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THE PASTOR'S WIVES.
BY MRS. E. A. COM STOCK.
On the southern border of our State stands the cheerless town of Mumford, looking as though dropped there accidentally by some runaway mechanic. A rapid mill-stream propelling sundry factory wheels on its banks, is the only redeeming feature in the tame landscape. A dead level meets the horizon at each point of the compass, and the trees shading the Parsonage are the only representatives of the far-away groves of our forest-land. Apart from the town stands the minister's house; a barn-like building with sufficient white paint on its surface to render the original color of the shingles more sombre by contrast as it struck through to the light. The door-yard was choked up with plantain and mullen stalks, the latter striving vigorously to overtop the really graceful young trees planted by the pasior to shelter his study from the intense rays of the summer sun. A pot of mignonette on the sill, and a slip of sweetbrier by the window, redeemed the study from the faults of the rest of the building. The other apartments were chillingly neat, but ta steless and scantily furnished. In this, a collection of choice books, a few good casts, three or four mellow paintings, an antique chair, and a table covered with papers, charmingly mingled with wild flowers, and a few tokens of vertu, bespoke an intellect unassisted by fortune, and unsolaced by congenial companionship. The sad thoughtfulness of his calm gray eye, and the subdued melancholy resting on his expressive features, evinced his consciousness of unrequited worth. As the dark cloud imprisons the brilliant star, so did his adverse circumstances conceal yet nourish to maturity his great and glorious gifts.
An invalid mother and a maiden sister were his only housemates. Miss Harriet was twenty years older than her brother, the interregnum having been filled by quite a numerous family, long since passed away. Ilarriet loved her brother, but it was after her own fashion. There was much selfishness mingled with it, and her coarser nature often misinterpreted the sensitiveness of his. He understood her dis
position well, and repaid her attention to him with all the tenderness of his pure and gentle heart. His aged mother had long suffered from a complication of diseases, but the calm content beautifying her furrowed countenance bespoke a spirit healthy and resigned. From the boisterous presence of his sister, marred as it was by household cares, he loved 10 steal to his parent’s chair, and while his hand rested in hers, partake of that sweet communion which soothed her trying lot. At such seasons his youthful joys came freshly to his soul again, and the gifted man knelt like a little child at the feet of his mother. And she ? Lovely to her woman's heart was the son she had so carefully trained in the sad, dark hours of early widowhood.
If at times his thoughts were tinged with sadness as he looked on the dreariness around his dwelling, he was consoled by the thought that he had been able to support the declining years of those who had struggled amid poverty and sorrow to fit him for his sacred vocation. The voice of nature was not echoless in his breast. There were times when the still moonbeams fell on his study floor and found him sitting in their midst absorbed in those pleasing day-dreams that oftenest visit those who are least able to make them bright realities. Visions of domestic love such as his heart had not yet known, spread their bright-tipped wings before him half in mockery, as if to flee as soon
Then would arise the memory of a gentle girl, known but for a short time, yet loved with a hopeless heart. He had shipped and fled. No stern guardians forbade the mingling of those young spirits, but the mailed hand of necessity had severed hearts well fitted for an indissoluble union. Called to a distant parish when but twenty-two, he had for the last eight years devoted himself to no mistress, save duty. The lady of his love was to him but as a distant star, to which his feeble hand might never reach. Ilis mother and sister were ever-present objects of his tender care, to whom he could present no rival
claims on the slender income that kept them from want.
It was a triumphant boast with the people of Mumford, that there was but one church in the place, although the heavily-laden waggons wending their way out of the town every Sabbath, bespoke no boastful oneness of sentiment. They had jogged along the path of life with their late pastor, without any disquieting assaults upon the “sins that inost easily beset them," and with a sleepy pace only accelerated by the
prospect of making a good bargain. They 3 looked forward to a long and quiet union with
their“ new man,” contenied if he ambled along on his own hobby without disturbing theirs. The women thought he ought to marry, and often murmured at the selfishness of his mother and sister in usurping a place so much better filled by a wife. Their remarks were not long aimed at the good mother. She soon slept in peace. The church was crowded to excess to hear the last tributes paid to the deceased. In the midst of his own sorrow the pastor remembered his careless flock. Pale with mental conflict, he stood himself in his accustomed place, and to his surprised people powerfully commented on an event that had robbed his household of its chief loveliness. The solemnity of the occasion, the presence of the dead, the noble self-forgetfulness of their pastor, thrilled hearts never before touched by fire from heaven. There was weeping and selfcondemnation, sorrowing unto repentance, and a new bond cemented between the leader and his people. Dust was committed to dust, a few words of solace spoken, a knocking at the longclosed avenue to stubborn hearts, and one generous soul made happy though bereaved, while in the still watches of the night it thought of those who had been made living through the dead.
Among the people assembled were many citizens who sounded his praises in their native city, and invited him to preach for them. Not long after he accepted an invitation to preach there for a college friend who was disabled by sickness. In the midst of an eloquent exordium, his eye chanced to rest upon the pale countenance of a young female who had been seated but a few moments. There was a violent rushing of blood back to its source, a momentary pause, a pale cheek, a nervous hand, and once more he was above all earthly sense, and pleading for his wounded Lord. There was a slight stir amid the people, a
sudden inattention to the speaker, and a woman was carried out to the fresh air. Some thought the impure atmosphere of the crowded room had caused the fainting ; others that conviction had seized her; but there was one in that congregation of beating hearts who knew that he was remembered and loved! Again the moonbeams fell upon the study floor, and in their midst was the day-dreamer with his vision by his side, living, real, and most lovely. He had sought her on the morrow of that eventful day, when heart answered heart amid the unconscious throng. She had kept holy the inner temple of her heart for him, and he had cherished her memory with undying love. A change had come to both. She was parentless and rich; he was inotherless and deprived of the solace of his lonely house.
His sister Harriet coldly welcomed the usurper, for such she felt the young wife to be. With jealous eye she watched the changes in the dwelling. The cold, bare floors were carpeted. Pictures covered the walls, and tasteful drapery shaded the unseemly casements. Flowers dispensed their odors throughout the house, and edged the paths in the dooryard and garden. The plantain disappeared, and the mullen stalks no longer encroached on the rightful tenants of the lawn. Harriet consoled herself by drinking tea more frequently abroad, and listening with encouraging countenance to the inuendoes flung at the foreign wife. “Public spirit,” the incensed dames thought,“ should have led their pastor to seek a wife at home.” Time passed away most happily at the Parsonage. The wellmated couple saw, but rose above the petty malice of their neighbors. The sweet face and winning manners of the lady, disarmed many of their power to sting. To Harriet she conceded all she could with dignity, but unavailingly sought her love. From her bitter smiles and still more bitter words, she would fly to the fond tenderness of the heart that loved but her alone. There were noments when the young wife felt most keenly the formal salutes and distant manners of her husband's people, conscious as she was that she had not deserved their ill-will. If disliked abroad, she was fondly appreciated by one at home. Her guileless heart and true picty were rewarded with the full confidence of her husband. Her benevolence was so unostentatious as to be only known to the recipients of her bounty. Her talents, of the highest order,
were willingly devoted to the unnoted duties of wife and home. A character so lovely could not fail in time to soften the most obdurate, but ere hers had subdued the unprovoked enmity of those around her, she passed into a world where enmity is unknown. Three years of happiness with his first fond choice, and he was again lonely and sad. Far sadder than before, for a new development had been made in his sister's character; an impassable gulf now lay between her and his affection.
The willow sapling drooping over his wife's grave had expanded into a matured tree, and the lonely widower's visits to the spot were no less frequent, when the persuasions of his repentant sister, who was rapidly declining, induced him to unite himself with one who had won his respect by her kindness to his only surviving relative. Perhaps the consciousness that he was loved by her, made him the more acquiescent. The utmost tranquillity reigned within the dwelling. The sister and new wife were dear friends ; the stepmother and her husband's children were companions; but the pastor himself was as far from companionship
He missed the strikingly beautiful traits that had charmed him in his first wife ; the fine talents so modestly displayed to his enraptured mind; the childlike tenderness overflowing lip and eye; the warm, impulsive piety known only to God and him; the patient forbearance towards his sister; the fond clinging to his, of “ a heart the world had stung.” Not that he repented his granting the wish of a sister, whose sincere repentance had nearly re-won his love. He felt the good influence of his present wife, but there was little in a negative character like hers, to win the whole heart of a man of genius and refined taste. She was not popular with his people, neither was she obnoxious. She was, in the broadest sense, a nobody, formed to slip along in the crowd without fixing the eyes of envy and malice upon herself, to her own injury. With sufficient policy to bend to the caprices of others, she was guiltless of a noble disdain for the follies to which she succumbed.
All said that the pastor's second was far wiser than his first choice, yet he might have done better, had he married a native of the place, and one of his own congregation. They now condescended to pay social visits to the Parsonage, sure of being no more distressed by the presence of a harp, or any other tokens of intellectual superiority, all of which had
been removed long before to an old lumber room in the attic-all, save those articles which the fond husband deemed too sacred for other precincts than the study. The costume of the present lady, although very expensive, had not that inimitable blending of grace and simplicity that marked the more economical dress of the first wife. Every one remarked upon the greater propriety of the present lady's habits, so easy is it to praise the unenviable.
There were some poor families who remembered with thankful hearts the gentle tones and soothing hand, now still and cold, but these had no voice in Mumford. They were brow-beaten into silence right speedily.
The new lady was not unkind, but she detested trouble. She wept, when the poor were feelingly alluded to in the sermon; so she believed herself possessed of a tender heart. Iler kindness to Harriet had abated since her mar. riage ; not that she was unkind, but it required a great object to arouse her latent energy. This object was now attained. She paid Harriet, who was never very penetrating, with words, while she deputed the step-daughter to perform the deeds. There was a lurking satisfaction in her heart at the prospect of being soon rid of her sister-in-law, for words became a trouble at last, and she began to grow weary of trying to prove to her husband that she was much more amiable than his first choice, never doubting that he was convinced of it. Death, however, saved her the trouble of feigning sorrow over the corpse of her sister. She was suddenly carried off by a stroke of palsy, and it was observed that her husband was calm and tearless at her funeral.
His gentle Agnes had been laid in a sweet spot of her own selection, far away from the graves of those who had envied and hated her; but the late Mrs. Ernestein reposes by her mother in a neighboring churchyard, where she had played in her earliest girlhood.
The younger Agnes recalled to her father those sunny hours of his life so sadly contrasted by the darker experiences of his early and later days. Harriet soon followed her sister, and for a few years father and daughter lived together in happy fellowship.
The people of Mumford had evidently improved under the influence of their pastor, and they were not unthankful for his devotion, and for his refusal of calls to more congenial but less needing places.
Temperance and other benevolent societies
had been formed in the town. Mr. Ernestein entered heart and hand into the field. He was thrown into closer communion with his people, and they manifested a deeper interest in him. The marriage of his daughter into one of the most influential families in the town, was the first connection of the kind in his family that had pleased his flock. He was grateful for their open manifestations of pleasure, and his daughter reconciled him more thoroughly with his people than he supposed was possible. T'wenty years had wrought great changes in them, and his indignation at their treatment of his beloved wife was subdued by their kindness to her daughter, and by the reflection that death had stilled forever many of the defaming tongues that had assailed one who spoke ill of none.
As he mingled more intimately with his people, he perceived they were anxious that he should make a third choice, and more than one person had told him who that choice should be. He was now fisty years of age, though apparently much older, for grief had done its sure and silent work. His daughter still kept house for him, and he would have been content to rernain single, but it was not to be. An energetic maiden of suitable age, and the most popular woman in the town, was the candidate upheld by the people. Satisfied that the lack of character, which had so charmed his sister and repulsed him, in his second wife, was not one of this lady's failings, he bent to the will of the majority, and surrounded by smiling faces, and pleased maneuverers, he bore off his prize amid united acclamations.
The new wife laughed trouble to scorn. She was the busiest of women, although it would have been difficult to produce a thing she had finished. She was a capital planner, and was presidentess of all the benevolent societies in the town. She had carried a banner most gracefully in a temperance procession ; it was also whispered that she had influenced all the voters in town, and to her was owing the general turn-out in favor of Harrison. It would be in vain to enumerate all the acts that had brought her into notice and favor.
It was hinted that she was sometimes a contributor to the popular papers of the day, but no one had seen her effusions. Some pretty verses full of soul and feeling were pronounced hers, and she rather favored the idea, until the editor who had inserted them in his paper divulged the secret.
of “ Agnes” was found to be no nom de guerre, but the real name of the writer, who was no other than their pastor's Srst wife, he having found them among her papers directed to his especial care. It was not without some chagrin, that many persons remembered how rapturously they had praised these verses in the presence of their pastor, supposing them the production of the wife they had chosen for him.
In six months Mr. Ernestein thoroughly understood the popular pet. Consummate tact, serpent-like policy, a heart hard and polished as Parian marble, a spirit pliant as the pensile willow when pleased, and unbending as the oak when opposed, were the characteristics of the country patroness. Pleasant tea parties, where every one's foibles were studied and flattered; re-unions, of would-be wits, above whom she soared in borrowed plumes, and talked her husband pale, were the chief delights of the popular lady, and the consolidating instruments of her power. At home, in deshabille, she reigned the despot of her hour. Agnes had left after a short acquaintance with her character. She, with her husband, endeavored by occasional visits, which the new wife managed to render unfrequent, to console her care-worn parent, whose life was rapidly hastening to a close. To Agnes he had committed those relics of his first wife which he had so long cherished. A complete revolution had banished every trace of her once loved presence from other parts of the house.
Enfeebled by disease, and no longer able to contend with his lady's irascible temper, the good pastor resigned his office to a younger successor, and silently withdrew to his daughter's house, where he shortly after expired, entreating with his latest breath to be laid by his gentle Agnes. The tide of popularity ebbed as it is wont to do, and the minister's widow preferring deeper water, retired to a neighboring town where she was unknown; not without leaving a suspicion in the minds of those who did know her, that they had not chosen as well for their pastor as he had chosen for himself.
Gentle and lovely, the more fortunate Agnes dwells near the graves of her parents, and often the village maidens pause to gaze upon the shaded spot, where flowers wave, and insects sing, beside the redeemed and suffering children of God, by whose resistless power their spirits were united.