William Mumford Baker.

Blessed Saint Certainty: a story online

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forgave an enemy." " Yes, sir, I knew the Senator of
whom you inquire, knew him well ; and although he
was a statesman, he was unchaste, abominably so, sir."

It was a relief to his young friend when the Gov-
ernor took occasion to add : " As you cannot but have
observed, the men of whom I have spoken are weak
or wicked, pitifully weak, very wicked. But it is
not true of women, sir. No, sir ! I honor the sex.
They are angels, sir, — angels of beauty, angels of



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LESSONS IN LIFE. 136

pity, angels of purity. Perish the tongue that speaks
ill of woman! They have my poor, but unfeigned
homage, sir/' And the speaker lifted his broad palm,
pressed it respectfully upon his ample forehead, and
waved toward woman his profoundest regards.

" But for them, sir, our entire world is but a frost-
bitten sweet-potato, worthless to the core. And, pure
as they themselves are, they are powerless to restrain
bur worthless sex. I honor the clergy, but they, alas !
are as helpless as woman. I have known the world
long, sir, have known it weU, have known it thor-
oughly. It is a bad world, sir, — thoroughly, hopelessly
bad ! You are yet a youth ; when you are as old as
I, you will have found it to be all I describe. I am
not an angel, sir, far from that, yet have I fled from it.
Never enter its broader scenes if you can. You have,
I am informed, great abilities. They will prove to be
but a curse to you, sir, if they impel you to forsake
your peaceful and virtuous seclusion. live in Ock-
lawahaw all the days your Maker may be pleased to
allot you ; die here, sir ! *'

The disenchanted statesman clasped together his
wooden combs, drew out of his pocket a well-worn
knife, and looked about in a helpless fashion. His
visitor understood his need, and with a "Will you
permit me, sir?" he descended the steps, searched
until he found a half-shingle under the lee of the
house. Coming back, he handed it to his host.
It was not as clean as it might be, but Governor
Beauchamp received it as he would have done an
official document "I thank you, sir! Accept my

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136 BLESSED SAINT CERTAINTY.

thanks for your thoughtful kindness." And he
smoothed off the edges with his knife toward more
elaborate whittling.

"You have had a varied experience, Grovernor/'
Ross said deferentially.

But his host continued to trim the wood for quite
a time in silence. "Your remark is quite correct.
I have had a long and, I may venture to assert, a
diversified experience. Of men," he added, after a
while. " Yes, you are correct in your remark, sir."

There was another pause. Boss could hear the
jingle of spoons and dishes in the house, occasionally
the subdued song of Seelye, of which the refrain
was, —

" De reapin* time wiU shore-ly come,
An' my good Lord will call me home,"

interrupted now and then by "Yes, Miss Eachel,"
followed by the inarticulate murmur of a household
consultation between the two.

"Your assertion is but the truth, sir," the old poli-
tician resumed at last. His tones were lower than
usual, he appeared to be in a more thoughtful mood,
when, holding his shingle off from time to time to
see if it was properly shaped, he told, as he whittled,
the story of his life, from his earliest efforts as a
farm-hand, then as a self-taught teacher, then as a
cadet. From that he passed rapidly over his adven-
tures in Florida, in political life, making no allusion
to his flight from the Executive chair.

"It is too long a story to tell, my experiences
of life /' he summed up at the end, " but you can

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LESSONS IN LIFE. 137

gather this, my dear young friend I was ambitious,
more so perhaps than you are now, I toiled night
and day, endeavored to perform my duty to God
and my country, endured every form of contumely.
Nor have I been without my times of recompense.
If men have hissed at and hounded me, they have
also applauded. I have often felt as if I was about
to be rewarded at last for all. And what is the re-
sult? To be impoverished; to be vilified; to be
utterly misunderstood of even my apparent friends ;
to eat of the apples of Sodom which turn to ashes on
the lips; to accomplish nothing worthy the eflfort
In vain, my young sir, does the infidelity of the day
assault Holy Writ All is vanity and vexation of
spirit ! It is a bad world, as I have remarked, — a
miserably bad world ! Save for woman, it is a botch
and a failure. If I were its Creator," and the speaker
ceased to whittle, looking at the other with a majestic
sadness in his eyes, '* I would," and he held out his
great hand, examining the palm and then the hairy
back of it, — "I would fling it from my hand," and
he illustrated it by a gesture, " as I would a clot of
abhorrent filth, — yes, sir, vilest filth!" his coimte-
nance expressing in every line his disgust.

"The best man in all my knowledge," he con-
tinued, after grave reflection, " was a Senator of the
United States, with whom I was intimately associated,
and for many years. He was a monarch among men,
sir, broad and vigorous. I think he must have been,
when of your age, very much what you now are ;
and he grew up to be, as I trust you will remain.

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138 BLESSED SAINT CERTAINTY.

dark of aspect, because reticent and deep, steady and
strong. Of all public men in my acquaintance he
alone had no enemy, so modest was he and honorable,
so thoughtful of others and courteous. No fcienator
had as little to say as he ; but when he did speak, his
few, sensible words, always to the marrow of the
matter, generally decided the question. Sir, Daniel
Webster told me one day with his own lips, that he
regarded the Senator of whom I speak as one who
was wise, pure, true, to be thoroughly relied upon.
'He has the strongest native sense, original good
judgment,* Mr. Webster observed, *of any man it
has been my privilege to know.' That Senator,"
Governor Beauchamp went on in lower tones, *' was
rich, was secure in his seat for life, might aspire, if
he cared to do so, to anything higher in the gift of
the people. He never knew what it was to be ill,
to have a bodily pain. But he had worthless sons,
sir, — sons who drank. So long as his wife was left
him he could endure it. But she died, sir, — died.
The day after her funeral, he arose from sitting upon
the front porch of his house, as we are now seated
here, took down his double-barrel shot-gun, went
into the yard behind his house, and blew out his
brains ! While living he had the weighty aspect of a
great statesman. He was like a statue of bronze
which is too large tor its pedestal This most miser-
able world was too poor, too mean, too wretchedly
small, for such a man ! He could not find refuge, as
some have done, in drink ; he found it — and who can
blame him ? — in death.**

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L£SSO/^S IN LIFE. 139

It was plain that the speaker was .narrating what
was true. His eyes were moist, he was entirely sin-
cere. His visitor arose to go. It was in vain, as
the dinner-bell rang, that Bachel came out and urged
him, with the smiling face of a housekeeper who has
made special preparation, to dine with them. Her
father added his urgency in vain. Boss had no appe-
tite, and his ponderous host followed him down the
front steps. As he opened the gate to let him out^
" My dear Mr. Ross," he said, bareheaded, and retain-
ing the hand of his visitor in his own, '' I would not
sadden your life, and you are capable of great things
perhaps ; but I am an old man, have seen the world
through and through. It is a dirty dime lying in the
gutter, not worth picking up ! God bless you, my
young friend, and remember that the only object
worth living for is some virtuous woman ! Heaven
keep you, and good-by until we meet again. Stay,"
he added, when his visitor had closed the gate be-
tween them, laying his hand upon the shoulder of
Ross. " I do not like men in general, but for you, my
young friend, I feel a deep concern ; there is that in
you which warrants me in so doing. listen. I speak
of woman, sir. But I do not refer to all persons of
that sex. I have known some of the most distin-
guished ladies of this and other lands — ladies of
rank, wealth, beauty ; ladies learned, gifted, brilliant ;
ladies who were leaders of fashion, artists, writers,
queens of society. I have not learned to like men ;
the ablest are often the worst ; and the ladies I speak
of were imfeminine, — were, in my poor judgment, but

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140 BLESSED SAINT CERTAINTY.

abortive men at best^ Yoltaires in crinoline, Aaron
Burrs in petticoats and curls. It is not of these, it
is of womany I would speak! Woman such as was
the wife of Jackson, of Clay, of Walter Scott;
woman living not for society, for herself, but for
others, for her own sacred hearth ; woman, sir, gentle,
retiring, sensible, modest, loving, — woman as Grod
made her! My wife, sir — " And Eoss felt that
the hand laid upon his shoulder was trembling. '' It
is of the mother of my daughter, — my most estima-
ble wife, sir — " Boss let his eyes fall; adown the
broad face of the Governor the tears were flowing
freely. "She was the type of woman of whom I
tried to speak. Of her, sir, I was unworthy — Had
she lived — " And the old statesman turned away.

It flashed upon Boss, as he walked ofl^, that he
had heard something, he could not recall what, of the
wife of the Governor. Yes, she had been an excellent
woman. She had been everjrthing to her husband,
who was said to have been devoted to her till her
death. '* One can see that in Bachel," Boss said.

Beside his mother. Boss really knew and cared for
but two of the sex, — Bachel and Persis, "As to my
mother," he now said to himself as he went, '* I amafraid,
almost afraid — " He did not put his fear into words,
even to himsel£ Was it possible that, as she became
older, she was losing her refinement of manner?
Could an educated lady forget her education when left
to live in a place like Ocklawahaw ? Was it conceiv-
able that, as the days passed, she could slowly slide
back again into the degradation of her ancestry, and

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LESSONS IN LIFE. 141

become, by unconscious degrees, merely a squaw
again, a squalid squaw ! This thing and that, little
phrases she was coming to use, small negligences
about her household and her dress, almost impercep-
tible indolences, coarsenesses, laughter at times with-
out sufficient cause, and tears too, — the son put his
remembrances from him with dismay. " It is because
I inherit from her blood and from my father my base
estimate of woman,'' he said, '' that I imagine such
things."

Ross Urwoldt was too healthy of body, as of mind^
to suffer himseK to be lastingly depressed. He did
not care, however, to go home to dinner, and wandered,
as often before, along the bank of the river, until,
seated at last under a cotton-wood tree which over-
hung the water, he sank into thought. The muddy
stream drew itself slowly along, more like a cmTent
of syrup, so thick and dark it was from late freshets,
than anything else. A few yards to the left from
where he sat, a well-worn path ended at the edge
where the women, when any dead thing was found in
the village spring, came for water. Just there, as at
many places along the bank, the current turned upon
itself, making an eddy which boiled up from below
like a caldron. As Boss sat he heard, with a hunter^s
quickness, a light step along the path, and saw that
it was Persis, bucket in hand. She had been sick for
some days, and his heart smote him as he saw how
thin and pale she seemed to be.. Surely her dress
was too poor and worn. She was studying too hard !
She stooped over the river, and, holding the handle of

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142 BLESSED SAINT CERTAINTY,

her heavy wooden vessel, plunged it ia Her*haste
was such that she did it too deeply, was leaning over
too far. In an instant the swollen torrent bad seized
upon the bucket^ had dragged her in after it, head-
long.

In the same breath Boss sprang to his feet, ran to
a point below where Persis had fallen, and leaped in,
astonished as he did so at the sullen fury of the
water. To him, in his clothes too, it was like a flow
of cold but liquid lead, and it was a perilous time be-
fore he could lay hold upon and bear out the poor
girl, at a jutting bank of mud a hundred feet below.

For a moment he was compelled to sit down, the
dripping and unconscious body in his arms, he was so
exhausted by his effort Persis lay, her face white
and cold upon his shoulder, her hair in streaming
strings on either side. She was not beautiful Her
pallid face was too intense, too pinched, yet, knowing
what her life had been, knowing the unselfish and
unconquerable spirit of the poor child, a sudden pity
seized upon her rescuer. He had seen, he now felt
as she lay in his arms, how frail she was. Even in
her wet clothing she was so light that Ross wondered
at it. It was only her emaciated body he had saved.
" It was Persis," Eoss murmured, " but it is Persis no
more. What a martyr Persis was, and Persis is
deadr'

More than once I remonstrated with Koss when
we were in college together. " You have less com-
passion in your make," I told him, " than anybody I
know. Do you know what it mta'm to feel for those

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LESSONS IN LIFE. 143

weaker than yourself ? " Perhaps it was because he
had been so unused to such an emotion, but now a
deep pity came upon him. It was the instant crea-
tion in him of a new faculty ; his inmost heart was
changed; the tears rushed to his eyes; he stooped
down and kissed the poor lips by an impulse too na-
tive to be resisted ; and then he arose and, forgetful
of his clothes wet and clinging about him, he ran like
a deer, the girl little more than a rifle's weight in his
arms, nor stopped until he had laid her upon her bed
beside her grandfather, who was pondering over his
old Concordance at a little table. Parson Williams
was the physician too of the town, and Eoss said but
a word to him, and ran more rapidly still to his own
house to send his mother, and then to the home of
Bachel.

*^ It struck me even then," Ross told me afterward,
" that Rachel, I knew not why, could do more than
anybody else for Persis. To this hour I am satisfied
that it was Rachel who saved her."



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144 BLESSED SAINT CERTAINTY.



CHAPTER XII.

ONE OF THE CEBTAINTIEa

TF the will of Persia had been upon the same scale
■^ with her body, she would have come out of her
unconscious condition merely to die of exhaustion.
Eachel, always wise where mathematics were not con-
cerned, was particularly so in this, that, a few days
after, somewhat sooner than other people would have
done so, she told Persis the story of her rescue by Ross.
It was not deliberate purpose in Rachel. There was
nothing more in it than her intuition, wiser than all
purpose; but it rallied to the help of Persis, more than
anything else could have done, her staggering will, by
kindling behind and beneath it those divine fires in
and by which, in a woman, the will is shaped. Before
Rachel spoke Persis was lying too weak to move, pal-
lid as death, wilted into utter indifference to every-
thing, feebly wishing, so far as she could frame a wish,
that she had been left in the sweet rest and un-
consciousness of her watery grave. Her eyes, half
opened and colorless, hardly saw the face of her friend.
Now, in the same breath of telling her the story of
her escape, Rachel exclaimed, " What is it, Persis ? "

Even Rachel was taken by surprise. She would
not have been had she known what Persis had cher-

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ONE OF THE CERTAINTIES, 145

ished in her deepest soul this many a day. Her eyes
opened and almost sparkled; her color came; she
laughed. " Kiss me^ dear," she demanded of Rachel.
Then she tried to sit up, saying, " I want something
to eat Get it, dear."

Rachel went to the pantry, wondering ; but Persis
was disappointed of her desire to be by herself if but
a moment, for first her grandfather came back into
the room, and then Mitchabuna. They were aston-
ished at her appetite. It was a craving for the
strength food brings, that Persis suddenly experienced.
She had not been without will before. It was so
much clearer now and stronger ! Beneath it had lain
before but a quivering spark, now the spark had shot
up into a steady fire. For her life the girl could not
have explained it to herself, was almost frightened at
it We have little to do with the processes within
us ; they are certain because they are divine.

As to Ross, he was astonished at himself that he
should be so shy of seeing Persis, and that when there
was nobody he wanted so much to see. What reason
could there be for it ? It was but once that Persis be-
gan to thank him. She did not try to do so again.

" I suppose it is because it is such a fine day," Ross
explained to himself as he went out one morning,
hiany weeks after Persis was able to get about, and it
was of his almost extravagant spirits he was think-
ing. It was the fall of the year. The sky was cloud-
less and of a steel blue. There was an exhilaration
in the air, as if it also had ripened with the maturing
apples, as if it had, like wine, grown stronger with the

10

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146 BLESSED SAINT CERTAINTY.

passing of the seasons. Although he did not suffer
his enjoyment to show itself, so to speak, even to him-
self, he never had felt quite so happy.

It may have been nature, but, if so, the happiness
it awakened sank suddenly inward as he came upon
I^ersis going toward the sycamore, book and slate in
hand, for a quiet but more determined effort than
before with her neglected algebra. A gentleness fell
upon both as Boss walked beside her, pained to see
how frail she still seemed to be, but saying, —

'' Do you notice what a deep green the gi:^s puts
on, and the leaves, before they turn brown ? See how
it is brought out by the lighter green of the pine-
needles overhead, the darker hue of the mesquit-bush
sparkling with its red berries. Look, Persis, at the
tender gray of the moss swinging from the trees, the
bronze of the live-oak leaves, the iron blackness of its
trunk and limbs level with the earth. Did you ever
observe," Boss was surprised to hear himself say it,
'' how the colors of nature help each other out ? You
play and sing, and you ought to understand such
things ; it is like the varying chords, is it not^ in
music ? "

Persis glanced keenly at him, and then let her eyes
fall ; if he was clearer of vision, as in every other
sense, than before, so was she. But all she said
was, —

*' I did not know you were a poet, Mr. Boss."

She had become, young as she was, almost a woman,
and he a man, all at once.

" A poet 1 never ! I detest poetry," he replied. " I

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ONE OF THE CERTAINTIES, 147

love nature instead It is a weakness to love it so
much. That is for women to do."

" Here is the old sycamore. Good morning/* said
Persis ; *' I must study hard." And, strange to say, she
was glad when he was gone. " No," she had replied
to his offered help ; " I want to do my problems by
myself and for mysel£" For, almost as strong as her
love for Eoss, the purpose of Persis was becoming in
her a passion. She knew how women were r^arded
in Ocklawahaw, what General Urwoldt thought of his
wife. Was not this his son ?

" I will be more than a squaw," Persis said, as she
settled herself to her work. What Eoss would come
to be, she had never a doubt Come to be ? He
already was ; it was she who was not. As to his
future, one might as well ask of the sun in the morn-
ing, "Do you propose to rise higher?" No; just
now it was in herself she was most interested, — most
interested, young as she was, for his sake. We know
how blind must be the aspirations of a girl like
Persis ; yet all things were adjusting themselves in
her toward one question in which her life was to be
swallowed up, " He being what he is, and growing to
what he will be, how can I make myself into some-
thing worthy of him ?" She had always been ambi-
tious ; henceforth love added to ambition its deeper
and more enduring flames.

The next day was Sunday, but Eoss did not care
to go to church. His mother said nothing, and went
her way to the meeting-house. It was the only day
on which she took any pains with her toilet, altogether

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148 BLESSED SAINT CERTAINTY.

too negligent of it at other times. Soss had become
reluctantly accustomed to her wrapper loosely girded
about her waist, to her black hair in disorder about
her cheeks, and whom did she care to please except her
son ? Little did she know how much, and more of
late than ever, her negligence was affecting, almost
terrifying, him. But this was Sunday, and it was like
civilization emerging from savagery when she came
out of her room arrayed for church. With her black
silk and lace neckerchief, her beautiful teeth, her
hair cared for and a becoming covering for her head,
her fine eyes and elastic carriage, she was a striking
woman to look at, and Ross took more pride in her
then than it had ever occurred to him to express.

Certainly Governor Beauchamp thought so as he
met her that day on her way home from church.

" My dear lady I " he exclaimed, and removed his
enormous hat, " I had not flattered myself that I would
have so great a gratification ! Pardon me if I detain
you. You are looking remarkably well ! "

Not Turenne or Marlborough could have presented
a more chivalrous aspect than the magnificently
formed cavalier, cane in hand, as he stood bareheaded
in the sun, the wind playing with his hair and beard;
not Leicester himself, nor Walter Raleigh, could have
been more courtly had it been Elizabeth. Mrs. Ur-
woldt knew everything in regard to the Governor, yet
she smiled and blushed as he continued to converse
with her in the most deferential and respectful man-
ner. The manner of the man was out of place, but
not more so than was the man himself. His sin-
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ONE OF THE CERTAINTIES, 149

cerity made even his extravagance of courtesy natural,
and he was so grave too. He complimented her
upon her son. Never had he known a more intelli-
gent and promising young gentleman. She would be
proud of him yet.

" He is devoted .to you, lady. Extraordinary as he
appears to be in point of talent and attainment, you
can trust him, lady. Do I not know men ? Yes, you
can rest in him your hopes, he will not deceive or
disappoint you. And how handsome Mr. Boss is!
But with such a mother," with a respectful inclina-
tion and a wave of his hand, " it were impossible he
should be otherwise ! "

Babelais tells a story of the wandering of his heroes
around, the world in search of that which, upon the
whole, it is best for a man to do. After innumerable
defeats at insufficient oracles, they are brought, at last,
and as at the end of the world, to the sacred shrine
from which, as all agree, the highest wisdom taber-
nacling in clay shall announce that which alone it is
best for mortal to do if he would be happy. To the
astonishment of the seekers, the supreme oracle pi'oves
to be a Bottle, and from its neck gurgles the sum of
wisdom in the one word, "Drink!" To that point
had the retired statesman arrived. To do him jus-
tice, he held, and sincerely, to his faith in woman ;
neither the bottle nor Ocklawahaw would have known
him had his wife lived. He had not met Mrs. Ur-
woldt for a long time ; he seemed unwilling, unable
almost, to part from her.

'' I congratulate you," l^e said OQce more, and with

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150 BLESSED SAINT CERTAINTY,

all respect^ '^upon your appearance this delightful
day.''

Poor lady ! She was but a woman. By reason of
the lingering in her veins of ages of female subjec-
tion, she was, in some things, but a weak woman. So
long was it since she had heard a compliment that
she could not but be pleased with it. And this was
the Governor who spoke! He might be a drunk-
ard, but he was a gentlemaa That he was a great
man everybody knew. Her eyes sparkled; her color
came.

"And if," the Governor added, — "and if (which
may Heaven forbid !) my friend, General Urwoldt," and
he laughed as he said it, " should be taken from us,
you, madam, would have small difficulty in marrying
again." But the gravity with which it was said did
away with the coarseness of the compliment, and the
courtly speaker, lifting his hat for a final wave before



Online LibraryWilliam Mumford BakerBlessed Saint Certainty: a story → online text (page 9 of 28)