Mrs. Scudder kissed her daughter, and left her. After a moment’s thought, Mary gathered the long silky folds of hair around her head, and knotted them for the night. Then leaning forward on her toilet-table, she folded her hands together, and stood regarding the reflection of herself in the mirror.

Nothing is capable of more ghostly effect than such a silent, lonely contemplation of that mysterious image of ourselves which seems to look out of an infinite depth in the mirror, as if it were our own soul beckoning to us visibly from unknown regions. Those eyes look into our own with an expression sometimes vaguely sad and inquiring. The face wears weird and tremulous lights and shadows; it asks us mysterious questions, and troubles us with the suggestions of our relations to some dim unknown. The sad, blue eyes that gazed into Mary’s had that look of calm initiation, of melancholy comprehension, peculiar to eyes made clairvoyant by ‘great and critical’ sorrow. They seemed to say to her, ‘Fulfil thy mission; life is made for sacrifice; the flower must fall before fruit can perfect itself.’ A vague shuddering of mystery gave intensity to her reverie. It seemed as if those mirror depths were another world; she heard the far-off dashing of sea-green waves; she felt a yearning impulse towards that dear soul gone out into the infinite unknown.

Her word just passed had in her eyes all the sacred force of the most solemnly-attested vow; and she felt as if that vow had shut some before open door between her and him; and she had a kind of shadowy sense of a throbbing and yearning nature that seemed to call on her,—that seemed surging towards her with an imperative, protesting force that shook her heart to its depths.

Perhaps it is so, that souls once intimately related have ever after this strange power of affecting each other,—a power that neither absence nor death can annul. How else can we interpret these mysterious hours, in which the power of departed love seems to overshadow us, making our souls vital with such longings, with such wild throbbings, with such unutterable sighings, that a little more might burst the mortal band? Is it not deep calling unto deep? the free soul singing outside the cage to her mate, beating against the bars within?

Mary even for a moment fancied that a voice called her name, and started, shivering. Then the habits of her positive and sensible education returned at once, and she came out of her reverie as one breaks from a dream, and lifted all these sad thoughts with one heavy sigh from her breast; and opening her Bible, she read: ‘They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion that cannot be moved. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is about His people from this time henceforth and for evermore.’

Then she kneeled by her bedside, and offered her whole life a sacrifice to the loving God who had offered His life a sacrifice for her. She prayed for grace to be true to her promise—to be faithful to the new relation she had accepted. She prayed that all vain regrets for the past might be taken away, and that her soul might vibrate without discord in unison with the will of Eternal Love. So praying, she rose calm, and with that clearness of spirit which follows an act of uttermost self-sacrifice; and so calmly she lay down and slept, with her two hands crossed upon her breast, her head slightly turned on the pillow, her cheek pale as marble, and her long dark lashes lying drooping, with a sweet expression, as if under that mystic veil of sleep the soul were seeing things forbidden to the waking eye. Only the gentlest heaving of the quiet breast told that the heavenly spirit within had not gone where it was hourly aspiring to go.

Meanwhile Mrs. Scudder had left Mary’s room, and entered the Doctor’s study, holding a candle in her hand. The good man was sitting alone in the dark, with his head bowed upon his Bible. When Mrs. Scudder entered, he rose and regarded her wistfully, but did not speak. He had something just then in his heart for which he had no words; so he only looked as a man does who hopes and fears for the answer of a decided question.

Mrs. Scudder felt some of the natural reserve which becomes a matron coming charged with a gift in which lies the whole sacredness of her own existence, and which she puts from her hands with a jealous reverence.

She therefore measured the man with her woman’s and mother’s eye, and said, with a little stateliness,—

‘My dear sir, I come to tell you the result of my conversation with Mary.’

She made a little pause, and the Doctor stood before her as humbly as if he had not weighed and measured the universe; because he knew that though he might weigh the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance, yet it was a far subtler power which must possess him of one small woman’s heart. In fact, he felt to himself like a great awkward, clumsy, mountainous earthite asking of a white-robed angel to help him up a ladder of cloud. He was perfectly sure for the moment that he was going to be refused, and he looked humbly firm—he would take it like a man. His large blue eyes, generally so misty in their calm, had a resolute clearness, rather mournful than otherwise. Of course no such celestial experience was going to happen to him.

He cleared his throat and said,—

‘Well, Madam?’

Mrs. Scudder’s womanly dignity was appeased; she reached out her hand cheerfully, and said,—

She has accepted.

The Doctor drew his hand suddenly away, turned quickly round, and walked to the window, although, as it was ten o’clock at night and quite dark, there was evidently nothing to be seen there. He stood there quietly, swallowing very hard, and raising his handkerchief several times to his eyes. There was enough went on under the black coat just then to make quite a little figure in a romance if it had been uttered; but he belonged to a class who lived romance, but never spoke it. In a few moments he returned to Mrs. Scudder and said,—

‘I trust, dear madam, that this very dear friend may never have reason to think me ungrateful for her wonderful goodness; and whatever sins my evil heart may lead me into, I hope I may never fall so low as to forget the undeserved mercy of this hour. If ever I shrink from duty or murmur at trials, while so sweet a friend is mine, I shall be vile indeed.’

The Doctor, in general, viewed himself on the discouraging side, and had berated and snubbed himself all his life as a most flagitious and evil-disposed individual—a person to be narrowly watched, and capable of breaking at any moment into the most flagrant iniquity; and therefore it was that he received his good fortune in so different a spirit from many of the Lords of Creation in similar circumstances.

‘I am sensible,’ he added, ‘that a poor minister, without much power of eloquence, and commissioned of the Lord to speak unpopular truths, and whose worldly condition, in consequence, is never likely to be very prosperous, that such a one could scarcely be deemed a suitable partner for so very beautiful a young woman, who might expect proposals, in a temporal point of view, of a much more advantageous nature; and I am therefore the more struck and overpowered with this blessed result.’

These last words caught in the Doctor’s throat, as if he were overpowered in very deed.

‘In regard to her happiness,’ said the Doctor, with a touch of awe in his voice, ‘I would not have presumed to become the guardian of it, were it not that I am persuaded it is assured by a Higher Power; for when He giveth peace, who then can make trouble? (Job xxxv. 29.) But I trust I may say no effort on my part shall be wanting to secure it.’

Mrs. Scudder was a mother, and come to that spot in life where mothers always feel tears rising behind their smiles. She pressed the Doctor’s hand, silently, and they parted for the night.

We know not how we can acquit ourselves to our friends of the great world for the details of such an unfashionable courtship, so well as by giving them, before they retire for the night, a dip into a more modish view of things.

The Doctor was evidently green; green in his faith, green in his simplicity, green in his general belief of the divine in woman, green in his particular, humble faith in one small Puritan maiden, whom a knowing fellow might at least have manœuvred so skilfully as to break up her saintly superiority, discompose her, rout her ideas, and lead her up and down a swamp of hopes and fears and conjectures, till she was wholly bewildered and ready to take him at last—if he made up his mind to have her at all—as a great bargain for which she was to be sensibly grateful.

Yes, the Doctor was green, immortally green, as a cedar of Lebanon which, waving its broad archangel wings over some fast-rooted eternal old solitude, and seeing from its sublime height the vastness of the universe, veils its kingly head with humility before God’s infinite majesty.

He has gone to bed now, simple old soul, first apologizing to Mrs. Scudder for having kept her up to so dissipated and unparalleled an hour as ten o’clock on his personal matters.

Meanwhile our Asmodeus will transport us to an easily furnished apartment in one of the most fashionable hotels of Philadelphia, where Col. Aaron Burr, just returned from his trip to the then aboriginal wilds of Ohio, is seated before a table covered with maps, letters, books, and papers. His keen eye runs over the addresses of the letters, and he eagerly seizes one from Madame de Frontignac, and reads it; and as no one but ourselves is looking at him now his face has no need to wear its habitual mask. First comes an expression of profound astonishment; then of chagrin and mortification; then of deepening concern; there were stops where the dark eyelashes flashed together as if to brush a tear out of the view of the keen-sighted eyes; and then a red flush rose even to his forehead, and his delicate lips wore a sarcastic smile. He laid down the letter and made one or two turns through the room.

The man had felt the dashing against his own of a strong, generous, indignant woman’s heart fully awakened, and speaking with that impassioned vigour with which a French regiment charges in battle. There were those picturesque, winged words, those condensed expressions, those subtle piercings of meaning, and above all, that simple pathos for which the French tongue has no superior; and for the moment the woman had the victory; she shook his heart. But Burr resembled the marvel with which chemists amuse themselves. His heart was a vase filled with boiling passions, while his will, a still, cold, unmelted lump of ice, lay at the bottom.

Self-denial is not peculiar to Christians. They who go downward often put forth as much force to kill a noble nature as another does to annihilate a sinful one. There was something in this letter so keen, so searching, so self-revealing, that it brought on one of those interior crises in which a man is convulsed with the struggle of two natures—the godlike and the demoniac, and from which he must pass out more wholly to the dominion of the one or the other.

Nobody knew the true better than Burr. He knew the god-like and the pure, he had felt its beauty and its force to the very depths of his being, as the demoniac knew at once the fair man of Nazareth; and even now he felt the voice within that said, ‘What have I to do with thee?’ and the rending of a struggle of heavenly life with fast-coming eternal death.

That letter had told him what he might be, and what he was. It was as if his dead mother’s hand had held up before him a glass in which he saw himself, white robed and crowned, and so dazzling in purity that he loathed his present self.

As he walked up and down the room perturbed, he sometimes wiped tears from his eyes, and then set his teeth, and compressed his lips. At last his face grew calm and settled in its expression, his mouth wore a sardonic smile; he came and took the letter, and folding it leisurely, laid it on the table, and put a heavy paper weight over it, as if to hold it down and bury it. Then drawing to himself some maps of new territories, he set himself vigorously to some columns of arithmetical calculations on the margin; and thus he worked for an hour or two till his mind was as dry, and his pulse as calm as a machine; then he drew the inkstand towards him, and scribbled hastily the following letter to his most confidential associate—a letter which told no more of the conflict that preceded it, than do the dry sands and civil gossip of the sea-waves to-day of the storm and wreck of last week.

‘Dear——. Nous voilà once more in Philadelphia. Our schemes in Ohio prosper. Frontignac remains there to superintend. He answers our purpose passablement. On the whole I don’t see as we could do better than retain him; he is, beside, a gentlemanly, agreeable person, and wholly devoted to me—a point certainly not to be overlooked.

‘As to your railleries about the fair Madame, I must say, in justice both to her and myself, that any grace with which she has been pleased to honour me is not to be misconstrued. You are not to imagine any but the most Platonic of “liaisons.” She is as high strung as an Arabian steed; proud,—heroic, romantic, and French! and such must be permitted to take their own time and way, which we in our gaucherie can only humbly wonder at. I have ever professed myself her abject slave, ready to follow any whim, and obeying the slightest signal of the jewelled hand. As that is her sacred pleasure, I have been inhabiting the most abstract realms of heroic sentiment, living on the most diluted moonshine, and spinning out elaborately all those charming and seraphic distinctions between tweedle-dum and tweedle-dee with which these ecstatic creatures delight themselves in certain stages of “affaires du cœur.”

‘The last development on the part of my goddess is a fit of celestial anger, of the cause of which I am in the most innocent ignorance. She writes me three pages of French sublimities, writing as only a French woman can, bids me an eternal adieu, and informs me she is going to Newport.

‘Of course the affair becomes stimulating. I am not to presume to dispute her sentence, or doubt a lady’s perfect sincerity in wishing never to see me again; but yet I think I shall try to pacify the

“tantas in animis celestibus iras.”

If a woman hates you it is only her love turned wrong side out, and you may turn it back with due care. The pretty creatures know how becoming a grande passion is, and take care to keep themselves in mind; a quarrel serves their turn when all else fails.

‘To another point. I wish you to advertise S——, that his insinuations in regard to me, in the Aurora, have been observed, and that I require that they be promptly retracted. He knows me well enough to attend to this hint. I am in earnest when I speak; if the word does nothing, the blow will come, and if I strike once no second blow will be needed; yet I do not wish to get him on my hands needlessly; a duel and a love affair and hot weather, coming on together, might prove too much even for me. N.B. Thermometer stands at 85. I am resolved on Newport next week.

‘Yours ever,

‘P.S. I forgot to say that, oddly enough, my goddess has gone and placed herself under the wing of the pretty Puritan I saw in Newport. Fancy the melange; could anything be more piquant?—that cart-load of goodness, the old Doctor,—that sweet little saint and Madame Faubourg St. Germain shaken up together!—fancy her listening with well-bred astonishment to a critique on the doings of the unregenerate, or flirting that little jewelled fan of hers in Mrs. Scudder’s square pew of a Sunday. Probably they will carry her to the weekly prayer-meeting, which of course she will find some fine French subtlety for admiring, and “trouve ravissante.” I fancy I see it.’

When Burr had finished this letter, he had actually written himself into a sort of persuasion of its truth. When a finely-constituted nature wishes to go into baseness, it has first to bribe itself. Evil is never embraced undisguised as evil, but under some fiction which the mind accepts, and with which it has the singular power of blinding itself in the face of daylight. The power of imposing on one’s self is an essential preliminary to imposing on others. The man first argues himself down, and then he is ready to put the whole weight of his nature to deceiving others. This letter ran so smoothly, so plausibly, that it produced on the writer of it the effect of a work of fiction, which we know to be unreal, but feel to be true. Long habits of this kind of self-delusion in time produce a paralysis in the vital nerves of truth, so that one becomes habitually unable to see things in their verity, and realizes the awful words of scripture, ‘He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside, so that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, is there not a lie in my right hand?’

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