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“But the birds that staid behind found the days shorter, the nights longer, and the weather colder. Many of them died of cold; others crept into crevices and holes, and lay torpid. Then it was plain that it was better to go than to stay."
A NEW-ENGLAND SUNDAY.
TIME waits for no man, and least of all for story-writers. Our readers must move six years forward at a step, and rest for one Sunday in Norwood, where traveling on Sunday is yet against the law.
It is worth all the inconveniences arising from the occasional over-action of New-England sabbath observance to obtain the full flavor of a New-England Sunday. But, for this, one should have been born there; should have found Sunday already waiting for him, and accepted it with implicit and absolute conviction, as if it were a law of Nature, in the same way that night and day, summer and winter, are parts of Nature. He should have been brought up by parents who had done the same thing, as they were by parents even more strict, if that were possible; until not religious persons peculiarly, but everybody, not churches alone, but society itself and all its population, - those who broke it as much as those who kept it, were stained through with the color of Sunday; nay, until Nature had adopted it, and laid its commands on all birds and beasts, on the sun and winds, and upon the whole atmosphere : so that, without much imagination, one might imagine in a genuine New-England Sunday of the Connecticut-river-valley stamp that God was still on that day resting from all the work which he had created and made, and that all his work rested with him.
Over all the town rested the Lord's peace. The saw was ripping away yesterday in the carpenter's shop, and the hammer was noisy enough. to-day there is not a sign of life there. The anvil makes no music to-day. Tommy Taft's buckets and barrels give forth no hollow, thumping sound. The mill is silent: only the brook continues noisy. "Listen! In yonder pine-woods, what a cawing of crows! Like an echo in a wood still more remote, other crows are answering. But even a crow's throat to-day is musical. Do they think, because they have black coats on, that they are parsons, and have a right to play pulpit with all the pinetrees? Nay, the birds will not have any such monopoly : they are all singing, and singing all together; and no one cares whether his song rushes across another's or not. Larks and robins, blackbirds and orioles, sparrows and bluebirds, mocking catbirds and wrens, were furrowing the air with such mixtures as no other day but Sunday, when all artificial and human sounds cease, could ever hear. Every now and then, a bobolink seemed impressed with the duty of bringing these jangling birds into more regularity; and, like a country singing-master, he flew down the ranks, singing all the parts himself in snatches, as if to stimulate and help the laggards. In vain. Sunday is the birds' day, and they will have their own democratic worship.
There was no sound in the village street. Look either way, not a vehicle, not a human being. The smoke rose up soberly and quietly, as if it said, “It is Sunday." The leaves on the great elms hung motionless, glittering in dew, as if they too, like the people who dwelt under their shadow, were waiting for the bell to ring for meeting. Bees sung and flew as usual; but honey-bees have a Sunday way with them all the week, and could scarcely change for the better on the seventh day.
But, oh, the sun! It had sent before, and cleared every stain out of the sky. The blue heaven was not dim and low as on secular days, but curved and deep, as if on Sunday it shook off all encumbrance which during the week had lowered and flattened it, and sprang back to the arch and symmetry of a dome. All ordinary sounds caught the spirit of the day. The shutting of a door sounded twice as far as usual. The rattle of a bucket in a neighbor's yard, no longer mixed with heterogeneous noises, seemed a new sound. The hens went silently about, and roosters crowed in psalm-tunes. And, when the first bell rang, Nature seemed overjoyed to find something that it might do without breaking Sunday, and rolled the sound over and over, and pushed it through the air, and raced with it over field and hill twice as far as on week-days. There were no less than seven steeples in sight from the belfry: and the sexton said, “On still Sundays I've heard the bell, at one time and another, when the day was fair, and the air moving in the right way, from every one of them steeples; and I guess likely they've all heard our'n. “ Come, Rose,” said Agate Bissell
, at an even earlier hour than when Rose usually awakened, come, Rose, it is the sabbath. We must not be late Sunday morning of all days in the week. It is the Lord's day."
There was little preparation required for the day. Saturday night, in some parts of New England, was considered almost as sacred as Sunday itself. After sundown on Saturday night, no play, and no work, except such as is immediately preparatory to the sabbath, were deemed becoming in good Christians. The clothes had been laid out the night before. Nothing was forgotten. The best frock was ready; the hose and shoes were waiting. Every article of linen, every rufile and ribbon, were selected on
Saturday night. Every one in the house walked mildly; every one spoke in a low tone: yet all were cheerful. The mother had on her kindest face, and nobody laughed; but everybody made it up in smiling. The nurse smiled, and the children held on to keep down a giggle within the lawful bounds of a smile; and the doctor looked rounder and calmer than ever; and the dog flapped his tail on the floor with a softened sound, as if he had fresh wrapped it in hair for that very day. Aunt Toodie, the cook (so the children had changed Mrs. Sarah Good's name), was blacker than ever and shinier than ever, and the coffee better, and the cream richer, and the broiled chickens jucier and more tender, and the biscuit whiter, and the corn-bread more brittle and sweet.
When the good doctor read the Scriptures at family prayer, the infection of silence had subdued every thing except the clock. Out of the wide hall could be heard in the stillness the old clock, that now lifted up its voice with unwonted empliasis, as if, unnoticed through the bustling week, Sunday was its vantage-ground to proclaim to mortals the swift flight of time; and, if the old pedant performed the task with something of an ostentatious precision, it was because in that house nothing else put on official airs, and the clock felt the responsibility of doing it for the whole mansion.
And now came mother and catechism; for Mrs. Wentworth followed the old custom, and declared that no child of hers should grow up without catechism. Secretly, the doctor was quite willing; though openly he played off upon the practice a world of good-natured discouragement, and declared that there should be an opposition set up, - a catechism of nature, with natural laws for decrees, and seasons for Providence, and flowers for graces. The younger children were taught in simple catechism: but Rose, having reached the mature age of twelve, was now manifesting her power over the Westminster Shorter Catechism; and as it was simply an achievement of memory, and not of the understanding, she had the book at great advantage, and soon subdued every question and answer in it. As much as possible, the doctor was kept aloof on such occasions. His grave questions were not to edification; and often they caused Rose to stumble, and brought down sorely the exultation with which she rolled forth, " They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them."
“ What do those words mean, Rose?” “ Which words, pa ? " “ Adoption, sanctification, and justification ?" Rose hesitated, and looked at her mother for rescue. “Doctor, why do you trouble the child ? Of course, she don't
know yet all the meaning; but that will come to her when she grows older.”
** You make a nest of her memory, then, and put words there, like eggs, for future hatching ?”
“ Yes, that is it exactly. Birds do not hatch their eggs the minute they lay them: they wait.”
“Laying eggs at twelve to be hatched at twenty is subjecting them to some risk, is it not?”
“It might be so with eggs, but not with catechism. That will keep, without spoiling, a hundred years.”
“ Because it is so dry ?”
“ Because it is so good. But do, dear husband, go away, and not put notions in the children's heads. It's hard enough already to get them through their tasks. Here's poor Arthur, who has been two Sundays on one question, and has not got it
Arthur, aforesaid, was sharp and bright in any thing addressed to his reason : but he had no verbal memory, and he was therefore wading painfully through the catechism like a man in a deep, muddy road; with this difference, that the man carries too much clay with him, while nothing stuck to poor Arthur. Great was the lad's pride and exultation on a former occasion when his mother advanced him from the Smaller Catechism to the dignity of the Westminster Catechisin. He could hardly wait for Sunday to begin his conquests. He was never known after the first Sunday to show any further impatience. He had been four weeks in reaching the fourth question; and two weeks already had he lain before that luminous answer, beating or it like a ship too deeply laden, and unable to cross the bar.
“What is God, Arthur?” said his mother.
Having got safely so far, the mother suggests “spirit;" at which he gasps eagerly, “God is a spirit.” “ Infinite,"
the mother. “ Infinite,” says Arthur.
And then blushing, and twisting in his chair, he seemed unable to extract any thing more.
“Eternal,” says the mother. “ Eternal,” says
the boy. "Well, go on. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal:' what else ?" "God is a spirit, eternal, infinite:' what else ? " “Nonsense!” says the startled mother.
“Nonsense!” goes on the boy, supposing it to be a part of the regular answer.
" Arthur, stop! What work you are making!” To stop was the very exercise in catechism at which he was most proficient; and he stopped so fully and firmly, that nothing more could be got out of him or into him during the exercise. But his sorrow soon fled; for the second bell had rung, and it was just time to walk; and “everybody was going," the servant reported. The doctor had been called away; and his wife and the children moved down the yard, - Rose with demure propriety, and Arthur and his eight-year-old brother, Charles, with less piety manifest in deportment, but, on the whole, with decent demeanor. The beauty of the day, the genial season of the year, brought forth every one, — old men and their feebler old wives, young and hearty men and their plump and ruddy companions. Young men and girls and children, thick as punctuation-points in Hebrew text, filled the street. In a low voice, they spoke to each other in single sentences.
“A fine day. There'll be a good congregation out to-day."
“Yes: we may expect a house full. How is Widow Cheney: have you
heard ?” “Well, not much better: can't hold out many days. It will be a great loss to the children.”
“Yes: but we must all die; nobody can skip his turn. Does she still talk about them that's gone ?”
“They say not. I believe she's sunk into a quiet way; and it looks as if she would go off easy.”
“Sunday is a good day for dying: it's about the only journey that speeds well on this day.”
There was something striking in the outflow of people into the street that till now had seemed utterly deserted. There was no fevered hurry, no negligent or poorly-dressed people. Every family came in groups, old folks and young children; and every member blossomed forth in his best apparel, like a rose-bush in June. Do you know that man in a silk hat and new black coat? Probably it is some stranger. No: it is the carpenter, Mr. Baggs, who was racing about yesterday with his sleeves rolled
and a dust-and-business look in his face. I knew you would not know him. Adams Gardner, the blacksmith, — does he not look every inch a judge, now that he is clean-washed, shaved, and dressed ? His eyes are as bright as the sparks that fly from his anvil.
Are not the folks proud of their children? See what groups of them! How ruddy and plump are most! Some are roguish, and cut clandestine capers at every chance. Others seem like wax figures, so perfectly proper are they. Little hands go slyly through the pickets to pluck a tempting flower. Other hands carry hymn-books or Bibles. But carry what they may, dressed as each parent can afford, is there any thing the sun shines upon more beautiful than these troops of Sunday children?