Now, all this while Miss Fanny was mistaken in one point, for Mr. George Somers, though an exceedingly fine gentleman, had, after all, quite a substratum of reality about him, of real heart, real feeling, and real opinion of his own; and the consequence was, that when tired of the effort of conversing he really longed to find somebody to talk to; and in this mood he one evening strolled into the library, leaving the gay party in the drawing room to themselves. Miss Fanny was there, quite intent upon a book of selections from the old English poets.
"Really, Miss Fanny," said Mr. Somers, "you are very sparing of the favor of your company to us this evening."
"O, I presume my company is not much missed," said Fanny, with a smile.
"You must have a poor opinion of our taste, then," said Mr. Somers.
"Come, come, Mr. Somers," replied Fanny, "you forget the person you are talking to; it is not at all necessary for you to compliment me; nobody ever does—so you may feel relieved of that trouble."
"Nobody ever does, Miss Fanny; pray, how is that?"
"Because I'm not the sort of person to say such things to."
"And pray, what sort of person ought one to be, in order to have such things said?" replied Mr. Somers.
"Why, like Sister Isabella, or like Emma. You understand I am a sort of little nobody; if any one wastes fine words on me, I never know what to make of them."
"And pray, what must one say to you?" said Mr. Somers, quite amused.
"Why, what they really think and really feel; and I am always puzzled by any thing else."
Accordingly, about a half an hour afterwards, you might have seen the much admired Mr. Somers once more transformed into the Cousin George, and he and Fanny engaged in a very interesting tete-a-tete about old times and things.
Now, you may skip across a fortnight from this evening, and then look in at the same old library, just as the setting sun is looking in at its western window, and you will see Fanny sitting back a little in the shadow, with one straggling ray of light illuminating her pure childish face, and she is looking up at Mr. George Somers, as if in some sudden perplexity; and, dear me, if we are not mistaken, our young gentleman is blushing.
"Why, Cousin George," says the lady, "what do you mean?"
"I thought I spoke plainly enough, Fanny," replied Cousin George, in a tone that might have made the matter plain enough, to be sure.
Fanny laughed outright, and the gentleman looked terribly serious.
"Indeed, now, don't be angry," said she, as he turned away with a vexed and mortified air; "indeed, now, I can't help laughing, it seems to me so odd; what will they all think of you?"
"It's of no consequence to me what they think," said Mr. Somers. "I think, Fanny, if you had the heart I gave you credit for, you might have seen my feelings before now."
"Now, do sit down, my dear cousin," said Fanny, earnestly, drawing him into a chair, "and tell me, how could I, poor little Miss Fanny Nobody, how could I have thought any such thing with such sisters as I have? I did think that you liked me, that you knew more of my real feelings than mamma and sisters; but that you should—that you ever should—why, I am astonished that you did not fall in love with Isabella."
"That would have met your feelings, then?" said George, eagerly, and looking as if he would have looked through her, eyes, soul, and all.
"No, no, indeed," she said, turning away her head; "but," added she, quickly, "you'll lose all your credit for good taste. Now, tell me, seriously, what do you like me for?"
"Well, then, Fanny, I can give you the best reason. I like you for being a real, sincere, natural girl—for being simple in your tastes, and simple in your appearance, and simple in your manners, and for having heart enough left, as I hope, to love plain George Somers, with all his faults, and not Mr. Somers's reputation, or Mr. Somers's establishment."
"Well, this is all very reasonable to me, of course," said Fanny, "but it will be so much Greek to poor mamma."
"I dare say your mother could never understand how seeing the very acme of cultivation in all countries should have really made my eyes ache, and long for something as simple as green grass or pure water, to rest them on. I came down here to find it among my cousins, and I found in your sisters only just such women as I have seen and admired all over Europe, till I was tired of admiring. Your mother has achieved what she aimed at, perfectly; I know of no circle that could produce higher specimens; but it is all art, triumphant art, after all, and I have so strong a current of natural feeling running through my heart that I could never be happy except with a fresh, simple, impulsive character."
"Like me, you are going to say," said Fanny, laughing. "Well, I'll admit that you are right. It would be a pity that you should not have one vote, at least."
"A little child shall lead them."
One cold market morning I looked into a milliner's shop, and there I saw a hale, hearty, well-browned young fellow from the country, with his long cart whip, and lion-shag coat, holding up some little matter, and turning it about on his great fist. And what do you suppose it was? A baby's bonnet! A little, soft, blue satin hood, with a swan's down border, white as the new-fallen snow, with a frill of rich blonde around the edge.
By his side stood a very pretty woman, holding, with no small pride, the baby—for evidently it was the baby. Any one could read that fact in every glance, as they looked at each other, and then at the large, unconscious eyes, and fat, dimpled cheeks of the little one.
It was evident that neither of them had ever seen a baby like that before.
"But really, Mary," said the young man, "isn't three dollars very high?"
Mary very prudently said nothing, but taking the little bonnet, tied it on the little head, and held up the baby. The man looked, and without another word down went the three dollars—all the avails of last week's butter; and as they walked out of the shop, it is hard to say which looked the most delighted with the bargain.
"Ah," thought I, "a little child shall lead them."
Another day, as I was passing a carriage factory along one of our principal back streets, I saw a young mechanic at work on a wheel. The rough body of a carriage stood beside him, and there, wrapped up snugly, all hooded and cloaked, sat a little dark-eyed girl, about a year old, playing with a great, shaggy dog. As I stopped, the man looked up from his work, and turned admiringly towards his little companion, as much as to say, "See what I have got here!"
"Yes," thought I; "and if the little lady ever gets a glance from admiring swains as sincere as that, she will be lucky."
Ah, these children, little witches, pretty even in all their faults and absurdities. See, for example, yonder little fellow in a naughty fit. He has shaken his long curls over his deep-blue eyes; the fair brow is bent in a frown, the rose leaf lip is pursed up in infinite defiance, and the white shoulder thrust angrily forward. Can any but a child look so pretty, even in its naughtiness?
Then comes the instant change; flashing smiles and tears, as the good comes back all in a rush, and you are overwhelmed with protestations, promises, and kisses! They are irresistible, too, these little ones. They pull away the scholar's pen, tumble about his paper, make somersets over his books; and what can he do? They tear up newspapers, litter the carpets, break, pull, and upset, and then jabber unheard-of English in self-defence; and what can you do for yourself?
"If I had a child," says the precise man, "you should see."
He does have a child, and his child tears up his papers, tumbles over his things, and pulls his nose, like all other children; and what has the precise man to say for himself? Nothing; he is like every body else; "a little child shall lead him."
The hardened heart of the worldly man is unlocked by the guileless tones and simple caresses of his son; but he repays it in time, by imparting to his boy all the crooked tricks and callous maxims which have undone himself.
Go to the jail, to the penitentiary, and find there the wretch most sullen, brutal, and hardened. Then look at your infant son. Such as he is to you, such to some mother was this man. That hard hand was soft and delicate; that rough voice was tender and lisping; fond eyes followed him as he played, and he was rocked and cradled as something holy. There was a time when his heart, soft and unworn, might have opened to questionings of God and Jesus, and been sealed with the seal of Heaven. But harsh hands seized it; fierce goblin lineaments were impressed upon it; and all is over with him forever!
So of the tender, weeping child is made the callous, heartless man; of the all-believing child, the sneering sceptic; of the beautiful and modest, the shameless and abandoned; and this is what the world does for the little one.
There was a time when the divine One stood on earth, and little children sought to draw near to him. But harsh human beings stood between him and them, forbidding their approach. Ah, has it not always been so? Do not even we, with our hard and unsubdued feelings, our worldly and unspiritual habits and maxims, stand like a dark screen between our little child and its Savior, and keep even from the choice bud of our hearts the sweet radiance which might unfold it for Paradise? "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not," is still the voice of the Son of God; but the cold world still closes around and forbids. When, of old, disciples would question their Lord of the higher mysteries of his kingdom, he took a little child and set him in the midst, as a sign of him who should be greatest in heaven. That gentle teacher remains still to us. By every hearth and fireside Jesus still sets the little child in the midst of us.
Wouldst thou know, O parent, what is that faith which unlocks heaven? Go not to wrangling polemics, or creeds and forms of theology, but draw to thy bosom thy little one, and read in that clear, trusting eye the lesson of eternal life. Be only to thy God as thy child is to thee, and all is done. Blessed shalt thou be, indeed, "when a little child shall lead thee."
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH MAMMON.
It was four o'clock in the afternoon of a dull winter day that Mr. H. sat in his counting room. The sun had nearly gone down, and, in fact, it was already twilight beneath the shadows of the tall, dusky stores, and the close, crooked streets of that quarter of Boston. Hardly light enough struggled through the dusky panes of the counting house for him to read the entries in a much-thumbed memorandum book, which he held in his hand.
A small, thin boy, with a pale face and anxious expression, significant of delicacy of constitution, and a too early acquaintance with want and sorrow, was standing by him, earnestly watching his motions.
"Ah, yes, my boy," said Mr. H., as he at last shut up the memorandum book. "Yes, I've got the place now; I'm apt to be forgetful about these things; come, now, let's go. How is it? Haven't you brought the basket?"
"No, sir," said the boy, timidly. "The grocer said he'd let mother have a quarter for it, and she thought she'd sell it."
"That's bad," said Mr. H., as he went on, tying his throat with a long comforter of some yards in extent; and as he continued this operation he abstractedly repeated, "That's bad, that's bad," till the poor little boy looked quite dismayed, and began to think that somehow his mother had been dreadfully out of the way.
"She didn't want to send for help so long as she had any thing she could sell," said the little boy in a deprecating tone.
"O, yes, quite right," said Mr. H., taking from a pigeon hole in the desk a large pocket book, and beginning to turn it over; and, as before, abstractedly repeating, "Quite right, quite right?" till the little boy became reassured, and began to think, although he didn't know why, that his mother had done something quite meritorious.
"Well," said Mr. H., after he had taken several bills from the pocket book and transferred them to a wallet which he put into his pocket, "now we're ready, my boy." But first he stopped to lock up his desk, and then he said, abstractedly to himself, "I wonder if I hadn't better take a few tracts."
Now, it is to be confessed that this Mr. H., whom we have introduced to our reader, was, in his way, quite an oddity. He had a number of singular little penchants and peculiarities quite his own, such as a passion for poking about among dark alleys, at all sorts of seasonable and unseasonable hours; fishing out troops of dirty, neglected children, and fussing about generally in the community till he could get them into schools or otherwise provided for. He always had in his pocket book a note of some dozen poor widows who wanted tea, sugar, candles, or other things such as poor widows always will be wanting. And then he had a most extraordinary talent for finding out all the sick strangers that lay in out-of-the-way upper rooms in hotels, who, every body knows, have no business to get sick in such places, unless they have money enough to pay their expenses, which they never do.
Besides this, all Mr. H.'s kinsmen and cousins, to the third, fourth, and fortieth remove, were always writing him letters, which, among other pleasing items, generally contained the intelligence that a few hundred dollars were just then exceedingly necessary to save them from utter ruin, and they knew of nobody else to whom to look for it.
And then Mr. H. was up to his throat in subscriptions to every charitable society that ever was made or imagined; had a hand in building all the churches within a hundred miles; occasionally gave four or five thousand dollars to a college; offered to be one of six to raise ten thousand dollars for some benevolent purpose, and when four of the six backed out, quietly paid the balance himself, and said no more about it. Another of his innocent fancies was to keep always about him any quantity of tracts and good books, little and big, for children and grown-up people, which he generally diffused in a kind of gentle shower about him wherever he moved.
So great was his monomania for benevolence that it could not at all confine itself to the streets of Boston, the circle of his relatives, or even the United States of America. Mr. H. was fully posted up in the affairs of India, Burmah, China, and all those odd, out-of-the-way places, which no sensible man ever thinks of with any interest, unless he can make some money there; and money, it is to be confessed, Mr. H. didn't make there, though he spent an abundance. For getting up printing presses in Ceylon for Chinese type, for boxes of clothing and what not to be sent to the Sandwich Islands, for school books for the Greeks, and all other nonsense of that sort, Mr. H. was without a parallel. No wonder his rich brother merchants sometimes thought him something of a bore, since, his heart being full of all these matters, he was rather apt to talk about them, and sometimes to endeavor to draw them into fellowship, to an extent that was not to be thought of.
So it came to pass often, that though Mr. H. was a thriving business man, with some ten thousand a year, he often wore a pretty threadbare coat, the seams whereof would be trimmed with lines of white; and he would sometimes need several pretty plain hints on the subject of a new hat before he would think he could afford one. Now, it is to be confessed the world is not always grateful to those who thus devote themselves to its interests; and Mr. H. had as much occasion to know this as any other man. People got so used to his giving, that his bounty became as common and as necessary as that of a higher Benefactor, "who maketh his sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and sendeth rain upon the just and the unjust;" and so it came to pass that people took them, as they do the sunshine and the rain, quite as matters of course, not thinking much about them when they came, but particularly apt to scold when they did not come.
But Mr. H. never cared for that. He did not give for gratitude; he did not give for thanks, nor to have his name published in the papers as one of six who had given fifty thousand to do so and so; but he gave because it was in him to give, and we all know that it is an old rule in medicine, as well as morals, that what is in a man must be brought out. Then, again, he had heard it reported that there had been One of distinguished authority who had expressed the opinion that it was "more blessed to give than to receive," and he very much believed it—believed it because the One who said it must have known, since for man's sake he once gave away ALL.
And so, when some thriftless, distant relation, whose debts he had paid a dozen times over, gave him an overhauling on the subject of liberality, and seemed inclined to take him by the throat for further charity, he calmed himself down by a chapter or two from the New Testament and half a dozen hymns, and then sent him a good, brotherly letter of admonition and counsel, with a bank note to enforce it; and when some querulous old woman, who had had a tenement of him rent free for three or four years, sent him word that if he didn't send and mend the water pipes she would move right out, he sent and mended them. People said that he was foolish, and that it didn't do any good to do for ungrateful people; but Mr. H. knew that it did him good. He loved to do it, and he thought also on some words that ran to this effect: "Do good and lend, hoping for nothing again." He literally hoped for nothing again in the way of reward, either in this world or in heaven, beyond the present pleasure of the deed; for he had abundant occasion to see how favors are forgotten in this world; and as for another, he had in his own soul a standard of benevolence so high, so pure, so ethereal, that but One of mortal birth ever reached it. He felt that, do what he might, he fell ever so far below the life of that spotless One—that his crown in heaven must come to him at last, not as a reward, but as a free, eternal gift.
But all this while our friend and his little companion have been pattering along the wet streets, in the rain and sleet of a bitter cold evening, till they stopped before a grocery. Here a large cross-handled basket was first bought, and then filled with sundry packages of tea, sugar, candles, soap, starch, and various other matters; a barrel of flour was ordered to be sent after him on a dray. Mr. H. next stopped at a dry goods store and bought a pair of blankets, with which he loaded down the boy, who was happy enough to be so loaded; and then, turning gradually from the more frequented streets, the two were soon lost to view in one of the dimmest alleys of the city.
The cheerful fire was blazing in his parlor, as, returned from his long, wet walk, he was sitting by it with his feet comfortably incased in slippers. The astral was burning brightly on the centre table, and a group of children were around it, studying their lessons.
"Papa," said a little boy, "what does this verse mean? It's in my Sunday school lesson. 'Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.'"
"You ought to have asked your teacher, my son."
"But he said he didn't know exactly what it meant. He wanted me to look this week and see if I could find out."
Mr. H.'s standing resource in all exegetical difficulties was Dr. Scott's Family Bible. Therefore he now got up, and putting on his spectacles, walked to the glass bookcase, and took down a volume of that worthy commentator, and opening it, read aloud the whole exposition of the passage, together with the practical reflections upon it; and by the time he had done, he found his young auditor fast asleep in his chair.
"Mother," said he, "this child plays too hard. He can't keep his eyes open evenings. It's time he was in bed."
"I wasn't asleep, pa," said Master Henry, starting up with that air of injured innocence with which gentlemen of his age generally treat an imputation of this kind.
"Then can you tell me now what the passage means that I have been reading to you?"
"There's so much of it," said Henry, hopelessly, "I wish you'd just tell me in short order, father."
"O, read it for yourself," said Mr. H., as he pushed the book towards the boy, for it was to be confessed that he perceived at this moment that he had not himself received any particularly luminous impression, though of course he thought it was owing to his own want of comprehension.
Mr. H. leaned back in his rocking chair, and on his own private account began to speculate a little as to what he really should think the verse might mean, supposing he were at all competent to decide upon it. "'Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness,'" says he: "that's money, very clearly. How am I to make friends with it or of it? Receive me into everlasting habitations: that's a singular kind of expression. I wonder what it means. Dr. Scott makes some very good remarks about it—but somehow I'm not exactly clear." It must be remarked that this was not an uncommon result of Mr. H.'s critical investigations in this quarter.
Well, thoughts will wander; and as he lay with his head on the back of his rocking chair, and his eyes fixed on the flickering blaze of the coal, visions of his wet tramp in the city, and of the lonely garret he had been visiting, and of the poor woman with the pale, discouraged face, to whom he had carried warmth and comfort, all blended themselves together. He felt, too, a little indefinite creeping chill, and some uneasy sensations in his head like a commencing cold, for he was not a strong man, and it is probable his long, wet walk was likely to cause him some inconvenience in this way. At last he was fast asleep, nodding in his chair.
He dreamed that he was very sick in bed, that the doctor came and went, and that he grew sicker and sicker. He was going to die. He saw his wife sitting weeping by his pillow—his children standing by with pale and frightened faces; all things in his room began to swim, and waver, and fade, and voices that called his name, and sobs and lamentations that rose around him, seemed far off and distant in his ear. "O eternity, eternity! I am going—I am going," he thought; and in that hour, strange to tell, not one of all his good deeds seemed good enough to lean on—all bore some taint or tinge, to his purified eye, of mortal selfishness, and seemed unholy before the ALL PURE. "I am going," he thought; "there is no time to stay, no time to alter, to balance accounts; and I know not what I am, but I know, O Jesus, what THOU art. I have trusted in thee, and shall never be confounded;" and with that last breath of prayer earth was past.
A soft and solemn breathing, as of music, awakened him. As an infant child not yet fully awake hears the holy warblings of his mother's hymn, and smiles half conscious, so the heaven-born became aware of sweet voices and loving faces around him ere yet he fully woke to the new immortal LIFE.
"Ah, he has come at last. How long we have waited for him! Here he is among us. Now forever welcome! welcome!" said the voices.
Who shall speak the joy of that latest birth, the birth from death to life! the sweet, calm, inbreathing consciousness of purity and rest, the certainty that all sin, all weakness and error, are at last gone forever; the deep, immortal rapture of repose—felt to be but begun—never to end!
So the eyes of the heaven-born opened on the new heaven and the new earth, and wondered at the crowd of loving faces that thronged about him. Fair, godlike forms of beauty, such as earth never knew, pressed round him with blessings, thanks, and welcome.
The man spoke not, but he wondered in his heart who they were, and whence it came that they knew him; and as soon as the inquiry formed itself in his soul, it was read at once by his heavenly friends. "I," said one bright spirit, "was a poor boy whom you found in the streets: you sought me out, you sent me to school, you watched over me, and led me to the house of God; and now here I am." "And we," said other voices, "are other neglected children whom you redeemed; we also thank you." "And I," said another, "was a lost, helpless girl: sold to sin and shame, nobody thought I could be saved; every body passed me by till you came. You built a home, a refuge for such poor wretches as I, and there I and many like me heard of Jesus; and here we are." "And I," said another, "was once a clerk in your store. I came to the city innocent, but I was betrayed by the tempter. I forgot my mother, and my mother's God. I went to the gaming table and the theatre, and at last I robbed your drawer. You might have justly cast me off; but you bore with me, you watched over me, you saved me. I am here through you this day." "And I," said another, "was a poor slave girl—doomed to be sold on the auction block to a life of infamy, and the ruin of soul and body. Had you not been willing to give so largely for my ransom, no one had thought to buy me. You stimulated others to give, and I was redeemed. I lived a Christian mother to bring my children up for Christ—they are all here with me to bless you this day, and their children on earth, and their children's children are growing up to bless you." "And I," said another, "was an unbeliever. In the pride of my intellect, I thought I could demonstrate the absurdity of Christianity. I thought I could answer the argument from miracles and prophecy; but your patient, self-denying life was an argument I never could answer. When I saw you spending all your time and all your money in efforts for your fellow-men, undiscouraged by ingratitude, and careless of praise, then I thought, 'There is something divine in that man's life,' and that thought brought me here."
The man looked around on the gathering congregation, and he saw that there was no one whom he had drawn heavenward that had not also drawn thither myriads of others. In his lifetime he had been scattering seeds of good around from hour to hour, almost unconsciously; and now he saw every seed springing up into a widening forest of immortal beauty and glory. It seemed to him that there was to be no end of the numbers that flocked to claim him as their long-expected soul friend. His heart was full, and his face became as that of an angel as he looked up to One who seemed nearer than all, and said, "This is thy love for me, unworthy, O Jesus. Of thee, and to thee, and through thee are all things. Amen."
Amen! as with chorus of many waters and mighty thunderings the sound swept onward, and died far off in chiming echoes among the distant stars, and the man awoke.
A SCENE IN JERUSALEM.
It is now nearly noon, the busiest and most bustling hour of the day; yet the streets of the Holy City seem deserted and silent as the grave. The artisan has left his bench, the merchant his merchandise; the throngs of returned wanderers which this great national festival has brought up from every land of the earth, and which have been for the last week carrying life and motion through every street, seem suddenly to have disappeared. Here and there solitary footfalls, like the last pattering rain drops after a shower, awaken the echoes of the streets; and here and there some lonely woman looks from the housetop with anxious and agitated face, as if she would discern something in the far distance.
Alone, or almost alone, the few remaining priests move like white-winged, solitary birds over the gorgeous pavements of the temple, and as they mechanically conduct the ministrations of the day, cast significant glances on each other, and pause here and there to converse in anxious whispers.
Ah there is one voice which they have often heard beneath those arches—a voice which ever bore in it a mysterious and thrilling charm—which they know will be hushed to-day. Chief priest, scribe, and doctor have all gone out in the death procession after him; and these few remaining ones, far from the excitement of the crowd, and busied in calm and sacred duties, find voices of anxious questioning rising from the depths of their own souls, "What if this indeed were the Christ?"
But pass we on out of the city, and what a surging tide of life and motion meets the eye, as if all nations under heaven had dashed their waves of population on this Judean shore! A noisy, wrathful, tempestuous mob, billow on billow, waver and rally round some central object, which it conceals from view. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, dwellers in Mesopotamia and Egypt, strangers of Rome, Cretes and Arabians, Jew and Proselyte, convoked from the ends of the earth, throng in agitated concourse one on another; one theme in every face, on every tongue, one name in every variety of accent and dialect passing from lip to lip: "Jesus of Nazareth!"
Look on that man—the centre and cause of all this outburst! He stands there alone. The cross is ready. It lies beneath his feet. The rough hand of a brutal soldier has seized his robe to tear it from him. Another with stalwart arm is boring the holes, gazing upward the while with a face of stupid unconcern. There on the ground lie the hammer and the nails: the hour, the moment of doom is come! Look on this man, as upward, with deep, sorrowing eyes, he gazes towards heaven. Hears he the roar of the mob? Feels he the rough hand on his garment? Nay, he sees not, feels not: from all the rage and tumult of the hour he is rapt away. A sorrow deeper, more absorbing, more unearthly seems to possess him, as upward with long gaze he looks to that heaven never before closed to his prayer, to that God never before to him invisible. That mournful, heaven-searching glance, in its lonely anguish, says but one thing: "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God."
Through a life of sorrow the realized love of his Father has shone like a precious and beautiful talisman in his bosom; but now, when desolation and anguish have come upon him as a whirlwind, this last star has gone out in the darkness, and Jesus, deserted by man and God, stands there alone.
Alone? No; for undaunted by the cruel mob, fearless in the strength of mortal anguish, helpless, yet undismayed, stands the one blessed among women, the royal daughter of a noble line, the priestess to whose care was intrusted this spotless sacrifice. She and her son, last of a race of kings, stand there despised, rejected, and disavowed by their nation, to accomplish dread words of prophecy, which have swept down for far ages to this hour.
Strange it is, in this dark scene, to see the likeness between mother and son, deepening in every line of those faces, as they stand thus thrown out by the dark background of rage and hate, which like a storm cloud lowers around. The same rapt, absorbed, calm intensity of anguish in both mother and son, save only that while he gazes upward towards God, she, with like fervor, gazes on him. What to her is the deriding mob, the coarse taunt, the brutal abuse? Of it all she hears, she feels nothing. She sinks not, faints not, weeps not; her whole being concentrates in the will to suffer by and with him to the last. Other hearts there are that beat for him; others that press into the doomed circle, and own him amid the scorn of thousands. There may you see the clasped hands and upraised eyes of a Magdalen, the pale and steady resolve of John, the weeping company of women who bewailed and lamented him; but none dare press so near, or seem so identical with him in his sufferings, as this mother.
And as we gaze on these two in human form, surrounded by other human forms, how strange the contrast! How is it possible that human features and human lineaments essentially alike, can be wrought into such heaven-wide contrast? MAN is he who stands there, lofty and spotless, in bleeding patience! Men also are those brutal soldiers, alike stupidly ready, at the word of command, to drive the nail through quivering flesh or insensate wood. Men are those scowling priests and infuriate Pharisees. Men, also, the shifting figures of the careless rabble, who shout and curse without knowing why. No visible glory shines round that head; yet how, spite of every defilement cast upon him by the vulgar rabble, seems that form to be glorified! What light is that in those eyes! What mournful beauty in that face! What solemn, mysterious sacredness investing the whole form, constraining from us the exclamation, "Surely this is the Son of God." Man's voice is breathing vulgar taunt and jeer: "He saved others; himself he cannot save." "He trusted in God; let him deliver him if he will have him." And man's, also, clear, sweet, unearthly, pierces that stormy mob, saying, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."
But we draw the veil in reverence. It is not ours to picture what the sun refused to shine upon, and earth shook to behold.
Little thought those weeping women, that stricken disciple, that heart-broken mother, how on some future day that cross—emblem to them of deepest infamy—should blaze in the eye of all nations, symbol of triumph and hope, glittering on gorgeous fanes, embroidered on regal banners, associated with all that is revered and powerful on earth. The Roman ensign that waved on that mournful day, symbol of highest earthly power, is a thing mouldered and forgotten; and over all the high places of old Rome, herself stands that mystical cross, no longer speaking of earthly anguish and despair, but of heavenly glory, honor, and immortality.
Theologians have endlessly disputed and philosophized on this great fact of atonement. The Bible tells only that this tragic event was the essential point without which our salvation could never have been secured. But where lay the necessity they do not say. What was that dread strait that either the divine One must thus suffer, or man be lost, who knoweth?
To this question answer a thousand voices, with each a different solution, urged with equal confidence—each solution to its framer as certain and sacred as the dread fact it explains—yet every one, perhaps, unsatisfactory to the deep-questioning soul. The Bible, as it always does, gives on this point not definitions or distinct outlines, but images—images which lose all their glory and beauty if seized by the harsh hands of metaphysical analysis, but inexpressibly affecting to the unlettered human heart, which softens in gazing on their mournful and mysterious beauty. Christ is called our sacrifice, our passover, our atoning high priest; and he himself, while holding in his hands the emblem cup, says, "It is my blood, shed for many, for the remission of sins." Let us reason on it as we will, this story of the cross, presented without explanation in the simple metaphor of the Bible, has produced an effect on human nature wholly unaccountable. In every age and clime, with every variety of habit, thought, and feeling, from the cannibals of New Zealand and Madagascar to the most enlightened and scientific minds in Christendom, one feeling, essentially homogeneous in its character and results, has arisen in view of this cross. There is something in it that strikes one of the great nerves of simple, unsophisticated humanity, and meets its wants as nothing else will. Ages ago, Paul declared to philosophizing Greek and scornful Roman that he was not ashamed of this gospel, and alleged for his reason this very adaptedness to humanity. A priori, many would have said that Paul should have told of Christ living, Christ preaching, Christ working miracles, not omitting also the pathetic history of how he sealed all with his blood; but Paul declared that he determined to know nothing else but Christ crucified. He said it was a stumbling block to the Jew, an absurdity to the Greek; yet he was none the less positive in his course. True, there was many then, as now, who looked on with the most philosophic and cultivated indifference. The courtly Festus, as he settled his purple tunic, declared he could make nothing of the matter, only a dispute about one Jesus, who was dead, and whom Paul affirmed to be alive; and perchance some Athenian, as he reclined on his ivory couch at dinner, after the sermon on Mars Hill, may have disposed of the matter very summarily, and passed on to criticisms on Samian wine and marble vases. Yet in spite of their disbelief, this story of Christ has outlived them, their age and nation, and is to this hour as fresh in human hearts as if it were just published. This "one Jesus which was dead, and whom Paul affirmed to be alive," is nominally, at least, the object of religious homage in all the more cultivated portions of the globe; and to hearts scattered through all regions of the earth this same Jesus is now a sacred and living name, dearer than all household sounds, all ties of blood, all sweetest and nearest affections of humanity. "I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die for the name of the Lord Jesus," are words that have found an echo in the bosoms of thousands in every age since then; that would, if need were, find no less echo in thousands now. Considering Christ as a man, and his death as a mere pathetic story,—considering him as one of the great martyrs for truth, who sealed it with his blood,—this result is wholly unaccountable. Other martyrs have died, bravely and tenderly, in their last hours "bearing witness of the godlike" that is in man; but who so remembers them? Who so loves them? To whom is any one of them a living presence, a life, an all? Yet so thousands look on Jesus at this hour.
Nay, it is because this story strikes home to every human bosom as an individual concern. A thrilling voice speaks from this scene of anguish to every human bosom: This is thy Savior. Thy sin hath done this. It is the appropriative words, thine and mine, which make this history different from any other history. This was for me, is the thought which has pierced the apathy of the Greenlander, and kindled the stolid clay of the Hottentot; and no human bosom has ever been found so low, so lost, so guilty, so despairing, that this truth, once received, has not had power to redeem, regenerate, and disenthrall. Christ so presented becomes to every human being a friend nearer than the mother who bore him; and the more degraded, the more hopeless and polluted, is the nature, the stronger comes on the living reaction, if this belief is really and vividly enkindled with it. But take away this appropriative, individual element, and this legend of Jesus's death has no more power than any other. He is to us no more than Washington or Socrates, or Howard. And where is there not a touchstone to try every theory of atonement? Whatever makes a man feel that he is only a spectator, an uninterested judge in this matter, is surely astray from the idea of the Bible. Whatever makes him feel that his sins have done this deed, that he is bound, soul and body, to this Deliverer, though it may be in many points philosophically erroneous, cannot go far astray.
If we could tell the number of the stars, and call them forth by name, then, perhaps, might we solve all the mystic symbols by which the Bible has shadowed forth the far-lying necessities and reachings-forth of this event "among principalities and powers," and in "ages to come." But he who knows nothing of all this, who shall so present the atonement as to bind and affiance human souls indissolubly to their Redeemer, does all that could be done by the highest and most perfect knowledge.
The great object is accomplished, when the soul, rapt, inspired, feels the deep resolve,—
"Remember Thee! Yea, from the table of my memory I'll wipe away all trivial, fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past That youth and observation copied there, And thy commandment all alone shall live Within the book and volume of my brain, Unmixed with baser matter."
THE OLD MEETING HOUSE.
SKETCH FROM THE NOTE BOOK OF AN OLD GENTLEMAN.
Never shall I forget the dignity and sense of importance which swelled my mind when I was first pronounced old enough to go to meeting. That eventful Sunday I was up long before day, and even took my Sabbath suit to the window to ascertain by the first light that it actually was there, just as it looked the night before. With what complacency did I view myself completely dressed! How did I count over the rows of yellow gilt buttons on my coat! how my good mother, grandmother, and aunts fussed, and twitched, and pulled, to make every thing set up and set down, just in the proper place! how my clean, starched white collar was turned over and smoothed again and again, and my golden curls twisted and arranged to make the most of me! and, last of all, how I was cautioned not to be thinking of my clothes! In truth, I was in those days a very handsome youngster, and it really is no more than justice to let the fact be known, as there is nothing in my present appearance from which it could ever be inferred. Every body in the house successively asked me if I should be a good boy, and sit still, and not talk, nor laugh; and my mother informed me, in terrorem, that there was a tithing man, who carried off naughty children, and shut them up in a dark place behind the pulpit; and that this tithing man, Mr. Zephaniah Scranton, sat just where he could see me. This fact impressed my mind with more solemnity than all the exhortations which had preceded it—a proof of the efficacy of facts above reason. Under shadow and power of this weighty truth, I demurely took hold of my mother's forefinger to walk to meeting.
The traveller in New England, as he stands on some eminence, and looks down on its rich landscape of golden grain and waving cornfield, sees no feature more beautiful than its simple churches, whose white taper fingers point upward, amid the greenness and bloom of the distant prospects, as if to remind one of the overshadowing providence whence all this luxuriant beauty flows; and year by year, as new ones are added to the number, or succeed in the place of old ones, there is discernible an evident improvement in their taste and architecture. Those modest Doric little buildings, with their white pillars, green blinds, and neat enclosures, are very different affairs from those great, uncouth mountains of windows and doors that stood in the same place years before. To my childish eye, however, our old meeting house was an awe-inspiring thing. To me it seemed fashioned very nearly on the model of Noah's ark and Solomon's temple, as set forth in the pictures in my Scripture Catechism—pictures which I did not doubt were authentic copies; and what more respectable and venerable architectural precedent could any one desire? Its double rows of windows, of which I knew the number by heart, its doors with great wooden quirls over them, its belfry projecting out at the east end, its steeple and bell, all inspired as much sense of the sublime in me as Strasbourg Cathedral itself; and the inside was not a whit less imposing.
How magnificent, to my eye, seemed the turnip-like canopy that hung over the minister's head, hooked by a long iron rod to the wall above! and how apprehensively did I consider the question, what would become of him if it should fall! How did I wonder at the panels on either side of the pulpit, in each of which was carved and painted a flaming red tulip, bolt upright, with its leaves projecting out at right angles! and then at the grape vine, bass relieved on the front, with its exactly triangular bunches of grapes, alternating at exact intervals with exactly triangular leaves. To me it was an indisputable representation of how grape vines ought to look, if they would only be straight and regular, instead of curling and scrambling, and twisting themselves into all sorts of slovenly shapes. The area of the house was divided into large square pews, boxed up with stout boards, and surmounted with a kind of baluster work, which I supposed to be provided for the special accommodation of us youngsters, being the "loopholes of retreat" through which we gazed on the "remarkabilia" of the scene. It was especially interesting to me to notice the coming in to meeting of the congregation. The doors were so contrived that on entering you stepped down instead of up—a construction that has more than once led to unlucky results in the case of strangers. I remember once when an unlucky Frenchman, entirely unsuspicious of the danger that awaited him, made entrance by pitching devoutly upon his nose in the middle of the broad aisle; that it took three bunches of my grandmother's fennel to bring my risibles into any thing like composure. Such exhibitions, fortunately for me, were very rare; but still I found great amusement in watching the distinctive and marked outlines of the various people that filled up the seats around me. A Yankee village presents a picture of the curiosities of every generation: there, from year to year, they live on, preserved by hard labor and regular habits, exhibiting every peculiarity of manner and appearance, as distinctly marked as when they first came from the mint of nature. And as every body goes punctually to meeting, the meeting house becomes a sort of museum of antiquities—a general muster ground for past and present.
I remember still with what wondering admiration I used to look around on the people that surrounded our pew. On one side there was an old Captain McLean, and Major McDill, a couple whom the mischievous wits of the village designated as Captain McLean and Captain McFat; and, in truth, they were a perfect antithesis, a living exemplification of flesh and spirit. Captain McLean was a mournful, lengthy, considerate-looking old gentleman, with a long face, digressing into a long, thin, horny nose, which, when he applied his pocket handkerchief, gave forth a melancholy, minor-keyed sound, such as a ghost might make, using a pocket handkerchief in the long gallery of some old castle.
Close at his side was the doughty, puffing Captain McDill, whose full-orbed, jolly visage was illuminated by a most valiant red nose, shaped something like an overgrown doughnut, and looking as if it had been thrown at his face, and happened to hit in the middle. Then there was old Israel Peters, with a wooden leg, which tramped into meeting, with undeviating regularity, ten minutes before meeting time; and there was Jedediah Stebbins, a thin, wistful, moonshiny-looking old gentleman, whose mouth appeared as if it had been gathered up with a needle and thread, and whose eyes seemed as if they had been bound with red tape; and there was old Benaiah Stephens, who used regularly to get up and stand when the minister was about half through his sermon, exhibiting his tall figure, long, single-breasted coat, with buttons nearly as large as a tea plate; his large, black, horn spectacles stretched down on the extreme end of a very long nose, and vigorously chewing, meanwhile, on the bunch of caraway which he always carried in one hand. Then there was Aunt Sally Stimpson, and old Widow Smith, and a whole bevy of little, dried old ladies, with small, straight, black bonnets, tight sleeves to the elbow, long silk gloves, and great fans, big enough for a windmill; and of a hot day it was a great amusement to me to watch the bobbing of the little black bonnets, which showed that sleep had got the better of their owners' attention, and the sputter and rustling of the fans, when a more profound nod than common would suddenly waken them, and set them to fanning and listening with redoubled devotion. There was Deacon Dundas, a great wagon load of an old gentleman, whose ample pockets looked as if they might have held half the congregation, who used to establish himself just on one side of me, and seemed to feel such entire confidence in the soundness and capacity of his pastor that he could sleep very comfortably from one end of the sermon to the other. Occasionally, to be sure, one of your officious blue flies, who, as every body knows, are amazingly particular about such matters, would buzz into his mouth, or flirt into his ears a passing admonition as to the impropriety of sleeping in meeting, when the good old gentleman would start, open his eyes very wide, and look about with a resolute air, as much as to say, "I wasn't asleep, I can tell you;" and then setting himself in an edifying posture of attention, you might perceive his head gradually settling back, his mouth slowly opening wider and wider, till the good man would go off again soundly asleep, as if nothing had happened.
It was a good orthodox custom of old times to take every part of the domestic establishment to meeting, even down to the faithful dog, who, as he had supervised the labors of the week, also came with due particularity to supervise the worship of Sunday. I think I can see now the fitting out on a Sunday morning—the one wagon, or two, as the case might be, tackled up with an "old gray" or an "old bay," with a buffalo skin over the seat by way of cushion, and all the family, in their Sunday best, packed in for meeting; while Master Bose, Watch, or Towser stood prepared to be an outguard and went meekly trotting up hill and down dale in the rear. Arrived at meeting, the canine part of the establishment generally conducted themselves with great decorum, lying down and going to sleep as decently as any body present, except when some of the business-loving bluebottles aforesaid would make a sortie upon them, when you might hear the snap of their jaws as they vainly sought to lay hold of the offender. Now and then, between some of the sixthlies, seventhlies, and eighthlies, you might hear some old patriarch giving himself a rousing shake, and pitpatting soberly up the aisles, as if to see that every thing was going on properly, after which he would lie down and compose himself to sleep again; and certainly this was as improving a way of spending Sunday as a good Christian dog could desire.
But the glory of our meeting house was its singers' seat—that empyrean of those who rejoiced in the divine, mysterious art of fa-sol-la-ing, who, by a distinguishing grace and privilege, could "raise and fall" the cabalistical eight notes, and move serene through the enchanted region of flats, sharps, thirds, fifths, and octaves.
There they sat in the gallery that lined three sides of the house, treble, counter, tenor, and bass, each with its appropriate leaders and supporters; there were generally seated the bloom of our young people; sparkling, modest, and blushing girls on one side, with their ribbons and finery, making the place where they sat as blooming and lively as a flower garden, and fiery, forward, confident young men on the other. In spite of its being a meeting house, we could not swear that glances were never given and returned, and that there was not often as much of an approach to flirtation as the distance and the sobriety of the place would admit. Certain it was, that there was no place where our village coquettes attracted half so many eyes or led astray half so many hearts.
But I have been talking of singers all this time, and neglected to mention the Magnus Apollo of the whole concern, the redoubtable chorister, who occupied the seat of honor in the midst of the middle gallery, and exactly opposite to the minister. Certain it is that the good man, if he were alive, would never believe it; for no person ever more magnified his office, or had a more thorough belief in his own greatness and supremacy, than Zedekiah Morse. Methinks I can see him now as he appeared to my eyes on that first Sunday, when he shot up from behind the gallery, as if he had been sent up by a spring. He was a little man, whose fiery-red hair, brushed straight up on the top of his head, had an appearance as vigorous and lively as real flame; and this, added to the ardor and determination of all his motions, had obtained for him the surname of the "Burning Bush." He seemed possessed with the very soul of song; and from the moment he began to sing, looked alive all over, till it seemed to me that his whole body would follow his hair upwards, fairly rapt away by the power of harmony. With what an air did he sound the important fa-sol-la in the ears of the waiting gallery, who stood with open mouths ready to seize their pitch, preparatory to their general set to! How did his ascending and descending arm astonish the zephyrs when once he laid himself out to the important work of beating time! How did his little head whisk from side to side, as now he beat and roared towards the ladies on his right, and now towards the gentlemen on his left! It used to seem to my astonished vision as if his form grew taller, his arm longer, his hair redder, and his little green eyes brighter, with every stave; and particularly when he perceived any falling off of time or discrepancy in pitch; with what redoubled vigor would he thump the gallery and roar at the delinquent quarter, till every mother's son and daughter of them skipped and scrambled into the right place again!
O, it was a fine thing to see the vigor and discipline with which he managed the business; so that if, on a hot, drowsy Sunday, any part of the choir hung back or sung sleepily on the first part of a verse, they were obliged to bestir themselves in good earnest, and sing three times as fast, in order to get through with the others. 'Kiah Morse was no advocate for your dozy, drawling singing, that one may do at leisure, between sleeping and waking, I assure you; indeed, he got entirely out of the graces of Deacon Dundas and one or two other portly, leisurely old gentlemen below, who had been used to throw back their heads, shut up their eyes, and take the comfort of the psalm, by prolonging indefinitely all the notes. The first Sunday after 'Kiah took the music in hand, the old deacon really rubbed his eyes and looked about him; for the psalm was sung off before he was ready to get his mouth opened, and he really looked upon it as a most irreverent piece of business.
But the glory of 'Kiah's art consisted in the execution of those good old billowy compositions called fuguing tunes, where the four parts that compose the choir take up the song, and go racing around one after another, each singing a different set of words, till, at length, by some inexplicable magic, they all come together again, and sail smoothly out into a rolling sea of song. I remember the wonder with which I used to look from side to side when treble, tenor, counter, and bass were thus roaring and foaming,—and it verily seemed to me as if the psalm was going to pieces among the breakers,—and the delighted astonishment with which I found that each particular verse did emerge whole and uninjured from the storm.
But alas for the wonders of that old meeting house, how they are passed away! Even the venerable building itself has been pulled down, and its fragments scattered; yet still I retain enough of my childish feelings to wonder whether any little boy was gratified by the possession of those painted tulips and grape vines, which my childish eye used to covet, and about the obtaining of which, in case the house should ever be pulled down, I devised so many schemes during the long sermons and services of summer days. I have visited the spot where it stood, but the modern, fair-looking building that stands in its room bears no trace of it; and of the various familiar faces that used to be seen inside, not one remains. Verily, I must be growing old; and as old people are apt to spin long stories, I check myself, and lay down my pen.
THE NEW-YEAR'S GIFT.
The sparkling ice and snow covered hill and valley—tree and bush were glittering with diamonds—the broad, coarse rails of the fence shone like bars of solid silver, while little fringes of icicles glittered between each bar.
In the yard of yonder dwelling the scarlet berries of the mountain ash shine through a transparent casing of crystal, and the sable spruces and white pines, powdered and glittering with the frost, have assumed an icy brilliancy. The eaves of the house, the door knocker, the pickets of the fence, the honeysuckles and seringas, once the boast of summer, are all alike polished, varnished, and resplendent with their winter trappings, now gleaming in the last rays of the early sunset.
Within that large, old-fashioned dwelling might you see an ample parlor, all whose adjustments and arrangements speak of security, warmth, and home enjoyment; of money spent not for show, but for comfort. Thick crimson curtains descend in heavy folds over the embrasures of the windows, and the ample hearth and wide fireplace speak of the customs of the good old times, ere that gloomy, unpoetic, unsocial gnome—the air-tight—had monopolized the place of the blazing fireside.
No dark air-tight, however, filled our ancient chimney; but there was a genuine old-fashioned fire of the most approved architecture, with a gallant backlog and forestick, supporting and keeping in order a crackling pile of dry wood, that was whirring and blazing warm welcome for all whom it might concern, occasionally bursting forth into most portentous and earnest snaps, which rung through the room with a genuine, hospitable emphasis, as if the fire was enjoying himself, and having a good time, and wanted all hands to draw up and make themselves at home with him.
So looked that parlor to me, when, tired with a long day's ride, I found my way into it, just at evening, and was greeted with a hearty welcome from my old friend, Colonel Winthrop.
In addition to all that I have already described, let the reader add, if he pleases, the vision of a wide and ample tea table, covered with a snowy cloth, on which the servants are depositing the evening meal.
I had not seen Winthrop for years; but we were old college friends, and I had gladly accepted an invitation to renew our ancient intimacy by passing the New Year's season in his family. I found him still the same hale, kindly, cheery fellow as in days of old, though time had taken the same liberty with his handsome head that Jack Frost had with the cedars and spruces out of doors, in giving to it a graceful and becoming sprinkle of silver.
"Here you are, my dear fellow," said he, shaking me by both hands—"just in season for the ham and chickens—coffee all smoking. My dear," he added to a motherly-looking woman who now entered, "here's John! I beg pardon, Mr. Stuart." As he spoke, two bold, handsome boys broke into the room, accompanied by a huge Newfoundland dog—all as full of hilarity and abundant animation as an afternoon of glorious skating could have generated.
"Ha, Tom and Ned!—you rogues—you don't want any supper to-night, I suppose," said the father, gayly; "come up here and be introduced to my old friend. Here they come!" said he, as one by one the opening doors admitted the various children to the summons of the evening meal. "Here," presenting a tall young girl, "is our eldest, beginning to think herself a young lady, on the strength of being fifteen years old, and wearing her hair tucked up. And here is Eliza," said he, giving a pull to a blooming, roguish girl of ten, with large, saucy black eyes. "And here is Willie!" a bashful, blushing little fellow in a checked apron. "And now, where's the little queen?—where's her majesty?—where's Ally?"
A golden head of curls was, at this instant, thrust timidly in at the door, and I caught a passing glimpse of a pair of great blue eyes; but the head, curls, eyes, and all, instantly vanished, though a little fat dimpled hand was seen holding on to the door, and swinging it back and forward. "Ally, dear, come in!" said the mother, in a tone of encouragement. "Come in, Ally! come in," was repeated in various tones, by each child; but brother Tom pushed open the door, and taking the little recusant in his arms, brought her fairly in, and deposited her on her father's knee. She took firm hold of his coat, and then turned and gazed shyly upon me—her large splendid blue eyes gleaming through her golden curls. It was evident that this was the pet lamb of the fold, and she was just at that age when babyhood is verging into childhood—an age often indefinitely prolonged in a large family, where the universal admiration that waits on every look, and motion, and word of the baby, and the multiplied monopolies and privileges of the baby estate, seem, by universal consent, to extend as long and as far as possible. And why not thus delay the little bark of the child among the flowery shores of its first Eden?—defer them as we may, the hard, the real, the cold commonplace of life comes on all too soon!
"This is our New Year's gift," said Winthrop, fondly caressing the curly head. "Ally, tell the gentleman how old you are."
"I s'all be four next New 'Ear's," said the little one, while all the circle looked applause.
"Ally, tell the gentleman what you are," said brother Ned.
Ally looked coquettishly at me, as if she did not know whether she should favor me to that extent, and the young princess was further solicited.
"Tell him what Ally is," said the oldest sister, with a patronizing air.
"Papa's New 'Ear's pesent," said my little lady, at last.
"And mamma's, too!" said the mother gently, amid the applauses of the admiring circle.
Winthrop looked apologetically at me, and said, "We all spoil her—that's a fact—every one of us down to Rover, there, who lets her tie tippets round his neck, and put bonnets on his head, and hug and kiss him, to a degree that would disconcert any other dog in the world."
If ever beauty and poetic grace was an apology for spoiling, it was in this case. Every turn of the bright head, every change of the dimpled face and round and chubby limbs, was a picture; and within the little form was shrined a heart full of love, and running over with compassion and good will for every breathing thing; with feelings so sensitive, that it was papa's delight to make her laugh and cry with stories, and to watch in the blue, earnest mirror of her eye every change and turn of his narration, as he took her through long fairy tales, and old-fashioned giant and ghost legends, purely for his own amusement, and much reprimanded all the way by mamma, for filling the child's head with nonsense.
It was now, however, time to turn from the beauty to the substantial realities of the supper table. I observed that Ally's high chair was stationed close by her father's side; and ever and anon, while gayly talking, he would slip into her rosy little mouth some choice bit from his plate, these notices and attentions seeming so instinctive and habitual, that they did not for a moment interrupt the thread of the conversation. Once or twice I caught a glimpse of Rover's great rough nose, turned anxiously up to the little chair; whereat the small white hand forthwith slid something into his mouth, though by what dexterity it ever came out from the great black jaws undevoured was a mystery. When the supply of meat on the small lady's plate was exhausted, I observed the little hand slyly slipping into her father's provision grounds, and with infinite address abstracting small morsels, whereat there was much mysterious winking between the father and the other children, and considerable tittering among the younger ones, though all in marvellous silence, as it was deemed best policy not to appear to notice Ally's tricks, lest they should become too obstreperous.
In the course of the next day I found myself, to all intents and purposes, as much part and parcel of the family as if I had been born and bred among them. I found that I had come in a critical time, when secrets were plenty as blackberries. It being New Year's week, all the little hoarded resources of the children, both of money and of ingenuity, were in brisk requisition, getting up New Year's presents for each other, and for father and mother. The boys had their little tin savings banks, where all the stray pennies of the year had been carefully hoarded—all that had been got by blacking papa's boots, or by piling wood, or weeding in the garden—mingled with some fortunate additions which had come as windfalls from some liberal guest or friend. All now were poured out daily, on tables, on chairs, on stools, and counted over with wonderful earnestness.
My friend, though in easy circumstances, was somewhat old-fashioned in his notions. He never allowed his children spending money, except such as they fairly earned by some exertions of their own. "Let them do something," he would say, "to make it fairly theirs, and their generosity will then have some significance—it is very easy for children to be generous on their parents' money." Great were the comparing of resources and estimates of property at this time. Tom and Ned, who were big enough to saw wood, and hoe in the garden, had accumulated the vast sum of three dollars each, and walked about with their hands in their pockets, and talked largely of purchases, like gentlemen of substance. They thought of getting mamma a new muff, and papa a writing desk, besides trinkets innumerable for sisters, and a big doll for Ally; but after they had made one expedition to a neighboring town to inquire prices, I observed that their expectations were greatly moderated. As to little Willie, him of the checked apron, his whole earthly substance amounted to thirty-seven cents; yet there was not a member of the whole family circle, including the servants, that he could find it in his heart to leave out of his remembrance. I ingratiated myself with him immediately; and twenty times a day did I count over his money to him, and did sums innumerable to show how much would be left if he got this, that, or the other article, which he was longing to buy for father or mother. I proved to him most invaluable, by helping him to think of certain small sixpenny and fourpenny articles that would be pretty to give to sisters, making out with marbles for Tom and Ned, and a very valiant-looking sugar horse for Ally. Miss Emma had the usual resource of young ladies, flosses, worsted, and knitting, and crochet needles, and busy fingers, and she was giving private lessons daily to Eliza, to enable her to get up some napkin rings, and book marks for the all-important occasion. A gentle air of bustle and mystery pervaded the whole circle. I was intrusted with so many secrets that I could scarcely make an observation, or take a turn about the room, without being implored to "remember"—"not to tell"—not to let papa know this, or mamma that. I was not to let papa know how the boys were going to buy him a new inkstand, with a pen rack upon it, which was entirely to outshine all previous inkstands; nor tell mamma about the crochet bag that Emma was knitting for her. On all sides were mysterious whisperings, and showing of things wrapped in brown paper, glimpses of which, through some inadvertence, were always appearing to the public eye. There were close counsels held behind doors and in corners, and suddenly broken off when some particular member of the family appeared. There were flutters of vanishing book marks, which were always whisked away when a door opened; and incessant ejaculations of admiration and astonishment from one privileged looker or another on things which might not be mentioned to or beheld by others.
Papa and mamma behaved with the utmost circumspection and discretion, and though surrounded on all sides by such pitfalls and labyrinths of mystery, moved about with an air of the most unconscious simplicity possible.
But little Ally, from her privileged character, became a very spoil-sport in the proceedings. Her small fingers were always pulling open parcels prematurely, or lifting pocket handkerchiefs ingeniously thrown down over mysterious articles, and thus disconcerting the very profoundest surprises that ever were planned; and were it not that she was still within the bounds of the kingly state of babyhood, and therefore could be held to do no wrong, she would certainly have fallen into general disgrace; but then it was "Ally," and that was apology for all things, and the exploit was related in half whispers as so funny, so cunning, that Miss Curlypate was in nowise disconcerted at the head shakes and "naughty Allys" that visited her offences.
"What dis?" said she, one morning, as she was rummaging over some packages indiscreetly left on the sofa.
"O Emma! see Ally!" exclaimed Eliza, darting forward; but too late, for the flaxen curls and blue eyes of a wax doll had already appeared.
"Now she'll know all about it," said Eliza, despairingly.
Ally looked in astonishment, as dolly's visage promptly disappeared from her view, and then turned to pursue her business in another quarter of the room, where, spying something glittering under the sofa, she forthwith pulled out and held up to public view a crochet bag sparkling with innumerable steel fringes.
"O, what be dis!" she exclaimed again.
Miss Emma sprang to the rescue, while all the other children, with a burst of exclamations, turned their eyes on mamma. Mamma very prudently did not turn her head, and appeared to be lost in reflection, though she must have been quite deaf not to have heard the loud whispers—"It's mamma's bag! only think! Don't you think, Tom, Ally pulled out mamma's bag, and held it right up before her! Don't you think she'll find out?"
Master Tom valued himself greatly on the original and profound ways he had of adapting his presents to the tastes of the receiver without exciting suspicion: for example, he would come up into his mother's room, all booted and coated for a ride to town, jingling his purse gleefully, and begin,—
"Mother, mother, which do you like best, pink or blue?"
"That might depend on circumstances, my son."
"Well, but, mother, for a neck ribbon, for example; suppose somebody was going to buy you a neck ribbon."
"Why, blue would be the most suitable for me, I think."
"Well, but mother, which should you think was the best, a neck ribbon or a book?"
"What book? It would depend something on that."
"Why, as good a book as a fellow could get for thirty-seven cents," says Tom.
"Well, on the whole, I think I should prefer the ribbon."
"There, Ned," says Tom, coming down the stairs, "I've found out just what mother wants, without telling her a word about it."
But the crowning mystery of all the great family arcana, the thing that was going to astonish papa and mamma past all recovery, was certain projected book marks, that little Ally was going to be made to work for them. This bold scheme was projected by Miss Emma, and she had armed herself with a whole paper of sugar plums, to be used as adjuvants to moral influence, in case the discouragements of the undertaking should prove too much for Ally's patience.
As to Ally, she felt all the dignity of the enterprise—her whole little soul was absorbed in it. Seated on Emma's knee, with the needle between her little fat fingers, and holding the board very tight, as if she was afraid it would run away from her, she very gravely and carefully stuck the needle in every place but the right—pricked her pretty fingers—ate sugar plums—stopping now to pat Rover, and now to stroke pussy—letting fall her thimble, and bustling down to pick it up—occasionally taking an episodical race round the room with Rover, during which time Sister Emma added a stitch or two to the work.
I would not wish to have been required, on oath, to give in my undisguised opinion as to the number of stitches the little one really put into her present, but she had a most genuine and firm conviction that she worked every stitch of it herself; and when, on returning from a scamper with pussy, she found one or two letters finished, she never doubted that the whole was of her own execution, and, of course, thought that working book marks was one of the most delightful occupations in the world. It was all that her little heart could do to keep from papa and mamma the wonderful secret. Every evening she would bustle about her father with an air of such great mystery, and seek to pique his curiosity by most skilful hints, such as,—
"I know somefing! but I s'ant tell you."
"Not tell me! O Ally! Why not?"
"O, it's about—a New 'Ear's pes——"
"Ally, Ally," resounds from several voices, "don't you tell."
"No, I s'ant—but you are going to have a New 'Ear's pesant, and so is mamma, and you can't dess what it is."
"No, and I s'ant tell you."
"Now, Ally," said papa, pretending to look aggrieved.
"Well, it's going to be—somefin worked."
"Ally, be careful," said Emma.
"Yes, I'll be very tareful; it's somefin—weall pretty—somefin to put in a book. You'll find out about it by and by."
"I think I'm in a fair way to," said the father.
The conversation now digressed to other subjects, and the nurse came in to take Ally to bed; who, as she kissed her father, in the fulness of her heart, added a fresh burst of information. "Papa," said she, in an earnest whisper, "that fin is about so long"—measuring on her fat little arm.
"A fin, Ally? Why, you are not going to give me a fish, are you?"
"I mean that thing," said Ally, speaking the word with great effort, and getting quite red in the face.
"O, that thing; I beg pardon, my lady; that puts another face on the communication," said the father, stroking her head fondly, as he bade her good night.
"The child can talk plainer than she does," said the father, "but we are all so delighted with her little Hottentot dialect, that I don't know but she will keep it up till she is twenty."
* * * * *
It now wanted only three days of the New Year, when a sudden and deadly shadow fell on the dwelling, late so busy and joyous—a shadow from the grave; and it fell on the flower of the garden—the star—the singing bird—the loved and loving Ally.
She was stricken down at once, in the flush of her innocent enjoyment, by a fever, which from the first was ushered in with symptoms the most fearful.
All the bustle of preparation ceased—the presents were forgotten or lay about unfinished, as if no one now had a heart to put their hand to any thing; while up in her little crib lay the beloved one, tossing and burning with restless fever, and without power to recognize any of the loved faces that bent over her.
The doctor came twice a day, with a heavy step, and a face in which anxious care was too plainly written; and while he was there each member of the circle hung with anxious, imploring faces about him, as if to entreat him to save their darling; but still the deadly disease held on its relentless course, in spite of all that could be done.
"I thought myself prepared to meet God's will in any form it might come," said Winthrop to me; "but this one thing I had forgotten. It never entered into my head that my little Ally could die."
The evening before New Year's, the deadly disease seemed to be progressing more rapidly than ever; and when the doctor came for his evening call, he found all the family gathered in mournful stillness around the little crib.
"I suppose," said the father, with an effort to speak calmly, "that this may be her last night with us."
The doctor made no answer, and the whole circle of brothers and sisters broke out into bitter weeping.
"It is just possible that she may live till to-morrow," said the doctor.
"To-morrow—her birthday!" said the mother. "O Ally, Ally!"
Wearily passed the watches of that night. Each brother and sister had kissed the pale little cheek, to bid farewell, and gone to their rooms, to sob themselves to sleep; and the father and mother and doctor alone watched around the bed. O, what a watch is that which despairing love keeps, waiting for death! Poor Rover, the companion of Ally's gayer hours, resolutely refused to be excluded from the sick chamber. Stretched under the little crib, he watched with unsleeping eyes every motion of the attendants, and as often as they rose to administer medicine, or change the pillow, or bathe the head, he would rise also, and look anxiously over the side of the crib, as if he understood all that was passing.
About an hour past midnight, the child began to change; her moans became fainter and fainter, her restless movements ceased, and a deep and heavy sleep settled upon her.
The parents looked wistfully on the doctor. "It is the last change," he said; "she will probably pass away before the daybreak."
Heavier and deeper grew that sleep, and to the eye of the anxious watchers the little face grew paler and paler; yet by degrees the breathing became regular and easy, and a gentle moisture began to diffuse itself over the whole surface. A new hope began to dawn on the minds of the parents, as they pointed out these symptoms to the doctor.
"All things are possible with God," said he, in answer to the inquiring looks he met, "and it may be that she will yet live."
An hour more passed, and the rosy glow of the New Year's morning began to blush over the snowy whiteness of the landscape. Far off from the window could be seen the kindling glow of a glorious sunrise, looking all the brighter for the dark pines that half veiled it from view; and now a straight and glittering beam shot from the east into the still chamber. It fell on the golden hair and pale brow of the child, lighting it up as if an angel had smiled on it; and slowly the large blue eyes unclosed, and gazed dreamily around.
"Ally, Ally," said the father, bending over her, trembling with excitement.
"You are going to have a New 'Ear's pesent," whispered the little one, faintly smiling.
"I believe from my heart that you are, sir!" said the doctor, who stood with his fingers on her pulse; "she has passed through the crisis of the disease, and we may hope."
A few hours turned this hope to glad certainty; for with the elastic rapidity of infant life, the signs of returning vigor began to multiply, and ere evening the little one was lying in her father's arms, answering with languid smiles to the overflowing proofs of tenderness which every member of the family was showering upon her.
"See, my children," said the father gently, "this dear one is our New Year's present. What can we render to God in return?"
THE OLD OAK OF ANDOVER.
Silently, with dreamy languor, the fleecy snow is falling. Through the windows, flowery with blossoming geranium and heliotrope, through the downward sweep of crimson and muslin curtain, one watches it as the wind whirls and sways it in swift eddies.
Right opposite our house, on our Mount Clear, is an old oak, the apostle of the primeval forest. Once, when this place was all wildwood, the man who was seeking a spot for the location of the buildings of Phillips Academy climbed this oak, using it as a sort of green watchtower, from whence he might gain a view of the surrounding country. Age and time, since then, have dealt hardly with the stanch old fellow. His limbs have been here and there shattered; his back begins to look mossy and dilapidated; but after all, there is a piquant, decided air about him, that speaks the old age of a tree of distinction, a kingly oak. To-day I see him standing, dimly revealed through the mist of falling snows; to-morrow's sun will show the outline of his gnarled limbs—all rose color with their soft snow burden; and again a few months, and spring will breathe on him, and he will draw a long breath, and break out once more, for the three hundredth time, perhaps, into a vernal crown of leaves. I sometimes think that leaves are the thoughts of trees, and that if we only knew it, we should find their life's experience recorded in them. Our oak! what a crop of meditations and remembrances must he have thrown forth, leafing out century after century. Awhile he spake and thought only of red deer and Indians; of the trillium that opened its white triangle in his shade; of the scented arbutus, fair as the pink ocean shell, weaving her fragrant mats in the moss at his feet; of feathery ferns, casting their silent shadows on the checkerberry leaves, and all those sweet, wild, nameless, half-mossy things, that live in the gloom of forests, and are only desecrated when brought to scientific light, laid out and stretched on a botanic bier. Sweet old forest days!—when blue jay, and yellow hammer, and bobalink made his leaves merry, and summer was a long opera of such music as Mozart dimly dreamed. But then came human kind bustling beneath; wondering, fussing, exploring, measuring, treading down flowers, cutting down trees, scaring bobalinks—and Andover, as men say, began to be settled.
Staunch men were they—these Puritan fathers of Andover. The old oak must have felt them something akin to himself. Such strong, wrestling limbs had they, so gnarled and knotted were they, yet so outbursting with a green and vernal crown, yearly springing, of noble and generous thoughts, rustling with leaves which shall be for the healing of nations.
These men were content with the hard, dry crust for themselves, that they might sow seeds of abundant food for us, their children; men out of whose hardness in enduring we gain leisure to be soft and graceful, through whose poverty we have become rich. Like Moses, they had for their portion only the pain and weariness of the wilderness, leaving to us the fruition of the promised land. Let us cherish for their sake the old oak, beautiful in its age as the broken statue of some antique wrestler, brown with time, yet glorious in its suggestion of past achievement.
I think all this the more that I have recently come across the following passage in one of our religious papers. The writer expresses a kind of sentiment which one meets very often upon this subject, and leads one to wonder what glamour could have fallen on the minds of any of the descendants of the Puritans, that they should cast nettles on those honored graves where they should be proud to cast their laurels.
"It is hard," he says, "for a lover of the beautiful—not a mere lover, but a believer in its divinity also—to forgive the Puritans, or to think charitably of them. It is hard for him to keep Forefathers' Day, or to subscribe to the Plymouth Monument; hard to look fairly at what they did, with the memory of what they destroyed rising up to choke thankfulness; for they were as one-sided and narrow-minded a set of men as ever lived, and saw one of Truth's faces only—the hard, stern, practical face, without loveliness, without beauty, and only half dear to God. The Puritan flew in the face of facts, not because he saw them and disliked them, but because he did not see them. He saw foolishness, lying, stealing, worldliness—the very mammon of unrighteousness rioting in the world and bearing sway—and he ran full tilt against the monster, hating it with a very mortal and mundane hatred, and anxious to see it bite the dust that his own horn might be exalted. It was in truth only another horn of the old dilemma, tossing and goring grace and beauty, and all the loveliness of life, as if they were the enemies instead of the sure friends of God and man."
Now, to those who say this we must ask the question with which Socrates of old pursued the sophist: What is beauty? If beauty be only physical, if it appeal only to the senses, if it be only an enchantment of graceful forms, sweet sounds, then indeed there might be something of truth in this sweeping declaration that the Puritan spirit is the enemy of beauty.
The very root and foundation of all artistic inquiry lies here. What is beauty? And to this question God forbid that we Christians should give a narrower answer than Plato gave in the old times before Christ arose, for he directs the aspirant who would discover the beautiful to "consider of greater value the beauty existing in the soul, than that existing in the body." More gracefully he teaches the same doctrine when he tells us that "there are two kinds of Venus, (beauty;) the one, the elder, who had no mother, and was the daughter of Uranus, (heaven,) whom we name the celestial; the other, younger, daughter of Jupiter and Dione, whom we call the vulgar."
Now, if disinterestedness, faith, patience, piety, have a beauty celestial and divine, then were our fathers worshippers of the beautiful. If high-mindedness and spotless honor are beautiful things, they had those. What work of art can compare with a lofty and heroic life? Is it not better to be a Moses than to be a Michael Angelo making statues of Moses? Is not the life of Paul a sublimer work of art than Raphael's cartoons? Are not the patience, the faith, the undying love of Mary by the cross, more beautiful than all the Madonna paintings in the world. If, then, we would speak truly of our fathers, we should say that, having their minds fixed on that celestial beauty of which Plato speaks, they held in slight esteem that more common and earthly.
Should we continue the parable in Plato's manner, we might say that the earthly and visible Venus, the outward grace of art and nature, was ordained of God as a priestess, through whom men were to gain access to the divine, invisible One; but that men, in their blindness, ever worship the priestess instead of the divinity.
Therefore it is that great reformers so often must break the shrines and temples of the physical and earthly beauty, when they seek to draw men upward to that which is high and divine.
Christ says of John the Baptist, "What went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold they which are clothed in soft raiment are in kings' palaces." So was it when our fathers came here. There were enough wearing soft raiment and dwelling in kings' palaces. Life in papal Rome and prelatic England was weighed down with blossoming luxury. There were abundance of people to think of pictures, and statues, and gems, and cameos, vases and marbles, and all manner of deliciousness. The world was all drunk with the enchantments of the lower Venus, and it was needful that these men should come, Baptist-like in the wilderness, in raiment of camel's hair. We need such men now. Art, they tell us, is waking in America; a love of the beautiful is beginning to unfold its wings; but what kind of art, and what kind of beauty? Are we to fill our houses with pictures and gems, and to see that even our drinking cup and vase is wrought in graceful pattern, and to lose our reverence for self-denial, honor, and faith?