Sunday, April 17, 2011

"'Tis but a Trial Sent for Our Good"

In this Easter season, Gossips continues the story, from the original Gossips of Rivertown, of Mr. Townsend, the minister of the Congregational Church, whom Alice Neal depicts as a kind of Christ figure. 

"I drink the bitter cup!
I drink—for He whom angels did sustain
In the dread hour when mortal anguish met him,
When friends forgot and deadly foes beset him,
Stands by to soothe my pain.
I drink — for thou, O God, preparedst the draught
Which to my lips thy Father-hand is pressing;
I know 'neath ills oft lurks the deepest blessing—
Father, the cup is quaffed!"

The crisis came sooner than it had been looked for, and was brought about most unexpectedly. With all her apparent calmness, Mrs. Townsend had known for weeks what her friends had vainly endeavoured to hide. Miss Martin came first to condole with her, and when she found her still in ignorance, would have given full particulars, but Mrs. Townsend refused to listen, simply saying, "Of course you denied the report as being without even a foundation." But Miss Martin was not silenced everywhere; and when she told Mrs. Smith of her visit, she added that in coming out she had met the girl on the very door-step with a flask of something, that, "if it wasn't brandy, it surely wasn't spring-water," and the girl did not attempt to deny it. If that was not a foundation and something more, she could not tell what was. And Miss Martin made more converts than ever.

Mrs. Townsend never alluded to Miss Martin's visit, but now that she had a clue, the cause of the dissatisfaction which was very evident in the church, was no longer a mystery. She "pondered upon these things in her heart," and day by day she grew less hopeful that the aspersions would be cleared from her husband's character without his being made aware of their existence. Had she confided her trouble to some one, it would have been better in the end, for now she brooded over it, trying in vain to conjecture the rise of the new gossip, and forming vain plans to silence it.

One day she had been more sad than usual. A letter from her old home had pictured vividly the luxuries and enjoyments from which her own choice had for ever debarred her, and a strong temptation to repine at her present unhappiness had struggled with her better nature. Her children were both ill; she was weary with watching over their restless sleep, and withal, alarmed at the feverish symptoms which had appeared in Henry's short, quick breathing, and flushed cheek. She was thus ill prepared to welcome her husband cheerfully from his round of pastoral visits, and started with alarm as he entered, looking pale and haggard, as if from recent and fearful mental emotion. She saw that concealment was no longer necessary, for the sigh, as he took her hand, and the long, sad gaze he fastened upon her, told that he knew all.

"Then you have heard this terrible story, Louisa? You know that my labours were not accepted—that God has seen fit to put an end to my usefulness?"

"Do not say so, my love; I am sure the cloud will pass away! 'Tis but a trial sent for our good. Remember, 'Behind a frowning Providence He hides a smiling face,'" she said, trying to smile also as she spoke.

He drew her head down upon his shoulder, but he only said—"My poor wife—my poor Louisa."

This despondency did not last; the Christian triumphed, and they knelt together to pray that "all things might work together for good."

Mrs. Townsend did not know until weeks afterwards how suddenly and severely the blow had fallen. In visiting one of the poorest families connected with the church, Mr. Townsend had found the husband of his parishioner loading his shrinking wife with abuse, even threatening her with personal violence in his wild inebriation. Mr. Townsend thought it but right to remonstrate, and in return was told, in the coarsest language, "not to preach what he did not practise;" and on demanding an explanation, the wife related, with tears and assurances that she did not believe it, all that our readers have already heard.

"I told Deacon Morrison," said the poor woman, "I knew it was not true, whoever said it; but he came for William to do a job for him, and I didn't like to say much. William don't get work often."

Suspicion thus awakened, Mr. Townsend began to realize in its full extent the toils in which he was involved. He saw that the better part of the community watched him curiously; that the servant was daily subjected to cross-examinations on their family affairs, and more than once he was openly reminded that he had fallen under reproach. His wife tried to be cheerful, but her health and spirits had suffered. His own melancholy increased. There seemed to be a cloud between him and Heaven when he attempted to pray, and he shrank from instructing publicly those who evidently regarded him as a hypocrite. He consulted Deacon Whiting: the good man's troubled face told how earnest was his sympathy, as he urged a public denial of the charges.

Mr. Townsend shook his head mournfully. "I admit some of them," said he. "Louisa's unhappiness—my midnight walks—there has been some foundation, but I shrink from the explanation. Cannot it be put down quietly?"

"I fear not—I know it is impossible," was the reply; "it has gone so far and become so generally known."

The more Deacon Whiting thought over this conversation, the more he was puzzled. If Mr. Townsend had a clear conscience, why not come out openly at once? Yet dark as it was, Mr. Whiting still defended his minister, and would not admit even to himself that there was any fault to be imputed.

Sketch the Fifth. Male Gossips. Chapter IV 

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