he aims to represent the whole people? Congress may well suspect that he represents the least patriotic portion, especially when he puts a stigma on all ardent loyalty by denouncing as equally traitorous the "extremists of both sections," and thus makes no distinction between the "fanaticism" which perilled everything in fighting for the government, and the "fanaticism" which perilled everything in fighting against it. And, finally, is the President to be supported because he is the champion of conciliation and peace? Congress believes that his conciliation is the compromise of vital principles; that his peace is the surrender of human rights; that his plan but postpones the operation of causes of discord it fails to eradicate; and that, if the war has taught us nothing else, it has taught us this,—spreading it out indeed before all eyes in letters of fire and blood,—that no conciliation is possible which sacrifices the defenceless, and that no peace is permanent which is unfounded in justice.
GRIFFITH GAUNT; OR, JEALOUSY.
One day, at dinner, Father Francis let them know that he was ordered to another part of the county, and should no longer be able to enjoy their hospitality. "I am sorry for it," said Griffith, heartily; and Mrs. Gaunt echoed him out of politeness; but, when husband and wife came to talk it over in private, she let out all of a sudden, and for the first time, that the spiritual coldness of her governor had been a great misfortune to her all these years. "His mind," said she, "is set on earthly things. Instead of helping the angels to raise my thoughts to heaven and heavenly things, he drags me down to earth. O that man's soul was born without wings!"
Griffith ventured to suggest that Francis was, nevertheless, an honest man, and no mischief-maker.
Mrs. Gaunt soon disposed of this, "O, there are plenty of honest men in the world," said she; "but in one's spiritual director one needs something more than that, and I have pined for it like a thirsty soul in the desert all these years. Poor good man, I love him dearly; but, thank Heaven, he is going."
The next time Francis came, Mrs. Gaunt took an opportunity to inquire, but in the most delicate way, who was to be his successor.
"Well," said he, "I fear you will have no one for the present: I mean no one very fit to direct you in practical matters; but in all that tends directly to the welfare of the soul you will have one young in years but old in good works, and very much my superior in piety."
"I think you do yourself injustice, Father," said Mrs. Gaunt, sweetly. She was always polite; and, to be always polite, you must be sometimes insincere.
"No, my daughter," said Father Francis, quietly, "thank God, I know my own defects, and they teach me a little humility. I discharge my religious duties punctually, and find them wholesome and composing; but I lack that holy unction, that spiritual imagination, by which more favored Christians have fitted themselves to converse with angels. I have too much body, I suppose and too little soul. I own to you that I cannot look forward to the hour of death as a happy release from the burden of the flesh. Life is pleasant to me; immortality tempts me not; the pure in heart delight me; but in the sentimental part of religion I feel myself dry and barren. I fear God, and desire to do his will; but I cannot love him as the saints have done; my spirit is too dull, too gross. I have often been unable to keep pace with you in your pious and lofty aspirations; and this softens my regret at quitting you; for you will be in better hands, my daughter."
Mrs. Gaunt was touched by her old friend's humility, and gave him both hands, with the tears in her eyes. But she said nothing; the subject was delicate; and really she could not honestly contradict him.
A day or two afterwards he brought his successor to the house; a man so remarkable that Mrs. Gaunt almost started at first sight of him. Born of an Italian mother, his skin was dark, and his eyes coal-black; yet his ample but symmetrical forehead was singularly white and delicate. Very tall and spare, and both face and figure were of that exalted kind which make ordinary beauty seem dross. In short, he was one of those ethereal priests the Roman Catholic Church produces every now and then by way of incredible contrast to the thickset peasants in black that form her staple. This Brother Leonard looked and moved like a being who had come down from some higher sphere to pay the world a very little visit, and be very kind and patient with it all the time.
He was presented to Mrs. Gaunt, and bowed calmly, coldly, and with a certain mixture of humility and superiority, and gave her but one tranquil glance, then turned his eyes inward as before.
Mrs. Gaunt, on the contrary, was almost fluttered at being presented so suddenly to one who seemed to her Religion embodied. She blushed, and looked timidly at him, and was anxious not to make an unfavorable impression.
She found it, however, very difficult to make any impression at all. Leonard had no small talk, and met her advances in that line with courteous monosyllables; and when she, upon this, turned and chatted with Father Francis, he did not wait for an opening to strike in, but sought a shelter from her commonplaces in his own thoughts.
Then Mrs. Gaunt yielded to her genuine impulse, and began to talk about the prospects of the Church, and what might be done to reconvert the British Isles to the true faith. Her cheek flushed, and her eye shone with the theme; and Francis smiled paternally; but the young priest drew back. Mrs. Gaunt saw in a moment that he disapproved of a woman meddling with so high a matter uninvited. If he had said so, she had spirit enough to have resisted; but the cold, lofty look of polite but grave disapproval dashed her courage and reduced her to silence.
She soon recovered so far as to be piqued. She gave her whole attention to Francis, and, on parting with her guests, she courtesied coldly to Leonard, and said to Francis, "Ah, my dear friend, I foresee I shall miss you terribly."
I am afraid this pretty speech was intended as a side cut at Leonard.
"But on the impassive ice the lightnings play."
Her new confessor retired, and left her with a sense of inferiority, which would have been pleasing to her woman's nature if Leonard himself had appeared less conscious of it, and had shown ever so little approval of herself; but, impressed upon her too sharply, it piqued and mortified her.
However, like a gallant champion, she awaited another encounter. She so rarely failed to please, she could not accept defeat.
Father Francis departed.
Mrs. Gaunt soon found that she really missed him. She had got into a habit of running to her confessor twice a week, and to her director nearly every day that he did not come of his own accord to her.
Her good sense showed her at once she must not take up Brother Leonard's time in this way. She went a long time, for her, without confession; at last she sent a line to Leonard asking him when it would be convenient to him to confess her. Leonard wrote back to say that he received penitents in the chapel for two hours after matins every Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday.
This implied, first come, first served; and was rather galling to Mrs. Gaunt.
However, she rode one morning, with her groom behind her, and had to wait until an old woman in a red cloak and black bonnet was first disposed of. She confessed a heap. And presently the soft but chill tones of Brother Leonard broke in with these freezing words: "My daughter, excuse me; but confession is one thing, gossip about ourselves is another."
This distinction was fine, but fatal. The next minute the fair penitent was in her carriage, her eyes filled with tears of mortification.
"The man is a spiritual machine," said she; and her pride was mortified to the core.
In these happy days she used to open her heart to her husband; and she went so far as to say some bitter little feminine things of her new confessor before him.
He took no notice at first; but at last he said one day: "Well, I am of you mind; he is very poor company compared with that jovial old blade, Francis. But why so many words, Kate? You don't use to bite twice at a cherry; if the milk-sop is not to your taste, give him the sack and be d——d to him." And with this homely advice Squire Gaunt dismissed the matter and went to the stable to give his mare a ball.
* * * * *
So you see Mrs. Gaunt was discontented with Francis for not being an enthusiast, and nettled with Leonard for being one.
The very next Sunday morning she went and heard Leonard preach. His first sermon was an era in her life. After twenty years of pulpit prosers, there suddenly rose before her a sacred orator; an orator born; blest with that divine and thrilling eloquence that no heart can really resist. He prepared his great theme with art at first; but, once warm, it carried him away, and his hearers went with him like so many straws on the flood, and in the exercise of this great gift the whole man seemed transfigured; abroad, he was a languid, rather slouching priest, who crept about, a picture of delicate humility, but with a shade of meanness; for, religious prejudice apart, it is ignoble to sweep the wall in passing as he did, and eye the ground: but, once in the pulpit, his figure rose and swelled majestically, and seemed to fly over them all like a guardian angel's; his sallow cheek burned, his great Italian eye shot black lightning at the impenitent, and melted ineffably when he soothed the sorrowful.
Observe that great, mean, brown bird in the Zooelogical Gardens, which sits so tame on its perch, and droops and slouches like a drowsy duck! That is the great and soaring eagle. Who would believe it, to look at him? Yet all he wants is to be put in his right place instead of his wrong. He is not himself in man's cages, belonging to God's sky. Even so Leonard was abroad in the world, but at home in the pulpit; and so he somewhat crept and slouched about the parish, but soared like an eagle in his native air.
Mrs. Gaunt sat thrilled, enraptured, melted. She hung upon his words; and when they ceased, she still sat motionless, spell-bound; loath to believe that accents so divine could really come to an end.
Even whilst all the rest were dispersing, she sat quite still, and closed her eyes. For her soul was too high-strung now to endure the chit-chat she knew would attack her on the road home,—chit-chat that had been welcome enough coming home from other preachers.
And by this means she came hot and undiluted to her husband; she laid her white hand on his shoulder, and said, "O Griffith, I have heard the voice of God."
Griffith looked alarmed, and rather shocked than elated.
Mrs. Gaunt observed that, and tacked on, "Speaking by the lips of his servant." But she fired again the next moment, and said, "The grave hath given us back St. Paul in the Church's need; and I have heard him this day."
"Good heavens! where?"
"At St. Mary's Chapel."
Then Griffith looked very incredulous. Then she gushed out with, "What, because it is a small chapel, you think a great saint cannot be in it. Why, our Saviour was born in a stable, if you go to that."
"Well, but my dear, consider," said Griffith; "who ever heard of comparing a living man to St. Paul, for preaching? Why, he was an apostle, for one thing; and there are no apostles now-a-days. He made Felix tremble on his throne, and almost persuaded Whatsename, another heathen gentleman, to be a Christian."
"That is true," said the lady, thoughtfully; "but he sent one man that we know of to sleep. Catch Brother Leonard sending any man to sleep! And then nobody will ever say of him that he was long preaching."
"Why, I do say it," replied Griffith. "By the same token, I have been waiting dinner for you this half-hour, along of his preaching."
"Ah, that's because you did not hear him," retorted Mrs. Gaunt; "if you had, it would have seemed too short, and you would have forgotten all about your dinner for once."
Griffith made no reply. He even looked vexed at her enthusiastic admiration. She saw, and said no more. But after dinner she retired to the grove, and thought of the sermon and the preacher: thought of them all the more that she was discouraged from enlarging on them. And it would have been kinder, and also wiser, of Griffith, if he had encouraged her to let out her heart to him on this subject, although it did not happen to interest him. A husband should not chill an enthusiastic wife, and, above all, should never separate himself from her favorite topic, when she loves him well enough to try and share it with him.
Mrs. Gaunt, however, though her feelings were quick, was not cursed with a sickly or irritable sensibility; nor, on the other hand, was she one of those lovely little bores who cannot keep their tongues off their favorite theme. She quietly let the subject drop for a whole week; but the next Sunday morning she asked her husband if he would do her a little favor.
"I'm more likely to say ay than nay," was the cheerful reply.
"It is just to go to chapel with me; and then you can judge for yourself."
Griffith looked rather sheepish at this proposal; and he said he could not very well do that.
"Why not, dearest, just for once?"
"Well, you see, parties run so high in this parish; and everything one does is noted. Why, if I was to go to chapel, they'd say directly, 'Look at Griffith Gaunt, he is so tied to his wife's apron he is going to give up the faith of his ancestors.'"
"The faith of your ancestors! That is a good jest. The faith of your grandfather at the outside: the faith of your ancestors was the faith of mine and me."
"Well, don't let us differ about a word," said Griffith; "you know what I mean. Did ever I ask you to go to church with me? and if I were to ask you, would you go?"
Mrs. Gaunt colored; but would not give in. "That is not the same thing," said she. "I do profess religion: you do not. You scarce think of God on week-days; and, indeed, never mention his name, except in the way of swearing; and on Sunday you go to church—for what? to doze before dinner, you know you do. Come now, with you 't is no question of religion, but just of nap or no nap: for Brother Leonard won't let you sleep, I warn you fairly."
Griffith shook his head. "You are too hard on me, wife. I know I am not so good as you are, and never shall be; but that is not the fault of the Protestant faith, which hath reared so many holy men: and some of 'em our ancestors burnt alive, and will burn in hell themselves for the deed. But, look you, sweetheart, if I'm not a saint I'm a gentleman, and, say I wear my faith loose, I won't drag it in the dirt none the more for that. So you must excuse me."
Mrs. Gaunt was staggered; and if Griffith had said no more, I think she would have withdrawn her request, and so the matter ended. But persons unversed in argument can seldom let well alone; and this simple Squire must needs go on to say, "Besides, Kate, it would come to the parson's ears, and he is a friend of mine, you know. Why, I shall be sure to meet him to-morrow."
"Ay," retorted the lady, "by the cover-side. Well, when you do, tell him you refused your wife your company for fear of offending the religious views of a fox-hunting parson."
"Nay, Kate," said Griffith, "this is not to ask thy man to go with thee; 't is to say go he must, willy nilly." With that he rose and rang the bell. "Order the chariot," said he, "I am to go with our dame."
Mrs. Gaunt's face beamed with gratified pride and affection.
The chariot came round, and Griffith handed his dame in. He then gave an involuntary sigh, and followed her with a hang-dog look.
She heard the sigh, and saw the look, and laid her hand quickly on his shoulder, and said, gently but coldly, "Stay you at home, my dear. We shall meet at dinner."
"As you will," said he, cheerfully: and they went their several ways. He congratulated himself on her clemency, and his own escape.
She went along, sorrowful at having to drink so great a bliss alone; and thought it unkind and stupid of Griffith not to yield with a good grace if he could yield at all: and, indeed, women seem cleverer than men in this, that, when they resign their wills, they do it graciously and not by halves. Perhaps they are more accustomed to knock under; and you know practice makes perfect.
But every smaller feeling was swept away by the preacher, and Mrs. Gaunt came home full of pious and lofty thoughts.
She found her husband seated at the dinner-table, with one turnip before him; and even that was not comestible; for it was his grandfather's watch, with a face about the size of a new-born child's. "Forty-five minutes past one, Kate," said he, ruefully.
"Well, why not bid them serve the dinner?" said she with an air of consummate indifference.
"What, dine alone o' Sunday? Why, you know I couldn't eat a morsel without you, set opposite."
Mrs. Gaunt smiled affectionately. "Well then, my dear, we had better order dinner an hour later next Sunday."
"But that will upset the servants, and spoil their Sunday."
"And am I to be their slave?" said Mrs. Gaunt, getting a little warm. "Dinner! dinner! What? shall I starve my soul, by hurrying away from the oracles of God to a sirloin? O these gross appetites! how they deaden the immortal half, and wall out Heaven's music! For my part, I wish there was no such thing as eating and drinking. 'T is like falling from Heaven down into the mud, to come back from such divine discourse and be greeted with 'Dinner! dinner! dinner!'"
The next Sunday, after waiting half an hour for her, Griffith began his dinner without her.
And this time, on her arrival, instead of remonstrating with her, he excused himself. "Nothing," said he, "upsets a man's temper like waiting for his dinner."
"Well, but you have not waited."
"Yes, I did, a good half-hour. Till I could wait no longer."
"Well, dear, if I were you I would not have waited at all, or else waited till your wife came home."
"Ah, dame, that is all very well for you to say. You could live on hearing of sermons and smelling to rosebuds. You don't know what 't is to be a hungry man."
The next Sunday he sat sadly down, and finished his dinner without her. And she came home and sat down to half-empty dishes; and ate much less than she used when she had him to keep her company in it.
Griffith, looking on disconsolate, told her she was more like a bird pecking than a Christian eating of a Sunday.
"No matter, child," said she; "so long as my soul is filled with the bread of Heaven."
Leonard's eloquence suffered no diminution, either in quantity or quality; and, after a while, Gaunt gave up his rule of never dining abroad on the Sunday. If his wife was not punctual, his stomach was; and he had not the same temptation to dine at home he used to have.
And indeed, by degrees, instead of quietly enjoying his wife's company on that sweet day, he got to see less of her than on the week-days.
Your mechanical preacher flings his words out happy-go-lucky; but the pulpit orator, like every other orator, feels his people's pulse as he speaks, and vibrates with them, and they with him.
So Leonard soon discovered he had a great listener in Mrs. Gaunt: she was always there whenever he preached, and her rapt attention never flagged. Her gray eyes never left his face, and, being upturned, the full orbs came out in all their grandeur, and seemed an angel's, come down from heaven to hear him: for, indeed, to a very dark man, as Leonard was, the gentle radiance of a true Saxon beauty seems always more or less angelic.
By degrees this face became a help to the orator. In preaching he looked sometimes to it for sympathy, and lo, it was sure to be melting with sympathy. Was he led on to higher or deeper thoughts than most of his congregation could understand, he looked to this face to understand him; and lo, it had quite understood him, and was beaming with intelligence.
From a help and an encouragement it became a comfort and a delight to him.
On leaving the pulpit and cooling, he remembered its owner was no angel, but a woman of the world, and had put him frivolous questions.
The illusion, however, was so beautiful, that Leonard, being an imaginative man, was unwilling to dispel it by coming into familiar contact with Mrs. Gaunt. So he used to make his assistant visit her, and receive her when she came to confess, which was very rarely; for she was discouraged by her first reception.
Brother Leonard lived in a sort of dwarf monastery, consisting of two cottages, an oratory, and a sepulchre. The two latter were old, but the cottages had been built expressly for him and another seminary priest who had been invited from France. Inside, these cottages were little more than ceils; only the bigger had a kitchen which was a glorious place compared with the parlor; for it was illuminated with bright pewter plates, copper vessels, brass candlesticks, and a nice clean woman, with a plain gown kilted over a quilted silk petticoat; Betty Scarf, an old servant of Mrs. Gaunt's, who had married, and was now the Widow Gough.
She stood at the gate one day, as Mrs. Gaunt drove by; and courtesied, all beaming.
Mrs. Gaunt stopped the carriage, and made some kind and patronizing inquiries about her; and it ended in Betty asking her to come in and see her place. Mrs. Gaunt looked a little shy at that, and did not move. "Nay, they are both abroad till supper time," said Betty, reading her in a moment by the light of sex. Then Mrs. Gaunt smiled, and got out of her carriage. Betty took her in and showed her everything in doors and out. Mrs. Gaunt looked mighty demure and dignified, but scanned everything closely, only without seeming too curious.
The cold gloom of the parlor struck her. She shuddered, and said, "This would give me the vapors. But, doubtless, angels come and brighten it for him."
"Not always," said Betty. "I do see him with his head in his hand by the hour, and hear him sigh ever so loud as I pass the door. Why, one day he was fain to have me and my spinning-wheel aside him. Says he, 'Let me hear thy busy wheel, and see thee ply it.' 'And welcome,' says I. So I sat in his room, and span, and he sat a gloating of me as if he had never seen a woman spin hemp afore (he is a very simple man): and presently says he—but what signifies what he said?"
"Nay, Betty; if you please! I am much interested in him. He preaches so divinely."
"Ay," said Betty, "that's his gift. But a poor trencher-man; and I declare I'm ashamed to eat all the vittels that are eaten here, and me but a woman."
"But what did he say to you that time?" asked Mrs. Gaunt, a little impatiently.
Betty cudgelled her memory. "Well, says he, 'My daughter,' (the poor soul always calls me his daughter, and me old enough to be his mother mostly,) says he, 'how comes it that you are never wearied, nor cast down, and yet you but serve a sinner like yourself; but I do often droop in my Master's service, and He is the Lord of heaven and earth?' Says I, 'I'll tell ye, sir: because ye don't eat enough o' vittels.'"
"What an answer!"
"Why, 't is the truth, dame. And says I, 'If I was to be always fasting, like as you be, d' ye think I should have the heart to work from morn till night?' Now, wasn't I right?"
"I don't know till I hear what answer he made," said Mrs. Gaunt, with mean caution.
"O, he shook his head, and said he ate mortal food enow, (poor simple body!) but drank too little of grace divine. That were his word."
Mrs. Gaunt was a good deal struck and affected by this revelation, and astonished at the slighting tone Betty took in speaking of so remarkable a man. The saying that "No man is a hero to his valet" was not yet current, or perhaps she would have been less surprised at that.
"Alas! poor man," said she, "and is it so? To hear him, I thought his soul was borne up night and day by angels' pinions—"
The widow interrupted her. "Ay, you hear him preach, and it is like God's trumpet mostly, and so much I say for him in all companies. But I see him directly after; he totters in to this very room, and sits him down pale and panting, and one time like to swoon, and another all for crying, and then he is ever so dull and sad for the whole afternoon."
"And nobody knows this but you? You have got my old petticoat still, I see. I must look you up another."
"You are very good, dame, I am sure. 'T will not come amiss; I've only this for Sundays and all. No, my lady, not a soul but me and you. I'm not one as tells tales out of doors, but I don't mind you, dame; you are my old mistress, and a discreet woman. 'T will go no further than your ear."
Mrs. Gaunt told her she might rely on that. The widow then inquired after Mrs. Gaunt's little girl, and admired her dress, and described her own ailments, and poured out a continuous stream of topics bearing no affinity to each other except that they were all of them not worth mentioning. And all the while she thus discoursed, Mrs. Gaunt's thoughtful eyes looked straight over the chatterbox's white cap, and explored vacancy; and by and by she broke the current of twaddle with the majestic air of a camelopard marching across a running gutter.
"Betsy Gough," said she, "I am thinking."
Mrs. Gough was struck dumb by an announcement so singular.
"I have heard, and I have read, that great and pious and learned men are often to seek in little simple things, such as plain bodies have at their fingers' ends. So, now, if you and I could only teach him something for all he has taught us! And, to be sure, we ought to be kind to him if we can; for O Betty, my woman, 't is a poor vanity to go and despise the great, and the learned, and the sainted, because forsooth we find them out in some one little weakness,—we that are all made up of weaknesses and defects. So, now, I sit me down in his very chair, so. And sit you there. Now let us, you and me, look at his room quietly, all over, and see what is wanting."
* * * * *
"First and foremost methinks this window should be filled with geraniums and jessamine and so forth. With all his learning perhaps he has to be taught, the color of flowers and golden green leaves, with the sun shining through, how it soothes the eye and relieves the spirits; yet every woman born knows that. Then do but see this bare table! a purple cloth on that, I say."
"Which he will fling it out of the window, I say."
"Nay, for I'll embroider a cross in the middle with gold braid. Then a rose-colored blind would not be amiss; and there must be a good mirror facing the window; but, indeed, if I had my way, I'd paint these horrid walls the first thing."
"How you run on, dame! Bless your heart, you'd turn his den into a palace; he won't suffer that. He is all for self-mortification, poor simple soul."
"O, not all at once, I did not mean," said Mrs. Gaunt; "but by little and little, you know. We must begin with the flowers: God made them; and so to be sure he will not spurn them."
Betty began to enter into the plot. "Ay, ay," said she: "the flowers first; and so creep on. But naught will avail to make a man of him so long as he eats but of eggs and garden-stuff, like the beasts of the field, 'that to-day are, and to-morrow are cast into the oven.'"
Mrs. Gaunt smiled at this ambitious attempt of the widow to apply Scripture. Then she said, rather timidly, "Could you make his eggs into omelets? and so pound in a little meat with your small herbs; I dare say he would be none the wiser, and he so bent on high and heavenly things."
"You may take your oath of that."
"Well, then. And I shall send you some stock from the castle, and you can cook his vegetables in good strong gravy, unbeknown."
The Widow Gough chuckled aloud.
"But stay," said Mrs. Gaunt; "for us to play the woman so, and delude a saint for his mere bodily weal, will it not be a sin, and a sacrilege to boot?"
"Let that flea stick in the wall," said Betty, contemptuously. "Find you the meat, and I'll find the deceit: for he is as poor as a rat into the bargain. Nay, nay, God Almighty will never have the heart to burn us two for such a trifle. Why 't is no more than cheating a froward child into taking 's physic."
Mrs. Gaunt got into her carriage and went home, thinking all the way. What she had heard filled her with feelings strangely but sweetly composed of veneration and pity. In that Leonard was a great orator and a high-minded priest, she revered him; in that he was solitary and sad, she pitied him; in that he wanted common sense, she felt like a mother, and must take him under her wing. All true women love to protect; perhaps it is a part of the great maternal element: but to protect a man, and yet look up to him, this is delicious. It satisfies their double craving; it takes them by both breasts, as the saying is.
Leonard, in truth, was one of those high-strung men who pay for their periods of religious rapture by hours of melancholy. This oscillation of the spirits in extraordinary men appears to be more or less a law of nature; and this the Widow Gough was not aware of.
The very next Sunday, while he was preaching, she and Mrs. Gaunt's gardener were filling his bow-window with flower-pots, the flowers in full bloom and leaf. The said window was large and had a broad sill outside, and inside, one of the old-fashioned high window-seats that follow the shape of the window. Mrs. Gaunt, who did nothing by halves, sent up a cart-load of flower-pots, and Betty and the gardener arranged at least eighty of them, small and great, inside and outside the window.
When Leonard returned from preaching, Betty was at the door to watch. He came past the window with his hands on his breast, and his eyes on the ground, and never saw the flowers in his own window. Betty was disgusted. However, she followed him stealthily as he went to his room, and she heard a profound "Ah!" burst from him.
She bustled in and found him standing in a rapture, with the blood mantling in his pale cheeks, and his dark eyes glowing.
"Now blessed be the heart that hath conceived this thing, and the hand that hath done it," said he. "My poor room, it is a bower of roses, all beauty and fragrance."
And he sat down, inhaling them and looking at them; and a dreamy, tender complacency crept over his heart, and softened his noble features exquisitely.
Widow Gough, red with gratified pride, stood watching him, and admiring him; but, indeed, she often admired him, though she had got into a way of decrying him.
But at last she lost patience at his want of curiosity; that being a defect she was free from herself.
"Ye don't ask me who sent them," said she, reproachfully.
"Nay, nay," said he; "prithee do not tell me: let me divine."
"Divine, then," said Betty, roughly. "Which I suppose you means 'guess.'"
"Nay, but let me be quiet awhile," said he, imploringly; "let me sit down and fancy that I am a holy man, and some angel hath turned my cave into a Paradise."
"No more an angel than I am," said the practical widow. "But, now I think on 't, y' are not to know who 't was. Them as sent them they bade me hold my tongue."
This was not true; but Betty, being herself given to unwise revelations and superfluous secrecy, chose suddenly to assume that this business was to be clandestine.
The priest turned his eye inwards and meditated.
"I see who it is," said he, with an air of absolute conviction. "It must be the lady who comes always when I preach, and her face like none other; it beams with divine intelligence. I will make her all the return we poor priests can make to our benefactors. I will pray for her soul here among the flowers God has made, and she has given his servant to glorify his dwelling. My daughter, you may retire."
This last with surprising, gentle dignity; so Betty went off rather abashed, and avenged herself by adulterating the holy man's innutritious food with Mrs. Gaunt's good gravy; while he prayed fervently for her eternal weal among the flowers she had given him.
Now Mrs. Gaunt, after eight years of married life, was too sensible and dignified a woman to make a romantic mystery out of nothing. She concealed the gravy, because there secrecy was necessary; but she never dreamed of hiding that she had sent her spiritual adviser a load of flowers. She did not tell her neighbors, for she was not ostentatious; but she told her husband, who grunted, but did not object.
But Betty's nonsense lent an air of romance and mystery that was well adapted to captivate the imagination of a young, ardent, and solitary spirit like Leonard.
He would have called on the lady he suspected, and thanked her for her kindness. But this, he feared, would be unwelcome, since she chose to be his unknown benefactress. It would be ill taste in him to tell her he had found her out: it might offend her sensibility, and then she would draw in.
He kept his gratitude, therefore, to himself, and did not cool it by utterance. He often sat among the flowers, in a sweet revery, enjoying their color and fragrance; and sometimes he would shut his eyes, and call up the angelical face, with great, celestial, upturned orbs, and fancy it among her own flowers, and the queen of them all.
These day-dreams did not at that time interfere with his religious duties. They only took the place of those occasional hours when, partly by the reaction consequent on great religious fervor, partly by exhaustion of the body weakened by fasts, partly by the natural delicacy of his fibre and the tenderness of his disposition, his soul used to be sad.
By and by these languid hours, sad no longer, became sweet and dear to him. He had something so interesting to think of, to dream about. He had a Madonna that cared for him in secret.
She was human; but good, beautiful, and wise. She came to his sermons, and understood every word.
"And she knows me better than I know myself," said he; "since I had these flowers from her hand, I am another man."
One day he came into his room and found two watering-pots there. One was large and had a rose to it, the other small and with a plain spout.
"Ah!" said he; and colored with delight. He called Betty, and asked her who had brought them.
"How should I know?" said she, roughly. "I dare say they dropped from heaven. See, there is a cross painted on 'em in gold letters."
"And so there is!" said Leonard, and crossed himself.
"That means nobody is to use them but you, I trow," said Betty, rather crossly.
The priest's cheek colored high. "I will use them this instant," said he. "I will revive my drooping children as they have revived me." And he caught up a watering-pot with ardor.
"What, with the sun hot upon 'em?" screamed Betty. "Well, saving your presence, you are a simple man."
"Why, good Betty, 't is the sun that makes them faint," objected the priest, timidly, and with the utmost humility of manner, though Betty's tone would have irritated a smaller mind.
"Well, well," said she, softening; "but ye see it never rains with a hot sun, and the flowers they know that; and look to be watered after Nature, or else they take it amiss. You, and all your sort, sir, you think to be stronger than Nature; you do fast and pray all day, and won't look at a woman like other men; and now you wants to water the very flowers at noon!"
"Betty," said Leonard smiling, "I yield to thy superior wisdom, and I will water them at morn and eve. In truth we have all much to learn: let us try and teach one another as kindly as we can."
"I wish you'd teach me to be as humble as you be," blurted out Betty, with something very like a sob: "and more respectful to my betters," added she, angrily.
Watering the flowers she had given him became a solace and a delight to the solitary priest: he always watered them with his own hands, and felt quite paternal over them.
One evening Mrs. Gaunt rode by with Griffith, and saw him watering them. His tall figure, graceful, though inclined to stoop, bent over them with feminine delicacy; and the simple act, which would have been nothing in vulgar hands, seemed to Mrs. Gaunt so earnest, tender, and delicate in him, that her eyes filled, and she murmured, "Poor Brother Leonard!"
"Why, what's wrong with him now?" asked Griffith, a little peevishly.
"That was him watering the flowers."
"O, is that all?" said Griffith, carelessly.
* * * * *
Leonard said to himself, "I go too little abroad among my people." He made a little round, and it ended in Hernshaw Castle.
Mrs. Gaunt was out.
He looked disappointed; so the servant suggested that perhaps she was in the Dame's haunt: he pointed to the grove.
Leonard followed his direction, and soon found himself, for the first time, in that sombre, solemn retreat.
It was a hot summer day, and the grove was delicious. It was also a place well suited to the imaginative and religious mind of the Italian.
He walked slowly to and fro, in religious meditation. Indeed, he had nearly thought out his next sermon, when his meditative eye happened to fall on a terrestrial object that startled and thrilled him. Yet it was only a lady's glove. It lay at the foot of a rude wooden seat beneath a gigantic pine.
He stooped and picked it up. He opened the little fingers, and called up in fancy the white and tapering hand that glove could fit. He laid the glove softly on his own palm, and eyed it with dreamy tenderness. "So this is the hand that hath solaced my loneliness," said he: "a hand fair as that angelical face, and sweet as the kind heart that doeth good by stealth."
Then, forgetting for a moment, as lofty spirits will, the difference between meum and tuum, he put the little glove in his bosom, and paced thoughtfully home through the woods, that were separated from the grove only by one meadow: and so he missed the owner of the glove, for she had returned home while he was meditating in her favorite haunt.
* * * * *
Leonard, amongst his other accomplishments, could draw and paint with no mean skill. In one of those hours that used to be of melancholy, but now were hours of dreamy complacency, he took out his pencils and endeavored to sketch the inspired face that he had learned to preach to, and now to dwell on with gratitude.
Clearly as he saw it before him, he could not reproduce it to his own satisfaction. After many failures he got very near the mark: yet still something was wanting.
Then, as a last resource, he actually took his sketch to church with him, and in preaching made certain pauses, and, with a very few touches, perfected the likeness; then, on his return home, threw himself on his knees and prayed forgiveness of God with many sighs and tears, and hid the sacrilegious drawing out of his own sight.
Two days after, he was at work coloring it; and the hours flew by like minutes, as he laid the mellow, melting tints on with infinite care and delicacy. Labor ipse voluptas.
* * * * *
Mrs. Gaunt heard Leonard had called on her in person. She was pleased at that, and it encouraged her to carry out her whole design.
Accordingly, one afternoon, when she knew Leonard would be at vespers, she sent on a loaded pony-cart, and followed it on horseback.
Then it was all hurry-skurry with Betty and her, to get their dark deeds done before their victim's return.
These good creatures set the mirror opposite the flowery window, and so made the room a very bower. They fixed a magnificent crucifix of ivory and gold over the mantel-piece, and they took away his hassock of rushes and substituted a prie-dieu of rich crimson velvet. All that remained was to put their blue cover, with its golden cross, on the table. To do this, however, they had to remove the priest's papers and things: they were covered with a cloth. Mrs. Gaunt felt them under it.
"But perhaps he will be angry if we move his papers," said she.
"Not he," said Betty. "He has no secrets from God or man."
"Well, I won't take it on me," said Mrs. Gaunt, merrily. "I leave that to you." And she turned her back and settled the mirror, officiously, leaving all the other responsibilities to Betty.
The sturdy widow laughed at her scruples, and whipped off the cloth without ceremony. But soon her laugh stopped mighty short, and she uttered an exclamation.
"What is the matter?" said Mrs. Gaunt, turning her head sharply round.
"A wench's glove, as I'm a living sinner," groaned Betty.
A poor little glove lay on the table; and both women eyed it like basilisks a moment. Then Betty pounced on it and examined it with the fierce keenness of her sex in such conjunctures, searching for a name or a clew.
Owing to this rapidity, Mrs. Gaunt, who stood at some distance, had not time to observe the button on the glove, or she would have recognized her own property.
"He have had a hussy with him unbeknown," said Betty, "and she have left her glove. 'T is easy to get in by the window and out again. Only let me catch her! I'll tear her eyes out, and give him my mind. I'll have no young hussies creeping in an' out where I be."
Thus spoke the simple woman, venting her coarse domestic jealousy.
The gentlewoman said nothing, but a strange feeling traversed her heart for the first time in her life.
It was a little chill, it was a little ache, it was a little sense of sickness; none of these violent, yet all distinct. And all about what? After this curious, novel spasm at the heart, she began to be ashamed of herself for having had such a feeling.
Betty held her out the glove: and she recognized it directly, and turned as red as fire.
"You know whose 't is?" said Betty, keenly.
Mrs. Gaunt was on her guard in a moment. "Why, Betty," said she, "for shame! 't is some penitent hath left her glove after confession. Would you belie a good man for that? O, fie!"
"Humph!" said Betty, doubtfully. "Then why keep it under cover? Now you can read, dame; let us see if there isn't a letter or so writ by the hand as owns this very glove."
Mrs. Gaunt declined, with cold dignity, to pry into Brother Leonard's manuscripts.
Her eye, however, darted sidelong at them, and told another tale; and, if she had been there alone, perhaps, the daughter of Eve would have predominated.
Betty, inflamed by the glove, rummaged the papers in search of female handwriting. She could tell that from a man's, though she could not read either.
But there is a handwriting that the most ignorant can read at sight; and so Betty's researches were not in vain: hidden under several sheets of paper, she found a picture. She gave but one glance at it, and screamed out: "There, didn't I tell you? Here she is! the brazen, red-haired—LAWK A DAISY! WHY, 'T IS YOURSELF."
"Me!" cried Mrs. Gaunt, in amazement: then she ran to the picture, and at sight of it every other sentiment gave way for a moment to gratified vanity. "Nay," said she, beaming and blushing, "I was never half so beautiful. What heavenly eyes!"
"The fellows to 'em be in your own head, dame, this moment."
"Seeing is believing," said Mrs. Gaunt, gayly, and in a moment she was at the priest's mirror, and inspected her eyes minutely, cocking her head this way and that. She ended by shaking it, and saying, "No. He has flattered them prodigiously."
"Not a jot," said Betty. "If you could see yourself in chapel, you do turn 'em up just so, and the white shows all round." Then she tapped the picture with her finger: "O them eyes! they were never made for the good of his soul,—poor simple man!"
Betty said this with sudden gravity: and now Mrs. Gaunt began to feel very awkward. "Mr. Gaunt would give fifty pounds for this," said she, to gain time: and, while she uttered that sentence, she whipped on her armor.
"I'll tell you what I think," said she, calmly, "he wished to paint a Madonna; and he must take some woman's face to aid his fancy. All the painters are driven to that. So he just took the best that came to hand, and that is not saying much, for this is a rare ill-favored parish: and he has made an angel of her, a very angel. There, hide Me away again, or I shall long for Me—to show to my husband. I must be going; I wouldn't be caught here now for a pension."
"Well, if ye must," said Betty; "but when will ye come again?" (She hadn't got the petticoat yet.)
"Humph!" said Mrs. Gaunt, "I have done all I can for him; and perhaps more than I ought. But there's nothing to hinder you from coming to me. I'll be as good as my word; and I have an old Paduasoy, besides, you can perhaps do something with it."
"You are very good, dame," said Betty, courtesying.
Mrs. Gaunt then hurried away, and Betty looked after her very expressively, and shook her head. She had a female instinct that some mischief or other was brewing.
Mrs. Gaunt went home in a revery.
At the gate she found her husband, and asked him to take a turn in the garden with her.
He complied; and she intended to tell him a portion, at least, of what had occurred. She began timidly, after this fashion: "My dear, Brother Leonard is so grateful for your flowers," and then hesitated.
"I'm sure he is very welcome," said Griffith. "Why doesn't he sup with us, and be sociable, as Father Francis used? Invite him; let him know he will be welcome."
Mrs. Gaunt blushed; and objected. "He never calls on us."
"Well, well, every man to his taste," said Griffith, indifferently, and proceeded to talk to her about his farm, and a sorrel mare with a white mane and tail that he had seen, and thought it would suit her.
She humored him, and affected a great interest in all this, and had not the courage to force the other topic on.
Next Sunday morning, after a very silent breakfast, she burst out, almost violently, "Griffith, I shall go to the parish church with you, and then we will dine together afterwards."
"You don't mean it, Kate," said he, delighted.
"Ay, but I do. Although you refused to go to chapel with me."
They went to church together, and Mrs. Gaunt's appearance there created no small sensation. She was conscious of that, but hid it, and conducted herself admirably. Her mind seemed entirely given to the service, and to a dull sermon that followed.
But at dinner she broke out, "Well, give me your church for a sleeping draught. You all slumbered, more or less: those that survived the drowsy, droning prayers sank under the dry, dull, dreary discourse. You snored, for one."
"Nay, I hope not, my dear."
"You did then, as loud as your bass fiddle."
"And you sat there and let me!" said Griffith, reproachfully.
"To be sure I did. I was too good a wife, and too good a Christian, to wake you. Sleep is good for the body, and twaddle is not good for the soul. I'd have slept too, if I could; but with me going to chapel, I'm not used to sleep at that time o' day. You can't sleep, and Brother Leonard speaking."
In the afternoon came Mrs. Gough, all in her best. Mrs. Gaunt had her into her bedroom, and gave her the promised petticoat, and the old Paduasoy gown; and then, as ladies will, when their hand is once in, added first one thing, then another, till there was quite a large bundle.
"But how is it you are here so soon?" asked Mrs. Gaunt.
"O, we had next to no sermon to-day. He couldn't make no hand of it: dawdled on a bit; then gave us his blessing, and bundled us out."
"Then I've lost nothing," said Mrs. Gaunt.
"Not you. Well, I don't know. Mayhap if you had been there he'd have preached his best. But la! we warn't worth it."
At this conjecture Mrs. Gaunt's face burned, but she said nothing: only she cut the interview short, and dismissed Betty with her bundle.
As Betty crossed the landing, Mrs. Gaunt's new lady's-maid, Caroline Ryder, stepped accidentally, on purpose, out of an adjoining room, in which she had been lurking, and lifted her black brows in affected surprise. "What, are you going to strip the house, my woman?" said she, quietly.
Betty put down the bundle, and set her arms akimbo. "There is none on 't stolen, any way," said she.
Caroline's black eyes flashed fire at this, and her cheek lost color; but she parried the innuendo skilfully. "Taking my perquisites on the sly,—that is not so very far from stealing."
"O, there's plenty left for you, my fine lady. Besides, you don't want her; you can set your cap at the master, they say. I'm too old for that, and too honest into the bargain."
"Too ill-favored, you mean, ye old harridan," said Ryder, contemptuously.
But, for reasons hereafter to be dealt with, Betty's thrust went home: and the pair were mortal enemies from that hour.
* * * * *
Mrs. Gaunt came down from her room discomposed: from that she became restless and irritable; so much so, indeed, that at last Mr. Gaunt told her, good-humoredly enough, if going to church made her ill (meaning peevish), she had better go to chapel. "You are right," said she, "and so I will."
The next Sunday she was at her post in good time.
The preacher cast an anxious glance around to see if she was there. Her quick eye saw that glance, and it gave her a demure pleasure.
This day he was more eloquent than ever: and he delivered a beautiful passage concerning those who do good in secret. In uttering these eloquent sentences his cheek glowed, and he could not deny himself the pleasure of looking down at the lovely face that was turned up to him. Probably his look was more expressive than he intended: the celestial eyes sank under it, and were abashed, and the fair cheek burned: and then so did Leonard's at that.
Thus, subtly yet effectually, did these two minds communicate in a crowd that never noticed nor suspected the delicate interchange of sentiment that was going on under their very eyes.
In a general way compliments did not seduce Mrs. Gaunt: she was well used to them, for one thing. But to be praised in that sacred edifice, and from the pulpit, and by such an orator as Leonard, and to be praised in words so sacred and beautiful that the ears around her drank them with delight,—all this made her heart beat, and filled her with soft and sweet complacency.