Norwood, chapter 3

July 2, 2015

Finally, something happens!



Rachel Liscomb, daughter of Deacon Liscomb—tall, slender, straight, with black hair and dark eyes, a brunette—looked at him one day as they walked home from meeting, with a look that he never got over. She was one of the few without gifts of speech, whose bearing and looks are a full equivalent for speech. A farmer’s daughter—she was well-practised in work. But, a New-England woman, she was of a deep moral nature and reflectively intelligent. One who looked for attractive manners would pass her by unseen. Like a geode, the exterior was homely, the crystals were dark-chambered within.

Upon her rested the thoughts of Abiah Cathcart. She went but little from home, except on Sunday to church, and to the singing-school. But twice had Cathcart visited her father’s house, and yet for a year, when they met, both hid or strove to hide a sensibility of which neither was ashamed, but which each was ashamed to feel without some sign that the other felt it too. Our finer feelings are like the evening primrose, all the sunlight but shuts them closer. And yet, when evening comes and dews are falling, if you will watch, you shall see the twilight with gentle influence unroll them one by one, with visible motion, each blossom throwing forth, as it opens, its offering of delicate odor.

They were walking silently and gravely home one Sunday afternoon, under the tall elms that lined the street for half a mile. Neither had spoken. There had been some little parish quarrel, and on that afternoon the text was, “A new commandment I write unto you, that ye love one another.” But, after the sermon was done, the text was the best part of it. Some one said that Parson marsh’s sermons were like the meeting house—the steeple was the only thing that folks could see after they got home.

They walked slowly, without a word. Once or twice ’Biah essayed to speak, but was still silent. He plucked a flower from between the pickets of the fence, and unconsciously pulled it to pieces, as, with troubled face, he glanced at Rachel, and then, as fearing she would catch his eye, he looked at the trees, at the clouds, at the grass, at everything, and saw nothing—nothing but Rachel. The most solemn hour of human experience is not that of death, but of Life—when the heart is born again, and from a natural heart becomes a heart of Love! What wonder that it is a silent hour and perplexed?

Is the soul confused? Why not, when the divine spirit, rolling clear across the aerial ocean, breaks upon the heart’s shore with all the mystery of heaven? Is it strange that uncertain lights dim the eye, if above the head of him that truly loves hover clouds of saintly spirits? Why should not the tongue stammer and refuse its accustomed offices, when all the world—skies, trees, plains, hills, atmosphere, and the solid earth—spring forth in new colors, with strange meanings, and seem to chant for the soul the glory of that mystic Law with which God has bound to himself his infinite realm—the law of Love! Then, for the first time, when one so loves that love is sacrifice, death to self, resurrection, and glory, is man brought into harmony with the whole universe; and like him who beheld the seventh heaven, hears things unlawful to be uttered!

The great elm trees sighed as the fitful breeze swept their tops. The soft shadows flitted back and forth beneath the walker’s feet, fell upon them in light and dark, ran over the ground, quivered, and shook, until sober Cathcart thought that his heart was throwing its shifting network of hope and fear along the ground before him!

How strangely his voice sounded to him as, at length, all his emotions could only say, “Rachel—how did you like the sermon?”

Quietly she answered—

“I liked the text.”

“ ‘A new commandment I write unto you, tht ye love one another.’ Rachel, will you help me keep it?”

At first she looked down and lost a little color; then, raising her face, she turned upon him her large eyes, with a look both clear and tender. It was as if some painful restraint had given way, and her eyes blossomed into full beauty.

Not another word was spoken. They walked home hand in hand. He neither smiled nor exulted. He saw neither the trees, nor the long level rays of sunlight that were slanting across the fields. His soul was overshadowed with a cloud as if God were drawing near. He had never felt so solemn. This woman’s life had been entrusted to him!

Long years—the whole length of life—the eternal years beyond, seemed in an indistinct way to rise up in his imagination. All that he could say, as he left her at the door, was:

“Rachel, this is forever—forever.”

She again said nothing, but turned to him with a clear and open face, in which joy and trust wrought beauty. It seemed to him as if a light fell upon him from her eyes. There was a look that descended and covered him as with an atmosphere; and all the way home he was as one walking in a luminous cloud. he had never felt such personal dignity as now. He that wins such love is crowned, and may call himself king. He did not feel the earth under his feet. As he drew near his lodgings, the sun went down. The children began to pour forth, no longer restrained. Abiah turned to his evening cores. No animal that night but had reason to bless him. The children found him unusually good and tender. And Aunt Keziah said to her sister:

“Abiah’s been goin’ to meetin’ very regular for some weeks, and I shouldn’t wonder, by the way he looks, as if he had got a hope. I trust he ain’t deceivin’ himself.”

He had a hope, and he was not deceived; for in a few months, at the close of the service one Sunday morning, the minister read from the pulpit: “Marriage is intended between Abiah Cathcart and Rachel Liscomb, both of this town, and this is the first publishing of the banns.” Which notice was duly repeated for two successive Sunday mornings. Then old Uncle Bascom, the town clerk, issued the marriage certificate. Uncle Bascom had been town clerk, the boys used to think, ever since there was a town; so long that that town, without Giles Bascom as clerk, wouldn’t be recognized. It was one of the marks, like the meeting-house, the brick store, and Gallup’s tavern, by which people knew that this was the town of Dennis.

One day there appeared in the county paper two lines: “Married:—On ——, at the house of the bride’s father, Abiah Cathcart and Rachel Liscomb.”

What a slender body is that for the world of meaning contained in it!

From the hour of his engagement, Cathcart was a different man. Every faculty was quickened, but most, his moral nature. He marvelled with himself what it should mean. All his life had he honored industry and integrity in thought and example. But all at once these qualities rose before him in a light of beauty which he had never before imagined. Hundreds of sermons had he heard on virtue and piety. But now, without any apparent reason, manliness seemed the only thing worth living for, and truth and purity seemed to him so noble that he strangely hungered for them. Taught from his childhood to reverence God, he felt suddenly opened in his soul a gate of thanksgiving, and through it came also a multitude of thoughts of worship and praise. The world was recreated before his eyes. Nothing before was ever beautiful, if judged by his present sensibility. These experiences did not clothe themselves in language, nor work out in ideas and images for he was of too practical a nature. But they filled him with tenderness and manliness.

As the day of his marriage drew near, he felt a thousand reluctances and scruples. He feared that Rachel might not be happy with him—that it was not worthy in him to take her from the plain comforts of her father’s house to the toil and limitation of his struggling lot—that she might be deceived in him, and not always find reason for such love as she now manifested. He looked upon her with reverence, and far greater than before he was admitted to such intimate relations. Her every word was simple, every thought was truth, every feeling pure; and word, thought and feeling moved gently upon him in an atmosphere of love. He worshipped God with reverence. He worshipped Rachel with love; he came to her as one comes to an altar or a shrine. he left her as one who has seen a vision of angels.

Outwardly, and in consonance with the customs of the neighborhood, he was gay and jovial at the wedding; but down deep in his soul he was as solemn, before Rachel, as if God spoke and he listened.

How wondrous are the early days of wedlock, in young and noble souls! How strange are the ways of two pure souls, wholly finding each other out; between whom for days and months is going on that silent and unconscious intersphering of thought, feeling, taste, and will, by which two natures are clasping and twining and growing into each other!

Happy are they who know, and well Cathcart knew, how to bring such wisdom with loving, that selfishness, a poisonous weed, shall die out; and love clothed with reverence shall grow and thrive with power and beauty, all one’s life! For, if there be one root in which resides the secret of producing immortal flowers, it is Love.


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