Chapter III.

A quiet, maiden-like place was Mary’s little room. The window looked out under the overarching boughs of a thick apple orchard, now all in a blush with blossoms and pink-tipped buds, and the light came golden-green, strained through flickering leaves,—and an ever-gentle rustle and whirr of branches and blossoms, a chitter of birds, and an indefinite whispering motion, as the long heads of orchard-grass nodded and bowed to each other under the trees, seemed to give the room the quiet hush of some little side chapel in a cathedral, where green and golden glass softens the sunlight, and only the sigh and rustle of kneeling worshippers break the stillness of the aisles. It was small enough for a nun’s apartment, and dainty in its neatness as the waxen cell of a bee. The bed and low window were draped in spotless white, with fringes of Mary’s own knotting. A small table under the looking-glass bore the library of a well-taught young woman of those times. The ‘Spectator,’ ‘Paradise Lost,’ Shakspeare, and ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ stood for the admitted secular literature, and beside them the Bible and the works then published of Mr. Jonathan Edwards. Laid a little to one side, as if of doubtful reputation, was the only novel which the stricter people in those days allowed for the reading of their daughters: that seven-volumed, trailing, tedious, delightful old bore, ‘Sir Charles Grandison,’—a book whose influence in those times was so universal, that it may be traced in the epistolary style even of the gravest divines. Our little heroine was mortal, with all her divinity, and had an imagination which sometimes wandered to the things of earth; and this glorious hero in lace and embroidery, who blended rank, gallantry, spirit, knowledge of the world, disinterestedness, constancy, and piety, sometimes walked before her, while she sat spinning at her wheel, till she sighed, she hardly knew why, that no such men walked the earth now. Yet it is to be confessed, this occasional raid of the romantic into Mary’s balanced and well-ordered mind was soon energetically put to rout, and the book, as we have said, remained on her table under protest,—protected by being her father’s gift to her mother during their days of courtship. The small looking-glass was curiously wreathed with corals and foreign shells, so disposed as to indicate an artistic eye and skilful hand; and some curious Chinese paintings of birds and flowers gave rather a piquant and foreign air to the otherwise homely neatness of the apartment.

Here in this little retreat, Mary spent those few hours which her exacting conscience would allow her to spare from her busy-fingered household-life; here she read and wrote and thought and prayed;—and here she stands now, arraying herself for the tea company that afternoon. Dress, which in our day is becoming in some cases the whole of woman, was in those times a remarkably simple affair. True, every person of a certain degree of respectability had state and festival robes; and a certain camphor-wood brass-bound trunk, which was always kept solemnly locked in Mrs. Katy Scudder’s apartment, if it could have spoken, might have given off quite a catalogue of brocade satin and laces. The wedding-suit there slumbered in all the unsullied whiteness of its stiff ground broidered with heavy knots of flowers; and there were scarfs of wrought India muslin and embroidered crape, each of which had its history,—for each had been brought into the door with beating heart on some return voyage of one who, alas! should return no more. The old trunk stood with its histories, its imprisoned remembrances,—and a thousand tender thoughts seemed to be shaping out of every rustling fold of silk and embroidery, on the few yearly occasions when all were brought out to be aired, their history related, and then solemnly locked up again. Nevertheless, the possession of these things gave to the women of an establishment a certain innate dignity, like a good conscience, so that in that larger portion of existence commonly denominated among them ‘every day,’ they were content with plain stuff and homespun. Mary’s toilet, therefore, was sooner made than those of Newport belles of the present day; it simply consisted in changing her ordinary ‘short-gown and petticoat’ for another of somewhat nicer materials, a skirt of India chintz and a striped jaconet short-gown. Her hair was of the kind which always lies like satin; but, nevertheless, girls never think their toilet complete unless the smoothest hair has been shaken down and rearranged. A few moments, however, served to braid its shining folds and dispose them in their simple knot on the back of the head; and having given a final stroke to each side with her little dimpled hands, she sat down a moment at the window, thoughtfully watching where the afternoon sun was creeping through the slates of the fence in long lines of gold among the tall, tremulous orchard-grass, and unconsciously she began warbling, in a low, gurgling voice, the words of a familiar hymn, whose grave earnestness accorded well with the general tone of her life and education:—

‘Life is the time to serve the Lord,

The time t’ insure the great reward.’

There was a swish and rustle in the orchard-grass, and a tramp of elastic steps; then the branches were brushed aside, and a young man suddenly emerged from the trees a little behind Mary. He was apparently about twenty-five, dressed in the holiday rig of a sailor on shore, which well set off his fine athletic figure, and accorded with a sort of easy, dashing, and confident air which sat not unhandsomely on him. For the rest, a high forehead shaded by rings of the blackest hair, a keen, dark eye, a firm and determined mouth, gave the impression of one who had engaged to do battle with life, not only with a will, but with shrewdness and ability.

Mary and her Cousin.

He introduced the colloquy by stepping deliberately behind Mary, putting his arms round her neck, and kissing her.

‘Why, James!’ said Mary, starting up and blushing, ‘Come, now!’

‘I have come, haven’t I?’ said the young man, leaning his elbow on the window-seat and looking at her with an air of comic determined frankness, which yet had in it such wholesome honesty that it was scarcely possible to be angry. ‘The fact is, Mary,’ he added, with a sudden earnest darkening of the face, ‘I won’t stand this nonsense any longer. Aunt Katy has been holding me at arm’s length ever since I got home; and what have I done? Haven’t I been to every prayer-meeting and lecture and sermon, since I got into port, just as regular as a psalm-book? and not a bit of a word could I get with you, and no chance even so much as to give you my arm. Aunt Katy always comes between us and says, “Here, Mary, you take my arm.” What does she think I go to meeting for, and almost break my jaws keeping down the gapes? I never even go to sleep, and yet I am treated in this way! It’s too bad! What’s the row? What’s anybody been saying about me? I always have waited on you ever since you were that high. Didn’t I always draw you to school on my sled? didn’t we always use to do our sums together? didn’t I always wait on you to singing school? and I’ve been made free to run in and out as if I were your brother;—and now she is as glum and stiff, and always stays in the room every minute of the time that I am there, as if she was afraid I should be in some mischief. It’s too bad!’

‘Oh, James, I am sorry that you only go to meeting for the sake of seeing me; you feel no real interest in religious things; and besides, mother thinks now I am grown so old that—Why, you know, things are different now,—at least, we mustn’t, you know, always do as we did when we were children. But I wish you did feel more interested in good things.’

‘I am interested in one or two good things, Mary,—principally in you, who are the best I know of. Besides,’ he said quickly, and scanning her face attentively to see the effect of his words, ‘don’t you think there is more merit in my sitting out all these meetings, when they bore me so confoundedly, than there is in your and Aunt Katy’s doing it, who really seem to find something to like in them? I believe you have a sixth sense, quite unknown to me, for it’s all a maze,—I can’t find top, nor bottom, nor side, nor up, nor down to it,—it’s you can and you can’t, you shall and you shan’t, you will and you won’t,—’


‘You needn’t look at me so. I’m not going to say the rest of it. But, seriously, it’s all anywhere and nowhere to me; it don’t touch me, it don’t help me, and I think it rather makes me worse; and then they tell me it’s because I’m a natural man, and the natural man understandeth not the things of the Spirit. Well, I am a natural man,—how’s a fellow to help it?’

‘Well, James, why need you talk everywhere as you do? You joke, and jest, and trifle, till it seems to everybody that you don’t believe in anything. I’m afraid mother thinks you are an infidel, but I know it can’t be; yet we hear all sorts of things that you say.’

‘I suppose you mean my telling Deacon Twitchel that I had seen as good Christians among the Mahometans as any in Newport. Didn’t I make him open his eyes? It’s true, too!’

‘In every nation, he that feareth God and worketh righteousness is accepted of Him,’ said Mary; ‘and if there are better Christians than us among the Mahometans, I am sure I am glad of it. But, after all, the great question is, “Are we Christians ourselves?” Oh, James, if you only were a real, true, noble Christian!’

‘Well, Mary, you have got into that harbour, through all the sandbars and rocks and crooked channels; and now do you think it right to leave a fellow beating about outside, and not go out to help him in? This way of drawing up, among your good people, and leaving us sinners to ourselves, isn’t generous. You might care a little for the soul of an old friend, anyhow!’

‘And don’t I care, James? How many days and nights have been one prayer for you! If I could take my hopes of heaven out of my own heart and give them to you, I would. Dr. H. preached last Sunday on the text, “I could wish myself accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen;” and he went on to show how we must be willing to give up even our own salvation, if necessary, for the good of others. People said it was hard doctrine, but I could feel my way through it very well. Yes, I would give my soul for yours; I wish I could.’

There was a solemnity and pathos in Mary’s manner which checked the conversation. James was the more touched because he felt it all so real, from one whose words were always yea and nay, so true, so inflexibly simple. Her eyes filled with tears, her face kindled with a sad earnestness, and James thought, as he looked, of a picture he had once seen in a European cathedral, where the youthful Mother of Sorrows is represented,

‘Radiant and grave, as pitying man’s decline;

All youth, but with an aspect beyond time;

Mournful, but mournful of another’s crime;

She looked as if she sat by Eden’s door,

And grieved for those who should return no more.’

James had thought he loved Mary; he had admired her remarkable beauty; he had been proud of a certain right in her before that of other young men, her associates; he had thought of her as the keeper of his home; he had wished to appropriate her wholly to himself;—but in all this there had been, after all, only the thought of what she was to be to him; and this, for this poor measure of what he called love, she was ready to offer an infinite sacrifice.

As a subtle flash of lightning will show in a moment a whole landscape—tower, town, winding stream, and distant sea—so that one subtle ray of feeling seemed in a moment to reveal to James the whole of his past life; and it seemed to him so poor, so meagre, so shallow, by the side of that childlike woman, to whom the noblest of feelings were unconscious matters of course, that a sort of awe awoke in him: like the Apostles of old, he ‘feared as he entered into the cloud:’ it seemed as if the deepest string of some eternal sorrow had vibrated between them.

After a moment’s pause, he spoke in a low and altered voice:—

‘Mary, I am a sinner. No psalm or sermon ever taught it to me, but I see it now. Your mother is quite right, Mary; you are too good for me; I am no mate for you. Oh, what would you think of me, if you knew me wholly? I have lived a mean, miserable, shallow, unworthy life. You are worthy, you are a saint, and walk in white! Oh, what upon earth, could ever make you care so much for me?’

‘Well, then, James, you will be good? Won’t you talk with Dr. H.?’

‘Hang Dr. H.!’ said James. ‘Now Mary, I beg your pardon, but I can’t make head or tail of a word Dr. H. says. I don’t get hold of it, or know what he would be at. You girls and women don’t know your power. Why, Mary, you are a living gospel. You have always had a strange power over us boys. You never talked religion much; but I have seen high fellows come away from being with you as still and quiet as one feels when one goes into a church. I can’t understand all the hang of predestination, and moral ability, and natural ability, and God’s efficiency, and man’s agency, which Dr. H. is so engaged about; but I can understand youyou can do me good!’

‘Oh, James, can I?’

‘Mary I am going to confess my sins. I saw that, somehow or other, the wind was against me in Aunt Katy’s quarter, and you know we fellows who take up the world in both fists don’t like to be beat. If there’s opposition, it sets us on. Now I confess I never did care much about religion, but I thought, without being really a hypocrite, I’d just let you try to save my soul for the sake of getting you; for there’s nothing surer to hook a woman than trying to save a fellow’s soul. It’s a dead-shot, generally, that. Now our ship sails to-night, and I thought I’d just come across this path in the orchard to speak to you. You know I used always to bring you peaches and juneatings across this way, and once I brought you a ribbon.’

‘Yes, I’ve got it yet, James.’

‘Well, now, Mary, all this seems mean to me,—mean to try and trick and snare you, who are so much too good for me. I felt very proud this morning that I was to go out first mate this time, and that I should command a ship next voyage. I meant to have asked you for a promise, but I don’t. Only, Mary, just give me your little Bible, and I’ll promise to read it all through soberly, and see what it all comes to. And pray for me; and if, while I’m gone, a good man comes who loves you, and is worthy of you, why take him, Mary,—that’s my advice.’

‘James, I’m not thinking of any such things; I don’t ever mean to be married. And I’m glad you don’t ask me for any promise, because it would be wrong to give it; mother don’t even like me to be much with you. But I’m sure all I have said to you to-day is right; I shall tell her exactly all I have said.’

‘If Aunt Katy knew what things we fellows are pitched into, who take the world head-foremost, she wouldn’t be so selfish. Mary, you girls and women don’t know the world you live in; you ought to be pure and good; you are not as we are. You don’t know what men, what women,—no, they’re not women!—what creatures, beset us in every foreign port, and boarding-houses that are gates of hell; and then, if a fellow comes back from all this and don’t walk exactly straight, you just draw up the hems of your garments and stand close to the wall, for fear he should touch you when he passes. I don’t mean you, Mary, for you are different from most; but if you would do what you could, you might save us.—But it’s no use talking, Mary. Give me the Bible; and please be kind to my dove,—for I had a hard time getting him across the water, and I don’t want him to die.’

If Mary had spoken all that welled up in her little heart at that moment, she might have said too much; but duty had its habitual seal upon her lips. She took the little Bible from her table and gave it with a trembling hand, and James turned to go. In a moment he turned back and stood irresolute.

‘Mary,’ he said, ‘we are cousins; I may never come back: you might kiss me this once.’

The kiss was given and received in silence, and James disappeared among the thick trees.

‘Come, child,’ said Aunt Katy, looking in, ‘there is Deacon Twitchel’s chaise in sight,—are you ready?’

‘Yes, mother.’

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