The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 17/Number 101/Doctor Johns
AT about the date of this interview which we have described as having taken place beyond the seas,—upon one of those warm days of early winter, which, even in New England, sometimes cheat one into a feeling of spring,—Adèle came strolling up the little path that led from the parsonage gate to the door, twirling her muff upon her hand, and thinking—thinking—But who shall undertake to translate the thought of a girl of nineteen in such moment of revery? With the most matter of fact of lives it would be difficult. But in view of the experience of Adèle, and of that fateful mystery overhanging her,—well, think for yourself,—you who touch upon a score of years, with their hopes,—you who have a passionate, clinging nature, and only some austere, prim matron to whom you may whisper your confidences,—what would you have thought, as you twirled your muff, and sauntered up the path to a home that was yours only by sufferance, and yet, thus far, your only home?
The chance villagers, seeing her lithe figure, her well-fitting pelisse, her jaunty hat, her blooming cheeks, may have said, "There goes a fortunate one!" But if the thought of poor Adèle took one shape more than another, as she returned that day from a visit to her sweet friend Rose, it was this: "How drearily unfortunate I am!" And here a little burst of childish laughter breaks on her ear. Adèle, turning to the sound, sees that poor outcast woman who had been the last and most constant attendant upon Madame Arles coming down the street, with her little boy frolicking beside her. Obeying an impulse she was in no mood to resist, she turns back to the gate to greet them; she caresses the boy; she has kindly words for the mother, who could have worshipped her for the caress she has given to her outcast child.
"I likes you," says the sturdy urchin, sidling closer to the parsonage gate, over which Adèle leans. "You's like the French ooman."
Whereupon Adèle, in the exuberance of her kindly feelings, can only lean over and kiss the child again.
Miss Johns, looking from her chamber, is horrified. Had it been summer, she would have lifted her window and summoned Adèle. But she never forgot—that exemplary woman—the proprieties of the seasons, any more than other proprieties; she tapped upon the glass with her thimble, and beckoned the innocent offender into the parsonage.
"I am astonished, Adèle!"—these were her first words; and she went on to belabor the poor girl in fearful ways, —all the more fearful because she spoke in the calmest possible tones. She never used others, indeed; and it is not to be doubted that she reckoned this forbearance among her virtues.
Adèle made no reply,—too wise now for that; but she winced, and bit her lip severely, as the irate spinster "gave Miss Maverick to understand that an intercourse which might possibly be agreeable to her French associations could never be tolerated at the home of Dr. Johns. For herself, she had a reputation for propriety to sustain; and while Miss Maverick made a portion of her household, she must comply with the rules of decorum; and if Miss Maverick were ignorant of those rules, she had better inform herself."
No reply, as we have said,—unless it may have been by an impatient stamp of her little foot, which the spinster could not perceive.
But it is the signal, in her quick, fiery nature, of a determination to leave the parsonage, if the thing be possible. From her chamber, where she goes only to arrange her hair and to wipe off an angry tear or two, she walks straight into the study of the parson.
"Doctor," (the "New Papa" is reserved for her tenderer or playful moments now,) "are you quite sure that papa will come for me in the spring?"
"He writes me so, Adaly. Why?"
Adèle seeks to control herself, but she cannot wholly. "It's not pleasant for me any longer here, New Papa,—indeed it is not";—and her voice breaks utterly.
"But, Adaly!—child!" says the Doctor, closing his book.
"It's wholly different from what it once was; it's irksome to Miss Eliza,—I know it is; it's irksome to me. I want to leave. Why doesn't papa come for me at once? Why shouldn't he? What is this mystery, New Papa? Will you not tell me?"—and she comes toward him, and lays her hand upon his shoulder in her old winning, fond way. "Why may I not know? Do you think I am not brave to bear whatever must some day be known? What if my poor mother be unworthy? I can love her! I can love her!"
"Ah, Adaly," said the parson, "whatever may have been her unworthiness, it can never afflict you more; I believe that she is in her grave, Adaly."
Adèle sunk upon her knees, with her hands clasped as if in prayer. Was it strange that the child should pray for the mother she had never seen?
From the day when Maverick had declared her unworthiness, Adèle had cherished secretly the hope of some day meeting her, of winning her by her love, of clasping her arms about her neck and whispering in her ear, "God is good, and we are all God's children!" But in her grave! Well, at least justice will be done her then; and, calmed by this thought, Adèle is herself once more,—earnest as ever to break away from the scathing looks of the spinster.
The Doctor has not spoken without authority, since Maverick, in his reply to the parson's suggestions respecting marriage, has urged that the party was totally unfit, to a degree of which the parson himself was a witness, and by further hints had served fully to identify, in the mind of the old gentleman, poor Madame Arles with the mother of Adèle. A knowledge of this fact had grievously wounded the Doctor; he could not cease to recall the austerity with which he had debarred the poor woman all intercourse with Adèle upon her sick-bed. And it seemed to him a grave thing, wherever sin might lie, thus to alienate the mother and daughter. His unwitting agency in the matter had made him of late specially mindful of all the wishes and even caprices of Adèle,—much to the annoyance of Miss Eliza.
"Adaly, my child, you are very dear to me," said he; and she stood by him now, toying with those gray locks of his, in a caressing manner which he could never know from a child of his own,—never. "If it be your wish to change your home for the little time that remains, it shall be. I have your father's authority to do so."
"Indeed I do wish it, New Papa";— and she dropped a kiss upon his forehead,—upon the forehead where so few tender tokens of love had ever fallen, or ever would fall. Yet it was very grateful to the old gentleman, though it made him think with a sigh of the lost ones.
The Doctor talked over the affair with Miss Eliza, who avowed herself as eager as Adèle for a change in her home, and suggested that Benjamin should take counsel with his old friend, Mr. Elderkin; and it is quite possible that she shrewdly anticipated the result of such a consultation.
Certain it is that the old Squire caught at the suggestion in a moment.
"The very thing, Doctor! I see how it is. Miss Eliza is getting on in years; a little irritable, possibly,—though a most excellent person, Doctor,—most excellent! and there being no young people in the house, it's a little dull for Miss Adèle, eh, Doctor? Grace, you know, is not with us this winter; so your lodger shall come straight to my house, and she shall take the room of Grace, and Rose will be delighted, and Mrs. Elderkin will be delighted; and as for Phil, when he happens with us,—as he does only off and on now,—he'll be falling in love with her, I haven't a doubt; or, if he doesn't, I shall be tempted to myself. She's a fine girl, eh, Doctor?"
"She's a good Christian, I believe," said the Doctor gravely.
"I haven't a doubt of it," said the Squire; "and I hope that a bit of a dance about Christmas time, if we should fall into that wickedness, wouldn't harm her on that score,—eh, Doctor?"
"I should wish, Mr. Elderkin, that she maintain her usual propriety of conduct, until she is again in her father's charge."
"Well, well, Doctor, you shall talk with Mrs. Elderkin of that matter."
So, it is all arranged. Miss Johns expresses a quiet gratification at the result, and—it is specially agreeable to her to feel that the responsibility of giving shelter and countenance to Miss Maverick is now shared by so influential a family as that of the Elderkins. Rose is overjoyed, and can hardly do enough to make the new home agreeable to Adèle; while the mistress of the house—mild, and cheerful, and sunny, diffusing content every evening over the little circle around her hearth—wins Adèle to a new cheer. Yet it is a cheer that is tempered by many sad thoughts of her own loneliness, and of her alienation from any motherly smiles and greetings that are truly hers.
Phil is away at her coming; but a week after he bursts into the house on a snowy December night, and there is a great stamping in the hall, and a little grandchild of the house pipes from the half-opened door, "It's Uncle Phil!" and there is a loud smack upon the cheek of Rose, who runs to give him welcome, and a hearty, honest grapple with the hand of the old Squire, and then another kiss upon the cheek of the old mother, who meets him before he is fairly in the room,—a kiss upon her cheek, and another, and another, Phil loves the old lady with an honest warmth that kindles the admiration of poor Adèle, who, amid all this demonstration of family affection, feels herself more cruelly than ever a stranger in the household,—a stranger, indeed, to the interior and private joys of any household.
Yet such enthusiasm is, somehow, contagious; and when Phil meets Adèle with a shake of the hand and a hearty greeting, she returns it with an outspoken, homely warmth, at thought of which she finds herself blushing a moment after. To tell truth, Phil is rather a fine-looking fellow at this time,—strong, manly, with a comfortable assurance of manner,—a face beaming with bonhomie, cheeks glowing with that sharp December drive, and a wild, glad sparkle in his eye, as Rose whispers him that Adèle has become one of the household. It is no wonder, perhaps, that the latter finds the bit of embroidery she is upon somewhat perplexing, so that she has to consult Rose pretty often in regard to the different shades, and twirl the worsteds over and over, until confusion about the colors shall restore her own equanimity. Phil, dashes on, in his own open, frank way, about his drive, and the state of the ice in the river, and some shipments he had made from New York to Porto Rico,—on capital terms, too.
"And did you see much of Reuben?" asks Mrs. Elderkin.
"Not much," and Phil (glancing that way) sees that Adèle is studying her crimsons; "but he tells me he is doing splendidly in some business venture to the Mediterranean with Brindlock; he could hardly talk of anything else. It's odd to find him so wrapped up in money-making."
"I hope he'll not be wrapped up in anything worse," said Mrs. Elderkin, with a sigh.
"Nonsense, mother!" burst in the old Squire; "Reuben'll come out all right yet."
"He says he means to know all sides of the world, now," says Phil, with a little laugh.
"He's not so bad as he pretends to be, Phil," answered the Squire. "I knew the Major's hot ways; so did you, Grace (turning to the wife). It's a boy's talk. There's good blood in him."
And the two girls,—yonder, the other side of the hearth,—Adèle and Rose, have given over their little earnest comparison of views about the colors, and sit stitching, and stitching, and thinking—and thinking—
Phil had at no time given over his thought of Adèle, and of the possibility of some day winning her for himself, though he had been somewhat staggered by the interview already described with Reuben. It is doubtful, even, if the quiet permission which this latter had granted (or, with an affectation of arrogance, had seemed to grant) had not itself made him pause. There are some things which a man never wants any permission to do; and one of those is—to love a woman. All the permissions—whether of competent authority or of incompetent—only retard him. It is an affair in which he must find his own permit, by his own power; and without it there can be no joy in conquest.
So when Phil recalled Reuben's expression on that memorable afternoon in his chamber,—"You may marry her, Phil,"—it operated powerfully to dispossess him of all intention and all earnestness of pursuit. The little doubt and mystery which Reuben had thrown, in the same interview, upon the family relations of Adèle, did not weigh a straw in the comparison. But for months that "may" had angered him and made him distant. He had plunged into his business pursuits with a new zeal, and easily put away all present thought of matrimony, by virtue of that simple "may" of Reuben's.
But now when, on coming back, he found her in his own home,—so tenderly cared for by mother and by sister,—so coy and reticent in his presence, the old fever burned again. It was not now a simple watching of her figure upon the street that told upon him; but her constant presence;—the rustle of her dress up and down the stairs; her fresh, fair face every day at table; the tapping of her light feet along the hall; the little musical bursts of laughter (not Rose's,—oh, no!) that came from time to time floating through the open door of his chamber. All this Rose saw and watched with the highest glee,—finding her own little, quiet means of promoting such accidents,—and rejoicing (as sisters will, where the enslaver is a friend) in the captivity of poor Phil. For an honest lover, propinquity is always dangerous,—most of all, the propinquity in one's own home. The sister's caresses of the charmer, the mother's kind looks, the father's playful banter, and the whisk of a silken dress (with a new music in it) along the balusters you have passed night and morning for years, have a terrible executive power.
In short, Adèle had not been a month with the Elderkins before Phil was tied there by bonds he had never known the force of before.
And how was it with Adèle?
That strong, religious element in her,—abating no jot in its fervor,—which had found a shock in the case of Reuben, met none with Philip. He had slipped into the mother's belief and reverence, not by any spell of suffering or harrowing convictions, but by a kind of insensible growth toward them, and an easy, deliberate, moderate living by them, which more active and incisive minds cannot comprehend. He had no great wastes of doubt to perplex him, like Reuben, simply because his intelligence was of a more submissive order, and never tested its faiths or beliefs by that delicately sensitive mental apparel with which Reuben was clothed all over, and which suggested a doubt or a hindrance where Phil would have recognized none;—the best stuff in him, after all, of which a hale, hearty, contented man can be made,—the stuff that takes on age with dignity, that wastes no power, that conserves every element of manliness to fourscore. Too great keenness does not know the name of content; its only experience of joy is by spasms, when Idealism puts its prism to the eye and shows all things in those gorgeous hues, which to-morrow fade. Such mind and temper shock the physique, shake it down, strain the nervous organization; and the body, writhing under fierce cerebral thrusts, goes tottering to the grave. Is it strange if doubts belong to those writhings? Are there no such creatures as constitutional doubters, or, possibly, constitutional believers?
It would have been strange if the calm, mature repose of Phil's manner,—never disturbed except when Adèle broke upon him suddenly and put him to a momentary confusion, of which the pleasant fluttering of her own heart gave account,—strange, if this had not won upon her regard,—strange, if it had not given hint of that cool, masculine superiority in him, with which even the most ethereal of women like to be impressed. There was about him also a quiet, business-like concentration of mind which the imaginative girl might have overlooked or undervalued, but which the budding, thoughtful woman must needs recognize and respect. Nor will it seem strange, if, by contrast, it made the excitable Reuben seem more dismally afloat and vagrant. Yet how could she forget the passionate pressure of his hand, the appealing depth of that gray eye of the parson's son, and the burning words of his that stuck in her memory like thorns?
Phil, indeed, might have spoken in a way that would have driven the blood back upon her heart; for there was a world of passionate capability under his calm exterior. She dreaded lest he might. She shunned all provoking occasion, as a bird shuns the grasp of even the most tender hand, under whose clasp the pinions will flutter vainly.
When Rose said now, as she was wont to say, after some generous deed of his, "Phil is a good, kind, noble fellow!" Adèle affected not to hear, and asked Rose, with a bustling air, if she was "quite sure that she had the right shade of brown" in the worsted work they were upon.
So the Christmas season came and went. The Squire cherished a traditional regard for its old festivities, not only by reason of a general festive inclination that was very strong in him, but from a desire to protest in a quiet way against what he called the pestilent religious severities of a great many of the parish, who ignored the day because it was a high holiday in the Popish Church, and in that other, which, under the wing of Episcopacy, was following, in their view, fast after the Babylonish traditions. There was Deacon Tourtelot, for instance, who never failed on a Christmas morning—if weather and sledding were good—to get up his long team (the restive two-year-olds upon the neap) and drive through the main street, with a great clamor of "Haw, Diamond!" and "Gee, Buck and Bright!"—as if to insist upon the secular character of the day. Indeed, with the old-fashioned New-England religious faith, an exuberant, demonstrative joyousness could not gracefully or easily be welded. The hopes that reposed even upon Christ's coming, with its tidings of great joy, must be solemn. And the anniversary of a glorious birth, which, by traditionary impulse, made half the world glad, was to such believers like any other day in the calendar. Even the good Doctor pointed his Christmas prayer with no special unction. What, indeed, were anniversaries, or a yearly proclamation of peace and good-will to men, with those who, on every Sabbath morning, saw the heavens open above the sacred desk, and heard the golden promises expounded, and the thunders of coming retribution echo under the ceiling of the Tabernacle?
The Christmas came and went with a great lighting-up of the Elderkin house; and there were green garlands which Rose and Adèle have plaited over the mantel, and over the stiff family portraits; and good Phil—in the character of Santa Claus—has stuffed the stockings of all the grandchildren, and—in the character of the bashful lover—has played like a moth about the blazing eyes of Adèle.
Yet the current of the village gossip has it, that they are to marry. Miss Eliza, indeed, shakes her head wisely, and keeps her own counsel. But Dame Tourtelot reports to old Mistress Tew,—"Phil Elderkin is goin' to marry the French girl."
"Haöw?" says Mrs. Tew, adjusting her tin trumpet.
"Philip Elderkin—is—a-goin' to marry the French girl," screams the Dame.
"Du tell! Goin' to settle in Ashfield?"
"I don't know."
"No! Where, then?" says Mistress Tew.
I don't know," shrieks the Dame.
"Oh!" chimes Mrs. Tew; and after reflecting awhile and smoothing out her cap-strings, she says,—"I've heerd the French gurl keeps a cross in her chamber."
"She dooz," explodes the Dame.
"I want to know! I wonder the Squire don't put a stop to 't."
"Doan't believe he would if he could," says the Dame, snappishly.
"Waal, waal! it's a wicked world we're a-livin' in, Miss Tourtelot." And she elevates her trumpet, as if she were eager to get a confirmation of that fact.
In those days to which our narrative has now reached, the Doctor was far more feeble than when we first met him. His pace has slackened, and there is an occasional totter in his step. There are those among his parishioners who say that his memory is failing. On one or two Sabbaths of the winter he has preached sermons scarce two years old. There are acute listeners who are sure of it. And the spinster has been horrified on learning that, once or twice, the old gentleman—escaping her eye—has taken his walk to the post-office, unwittingly wearing his best cloak wrong-side out; as if—for so good a man—the green baize were not as proper a covering as the brown camlet!
The parson is himself conscious of these short-comings, and speaks with resignation of the growing infirmities which, as he modestly hints, will compel him shortly to give place to some younger and more zealous expounder of the faith. His parochial visits grow more and more rare. All other failings could be more easily pardoned than this; but in a country parish like Ashfield, it was quite imperative that the old chaise should keep up its familiar rounds, and the occasional tea-fights in the out-lying houses be honored by the gray head of the Doctor or by his evening benediction. Two hour-long sermons a week and a Wednesday evening discourse were very well in their way, but by no means met all the requirements of those steadfast old ladies whose socialities were both exhaustive and exacting. Indeed, it is doubtful if there do not exist even now, in most country parishes of New England, a few most excellent and notable women, who delight in an overworked parson, for the pleasure they take in recommending their teas, and plasters, and nostrums. The more frail and attenuated the teacher, the more he takes hold upon their pity; and in losing the vigor of the flesh, he seems to their compassionate eyes to grow into the spiritualities they pine for. But he must not give over his visitings; that hair-cloth shirt of penance he must wear to the end, if he would achieve saintship.
Now, just at this crisis, it happens that there is a tall, thin, pale young man—Rev. Theophilus Catesby by name, and nephew of the late Deacon Simmons (now unhappily deceased)—who has preached in Ashfield on several occasions to the "great acceptance" of the people. Talk is imminent of naming him colleague to Dr. Johns. The matter is discussed, at first, (agreeably to custom,) in the sewing-circle of the town. After this, it comes informally before the church brethren. The duty to the Doctor and to the parish is plain enough. The practical question is, how cheaply can the matter be accomplished?
The salary of the good Doctor has grown, by progressive increase, to be at this date some seven hundred dollars a year,—a very considerable stipend for a country parish in that day. It was understood that the proposed colleague would expect six hundred. The two joined made a somewhat appalling sum for the people of Ashfield. They tried to combat it in a variety of ways,—over tea-tables and barn-yard gates, as well as in their formal conclaves; earnest for a good thing in the way of preaching, but earnest for a good bargain, too.
"I say, Huldy," said the Deacon, in discussion of the affair over his wife's fireside, "I wouldn't wonder if the Doctor 'ad put up somethin' handsome between the French girl's boardin', and odds and ends."
"What if he ha'n't, Tourtelot? Miss Johns's got property, and what's she goin' to do with it, I want to know?"
On this hint the Deacon spoke, in his next encounter with the Squire upon the street, with more boldness.
"It's my opinion, Squire, the Doctor's folks are pooty well off, now; and if we make a trade with the new minister, so's he'll take the biggest half o' the hard work of the parish, I think the old Doctor 'ud worry along tol'able well on three or four hundred a year; heh, Squire?"
"Well, Deacon, I don't know about that;—don't know. Butcher's meat is always butcher's meat, Deacon."
"So it is, Squire; and not so dreadful high, nuther. I've got a likely two-year-old in the yard, that'll dress abaout a hundred to a quarter, and I don't pretend to ask but twenty-five dollars; know anybody that wants such a critter, Squire?"
With very much of the same relevancy of observation the affair is bandied about for a week or more in the discussions at the society-meetings, with danger of never coming to any practical issue, when a wiry little man—in a black Sunday coat, whose tall collar chafes the back of his head near to the middle—rises from a corner where he has grown vexed with the delay, and bursts upon the solemn conclave in this style:—
"Brethren, I ha'n't been home to chore-time in the last three days, and my wife is gittin' worked up abaout it. Here we've bin a-settin' and a-talkin' night arter night, and arternoon arter arternoon for more 'n a week, and 'pears to me it 's abaout time as tho' somethin' o' ruther ought to be done. There's nobody got nothin' agin the Doctor that I've heerd of. He's a smart old gentleman, and he's a clever old gentleman, and he preaches what I call good, stiff doctrine; but we don't feel much like payin' for light work same as what we paid when the work was heavy,—'specially if we git a new minister on our hands. But then, brethren, I don't for one feel like turnin' an old hoss that's done good sarvice, when he gits stiff in the j'ints, into slim pastur', and I don't feel like stuffin' on 'em with bog hay in the winter. There's folks that dooz; but I don't. Now, brethren, I motion that we continner to give as much as five hundred dollars to the old Doctor, and make the best dicker we can with the new minister; and I'll clap ten dollars on to my pew-rent; and the Deacon there, if he's anything of a man, 'll do as much agin. I know he's able to."
Let no one smile. The halting prudence, the inevitable calculating process through which the small country New-Englander arrives at his charities, is but the growth of his associations. He gets hardly; and what he gets hardly he must bestow with self-questionings. If he lives "in the small," he cannot give "in the large." His pennies, by the necessities of his toil, are each as big as pounds; yet his charities, in nine cases out of ten, bear as large a proportion to his revenue as the charities of those who count gains by tens of thousands. Liberality is, after all, comparative, and is exceptionally great only when its sources are exceptionally small. That "widow's mite"—the only charity ever specially commended by the great Master of charities—will tinkle pleasantly on the ear of humanity ages hence, when the clinking millions of cities are forgotten.
The new arrangement all comes to the ear of Reuben, who writes back in a very brusque way to the Doctor: "Why on earth, father, don't you cut all connection with the parish? You've surely done your part in that service. Don't let the 'minister's pay' be any hindrance to you, for I am getting on swimmingly in my business ventures,—thanks to Mr. Brindlock. I enclose a check for two hundred dollars, and can send you one of equal amount every quarter, without feeling it. Why shouldn't a man of your years have rest?"
And the Doctor, in his reply, says: "My rest, Reuben, is God's work. I am deeply grateful to you, and only wish that your generosity were hallowed by a deeper trust in His providence and mercy. O Reuben! Reuben! a night cometh, when no man can work! You seem to imagine, my son, that some slight has been put upon me by recent arrangements in the parish. It is not so; and I am sure that none has been intended. A servant of Christ can receive no reproach at the hands of his people, save this,—that he has failed to warn them of the judgment to come, and to point out to them, the ark of safety."
Correspondence between the father and son is not infrequent in these days; for, since Reuben has slipped away from home control utterly,—being now well past one and twenty,—the Doctor has forborne that magisterial tone which, in his old-fashioned way, it was his wont to employ, while yet the son was subject to his legal authority. Under these conditions, Reuben is won into more communicativeness,—even upon those religious topics which are always prominent in the Doctor's letters; indeed, it would seem that the son rather enjoyed a little logical fence with the old gentleman, and a passing lunge, now and then, at his severities; still weltering in his unbelief, but wearing it more lightly (as the father saw with pain) by reason of the great crowd of sympathizers at his back.
"It is so rare," he writes, "to fall in with one who earnestly and heartily seems to believe what he says he believes. And if you meet him in a preacher at a street-corner, declaiming with a mad fervor, people cry out, 'A fanatic!' Why shouldn't he be? I can't, for my life, see. Why shouldn't every fervent believer of the truths he teaches rush through the streets to divert the great crowd, with voice and hand, from the inevitable doom? I see the honesty of your faith, father, though there seems a strained harshness in it when I think of the complacency with which you must needs contemplate the irremediable perdition of such hosts of outcasts. In Adèle, too, there seems a beautiful singleness of trust; but I suppose God made the birds to live in the sky.
"You need not fear my falling into what you call the Pantheism of the moralists; it is every way too cold for my hot blood. It seems to me that the moral icicles with which their doctrine is fringed (and the fringe is the beauty of it) must needs melt under any passionate human clasp,—such clasp as I should want to give (if I gave any) to a great hope for the future. I should feel more like groping my way into such hope by the light of the golden candlesticks of Rome even. But do not be disturbed, father; I fear I should make, just now, no better Papist than Presbyterian."
The Doctor reads such letters in a maze. Can it indeed be a son of his own loins who thus bandies language about the solemn truths of Christianity?
"How shall I give thee up, Ephraim! How shall I set thee as Zeboim!"
In the early spring of 1842,—we are not quite sure of the date, but it was at any rate shortly after the establishment of the Reverend Theophilus Catesby at Ashfield,—the Doctor was in the receipt of a new letter from his friend Maverick, which set all his old calculations adrift. It was not Madame Arles, after all, who was the mother of Adèle; and the poor gentleman found that he had wasted a great deal of needless sympathy in that direction. But we shall give the details of the news more succinctly and straightforwardly by laying before our readers some portions of Maverick's letter.
"I find, my dear Johns," he writes, "that my suspicions in regard to a matter of which I wrote you very fully in my last were wholly untrue. How I could have been so deceived, I cannot even now fairly explain; but nothing is more certain, than that the person calling herself Madame Arles (since dead, as I learn from Adèle) was not the mother of my child. My mistake in this will the more surprise you, when I state that I had a glimpse of this personage (unknown to you) upon my visit to America; and though it was but a passing glimpse, it seemed to me—though many years had gone by since my last sight of her—that I could have sworn to her identity. And coupling this resemblance, as I very naturally did, with her devotion to my poor Adèle, I could form but one conclusion.
"The mother of my child, however, still lives. I have seen her. You will commiserate me in advance with the thought that I have found her among the vile ones of what you count this vile land. But you are wrong, my dear Johns. So far as appearance and present conduct go, no more reputable lady ever crossed your own threshold. The meeting was accidental, but the recognition on both sides absolute, and, on the part of the lady, so emotional as to draw the attention of the habitués of the café where I chanced to be dining. Her manner and bearing, indeed, were such as to provoke me to a renewal of our old acquaintance, with honorable intentions,—even independent of those suggestions of duty to herself and to Adèle which you have urged.
"But I have to give you, my dear Johns, a new surprise. All overtures of my own toward a renewal of acquaintance have been decisively repulsed. I learn that she has been living for the past fifteen years or more with her brother, now a wealthy merchant of Smyrna, and that she has a reputation there as a dévote, and is widely known for the charities which her brother's means place within her reach. It would thus seem that even this French woman, contrary to your old theory, is atoning for an early sin by a life of penance.
"And now, my dear Johns, I have to confess to you another deceit of mine. This woman—Julie Chalet when I knew her of old, and still wearing the name—has no knowledge that she has a child now living. To divert all inquiry, and to insure entire alienation of my little girl from all French ties, I caused a false mention of the death of Adèle to be inserted in the Gazette of Marseilles. I know you will be very much shocked at this, my dear Johns, and perhaps count it as large a sin as the grosser one; that I committed it for the child's sake will be no excuse in your eye, I know. You may count me as bad as you choose,—only give me credit for the fatherly affection which would still make the path as easy and as thornless as I can for my poor daughter.
"If Julie, the mother of Adèle, knew to-day of her existence,—if I should carry that information to her,—I am sure that all her rigidities would be consumed like flax in a flame. That method, at least, is left for winning her to any action upon which I may determine. Shall I use it? I ask you as one who, I am sure, has learned to love Adèle, and who, I hope, has not wholly given over a friendly feeling toward me. Consider well, however, that the mother is now one of the most rigid of Catholics; I learn that she is even thinking of conventual life. I know her spirit and temper well enough to be sure that, if she were to meet the child again which she believes lost, it would be with an impetuosity of feeling and a devotion that would absorb every aim of her life. This disclosure is the only one by which I could hope to win her to any consideration of marriage; and with a mother's rights and a mother's love, would she not sweep away all that Protestant faith which you, for so many years, have been laboring to build up in the mind of my child? Whatever you may think, I do not conceive this to be impossible; and if possible, is it to be avoided at all hazards? Whatever I might have owed to the mother I feel in a measure absolved from by her rejection of all present advances. And inasmuch as I am making you my father confessor, I may as well tell you, my dear Johns, that no particular self-denial would be involved in a marriage with Mademoiselle Chalet. For myself, I am past the age of sentiment; my fortune is now established; neither myself nor my child can want for any luxury. The mother, by her present associations and by the propriety of her life, is above all suspicion; and her air and bearing are such as would be a passport to friendly association with refined people here or elsewhere. You may count this a failure of Providence to fix its punishment upon transgressors: I count it only one of those accidents of life which are all the while surprising us.
"There was a time when I would have had ambition to do otherwise; but now, with my love for Adèle established by my intercourse with her and by her letters, I have no other aim, if I know my own heart, than her welfare. It should be kept in mind, I think, that the marriage spoken of, if it ever take place, will probably involve, sooner or later, a full exposure to Adèle of all the circumstances of her birth and history. I say this will be involved, because I am sure that the warm affections of Mademoiselle Chalet will never allow of the concealment of her maternal relations, and that her present religious perversity (if you will excuse the word) will not admit of further deceits. I tremble to think of the possible consequences to Adèle, and query very much in my own mind, if her present blissful ignorance be not better than reunion with a mother through whom she must learn of the ignominy of her birth. Of Adèle's fortitude to bear such a shock, and to maintain any elasticity of spirits under it, you can judge better than I.
"I propose to delay action, my dear Johns, and of course my sailing for America, until I shall hear from you."
Our readers can surely anticipate the tone of the Doctor's reply. He writes:—
"Duty, Maverick, is always duty. The issues we must leave in the hands of Providence. One sin makes a crowd of entanglements; it is never weary of disguises and deceits. We must come out from them all, if we would aim at purity. From my heart's core I shall feel whatever shock may come to poor, innocent Adèle by reason of the light that may be thrown upon her history; but if it be a light that flows from the performance of Christian duty, I shall never fear its revelations. If we had been always true, such dark corners would never have existed to fright us with their goblins of terror. It is never too late, Maverick, to begin to be true.
"I find a strange comfort, too, in what you tell me of that religious perversity of Mademoiselle Chalet which so chafes you. I have never ceased to believe that most of the Romish traditions are of the Devil; but with waning years I have learned that the Divine mysteries are beyond our comprehension, and that we cannot map out His purposes by any human chart. The pure faith of your child, joined to her buoyant elasticity,—I freely confess it,—has smoothed away the harshness of many opinions I once held.
"Maverick, do your duty. Leave the rest to Heaven."