"Owasonook"

Title

"Owasonook"

Subject

Deception, Marital Property

Description

A widower is deceived by a Deacon into believing she has been left nothing. When she marries a man outside of the church she is threatened with excommunication.

Creator

Sedgwick, Catharine M.
Miss Sedgwick

Source

Sartain’s Union Magazine [edited by Caroline M. Korkland] NY. Vol. VI: p. 399-407

Publisher

Sartain's Magazine

Date

June 1850

Contributor

J. Robinson

Language

English

Type

Document

Text

"He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it"

There are incidents and combinations of circumstances in domestic life which, if faithfully recorded when they occur, would give to a succeeding age a more definite idea, a more lively impression of the spirit of bygone days than can be got from volumes of subsequent history. History, of necessity, deals mainly with public events and marked characters, exceptional from the mass of their contemporaries. We may compare its records to a map of Switzerland which gives you its stupendous mountains, its lakes, and rivers in dots and lines; while the domestic story is like a picture of Lauterbrunnen, with its characteristic narrow valley, its wonderful fall of the Staubach, its overhanging and converging cliffs, its Jungfrau in the background, and a single cottage, with its appurtenances of domestic utensils and commodities, telling the story of family life.

It is the conviction of the worth of such records that induces me to write the following story, some hints of which are taken from the archives of a Congregational church, which archives consist of a faithful record kept by its excellent minister for the space of fifty years. Some particulars are gathered from the generation that preceded me, persons not related by ties of blood to the parties, but connected with them by the vivid sympathies of village life. Other aid has been received from more apocryphal sources.

The names, alas! are now only on the rudely sculptured monuments of the burying-ground. We shall not take the liberty of using them. We shall for once designate the lower valley of the Housatonic by its euphonious Indian name Owasonook, instead of that given to it by the first Puritan settlers, who, in their designation, branded the virgin valley with a memorial of the "bank-note world," the old world of stocks and brokers.
This village of Owasonook has been favoured from the beginning. Missionaries were sent from Scotland to its aboriginal people. There, on the ample green where a village church now stands, and where generations are now laid in holy rest, Brainard expounded his doctrines, and there the excellent Sergeant ministered to his Indian congregation in their goodly show of broadcloth mantles, the gift of Queen Anne.

At the date of our humble story, Brainard had passed on to wilder tribes, Sergeant was gathered to his fathers, and a young man by the name of Stephen West, sound and zealous in doctrine, of good parts, and most gracious heart, was ordained over the small congregation of all the white people who then dwelt in the valley. There were then no dissenters from the established doctrine and independent government of the Puritan Church. The Baptists were unknown in New England. Methodism had not begun. Catholicism was held to be that faith over which the woman who sat on the seven hills reigned, and Episcopacy was in little better odour. The fathers of those days had no prophetic vision of the infinite diversity of shades of colour into which their religion was to be distributed among their descendants, from the deep dye of Papistry, to the faint outside shade, the evanescent and almost imperceptible hue of transcendentalism.

"Belief, not practice, was then prized at highest rate." Among the sturdiest in belief, the least scrupulous in practice, was Deacon Nathan Bay. I remember him well in his old age; that tall brawny figure, with broad and stooping shoulders, and short neck; that high intellectual brow, all written over with lines of calculation and craft; the cold gray eye, with bushy black brows that overhung them like thatch. His eyebrows were then still untouched by time. His hair was sabled and combed on each side of his face with a Pharisaical sleekness, that did not harmonize with his general air of cherished and allowed potentiality. His skin was as dark as a Spaniard's, his cheeks ploughed in deep furrows, his nose aquiline and rather handsome, his mouth sharklike. I believe he thus vividly lives in my imagination because, in my timid childhood, I have many a time felt my eyes spellbound to him, while he appeared to me the impersonation of the Schedoni of Mrs. Radcliffe's most terrible novel. I recoiled from him then—I have since had a sterner horror of him.

There was a little ewe-lamb dwelt under the rooftree of Deacon Bay, a fur-off orphan relative of his wife, who having a sufficient inheritance to indemnify the Deacon for all expenses on her account, he complied with his wife's wishes, and became her guardian and nominal protector. Jessie Blair was the child of godly parents; and the Deacon said he should have done the same by Jessie if she had been poor, for 'professora' should see to it, and fulfil the prophecy, that the seed of the righteous should never be seen begging their bread. The Deacon was scriptural in another point; no one harboured under his roof ever ate the bread of idleness. Jessie, who came there a petted (not spoiled) child, had her playful spirit soon sobered by the uniform routine of domestic toil. There is nothing duller, more soulless, than the daily recurrence and satisfaction of the lowest wants of our being. The pleasant lights of rural life were excluded from the Deacon's household, or rather converted to a dreary shadow, by the medium through which they passed. If he did not, like one of his contemporaries, marshal his children on Monday morning, and do up the week's whipping by an exactly equal and thorough application of the birch,* he kept down the spirit of his household more effectually by its mournful monotony. The Deacon's helpmate was a wife after the feudal pattern, of unquestioning conformity, and serflike obedience. The only indication that she was not merged in her husband—a drop of water lost in his ocean,—was a phraseology indicative of his distinct existence; as "the Deacon judges," and "the Deacon concludes." If her opinion were asked in divinity or ethics, her common reply was, "I don't know the Deacon's opinion, but I think as he thinks." This exemplary subject had one son of a former marriage, Isaac Remington. Isaac was a harmless young man of two or three and twenty. As far as quiet subserviency to the Deacon was concerned, he never escaped from his minority. He lives in tradition only as a still, steady, sleek youth, with a nose like the tower of Lebanon. Thus associated, the only fitting sustenance of poor Jessie's childhood was companionship with the chickens she fed, and the kittens that played in spite of the Deacon; and an occasional romp in the playtime at the village school.

Time went on, and in its progress unfolded manifold charms and graces in Jessie, so that when she reached the age of fifteen, when the half-open flower discloses its possible beauty, every eye turned admiringly and kindly on her.

There occurred about this time in the church, a revival of religion. Jessie, naturally enough, recoiled from religion as exhibited in the Deacon's family. Its cold formulas froze her spirit, but it as naturally melted in an atmosphere where she felt the influence of sympathy. Her gentle pastor received her confessions of her past opposition to the divine character with a joyful recognition of her perceptions of truth, and received her profession of submission and faith with tears of joy. Alas for poor Jessie! this faith and submission, so surely rewarded by their divine object, were destined to be cruelly tested by human tyranny.

Isaac was a subject of the same ' awakening" that brought Jessie into the fold, though there was never a term that seemed less applicable than this to Isaac. There was no vitality in the man—nothing to kindle, nothing to rouse, nothing to 'awake.' He passed through the examination to which young converts are subjected, he answered as others did, and was received to the communion of the church.

Not long after this there was a sort of curtain conversation between the Deacon and his wife to the following effect.
"Beauty is a temptation," observed the Deacon. This was a self-evident truth, and seemed a very inconsequential remark, but the good dame apparently did not think so. She looked up from her knitting with more expression than usual; there was meaning in her face; perhaps she anticipated something in the nature of a confession, for a hypocrite is not nearly so much a saint to his wife as a man is a hero to his valet-de-chambre. "It is best to clip the chicken's wings," continued the Deacon, "if you mean to keep the hen within bounds."

"Ah, ah, indeed!" said his wife with a tone of pleased comprehension, " the speckled hen's last brood got into the garden, and picked the seeds out of Jessie's flower-bed."
There was the dimmest smile at the corners of the Deacon's mouth. He proceeded: "It was a remarkable Providence that bound Jessie up in the same bundle with Isaac."

"There's many others in the same bundle," replied his literal wife; "there is scarce a lad in town that has not come in."

"True, it was a goodly harvest. But some stout shocks were not gathered in. There's Archy Henry among the reprobate—just such a spark as is like to catch a young girl's eye— a handsome build, and well-favoured, ruddy— plenty of brown hair — curling. I marked him at Colonel Davis's funeral singing out of the same psalm-book with Jessie. They both held on to the book, hands close together, and cheeks too near neighbours."

"Deacon, Jessie is but a child."

"In her sixteenth, wife—fast coming out of childhood. Notions grow apace at that age. 'Fast bind, fast find.' Would not you like Jessie for a daughter-in-law?"

"Why, if everything is suitable, and Isaac is of a coming disposition towards her—and she is willing—one of these days maybe I should."

The Deacon was of a temper to decree events, and let suitabilities take care of themselves.

"Willing!" he exclaimed, "what has a girl of fifteen to do but obey the will of her elders? I rather think you will find it 'suitable,' when I tell you that after deducting a reasonable sum for the cost of Jessie's board and education," (the actual outlay for her education had been two pounds, one shilling, and threepence) "she has one hundred pounds at interest."

"Dear me! a pretty fortune, Deacon!"

"Well, it is personal property, and will become Isaac's on the day they are married. Wait for Isaac's coming disposition!—Isaac is a dolt—saving your presence, ma'am. He says he 'never so much as thought on't,' the ninny !' But he won't object if father, mother, and Jessie consent.'"

To the astonishment of the congregation, a publishment of" intention of marriage between Isaac Remington and Jessie Blair," appeared on the church-door the next Sabbath. The tears that poor Jessie shed and the reluctance she felt were hidden in the secrecy of her own bosom and the privacy of her dreary home. She never doubted the duty of implicit obedience—she had no friend to authorize the rebellion of her own instincts. She did not suspect that her kind pastor had remonstrated with the Deacon on his consenting to the marriage of a child, too young to know her own mind; and in three weeks she received from him the marriage charge and benediction.

The union proved like many others, not unhappy, but a total waste. The seeds of virtue, of happiness, of progress in Jessie's character were like the seeds in the bosom of the earth, there to lie undeveloped and inactive to an unknown future—in this world it might be—it might be in another.

After six years of wedded life Isaac Remington died, and left Jessie a widow, just past her majority, with a boy five years old, with, as she believed, a property that, to her modest wants, was independence, and with the rational expectation of her son's succession to the Deacon's property. It was not then so much the custom as now for persons to endow charitable societies, and as the Deacon had no near relatives of his own, it was believed that he would transmit his hoarded gains to the heir of his wife.

The beautiful little widow naturally became at Isaac's death an object of close observation. The Deacon hardly waited for the funeral offices to be over, when he proposed that, as it was difficult for a young widow to be a widow indeed, Jessie should relinquish her independent home, and return to his watch and care. This she declined doing. She lived on a small farm on the borders of a lovely lake a little north of the village of Owasonook. Without probably being able to define why, she enjoyed the companionship of Nature, and grew to love as friends—as vital friends the forms of beauty around her. She declined the Deacon's proposition ;—he urged; she was resolute, and, to her amazement, he was gentle to her. He persisted, but with mildness. He often visited her. He always found it convenient, whenever he was in her neighbourhood, to drop in and ask how she was getting on, and often, to her astonishment, he brought her roses from the bushes she had planted at his door, or bunches of pinks from her bed in his garden, such pears as his crabbed trees bore, and early apples for her little Raphe.

"It's something new, your liking flowers, is it not, sir?" said Jessie to him, as she extended her hand to receive a nosegay he had brought to her. "Maybe so," he replied, detaining her hand for a moment, and pressing it, "but I love everything you love, Jessie." "Tones of voice express the affections," says Swedenborg. True, and bad as well as good ones. There was something in the tone, the manner, the look of Deacon Bay that was like a flash of lightning to a traveller in a dark night. To Jessie they revealed a danger and a terror that she had never dreamed of. The sagacious man read her face; he changed his manners, resumed his sanctimonious aspect and conversation, but still continued to urge Mrs. Remington's removal from the farm.

Jessie had been a widow rather more than a year and a day, when the Deacon, on entering the pathway that led to her dwelling, saw her with her little boy and Archy Henry going down the declivity behind her house to the lake. The just risen full moon lit up the western shore, so that the wave that rippled on the brink was like a silver rim to the lake. Bay followed the happy little company stealthily, like an unclean beast (as he was), watching his prey, and creeping behind a clump of young hemlocks, be continued to watch them there, as full of evil purpose as the evil spirit in Paradise. A paradise of beauty and innocence it was to this happy young pair.

The boat was so placed that it could not be reached dryshod. Henry swung the boy upon his shoulder and carried him to it; and after a little playful resistance on Jessie's part, he caught her in his arms, and placed her beside her boy. He then took off his overcoat, and put it under and around her feet, with perhaps not quite the grace of Raleigh, but with as respectful chivalry as the young courtier manifested to his royal mistress. The little boat was then pushed from its mooring, and was so gently rowed away, that it was long before the voices from it, in tones of tenderness and happiness, passed beyond Bay's hearing. His senses seemed endowed with preternatural acuteness to torment him. He went away brooding on ripening plans of mischief.

The next day he came again to the farm to remonstrate with Mrs. Remington on the bad economy of remaining there, when she might live free of cost in his house.

"I never did, sir, live in that way with you," she said, with a spirit that provoked the Deacon to reply.

"You have some one to back you, Jessie, or you would not dare to speak to me in this wise, and to hold out against the will of your elder, and your spiritual father as it were."

She blushed slightly, but she replied undaunted. "I am not alone, sir. I have that dear child, who will one day be a man—and, I trust, a staff for his mother to lean on."

"Well done! well done! But you had best consider what you are to lean on in the mean time." And then softening his tone to affected kindness, he added, "Perhaps you don't know that this place was bought with my partner's money, which might have been her son Isaac's, if he had survived her. You understand, Jessie? The deed was made out to me. The property is legally mine; she, you understand, being nobody—dead as it were—in the eye of the law; and though I mean it shall come into your boy's hands one day or other, in the mean time, and, following the golden rule, I shall take care of it, as if it were to all intents mine. I might make a pretty penny now, if I would," he added, with an indescribable expression of triumph and cupidity proper to his face. "This orchard and upland pasture, together with the joining tillage land, would make a master farm."

"What joining tillage land?" asked Jessie Remington eagerly.

"Why Archy Henry's farm," he answered, fixing his freezing eyes upon her; "I thought everybody knew that farm was mortgaged to me for more than it is worth—perhaps you did not?"

Poor Jessie! a fly caught in a spider's web was a faint type of her conscious misery and helplessness—the spider a fainter symbol of the gloating tyrant who now enjoyed his triumph over her. She sickened and turned away. But in another minute thoughts rose that overcame the fear of poverty, and she said courageously, "You can take possession here, sir, as soon as you please. I shall go at once."

"And come to my house, dearie?"

"No—no sir, never!"

"But you will, sweetheart," he said coaxingly, and drew her to him (she was standing near him), and would have kissed her, but instinctively she struck him on Ms face, and sprang from him, and her brave little boy catching his mother's feeling, without understanding it, hurled the wooden stool on which he had been sitting at the Deacon's head. The blow blinded and confused him for a moment. But when he rallied, he turned on mother and child such a look of black vengeance, that both instinctively shrank from him, and the mother, dragging the boy with her, escaped to an inner room, and bolted the door.
Wrath mastered every other passion in Bay's breast for the time.

"Unbolt your door," he cried. There was no reply. The poor mother and child were cowering together like frightened doves. "Hear me, you must," he continued. "You cannot help yourself—a pretty widow you—a hopeful professor! I have found out your plans—I have mine too, and we will see which is the strongest. Marry Archy Henry, and you will be ruined in this world—ruined in the next. Look for excommunication now, and poverty for ever. I saw you, you that could not so much as let me touch the ends of your dainty fingers, I saw you in Archy Henry's arms! Good-bye, Widow Remington"—he walked to the outer door, then returned, and added, "If you blab of what has taken place here to-day, no one will believe you—no one—and for every word you speak, I'll take revenge on Archy Henry— remember that! remember that!"

As the sound of his footsteps died away, Jessie Remington yielded to a burst of grief and despair. "Oh, don't cry, mother, dear mother," said her little boy, clasping his arms round her neck, "he is a bad man—I hate him —I always did hate him. When he first came in to-day, when you were up stairs, he asked me if Archy Henry was here last Saturday night. I would not tell him. I wish Archy would come every Saturday night, and every other night, and he, never—never!"

The mother fondly kissed the child, and I doubt not breathed a fervent Amen! Amen!

She revolved her miserable case. She now understood why Archy, who, she well knew had loved her from her childhood, long before that time when the Deacon had marked his I holding her hymn-book, had not yet since her freedom said one word of marriage, or by words declared his love to her. It needed no declaration. The current of his life, through all her married days, had flowed on without one beam of joy or hope. From the day of Remington's departure he had been a changed man; the cloud had passed from his brow, the gravity from his lips, and he had manifested, in every fitting way but by words, his reverence and tenderness for her.

"Matters have come to a crisis," was the result of her long reflection; "we must clearly understand each other, the sooner, the better."

The following evening Raphe's wish was fulfilled as it was most like to be, and Archy Henry came in, merely to bring a glass in which Jessie had sent some jelly to his invalid sister. "Why do you look so sad?" he asked Jessie, struck with her paleness and dejection.

"I have heard ill news," she replied, "and you, Archy, must tell me if it be wholly true. Is your farm mortgaged to Deacon Bay?"

"Yes."

"Should I be the last to know it, Archy?"

There was an undisguised tenderness in her voice and lovely face which overcame the resolution Henry had maintained, and mutual confessions and disclosures followed. They were like travellers on a perilous road, on whom the day dawns and the sun rises. The road may be more obstructed and perilous before than behind, but their hearts are strong and at peace. What obstructions, what perils can , appeal the spirits of young lovers in the first moments of avowed mutual love? A spell of enchantment is over their world—a spell of faith, hope, and joy.
When they descended from these sunny heights to the discussion of temporal affairs, it appeared that Archy's father, embarrassed by sickness and other misfortunes, had left his farm to his son encumbered by a mortgage to Deacon Bay—that the son had supported his aged mother, and met the many wants of a bedridden sister, and year after year paid the interest of the mortgage.

"More," he said, "till the last year I did not care to do, but since—since Raphe lost his father, I have been a stronger man—I have done two days' work in one, and now I see through the woods, and if I am but reasonably blessed for the three coming years, I shall be independent of the world and the Deacon, please God."

"Archy!"

"I do not speak profanely, Jessie—my heart is dancing, and I can't stand for p's and q's. As to this farm belonging to the Bays, I don't believe a word on't, nor do I care one stiver about it. I prefer that you should give me nothing that ever had any connexion with Bay or his household, but the name you bear, and the sooner you give that up to me the better. Oh, excuse me, I forgot little Raphe. You know I love him—I see nothing but you in him." Jessie did not resent this. She had no affectation of any sort, and certainly no pretension to sensitiveness on the score of her late husband; but Jessie was considerate in her love, and she meant not to increase Archy's heavy burdens, but patiently to wait till he had cleared off the mortgage. The point, however, was no farther mooted that evening. Our lovers were not "gravelled for lack of matter."

Mrs. Remington did not communicate the Deacon's injuries or threats. She had the grace of discretion, which all women (or all men) have not, and she had a certain feeling of obligation to him as deacon and church member, of which even his unworthiness had not divested her.

She addressed a letter to him, asking what property her late husband left, and how it was conditioned.

The following is a copy of his answer.

"WIDOW REMINGTON:—Received yours duly. In reply. Your husband held no property in his own name, his father having willed his whole estate, real and personal, to his worthy wife, now my companion. With the personal I purchased the farm on which you live. The deed, as you are apprised, stands in my name. The property will probably go to your son at my decease. You were possessed of one hundred pounds at the time of your marriage; sixty thereof was expended in apparel and in household furniture—twenty drawn by the late Isaac for housekeeping, and spent as you best know how—the remaining twenty I have paid out for the doctor's bill, Isaac's coffin, shroud, and grave-digging. My accounts are ready for exhibition to the Probate Court when called for.
"Yours to command.
"NATHAN BAY."

Enclosed in this paper was a document of a very different complexion, almost too base to be presented to our readers It concluded with "burn this."

"Burn it 1 indeed I will!" exclaimed Jessie, and, her face and neck mantling with indignation, she threw it into the fire. She kept the indignity to herself, and communicated to Henry only the business letter.

He was indignant at its style; believed there had been fraud, but he perceived it was covered up by legal forms, and he let the whole thing go—he was too happy to care. "I see the man's drift," he said. "He means to bring you back to his own house a dependent. He thinks if he can get possession of your child, j he holds you by the heartstrings. The boy J will have his spirit broken as your—his father j had—you will be oppressed—I shall be tortured —it is not right—it is no way suitable—there is but one course—thank God!" "Dear Archy!"

"Why should not I thank God, Jessie? You must consent to the publishment going up next Sunday."

"Not till I have consulted some one—remember, Archy, I am a church member—you are not. Let me speak to Mr. West."

"No—no—no. He is scrupulous. I am not a member—on your account I wish I were."

"Oh! on your own account, Archy!"

Archy assented. But when he learned that Mrs. Remington thought it more than probable that when the church were apprised of her intention of marrying out of their pale, she should be subjected to discipline, and delay would ensue, he proposed that they should forego the publication, and take advantage of their proximity to the state of New York, where the ceremony could be legally performed without the embarrassing prelude of a publication. This proposition she resisted. She felt in all simplicity of heart a reverence for the authorities of the church. To her it was the type of God's power and justice, and she trembled at the thought of incurring its displeasure. But her lover pleaded, her heart urged, and above all, the horror of being again brought into proximity to Bay terrified her, and she at last consented. The next day she, her little boy, and Archy Henry, drove over to a magistrate's on the border of New York, and the marriage ceremony was there duly performed. Thus the lamb was secured into the fold at the moment the wolf was sure of his prey. The Deacon's rage had none of the ordinary manifestations. To his good, unsuspecting pastor and to the church, he appeared the disappointed father, sorrowing after a godly sort.

A meeting of the church was immediately called. But before they met the pastor visited the offending member. He tried in vain to assume the tone of stern rebuke. His gentle heart failed him. Tears actually' streamed from his eyes as he told poor Jessie that her violation of the laws of God and the known rules of the church, to which she had promised submission when she took the solemn vows of membership, rendered her liable to the censure of the church, and excommunication from it.

She made no excuse—she offered no palliation—she said she was conscious she had done wrong.

"Would she," he asked, "confess in the middle aisle of the meeting-house, before the congregation of the people, that she had sinned, and gone in opposition to God's law, and the law of his holy church, in marrying an unsanctified man, one who lived in daily violation of God's law?"

"Oh no, sir, I cannot say that—that is not my view of my husband—he is not a member —that I am sure I grieve for, but he is better, sir, than some that are."

"That is not to the purpose, child; will you make the confession?"

"I cannot say, sir, that I am sorry to have Archy Henry for my partner for life; but for the manner of my marriage I am sorry, and I am willing humbly to confess it."

"That is not enough ;—solemn charges are before the church."

"What are they, sir?"

"That you received visits from your spark on Saturday nights."

"I did, sir, and I am not ashamed to own it."

"But, surely you know that Saturday night is held to be, and undoubtedly is, holy time."*

"Yes, sir, I know that Saturday night is a portion of the Sabbath, when we should not think our own thoughts. But, sir, I can truly say there was nothing dishonourable in the sight of man, or unholy in the sight of the Lord, that passed between Archy and me. Is this all?"

"No: it is said your husband habitually breaks the third commandment."

"But not blasphemously; thoughtlessly he does, but he knows it grieves me, and I think he will not again."

The good Doctor said there were other charges which had been confided to him, but as he trusted they would not be presented at the church meeting, he should not trouble her with them. He notified her that a meeting was appointed on a certain day near at hand, and he told her that she was expected to be present.
Poor Jessie! Her soul was disquieted—she reproached herself with not having walked worthy of her profession. The displeasure of the church was to her the sure sign of the displeasure of her Divine Master, and not all the arguments, the soothing, and the love of her husband could comfort her. She had two powerful reasons for making no disclosures in relation to the Deacon. She feared exciting the indignation of her husband, which once thoroughly provoked against the man he already doubted and disliked, could not be allayed; and she felt a religious reluctance to throw on the church the scandal of the Deacon's gross conduct. She would not involve the good in the scoffs the bad deserved.

The church met according to appointment. Mrs. Henry was present. Her youth and her docility conciliated many kind hearts in her favour. Her beauty, perhaps, told with some, —a beauty so softened and shaded by modesty, that not the oldest and most rigid thought it a duty to rebuke their instincts in its favour. Deacon Bay was present. He affected to take small part in the case, but he now and then craftily threw in an evil word that he meant to be lead in a wavering scale.

The meeting was divided. Some were for restoring her to full communion on her making the partial public profession she proffered. To this merciful party the pastor inclined. Deacon Bay and his few adherents were for immediate excommunication. Unanimity being unattainable, the meeting adjourned. While the clouds thus darkened over poor Mrs. Henry, she received a notice from Deacon Bay that she must remove from her present dwelling-house, and Henry was warned that the mortgage on his farm was about to be foreclosed, and that he must prepare to surrender it.

Temporal and spiritual ruin were raining down on the young couple, and to poor Mrs. Henry's susceptible conscience and excited imagination they came in the form of judgments for the violation of her church covenant. At this day. when old prestiges have melted away, it is as difficult to sympathize with Mrs. Henry as it would be to feel any serious concern for a child terrified at a shadow on his nursery wall. To her the trouble was a terrible reality. She was certainly more remarkable for tenderness of conscience than strength of mind. The austerest judgment of her brethren of the church was ratified by her own convictions. She seems, in concealing the wrongs of old Bay, to have forgotten the palliation they afforded her. She dared not take counsel or consolation from her husband. He was not a church-member, and therefore not qualified to give it. Still, as her truth was inflexible, she could not say she repented her marriage, and that she could not, to her diseased mind, was a sign of her reprobate state. Her health failed; she sunk into deep dejection; and when Deacon Bay came to notify her of another church meeting on her account, and said to her with a malignity worthy an inquisitor racking his victim, "God has put forth his hand against you"—" He has —he has!" she said,—hypocrisy had achieved its triumph over a pure and susceptible nature.
The pastor seems to have felt the deepest tenderness for the poor bewildered lamb of his flock. He sent his wife to bring her in his own chaise to the church-meeting.

Just before she entered Mrs. Henry's gate, she saw Archy Henry driving out of it with a load of furniture. Deacon Bay was at the moment passing in his wagon. Henry, irritated and confused, did not drive accurately, and his heavy wagon hit the Deacon's in a manner just gently to tip it over, and give the Deacon a somerset. They were both moving slowly at the time, and no great harm was done. The Deacon was exasperated, and no doubt secretly vowed vengeance, and thought with diabolical satisfaction that when Henry arrived at his home with his wife's chattels, he would find a lawyer taking possession of the premises in his, the Deacon's, name.

There was a full meeting of the church—not a member absent. Intimation of the pastor's state of mind were given in the opening prayer. He prayed that though their erring sister passed through the fire, it might not consume her, and through deep waters, they might not overwhelm her.

In the conclusion of his prefatory address to the meeting he said, "It was safer to imitate the Divine Being in mercy than in judgment."

"Who shall presume to stay his judgments?" said the lugubrious Deacon; "' whom the Lord smiteth is smitten.'"
And poor little Mrs. Henry seemed to verify his words.

Attenuated, pale, and trembling, she sat beside the dignified and erect figure of the pastor's wife, looking like a condemned and self-condemned culprit, who would fain call upon the rocks and mountains to hide her.

As a minister of the everlasting Gospel, and a member of the Congregational Church of New England, Stephen West, our revered pastor, had the most unqualified reverence for its institutions, and no monk of the thirteenth century was more unquestionably submissive to the rules and requirements of his order. But within this stern, artificial form beat a heart as true to the instincts and offices of love as is the needle to its pole.

"Brethren and sisters," resumed the pastor, "it is known to you that there has not been that unanimity in the case before you that usually attends our deliberations. The division has been perhaps more in feeling than opinion. It is natural," he said, his voice trembling, and the tears of his ever-ready sympathy flowing down his checks, "to feel for one in evident and deep distress of mind, and who, though as far as yet appeareth, she hath not sufficient grace to make the required concessions, hath not resisted the rebukes of conscience. And as her fault has not been of an aggravated nature, but such as one still young was greatly liable to, we may consider how far, without sacrificing duty, we may concede to our distressed sister. She is not, as you see, in a state of bodily health to be much questioned. I have had repeated interviews with her, and her request to me this morning was to state to you that she remains at the same point where you last left her,—she humbly asks the pardon of the ohurch for her violation of her church covenant, in having married in a manner contrary to their known rules. But truth obliges her to say that she does not and cannot repent of the choice she has made. The case is wholly before you. Any of the brethren who have remarks to make will please make them now, and will, I trust, feel called on to deal kindly as well as truly with our much-afflicted sister."

There was a murmuring of voices among the women, voices touched with sympathy; the pastor's wife was seen to pass her arm around Mrs. Henry, and draw her closer to her, and the hardest countenances of the brethren were softened. Bay looked around him, and beginning to feel that he had been playing a losing game, he made a bold and desperate move.
He rose, and after some stammering and hemming, he said," That as this was like to be the final discussion of the case of the backslidden member, he felt himself called on to state some aggravating circumstances which ho had withheld as long as there was any hope of bringing said member to a full confession of her wrongdoing. He felt it to be duty to tell the brethren and the sisters that said offender had not rushed upon the 'thick bosses' without warning, advice, and offer of needful help and support in her widowhood."

Till this moment Mrs. Henry's eyes had been downcast and her cheek blanched. Suddenly her colour rose, and an unwonted fire lit up her mild hazel eye, as she raised and fixed it on the Deacon. This was noticed by her friends, and it was also observed that his eye did not meet hers.

"My relation to her first husband," he continued, " made me her suitable guardian; I knew that her youth, widowhood, and comeliness exposed her to many temptations; I felt for her temporal necessities, and I offered her and her fatherless child a home in my house. This she rejected in a manner to make me surmise there was some covered sin, and when, after ascertaining the same, I went to deal with her as directed in Matthew, 18th chapter, 15th verse, and on, she, urged by her bad conscience, and doubtless tempted and incited thereto by Satan, struck me on the face."

"Deacon Bay!" exclaimed Mrs. Henry, involuntarily rising.

"Sit down, my child," said the Moderator, but in a tone too gentle for reproof, and she sat down overwhelmed with confusion. "Her child," continued the Deacon, "prompted, and seemingly justified by evil example, took up the three-legged oaken stool on which he was seated, and threw it at my head with such force, that I verily believe he was aided by the Evil One—ever ready to serve bad ends. So forceful was the blow, which, but for a just Providence, might have ended my life,—that I still carry the scar," he concluded, lifting the long sleek black locks from his swarthy brow, and showing a deep scar frightfully near to his temple. All eyes turned from him to Mrs. Henry, who was still steadily looking in her accuser's face.

At this moment there was a loud knocking at the door, and before it could be answered Archy Henry entered, his cheek and eye glowing with angry fires. There was a general sensation and movement through the assembly. Without heeding it, he strode to his wife's side. She laid her hand on his arm, and cast an imploring look on him.

"Don't be scared—don't be anxious," he whispered; "I know what I am about."

"This is an intrusion—very unsuitable, Mr. Archibald Henry," said the Moderator; "quite contrary to the rules of our church-meetings."

"I know it, sir," he answered, making a half and hurried reverence to the pastor, "but when a man's house is on fire he can't mind rules and regulations. I have promised to cherish and protect this woman, and I will, so help me God!"

"Is there no force here to put out this profane fellow?" asked Deacon Bay.

"No, none," replied Henry, "I'll trouble no one to answer that question but myself. I am nailed here, and you are nailed there, till my business is done. Do you know this handwriting ?" he continued, taking from his pocket a crumpled and weather-stained paper, and holding up the written side to the Deacon.
The Deacon was driven by surprise and dismay from every subterfuge. His bile rose, and his colour darkened to a mahogany hue. He made no answer.

"Do you know it?" reiterated Henry.

No reply.

"Perhaps you do, sir," he continued, approaching the desk, and holding it before the pastor, who at once bowed assent, "and you, sir, and you?" he added, showing it to the associate deacons. "Let me say one word, and then I will trouble you to hear me read it. I found this paper on removing a hencoop which had protected it from the weather. How it came there I know not, but I leave it to any member of this meeting to say if it has not been providentially preserved."

The paper in Henry's hand was that note from Bay to Jessie, which was taken by the draught up the chimney, when Mrs. Henry believed she had committed it to the flames. After whirling in the air it fell in an angle of the fence. A hencoop was accidentally set upon it. There it was destined to lie, as safely as if it were filed away in a pigeon-hole, till, in the general upturning of the moving, it came into the right hands. That this was really providential, it takes no great amount of faith to believe.

"This note," continued Henry, "was written by that man who stands there—that Deacon Nathan Bay. With permission, I will read it. It appears to have been enclosed in a business letter and begins thus:—

"This note is for more interesting matters. You were harsh yesterday, Jessie, but if you will come home, I will forgive and forget. It was not well to return a blow for a kiss—when one smiteth on the right cheek—you understand."

At this startling refutation of the Deacon's calumny, uttered not fifteen minutes before, a low sound arose more resembling a hiss than any ever before heard in a meeting of that solemn nature. Henry smiled bitterly, and proceeded.

"'You saw, Jessie, how bad example is followed. As crows the old, so crows the young. My head yet aches with the blow of that joint-stool. Your boy will be a limb, if he is not soon brought under nurture. Come back then, Jessie. The old woman is as good as nobody. You shall be true mistress of the house, possessor of heart and estate, and in due time, you and your boy heirs of all I possess. Isn't this better than marrying a penniless spark, beggaring your little chap, and drudging through your lifetime for a mother-in-law, and her bedridden gal? Burn this.'

"When this precious note was written," continued Henry, " Mrs. Remington was living on a farm which by some sort of legal huggermugger Nathan Bay claims as his. By like crafty measures he has spun his web round all the other property belonging to this little woman and her late husband. He threatened to turn her and her boy homeless and penniless upon the world. And when ho added insult to these injuries, she had no alternative but to marry a poor fellow whose father had been cheated out of house and home by this same Deacon Nathan Bay—church-member"—

"Stop, stop, Archy Henry!" cried the pastor, rising and striking his cane on the ground vehemently, "this is out of place—unseemly— it must go no farther"—

"Unseemly! Sir, should a villain be treated as one of the elect? Be patient with me one moment, sir—I do not—truly I do not mean any disrespect to you, or to any good person in this meeting; but, sir, is it not in place, and my bounden duty to rescue my wife, who has been driven to the edge of insanity by this wolf in sheep's clothing—Deacon Nathan Bay?" Henry paused for a moment. His indignation was felt to be righteous, and he was suffered to proceed. "For weeks that should have been the happiest of our lives, she has been bowed down, sorrowing and self-condemned— for what? for marrying me—not a church member to be sure—as Deacon Nathan Bay is —but an honest man, and one that hates a scoundrel—for marrying a poor fellow without a penny, with an afflicted mother and sister to be trusted to her care. If the manner seems to you hasty and indecorous, this document," he held up the Deacon's note, "informs you that she was driven by insult and fear to forego the usual forms and ceremonies. If she has violated the letter of your laws, who has better kept their spirit? Not by word or look has she betrayed, even to me, the insults and wrongs of this Deacon Nathan Bay. She has taken meekly, and as if she deserved them, reproof and exhortation—she has borne patiently the persecution, the malice, and the fiendish revenge of this man, who dares to hold up his head here as her accuser and judge. I don't know about your rules here, but I am sure she is, and will remain in good standing and full membership with the church above. I am sure there is not one of you, but in his own home and in his own heart thinks the better, and not the worse of her now under dealing, for the whole transaction on which you are deciding. Sir," he concluded, looking round, and marking, with evident satisfaction, the convinced and acquiescing expression on the faces of the church-members, "I do not now fear to leave our cause with you."

The church-meeting before separating passed a vote of oblivion and restoration to full membership in favour of Mrs. Jessie Henry.

The Deacon's case was deferred to future consideration. He subsequently passed through a course of discipline, professed and confessed all that could be required, and was restored to nominal membership, but stripped of the honours of his office, and deprived for ever, as hypocrites are, by the universal law of God, of the faith of all good men and true.

His ejection of Henry from his paternal property was prevented by a sagacious lawyer, who detected excessive charges in the Deacon's accounts, and fraudulent advantages taken by him. The Deacon, not daring to expose the facts to litigation, was glad to make concessions which rendered it easy for Henry to redeem the property. His little wife restored to tranquility, to self-esteem, and to her good standing in the church, realized a happiness rarely enjoyed in the married state.

Sedgwick's notes:
* The Doctor's own words—still on his records.

Collection

Citation

Sedgwick, Catharine M. Miss Sedgwick , “"Owasonook",” Sedgwick Stories: The Periodical Writings of Catharine Maria Sedgwick, accessed February 23, 2020, https://sedgwickstories.omeka.net/items/show/10.

Social Bookmarking