Much has been written lately concerning the doctrine of friendship between men and women. It is thought and said by some that there lies an unexplored territory in our American life, and we have the example of Madame Récamier set before us to show how perfectly intimate and devoted a whole circle of manly friends may be with one fair woman, without detriment or disadvantage to their domestic ties or hers. The adorable Juliet is the intimate friend at once of Matthew Montmorenci, the saint, of Chateaubriand, the poet, and of an indefinite number of artists and men of letters, all of whom address her in language of adoration and devotion, and receive from her affectionate messages in return. Chateaubriand spends every afternoon with Juliet, and every evening with his invalid wife, like a devoted and dutiful husband, and this state of things goes on from year to year without trouble and without scandal.

It was with some such sublimated precedent in my head that I allowed myself to yield to the charming temptation opened to me by my acquaintance with Eva Van Arsdel. Supposing by Jim's account that she was already engaged, looking on myself as yet far off from the place where I could think of marriage, what was there to hinder my enjoying her society? Of course, there was no possible danger to myself, and it would be absolute coxcombry to think that there would be any to her. She, who had been a queen of fashion, and who had the world under her feet, if she deigned to think kindly of a poor littérateur, it could surely lead to nothing dangerous. I might have been warned, if I were wise, by the fact that the night after my first presentation I lay awake and thought over all she had said, and counted the days that should intervene before next Wednesday evening. I would not for the world have had Jim Fellows divine what was going on within me; in fact I took as much pains to cajole and pacify and take myself in as if I had been a third party.

I woke about six o'clock in the dim grey of the next morning, from a dream in which Eva and I were talking together, when she seemed so vivid that I started up almost feeling that I saw her face in the air. Suddenly I heard the bell of a neighboring church strike the hour, and thought of what she had said the evening before about attending morning services.

What was to hinder my going to the church and seeing her again? There was a brisk morning walk, that was a good thing, and certainly morning devotion was something so altogether right and reasonable that I wondered I never had thought of it before. I dressed myself and turned out into the streets to seek the little church of the Holy Sepulcher where the new Rector of whom Eva had spoken held early Lenten services.

There was something quaint and rather exciting to my imagination to be one of a small band who sought the church at this early hour. The sunlight of the rising day streamed through the painted window and touched with a sort of glory the white dress of the priest; the organ played softly in subdued melody, and the words of the morning service had a sort of touching lovely sound. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" seemed to come to my thoughts with new force as I looked on the small number, two or three in a pew, who were scattered up and down through the church. She was there in a seat not far from me, shrouded in a simple black dress and veil, and seemed wholly and entirely absorbed by her prayer-book and devotions.

As the little company dispersed at the close of the services, I stood in the door and joined her as she passed out.

"Good morning, Miss Van Arsdel," I said.

She started and looked surprised, and a bright color flushed in her cheeks.

"Mr. Henderson! you quite astonish me."

"Why so?"

"There are so very few who get out at this hour; and you, I believe, are not of the church."

"I don't know what you mean by the church, exactly," said I.

"Oh," said she, looking at me with a conscious smile, "I know what everybody means that says the church—it generally means our church—the one that is the church for us; but you, I think, belong to the Bethany," she added.

"I do," said I, "but I have large sympathies for all others, particularly for yours, which seems to me in some points more worthily to represent what a church should be, than any other."

She looked pleased, and said with warmth, "Mr. Henderson, you must not judge our church by such very imperfect specimens as you see among us. We are very unworthy children of a noble mother; our church has everything in it to call us to the highest and best life, only we fall far below her teaching."

"I think I can see," I said, "that if the scheme of living set forth by the Episcopal Church were carried out with warmth and devotion, it would make an ideal sort of society."

"It would be a really consecrated life," she said, with warmth. "If all would agree to unite in daily morning and evening prayers for instance," she said, "how beautiful it would be." "I never enjoy reading my Bible alone in my room as I do to have it read to me here in church; somehow to me there is a sacred charm about it when I hear it read there, and then to have friends, neighbors and families meet and pray together as one, every day, would be beautiful. I often think I should like to live close by one of those beautiful English cathedrals where they have choral services every day, and I would go morning and evening, but here, in this dreadful, flashy, busy, bustling New York, there is no such thing, I suppose, as getting any number of people to agree to daily worship."

"In that respect," said I, "we modern Christians seem to be less devout than the ancient heathen or the Mohammedans; you recollect Huju Buba sums up the difference between the Englishman and the Persian by saying, 'We Persians pray seven times a day, and they, never.'"

"I like to come to church," she said, "it seems a shelter and a refuge. Nowadays there are so many things said that one doesn't know what to think of; so many things disputed that one has always supposed to be true; such a perfectly fatiguing rush of ideas and assertions and new ways that for my part I am glad to fall back upon something old and established, that I feel sure isn't going to melt away into mist before to-morrow."

"I can well appreciate that feeling," I said, "for I have it myself."

"Do you? Oh, Mr. Henderson, you don't know how it perplexes one. There's sister Ida, now! she has a circle of friends—the very nicest sort of people they seem to be!—but, dear me! when I am with them a little while, I get perfectly bewildered. No two of them seem to believe alike on any subject; and if you quote the Bible to them, they just open their eyes and look amazed at you, as if that was something quite behind the age; and as there is no standard with them, of course there is nothing settled. You feel as if life was built on water, and everything was rocking and tilting till you are quite dizzy. Now, I know I am a poor sort of a specimen of a Christian; but I couldn't live so! I fly back from this sort of thing, like a frightened bird, and take refuge in the church—there is something fixed, positive, and definite, that has stood the test of time; it is noble and dignified, and I abide by that."

"There is all that about it," said I; "and so very much that is attractive and charming in the forms of your church, that I think if you would only open your arms wide, and be liberal as the spirit of this age, you would indeed be the church of the world."

"You think we are not liberal?" she said.

"When you call yourselves the church, and make no account of all that true, pure, good souls—true followers of the same Saviour—are doing, it seems to me you are not."

"Ah, well, Mr. Henderson, perhaps we are wrong there—I cannot say. I know there are many churches and many dear, good souls in all; it is only to me that mine is the church; if that is an illusion, it is a happy one."

"Now," said I, "what a dreary picture should we have of New York Christianity, if we judged it by the few morning worshipers at Lenten services!"

"Yes, indeed," she said. "I am often sorry for our rector—he is so earnest, and so few care to come; and yet he told us in his sermon, last Sunday, that these Lenten services were an act of union with our Saviour's self-denials and sufferings."

"Well, Miss Van Arsdel," said I, "I doubt not there are hundreds of thousands in this city who do really, in spirit, unite with the Saviour in self-denials and sufferings, daily, who do not express it in this form. If all who really love the Saviour, and are living in his spirit, should make a point of early morning service in Lent, I verily believe the churches would be crowded to overflowing."

"You do really think so?"

"I do. In spite of all that appears, I think ours is really, at heart, a religious age—it is only that we do not agree in the same external forms of expression."

"But how beautiful! oh, how beautiful it would be if we could!" she said. "Oh, it would be lovely if all the good and true could see each other, and stand side by side! I long for visible unity—and do you think, Mr. Henderson, we could unite in more beautiful forms than ours?"

"No; I do not," said I; "for me, for you, for many like us, these are the true forms, and the best; but we must remember that others have just as sacred associations, and are as dearly attached to other modes of worship as we to these."

"Then you really do prefer them yourself?"

"Well, Miss Van Arsdel, I unite with the church of my father and mother, because I was brought up in it; yet if I were to choose another, it would be yours."

She looked pleased, and I added: "It seems to me one of the most beautiful things about it is a daily service."

"Yes," she said, "and it is pleasant to have churches where you feel that worship is daily offered, whether people attend or not. There was something sacred and beautiful about the Church of St. Peter's in Rome—to think that at every hour of day or night worship was going on in it. I used to like to think of it when I awoke nights—that they were praying and adoring there—in this cold, dreary world; it seems as if it was like a Father's house, always light, and warm, and open."

"There is a beauty and use in all these forms and images," I said; "and I think if we are wise, we may take comfort in them all, without being enslaved by any."

Here our interview closed, as with a graceful salutation she left me at the door of her house.

The smile she gave me was so bright and heart-warm, that it lightened all my work through the day; a subtle sense of a new and charming companionship began to shed itself through all my labors, and, unconsciously and unwatched, commenced that process of double thought which made everything I read or wrote suggest something I wanted to say to her. The reader will not, therefore, wonder that I proved my sense of the beauty of a daily morning service by going with great regularity after this, and as regularly walking home with my enchanting companion.

I was innocently surprised to find how interesting the morning scenery in prosaic old New York had become. It was April, and the buds in the Park were swelling, and the green grass springing in the cracks of the pavement, and little sparrows twittered and nestled in the ivy that embowered the church—and all these things had a strange, new charm for me. I told myself, every day, that I was not in love with Eva Van Arsdel, or going to be; I took myself to witness that all our conversation was on the most correct and dispassionate subjects, and not in the slightest degree inclining to any vanity of that nature. Since then, I have learned that Eva was the kind of woman with whom it made no difference what the subject matter of conversation was. It might be religion, or politics, or conic sections, but the animus of it was sure to be the same thing. It was her vital magnetism that gave the interest. It was, in fact, hardly any matter what we talked about, or whether we talked at all, it was the charm of being together that made these morning interviews so delightful; though I believe we discussed nearly everything under the sun, with the most astonishing unanimity of sentiment.

I was very careful to keep the knowledge of my increasing intimacy from Jim Fellows. Early rising was not his forte, and I, very improperly, congratulated myself on the fewness of the worshipers at early service. By and by, I grew so conscious that I got a way of stealing out at an opposite door, appearing to walk off another way, and joining Eva at the next corner—lest haply my invariable constancy should attract attention. She noticed all these things with a droll, amused, little, half-conscious look. True daughter of Eve as she was, she had probably seen many a shy fish before, swimming around her golden net as artlessly as I was doing.

I soon became her obedient slave and servant, interpreting all her motions and intimations with humble assiduity. Of course I presented myself duly with Jim in the Wednesday evening receptions, where, as the rooms were filled with other company, we already began to practice an involuntary hypocrisy, keeping up our friendly intimacy by that kind of intuitive and undemonstrative communication natural to those who know each other by sympathy, and learn to understand each other without words.

I was a great deal in Ida's studio, probably much to the satisfaction of Aunt Maria and Mrs. Van Arsdel—while Eva glanced and twinkled in and out like a fire-fly in a meadow, taking my heart with her as she came and went, yet awing me with a dutiful reticence, lest "people should talk."

Ida was one of those calm, quiet, essentially self-poised women, with whom it would be quite possible for a man to have a very intimate friendship, without its toning off into anything warm, either on her part or on his. Everything with her was so positive and definite, that there was no possibility of going over the limits. I think that she really had a very warm esteem for me; but she looked at me and judged me solely in relation to Eva, and with a quiet persistency favored the intimacy that she saw growing between us. Her plans of life were laid far ahead; she was wedded to a purpose which she would not have renounced for any man on earth; but Eva was the very apple of her eye, and I think she had her own plans as to the settling of her life's destiny; in short, Ida was from the start the best friend I could have.

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook