Mary revolved the affairs of her friend in her mind during the night. The intensity of the mental crisis through which she herself had just passed, had developed her in many inward respects, so that she looked upon life no longer as a timid girl, but as a strong, experienced woman. She had thought, and suffered, and held converse with eternal realities, until thousands of mere earthly hesitations and timidities, that often restrain a young and untried nature, had entirely lost their hold upon her. Besides, Mary had at heart the Puritan seed of heroism,—never absent from the souls of true New England women. Her essentially Hebrew education, trained in daily converse with the words of prophets and seers, and with the modes of thought of a grave and heroic people, predisposed her to a kind of exaltation which, in times of great trial, might rise to the heights of the religious sublime, in which the impulse of self-devotion and protection took a form essentially commanding. The very intensity of the repression under which her faculties developed seemed as it were to produce a surplus of hidden strength, which came out in exigencies. Her reading, though restricted to few volumes, had been of the kind that vitalized and stimulated a poetic nature, and laid up in its chambers vigorous words and trenchant phrases, for the use of an excited feeling—so that eloquence came to her as a native gift. She realized, in short, in her higher hours, the last touch with which Milton finishes his portrait of an ideal woman:—

‘Greatness of mind and nobleness, their seat

Build in her loftiest, and create an awe

About her as a guard angelic placed.’

The next morning, Colonel Burr called at the cottage. Mary was spinning in the garret, and Madame de Frontignac was reeling yarn, when Mrs. Scudder brought this announcement.

‘Mother,’ said Mary, ‘I wish to see Mr. Burr alone; Madame de Frontignac will not go down.’

Mrs. Scudder looked surprised, but asked no questions. When she was gone down, Mary stood a moment reflecting; Madame de Frontignac looked eager and agitated. ‘Remember and notice all he says, and just how he looks, Mary, so as to tell me; and be sure and say that “I thank him for his kindness yesterday;” we must own he appeared very well there; did he not?’

‘Certainly,’ said Mary; ‘but no man could have done less.’

‘Ah! but Mary, not every man could have done it as he did; now don’t be too hard on him, Mary; I have said dreadful things to him; I am afraid I have been too severe. After all, these distinguished men are so tempted; we don’t know how much they are tempted; and who can wonder that they are a little spoiled; so, my angel, you must be merciful.’

‘Merciful!’ said Mary, kissing the pale cheek and feeling the cold little hands that trembled in hers.

‘So you will go down in your little spinning toilette, ma mie; I fancy you look as Joan of Arc did when she was keeping her sheep at Doremi. Go, and God bless thee!’ and Madame de Frontignac pushed her playfully forward.

Mary entered the room where Burr was seated, and wished him good morning, in a serious and placid manner, in which there was not the slightest trace of embarrassment or discomposure.

‘Shall I have the pleasure of seeing your fair companion this morning?’ said Burr, after some moments of indifferent conversation.

‘No, sir; Madame de Frontignac desires me to excuse her to you.’

‘Is she ill?’ said Burr, with a look of concern.

‘No, Mr. Burr, she prefers not to see you.’ Burr gave a start of well-bred surprise; and Mary added:—

‘Madame de Frontignac has made me familiar with the history of your acquaintance with her; and you will therefore understand what I mean, Mr. Burr, when I say that, during the time of her stay with us, we would prefer not to receive calls from you.’

‘Your language, Miss Scudder, has certainly the merit of explicitness.’

‘I intend it shall have, sir,’ said Mary, tranquilly; ‘half the misery of the world comes of want of courage to speak and to hear the truth plainly, and in a spirit of love.’

‘I am gratified that you insert the last clause, Miss Scudder; I might not otherwise recognize the gentle being whom I have always regarded as the impersonation of all that is softest in woman. I have not the honour of understanding in the least the reason of this apparently capricious sentence, but I bow to it in submission.’

‘Mr. Burr,’ said Mary, walking up to him, and looking him full in the eyes with an energy that for the moment bore down his practised air of easy superiority, ‘I wish to speak to you for a moment, as one immortal soul should to another, without any of those false glosses and deceits which men call ceremony and good manners. You have done a very great injury to a lovely lady, whose weakness ought to have been sacred in your eyes. Precisely, because you are what you are,—strong, keen, penetrating, able to control and govern all who come near you; because you have the power to make yourself agreeable, interesting, fascinating, and to win esteem and love,—just for that reason you ought to hold yourself the guardian of every woman, and treat her as you would wish any man to treat your own daughter. I leave it to your own conscience whether this is the manner in which you have treated Madame de Frontignac.’

‘Upon my word, Miss Scudder,’ began Burr, ‘I cannot imagine what representations our mutual friend may have been making. I assure you, our intercourse has been as irreproachable as the most scrupulous could desire.’

‘Irreproachable! innocent! Mr. Burr, you know that you have taken the very life out of her; you men can have everything, ambition, wealth, power; a thousand ways are open to you; and women have nothing but their hearts, and when that is gone, all is gone. Mr. Burr, you remember the rich man that had flocks and herds, but nothing would do for him but he must have the one little ewe lamb which was all his poor neighbour had. Thou art the man! You have stolen all the love she has to give, all that she had to make a happy home; and you can never give her anything in return without endangering her purity and her soul, and you knew you could not. I know you men think this is a light matter; but it is death to us; what will this woman’s life be? one long struggle to forget; and when you have forgotten her, and are going on gay and happy, when you have thrown her very name away as a faded flower, she will be praying, hoping, fearing for you; though all men deny you, yet will not she. Yes, Mr. Burr, if ever your popularity and prosperity should leave you, and those who now flatter should despise and curse you, she will always be interceding with her own heart and with God for you, and making a thousand excuses when she cannot deny; and if you die, as I fear you have lived, unreconciled to the God of your fathers, it will be in her heart to offer up her very soul for you, and to pray that God will impute all your sins to her, and give you heaven. Oh, I know this because I have felt it in my own heart!’ and Mary threw herself passionately down into a chair, and broke into an agony of uncontrolled sobbing.

Burr turned away, and stood looking through the window; tears were dropping silently, unchecked by the cold, hard pride which was the evil demon of his life.

It is due to our human nature to believe that no man could ever have been so passionately and enduringly loved and revered by both men and women as he was, without a beautiful and lovable nature; no man ever demonstrated more forcibly the truth, that it is not a man’s natural constitution, but the use he makes of it which stamps him as good or evil.

The diviner part of him was weeping, and the cold, proud, demon was struggling to regain his lost ascendency. Every sob of the fair, inspired child who had been speaking to him seemed to shake his heart; he felt as if he could have fallen on his knees to her; and yet that stoical habit, which was the boast of his life, which was the highest wisdom he taught to his only and beautiful daughter, was slowly stealing back round his heart, and he pressed his lips together, resolved that no word should escape till he had fully mastered himself.

In a few moments Mary rose with renewed calmness and dignity, and approaching him, said, ‘Before I wish you a good morning, Mr. Burr, I must ask pardon for the liberty I have taken in speaking so very plainly.’

‘There is no pardon needed, my dear child,’ said Burr, turning and speaking very gently, and with a face expressive of a softened concern; ‘if you have told me harsh truths, it was with gentle intentions; I only hope that I may prove, at least by the future, that I am not altogether so bad as you imagine. As to the friend whose name has been passed between us, no man can go beyond me in a sense of her real nobleness; I am sensible how little I can ever deserve the sentiment with which she honours me. I am ready, in my future course, to obey any commands that you and she may think proper to lay upon me.’

‘The only kindness you can now do her,’ said Mary, ‘is to leave her. It is impossible that you can be merely friends,—it is impossible, without violating the holiest bonds, that you can be more. The injury done is irreparable, but you can avoid adding another and greater one to it.’

Burr looked thoughtful.

‘May I say one thing more?’ said Mary, the colour rising in her cheeks.

Burr looked at her with that smile that always drew out the confidence of every heart.

‘Mr. Burr,’ she said, ‘you will pardon me, but I cannot help saying this: You have, I am told, wholly renounced the Christian faith of your fathers, and build your whole life on quite another foundation. I cannot help feeling that this is a great and terrible mistake. I cannot help wishing that you would examine and reconsider.’

‘My dear child, I am extremely grateful to you for your remark, and appreciate fully the purity of the source from which it springs. Unfortunately, our intellectual beliefs are not subject to the control of our will. I have examined, and the examination has, I regret to say, not had the effect you would desire.’

Mary looked at him wistfully; he smiled and bowed, all himself again; and stopping at the door, he said, with a proud humility, ‘Do me the favour to present my devoted regard to your friend; believe me, that hereafter you shall have less reason to complain of me.’ He bowed and was gone.

An eye-witness of the scene has related that when Burr resigned his seat as president of his country’s senate, he was an object of peculiar political bitterness and obloquy. Almost all who listened to him had made up their minds that he was an utterly faithless, unprincipled man; and yet, such was his singular and peculiar personal power, that his short farewell address melted the whole assembly into tears; and his most embittered adversaries were charmed into a momentary enthusiasm of admiration.

It must not be wondered at, therefore, if our simple-hearted, loving Mary strangely found all her indignation against him gone, and herself little disposed to criticise the impassioned tenderness with which Madame de Frontignac still regarded him.

We have one thing more that we cannot avoid saying of two men so singularly in juxtaposition, as Aaron Burr and Dr. Hopkins.

Both had a perfect logic of life, and guided themselves with an inflexible rigidity by it. Burr assumed individual pleasure to be the great object of human existence; and Dr. Hopkins placed it in a life altogether beyond self. Burr rejected all sacrifice, Hopkins considered sacrifice as the foundation of all existence. To live as far as possible without a disagreeable sensation was an object which Burr proposed to himself as the summum bonum, for which he drilled down and subjugated a nature of singular richness. Hopkins, on the other hand, smoothed the asperities of a temperament naturally violent and fiery by a rigid discipline, which guided it entirely above the plane of self-indulgence; and, in the pursuance of their great end, the one watched against his better nature as the other did against his worse. It is but fair, then, to take their lives as the practical workings of their respective ethical creeds.

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