A New England Tale/Chapter II

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A New England Tale by Catharine Maria Sedgwick
Chapter II
CHAPTER II.


Or haply prest with cares and woes,
Too soon thou hast began.
To wander forth.—Burns.


Jane received the intelligence of her destination without the slightest emotion. The world was "all before her," and she cared not whither led her "mournful way."

Happily for her, the humble friend mentioned in the beginning of her history, Mary Hull, returned on that day, after having performed the last act of filial duty. Jane poured all her sorrows into Mary's bosom, and felt already a degree of relief that she had not believed her condition admitted.

Such is the elastic nature of childhood; its moral, like its physical constitution, is subject to the most sudden changes.

Mary having assuaged the wounds of her youthful friend with the balm of tender sympathy and just consolation, undertook the painful, but necessary, task of exposing to Jane, the evils before her, that she might fortify her against them; that, as she said, being "fore-warned, she might be fore-armed,"

She did not soften the trials of dependance upon a sordid and harsh nature. She told her what demands she would have on her integrity, her patience, and her humility.

"But, my child," said she, "do not be downhearted. There has One 'taken you up who will not have you, nor forsake you.' 'The fires may be about you, but they will not kindle on you.' Make the Bible your counsellor; you will always find some good word there, that will be a bright light to you in the darkest night: and do not forget the daily sacrifice of prayer; for, as the priests under the old covenant were nourished by a part of that which they offered, so, when the sacrifice of praise is sent upward, by the broken and contrite heart, there is a strength cometh back upon our own souls: blessed be his name, it is what the world cannot give."

Mary's advice fell upon a good and honest heart, and we shall see that it brought forth much fruit.

The evening was spent in packing Jane's wardrobe, which had been well stocked by her profuse and indulgent parents. Mary had been told, too, that the creditors of Mr. Elton would not touch the wearing apparel of bis wife. This was, therefore, carefully packed and prepared for removal; and Mary, who with her stock of heavenly wisdom had some worldly prudence, hinted to Jane, that she had, better keep her things out of the sight of her craving cousins.

Jane took up her mother's Bible, and asked Mary, with a trembling voice, if she thought she might be permitted to take that.

"Certainly," replied Mary, "no one will disrate your right to it; it is not like worldly goods, we will not touch the spoils, though we were tempted by more than the 'goodly Babylonish garment, the two hundred shekels of silver, and the wedge of gold' that made Achan to sin."

In obedience to the strictest dictates of honesty, Mary forbore from permitting her zeal for Jane's interests to violate the letter of the law. She was so scrupulous, that she would not use a family trunk, but took a large cedar chest of her own to pack the clothes in.

While they were busily occupied with these preparations, Jane received a note from her aunt, saying, that she advised her to secure some small articles which would never be missed: some of "the spoons, table-linen, her mother's ivory workbox." &c. &c. The note concluded—"As I have undertaken the charge of you for the present, it is but right you should take my advice. There is no doubt my brother's creditors have cheated him a hundred fold the amount of these things, for, poor man! with all his faults, he was so generous, anybody could take him in; besides, though these things might help to pay the expense I must be at in keeping you, they will be a mere nothing divided among so many creditors—the dust on the balance."

"Poor woman!" said Mary, to whom Jane had handed the note, "I am afraid she will load the balance with so much of this vile dust, that when she is weighed her scale will be "found wanting." No, Jane, let us keep clean hands, and then we shall have light hearts."

The next morning arrived, and Mary arose before the dawn, in order to remove Jane early, and save her the pain of witnessing the preparations for the vendue. Jane understood her kind friend's design, and silently acquiesced in it, for she had too much good sense to expose herself to any unnecessary suffering. But when every thing was in readiness, and the moment of departure arrived, she shrunk back from Mary's offered arm, and sinking into a chair, yielded involuntarily to the torrent of her feelings. She looked around upon the room and its furniture as if they were her friends.

It has been said by one, who well understands the mysteries of feeling, that objects which are silent every where else, have a voice in the home of our childhood. Jane looked for the last time at the bed, where she had often sported about her mother, and rejoiced in her tender caresses—at the curtains, stamped with illustrations of the Jewish history, which had often employed and wearied her ingenuity in comprehending their similitudes—at the footstool on which she had sat beside her mother; and the old family clock,

"Whose stroke 'twas heaven to hear,
When soft it spoke a promised pleasure near."

Her eye turned to the glass, which now sent back her wo-begone image, and she thought of the time, but a little while past, when elated with gratified vanity, or joyful anticipation, she had there surveyed her form arrayed in finery—now, the rainbow tints had faded into the dark cloud.

She rose, and walked to the open window, about which she had trained a beautiful honey-suckle. The sun had just risen, and the dew-drops on its leaves sparkled in his rays.

"Oh, Mary!" said she, "even my honey-suckle seems to weep for me."

A robin had built its nest on the vine; and often as she sat watching her sleeping mother, she had been cheered with its sprightly note, and maternal care of its young. She looked to the nest—the birds had flown;—"They too," she exclaimed, "have deserted this house of sorrow."

"No, Jane;" replied Mary, "they have been provided with another home, and He who careth for them, will care much more for you."

Mary might have quoted (but she was not addicted to any profane works,) the beautiful language of a native poet—

"He who from zone to zone
 Guides through the boundless sky their certain flight,
In the long way that you must trace alone
 Will guide your steps aright."

"We shall not," she said, "be at your aunt's in time for breakfast; here, tie on your hat, you will need all your strength and courage, and you must not waste any on flowers and birds."

Jane obeyed the wise admonition of her friend; and with faltering steps, and without allowing herself time to look again at any thing, hastily passed through the little court yard in front of their house.

The morning was dear and bright; and stimulated by the pure air, and nerved by the counsels Mary suggested as they walked along, Jane entered her new home with a composed, timid manner.

Perhaps her timidity appealing to Mrs. Wilson's love of authority, produced a softer feeling than she had before shown to Jane; or perhaps, (for scarcely any nature is quite hardened,) the forlornness of the child awakened a transient sentiment of compassion,—she gave her her hand, and told her she was welcome. The children stared at her, as if they had never seen her before, but Jane's down-cast eye, a little clouded by the gathering tears, saved her from feeling the gaze of their vulgar curiosity.

Jane, in entering the family of Mrs. Wilson, was introduced to as new a scene as if she bad been transported to a foreign country.

Mrs. Wilson's character might have been originally cast in the same mould with Mr. Elton's, but circumstances had given it a different modification. She had married early in life a man, who, not having energy enough for the exercise of authority, was weak and vain, tenacious of the semblance, and easily cozened by the shadow, when his wife retained the substance. Mrs. Wilson, without having the pride of her nature at all subdued, became artful and trickish; she was sordid and ostentatious, a careful fellow-worker with her husband in the acquisition of their property, she secured to herself all the praise in the expending it. Whenever a contribution was levied for an Education or Tract Society, for Foreign Missions, the Cherokees, or Osages,—Mrs. Wilson accompanied her donation, which on the whole was quite handsome, with a remark, that what she did give, she gave with a willing heart; that, women could not command much money, but it was the duty of wives to submit themselves to their husbands. After Mrs. Wilson became sole mistress of her estate, the simple and credulous, who remembered her professions, wondered her gifts were not enlarged with her liberty. But Mrs. Wilson would say, that the widow was the prey of the wicked, and that her duty to her children prevented her indulging her generous feelings towards those pious objects which lay nearest her heart.

Mrs. Wilson had fancied herself one of the subjects of an awakening at an early period of her life; had passed through the ordeal of a church-examination with great credit, having depicted in glowing colours the opposition of her natural heart to the decrees, and her subsequent joy in the doctrine of election. She thus assumed the form of godliness, without feeling its power. Are there not many such: some who, in those times of excitement, during which many pass from indifference to holiness, and many are converted from sin to righteousness, delude themselves and others with vain forms of words, and professions of faith?

Mrs. Wilson was often beard to denounce those who insisted on the necessity of good works, as Pharisees;—she was thankful, she said, that she should not presume to appear before her Judge with any of the 'filthy rags of her own righteousness;'—it would be easy getting to heaven if the work in any way depended on ourselves;—any body could 'deal justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.' How easy it is, we leave to those to determine, who have sought to adjust their lives by this divine rule.

Mrs. Wilson rejected the name of the Pharisee, but the proud, oppressive, bitter spirit of the Jewish bigot was manifest in the complacency with which she regarded her own faith, and the illiberality she cherished towards every person, of every denomination, who did not believe what she believed, and act according to her rule of right. As might be expected, her family was regulated according to 'the letter,' but the 'spirit that giveth life' was not there. Religion was the ostensible object of every domestic arrangement; but you might look in vain for the peace and good will which a voice from heaven proclaimed to be the objects of the mission of our Lord.

Mrs. Wilson's children produced such fruits as might be expected from her culture. The timid among them had recourse to constant evasion, and to the meanest artifices to hide the violation of laws which they hated; and the bolder were engaged in a continual conflict with the mother, in which rebellion often trampled on authority.

Jane had been gently led in the bands of love. She bad been taught even more by the example than the precepts of her mother.

She had seen hrt mother beat with meekness the asperity and unreasonableness of her father's temper, and often turn away his wrath with a soft answer.

The law 0f imitation is deeply impressed on our nature. Jane had insensibly fallen into her mother's ways, and had, thus early, acquired a habit of self-command. Mrs. Elton, though, alas, negligent of some of her duties, watched over the expanding character of her child, with Christian fidelity. "There she had garnered op her heart." She knew that amiable dispositions were not to be trusted, and she sought to fortify her child's mind with Christian principles. She sowed the seed, and looked with undoubting faith for the promised blessing.

"I must soon sleep," she would say to Mary, "but the seed is already springing up. I am sure it will not lack the dews of Heaven; and you, Mary, may live to see, though I shall not, 'first the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear.'"

Mary had seconded Mrs. Elton's efforts. She looked upon herself as an humble instrument; but she was a most efficient one. She had a rare and remarkable knack at applying rules, so that her life might be called a commentary on the precepts of the Gospel. Mary's practical religion had, sometimes, conveyed a reproach (the only reproach a Christian may indulge in) to Mrs. Wilson, who revenged herself by remarking, that "Mary was indulging in that soul-destroying doctrine of the Methodists—perfection;" and then she would add, (jogging her foot, a motion that, with her, always indicated a mental parallel, the result of which was, 'I am holier than thou,') there is no error so fatal, as resting in the duties of the second table." Mrs. Wilson had not learned, that the duties of the second table cannot be done, if the others are left undone; the branches must be sustained by the trunk; for he, from whose wisdom there is no appeal, has said, "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments."

Happily for our little friend, Mary was not to be removed far from her; an agreeable situation was, unexpectedly, offered ta her grateful acceptance.