‘And now, Mary,’ said Mrs. Scudder, at five o’clock the next morning, ‘to-day, you know, is the doctor’s fast, and so we won’t get any dinner, and it will be a good time to do up all our little odd jobs. Miss Prissy promised to come in for two or three hours this morning, to alter the waist of that black silk, and I shouldn’t be surprised if we could get it all done and ready to wear by Sunday.’

We will remark, by way of explanation to a part of this conversation, that our doctor, who was a specimen of life in earnest, made a practice through the greater part of his pulpit course of spending every Saturday as a day of fasting and retirement in preparation for the duties of the Sabbath.

Accordingly, the early breakfast things were no sooner disposed of than Miss Prissy’s quick footsteps might have been heard pattering in the kitchen.

‘Well, Miss Scudder, how do you do this morning? and how do you do, Mary? Well, if you aint the beaters! up just as early as ever, and everything cleared away! I was telling Miss Wilcox that there didn’t ever seem to be anything done in Miss Scudder’s kitchen, and I did verily believe you made your beds before you got up in the morning. Well, well; wasn’t that a party last night!’ she said, as she sat down with the black silk and prepared her ripping-knife. ‘I must rip this myself, Miss Scudder; for there’s a great deal in ripping silk, so as not to let anybody know where it has been sewed.

‘You didn’t know that I was at the party, did you? Well, I was. You see, I thought I’d just step round there to see about that money to get the doctor’s shirt with, and there I found Miss Wilcox with so many things on her mind, and says she, “Miss Prissy, you don’t know how much it would help me if I had somebody like you just to look after things a little here;” and says I, “Miss Wilcox, you just go right to your room and dress, and don’t you give yourself one minute’s thought about anything, and you see if I don’t have everything just right.” And so there I was in for it, and I just stayed through; and it was well I did, for Dinah, she wouldn’t have put ne’er enough egg in the coffee if it hadn’t been for me. Why, I just went and beat up four eggs with my own hand, and stirred ’em into the grounds.

‘Well, but really; wasn’t I behind the door, and didn’t I peep into the supper-room! I saw who was a-waitin’ on Miss Mary. Well, they do say he’s the handsomest, most fascinating man; why, all the ladies in Philadelphia are in a perfect quarrel about him; and I heard he said that he hadn’t seen such a beauty, he didn’t remember when.’

‘We all know that beauty is of small consequence,’ said Mrs. Scudder. ‘I hope Mary has been brought up to feel that.’

‘Oh, of course,’ said Miss Prissy; ‘it’s just like a fading flower; all is to be good and useful, and that’s what she is; and I told ’em that her beauty was the least part of her, though I must say that dress did fit like a biscuit, if it was my own fitting. But, Miss Scudder, what do you think I heard ’em saying about the good old doctor?’

‘I am sure I don’t know,’ said Mrs. Scudder; ‘I only know they couldn’t say anything bad.’

‘Well, no, not bad exactly,’ said Miss Prissy; ‘but they say he’s getting such strange notions in his head; why, I heard some of ’em say he was going to come out and preach against the slave trade; and I’m sure I don’t know what Newport folks will do if that’s wicked; there aint hardly any money here that’s made any other way: it’ll certainly make a great noise and talk, and make everybody angry; and I hope the Doctor aint a-going to do anything of that sort.’

‘I believe he is, Miss Prissy,’ said Mrs. Scudder; ‘he thinks it’s a great sin that ought to be rebuked, and I think so too,’ she said, bracing herself resolutely; ‘that was Mr. Scudder’s opinion when I first married him, and it’s mine.’

‘Oh, ah, yes. Well, if it’s a sin, of course,’ said Miss Prissy; ‘but then, dear me! Why, just think how many great houses are living on it. Why, there’s General Wilcox himself, and he’s a very nice man; and then there’s Major Seaforth; and why, I could count you off now a dozen—all our very first people. Why, Doctor Styles doesn’t think so, and I’m sure he’s a good Christian. Doctor Styles thinks it’s a dispensation for giving the light of the gospel to the Africans; why, now I’m sure, when I was a-working at Deacon Stebbins’, I stopped over Sunday once, ’cause Miss Stebbins she was weakly; ’twas when she was getting up after Samuel was born. No, on the whole, I believe ’twas Nehemiah, ’cause I remember he had curly hair; but any way, I remember I stayed there, and I remember as plain as if ’twas yesterday, just after breakfast, how a man went driving by in a chaise, and the Deacon, he went out and stopped him for travelling on the Lord’s day (’cause, you know, he was a justice of the peace), and who should it be but Tom Seaforth, and he told the Deacon his father had got a shipload of negroes just come in, and the Deacon he just let him go, ’cause I remember he said that was a plain work of necessity and mercy.[A] Well now, who would have thought it? I believe the Doctor is better than most folks; but then the best people may be mistaken, you know.’

‘The Doctor has made up his mind that it’s his duty,’ said Mrs. Scudder. ‘I’m afraid it’ll make him very unpopular; but I, for one, shall stand by him.’

‘Oh, certainly, Miss Scudder, you’re doing just right, exactly. Well, there’s one comfort, he’ll have a great crowd to hear him preach, ’cause as I was going round through the entries last night, I heard ’em talking about it; and Colonel Burr said he should be there, and so did the General, and so did Mr. What’s-his-name there, that senator from Philadelphia. I tell you you’ll have a full house.’

It was to be confessed that Mrs. Scudder’s heart rather sank than otherwise at this announcement, and those who have felt what it is to be almost alone in the right, in the face of all the ‘first families’ of their acquaintance, may perhaps find some compassion for her; since after all, truth is invisible, but ‘first families’ are very evident. First families are often very agreeable, undeniably respectable—fearfully virtuous; and it takes great faith to resist an evil principle which incarnates itself in the suavities of their breeding and amiability; and therefore it was that Mrs. Scudder felt her heart heavy within her, and could with a very good grace have joined the Doctor’s Saturday fast.

As for the Doctor, he sat the while tranquil in his study, with his great Bible and his Concordance open before him, culling, with that patient assiduity for which he was remarkable, all the terrible texts which that very unceremonious and old-fashioned book rains down so unsparingly on the sin of oppressing the weak. First families, whether in Newport or elsewhere, were as invisible to him as they were to Moses during the forty days that he spent with God on the Mount. He was merely thinking of his message, thinking only how he should shape it so as not to leave one word of it unsaid, not even imagining in the least what the result of it was to be: he was but a voice, but an instrument,—a passive instrument through which an Almighty will was to reveal itself: and the sublime fatalism of his faith made him as dead to all human considerations as if he had been a portion of the immutable laws of nature herself.

So the next morning, although all his friends trembled for him when he rose in the pulpit, he never thought of trembling for himself: he had come in the covered way of silence from the secret place of the Most High, and felt himself still abiding under the shadow of the Almighty. It was alike to him whether the house was full or empty. Whoever were decreed to hear the message would be there; whether they would hear or forbear was already settled in the counsels of a mightier will than his: he had the simple duty of utterance.

The ruinous old meeting-house was never so radiant with station and gentility as on that morning: a June sun shone brightly, the sea sparkled with a thousand little eyes, the birds sang all along the way, and all the notables turned out to hear the Doctor.

Mrs. Scudder received into her pew, with dignified politeness, Colonel Burr, and Colonel and Madame de Frontignac.

General Wilcox and his portly dame, Major Seaforth, and we know not, what not of Vernons and De Wolfs, and other grand old names were present there. Stiff silks rustled, Chinese fans fluttered, and the last court fashion stood revealed in bonnets; everybody was looking fresh and amiable: a charming and respectable set of sinners come to hear what the Doctor would find to tell them about their transgressions.

Mrs. Scudder was calculating consequences, and, shutting her eyes on the too evident world about her, prayed that the Lord would overrule all for good: the Doctor prayed that he might have grace to speak the truth, and the whole truth.

We have yet on record, in his published works, the great argument of that day, through which he moved with that calm appeal to the reason, which made his results always so weighty.

‘If these things be true,’ he said, after a condensed statement of the facts of the case, ‘then the following terrible consequences, which may well make all shudder and tremble who realize them, force themselves upon us, that all who have had any hand in this iniquitous business, whether directly or indirectly, or have used their influence to promote it, or have consented to it, or even connived at it, or have not opposed it by all proper exertions of which they are capable—all these are in a greater or less degree chargeable with the injuries and miseries which millions have suffered and are suffering, and are guilty of the blood of millions who lost their lives by this traffic in the human species. Not only the merchants who have been engaged in this trade, and the captains who have been tempted by the love of money to engage in this cruel work, and the slaveholders of every description, are guilty of shedding rivers of blood, but all the legislatures who have authorized, encouraged, or even neglected to suppress it to the utmost of their power, and all the individuals in private stations who have in any way aided in this business, consented to it, or have not opposed it to the utmost of their ability, have a share in this guilt. This trade in the human species has been the first wheel of commerce in Newport, on which every other movement in business has chiefly depended. This town has been built up and flourished in times past at the expense of the blood, the liberty, and the happiness of the poor Africans; and the inhabitants have lived on this, and by it have gotten most of their wealth and riches. If a bitter woe is pronounced on him who buildeth his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by wrong (Jer. xxii. 13), to him who buildeth a town by blood, and establisheth a city by iniquity (Hab. ii. 12), to the bloody city (Ezek. xxiv. 6), what a heavy, dreadful woe hangs over the heads of all those whose hands are defiled by the blood of the Africans—especially the inhabitants of this state and this town, who have had a distinguished share in this unrighteous and bloody commerce!’ He went over the recent history of the country; expatiated on the national declaration so lately made, that all men are born equally free and independent, and have a natural and inalienable right to liberty, and asked with what face a nation declaring such things could continue to hold thousands of their fellow-men in abject slavery.

He pointed out signs of national disaster which foreboded the wrath of heaven: the increase of public and private debts; the spirit of murmuring and jealousy of rulers among the people; divisions and contentions and bitter party alienations; the jealous irritation of England constantly endeavouring to hamper our trade; the Indians making war on the frontiers; the Algerines taking captive our ships, and making slaves of our citizens; all evident tokens of the displeasure and impending judgment of an offended justice.

The sermon rolled over the heads of the gay audience deep and dark as a thunder-cloud which in a few moments changes a summer sky into heaviest gloom. Gradually an expression of intense interest and deep concern spread over the listeners; it was the magnetism of a strong mind, which held them for a time under the shadow of his own awful sense of God’s almighty justice.

It is said that a little child once described his appearance in the pulpit by saying, ‘I saw God there, and I was afraid.’

Something of the same effect was produced on the audience now, and it was not till after sermon, prayer, and benediction were all over, that the respectables of Newport began gradually to unstiffen themselves from the spell, and to look into each other’s eyes for comfort, and to reassure themselves that after all they were the first families, eminently respectable, and going on in the good old way the world had always gone, and that the Doctor, of course, was a Radical and a fanatic.

When the audience streamed out, crowding the broad aisle, Mary descended from the singers’ seat, and stood with her psalm book in hand, waiting at the door to be joined by her mother and the Doctor. She overheard many hard words from people who an evening or two before had smiled so graciously upon them. It was, therefore, with no little determination of manner that she advanced and took the Doctor’s arm, as if anxious to associate herself with his well-earned unpopularity; and just at this moment she caught the eye and smile of Colonel Burr, as he bowed gracefully, yet not without a suggestion of something sarcastic in his eye.

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