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Chapter VI.: A FATHER'S HOPE. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 8 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 8.
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A FATHER'S HOPE.
For several days an unwonted stillness reigned in Dr. Sneyd's abode;—from the day that the fever under which Arthur was labouring had appeared of a serious character. While it was supposed to be merely a severe cold, caught on the night of the wolf-hunt, all had gone on as much in the common way as could be expected under the novelty of a sick person being in the house; but from the moment that there was a hint of danger, all was studious quiet. The surgeon stepped stealthily up stairs, and the heavy-footed maids did their best not to shake the floors they trod Mrs. Temple conducted her consultations with her father in a whisper, though the study door was shut; and there was thus only too much opportunity for the patient's voice to be heard all over the house, when his fever ran high.
Temmy did not like to stay away, though he was very unhappy while on the spot. When he could not slip in behind the surgeon, he avoided the hall by entering the study through the garden-window. Than he could sit unobserved in the tow chair; and, what was better, unemployed. He had an earnest desire to be of use, but so deep a conviction that he never could be useful, that it was a misery to him to be asked to do any thing. If requested merely to go an errand, or to watch for a messenger, he felt as if his uncle's life depended on what he might see and say and do, within a few minutes; and he was therefore apt to see wrong, and speak amiss, and do the very reverse of what he ought to do. All this was only more tolerable than being at home;—either alone, in momentary terror of his father coming in; or with his father, listening to complaints of Mrs. Temple's absence, or invited to an ill-timed facetiousness which he dared not decline, however sick at heart he might be.
He had just crouched down in the great chair one morning, (supposing that Dr. Sneyd, who was bending over a letter at the table, had not seen him enter,) when Mrs. Temple appeared from the sick chamber. As she found time, in the first place, to kiss the forehead of her boy, whom she had not seen since the preceding afternoon, he took courage to ask,
“Is uncle Arthur better?”
Mrs. Temple could not reply otherwise than by a melancholy shake of the head. Dr. Sneyd turned round.
“No, my dear,” he said. “Your uncle is not better. Louisa,” he continued, observing his daughter's haggard and agitated countenance, “you must rest. This last night has been too much for you.”
Arthur had dropped asleep at last, Mrs. Temple said; a troubled sleep, which she feared would soon be at an end; but she saw the surgeon coming up, and wished to receive him below, and ask him—A sudden thought seemed to strike her.
“My dear. go up to your uncle's room—”
Temmy drew back, anti very nearly said “No.”
“You can leave your shoes at the bottom of the stairs. Ask your grandmamma to come down to us; and do you sit at the bottom of the bed, and watch your uncle's sleep. If he seems likely to wake, call me. If not, sit quiet till I come.”
Temmy moved slowly away. He had not once been in the room since the illness began, and nothing could exceed the awe he felt of what he might behold. He dared not linger, and therefore stole in, and delivered his message in so low a whisper that his grandmamma could not hear it till she had beckoned him out to the landing. She then went down, making a sign to him to take her place. It was now necessary to look into the bed; and Temmy sat with his eyes fixed, till his head shook involuntarily with his efforts to keep a steady gaze on his uncle's face. That face seemed to change its form, hue and motion every instant, and sometimes Temmy fancied that the patient was suffocating, and then that he had ceased to breathe, according to the state that his own senses were in. Sometimes the relaxed and shrunken hand seemed to make an effort to grasp the bed clothes, and then Temmy's was instantly outstretched, with a start, to the hand-bell with which he was to summon help. How altered was the face before him! So hollow, and wearing such an expression of misery! There was just sufficient likeness to uncle Arthur to enable Temmy to believe that it was he; and quite enough difference to suggest his being possessed; or, in some sort, not quite uncle Arthur. He wished somebody would come. How was he to know how soon he should ring the bell?
This was soon decided. Without a moment's warning, Arthur opened his eyes wide, and sat up in the bed, looking at Temmy, till the boy nearly screamed, and never thought of ringing the bell. When he saw, however, that Arthur was attempting to get out of bed, he rang hastily, and then ran to him, saying,
“O, uncle, do lie down again, that I may tell you about the lamb that got so torn, you know. I have a great deal to tell you about that lamb, and the old ewe too. And Isaac says——”
“Ay, the lamb, the lamb,” feebly said Arthur, sinking back upon his pillow.
When Dr. Sneyd presently appeared, he found Arthur listening dully, painfully, with his glazed eyes fixed on the boy, who was telling, in a hurried manner of forced cheerfulness, a long story about the lamb that was getting well. He broke off when help appeared.
“O grandpapa, he woke in such a hurry! He tried to get out of bed, grandpapa.”
“Yes, my dear, I understand You did just the right thing, Temmy; and now you may go down. None of us could have done better, my dear boy.”
Any one who had met Temmy crying on the stairs would have rather supposed that he had done just the wrong thing. Yet Temmy was a different boy from that hour. He even thought that he should not much mind being in uncle Arthur's room again, if any body should wish to send him there. It was yet sometime before the event of this illness was considered as decided, and as the days passed on, there became less and less occasion for inquiry in words, each morning. Whenever Dr. Sneyd's countenance was remarkably placid, and his manner particularly quiet, Temmy knew that his uncle was worse. It was rarely, and during very brief intervals, that he was considered better. Strange things happened now and then which made the boy question whether the world was just now going on in its usual course. It was not very strange to hear his papa question Mrs. Temple, during the short periods of her being at home, about Arthur's will; whether he had one; how it was supposed his property would be left; and whether he was ever sensible enough to make any alterations that might be desirable under the late growth of his little property. It was not strange that Mr. Temple should ask these questions, nor that they should be answered briefly and with tears: but it was strange that papa went one day himself into the grapery, and cut with his own hands the very finest grapes for Arthur, and permitted Temmy to carry, them, though they filled a rather large basket. It seemed strange that Mr. Kendall, apt as he was, when every body was well, to joke in season and out of season with guests and neighbours, should now be grave from morning till night, and often through the night, watching, considering, inventing, assisting, till Mrs. Sneyd said that, if Arthur recovered, he would owe his life, under God, to the care of his medical friend. It was strange to see a physician arrive from a great distance, twice in one week, and go away again as soon as his horse was refreshed: though nothing could be more natural than the anxiety of the villagers who stood at their doors, ready to accost the physician as he went away, doors, and to try to learn how much hope he really thought there was of Arthur's recovery. It was very strange to meet Dr. Sneyd, one morning, with Arthur's axe on his shoulder, going out to do some work in the woods that Arthur had been talking about all night, and wanted grievously to be doing himself till Dr. Sneyd had promised that he, and nobody else, should accomplish it for him. It was strange that Mr. Hesselden should choose that time, of all others, to turn back with Dr. Sneyd, and ask why he had not been sent for to the patient's bed-side, urging that it was dreadful to think what might become of him hereafter, if it should please God to remove him in his present feeble condition of mind. Of all strange things it seemed the strangest that any one should dare to add to such trouble as the greyhaired father must be suffering, and that Mr. Hesselden should fancy himself better qualified than Dr. Sneyd to watch over the religious state of this virtuous son of a pious parent. Even Temmy could understand enough to be disgusted, and to venerate the humble dignity with which Mr. Hesselden's officiousness was checked, and the calmness with which it was at once admitted that Arthur's period of probation seemed to be fast drawing to a dose. But nothing astonished the boy so much as some circumstances relating to his mother. Temmy never knew before that she was fond of uncle Arthur,—or of any one, unless it was himself. When his papa was not by, her manner was usually high and cold to every body; and it had become more strikingly so since he had observed her dress to be shabby. He was now awe-struck when he saw her sit sobbing behind the curtain, with both hands covering her face. But it was much worse to see her one day, after standing for a long while gazing on the sunken countenance before her, cast herself down by the bedside and cry,
“O, Arthur—Arthur—you will not look at me!”
Temmy could not stay to see what happened. He took refuge with his grandpapa, who, on hearing what had overpowered him, led him up again to the chamber, where Louisa was on her knees, weeping quietly with her face hid in the bed clothes. She was not now in so much need of comfort. Arthur had turned his eyes upon her, and, she thought, attempted to speak. She believed she could now watch by him till the last without repining; but it had been dreary,—most dreary, to see him wasting without one sign of love or consciousness.
“What must it be then, my dear daughter, to watch for months and years in vain for such a sign?” The doctor held in his hand a letter which Temmy had for some day observed that his grandfather seemed unable to part with. It told that the most beloved of his old friends had had an attack of paralysis. It was little probable that he would write or send message more.'
“That it should happen just at this time!” murmured Louisa.
“I grieve for you, my dear. You have many years before you, and the loss of this brother— But for your mother and me it is not altogether so trying. We cannot have very long to remain; and the more it pleases God to wean us from this world, the less anxiety there will be in leaving it. If the old friends we loved, and the young we depended on, go first, the next world is made all the brighter; and it is with that world that we have now most to do.”
“But of all losses—that Arthur must be the One—”
“This is the one we could be least prepared for, and from this there is perhaps, the strongest recoil,—especially when we think of this boy,”— laving his hand on Temmy's head. “But it is enough that it is the fittest for us. If we cannot see this, we cannot but believe it; and let the Lord do what seemeth to him good.”
“But such a son! Such a man—”
“Ah! there is precious consolation! No father's—no mother's heart—Hear me, Arthur”—and he laid. his hand on that of his son— “No parent's heart had ever more perfect repose upon a child than we have had upon you, my dear son!”
“He hears you.”
“If not now, I trust he shall know it hereafter. His mother and I have never been thankless, I believe, for what God has given us in our children; but now is the time to feel truly what His bounty has been. Some time hence, we may find ourselves growing weary under our loss, however we may acquiesce: but now there is the support given through him who is the resurrection and the life,—this support without drawback, without fear. Thank God!”
After a pause, Mrs. Temple said, hesitatingly,
“You have seen Mr. Hesselden?”
“I have. He believes that there is presumption in the strength of my hope. But it seems to me that there would be great presumption in doubt and dread. If my son were a man of a worldly mind,—if his affections were given to wealth and fame, or to lower objects still, it would become us to kneel and cry, day and night, for more time, before he must enter the state where, with such a spirit, he must find himself poor and miserable and blind and naked. But his Maker has so guided him that his affections have been fixed on objects which will not be left behind in this world, or buried away with the body, leaving him desolate in the presence of his God. He loves knowledge, and for long past he has lived on benevolence; and he will do the same hence-forth and for ever, if the gospel, in which he has delighted from his youth up, say true. Far be it from us to doubt his being happy in thus living for the prime ends of his being!”
Mrs. Temple was still silent.
“You are thinking of the other side of his character,” observed Dr. Sneyd; “of that dark side which every fallible creature has. Here would be my fear, if I feared at all. But l do not fear for Arthur that species of suffering which he has ever courted here. I believe he was always sooner or later thankful for the disappointment of unreasonable desires, and the mortifications of pride, and all retribution for sins and follies. There is no reason to suppose that he will shrink from the retribution which will in like manner follow such sins and follies as he may carry with him into another state. All desires whose gratification cannot enter there will be starved out. The process will be painful; but the subject of this pain will be the first to acquiesce in it. We, therefore, will not murmur nor fear.”
“If all this be true, if it be religious, how many torment themselves and one another in vain about the terrors of the gospel!”
“Very many. For my part, whatever terrors I might feel without the gospel,—and I can imagine that they might be many and great,—I cannot conceive of any being left when the gospel is taken home to the understanding and the heart. it so strips away all the delusions, amidst which alone terror can arise under the recognition of a benignant Providence, as to leave a broad unincumbered basis for faith to rest upon; a faith which must pass from strength to strength, divesting itself of one weakness and pain after another, till the end comes when perfect love casts out fear;—a consummation which can never be reached by more than a few, while arbitrary sufferings are connected with the word of God in the unauthorized way which is too common at present. No! if there be one characteristic of the gospel rather than another, it is its repudiating terrors—(and terrors belong only to ignorance)—by casting a new and searching light on the operations of Providence, and showing how happiness is the issue of them all. Surely, daughter, there is no presumption in saying this, to the glory of Him who gave the gospel.”
“I trust not, father.”
“My dear, with as much confidence as an apostle, were he here, would desire your brother to arise and walk before us all, do I say to him, if he can yet hear me, 'Fear not, for God is with thee.' I wish I feared as little for you, Louisa; but indeed this heavy grief is bearing you down. God comfort you, my child! for we perceive that we cannot.”
With a passion of grief, Louisa prayed that she might not be left the only child of her parents. She had never been, she never should be, to them what she ought. Arthur must not go. Her father led her away, soothing her self-reproaches, and giving her hope, by showing how much of his hope for this world depended on her. She made a speedy effort to compose herself, as she could not bear to be long absent from Arthur's bedside. Her mother was now there, acting with all the silent self-possession which she had preserved throughout.
The snow was all melted before the morning when the funeral train set forth from Dr. Sneyd's door. On leaving the gate, the party turned,—. not in the direction of the chapel, but towards the forest. As Mr. Hesselden could not in conscience countenance such a departure as that of Arthur,—lost in unbelief, and unrelieved of his sins as he believed the sufferer to have been,—it was thought better that the interment should take place as if no Mr. Hesselden had been there, and no chapel built; and the whole was conducted as on one former occasion since the establishment of the settlement. The plain coffin was carried by four of the villagers, and followed by all the rest, except a very few who remained about the Lodge. Mrs. Snyed would not hear of her husband's going through the service unsupported by any of his family. Mrs. Temple's presence was out of the question. Mr. Sneyd and Temmy therefore walked with Dr. Sneyd. When arrived at the open green space appointed, the family sat down beside the coffin, while the men who had brought spades dug a grave, and those who had borne axes felled trees with which to secure the body from the beasts of the forest. There was something soothing rather than the contrary in observing how all went on as if the spectators had been gazing with their usual ease upon the operations of nature. The squirrels ran among the leaves which gaudily carpeted the ground in the shade: the cattle browzed carelessly, tinkling their bells among the trees. A lark sprang up from the ground-nest where she was sitting solitary when the grave-diggers stirred the long grass in which she had been hidden; and a deer, which bad taken alarm at the shock of the woodsmen's axes, made a timid survey of the party, and bounded away into the dark parts of the wood. The children, who were brought for the purpose of showing respect to the departed, could scarcely be kept in order by their anxious parents, during the time of preparation. They would pick up glossy brown nuts that lay at their feet; and trudged rustling through all the leaves they could manage to tread upon, in hopes of dislodging mice or other small animals to which they might give chase. One little girl, with all a little girl's love for bright colours, secured a handful of the scarlet leaves of the maple, the deep yellow of the walnut and hickory, and the pink of the wild vine; and, using the coffin for a table, began laying out her treasure there in a circle. Dr. Sneyd was watching her with a placid smile, when the mother, in an agony of confusion, ran to put a stop to the amusement. The doctor would not let the child be interfered with. He seemed to have pleasure in entering into the feelings of as many about him as could not enter into his.
He was quite prepared for his office at the moment when all was ready for him. None who were present had ever beheld or listened to a funeral service so impressive as this of the greyheaded father over the grave of his son. The few, the very few natural tears shed at the moment of final surrender did not impair the dignity of the service, nor, most assuredly, the acceptableness of the devotion from which, as much as from human grief, they sprang. The doctor would himself see the grave filled up, and the felled trees so arranged upon it as to render it perfectly safe. Then he was ready to be the support of his wife home: and at his own gate, he forgot none who had paid this last mark of respect to his son. He shook hands with them every one, and touched his hat to them when he withdrew within the gate.
Mrs. Sneyd wistfully followed him into his study, instead of going to seek her daughter.— Was he going to write?
“Yes, my dear. There is one in England to whom these tidings are first due from ourselves. I shall write but little; for hers will be an affliction with which we must not intermeddle. At least, it is natural for Arthur's father to think so. Will you stay beside me? or are you going to Louisa?”
“I ought to write to Mrs. Rogers; and I think I will do it now, beside you. And yet— Louisa—Tell me, dear, which I shall do.”
There was something in the listlessness and indecision of tone with which this was said that more nearly overset Dr. Sneyd's fortitude than any thing that had happened this day. Conquering his emotion, he said,
“Let us both take a turn in the garden first, and then—”—and he drew his wife's arm within his own, and led her out. Temmy was there,—lingering, solitary and disconsolate in one of the walks. the servants had told him that he must not go up to his mamma; they believed she was asleep; and then Temmy did not know where to go, and was not at all sure how much he might do on the day of a funeral. In exerting themselves to cheer him, the doctor and Mrs. Sneyd revived each other; amt when Mrs. Temple arose, head-achy and feverish, and went to the window for air, she was surprised to see her father with his spade in his hand, looking on while Mrs. Sneyd and Temmy sought out the last remains of the autumn fruit in the orchard.
When the long evening had set in, and the most necessary of the letters were written, little seemed left to be done but to take care of Mrs. Temple, whose grief had, for the present, much impaired her health. She lay shivering on a couch drawn very near the fire; and her mother began to feel so uneasy at the continuance of her head ache that she was really glad when Mr. Kendall came up from the village to enquire after the family. It was like his usual kind attention; and perhaps he said no more than the occasion might justify of distress of mind being the cause of indisposition. Yet his manner struck Mrs. Sneyd as being peculiarly solemn,—somewhat inquisitive, and, on the whole, unsatisfactory. Mrs. Temple also asked herself for a moment whether Kendall could possibly know that she was not a happy wife, and would dare to exhibit his knowledge to her. But she was not strong enough to support the dignified manner necessary on such a supposition; and she preferred dismissing the thought. She was recommended to rest as much as possible; to turn her mind from painful subjects; and, above all, to remain where she was. She must not think of going home at present;—a declaration for which every body present was heartily thankful.
When Temmy had attended the surgeon to the door, he returned; and instead of seating himself at his drawing, as before, wandered from window to window, listening, and seeming very uncomfortable. Dr. Sneyd invited him to the fire-side, and made room for him between his knees; but Temmy could not be happy even there,—the night was so stormy, and it was raining so very heavily!
“Well, my dear?”
“And uncle Arthur is out in the wood, all alone, and every body else so comfortable at home!”
“My boy, your uncle can never more be hurt by storm or heat, by night dew or rain. We will not forget him while we are comfortable, as you say, by our fire-side; but it is we ourselves, the living, who have to be sheltered and tended with care and pains, like so many infants, while perhaps the departed make sport of these things, and look back upon the needful care of the body as grown men look down upon the cradles they were rocked in, and the cushions spread for them to fall upon when they learned to walk. Uncle Arthur may know more about storms than we; but we know that they will never more beat upon his head.”
Temmy believed this; yet he could not help thinking of the soaked grass, and the dripping boughs, and the groaning of the forest in the wind,—and even of the panther and the wild cat snuffing round the grave they could not reach. He could not help feeling as if his uncle was deserted; and he had moreover the fear that, though he could never, never think less of him than now, others would fall more and more into their old way of talking and laughing in the light of the fire, without casting a thought towards the forest or any thing that it contained. He felt as if he was, in such a case, called upon to vindicate uncle Arthur's claims to solemn remembrance, and pondered the feasibility of staying at home alone to think about uncle Arthur when the time should be again come for every body else to be reading and working, or dancing, during the evenings at the schoolhouse. Mrs. Sneyd believed all that her husband had just said to Temmy; and the scripture which he read this evening to his family, about the heavenly transcending the earthly, did not pass idly over her ear; yet she so far felt with Temmy that she looked out, forest-wards, for long before she tried to rest; and, with the first grey of the morning, was again at the same station. On the first occasion, she was somewhat surprised by two things that she saw;—many lights flitting about the village, and on the road to the Lodge,— and a faint glimmer, like the spark of a glowworm, in the opposite direction, as if precisely on the solitary spot where Arthur lay. Dr. Sneyd could not distinguish it through the storm; but on being assured that there was certainly some light, supposed that it might be one of the meteoric fires which were wont to dart out of the damp brakes, and run along the close alleys of the forest, like swift torch-bearers of the night. For the restlessness in the village he could not so easily account: nor did he take much pains to do so; for he was wearied out,—and the sleep of the innocent, the repose of the pious, awaited him.
“From this he was unwillingly awakened, at peep of dawn, by Mrs, Sneyd, who was certain that she had distinguished the figure of a man, closely muffled, pacing the garden. She had previously fancied she heard a horse-tread in the turf road,
“My dear,” said the doctor, “who should it be? We have no thieves here, you know; and what should anybody else want in our garden at this hour?”
“Why—you will not believe me, I dare say,—but I have a strong impression,—I cannot help thinking it is Temple.”
Dr. Sneyd was at the window without another word. It was still so dark that he could not distinguish the intruder till he passed directly before the window. At that moment the doctor threw up the sash. The wind blew in chilly, bringing the autumnal scent of decaying vegetation from the woods; but the rain was over. The driving clouds let out a faint glimmer from the east; but all besides was darkness, except a little yellow light which was still wandering on the prairie, and which now appeared not far distant from the paling of the orchard.
“Mr. Temple, is it you?” asked Dr. Sneyd. “What brings you here?”
The gentleman appeared excessively nervous. He could only relate that he wanted to see his wife,—that he must see Mrs. Temple instantly. She must come down to him,—down to the window, at least. He positively could not enter the house. He had not a moment to spare. He was on business of life and death. He must insist on Mrs. Temple being called.
She was so, as the intelligence of her being ill seemed to effect no change in the gentleman's determination. He appeared to think that she would have ample time to get well afterwards. When her mother had seen that she was duly wrapped up, and her father had himself opened the shutter of the study window, to avoid awakening the servants' curiosity, both withdrew to their own apartment, without asking further questions of Temple.
“Did you see anybody else, my dear?” the doctor inquired. Mrs. Sneyd was surprised at the question.
“Because—I did. Did you see no torch or lantern behind the palings? I am sure there was a dark face peeping through to see what we were doing.”
A pang of horror shot through Mrs. Sneyd when she asked her husband whether he supposed it was an Indian. O, no; only a half-savage. He believed it to be one of the Brawnees. If so, Mrs. Sneyd could account for the light in the forest, as well as for the maiden being so far from home at this hour. She had marked her extreme grief at the interment the day before, and other things previously, which gave her the idea that Arthur's grave had been lighted and guarded by one who would have been only too happy to have watched over him while he lived.
It was even so, as Mrs. Sneyd afterwards ascertained. The maiden hung lanterns round the space occupied by the grave, every night, till all danger was over of Arthur's remains being interfered with. The family could not refuse to be gratified with this mark of devotion;—except Temple, who would have been glad if the shadows of the night had availed to shroud his proceedings from curious eyes.
When the gate was heard to swing on its hinges, and the tread of a horse was again distinguishable on the soaked ground, Mrs. Sneyd thought she might look out upon the stairs, and watch her daughter to her chamber. But Mrs. Temple was already there. Not wishing to be asked any questions: she had gone up softly, and as softly closed her door; so that her parents, not choosing to disturb her, must wait till the morning for the satisfaction of their uneasy curiosity.