Our fathers believed in special answers to prayer. They were not stumbled by the objection about the inflexibility of the laws of nature, because they had the idea that when the Creator of the world promised to answer human prayers, He probably understood the laws of nature as well as they did; at any rate, the laws of nature were His affairs and not theirs. They were men very apt, as the Duke of Wellington said, to ‘look to their marching-orders;’ which, being found to read, ‘be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God,’ they did it. ‘They looked unto Him, and were likened, and their faces were not ashamed.’ One reads in the memoirs of Dr. Hopkins how Newport Gardner, one of his African catechumens, a negro of singular genius and ability, being desirous of his freedom, that he might be a missionary to Africa, and having long worked without being able to raise the amount required, was counselled by Dr. Hopkins that it might be a shorter way to seek his freedom from the Lord by a day of solemn fasting and prayer. The historical fact is, that on the evening of a day so consecrated his master returned from church, called Newport to him, and presented him with his freedom. Is it not possible that He who made the world may have established laws for prayer, as invariable as those for the sowing of seed and raising of grain? Is it not as legitimate a subject of inquiry when petitions are not answered, which of these laws has been neglected?

But be that as it may, certain it is, that a train of events were set in operation this day which went directly towards answering Mary’s morning supplication for guidance. Candace, who on this particular morning had contrived to place herself where she could see Mary and James in the singers’ seat, had certain thoughts ‘borne in’ on her mind, which bore fruit afterwards in a solemn and select conversation held with Miss Prissy at the end of the horse-shed by the meeting-house, during the intermission between the morning and afternoon sermons.

Candace sat on a fragment of a granite boulder which lay there, her black face relieved against a clump of yellow mulleins, then in majestic altitude. On her lap was spread a check pocket-handkerchief, containing rich slices of cheese and a store of her favourite brown dough-nuts.

‘Now, Miss Prissy,’ she said, ‘der’s reason in all things; and a good deal more in some things dan der is in others. Dere’s a good deal more reason in two young, handsome folks coming together dan der is in——’

Candace finished the sentence by an emphatic flourish of her dough-nut.

‘Now as long as everybody thought Massa Jim was dead, dere wa’n’t nothin’ in de world else to be done but for Miss Mary to marry the Doctor. But, good Lord! I heard him a-talkin’ to Mrs. Marvyn last night; it kinder most broke my heart. Why dem two poor creeturs—dey’s just as onhappy’s dey can be; and she’s got too much feelin’ for the Doctor to say a word, and I say he orter be told on’t; dat’s what I say,’ said Candace, giving a decisive bite to her dough-nut.

‘I say so too,’ said Miss Prissy: ‘why I never had such feelings in my life as I did yesterday when that young man came down to our house; he was just as pale as a cloth. I tried to say a word to Mrs. Scudder, but she snapped me up so; she’s an awful decided woman when her mind’s made up. I was telling Cerinthy Ann Twitchel, she come round me this noon, that it didn’t exactly seem to me right that things should go on as they’re gone to; and says I, “Cerinthy Ann, I don’t know anything what to do.” And says she, “If I was you, Miss Prissy, I know what I’d do; I’d tell the Doctor.” Says she, “Nobody ever takes offence at anything you do, Miss Prissy.” To be sure,’ added Miss Prissy, ‘I have talked to people about a good many things that it’s rather strange I should, ’cause I ain’t one somehow that can let things go that seem to want doing. I always told folks that I should spoil a novel before it got half-way through the first volume, by blirting out some of those things that they let go trailing on till everybody gets so mixed up they don’t know what they’re doing.’

‘Well, now, honey,’ said Candace, authoritatively, ‘ef you’ve got any notion o’ that kind, I think it must a come from de good Lord; and I ’vise ye to be ’tendin’ to it right away. You just go ’long and tell de Doctor yo’self all you knows, and den let’s see what’ll come on’t. I tell you I b’lieves it’ll be one o’ the best day’s works you ever did in your life.’

‘Well,’ said Miss Prissy, ‘I guess to-night before I go to bed I’ll make a dive at him. When a thing’s once out it’s out, and can’t be got in again, even if people don’t like it, and that’s a mercy anyhow. It really makes me feel most wicked to think of it, for the Doctor is the blessedest man.’

‘That’s what he is,’ said Candace. ‘But den de blessedest men in the world ought fur to know de truth, that’s what I think.’

‘Yes, true enough,’ said Miss Prissy, ‘I’ll tell him anyway.’

Miss Prissy was as good as her word, for that evening when the Doctor had retired to his study, she took her light in her hand, and walking softly as a cat, tapped rather timidly at the study door, which the Doctor opening, said benignantly—

‘Ah! Miss Prissy!’

‘If you please, sir,’ said Miss Prissy, ‘I’d like a little conversation.’

The Doctor was well enough used to such requests from the female members of his church, which generally were the prelude to some disclosures of internal difficulties or spiritual experiences. He therefore graciously motioned her to a chair.

‘I thought I must come in,’ she began, busily twirling a bit of her Sunday gown. ‘I thought—that is I felt it my duty—I thought—perhaps—I ought to tell you—that perhaps you ought to know—’

The Doctor looked civilly concerned. He did not know but Miss Prissy’s wits were taking leave of her. He replied, however, with his usual honest stateliness,

‘I trust, dear madam, that you will feel at perfect freedom to open to me any exercises of mind that you may have.’

‘It isn’t about myself,’ said Prissy. ‘If you please, it’s about you, sir, and Mary.’

The Doctor now looked awake in right earnest, and very much astonished besides; and he looked eagerly at Miss Prissy to have her go on.

‘I don’t know how you would view such a matter,’ said Miss Prissy; ‘but the fact is, that James Marvyn and Mary always did love each other ever since they were children.’

Still the Doctor was unawakened to the real meaning of the words, and he answered, simply,—

‘I should be far from wishing to interfere with so very natural and innocent a sentiment, which I make no doubt is all quite as it should be.’

‘No! but,’ said Miss Prissy, ‘you don’t understand what I mean. I mean that James Marvyn wanted to marry Mary, and that she was—well! she wasn’t engaged to him—but—’

‘Madam!!’ said the Doctor, in a voice that frightened Miss Prissy out of her chair, while a blaze like sheet-lightning shot from his eyes and his face flushed crimson.

‘Mercy on us! Doctor, I hope you’ll excuse me, but there, the fact is out! I’ve said it out; the fact is they wa’n’t engaged, but that Mary loved him ever since he was a boy, as she never will and never can love any man again in this world, is what I’m just as sure of as that I’m standing here; and I’ve felt you ought to know it, ’cause I’m quite sure that if he’d been alive, she’d never given the promise she has—the promise that she means to keep if her heart breaks and his too; there wouldn’t anybody tell you, and I thought I must tell you, ’cause I thought you’d know what was right to do about it.’

During all this latter speech the Doctor was standing with his back to Miss Prissy and his face to the window, just as he did some time before when Mrs. Scudder came to tell him of Mary’s consent. He made a gesture backward, without speaking, that she should leave the apartment; and Miss Prissy left with a guilty kind of feeling, as if she had been plunging a knife in her pastor; and rushing distractedly across the entry into Mary’s little bedroom, she bolted the door, threw herself on the bed, and began to cry.

‘Well! I’ve done it,’ she said to herself. ‘He’s a very strong, hearty man,’ she soliloquized, ‘so I hope it won’t put him in a consumption. Men do go in a consumption about such things sometimes. I remember Abner Seaforth did—but then he was always narrow-chested, and had the liver complaint, or something. I don’t know what Mrs. Scudder will say, but I’ve done it. Poor man! such a good man too! I declare I feel just like Herod taking off John the Baptist’s head. Well! well! it’s done, and can’t be helped.’

Just at this moment Miss Prissy heard a gentle tap at the door, and started as if it had been a ghost—not being able to rid herself of the impression that somehow she had committed a great crime, for which retribution was knocking at the door.

It was Mary, who said, in her sweetest and most natural tones, ‘Miss Prissy, the Doctor would like to see you.’ Mary was much astonished at the frightened, discomposed manner with which Miss Prissy received this announcement, and said, ‘I’m afraid I’ve waked you up out of sleep. I don’t think there’s the least hurry.’

Miss Prissy didn’t either; but she reflected afterwards that she might as well get through with it at once, and therefore, smoothing her tumbled cap-border, she went to the Doctor’s study. This time he was quite composed, and received her with a mournful gravity, and requested her to be seated.

‘I beg, madam,’ he said, ‘you will excuse the abruptness of my manner in our late interview. I was so little prepared for the communication you had to make that I was perhaps unsuitably discomposed. Will you allow me to ask whether you were requested by any of the parties to communicate to me what you did?’

‘No, sir,’ said Miss Prissy.

‘Have any of the parties ever communicated with you on the subject at all?’ said the Doctor.

‘No, sir,’ said Miss Prissy.

‘That is all,’ said the Doctor. ‘I will not detain you. I am very much obliged to you, madam.’

He rose and opened the door for her to pass out, and Miss Prissy, overawed by the stately gravity of his manner, went out in silence.

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