Chapter IV. Theological Tea

At the call of her mother, Mary hurried into the ‘best room, with a strange discomposure of spirit she had never felt before. From childhood, her love for James had been so deep, equable, and intense, that it had never disturbed her with thrills and yearnings; it had grown up in sisterly calmness, and, quietly expanding, had taken possession of her whole nature without her once dreaming of its power. But this last interview seemed to have struck some great nerve of her being,—and calm as she usually was, from habit, principle, and good health, she shivered and trembled as she heard his retreating footsteps, and saw the orchard-grass fly back from under his feet. It was as if each step trod on a nerve,—as if the very sound of the rustling grass was stirring something living and sensitive in her soul. And, strangest of all, a vague impression of guilt hovered over her. Had she done anything wrong? She did not ask him there; she had not spoken love to him; no, she had only talked to him of his soul, and how she would give hers for his,—oh, so willingly!—and that was not love; it was only what Dr. H. said Christians must always feel.

‘Child, what have you been doing?’ said Aunt Katy, who sat in full flowing chintz petticoat and spotless dimity short-gown, with her company knitting-work in her hands; ‘your cheeks are as red as peonies. Have you been crying? What’s the matter?’

‘There is the Deacon’s wife, mother,’ said Mary, turning confusedly, and darting to the entry-door.

Enter Mrs. Twitchel,—a soft, pillowy, little elderly lady, whose whole air and dress reminded one of a sack of feathers tied in the middle with a string. A large, comfortable pocket, hung upon the side, disclosed her knitting-work ready for operation; and she zealously cleansed herself with a checked handkerchief from the dust which had accumulated during her ride in the old ‘one-hoss shay,’ answering the hospitable salutation of Katy Scudder in that plaintive, motherly voice which belongs to certain nice old ladies, who appear to live in a state of mild chronic compassion for the sins and sorrows of this mortal life generally.

‘Why, yes, Miss Scudder, I’m pretty tol’able. I keep goin’, and goin’. That’s my way. I’s a-tellin’ the Deacon, this mornin’, I didn’t see how I was to come here this afternoon; but then I did want to see Miss Scudder, and talk a little about that precious sermon, Sunday. How is the Doctor? blessed man! Well, his reward must be great in heaven, if not on earth, as I was a-tellin’ the Deacon; and he says to me, says he, “Polly, we mustn’t be man-worshippers.” There, dear,’ (to Mary,) ‘don’t trouble yourself about my bonnet; it a’n’t my Sunday one, but I thought ’twould do. Says I to Cerinthy Ann, “Miss Scudder won’t mind, ’cause her heart’s set on better things.” I always like to drop a word in season to Cerinthy Ann, ’cause she’s clean took up with vanity and dress. Oh, dear! oh, dear me! so different from your blessed daughter, Miss Scudder! Well, it’s a great blessin’ to be called in one’s youth, like Samuel and Timothy; but then we doesn’t know the Lord’s ways. Sometimes I gets clean discouraged with my children,—but then ag’in I don’t know; none on us does. Cerinthy Ann is one of the most master hands to turn off work; she takes hold and goes along like a woman, and nobody never knows when that gal finds the time to do all she does do; and I don’t know nothin’ what I should do without her. Deacon was saying, if ever she was called, she’d be a Martha, and not a Mary: but then she’s dreadful opposed to the doctrines. Oh, dear me! oh, dear me! Somehow they seem to rile her all up; and she was a-tellin’ me yesterday, when she was a-hangin’ out clothes, that she never should get reconciled to Decrees and ’Lection, ’cause she can’t see, if things is certain, how folks is to help ’emselves. Says I, “Cerinthy Ann, folks a’n’t to help themselves; they’s to submit unconditional.” And she jest slammed down the clothes-basket and went into the house.’

When Mrs. Twitchel began to talk, it flowed a steady stream, as when one turns a faucet, that never ceases running till some hand turns it back again; and the occasion that cut the flood short at present was the entrance of Mrs. Brown.

Mr. Simeon Brown was a thriving ship-owner of Newport, who lived in a large house, owned several negro-servants and a span of horses, and affected some state and style in his worldly appearance. A passion for metaphysical Orthodoxy had drawn Simeon to the congregation of Dr. H., and his wife of course stood by right in a high place there. She was a tall, angular, somewhat hard-favoured body, dressed in a style rather above the simple habits of her neighbours, and her whole air spoke the great woman, who in right of her thousands expected to have her say in all that was going on in the world, whether she understood it or not.

On her entrance, mild little Mrs. Twitchel fled from the cushioned rocking-chair, and stood with the quivering air of one who feels she has no business to be anywhere in the world, until Mrs. Brown’s bonnet was taken and she was seated, when Mrs. Twitchel subsided into a corner and rattled her knitting-needles to conceal her emotion.

New England has been called the land of equality; but what land upon earth is wholly so? Even the mites in a bit of cheese, naturalists say, have great tumblings and strivings about position and rank: he who has ten pounds will always be a nobleman to him who has but one, let him strive as manfully as he may; and therefore let us forgive meek little Mrs. Twitchel from melting into nothing in her own eyes when Mrs. Brown came in, and let us forgive Mrs. Brown that she sat down in the rocking-chair with an easy grandeur, as one who thought it her duty to be affable and meant to be. It was, however, rather difficult for Mrs. Brown, with her money, house, negroes, and all, to patronise Mrs. Katy Scudder, who was one of those women whose natures seems to sit on thrones, and who dispense patronage and favour by an inborn right and aptitude, whatever be their social advantages. It was one of Mrs. Brown’s trials of life, this secret, strange quality in her neighbour, who stood apparently so far below her in worldly goods. Even the quiet positive style of Mrs. Katy’s knitting made her nervous; it was an implication of independence of her sway; and though on the present occasion every customary courtesy was bestowed, she still felt, as she always did when Mrs. Katy’s guest, a secret uneasiness. She mentally contrasted the neat little parlour, with its white sanded floor and muslin curtains, with her own grand front-room, which boasted the then uncommon luxuries of Turkey carpet and Persian rug, and wondered if Mrs. Katy did really feel as cool and easy in receiving her as she appeared.

You must not understand that this was what Mrs. Brown supposed herself to be thinking about; oh, no! by no means! All the little, mean work of our nature is generally done in a small dark closet just a little back of the subject we are talking about, on which subject we suppose ourselves of course to be thinking;—of course we are thinking of it; how else could we talk about it?

The subject in discussion, and what Mrs. Brown supposed to be in her own thoughts, was the last Sunday’s sermon, on the doctrine of entire Disinterested Benevolence, in which good Doctor H. had proclaimed to the citizens of Newport their duty of being so wholly absorbed in the general good of the universe as even to acquiesce in their own final and eternal destruction, if the greater good of the whole might thereby be accomplished.

‘Well, now, dear me!’ said Mrs. Twitchel, while her knitting-needles trotted contentedly to the mournful tone of her voice,—‘I was tellin’ the Deacon, if we only could get there! Sometimes I think I get a little way,—but then ag’in I don’t know; but the Deacon he’s quite down,—he don’t see no evidences in himself. Sometimes he says he don’t feel as if he ought to keep his place in the church,—but then ag’in he don’t know. He keeps a-turnin’ and turnin’ on’t over in his mind, and a-tryin’ himself this way and that way; and he says he don’t see nothin’ but what’s selfish, no way.

’’Member one night last winter, after the Deacon got warm in bed, there come a rap at the door; and who should it be but old Beulah Ward wantin’ to see the Deacon—’twas her boy she sent, and he said Beulah was sick and hadn’t no more wood nor candles. Now I know’d the Deacon had carried that critter half a cord of wood, if he had one stick, since Thanksgivin’, and I’d sent her two o’ my best moulds of candles,—nice ones that Cerinthy Ann run when we killed a crittur; but nothin’ would do but the Deacon must get right out his warm bed and dress himself, and hitch up his team to carry over some wood to Beulah. Says I, “Father, you know you’ll be down with the rheumatis for this; besides, Beulah is real aggravatin’. I know she trades off what we send her to the store for rum, and you never get no thanks. She ’xpects, ’cause we has done for her, we always must; and more we do, more we may do.” And says he to me, says he, “That’s jest the way we sarves the Lord, Polly; and what if He shouldn’t hear us when we call on Him in our troubles?” So I shet up; and the next day he was down with the rheumatis. And Cerinthy Ann, says she, “Well, father, now I hope you’ll own you have got some disinterested benevolence,” says she; and the Deacon he thought it over a spell, and then he says, “I’m ’fraid it’s all selfish. I’m jest a-makin’ a righteousness of it.” And Cerinthy Ann she come out, declarin’ that the best folks never had no comfort in religion; and for her part she didn’t mean to trouble her head about it, but have jest as good a time as she could while she’s young, ’cause if she was ’lected to be saved she should be, and if she wa’n’t she couldn’t help it, any how.’

‘Mr. Brown says he came on to Dr. H.’s ground years ago’ said Mrs. Brown, giving a nervous twitch to her yarn, and speaking in a sharp, hard, didactic voice, which made little Mrs. Twitchel give a gentle quiver, and look humble and apologetic. ‘Mr. Brown’s a master thinker; there’s nothing pleases that man better than a hard doctrine; he says you can’t get ’em too hard for him. He don’t find any difficulty in bringing his mind up; he just reasons it out all plain; and he says, people have no need to be in the dark; and that’s my opinion. “If folks know they ought to come up to anything, why don’t they?” he says; and I say so too.’

‘Mr. Scudder used to say that it took great afflictions to bring his mind to that place,’ said Mrs. Katy. ‘He used to say that an old paper-maker told him once, that paper that was shaken only one way in the making would tear across the other, and the best paper had to be shaken every way; and so he said we couldn’t tell, till we had been turned and shaken and tried every way, where we should tear.’

Mrs. Twitchel responded to this sentiment with a gentle series of groans, such as were her general expression of approbation, swaying herself backward and forward; while Mrs. Brown gave a sort of toss and snort, and said that for her part she always thought people knew what they did know,—but she guessed she was mistaken.

The conversation was here interrupted by the civilities attendant on the reception of Mrs. Jones,—a broad, buxom, hearty soul, who had come on horseback from a farm about three miles distant.

Smiling with rosy content, she presented Mrs. Katy a small pot of golden butter,—the result of her forenoon’s churning.

There are some people so evidently broadly and heartily of this world, that their coming into a room always materializes the conversation. We wish to be understood that we mean no disparaging reflection on such persons;—they are as necessary to make up a world as cabbages to make up a garden; the great healthy principles of cheerfulness and animal life seem to exist in them in the gross; they are wedges and ingots of solid, contented vitality. Certain kinds of virtues and Christian graces thrive in such people as the first crop of corn does in the bottom-lands of the Ohio. Mrs. Jones was a church-member, a regular church-goer, and planted her comely person plump in front of Dr. H. every Sunday, and listened to his searching and discriminating sermons with broad, honest smiles of satisfaction. Those keen distinctions as to motives, those awful warnings and urgent expostulations, which made poor Deacon Twitchel weep, she listened to with great, round, satisfied eyes, making to all, and after all, the same remark,—that it was good, and she liked it, and the Doctor was a good man; and on the present occasion, she announced her pot of butter as one fruit of her reflections after the last discourse.

‘You see,’ she said, ‘as I was a-settin’ in the spring-house, this mornin’, a-workin’ my butter, I says to Dinah,—“I’m goin’ to carry a pot of this down to Miss Scudder for the Doctor,—I got so much good out of his Sunday’s sermon.” And Dinah she says to me, says she,—“Laws, Miss Jones, I thought you was asleep, for sartin!” But I wasn’t; only I forgot to take any carraway-seed in the mornin’, and so I kinder missed it; you know it ’livens one up. But I never lost myself so but what I kinder heerd him goin’ on, on, sort o’ like,—and it sounded all sort o’ good; and so I thought of the Doctor to-day.’

‘Well, I’m sure,’ said Aunt Katy, ‘this will be a treat; we all know about your butter, Mrs. Jones. I sha’n’t think of putting any of mine on table to-night, I’m sure.’

‘Law, now don’t!’ said Mrs. Jones. ‘Why you re’lly make me ashamed, Miss Scudder. To be sure, folks does like our butter, and it always fetches a pretty good price,—he’s very proud on’t. I tell him he oughtn’t to be,—we oughtn’t to be proud of anything.’

And now Mrs. Katy, giving a look at the old clock, told Mary it was time to set the tea-table; and forthwith there was a gentle movement of expectancy. The little mahogany tea-table opened its brown wings, and from a drawer came forth the snowy damask covering. It was etiquette, on such occasions, to compliment every article of the establishment successively as it appeared; so the Deacon’s wife began at the table-cloth.

‘Well, I do declare, Miss Scudder beats us all in her table-cloths,’ she said, taking up a corner of the damask, admiringly; and Mrs. Jones forthwith jumped up and seized the other corner.

‘Why, this ’ere must have come from the Old Country. It’s most the beautiflest thing I ever did see.’

‘It’s my own spinning,’ replied Mrs. Katy, with conscious dignity. ‘There was an Irish weaver came to Newport the year before I was married, who wove beautifully,—just the Old-Country patterns,—and I’d been spinning some uncommonly fine flax then. I remember Mr. Scudder used to read to me while I was spinning,’—and Aunt Katy looked afar, as one whose thoughts are in the past, and dropped out the last words with a little sigh, unconsciously, as to herself.

‘Wall, now, I must say,’ said Mrs. Jones, ‘this goes quite beyond me. I thought I could spin some; but I shan’t never dare to show mine.’

‘I’m sure, Mrs. Jones, your towels that you had out bleaching, this spring, were wonderful,’ said Aunt Katy. ‘But I don’t pretend to do much now,’ she continued, straightening her trim figure. ‘I’m getting old, you know; we must let the young folks take up these things. Mary spins better now than I ever did; Mary, hand out those napkins.’

And so Mary’s napkins passed from hand to hand.

‘Well, well,’ said Mrs. Twitchel to Mary, ‘it’s easy to see that your linen-chest will be pretty full by the time he comes along; won’t it, Miss Jones?’—and Mrs Twitchel looked pleasantly facetious, as elderly ladies generally do, when suggesting such possibilities to younger ones.

Mary was vexed to feel the blood boil up in her cheeks in a most unexpected and provoking way at the suggestion; whereat Mrs. Twitchel nodded knowingly at Mrs. Jones, and whispered something in a mysterious aside, to which plump Mrs. Jones answered,—‘Why, do tell! now I never!’

‘It’s strange,’ said Mrs. Twitchel, taking up her parable again, in such a plaintive tone that all knew something pathetic was coming, ‘what mistakes some folks will make, a-fetchin’ up girls. Now there’s your Mary, Miss Scudder,—why, there a’n’t nothin’ she can’t do: but law, I was down to Miss Skinner’s, last week, a-watchin’ with her, and re’lly it ’most broke my heart to see her. Her mother was a most amazin’ smart woman; but she brought Suky up, for all the world, as if she’d been a wax doll, to be kept in the drawer,—and sure enough, she was a pretty cretur,—and now she’s married, what is she? She ha’n’t no more idee how to take hold than nothin’. The poor child means well enough, and she works so hard she ’most kills herself; but then she is in the suds from mornin’ till night,—she’s one the sort whose work’s never done,—and poor George Skinner’s clean discouraged.’

‘There’s everything in knowing how,’ said Mrs. Katy. ‘Nobody ought to be always working; it’s a bad sign. I tell Mary,—“Always do up your work in the forenoon.” Girls must learn that. I never work afternoons, after my dinner dishes are got away; I never did and never would.’

‘Nor I, neither,’ chimed in Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Twitchel,—both anxious to show themselves clear on this leading point of New-England housekeeping.

‘There’s another thing I always tell Mary,’ said Mrs. Katy, impressively. ‘“Never say there isn’t time for a thing that ought to be done. If a thing is necessary, why, life is long enough to find a place for it. That’s my doctrine. When anybody tells me they can’t find time for this or that, I don’t think much of ’em. I think they don’t know how to work,—that’s all.”’

Here Mrs. Twitchel looked up from her knitting, with apologetic giggle at Mrs. Brown.

‘Law, now, there’s Miss Brown, she don’t know nothin’ about it, ’cause she’s got her servants to every turn. I s’pose she thinks it queer to hear us talkin’ about our work. Miss Brown must have her time all to herself. I was tellin’ the Deacon the other day that she was a privileged woman.’

‘I’m sure, those that have servants find work enough following ’em ’round,’ said Mrs. Brown,—who, like all other human beings, resented the implication of not having as many trials in life as her neighbours. ‘As to getting the work done up in the forenoon, that’s a thing I never can teach ’em; they’d rather not. Chloe likes to keep her work ’round, and do it by snacks, any time, day or night, when the notion takes her.’

‘And it was just for that reason I never would have one of those creatures ’round,’ said Mrs. Katy. ‘Mr. Scudder was principled against buying negroes,—but if he had not been, I should not have wanted any of their work. I know what’s to be done, and most help is no help to me. I want people to stand out of my way and let me get done. I’ve tried keeping a girl once or twice, and I never worked so hard in my life. When Mary and I do all ourselves, we can calculate everything to a minute; and we get our time to sew and read and spin and visit, and live just as we want to.’

Here, again, Mrs. Brown looked uneasy. To what use was it that she was rich and owned servants, when this Mordecai in her gate utterly despised her prosperity? In her secret heart she thought Mrs. Katy must be envious, and rather comforted herself on this view of the subject,—sweetly unconscious of any inconsistency in the feeling with her views of utter self-abnegation just announced.

Meanwhile the tea-table had been silently gathering on its snowy plateau the delicate china, the golden butter, the loaf of faultless cake, a plate of crullers or wonders, as a sort of sweet fried cake was commonly called,—tea-rusks, light as a puff, and shining on top with a varnish of eggs,—jellies of apple and quince quivering in amber clearness,—whitest and purest honey in the comb,—in short, everything that could go to the getting-up of a most faultless tea.

‘I don’t see,’ said Mrs. Jones, resuming the gentle pæans of the occasion, ‘how Miss Scudder’s loaf-cake always comes out just so. It don’t rise neither to one side nor t’other, but just even all ’round; and it a’n’t white one side and burnt the other, but just a good brown all over; and it don’t have any heavy streak in it.’

‘Jest what Cerinthy Ann was sayin’, the other day,’ said Mrs. Twichel. ‘She says she can’t never be sure how hers is a-comin’ out. Do what she can, it will be either too much or too little; but Miss Scudder’s is always jest so. “Law,” says I, “Cerinthy Ann, it’s faculty,—that’s it;—them that has it has it, and them that hasn’t—why, they’ve got to work hard, and not do half so well, neither.”’

Mrs. Katy took all these praises as matter of course. Since she was thirteen years old, she had never put her hand to anything that she had not been held to do better than other folks, and therefore she accepted her praises with the quiet repose and serenity of assured reputation: though, of course, she used the usual polite disclaimers of ‘Oh, it’s nothing, nothing at all; I’m sure I don’t know how I do it, and was not aware it was so good,’ and so on. All which things are proper for gentlewomen to observe, in like cases, in every walk of life.

‘Do you think the Deacon will be along soon?’ said Mrs. Katy, when Mary, returning from the kitchen, announced the important fact, that the tea-kettle was boiling.

‘Why, yes,’ said Mrs. Twitchel. ‘I’m a-lookin’ for him every minute. He told me, that he and the men should be plantin’ up to the eight-acre lot, but he’d keep the colt up there to come down on; and so I laid him out a clean shirt, and says, “Now, father, you be sure and be there by five, so that Miss Scudder may know when to put her tea a-drawin’.”—There he is, I believe,’ she added, as a horse’s tramp was heard without, and, after a few moments, the desired Deacon entered.

He was a gentle, soft-spoken man, low, sinewy, thin, with black hair showing lines and patches of silver. His keen, thoughtful dark eye marked the nervous and melancholic temperament. A mild and pensive humility of manner seemed to brood over him, like the shadow of a cloud. Everything in his dress, air, and motions indicated punctilious exactness and accuracy, at times rising to the point of nervous anxiety.

Immediately after the bustle of his entrance had subsided, Mr. Simeon Brown followed. He was a tall, lank individual, with high-cheek bones, thin, sharp features, small, keen, hard eyes, and large hands and feet.

Simeon was, as we have before remarked, a keen theologian, and had the scent of a hound for a metaphysical distinction. True, he was a man of business, being a thriving trader to the coast of Africa, whence he imported negroes for the American market; and no man was held to understand that branch of traffic better,—he having, in his earlier days, commanded ships in the business, and thus learned it from the root. In his private life, Simeon was severe and dictatorial. He was one of that class of people who, of a freezing day, will plant themselves directly between you and the fire, and there stand and argue to prove that selfishness is the root of moral evil. Simeon said he always had thought so; and his neighbours sometimes supposed that nobody could enjoy better experimental advantages for understanding the subject. He was one of those men who suppose themselves submissive to the Divine will, to the uttermost extent demanded by the extreme theology of that day, simply because they have no nerves to feel, no imagination to conceive, what endless happiness or suffering is, and who deal therefore with the great question of the salvation or damnation of myriads as a problem of theological algebra, to be worked out by their inevitable x, y, z.

But we must not spend too much time with our analysis of character, for matters at the tea-table are drawing to a crisis. Mrs. Jones has announced that she does not think ‘he’ can come this afternoon; by which significant mode of expression she conveyed the dutiful idea that there was for her but one male person in the world. And now Mrs. Katy says, ‘Mary, dear, knock at the Doctor’s door and tell him that tea is ready.’

Theological Tea

The Doctor was sitting in his shady study, in the room on the other side of the little entry. The windows were dark and fragrant with the shade and perfume of blossoming lilacs, whose tremulous shadow, mingled with spots of afternoon sunlight, danced on the scattered papers of a great writing-table covered with pamphlets and heavily-bound volumes of theology, where the Doctor was sitting.

A man of gigantic proportions, over six feet in height, and built every way with an amplitude corresponding to his height, sitting bent over his writing, so absorbed that he did not hear the gentle sound of Mary’s entrance.

‘Doctor,’ said the maiden, gently, ‘tea is ready.’

No motion, no sound, except the quick tracing of the pen over the paper.

‘Doctor! Doctor!’ a little louder, and with another step into the apartment,—‘tea is ready.’

The Doctor stretched his head forward to a paper which lay before him, and responded in a low, murmuring voice, as reading something.

‘Firstly,—if underived virtue be peculiar to the Deity, can it be the duty of a creature to have it?’

Here a little waxen hand came with a very gentle tap on his huge shoulder, and ‘Doctor, tea is ready,’ penetrated drowsily to the nerve of his ear, as a sound heard in sleep. He rose suddenly with a start, opened a pair of great blue eyes, which shone abstractedly under the dome of a capacious and lofty forehead, and fixed them on the maiden, who by this time was looking up rather archly, and yet with an attitude of the most profound respect, while her venerated friend was assembling together his earthly faculties.

‘Tea is ready, if you please. Mother wished me to call you.’

‘Oh!—ah!—yes!—indeed!’ he said, looking confusedly about, and starting for the door in his study gown.

‘If you please, sir,’ said Mary, standing in his way, ‘would you not like to put on your coat and wig?’

The Doctor gave a hurried glance at his study gown, put his hand to his head, which, in place of the ample curls of his full-bottomed wig, was decked only with a very ordinary cap, and seemed to come at once to full comprehension. He smiled a kind of conscious, benignant smile, which adorned his high cheek-bones and hard features as sunshine adorns the side of a rock, and said, kindly, ‘Ah, well, child, I understand now; I’ll be out in a moment.’

And Mary, sure that he was now on the right track, went back to the tea-room with the announcement that the Doctor was coming.

In a few moments he entered, majestic and proper, in all the dignity of full-buttomed, powdered wig, full, flowing coat, with ample cuffs, silver knee and shoe buckles, as became the gravity and majesty of the minister of those days.

He saluted all the company with a benignity which had a touch of the majestic, and also of the rustic in it; for at heart the Doctor was a bashful man, that is, he had somewhere in his mental camp that treacherous fellow whom John Bunyan anathematizes under the name of Shame. The company rose on his entrance; the men bowed and the women curtsied, and all remained standing while he addressed to each, with punctilious decorum, those inquiries in regard to health and well-being which preface a social interview. Then, at a dignified sigh from Mrs. Katy, he advanced to the table, and all following his example, stood, while, with one hand uplifted, he went through a devotional exercise which, for length, more resembled a prayer than a grace,—after which the company were seated.

‘Well, Doctor,’ said Mr. Brown, who, as a householder of substance, felt a conscious right to be first in open conversation with the minister, ‘people are beginning to make a noise about your views. I was talking with Deacon Timmins the other day down on the wharf, and he said Dr. Stiles said that it was entirely new doctrine—entirely so,—and for his part he wanted the good old ways.’

‘They say so, do they?’ said the Doctor, kindling up from an abstraction into which he seemed to be gradually subsiding. ‘Well, let them. I had rather publish new divinity than any other, and the more of it the better,—if it be but true. I should think it hardly worth while to write, if I had nothing new to say.’

‘Well,’ said Deacon Twitchel,—his meek face flushing with awe of his minister—‘Doctor, there’s all sorts of things said about you. Now the other day I was at the mill with a load of corn, and while I was a-waitin’, Amariah Wadsworth come along with his’n; and so while we were waitin’, he says to me, “Why, they say your minister is gettin’ to be an Arminian;” and he went on a-tellin’ how old Ma’am Badger told him that you interpreted some parts of Paul’s Epistles clear on the Arminian side. You know Ma’am Badger’s a master-hand at doctrines, and she’s ’most an uncommon Calvinist.’

‘That does not frighten me at all,’ said the sturdy Doctor. ‘Supposing I do interpret some texts like the Arminians. Can’t Arminians have anything right about them? Who wouldn’t rather go with the Arminians when they are right, than with the Calvinists when they are wrong?’

‘That’s it,—you’ve hit it, Doctor,’ said Simeon Brown. ‘That’s what I always say. I say, ‘Don’t he prove it? and how are you going to answer him?’ That gravels ’em.’

‘Well,’ said Deacon Twitchel, ‘Brother Seth—you know Brother Seth,—he says you deny depravity. He’s all for imputation of Adam’s sin, you know; and I have long talks with Seth about it, every time he comes to see me; and he says, that if we did not sin in Adam, it’s givin’ up the whole ground altogether; and then he insists you’re clean wrong about the unregenerate doings.’

‘Not at all,—not in the least,’ said the Doctor, promptly.

‘I wish Seth could talk with you some time, Doctor. Along in the spring, he was down helpin’ me to lay stone fence,—it was when we was fencin’ off the south-pastur’ lot,—and we talked pretty nigh all day; and it really did seem to me that the longer we talked, the sotter Seth grew. He’s a master-hand at readin’; and when he heard that your remarks on Dr. Mayhew had come out, Seth tackled up o’ purpose and come up to Newport to get them, and spent all his time, last winter, studyin’ on it and makin’ his remarks: and I tell you, sir, he’s a tight fellow to argue with. Why, that day, what with layin’ stone wall and what with arguin’ with Seth, I come home quite beat out,—Miss Twitchel will remember.’

‘That he was!’ said his helpmeet. ‘I ’member, when he came home, says I, “Father, you seem clean used up;” and I stirred ’round lively like, to get him his tea. But he jest went into the bedroom and laid down afore supper; and I says to Cerinthy Ann, “That’s a thing I ha’n’t seen your father do since he was took with the typhus.” And Cerinthy Ann, she said she knew ’twa’n’t anything but them old doctrines,—that it was always so when Uncle Seth come down. And after tea father was kinder chirked up a little, and he and Seth set by the fire, and was a-beginnin’ it ag’in, and I jest spoke out and said,—“Now, Seth, these ’ere things doesn’t hurt you; but the Deacon is weakly, and if he gets his mind riled after supper, he don’t sleep none all night. So,” says I, “you’d better jest let matters stop where they be; ’cause,” says I, “’twon’t make no difference, for to-night, which on ye’s got the right on’t;—reckon the Lord’ll go on his own way without you; and we shall find out, by’m-by, what that is.”’

‘Mr. Scudder used to think a great deal on these points,’ said Mrs. Katy, ‘and the last time he was home he wrote out his views. I haven’t ever shown them to you, Doctor; but I should be pleased to know what you think of them.’

‘Mr. Scudder was a good man, with a clear head,’ said the Doctor; ‘and I should be much pleased to see anything that he wrote.’

A flush of gratified feeling passed over Mrs. Katy’s face;—for one flower laid on the shrine which we keep in our hearts for the dead is worth more than any gift to our living selves.

We will not now pursue our party further, lest you, Reader, get more theological tea than you can drink. We will not recount the numerous nice points raised by Mr. Simeon Brown and adjusted by the Doctor,—and how Simeon invariably declared, that that was the way in which he disposed of them himself, and how he had thought it out ten years ago.

We will not relate, either, too minutely, how Mary changed colour and grew pale and red in quick succession, when Mr. Simeon Brown incidentally remarked that the ‘Monsoon’ was going to set sail that very afternoon for her three-years’ voyage. Nobody noticed—in the busy amenities—the sudden welling and ebbing of that one poor little heart-fountain.

So we go,—so little knowing what we touch and what touches us as we talk! We drop out a common piece of news,—‘Mr. So-and-so is dead,—Miss Such-a-one is married,—such a ship has sailed,’—and lo, on our right hand or our left, some heart has sunk under the news silently,—gone down in the great ocean of Fate, without even a bubble rising to tell its drowning pang. And this—God help us!—is what we call living!

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