The sun was just setting, and the whole air and sea seemed flooded with rosy rays. Even the crags and rocks of the sea-shore took purple and lilac tints, and savins and junipers, had a painter been required to represent them, would have been found not without a suffusion of the same tints. Through the tremulous rosy sea of the upper air, the silver full moon looked out like some calm superior presence which waits only for the flush of a temporary excitement to die away, to make its tranquillizing influence felt.

Mary, as she walked homeward with this dreamy light about her, moved with a slower step than when borne along by the vigorous arm and determined motion of her young friend.

It is said that a musical sound, uttered with decision by one instrument, always makes vibrate the corresponding chord of another, and Mary felt, as she left her positive but warm-hearted friend, a plaintive vibration of something in her own self of which she was conscious her calm friendship for her future husband had no part. She fell into one of those reveries which she thought she had for ever forbidden to herself, and there arose before her mind, like a picture, the idea of a marriage ceremony; but the eyes of the bridegroom were dark, and his curls were clustering in raven ringlets, and her hand throbbed in his as it had never throbbed in any other.

It was just as she was coming out of a little grove of cedars, where the high land overlooks the sea, and the dream which came to her overcame her with a vague and yearning sense of pain. Suddenly she heard footsteps behind her, and some one said ‘Mary!’ It was spoken in a choked voice, as one speaks in the crisis of a great emotion, and she turned and saw those very eyes!—that very hair!—yes, and the cold little hand throbbed with that very throb in that strong, living, manly hand, and ‘whether in the body or out of the body’ she knew not; she felt herself borne in those arms, and words that spoke themselves in her inner heart—words profaned by being repeated, were on her ear.

‘Oh, is this a dream!—is it a dream! James, are we in heaven? Oh, I have lived through such an agony—I have been so worn out! Oh, I thought you never would come!’ And then the eyes closed, and heaven and earth faded away together in a trance of blissful rest.

But it was no dream, for an hour later you might have seen a manly form sitting in that self-same place, bearing in his arms a pale girl, whom he cherished as tenderly as a mother her babe. And they were talking together—talking in low tones; and in all this wide universe neither of them knew or felt anything but the great joy of being thus side by side. They spoke of love, mightier than death, which many waters cannot quench. They spoke of yearnings, each for the other—of longing prayers—of hopes deferred—and then of this great joy: for she had hardly yet returned to the visible world. Scarce wakened from deadly faintness, she had not come back fully to the realm of life, only to that of love. And therefore it was, that without knowing that she spoke, she had said all, and compressed the history of those three years into one hour.

But at last, thoughtful for her health and provident of her weakness, he rose up and passed his arm around her to convey her home. And as he did so, he spoke one word that broke the whole charm.

‘You will allow me, Mary, the right of a future husband, to watch over your life and health?’

Then came back the visible world—recollection, consciousness, and the great battle of duty; and Mary drew away a little and said—

‘Oh, James! you are too late! that can never be!’

He drew back from her.

‘Mary, are you married?’

‘Before God I am!’ she said. ‘My word is pledged. I cannot retract it. I have suffered a good man to place his whole faith upon it—a man who loves me with his whole soul!’

‘But, Mary! you do not love him! That is impossible!’ said James, holding her off from him, and looking at her with an agonized eagerness. ‘After what you have just said, it is not possible.’

‘Oh! James, I’m sure I don’t know what I have said. It was all so sudden, and I didn’t know what I was saying—but things that I must never say again. The day is fixed for next week. It is all the same as if you had found me his wife!’

‘Not quite,’ said James, his voice cutting the air with a decided, manly ring. ‘I have some words to say to that yet.’

‘Oh, James, will you be selfish? Will you tempt me to do a mean, dishonourable thing—to be false to my word deliberately given?’

‘But,’ said James, eagerly, ‘you know, Mary, you never would have given it if you had known that I was living.’

‘That is true, James; but I did give it. I have suffered him to build all his hopes of life upon it. I beg you not to tempt me. Help me to do right.’

‘But, Mary, did you not get my letter?’

‘Your letter!’

‘Yes! that long letter that I wrote you.’

‘I never got any letter, James.’

‘Strange,’ he said; ‘no wonder it seems sudden to you.’

‘Have you seen your mother?’ said Mary, who was conscious this moment only of a dizzy instinct to turn the conversation from the spot where she felt too weak to bear it.

‘No! Do you suppose I should see anybody before you?’

‘Oh, then you must go to her!’ said Mary. ‘Oh, James, you don’t know how she has suffered!’

They were drawing near to the cottage gate.

‘Do, pray,’ said Mary. ‘Go—hurry to your mother—don’t be too sudden either, for she’s very weak; she is almost worn out with sorrow. Go, my dear brother. Dear you always will be to me!’

James helped her into the house, and they parted. All the house was yet still. The open kitchen door let in a sober square of moonlight on the floor; the very stir of the leaves in the trees could be heard. Mary went into her little room, and threw herself upon the bed, weak, weary, yet happy; for deeper and higher above all other feelings was the great relief that he was living still. After a little while she heard the rattling of the waggon, and then the quick patter of Miss Prissy’s feet, and her mother’s considerate tones, and the Doctor’s grave voice, and quite unexpectedly to herself she was shocked to find herself turning with an inward shudder from the idea of meeting him.

How very wicked! she thought; how ungrateful! and she prayed that God would give her strength to check the first rising of such feelings.

Then there was her mother, so ignorant and innocent, busy putting away baskets of things that she had bought in provision for the wedding-day. Mary almost felt as if she had a guilty secret. But when she looked back upon the last two hours, she felt no wish to take them back. Two little hours of joy and rest they had been, so pure, so perfect, she thought God must have given them to her as a keepsake, to remind her of His love, and to strengthen her in the way of duty.

Some will perhaps think it an unnatural thing that Mary should have regarded her pledge to the Doctor as of so absolute and binding a force, but they must remember the rigidity of her education. Self-denial and self-sacrifice had been the daily bread of her life. Every prayer, hymn, and sermon from her childhood had warned her to distrust her inclinations and regard her feelings as traitors. In particular had she been brought up within a superstitious tenacity in regard to the sacredness of a promise, and in this case the promise involved so deeply the happiness of a friend whom she had loved and revered all her life, that she never thought of any way of escape from it. She had been taught that there was no feeling so strong but that it might be immediately repressed at the call of duty, and if the idea arose to her of this great love to another as standing in her way, she immediately answered it by saying—‘How would it have been if I had been married? As I could have overcome then, so I can now.’

Mrs. Scudder came into her room with a candle in her hand, and Mary, accustomed to read the expressions of her mother’s face, saw at a glance a visible discomposure there. She held the light so that it shone upon Mary’s face.

‘Are you asleep?’ she said.

‘No, mother.’

‘Are you unwell?’

‘No, mother; only a little tired.’

Mrs. Scudder set down the candle and shut the door, and after a moment’s hesitation, said,

‘My daughter, I have some news to tell you, which I want you to prepare your mind for. Keep yourself quite quiet.

‘Oh, mother,’ said Mary, stretching out her hands towards her, ‘I know it, James has come home.’

‘How did you hear?’ said her mother with astonishment.

‘I have seen him, mother.’

Mrs. Scudder’s countenance fell.


‘I went to walk home with Cerinthy Twitchel, and as I was coming back he came up behind me just at Savin Rock.’

Mrs. Scudder sat down on the bed, and took her daughter’s hand.

‘I trust, my dear child,’ she said—and stopped.

‘I think I know what you are going to say, mother. It is a great joy and a great relief, but of course I shall be true to my engagement with the Doctor.’

Mrs. Scudder’s face brightened.

‘That is my own daughter! I might have known that you would do so. You would not, certainly, so cruelly disappoint a noble man that has set his whole faith on you.’

‘No, mother, I shall not disappoint him. I told James that I should be true to my word.’

‘He will probably see the justice of it,’ said Mrs. Scudder, in that easy tone with which elderly people are apt to dispose of the feelings of young persons.

‘Perhaps it may be something of a trial at first.’

Mary looked at her mother with incredulous blue eyes. The idea that feelings which made her hold her breath when she thought of them could be so summarily disposed of, struck her as almost an absurdity. She turned her face weariedly to the wall with a deep sigh, and said,

‘After all, mother, it is mercy enough and comfort enough to think that he is living. Poor cousin Ellen, too, what a relief to her! it is like life from the dead. Oh! I shall be happy enough, no fear of that.’

‘And you know,’ said Mrs. Scudder, ‘that there has never existed any engagement of any kind between you and James. He had no right to found any expectations on anything you ever told him.’

‘That is true also, mother,’ said Mary; ‘I had never thought of such a thing as marriage in relation to James.’

‘Of course,’ pursued Mrs. Scudder, ‘he will always be to you as a near friend.’

Mary assented wearily.

‘There is but a week now before your wedding,’ continued Mrs. Scudder, ‘and I think cousin James, if he is reasonable, will see the propriety of your mind being kept as quiet as possible. I heard the news this afternoon in town,’ pursued Mrs. Scudder, ‘from Captain Staunton, and, by a curious coincidence, I received this letter from him from James, which came from New York by post. The brig that brought it must have been delayed out of the harbour.’

‘Oh, please mother, give it to me!’ said Mary, rising up with animation; ‘he mentioned having sent me one.’

‘Perhaps you had better wait till morning,’ said Mrs. Scudder; ‘you are tired and excited.’

‘Oh, mother, I think I shall be more composed when I know all that is in it,’ said Mary, still stretching out her hand.

‘Well, my daughter, you are the best judge,’ said Mrs. Scudder; and she set down the candle on the table, and left Mary alone. It was a very thick letter, of many pages, dated in Canton, and ran as follows:

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