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CHAPTER XXVII. THE DEACON MAKES A GOOD END.
In his bright little study at Lakeside, Lothrop Audouin had just laid down a parchment-bound volume of Carlyle's 'French Revolution' and turned to look out of the pretty bay-window, embowered in clematis and Virginia creeper, that opened on to the placid tawny creek and the blue expanse of more distant Ontario. 'How unawares the summer has crept upon us,' he murmured to himself, half-audibly, as was his fashion. 'When I first got back from Rome in early May, the trees were all but leafless; and now July is far gone, and before many weeks we shall be beginning to think of the melting tints of our golden autumn. That's the difference, really, between revolution and evolution. The most truly important events make no stir on their first taking place; they grow, surely but silently. The changes to which all things conspire, and for which they have prepared the way beforehand, produce no explosion, because they are gradual, and the universe consents to them. A birth takes place in silence, and sums up the result of endless generations; but a murder, which is at war with the constitution of things, creates a tumult immediately. What a fracas over Camille at the Café Foy! and yet, with a whiff of grapeshot, the whole fabric of liberty disappears bodily. What a slow growth the democratic constitution of Massachusetts! and yet, when a convulsion seizes on the entire continent, and north and south tear one another to pieces for a grand idea, the democratic constitutions float unhurt upon the sea of commotion, and come out intact in the fulness of time with redoubled splendour! A good idea! I'll enter it in my diary, elaborated a little into better English.' For Audouin was a writer by instinct, and though he had never yet perpetrated a printed book, he kept a dainty little journal in his desk, in which he jotted down side by side his pretty thoughts, as they occurred to him, and his observations, half-scientific, half-fanciful, on the progress of nature all around him. This diary he regarded as his chief literary testament; and he meant to leave it in his will to Hiram Winthrop, with strict injunctions that it should be published after his death, for private circulation only, among the select few who were competent to understand it. Surely a good man and true may be permitted, in the byways and background of his inner nature, to indulge in his harmless little foibles and affectations.

He had risen to take out the diary, full of his little poetical conceit, when the maid (Audouin wasn't such a recluse that he didn't like to keep his hermitage well-appointed) brought in a note for him on a quaintly chased Japanese salver. He took the note and glanced at it casually. It hadn't come by post, but by hand—a rare event in the isolation of Lakeside, where neighbours were none, and visitors few and distant. He broke open the envelope, and read the few pencilled lines within hastily:—

'Deacon Winthrop would be obliged if you would come over at once to see him, as I am seriously ill, and the Lord is calling me. For Deacon Winthrop, faithfully, Keziah H. Hoptree.'

Audouin put on his hat at once, and went to the porch, with its clambering roses, to see the bearer, who sat in a high buggy, flipping the flies off his horse's ear with his long whipcord.

'Wal,' the man said, 'I guess, Mr. Audouin, you'd better look alive if you want to see the deacon comfortably afore the Lord's taken him.'

'All right,' Audouin answered, with Yankee irreverence, jumping up hastily into the tall buggy. 'Drive right away, sir, and we'll run a race to see which gets there first, ourselves, or Death, the Great Deliverer.'

The man drove along the rough unmade roads as only an American farmer can drive in a life-and-death hurry.

Geauga County hadn't altered greatly to the naked eye since the days long, long ago, when Hiram Winthrop used to sulk and hide in the blackberry bottom. The long straight road still stretched as of yore evenly between its two limits, in a manner calculated to satisfy all the strictest requirements of a definition in Euclid; and the parallel lines of snake fence on either hand still ran along at equal distances till they seemed to meet on the vanishing point of the horizon, somewhere a good deal on the hither side of mathematical infinity. The farms were still all bare, gaunt, dusty, and unlovable; the trees were somewhat fewer even than of old (for this was now acknowledged to be an unusually fine agricultural section), and the charred and blackened stumps that once diversified the weedy meadows had long for the most part been pulled up and demolished by the strenuous labours of men and horses. But otherwise Audouin could notice little difference between the Muddy Creek of fifteen years ago, and the Muddy Creek of that present moment. Fifteen more crops of fall and spring wheat had been reaped and garnered off the flat expanses; fifteen more generations of pigs (no, hogs) had been duly converted into prime American pork, and thence by proper rotation into human fat, bone, and muscle; fifteen winters had buried with their innocent sheet of white the blank desolation of fifteen ugly and utilitarian summers; but the farmers and farmhouses, though richer and easier than before, had not yet wakened one whit the more than of old to a rudimentary perception of the fact that the life of man may possibly consist of some other elements than corn, and pork, and the rigorous Calvinistic theology of Franklin P. Hopkins. Beauty was still crying in the streets of Muddy Creek, and no man regarded her.

At last the long dreary drive was over—a drive, Audouin thought to himself with a sigh, which couldn't be equalled anywhere in the world for naked ugliness, outside this great, free, enlightened, and absolutely materialised republic—and the buggy drew up at the gate of Deacon Zephaniah Winthrop's homestead, in the exact central spot of that wide and barren desert of utter fruitfulness. Audouin leaped from the buggy hastily, and went on through the weedy front yard to the door of the bare white farmhouse.

'Wal, I'm glad you've kem, anyhow,' the hired help (presumably Keziah H. Hoptree) exclaimed in her shrill loud voice as she opened the door to him; 'for deacon's jest tearin' mad tew see you afore the Lord takes him; he says he wants tew give you a message fur Hiram, an' he can't die in peace until he's given it.'

'Is he very ill?' Audouin asked.

'Not so sick tew talk to,' the girl answered, harshly; 'but Dr. Eselman, he says he ain't goin' to live a week longer. He's bin doctoring himself, that's whar it is, with Chief Tecumseh's Paregoric Elixir; an' now he's gone so fur that Dr. Eselman reckons he can't never git that thar Elixir out of his con-stitooshun nohow. Jest you step right in here, judge, an' see him.'

Audouin followed her into the sick room, where the old deacon, thinner, bonier, and more sallow than ever, lay vacantly on his propped-up pillows.

'You set you down thar, mister,' he began feebly, as soon as he was aware of Audouin's presence, 'an' make yourself right comfortable. I wanted to see you, you may calkilate, to give you a message for Hiram.' He paused a little between each sentence, as if he spoke with difficulty; and Audouin waited patiently to hear what it might be, with some misgiving.

'You tell him,' the deacon went on in his slow jerky manner, 'when you see him or correspond to him, that I forgive him.'

It was with some effort that Audouin managed to answer seriously, 'I will, Mr. Winthrop, you may rely upon it.'

'Yes,' the deacon continued with as much Christian magnanimity as his enfeebled condition would permit him to express; 'I forgive him. Freely and on-reservedly, I forgive him. Hiram ain't bin a son to me as I might hev anticipated. Thar was too much of his mother's family in him altogether, I reckon. The Winthrops was never a wild lot, an' wouldn't hev gone off paintin' pictures and goin' to Italy as that thar boy's done, anyhow. I might hev expected that Hiram would hev stopped to home to help me with the farm, and git things comfortable some; but thar, he was allus one o' the idlest, sulkiest, onaccountablest boys I ever met with, nowhar. He's gone off, foolin' around with them thar pictures, an' I don't suppose he'll never come to any good, nohow. But I forgive him, mister; I freely forgive him.'Tain't what one might hev looked fur from a young man who was raised in the Hopkinsite confession, an' whose parents were both of 'em believers; but these things do come out most onaccountably, that they might all be damned who believed not the truth but had pleasure in on-righteousness.'

Audouin merely bowed his head in solemn silence. The picture of the gaunt, hard-faced old man, sitting up in bed upon his pillows in his loneliness, and speaking thus, after his kind, of the son whom he had alienated from him by his unsympathetic harshness, was one too dreary for him to look at without an almost visible shudder.

'It's a mercy,' the deacon meandered on, after a short pause, gasping for breath, 'that his poor mother didn't never live to see the worst of it. Hiram might hev kem home, and helped me look after the farm and the cattle; instead of which, I've had to git in hired helps, since Mis' Winthrop died, while he was off somewhere or other painting pictures. He's in Italy now, learnin' still, he says, when he wrote to me last; I should hev expected he'd hev learnt the trade completely afore this, an' be practisin' it for a livin', as anybody might expect at his age, nat'rally. But he'll hev to come home, now, anyhow, and take to the farm; fur of course it goes to him, mister, an' I hope now he'll give up them thar racketty ways he's got into, and begin to settle down a bit at last, into a decent farmer. He's no boy now, Hiram ain't, an' he ought to be gettin' steady. I don't say I hev any complaint against you personally, mister, on that score,' the deacon went on, shaking his head magnanimously. 'You've led him into it, I know; but I understand you meant it for the best, though it's turned out oncommon bad; an' I'm a Christian man, I hope, an' I bear you no grudge for it. But what I want you to write an' tell him's jest this. You write an' say that his father, afore he died, freely forgave him, an' left him the farm and fixins. In time to come, mister, I dessay that thar boy'll often regret an' think to himself, “While my father was here, I might have made more of him.” But it'll be a comfort to him anyhow to know that I forgave him; an' you jest take an' write it to him, an' I'll be obliged to you.' Audouin sat a long time by the old man's bed, wondering whether any word of regret or penitence would come from him for his own grievous error in making his son's young life a burden and a misery to him (for Hiram, with all his reticence, had let his friend see by stray side hints how sad his days had been in Geauga County); but no word came, nor was the possibility of it within the deacon's narrow self-righteous self-satisfied soul. The hours wore away, and Audouin watched and waited, but still the deacon went on at intervals, all about his own goodness to Hiram, and Hiram's natural unregenerate liking for painting pictures. At last, Keziah came in, and warned Audouin that the deacon mustn't be allowed any longer to excite himself. So Audouin went away, sad and disheartened. 'Great heavens!' he said to himself, as he jumped up again into the buggy, which was waiting to take him back to Lakeside; 'in spite of our common schools, and our ten thousand newspapers, and all our glib American buncombe about enlightenment, and education, and our noble privileges, is there any country in the world, I wonder, where the gap between those who think and feel and know, and those who wallow in their own conceited ignorance and narrowness and brutality, yawns wider and deeper than in these United States of ours, at the latter end of this emancipated nineteenth century? Look at the great gulf fixed between Boston, or even Chicago, and Geauga County! Why, the Florentines of the middle ages, the old Etruscans, the naked Egyptian, the Chinaman, the Hindoo coolie, are all of them a whole spiritual world ahead of Deacon Winthrop! They at least know, or knew, that the human heart has in it some higher need than corn, or pork, or rice, or millet; that man shall not live by bread alone; that of all the gifts God gave to man, He gave none better than the knowledge of beauty! Ay, even the monkey that plays among the mango trees considers the feathers in the parrot's tail as worthy of his passing attention as the biggest cocoanut.

'And yet, not higher, after all, those Chinamen, when one comes to think of it; for is there not mysteriously inherent somehow, in the loins of that utterly sensual materialised clod, the potentiality of begetting Hiram Winthrop?

'I wonder what sort of people my own eight great-grandparents would be, if I could only get them into the little sitting-room at Lakeside, and compare notes with them about heaven and earth, and Herbert Spencer, and the Apollo Belvedere!'

A week later, Audouin had to write to Hiram, and tell him that the deacon had passed away, and had forgiven him. 'How, my dear Hiram,' Audouin wrote, towards the end of his letter, 'your father leaves the farm at Muddy Creek to you; and if you take my advice, you will sell it at once, for what it'll fetch (not much, I doubt me) and apply the principal to paying your expenses for a year or two more at Seguin's studio. You hold your pictorial talents in trust for the American nation, which even now sadly needs them; and you mustn't throw away your chances of the highest self-improvement for the sake of a little filthy lucre, which, even if invested, would really bring you in next to nothing. Nay, rather, to use it in studying at Rome is really to invest it in the best possible manner; for, merely judging the result as a Wall Street speculator would judge it, by the actual return in dollars and cents, United States currency, your pictures will bring you in tenfold in the end of what you spend in preparing to paint them. Though not for money, I hope, Hiram, not for money, but for art's sake, and for the highest final development of this our poor groping humanity, which is still so base, take it for all in all, that I sometimes almost wonder whether it can be really worth our while to try to do anything to improve it.'

Yet so strangely compounded is this human nature of ours for all that, that when Hiram Winthrop read that letter to himself in his own small room beneath the roof of the Roman attic, he lay down upon his bed, and cried passionately in the dusk for the poor narrow-minded old deacon; and thought with a sort of regretful tenderness of the dim old days in the blackberry bottom; and murmured to himself that when he was a boy he was no doubt terribly obstinate and perverse and provoking. And now that he was a man, must he not strive to do as Audouin told him? the one true friend he had yet met with. And then he undressed and lay awake a long time, with the sense of utter loneliness pressing upon his poor solitary head more drearily than ever.


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