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Betrothal by Proxy, A Romance of Genealogy - Atlantic

CHAPTER I.

Ye who listen with impatience to the Reports of Historical Societies and have hitherto neglected to subscribe to an Antiquarian Journal, ye who imagine that there can be no intelligent and practical reply to the cui bono? shake of the head which declines to supply the funds for a genealogical investigation, attend to the history of my adventure in Foxden.

There!—I like to begin with the Moral; for no sensible man will leave the point and purpose of his testimony to the languid curiosity of a spent reader. Dr. Johnson never did so; and who am I to question his literary infallibility? So if you do not take kindly to the solemn rumble of the Johnsonese mail-coach of a sentence in which we set out, receive the purport of it thus: It is of advantage to be on good terms with one's ancestors: Also; men absorbed in this practical present may be all the better for a little counter irritation with the driest twigs of the family-tree.

And now, Why did I marry Miss Hurribattle? I am sure I had no intention of doing so. In the first place, when about eighteen years of age, I had firmly determined never to marry anybody. Then there were so many nice tea-ing families in the Atlantic city whose principal street was decorated by my modest counsellor's sign, that I really must excuse the rather unpleasant wonder of several friends at my out-of-the-way selection. That a somewhat experienced advocate, who had resisted for three years the fascinations of city belle-ship, should spend the legal vacation in a visit to an old gentleman he never saw before, and return affianced to a lady nobody had ever heard of,—I own there was something temptingly discussible in the circumstance; and knowing that fine relish for personal topics which distinguishes the American conversazione, how could I hope to escape? At first, it was a little awkward, when I went to a party, to see people who were talking together glance at me and murmur on with increased interest. Sometimes, when the wave of talk retreated a little, I would catch the prattle of some retiring rill to this effect: "But who are these Hurribattles? What an odd name! I wonder if that had anything to do with it."

The querist, whoever he or she might be, had unconsciously struck upon the explanation of the whole matter. Yes, it was the name: it had a great deal to do with it. And if you will allow me to step back a little into the past, and thence begin over again in good storyteller fashion, I will endeavor to make you understand how it all came about.

If I were obliged to designate in one word the profession and calling of Colonel Prowley of Foxden, I should say he was a Correspondent. Of course I do not mean a regular newspaper-correspondent, paid to concoct letters from Paris in the office of the "Foxden Regulator"; nor yet the amateur ditto, who is never tired of making family-tours to the White Mountains. But rather was he a gentleman, with an immense epistolary acquaintance all over the country, whose main business in life consisted in writing letters to all sorts of persons in a great variety of places. And this he did as his particular contribution towards the solution of this question: What in the world—or rather, what in the United States—is a man to do who accumulates sufficient property to relieve him from the necessities of active business? The answers offered to this inquiry of the Democratic Sphinx are, as we all know, various enough. Some men, of ready assurance and fluent speech, go into politics; some doze in libraries; some get up trotting-matches and yacht-races; while others dodge the difficulty altogether by going to disport themselves among the arts and letters of a foreign land. Colonel Prowley, with considerable originality, was moved to find employment in letter-writing, pursuing it with the same daily relish which many people find for gossip or small-talk. And this is the way in which I came to be favored with the good gentleman's communications. About three years ago a friend in England procured for me a book that I had long coveted,—Morton's "New English Canaan," printed at Amsterdam in the year 1637. This little volume, after the novelty of a fresh perusal was past, I happened to lend to a young gentleman of our boarding-house, who prepared short notices of books for one of the evening papers. He, it would appear, thought that some account of my acquisition might supply the matter for his diurnal paragraph. At all events, I received, some days after, a letter dated from Foxden, and bearing the signature of Elijah Prowley. It was couched in the old-fashioned style of compliment and excuses for the liberty taken,—which liberty consisted in requesting to have a fac-simile made of a certain page of a work that he had traced through a newspaper-article to my possession. The object, he said, was to supply the deficiency in a copy of the "Canaan" that had a place in his own library. Of course the request was complied with, and the correspondence begun.

The Colonel, to do him justice, wrote very entertaining letters, despite the somewhat antiquated phraseology in which his sentiments were clothed. Indeed, I soon found in his epistles all the variety of the grab-bag at a country-fair, in which the purchaser of the right of grab fumbles with pleasing uncertainty as to whether he is to draw forth a hymn-book or a shaving-brush, a packet of note-paper or a box of patent polish for stoves. At one time he would communicate the particulars of some antiquarian discovery at Foxden; at another he would copy for me the weekly bill of the town mortality, or journalize the parish quarrels about the repairs of the stove-funnel in Mr. Clifton's church.

I was well pleased to find that the little notes of acknowledgment which I despatched after the receipt of these leviathans seemed to be considered a sufficient representation of capital to justify the enormous rate of epistolary interest which the Colonel bestowed. I liked the style of my correspondent. It did me good to meet with the strong old expressions of our ancestors that were turning up in unexpected places. If the dear old phrases were sometimes better or worse than the fact they expressed, they must have improved what was good, and gibbeted more effectually what to the times seemed evil. Who would now think of designating a parcel of serious savages "the praying Indians of Natick"? And yet there is a sound and a power about the words that would go far to convert the skeptical aborigines in their own despite. Why, there was something rich and nervous in the talk of the very lawmakers. "The accursed sect of the Quakers,"—what a fine spirit such an accusative case gives to the dry formula of a legal enactment! the beat of the drum by which the edict was proclaimed in the streets of Boston seems only an appropriate accompaniment to so stirring a denunciation. Then to invite a brother to "exercise prophecy,"—as Winthrop used to call the business of preaching,—there is really something soul-invigorating in the very sound. No wonder the people could stand a good two-hours' discourse under so satisfactory a title!

I suppose, then, that much of my original relish for the communications of my Foxden correspondent came from his mastery over the antique glossary, and perhaps the rather ancient style of thought that fitted well the method of conveyance. Indeed, a good course of Bishop Copleston's "magic-lanthorn school" made me peculiarly susceptible to the refreshment of changing the gorgeous haze of modern philosophers for the sharpness and vitality with which old-fashioned people clothe such ideas as are vouchsafed to them.

I soon found that my friend had that passion for what may be called petty antiquarian research which is so puzzling to those who escape its contagion. Also that a pride of family, that lingers persistently in some parts of New England, seemed to concentrate itself and envelop him as in a cloud. He had attained the age of sixty a bachelor,—perhaps from finding no person in Foxden of sufficiently clear lineage to be united with the Squire's family,—or perhaps because he had a sister, five years older than himself, who fulfilled the duties of companion and housekeeper.

How strange a sensation it is to feel a real friendship and familiarity with one we have never seen! Yet if people are drawn together by those mysterious affinities which, like the daughters of the horse-leech, are ever crying, "Give, give," a few bits of paper bridge over space well enough, and enable us to recognize abroad the scattered fragments that complete ourselves.

The Colonel studied up my ancestors, who, it appears, were once people of sufficient consideration in the land, and finally transferred the interest to myself. At one time he took the trouble to go down to Branton, about forty miles from Foxden, for the purpose of verifying inquiries about progenitors of mine who had originally settled in that place. He advised me, as a son, in my reading and business; and although I often dismissed his suggestions as the whims of an old-fashioned recluse, I was always touched by the simplicity and sincere interest that prompted them. He would mysteriously hint that something might one day occur to give tangible proof of the regard in which he held me; but as I paid little heed to such warnings, I was totally unprepared for the plan developed in the letter of which an extract is here presented:—

"Concerning the propriety of your marrying, my dear young friend, my sister and myself have long known but one opinion; the only difficulty that has exercised us being, whom, among my divers correspondents, we could most heartily commend to your selection. Now it is known to you that I have striven for some time past to trace the descendants of the old family of Hurribattel, who seem to have disappeared from Branton about the year ten in the present century. The interest I have taken in the research comes from the fact that your great-great-uncle appears at one time to have been affianced to a lady of that family. For what reason an alliance which had everything to recommend it was broken off I have sorely puzzled myself to conjecture, but linger always in the labyrinths of doubt. Some months ago I received a catalogue from the Soggimarsh College in the Far West, to whose funds I had contributed a modest subscription. I was thrown into an ecstasy of astonishment, when, in glancing over the names of the honorable Faculty, my attention was arrested by words to this effect: Miss Hurribattle, Professor of Calisthenics and Female Deportment. Of course, I wrote to her immediately, and received right cordial replies to all inquiries. She seemed much interested in the union of the families that was formerly contemplated, and much desires to see you as the representative of your great-great-uncle. I need only add, that, so far as may be judged by the happy vein of her correspondence, she has at present no ensnarement of the heart, and has agreed to pay me a visit at Foxden the first of August next, when, by reason of the vacation, she will be at liberty for five weeks. Your own visit to me, so often postponed, is, as I believe, definitively fixed for the same time. So I expect you both, and need not enlarge on the strange delight it would give me, if a family-engagement of seventy years' standing should be closed by a marriage beneath my roof."

There was something so preposterous in this desperate match-making between people whom they had never seen, that Colonel Prowley and his sister had taken into their hands, that it really made a greater impression upon me than if the parties had been less unlikely to come together. A Professor of Calisthenics! Could anything be more unpromising? Yet, when my friend copied for me some extracts from the lady's letters that were sensible and feminine, I thought how odd it would be, if something should come of it, after all. I often found myself skipping Colonel Prowley's accounts of old Doctor Dastick, Mrs. Hunesley, and other great people of his town, and pondering upon the notices of his Western correspondent. I began to have a mysterious presentiment—which, in view of the calisthenics, I could not explain—that we might be not unadapted to each other. In any case, the lady's fine family-name was a recommendation that I knew how to appreciate. They have very young professors out West, I thought, and this is merely a temporary position; besides, I had a friend who married a female physician, and the match has turned out a very happy one. So I played with the idea, half in jest and half seriously, and looked forward with much interest to my visit to Foxden.

CHAPTER II

It was near noon, on an August day, when the train left me at the Foxden
station. Upon casting my eyes about to see what was to be done next,
I observed a very shabby and rickety carryall, with the legend
"Railway-Omnibus" freshly painted upon its side.

"It is better than a mile and a half up to Colonel Prowley's; but I calculate I can take you there, after I've left this lady," responded the proprietor of this turnout, in reply to a question of mine.

"But I want to go to Colonel Prowley's, too," said a feminine voice at my side.

"Well, now that's _com_plete," acquiesced the driver. "I'll just go get the baggage, and put you both through right away."

Of course I turned to view my companion. She was a middle-aged lady, something disordered in dress and hair, with a sharply marked countenance, and that diffusive sort of eye that seems to take one in as a speck which breaks the view of more interesting objects lying on the verge of the horizon. Yet her face was dimpled by those indescribable changing lines which indicate that a cessation of impulse has not marked the wearer's retreat from youth, and make us feel anew how blessed a thing it is for the character to keep our impulses strong within us, and to be strong ourselves in their restraint.

I was doubting whether to begin those little shivers and sidelings with which people who feel that they ought to be acquainted, but have nobody to introduce them, endeavor to supply the deficiency, when the lady abruptly pronounced my name, and inquired if I responded thereto.

"I thought it must be you," she said, on being satisfied regarding my identity, "for the Colonel wrote me that he expected you about this time. I feel we shall become friends. I am Miss Hurribattle."

Although I had a strong suspicion who it must be, yet a cold surprise seemed to run through me, when the dire certainty so suddenly declared itself. I dropped my carpet-bag, as if all my daintily built castles were in it, and it was best to crush them to pieces at once and have it over. I pondered, and helped tie a bandbox on behind the vehicle, and after some time found myself in the carryall staring at the felt hat of the driver an inch or two before my nose, and Miss Hurribattle established by my side. It occurred to me that it was my place to resume the conversation, and, in a sudden spasm of originality, I changed a remark respecting the beauty of the day into an observation on the steepness of the hill we began to ascend.

"It is very steep," assented the lady, "and I have a particular objection to riding up-hill: it always appears to me I am helping the horses draw. However, it may sometimes be pleasant; for I remember paying a visit of a fortnight to Boston, when I was a girl, and there I really thought that hills could not have been placed more conveniently."

"How so?" inquired I.

"Why, I stayed with some friends who lived in Charles Street, just on the bay; consequently we always drove up-hill when we went to a party, and downhill when we came home."

"And you were always so much more content to return than to go, that the accelerated speed of a down-hill passage was agreeable," suggested I, after having cast about vaguely for an explanation.

"Oh, dear! no! It was all on account of my back-hair: for in going up-hill one naturally leans forward,—so, of course, it couldn't get tumbled; but when we were coming home, it was no matter."

I glanced slightly at Miss Hurribattle, and thought it strange that a lady of her present disorderly and straggly appearance could have ever felt so much interest in fashionable proprieties. She seemed to be conscious of what was passing in my mind, and suddenly said,—

"Did you ever see a lady throw a stone?"

"I probably have," I replied; "though I do not at present recall any particular instance."

"Very well, then,—you will remember that it always seems as if she was going to throw herself after it. Now I recognize in this a portion of the mystic instruction that natural phenomena may give us, if we look at them earnestly; for is it not intended that woman should pursue with her whole being whatever she undertakes? The man throws his stone with a little jerk of the hand: he may be a legislator, a philanthropist, a father, and a merchant, each with distinct portions of himself, and be each with all the better effect to the others; but when a woman throws her stone, it is better for her to project herself along with it."

"But, surely, you cannot believe that she is entitled only to a single fling at the mark?"

"On the contrary, let her change her mark as often as she finds it too easy or too hard to hit. All I insist upon is a temporary concentration upon one pursuit. You wondered just now that I could ever have cared for display, or have thought much of my appearance; but at that time I knew no better, and followed the world with a devotion for which I have now, I trust, a better object."

I began to be quite interested in the sincerity and confidence with which my companion talked to me, and, after a few remarks expressing concurrence, I framed a question that would draw out the motives of her connection with the college, should she care to communicate them.

"It has been fortunate for me," answered Miss Hurribattle, "to have been born with an activity of temperament that has kept me from that maladie des désabusés which, when the freshness of youth has passed, frequently attacks ladies of some intellectual culture who do not marry. A strong principle of self-assertion, that has long been characteristic of my family, has left us unbound by that common propriety of sacrificing our best happiness for the sake of appearing happy to the world. This induced my father to quit Branton in pretty much the same spirit of opposition with which Chatterton quitted Bristol. Disgusted with its local celebrities, and chafing under the petty exactions and petty gossip to which a sudden loss of fortune had exposed him, he left the town without communicating to the neighbors his future destination. But I will not poach upon our friend the Colonel's speciality, and give you a family-history. It is sufficient to say that a year or two ago I was led to interest myself in the Soggimarsh College as a ground unincumbered by the old incredulities of man's best inspirations which grow so thickly in what are called the highest civilizations,—incredulities, indeed, which, in the fine figure of Coleridge, are nothing but credulities after all, only seen from behind, as they bow and nod assent to the habitual and the fashionable. But I see you are wondering at the particular position in the Academy which our catalogue assigns me, and you shall have the explanation. I have for a long time been painfully impressed with the total neglect of physical education by the women of America. It seems to me that no very important moral advance can be achieved while the exquisite organism through which our impressions come, and through which they should go forth again in acts, is so perverted. I was very anxious that the Soggimarsh College should distinctly recognize a correct physical training as being at least as important as any branch of mental discipline. Accordingly, when the titles of the professorships were under discussion, it seemed right not to take my designation from the classes I instruct in history and philosophy, but from the general gymnastic development of the female members of the college, which it is likewise my duty to oversee. I know, of course, that the prejudices of the public would hold me in greater esteem as a teacher of some ancient lore than in the capacity I assume before them; but you see I throw my stone in the womanish fashion, and do not leave enough of myself behind to be troubled about the matter."

I believe I have good Sir Thomas Browne's fancy of rejoicing to find people individual in something beside their proper names; and by this, as well as much more conversation not set down, I had the satisfaction to discover that Miss Hurribattle had something more than her bold patronymic to distinguish her from the Misses Smith and Robinson of my city-acquaintance. I could hardly believe that we had advanced so far to the footing of old friends, before we reached our destination. As our carryall turned into Colonel Prowley's avenue, however, a sudden recollection of the little romance the proprietor had arranged for his arriving guests came over me like a terrible dream. What a pity it is, I thought, that a friendly intercourse which I should highly prize must be disturbed by the awkward consciousness that this old letter-writer and his sister are watching and misinterpreting with all the zeal of match-makers who have baited their trap, and are ready to mistake anything for a nibble!

We drew up before a formal-looking, old-fashioned house, with piazzas to the two stories, each bordered with a good extent of unquestionably modern gutter. The staple growth of the place, in which the house was set, like the centre of an antique breastpin, seemed to lie in the shrub called box. This ornamental vegetable stretched down each side of the gravel walk, hedged in all sorts of ugly geometrical figures that contained flower-beds, and stood sentinel to the lower line of the piazza; farther on, you would see it allowed to grow to the height of three or four feet, to be curiously cut into cubes, pyramids, and miniature arches.

Colonel Prowley, who was soon at the door to receive us, was a much less imposing sort of man than I had imagined him. He appeared short and modest, and showed a kind face set about half-way up the chin in one of the old section-of-stove-pipe stocks that buckle up from behind; there was a little embarrassment in his manner, as if he found it hard to receive with proper cordiality two dear friends whose faces he had never before seen. We were taken to the parlor, stiffly neat in all its appurtenances, introduced to Miss Prowley, and soon after summoned to dinner.

There was much satisfaction in sitting down to such a repast as the Colonel knew how to give, only it made one shudder a little when he told us the names of great people long passed away who had ranged themselves about the same piece of mahogany during the days of his father and grandfather, for fourscore years into the past. However, if such reminiscences make us reflect upon the mutable character of human affairs, and send grave speculations of the "fleeting show" and "man's illusion" concerning which the poet has told us, I find that the best way is to remember that it is well to make our humble department in the show as entertaining as we can, and our little fragment of the illusion as illusive as possible.

At the head of the table sat the sister of our host, arrayed in the lank bombazine skirt, tight sleeves, and muslin cravat, which constituted the old-lady uniform of the past generation, and which in rare instances yet survives in the country. Upon her right hand was placed the clergyman, Mr. Clifton, who came to dine every Monday,—it being a convenient arrangement on account of the washing; and on her left was one Deacon Reyner, who kept the parish records, and was the local antiquary of the town.

One of the pleasantest diversions with which I am acquainted is a dinner among elderly people of character and originality, who are content to toss about the ball of conversation among themselves, and allow me to watch the game. And in this way was I entertained on my arrival at Foxden; for Miss Hurribattle was directly at her ease, and had plenty to say; while the brother and sister were content to offer the best of everything, and did not attempt to draw me out of my silence. I perceived they were thinking what a pity it was that Miss Hurribattle and myself had not the equality of age and temper that they had fancied for us; for I observed how they would follow the streaks of gray that straggled through the lady's locks, and then glance at the neatly turned moustache upon which in those days I prided myself, and realize that their agreeable plans might be destined to disappointment.

I remember the conversation first fell upon a certain general history of the Prowley family that its present masculine representative had in preparation.

"By the way," said Deacon Reyner, addressing the future historian on this head, "I have secured a correct copy of poor Prosody's epitaph, as you asked me the other day."

Miss Hurribattle, who looked as if she had some doubt whether poor Prosody was a man or an animal, returned a non-committal, "Indeed! I am very glad of it," but soon after added, "Was he a favorite dog?"

"A dog!" exclaimed the Colonel, whose family-history, dates and all, seemed to course his veins instead of blood, "he was my many times great uncle! I have surely told you how Noah Prowllie, who came to New England in 1642, and is supposed to have settled at Foxden some years later, married Desire, daughter of the Reverend Jabez Pluck. Being a rigid grammarian,—a character sufficiently rare at that period,—he named his three sons Orthography, Syntax, and Prosody,—a proceeding that is understood to have offended the Reverend Jabez, who was naturally partial to the Scriptural nomenclature then in vogue. His scruples, I regret to say, were more than justified in the conduct of his grandchildren. Poor Orthography Prowllie was an idle fellow, who never got beyond making his mark upon paper, and consequently made none in the world; Syntax could never agree with anybody; while as for Prosody, poor fellow"——

"It is enough to say that neither his verses nor his life would bear scanning!" said the Deacon, desiring to keep the conversation off unpleasant topics.

"But you certainly had a poet in your family?" said Miss Hurribattle, determined to repair her blunder by suggesting a potent cause of congratulation.

"Indeed we had, Madam!" said the Colonel, with creditable emotion; "though unfortunately none of his productions have come down to us. But we have the highest contemporary testimony to his excellence in a copy of verses prefixed to his posthumous discourse entitled 'The New Snare of a Maypole, or Satan's own Trap for a Slippery Church.' The lines were written by his colleague, the Reverend Exaltation Brymm, and are certainly much to the purpose: I generally keep a copy of them in my pocket-book."

"Oh, do read them, brother!" said Miss Prowley, with strong interest.

Thus adjured, the Colonel produced a piece of paper, put on his spectacles, and read to this effect:—

  "New Englande! weep: Thy tuncfull Prowllie's gone,
  Who skillfully his Armour buckled on
  Agaynst Phyllystine Scorn and Revelrie:
  His Sword well-furbished was a Sight to see!
  This littel Booke of his shall still be greene
  While Sathan's Fangles lorden stand betweene:
  Now Pet of Sinne boil up thy dolefull Skum!
  Ye juggelling Quakers laugh: his Inkhorn's dumb.
  He put XIII Pslames in verse for our Quire,
  And with XXVII Pastorals witcht Apollo's Lyre."

"Do you recollect John Norton's funeral elegy on Ann Bradstreet, the Eve of our female minstrelsy?" interrogated Miss Hurribattle; "there are two lines in it which are still in my memory:—

  'Could Maro's muse but hear her lively strain,
  He would condemn his works to fire again.'

What a launch upon the sea of fame! and how sad it is that an actual freight of verses should be preserved in the ship's hold!"

"Well, well, my kinsman was perhaps wise in trusting none of his psalms or pastorals to the press, especially as that greatest of poets, Pope, has since been in the world. But I truly regret that he left no portrait, nor even so much as an outline in black from which something might be made up by an imaginative artist. I have judges, majors, and attorneys, all properly labelled, in the other room, who would be much improved by a slight dash of the aesthetic element; however, I suppose it can't be helped now!"

"Not unless you substitute Saint Josselyn for an ancestor, as Mrs.
Hunesley did the other day," said Miss Prowley.

"Ha, ha! it might not be a bad plan to follow out the lady's suggestion: but do tell the story of her strange mistake."

"Why, you must know that the other day old Doctor Dastick brought his New-York niece to call upon us. She began to talk to my brother, and when at last topics of conversation failed, turned to look at the picture of Saint Josselyn, which could be seen through the open folding-doors."

"The gentleman whose sole garment consists of some sort of skin thrown over his shoulders: you must all have observed it as we came in to dinner," said our host, in parenthesis.

"Well, immediately below the Saint hangs a small painting of Uncle Joshua, in white stockings, cocked hat, and coat of maroon velvet, the poor gentleman's favorite dress.

"'Ah!' said Mrs. Hunesley, with her eyes fixed upon the Saint, 'quite a fine portrait!'

"'Why, yes,' said my brother, naturally supposing she meant the small picture below, 'a very fine portrait, and a capital likeness of my Uncle Joshua.'

"'Indeed!' said the lady, with a well-bred effort to conceal her surprise; 'he was taken in a—a—fancy dress, I suppose.'

"'On the contrary, it was his ordinary costume,' insisted the Colonel. 'I can remember him walking up the broad-aisle at church, dressed just as you see him there.'

"'I should not have thought it would have been allowed! Did not the deacons turn him out?' exclaimed Mrs. Hunesley, in great astonishment.

"'Turn him out! Why, Madam, he was a deacon himself, and the most popular man in the parish.'

"'Well, I had no idea that such things had ever been permitted in this country! I should have supposed that the fear of such an example on the young would have induced people to keep him in confinement.'

"'Good heavens, Madam!' remonstrated the Colonel, roused to a desperate vindication of the family-honor, 'let me tell you that his excellent influence on the young was the crowning virtue of his character. He used to go about town with his pockets filled with nuts and gingerbread to reward them when they were good.'

"'It is enough,' replied the lady; 'our views of propriety are so totally different that we will not pursue the subject. I will only say that—really—in that dress, I don't see where he could have had any pockets!'"

Deacon Reyner laughed heartily at these strictures upon the proprieties of his predecessor, and said,—

"Of course, the last remark must have brought about an explanation."

"Why, yes," said Colonel Prowley; "but when we see how slight an accident resolved the mystery, we should receive with doubt much of the personal scandal which is tossing about the world."

The clergyman assented very cordially to this proposition, and added, that it was a reflection that those of his flock then present would do well to bear in mind that very evening at Doctor Dastick's bone-party.

I confess to being a little startled at the spectral name of this entertainment, and began to puzzle myself whether the Doctor gave a levee to rapping spirits, or moralized over the skulls in his collection, like Hamlet in the church-yard. Miss Hurribattle seemed wandering in the mazes of a similar perplexity, and finally said,—

"What is a bone-party? Is it given out of compliment to the dead or the living?"

"Nay," said the Deacon, "I don't see how it could be much of a compliment to the dead."

"Except upon the principle, De mortuis nil, nisi bone 'em!" suggested Miss Hurribattle, with such perfect gravity that neither Miss Prowley nor the clergyman suspected the jocular atrocity that was hidden in her speech.

"The bone-parties of old Doctor Dastick," explained the Colonel, "are entertainments peculiar to Foxden; and as there is to be one this evening to which we are all invited, any anticipation of the diversion seems likely to diminish whatever of satisfaction may be in prospect. I will, however, remark, that some of the Doctor's guests are grievously oppressed by somnolence during his scholastic expositions; as a protection against which infirmity of the flesh, I do commend an after-dinner nap. It has been the fashion of the house since the days of my grandfather; and as he lived to a ripe old age, I do not think it could have been deleterious."

Soon after this, Colonel Prowley pushed back his chair from the table as a signal for the dispersal of the party. And I betook myself to my chamber, a sober apartment, with very uneven floor and very small windows, through one of which I peered out upon the box before the house, and thought over the people whose acquaintance I had just made. Once only were these musings interrupted by snatches of a conversation between my host and hostess as they passed across the piazza.

"When this comes about, sister, as I still believe it must, you shall adorn a page of my diary with one of your illustrative drawings. A pair of doves would be appropriate, or perhaps a vine clinging round an oak."

"And which of our guests is to be represented by the oak?" asked Miss Prowley, in a tone which betrayed a woman's perception of matrimonial incongruities.

"Nay, sister, our young friend has a steadiness of character which would be ill-mated with some giddy girl from the nursery. So make your vine a little woody, and the union will be all the firmer."

As there was no chance of taking a nap after this, I presently descended to walk in the garden. And there I encountered Miss Hurribattle, who did not seem to be one of the convenient visitors who can be put to sleep after dinner. The conversation which I had the honor of renewing with the lady, though it did not at all advance the whimsical project of Colonel Prowley, increased my respect for the high instincts of Nature which prompted her concern in the elevation of woman. She showed me how a reform, presenting on its surface much that was meagre and partial, was sustained by those accomplished in the study of the question, no less from the rigorous necessities of logic than from the demonstrations of history and experiment.

And here, perchance, the reader observes that we make but slight progress towards a solution of the inquiry proposed some pages back. Yet let it be remembered that in real experience the novelist's art of foreshadowing the end from the beginning and aiming every petty incident at the final result is very seldom perceptible. "Il ne faut pas voyager pour voir, mais pour ne pas voir," says the proverb; and the journey of life is included in its application. We do our rarest deeds, we take our most important steps, by what seems accident. Instead of forming plans with remote designs, we find it our best policy to seize circumstances as they run past us,—knowing, that, if we have strength and quickness enough, we may take from them all that is required.

CHAPTER III.

Doctor Dastick's bone-party was certainly an entertainment of unique description. A kind old gentleman was its originator, who thought to turn the enthusiasm for lectures, which the Lyceum had developed in Foxden, into a private and pleasant channel. Possessed with this praiseworthy design, the Doctor, who had given up practice by reason of years and competence, remembered a certain cabinet containing fossils, crystals, fragments of Indian implements, small pieces of the skeletons of their proprietors, vertebrae of extinct animals, besides a great amount of miscellaneous rubbish that refused to come to terms and be classified. Thus it seemed good to the proprietor of this medical rag-bag to invite the citizens of Foxden to a series of explanatory lectures upon its varied contents. This would have done well enough, if the Doctor could only have persuaded himself to select his most interesting specimens, and read up upon them, so as to retail a little fluent information after the manner of the lyceum-philosophers. But, unfortunately, the professional pride of the lecturer induced him to speak without preparation or discrimination upon any osteological article which happened to come to hand: which fact, perhaps, accounted for the prevalent somnolence of the auditory, concerning which I had been forewarned.

It is barely possible that these midsummer-night diversions of Doctor Dastick were suggested by the fame of evenings which, during the previous winter, several city physicians (men of eminent scientific attainments) had devoted to the instruction of their friends. And rumor could scarcely have overestimated the privilege of listening to the discursive fireside talk of such accurate observers. Having vividly realized all that was to be known of their subjects of special investigation, these distinguished gentlemen would steam steadily athwart the light winds of conversation and bring their company to a pleasant haven. The Foxden ex-practitioner, however, lacking the metropolitan attrition which keeps the intellectual engine in effective polish, drifted vaguely in a sea of fragmentary information; —occasionally, to be sure, bumping against some encyclopedic argosy, but, for the most part, making very leisurely progress, with much apparent waste in the machinery. A brief extract from my note-book may furnish an idea of these scientific discourses.

"Now, my friends," pursues the Doctor, "let us examine another curiosity,"—here he would take down something that looked like a mottled paving-stone in a very crumbling condition,—"let us examine it carefully through the glass,"—here a pause, during which he performed the operation in question. "What is it? Is it a fossil turtle? No," —with great deliberation,—"I should say it was not a fossil turtle. Is it a mass of twigs taken from the stomach of a mastodon? No, on the whole, it can't be a mass of twigs taken from the stomach of a mastodon. Is it a specimen of the top of Mount Sinai? No, it is not a specimen of the top of Mount Sinai. What is it, then? I—don't—know— what—it—is!"

Having arrived at this satisfactory conclusion, the Doctor would pass on to the next specimen, which, having provoked a similar series of interrogations and negations, would be dismissed with no very different result.

There is sometimes an advantage in not being a notable person; at all events, I thought so, when I saw the Prowleys and their guests of chief consideration, to wit, the clergyman, deacon, and Miss Hurribattle, accommodated on the first row of chairs, with their faces under grand illumination by two camphene-lamps upon the Doctor's table. There they sat, together with Mrs. Hunesley from New York, two or three distinguished visitors from the hotel, and the elders of Foxden, looking wistfully at the bones, as if in envy of their fleshless condition that sultry August evening.

It was with real satisfaction that I perceived I was considered worthy of no more worshipful company than that of the standing stragglers at the dark end of the parlor. And as the evening breeze came freshly through the window at the back of the room, I rejoiced heartily in my lack of title to the consideration of being snugly penned in a more honorable position. As I found it might be done without attracting attention, I obeyed a strong impulse that seized me to pass through the open window to the piazza. Thence I presently descended, and strolled about the precise gravel-walks, puzzling myself to conjecture how much of the rich light was owing to the red glow which lingered in the west, and how much to the full moon just breaking through the trees. My investigations were suddenly interrupted by the advent of a carryall, which drove-with great rapidity to the Doctor's gate. It was the very railway-omnibus that a few hours before had brought Miss Hurribattle and myself from the station.

"Hello, Cap'n," called out the driver, complimenting me with that military title, "can you give a hand to this trunk? I've got to go right slap back after two more fares."

I was near the gate, and of course cheerfully acceded to this request. A heavy trunk was lifted out, and placed just behind the lilac-bushes at the edge of the lawn. The driver jumped into his omnibus and hurried away with all speed, lest his two fares should pay themselves to a rival conveyance. Behind him, however, he had left the proprietress of the trunk,—a lady of about five-and-twenty, in whose countenance I detected that strange sort of familiarity that entire strangers sometimes carry about them.

"This is Doctor Dastick's, is it not? Do you know whether Mrs. Hunesley expected me?" she asked, with a grace of manner that was quite irresistible.

I informed her that I was a stranger in the place, and was only at the Doctor's for a single evening; but that I could not think that Mrs. Hunesley expected anybody, as I had just seen that lady firmly fixed in the front row of chairs before the Doctor's table,—whence, owing to the crowd of sitters behind, she would have some difficulty in extricating herself.

"Oh, I would not have her called for the world!" gayly exclaimed my companion. "She has told me all about the dear old Doctor's lectures; and I would not disturb his learned explanations on any account."

"I do not think that the company in general would regret an interlude of modern life and interest," said I.

"Perhaps not; but nothing seems to me so rude and disagreeable as to interrupt people, or disturb their attention, when assembled for a definite object."

We walked up the gravel-path, and softly entered the hall, where a shawl and bonnet were deposited. The Doctor's discourse was very audible, and the unexpected visitor seemed disposed to establish herself upon one of the hall-chairs, and wait till it was over. There was a graceful confidence in her movement, which is to me more captivating than a pretty face; and when I had opportunity to observe more closely, I was greatly attracted by the sensibility and refinement expressed through a countenance which otherwise would have been plain. As I seemed to be whimsically cast in the part of host, and as I perceived the lady was too well-bred to make my position at all awkward, I proposed the piazza as a pleasanter place of waiting than that she had chosen.

And here let me make one of those weighty observations, derived from a profound experience, which I trust will have a redeeming savor to the judicious, should this tale of mine fail to command that general popularity to which I have begun to suspect its title. I have found that all the fine passages that lighten and enlighten this life of ours seldom run into the traps we set for them, but seem to take a perverse satisfaction in descending upon us when we are least prepared for their reception. I have never been asked out to dine with a gentleman, devoted, we will say, to the same speciality in which I have a humble interest, without being sadly disappointed in the talk that my host had kindly promised me. And when I am going to another country, and a dear friend gives me a letter to some one whom he tells me I shall be glad to meet, and from whom I shall gain great instruction, I accept the letter, knowing very well that the man I shall really be glad to meet, and from whom I shall truly gain instruction, will present himself on the top of a diligence, or take a seat at my table at some cheap café or chop-house. Thus it is, that, when there is every reason why people should break through the commonplace rubbish on the surface, and disclose a pure vein of thought and feeling, they rarely contrive to do it, but reserve their best things for the chances that touch them, when self-consciousness is asleep, and the unconstrained humanity within expands to absorb its like. Is it not in every one's experience that there are persons with whom chance has thrown us for a few hours, whom we know better, and who know us better, than the friends with whom we have babbled of green fields, thermometers, and dirty pavements for a score of years? As I confidently expect an affirmative reply to this question, I fear no censure in saying that the evening passed on Doctor Dastick's piazza made me feel there was a possibility of social intercourse resembling the extravagant spirituality of the mystics, when the soul bounds to the height of joyful knowledge, and without process or medium knows complete satisfaction.

How we came to talk of many things, I cannot remember; but we somehow found ourselves speaking of matters of near and deep experience without consciousness of singularity. We admitted those puzzling life-questions that present themselves, on a still summer evening, when we long to escape from the conditions of finite being, and yet contemplate the necessity of working at our tasks shackled by a thousand iron circumstances.

"My plan of life, so far as I have any, seems to point to education," said my companion. "I am thrown in great measure upon my own activity for support, and have an aunt who is very zealous in the work, and who has often asked me to become her fellow-laborer. Until now I could never well leave home; but she has written to me again since"—she stopped, as if distressed, and with a woman's tact glanced at her mourning-dress to tell me the story;—"she has written to me earnestly of late upon the subject. I feel how noble an object it is to live for, and I want an object, Heaven knows; but there are reasons—perhaps I should say feelings, not reasons—why I hesitate. I am asked to bind myself for ten years to the work in a Western college. There are many advantages in a permanent position, both for the teacher and the institution, but"—

Her voice faltered; and I felt that Nature had at times made other suggestions to that fresh young spirit, other possibilities had dawned through the future; perhaps they were certainties,—and the thought passed me with a shudder.

"Teaching is a terrible drudgery," I said; "the labor and devotion of the true teacher are yet unrecognized by the world."

"I am not afraid of the vexations," she replied: "I am very fond of being with young people; yet I have been taught to think it was happier, if our affections could be somewhat more concentrated than—In short, I had better finish an awkward sentence, by saying that I do not feel quite ready to pledge myself to give up all possibilities connected with my New-England home."

It was spoken with such sweet ingenuousness that I was only charmed. The simple sincerity of the confession seemed to me much better than the flippant jest and pert talk with which I had heard such subjects treated while making my observations upon what my city-acquaintances had assured me was good society. Is it not Sterling who exclaims that a luxurious and polished life without a true sense of the beautiful and the great is more barren and sad to see than that of the ignorant and the brutalized? And if this be true, how shall we imagine a greater satisfaction than to find the fresh truth of Nature set in a polished and graceful form? For since it is through form that we take cognizance of all we love and all we believe, it is well that the sign and idea should merge, and come complete and whole to govern us aright.

I should have no objection to meditating after this manner for a page or two, as well as further hinting what important nothings sparkled upon Doctor Dastick's piazza that pleasant summer night. But as I must curtail this biographical fragment in some part or other, it seems best to do it about that portion where I may trust that the experience of every reader will supply the deficiency.

How harshly sounded the creaking of the furniture, and how strangely commercial and matter-of-fact the voices of the people that announced the conclusion of the lecture! Mrs. Hunesley managed to get out among the first, and was heartily glad to see my newly acquired friend, calling her, "My dear Kate,"—which I thought was a very pretty name,—and saying that she had not expected her quite so soon.

I looked into the parlor and saw the Prowley party tumbling over chairs, and scaling settees, in their haste to meet the cooling breezes of the piazza. But when they finally accomplished their purpose, and I was advancing with inquiries and congratulations, I started at seeing the surprise depicted in the countenance of Miss Hurribattle, as she gazed in the direction where I stood.

"Why, Aunt Patience!" exclaimed a voice at my side.

"Why, Kate Hurribattle!" was the response.

"How in the name of wonder did you get to Foxden?"

"How under the sun did you get to Foxden?"

"Why I am here naturally enough as the guest of my friend Colonel
Prowley."

"And I am here naturally enough as the guest of my friend Mrs.
Hunesley."

Now if I had dramatized the little event I have been trying to relate, I should have reached the precise point where the auditor would button up his coat, put on his hat, let his patent spring-seat go up with a click, and begin to leave the theatre with all expedition. What would it matter to him that I had prepared a circumstantial account of how all petty objections were got over, or that I had elaborated a peculiarly felicitous tag which Colonel Prowley would speak at a few backs as they disappeared into the lobby? The auditor referred to has got an inkling of how things are to end, and can guess out the particulars as he hurries off to his business. And here will be observed our decided advantage in having made sure of the Moral by a vigorous assertion of the same at the commencement of this narrative; for, thus relieved of the necessity of a final flutter into the empyrean of ethics, we may part company in a few easy sentences.

Although the circumstances I have set down, from being awkwardly packed in a small compass, may not appear to fit into each other with all the exactness of a dissecting-map, I am sure, that, as they really occurred spread over a necessary time, they seemed natural and simple enough. Mrs. Hunesley, Doctor Dastick's favorite niece, was the schoolmate of Miss Kate Hurribattle, and what more likely than that she should invite her friend to pass a few weeks with her at her summer-home in the country? And could there be a greater necessity than that, meeting daily as we did through those lovely August weeks, she should become—in short, that I should marry Miss Hurribattle?

And when this foolish little romance, which had taken nebulous outline in the fancy of Colonel Prowley, suddenly fell at his feet a serious indubitability, the dear, delighted old gentleman was the first to declare, that, as our engagement had existed for the last seventy years, it certainly did not seem worth while to wait much longer. At all events, we did not wait longer than the following Thanksgiving; since which period my experience leads me to declare, that, if the Miss Hurribattle of my great-great-uncle's day was at all comparable to the member of her family I met at Foxden, my respected relative made a great mistake in living a bachelor.