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fettered, had not attained the power, the easy confidence, which is the result of energy, discipline and success. The towns upon the sea-coast were beginning to exhibit the progress that sprang from the country's independence; but in the interior, the business, the social habits and the appearance of both villages and rural neighborhoods were but little changed. Innisfield was stereotyped. No profane men of progress came there to disturb its dreamy repose. The farms lay cosily among the hills between their ancient boundaries; they were tilled by a succession of sturdy yeomen who served their fathers dutifully, and in turn were served by their own children. Most of the lands were held by the lineal descendants of the original grantees, as was attested by their deeds bearing the arrow-head marks of the once powerful chiefs. Mechanics were not numerous, for the simplicity of the times required but few articles beyond the skill of every farmer to fabricate. Tradesmen found their chief profits in bartering produce, and in the sale of rum and tobacco. Broadcloth was worn only by the parson and the squire, and calicoes were an almost unheard-of luxury among the rustic maidens.
The town, church and parish of Innisfield were nearly or quite identical. The minister was settled for life by invitation of the church, and by vote of the town. In those days men had not learned to consider it an evidence of superior wisdom to differ from the faith of their fathers. The minister's salary, generally small enough to preserve the sacred office from the intrusion of gain-seeking men, was raised by a tax; and all citizens, Christian and Jew, Calvinist and Socinian, Quaker and Baptist, had the pleasure of contributing of their substance to the maintenance of the established religion. But the heterodox sectaries just named were by no means numerous; the severity of the old colonial laws had driven all heretics forth to milder climes, so that few or none were left to disseminate their doctrines : beside, the nurseries were well looked after; all rebellious shoots were lopped off by ecclesiastical shears, and the trees grew up in happy uniformity as to external shape, whatever might be their inward qualities.
But the comments of a writer, though profound and discriminating in his own opinion, are apt to be read with a yawn or some expression of impatience; and warned by that apprehension, I leave the farther particulars to be gathered from the story.
The Reverend Joshua Crosthwaite had been for forty years a minister of the Word. Though he had passed the allotted threescore-and-ten, his step was stately, and his silver-mounted cane of sandal-wood was carried from habit rather than from any necessity of aiding his yet sturdy limbs. His spotless cravat supported a series of soft, fat wrinkles that lay folded under his chin. His hose were clasped by broad silver buckles, and his shoes were fastened in the same manner. His voice had often comforted the disciple and alarmed the sinner as he ministered within the walls of the sanctuary; and the same clear tones were well remembered by some of his people as they were heard, when, before the army of Washington, he prayed for the blessing of Heaven upon the cause of liberty. The soul of a soldier throbbed under the gown of the divine. The resolution, the unflinching courage which had animated him in a score of battles, were
not extinct when Peace smiled upon the land, and the quiet society of Innisfield opened its arms to receive him as a pastor. Prompt to do good, to fence in the flock from the wiles of Satan and from mischief-making heretics, to cherish the young and console the aged, the stern and stately minister strode through life. Death came, but found him at his MASTER's work. While performing the funeral ceremonies of one of his comrades in the war, afterward a fellow-soldier of the cross, the veteran of two campaigns was struck speechless. The vital breath came and went, and life oscillated feebly for two days, when it was at an end; and the soldierpriest took his place in the shadowy army that silently moves onward to be reviewed by its great COMMANDER!
It was a sad day for Innisfield, for, with all the reverence which his manner and his sacred office inspired, the people felt an affection for him as for a father. But the parsonage was not long without a tenant. Society, as well as nature, knows no vacuity; each man seems to fall as by divine allotment into the precise place he is fitted to fill. Some notable exceptions to this rule ought to strengthen it, according to the philosophers. A stranger came as a candidate for the holy office : according to ancient custom he was expected to preach for several months on probation, and the people quietly settled down to hear and to observe before pronouncing judgment.
The Reverend Absalom Fairworthy was a young man of about six-andtwenty, of a pleasing exterior, and a smooth, bland voice. His sermons seemed designed to shun the distinctive doctrines of Calvinism, the strong meat of the Word; but his philosophizing upon the system of Christianity, his well-sounding pietisms, aided by earnest appeals to the feelings of his hearers, and enforced by a really impressive delivery, made him a popular and acceptable preacher. Among the women of the congregation he was a decided favorite. His pious sentimentalisms, his tender regard for the souls of his flock, the kindness that prompted a thousand nameless trifles of attention, the grace that shone in his daily walk, in both senses, and a certain natural magnetism so effectual upon
sympathetic subjects of its influence, all united to make the young divine; in the opinion of the women of Innisfield, an exemplar of the gifts and virtues which should adorn his profession.
But a few aged men were far from being satisfied with the candidate. Without knowing why, they confessed to themselves that his preaching, unlike the mystic book in the Apocalypse, though sweet at the first, was afterward bitter and unsatisfying. His manner they contrasted with their ideal of a devout minister, the loved and venerated Crosthwaite: he had scorned to resort to courtier airs in order to win popularity. A scarlet waistcoat, of which a glimpse was seen under his cloak on one occasion when he returned from a visit out of town, gave rise to various conjectures. But their suspicions were most awakened by the strange conduct of old Elsie Barton, a withered crone who lived in a solitary cabin in the verge of the forest that borders the village westward. Some lingering faith in witches and other diabolic agencies yet hovered over the country, and the unaccountable experiences of former generations were not without their influence upon the minds of the aged and the superstitious. This old woman, without child, relative, or even friend, unless her favorite cats might merit the name, lived no one hardly knew how. Occasionally her short, stooping figure was seen plodding into the village with the aid of a staff
. The children would gather at her approach, and gaze with mingled curiosity and awe upon her face, much the color and texture of a dried apple, above which, and beneath her grizzled hair, her eyes twinkled with a sinister brightness. Elsie, who had always stood in awe of the veteran now no more, and had shunned his presence alike in holy and in secular time, soon became a constant attendant upon the ministrations of the new preacher. She chuckled at the sound of his name, and extolled his talents and saintly character. Those fathers in the church, who had known her for a wicked woman, and suspected her of being a witch, thought it an ill omen that she should defile the good name of their prospective pastor with her leering commendations. Was he a subtle heretic? Was he in league with the powers of darkness while wearing the form of an angel of light?
All their doubts and surmises were freely communicated in several private conferences; but how to ascertain the truth of their conjectures puzzled their wise heads. At last the venerable Deacon Wainsford suggested that they should present the minister with a text on Sabbath morning, just as he was going to church, with a request that he would preach from it. This, he thought, would prove whether the minister's sermons were supplied him by the Prince of Error, for he would be obliged to rely upon the Divine aid to preach acceptably, or he would show by an ignominious failure his lack of the unction from above. The plan was warmly approved, and the Bible was searched for an unusual text, as he might be prepared for the more common passages. The choice fell upon a clause in Joshua, (Josh. ix. 5:) 'Old shoes and clouted on their feet.' Next Sabbath morning the good deacon accosted the minister while crossing the green to church :
* Reverend Sir, I have somewhat to ask of you. Your discourses thus far have seemed to be deeply studied; and in troth, Sir, no one doubts your learning in the Scriptures; but we would fain hear you once unprepared, in the exercise of your natural gifts assisted only by the grace of God. With this view I have come to ask you to preach from this text. And he handed the mouldy paragraph to the astonished clergyman.
The Rev. Mr. Fairworthy never spoke without deliberation, so that his secret chagrin was quelled before he replied in his tones of music:
All Scripture, my brother, is given by inspiration, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness. The spiritual sense of this text, though not now very clear, will doubtless be made plain to me after the morning prayer. I will even lay aside my sermon, good brother, and preach from this text, since you desire me.'
The introductory service over, the sermon began. In his exposition of the text, the Gibeonites were sinners coming to the church; their evil habits clung to them, aptly represented by their old shoes and clouted on their feet.' These sinful habits were elaborately dwelt upon, and the congregation were exhorted to put off their old shoes,' that their feet might be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. The sermon was triumphant; the number of the minister's admirers increased, and the deacon and elders were nonplussed. But suspicion once rooted is not easily removed. The extraordinary eloquence of the preacher without preparation was as questionable as his supposed elaborate efforts, especially as the witch Elsie was observed peering over the gallery, casting her
eyes knowingly upon the deacon and the preacher by turns, and at his enthusiastic conclusion shaking her head with an exulting air. However, as they had nothing tangible whereon to found their conjectures, the dissatisfied elders concluded to wait the issue of affairs, confident that God would watch over his flock, and in some way reveal the true character of the candidate.
The meeting-house at that period had not the graceful spire that now rises from the dense foliage of the clustering maples, and on which the man-like vane turns for evermore. The edifice was unsightly, having much the appearance of a barn fitted ex tempore for a place of worship. Soon certain friends of the new minister began to urge the erection of a steeple and the purchase of a bell. The proposal was generally approved, and at the annual town-meeting, which occurred not long after, the necessary funds were appropriated. Carpenters came, and the green was covered by the timbers of which the tall spire was to be framed.
The comely young minister lacked but one thing in the opinion of his zealous female admirers. Many a maiden felt the influence of his tender, pious manner, and trembled with a secret and delicious hope that the choice of the dear godly man would fall upon her.
But his regards were distributed with a judicious impartiality, and the gossips found nothing on which to base even a surmise. But one afternoon the pastor made a parochial visit at the house of Deacon Wainsford, remained to tea, and spent a good part of the evening, to the great edification of the matron and her fair daughter, but to the secret uneasiness of the father ; for he trembled lest the equivocal honor of the minister's choice should fall
upon his darling child. The kindly glances of the smooth hypocrite, for such the deacon could not but esteem his pastor, fell upon his trusting and ingenuous daughter, and her heart throbbed with new and exhilarating pulsations; his magnetic tones stole into her ear with a winning power, and her fancy conjured up a myriad of pleasing visions, so that as she looked down the perspective of the love-lighted future, her brain was dizzy with delight. With untold pangs the good deacon beheld these palpable results ; the old Adam wrestled hard within him, and had he yielded, he would have arisen with his hickory staff and driven the intruding serpent from his Eden. But he might be mistaken ; and if he were not, he would have hard work to justify to his brethren his seemingly causeless anger : for the sacred office was then, and still is, regarded with an habitual reverence and awe among the people of Innisfield.
A loud knock without, interrupted the current of the deacon's forebodings. He opened the door, shading the flickering candle with his hand. A boy apparently about fifteen, with his hat set jauntily on one side, his top-boots bespattered with mud, was holding a jaded horse with one hand, while he frisked an ivory-handled whip with the other.
'Is Mr. Fairworthy here ?' said the self-assured varlet.
• Verily, he is,' said the deacon, with a wondering glance at the unusual dress and impudent manner of the messenger.
'I would like to see him, Sir,' said the other rapidly.
The good deacon delivered the message, more puzzled than ever. The minister rose without delay and mildly bade the family good night. After a moment's conference with the messenger, he walked homeward, muffled as usual in his long flowing cloak. The boy put up his horse at the inn adjoining Deacon Wainsford's, and sitting down in the bar-room, seemed to wait as it were impatiently, whistling and tapping his boots with his whip. The clock struck eleven; the frequenters of the inn had all crept home, when the boy, after turning down a gill of Jamaica with a swag, gering air, mounted his horse, rode slowly a few paces down street, and halted just below the deacon's house under the shadow of an arching elm.
A strange and indefinable excitement in the mean time had possessed Deacon Wainsford : he could not sleep quietly: if he closed his eyes, some frightful dream hovered over him, in which the minister's face in varying shapes of horror glared upon his daughter. He exerted himself to throw off his drowsiness, that he might not be haunted by those shadowy terrors. A tramp of hoofs caught his ear. He rose and raised his window noiselessly; it was screened from sight by a luxuriant hopvine, but through an opening among the leaves he looked out upon the street; he could see with tolerable distinctness, for the moon was yet high, though struggling with occasional clouds. A tall figure in a cloak approached the tree, where the horse stood, pawing with impatience. How well the deacon knew that step of practised grace, and that bearing which the dusky night could not wholly conceal! The two conversed earnestly, but their voices were indistinct, and the eagerness of the old man could not give to his dull hearing the acute sensitiveness of youth. But soon their voices grew louder ; the leaves stopped their ill-timed murmuring to the night-wind; and he heard a few words, spoken with a determined accent.
• But they say you must come,' said the horseman. “They must wait awhile; I can't break off now.'
* But I tell you they won't put up with your dilly-dallying much longer. They think you are trying to dodge, and become prig for good, and you know that won't do,' said the boy significantly.
The minister stood as if irresolute.
• What shall I tell them, Branning?' said the boy. 'I must get to Hartford by day-break, and there is n't time to stop here.'
Why can't they let me alone? I might as well be a weather-cock at once, as to have to face about whenever they threaten to blow on me.'
* Well, look out for yourself!' said the boy, spurring off in a rapid canter.
• Furies !' almost shrieked the minister, 'what have I done ?' And he tried by all means short of absolute outery to attract the boy's attention. But if the varlet heard, he chose not to make it known; he kept on his way. The clattering of the hoofs grew fainter in the still night, and the minister stood as if demented, wringing bis hands beneath the shadowy net-work of the huge old tree.
The good deacon could hardly believe his senses : he crept back to bed, and, as may be supposed, lay ruminating upon what he had seen and heard until morning. Time would soon determine the matter, he judged;