On this rainy Sunday morning, we continue the story of Mr. Townsend, the pastor of the Congregational Church, from the original Gossips of Rivertown.
It is not to be supposed that Mr. Townsend listened calmly to all this. Sometimes his emotion would be betrayed only in a nervous contraction of the features, and again he would half rise, as if to refute some charge indignantly, and then recollecting himself, sat down again and covered his face with his hands. Those in favour, sighed and shook their heads as Deacon Morrison glanced triumphantly around; but from the moment Mr. Townsend rose, all was changed. There was a proud and conscious innocence in the look he bent upon the late speaker, though his lips were ashen, and his voice at first low and tremulous.
After regretting that he should have been the cause of any disturbance in the peace that should be among them as brethren and sisters, he said that but for the reproach it had brought upon the church, he would have borne this evil-speaking in silence. That which he was now about to tell them had been unknown to him, until accident had revealed it, a few months after he came among them. He had been an orphan from earliest recollection, and, reared among strangers, had known little of his own family. The papers of his father had never come under his notice until some business arrangement made it necessary they should be placed in his hands. Then, to his horror, he found that the curse —it would seem such—of hereditary insanity had destroyed his father; and an elder brother, whose existence had been kept from him, had died not many years before, the inmate of a mad-house. His mother's friends had hoped that by carefully concealing this from him, and by a judicious mental training, the fearful entailment might be broken.
Since boyhood, even—he could scarcely account for it—he had felt a peculiar horror of insanity. From the moment he made the discovery which he mentioned, it had preyed upon him, notwithstanding a continual struggle against it. For himself, it mattered little what suffering he was called on to undergo; but he never ceased to reproach himself that the happiness of others was now imperilled, and that his fair children might live to be included in the doom which he felt would sooner or later overtake him. Of his wife he could not trust himself to speak. They would never know how much she had renounced for his sake, or how courageously she had met this new sorrow. Sometimes when fears amounted almost to frenzy, and self-reproach became momentary madness, she had soothed him to the calmness he had sought in vain under the still heavens at midnight; and he had now learned for the first time, that in his absence she had yielded to violent grief.
Visitors might have seen him using a composing draught, which had become often necessary to his excited nervous system; and during the late illness of his oldest child, bathing in some alcoholic fluids had been recommended by Doctor Chester. That was probably the solution of the last charges, but of this he knew nothing.
Once more he alluded to his regret that his own sorrow should have occasioned dissension and wrong understanding among them, and that those who felt themselves aggrieved had not come at once to him for explanation. But he cast not the shadow of reproach on any one, save that once he looked sorrowfully towards his principal accuser. It was such a look as the Master might have given to his erring disciple, but it did not move the self-willed, stubborn man.
A murmur of surprise, indignation and compassion filled the silence which followed this sadly eloquent appeal. More than one woman wept aloud, and men who had seen much sorrow forced back the starting tears.
Then they crowded around their pastor to express the sympathy all felt, and some humbly begged his forgiveness that they should have allowed themselves to be so deceived. Amid this movement, the principals of the opposite party disappeared. Deacon Morrison hurried away, that he might not witness the evidences of his own defeat; Miss Martin and Mrs. Smith were completely subdued, and followed him out quickly.
On the threshold they met a messenger pale and breathless, who, as he passed into the group still surrounding their pastor, could only point towards the house Mr. Townsend had so lately left, and say—"Quick, quick, for God's sake, or you will be too late!"
Sketch the Fifth. Male Gossips. Chapter IV.