Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
A Childs Sunday a Hundred Years Ago
By Sylvester Judd (18131853)
[Born in Westhampton, Mass., 1813. Died in Augusta, Me., 1853. Margaret 1851.]
THE VIA Dolorosa became to Margaret to-day a via jocundissima, a very pleasant way. Through what some would consider rough woods and bleak pasture-land, in a little sheep-track, crooked and sometimes steep, over her hung like a white cloud the wild thorn-treelarge gold-dusted cymes of viburnums, rose-blooming lambkill, and other sorts, suggested all she knew, and more than she knew, of the Gardens of Princes. The feathery moss on the old rocks, dewy and glistening, was full of fairy feeling. A chorus of fly-catchers, as in ancient Greek worship, from their invisible gallery in the greenwood, responded one to another;Whee whoo whee, wee woo woo wee, whee whoo, whoo whoo weeGod bless the little Margaret! How glad we are she is going to Meeting at last. She shall have berries, nutcakes, and good preaching. The little Isabel and Job Luce are there. How do you think she will like Miss Amy?
Emerging in Deacon Hadlocks Pasture, she added to her stock red sorrel blossoms, pink azaleas, and sprigs of pennyroyal. Then she sorted her collection, tying the different parcels with spears of grass. The Town was before her silent and motionless, save the neighing of horses and squads of dogs that traipsed to and fro on the Green. The sky was blue and tender; the clouds in white veils, like nuns, worshipped in the sunbeams; the woods behind murmured their reverence; and birds sang psalms. All these sights, sounds, odors, suggestions, were not, possibly, distinguished by Margaret, in their sharp individuality, or realized in the bulk of their shade, sense, and character. She had not learned to criticise; she only knew how to feel. A new indefinable sensation of joy and hope was deepened within her, and a single concentration of all best influences swelled her bosom. She took off her hat and pricked grass-heads and bluebells in the band, and went on. The intangible presence of God was in her soul, the universal voice of Jesus called her forward. Besides she was about to penetrate the profoundly interesting anagogue of the Meeting, that for which every seventh day she had heard the bell so mysteriously ring, that to which Obed and his mother devoted so much gravity, awe, and costume, and that concerning which a whole lifes prohibition had been upon her. Withal, she remembered the murderer, and directed her first steps to the Jail.
She tried to enter the Jail House, but Mr. Shooks drove her away. Then she searched along the fence till she found a crevice in the posts of which the enclosure was made, and through this, on the ground-floor of the prison, within the very small aperture that served him for a window, she saw the grim face of the murderer, or a dim image of his face, like the shadow of a soul in the pit of the grave.
We know it, replied the imprisoned voice. There is no more world now, and flowers dont grow on it; its hell, and beautiful things, and hearts to love you, are burnt up. There was blood spilt, and this is the afterwards.
It is too late, rejoined the man. I had a child like you, and she loved flowersbut I am to be hangedI shall cry if you stay there, for I was a fatherbut that is gone, and there are no more Angels, else why should not my own child be one? Go home and kiss your father, if you have one, but dont let me know it.
She heard other voices and could see the shadows of faces looking from other cells, and hear voices where she could see no faces, and the Jail seemed to her to be full of strange human sounds, and there was a great clamoring for flowers.
Now, the faithful guardian of the premises, overhearing the conversation, rushed in alarm from his rooms, and presented himself firmly in the midst of what seemed to be a conspiracy. What piece of villany is this? he exclaimed, snatching the flowers from the paling. In communication with the prisoners!on the Lords day! Flinging the objects of Margarets ignorant partiality with violence to the ground, Mr. Shooks looked as if he was about to fall with equal spirit upon the child in person, and she fled into the street.
Climbing a horse-block, from which could be seen the upper cells of the Jail, she displayed her flowers in sight of the occupants, holding them up at arms length. The wretched men answered by shouting and stamping. If words wont do, well try what vartue there is in stones, observed the indignant jailer, and thereupon suiting the action to the word, the persevering man fairly pelted the offender away.
She turned towards the Meeting-house and entered the square, buttress-like, silent porch. Passing quietly through, she opened the door of what was to her a more mysterious presence, and paused at the foot of the broad aisle.
She saw the Minister, in his great wig and strange dress, perched in what looked like a high box; above hung the pyramidal sounding-board, and on a seat beneath were three persons in powdered hair, whom she recognized as the Deacons Hadlock, Ramsdill and Penrose. Through the balustrade that surrounded the high pews, she could see the heads of men and women; little children stood on the seats, clutching the rounds, and smiled at her. The Minister had given out a hymn, and Deacon Hadlock, rising, read the first line. Then, in the gallery overhead, she heard the toot toot of Master Elliman on the pitch-pipe, and his voice leading off, and she walked farther up the aisle to discover what was going on. A little toddling girl called out to her as she passed, and thrust out her hand as if she would catch at the flowers Margaret so conspicuously carried. The Sexton, hearing the noise, came forward and led her back into the porch. Philip was not by nature a stern man; he let the boys play on the steps during the week, and the young men stand about the doors on the Sabbath. He wore a shredded wig, and black clothes, as we have said, and was getting old, and had taken care of the Meeting-house ever since it was built, and though opposed to all disturbance of the worship, he still spoke kindly to Margaret.
She ascended the stairs, which were within the body of the house, and in a pew at the head she saw Beulah Ann Orff, Grace Joy, and others that she had seen before; they laughed and snubbed their noses with their handkerchiefs, and she, as it were repelled by her own sex, turned away, and went to the other side of the gallery, occupied by the men. But here she encountered equal derision, and Zenas Joy, a tithing-man, moved by regard to his office and perhaps by a little petulance of feeling, undertook to lead her back to her appropriate place in the church. She resisted, and what might have been the result we know not, when Mom Dill, who was sitting in one corner with Tony, asked her in. So she sat with the negroes. Parson Welles had commenced his sermon. She could not understand what he said, and told Mom Dill she wanted to go out. She descended the stairs, moving softly in her moccasins, and, turning up the side-aisle, proceeded along under the high pews till she came to the corner where she could see the Minister. Here she stood gazing steadfastly at him. Deacon Hadlock motioned her to be gone. Deacon Ramsdill limped almost smiling towards her, took her by the arm, opened the pew where his wife sat, and shut her in. Mistress Ramsdill gave her caraway and dill, and received in return some of the childs pennyroyal and lambkill, and other flowers. The old lady used her best endeavors to keep Margaret quiet, and she remained earnestly watching the Preacher till the end of the service.
Noon-time of a Sunday in a New England country town used to be, and even now is, a social and reunitive epoch of no small interest. Brothers, uncles, cousins, from the outskirts, accompanied their relatives to their homes on the Green. A certain class of men and boys, with a meek look and an unconscious sort of gait, would be seen wending their way to the stoops of the tavern. Some sat the whole hour on the Meeting-house steps, talking of good things in a quiet undertone, others strolled into the woods in the rear; several elderly men and women retired to what was called a Noon-House, a small building near the School-house, where they ate dinner and had a prayer; quite a number went to Deacon Penroses. Of the latter, the Widow Wright Mistress Ramsdill, who lived a little off the Green, offered to take Margaret to her house, but the Widow interfered, saying it was too long a walk, and all that, and prevailed with Margaret to go with her. This going to Deacon Penroses consisted in having a seat in his kitchen Sunday noons, and drinking of his nice cool water. Seats were brought into the room, the floor was duly sanded, the pewter in the dresser was bright and glistening. The Deacons own family and his particular relations occupied the parlor. To this place came Mistress Whiston, and Old Mistress Whiston, Mistresses Joy and Orff, Breaknecks; Mistress Ravel, from the North Part of the town; Widows Brent and Tuck, from the Mill; Paulina and Mercy Whiston, and others. They ate nutcakes and cheese, snuffed snuff, talked of the weather, births, deaths, health, sickness, engagements, marriages, of friends at the Ohio, of Zenas and Delindas publishment, and would have talked about Margaret, save that the Widow protected the child, assured them of her ignorance, and hoped she would learn better by and by. Mistress Whiston asked Margaret how she liked the Meeting. She replied that she liked to hear them sing. Sing! exclaimed Paulina Whiston. I wish we could have some singing. I was up to Brandon last Sunday, and their music is enough sight better than ours; they have introduced the new way almost everywhere but here. We must drag on forty years behind the whole world.
For my part, said Mistress Orff, I dont want any change; our fathers got along in the good old way, and went to Heaven. The Quakers use notes and the Papists have their la sol mes, and Deacon Hadlock says its a contrivance to bring all those pests into the land. Then it makes such a disturbance in the Meetings; at Dunwich two of the best Deacons couldnt stand it, and got up and went out; and Deacon Hadlock says he wont stay to hear the heathenish sounds. Its only your young upstarts, lewd and irregular people, and the like of that, that wants the new way.
The Widow Wright assumed the charge of Margaret in the afternoon. The child kept quiet till the prayer, when the noise of the hinge-seats or something else seemed to disconcert her, and she told her protectress she wished to go home. The Widow replied there was to be a christening, and prevailed with her to stop, and lifted her on the seat where she could witness the ceremony. The Minister descended from the pulpit, and Mr. Adolphus Hadlock carried forward the babe, enveloped in a long flowing blanket of white tabby silk, lined with white satin, and embroidered with ribbon of the same color. The Minister from a well-burnished font sprinkled water in the face of the child, and after the usual formula baptized it Urania Bathsheba. Margaret was not alone in the number of causes that disturbed the serenity of the Meeting that day; there was an amount of mirth in the minds of the people at large, touching Mr. Adolphus Hadlocks children, which, as a matter of course, must spend itself on what seemed to be their annual reappearance at the altar.
Finally Mistress Ramsdill insisted on Margarets remaining to the catechizing. Margaret at first demurred, but Deacon Ramsdill supported the request of his wife with one of his customary smiles, remarking that catechizing was as good arter the sermon to the children as greasing arter shearing; it would keep the ticks off, which, he said, were very apt to fly from the old sheep to the lambs. The class, comprising most of the youths in town, was arranged in the broad aisle, the boys on one side and the girls on the other, with the Minister in the pulpit at the head.
What is the chief end of man? was the first question; to which a little boy promptly and swiftly gave the appropriate answer.How many persons are there in the Godhead? There are four persons in the Godhead, began a boy, quite elated and confident. There was an instant murmur of dissent. The neophyte, as it were challenged to make good his ground, answered not so much to the Minister as to his comrades. There is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, and God Buonaparte,Tony Washington said the Master said so. This anti-Gallicism and incurable levity of the pedagogue wrought a singular mistake; but it was soon rectified, and the Catechism went on. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that state wherein man fell? The sinfulness of that state wherein man fell, God having out of his mere good pleasure elected some to everlasting life, is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that is naturally engendered in him, and deserveth Gods wrath and damnation, was the rapid and disjointed answer. The question stumbling from one to another was at length righted by Job Luce, the little hunchback. The voice of this child was low and plaintive, soft and clear, and he quite engaged Margarets attention. There were signs of dissatisfaction on the faces of others. But his own was unruffled as a pebble in a brook. Shockingly deformed, the arms of the lad were long as an apes, and he seemed almost to rest on his hands, while his shoulders rose high and steep above his head. Thats Job Luce, whispered Mistress Ramsdill to Margaret; and if there ever was a Christian, I believe he is one, if he is crooked. Dont you see how he knows the Catechism; he has got the whole Bible eeny most by heart, and he is only three years old. Margaret forgot everything else to look at a creature so unfortunate and so marvellous.
When the Catechism was over and the people left the church, she at once hastened to Job and took one of his hands; little Isabel Weeks too, sister-like, took his other hand, and these two girls walked on with the strange boy. Margaret stooped and looked into his eye, which he turned up to her, blue, mild, and timid, seeming to ask, Who are you that cares for me? In truth, Job was, we will not say despised, but for the most part neglected. His mother was a poor widow, whose husband had been a shoemaker, and she got her living binding shoes. The old people treated her kindly, but rather wondered at her boy; and what was wonder in the parents degenerated into slight, jest, and sometimes scorn, in the children; so that Job numbered but few friends. Then he got his lessons so well the more indolent and duller boys were tempted to envy him.
No, she replied, I dont know it; but I have a Bird Book and can say Mother Gooses Songs. Their conversation was suddenly interrupted by an exclamation and a sigh from Miss Amy and the Widow Luce, who were close behind.
They stopped. Miss Amy was moved to take Margaret by the hand, and with some ulterior object in view she detached the child from Job, and went with her up the West Street, the natural route to the Pond.
Yes, maam, sometimes. He rolls his eves so, and groans, and shakes, and screams, and nobody can help him. I wish Deacon Penrose would come and see him, and I think he would not sell him any more rum.
Did that make me? I am so glad to know. The little chickens come out of the shells, the beans grow in the pods, the dandelions spring up in the grass, and Obed said I came in an acorn; but the pigs and wild turkeys eat up the acorns, and I cant find one that has a little girl in it like me.
I dont know as I like the Meeting. It dont seem so good as the Turkey Shoot and Ball. Zenas Joy didnt hurt my arm there, and Beulah Ann Orff and Grace Joy talked with me at the Ball. To-day they only made faces at me, and the man at the door told me to throw away my flowers.
Why, yes, he is wicked. We are all totally depraved. You do not understand. I fear I cannot make you see it as it is. My dear child, the eyes of the carnal mind are blind, and they cannot see. I must tell you, though it may make you feel bad, that young as you are, you are a mournful instance of the truth of Scripture. But I dare not speak smooth things to you. If you would read your Bible, and pray to God, your eyes would be opened so you could see. But I did want to tell you about Jesus Christ, who was both God and Man. He came and died for us. He suffered the cruel death of the cross. The Apostle John says, he came to take away the sins of the world. If you will believe in Christ he will save you. The Holy Spirit, that came once in the form of a dove, will again come, and cleanse your heart. You must have faith in the blood of Christ. You must take him as your Atoning Sacrifice. Are you willing to go to Christ, my child?
Miss Amy, whether that she thought she had done all she could for the child, or that Margaret seemed anxious to break company with her, or that she had reached a point in the road where she could conveniently leave her, at this instant turned off into Grove Street, and Margaret pursued her course homeward. She arrived at the water a little before sunset; she fed her chickens, her squirrel and robin; her own supper she made of strawberries and milk in her wooden bowl and spoon. She answered as she best could the inquiries and banterings of the family touching the novel adventures of the day. She might have been tired, but the evening air and the voices of the birds were inviting, and her own heart was full of life; and she took a stroll up the Indians Head .
She went up early in the morning to behold the sun rise from the eastern hills, and to be wrapt in the fogs that flowed up from the River; at noon, to lie on the soft grass under the murmuring firs, and sleep the mid-tide sleep of all nature; or ponder with a childish curiosity on the mystery of the blue sky and the blue hills; or, with a childish dread, to brood over the deep dark waters that lay chasmed below her. She came up in the fall to pick brambleberries and gather the leaves and crimson spires of the sumach for her mother to color with.
She now came up to see the sun go down. Directly on the right of the sunsetting was an apparent jog or break at the edge of the world, having on one side something like a cliff or sharp promontory, jutting towards the heavens, and overlooking what seemed like a calm clear sea beyond; within this depression lay the top of Umkidden, before spoken of; here also, after a storm, appeared the first clear sky, and here at midday the white clouds, in long ranges of piles, were wont to repose like ships at anchor. Near at hand, she could see the roads leading to Dunwich and Brandon, winding, like unrolled ribbons, through the woods. There were also pastures covered with gray rocks that looked like sheep; the green woods in some places were intersected by fields of brown rye or soft clover. On the whole, it was a verdant scene. Greenness, like a hollow ocean, spread itself out before her; the hills were green and the depths also; in the forest, the darkness, as the sun went down, seemed to form itself into caverns, grottos, and strange fantastic shapes, out of solid greenness. In some instances she could see the tips of the trees glancing and frolicking in the light, while the greedy shadows were crawling up from their roots, as it were out of the ground, to devour them. Deep in the woods the blackcap and thrush still whooted and clanged unweariedly; she heard also the cawing of crows, and scream of the loon; the tinkle of bells, the lowing of cows, and bleating of sheep were distinctly audible. Her own Robin, on the Butternut below, began his long, sweet, many-toned carol; the tree-toad chimed in with its loud trilling chirrup; and frogs, from all the waters around, crooled, chubbed, and croaked. Swallows skimmered over her, and plunged into the depths below; swarms of flies in circular squadrons skirmished in the sunbeams before her eyes; at her side, in the grass, crickets sung their lullabies to the departing day; a rich, fresh smell from the water, the woods, wild-flowers, grass-lots, floating up over the hill, regaled her senses. The surface of the Pond, as the sun declined, broke into gold ripples, deepening gradually into carmine and vermilion; suspended between her eye and the horizon was a table-like form of illuminated mist, a bridge of visible sunbeams shored on pointed shining piers reaching to the ground.
Margaret sat, we say, attentive to all this; what were her feelings we know not now, we may know hereafter; and clouds, that had spent the Sabbath in their own way, came with her to behold the sunsetting; some in long tapering bands, some in flocky rosettes, others in broad, many-folded collops. In that light they showed all colors, rose, pink, violet, and crimson, and the sky in a large circumference about the sun weltered in ruddiness, while the opposite side of the heavens threw back a purple glow. There were clouds, to the eye of the child, like fishes; the horned-pout, with its pearly iridine breast and iron-brown back; floating after it was a shiner, with its bright golden armory; she saw the blood-red fins of the yellow-perch, the long snout of the pickerel, with its glancing black eye, and the gaudy tail of a trout. She beheld the sun sink half below the horizon, then all his round red face go down; and the light on the Pond withdraw, the bridge of light disappear, and the hollows grow darker and grimmer. A stronger and better defined glow streamed for a moment from the receding depths of light, and flashed through the atmosphere. The little rose-colored clouds melted away in their evening joy, and went to rest up in the dark unfathomable chambers of the heavens. The fishes swam away with that which had called them into being, and plunged down the cataract of light that falls over the other side of the earth; the broad massive clouds grew denser and more gloomy, and extended themselves, like huge-breasted lions couchant, which the Master had told her about, to watch all night near the gate of the sun. She sat there alone, with no eye but Gods to look upon her; he alone saw her face, her expression, in that still, warm, golden sunsetting; she sat as if for her the sun had gone down and the sky unloosed its glory; she sat mute and undisturbed, as if she were the child-queen of this great pageant of Nature.