Chapter XLII. Last Words

We know it is fashionable to drop the curtain over a new-married pair as they recede from the altar, but we cannot but hope our readers may have by this time enough of interest in our little history to wish for a few words on the lot of the personages whose acquaintance they have thereby made.

The conjectures of Miss Prissy in regard to the house which was to be built for the new-married pair were as speedily as possible realized. On a beautiful elevation, a little out of the town of Newport, rose a fair and stately mansion, whose windows overlooked the harbour, and whose wide cool rooms were adorned by the constant presence of the sweet face and form which has been the guiding-star of our story. The fair poetic maiden, the seeress, the saint, has passed into that appointed shrine for woman, more holy than cloister, more saintly and pure than church or altar—a Christian home. Priestess, wife, and mother, there she ministers daily in holy works of household peace, and by faith and prayer and love redeems from grossness and earthliness the common toils and wants of life.

The gentle guiding force that led James Marvyn from the maxims and habits and ways of this world to the higher conception of an heroic and Christ-like manhood was still ever present with him, gently touching the springs of life, brooding peacefully with dove-like wings over his soul, and he grew up under it noble in purpose and strong in spirit. He was one of the most energetic and fearless supporters of the Doctor in his life-long warfare against an inhumanity which was entrenched in all the mercantile interest of the day, and which at last fell before the force of conscience and moral appeal.

Candace, in time, transferred her allegiance to the growing family of her young master and mistress; and predominated proudly, in gorgeous raiment and butterfly turban, over a rising race of young Marvyns. All the cares not needed by them were bestowed on the somewhat garrulous old age of Cato, whose never-failing cough furnished occupation for all her spare hours and thought.

As for our friend the Doctor, we trust our readers will appreciate the magnanimity with which he proved a real and disinterested love, in a point where so many men experience only the graspings of a selfish one. A mind so severely trained as his had been brings to a great crisis, involving severe self-denial, an amount of reserved moral force quite inexplicable to those less habituated to self-control. He was like a warrior whose sleep even was in armour, always ready to be roused to the conflict.

In regard to his feelings for Mary, he made the sacrifice of himself to her happiness so wholly and thoroughly that there was not a moment of weak hesitation—no going back over the past—no vain regret. Generous and brave souls find a support in such actions, because the very exertion raises them to a higher and purer plane of existence.

His diary records the event only in these very calm and temperate words:—‘It was a trial to me—a very great trial; but as she did not deceive me, I shall never lose my friendship for her.’

The Doctor was always a welcome inmate in the house of Mary and James, as a friend revered and dear. Nor did he want in time a hearthstone of his own, where a bright and loving face made him daily welcome; for we find that he married at last a woman of a fair countenance, and that sons and daughters grew up around him.

In time, also, his theological system was published. In that day it was customary to dedicate new or important works to the patronage of some distinguished or powerful individual. The Doctor had no earthly patron. Four or five simple lines are found in the commencement of his work, in which, in a spirit reverential and affectionate, he dedicates it to our Lord Jesus Christ, praying Him to accept the good, and to overrule the errors to His glory.

Quite unexpectedly to himself the work proved a success, not only in public acceptance and esteem, but even in a temporal view, bringing to him at last a modest competence, which he accepted with surprise and gratitude. To the last of a very long life he was the same steady undiscouraged worker, the same calm witness against popular sins and proclaimer of unpopular truths, ever saying and doing what he saw to be eternally true and right, without the slightest consultation with worldly expediency or earthly gain, nor did his words cease to work in New England till the evils he opposed were finally done away.

Colonel Burr leaves the scene of our story to pursue those brilliant and unscrupulous political intrigues so well known to the historian of those times, and whose results were so disastrous to himself. His duel with the ill-fated Hamilton, and the awful retribution of public opinion that followed—the slow downward course of a doomed life, are all on record. Chased from society, pointed at everywhere by the finger of hatred, so accursed in common esteem that even the publican who lodged him for a night refused to accept his money when he knew his name, heart-stricken in his domestic relation, his only daughter taken by pirates, and dying in untold horrors,—one seems to see in a doom so much above that of other men the power of an avenging Nemesis for sins beyond those of ordinary humanity.

But we who have learned of Christ may humbly hope that these crushing miseries in this life came not because he was a sinner above others, not in wrath alone, but that the prayers of the sweet saint who gave him to God even before his birth brought to him those friendly adversities that thus might be slain in his soul the evil demon of pride, which had been the opposing force to all that was noble within him. Nothing is more affecting than the account of the last hours of this man, whom a woman took in and cherished in his poverty and weakness with that same heroic enthusiasm with which it was his lot to inspire so many women. This humble keeper of lodgings was told that if she retained Aaron Burr all her other lodgers would leave—‘Let them do it then,’ she said, ‘but he shall remain.’ In the same uncomplaining and inscrutable silence in which he had borne the reverses and miseries of his life did this singular being pass through the shades of the dark valley. The New Testament was always under his pillow, and when alone he was often found reading it attentively, but of the result of that communion with higher powers he said nothing. Patient, gentle, and grateful he was, as to all his inner history, entirely silent and impenetrable. He died with the request, which has a touching significance, that he might be buried at the feet of those parents whose sainted lives had finished so differently from his own.

‘No farther seek his errors to disclose,

Or draw his frailties from their dread abode.’

Shortly after Mary’s marriage Madame de Frontignac sailed with her husband to France, where they lived in a very retired way on a large estate in the south of France. A close correspondence was kept up between her and Mary for many years, from which we shall give our readers a few extracts. The first is dated shortly after their return to France.

‘At last, my sweet Marie, you behold us in peace after our wanderings. I wish you could see our lovely nest in the hills, which overlooks the Mediterranean, whose blue waters remind me of Newport harbour and our old days there. Ah, my sweet saint, blessed was the day I first learned to know you! for it was you more than anything else that kept me back from sin and misery. I call you my Sibyl, dearest, because the Sibyl was a prophetess of divine things out of the church; and so are you. The Abbé says that all true, devout persons in all persuasions belong to the true Catholic Apostolic Church, and will in the end be enlightened to know it; what do you think of that, ma belle? I fancy I see you look at me with your grave, innocent eyes, just as you used to; but you say nothing.

‘I am far happier, ma Marie, than I ever thought I could be. I took your advice, and told my husband all I had felt and suffered. It was a very hard thing to do; but I felt how true it was, as you said, there could be no real friendship without perfect truth at bottom; so I told him all, and he was very good, and noble, and helpful to me; and since then he has been so gentle, and patient, and thoughtful, that no mother could be kinder, and I should be a very bad woman if I did not love him truly and dearly—I do.

‘I must confess that there is still a weak, bleeding place in my heart that aches yet, but I try to bear it bravely; and when I am tempted to think myself very miserable, I remember how patiently you used to go about your housework and spinning in those sad days when you thought your heart was drowned in the sea; and I try to do like you. I have many duties to my servants and tenants, and mean to be a good châtelaine; and I find when I nurse the sick and comfort the poor that my sorrows seem lighter. For after all, Mary, I have lost nothing that ever was mine—only my foolish heart has grown to something that it should not, and bleeds at being torn away. Nobody but Christ and His dear mother can tell what this sorrow is; but they know, and that is enough.’

The next letter is dated some three years after.

‘You see me now, my Marie, a proud and happy woman. I was truly envious when you wrote me of the birth of your little son; but now the dear good God has sent a sweet little angel to me, to comfort my sorrows and lie close to my heart; and since he came all pain is gone. Ah, if you could see him! he has black eyes and lashes like silk, and such little hands!—even his finger-nails are all perfect, like little gems; and when he puts his little hand on my bosom I tremble with joy. Since he came I pray always, and the good God seems very near to me. Now I realize as I never did before the sublime thought that God revealed himself in the infant Jesus; and I bow before the manger of Bethlehem where the Holy Babe was laid. What comfort, what adorable condescension for us mothers in that scene! My husband is so moved he can scarce stay an hour from the cradle! He seems to look at me with a sort of awe, because I know how to care for this precious treasure that he adores without daring to touch. We are going to call him Henri, which is my husband’s name and that of his ancestors for many generations back. I vow for him an eternal friendship with the son of my little Marie; and I shall try and train him up to be a brave man and a true Christian. Ah, Marie, this gives me something to live for. My heart is full—a whole new life opens before me!’

Somewhat later, another letter announces the birth of a daughter, and later still, that of another son; but we shall only add one more, written some years after, on hearing of the great reverse of popular feeling towards Burr, subsequently to his duel with the ill-fated Hamilton.

Ma chère Marie—Your letter has filled me with grief. My noble Henri, who already begins to talk of himself as my protector (these boys feel their manhood so soon, ma Marie), saw by my face when I read your letter that something pained me, and he would not rest till I told him something about it. Ah, Marie, how thankful I then felt that I had nothing to blush for before my son! how thankful for those dear children whose little hands had healed all the morbid places of my heart, so that I could think of all the past without a pang! I told Henri that the letter brought bad news of an old friend, but that it pained me to speak of it; and you would have thought by the grave and tender way he talked to his mamma that the boy was an experienced man of forty, to say the least.

‘But Marie, how unjust is the world; how unjust both in praise and blame! Poor Burr was the petted child of society: yesterday she doted on him, flattered him, smiled on his faults, and let him do what he would without reproof; to-day she flouts, and scorns, and scoffs him, and refuses to see the least good in him. I know that man, Mary, and I know that sinful as he may be before Infinite Purity, he is not so much worse than all the other men of his time. Have I not been in America? I know Jefferson; I knew poor Hamilton—peace be with the dead! Neither of them had lives that could bear the sort of trial to which Burr’s is subjected. When every secret fault, failing, and sin is dragged out and held up without mercy, what man can stand?

‘But I know what irritates the world is that proud, disdainful calm which will neither give sigh nor tear. It was not that he killed poor Hamilton, but that he never seemed to care! Ah, there is that evil demon of his life!—that cold, stoical pride, which haunts him like a fate. But I know he does feel; I know he is not as hard at heart as he tries to be; I have seen too many real acts of pity to the unfortunate, of tenderness to the weak, of real love to his friends to believe that. Great have been his sins against our sex, and God forbid that the mother of children should speak lightly of them; but is not so susceptible a temperament, and so singular a power to charm as he possessed, to be taken into account in estimating his temptations? Because he is a sinning man, it does not follow that he is a demon. If any should have cause to think bitterly of him, I should. He trifled inexcusably with my deepest feelings; he caused me years of conflict and anguish, such as he little knows. I was almost shipwrecked; yet I will still say to the last that what I loved in him was a better self—something really noble and good, however concealed and perverted by pride, ambition, and self-will. Though all the world reject him, I still have faith in this better nature, and prayers that he may be led right at last. There is at least one heart that will always intercede with God for him.’

It is well known that for many years after Burr’s death the odium that covered his name was so great that no monument was erected, lest it should become a mark for popular violence. Subsequently, however, in a mysterious manner a plain granite slab marked his grave; by whom erected has been never known. It was placed in the night by some friendly, unknown hand. A labourer in the vicinity, who first discovered it, found lying near the spot a small porte-monnaie, which had perhaps been used in paying for the workmanship. It contained no papers that could throw any light on the subject, except the fragment of the address of a letter, on which was written ‘Henri de Frontignac.’



Transcriber’s Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired. “Ain’t” is printed both with and without the apostrophe. It’s also at times printed as “a’n’t”. This was retained.

Text uses both Olladine and Ollodine for the spelling of Ms. Hocum’s first name.

Page 52, “bacherlorhood” changed to “bachelorhood” (a late bachelorhood)

Page 109, the hyphen after “whole” was retained in “A whole-woman’s-rights’ convention” as it was confirmed to be printed that way in other editions of the same text.

Page 266, illustration “Eugenie” should be “Virginie”

Page 320, “rock” changed to “Rock” (just at Savin Rock)

Page 339, actual reference for “They looked unto Him, and were likened” is “They looked unto Him, and were lightened” from Psalm 34:5.

Page 340, “mullens” changed to “mulleins” (clump of yellow mulleins)


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