Thursday, March 3, 2011

"A Tall, Sad-looking Man"

Time for another excerpt from the original Gossips of Rivertown. In the first four sketches, Alice Neal focused on the women of Rivertown. Now, in Sketch the Fifth, she casts her eye on the city's men, beginning with Mr. Townsend, pastor of the Congregationalist Church and husband of Mrs. Jackson's new friend and confidante.

The description given by Mr. Edward Jackson, of Mr. Townsend, the pastor of the Congregationalist Church, was—" a tall, sad-looking man, who seemed to have learned sympathy through sorrow." This last remark conveyed the impression made on almost every one, when he first came among them. He was always pale, as if from midnight watchings, and his large dark eyes at times seemed filled with an expression of unutterable sorrow. Yet he was so gentle that the smallest child in his congregation ran to meet him, looking up into his face with confiding love; and were any in affliction or distress, no one could suggest more hopeful words of consolation. He was always grave in manner, yet when he smiled, a beautiful light illumined his whole countenance, giving it that expression which some of the old masters have delighted to portray in pictures of "the beloved disciple." Indeed, "Aunt Underwood," one of the oldest among his charge, often said she was sure "the Apostle John must have looked just like her pastor; and it was no wonder if he did—that the Master had loved him better than all the rest."

His wife was not unlike him in gentleness and forbearance, but her manner was entirely different. She had been the petted, only child of fond parents, who wondered, as did all her friends, at her acceptance of Mr. Townsend, when wealthy and distinguished men at the same time sought her love. She had never been allowed one act of self-denial, for her wishes were anticipated from her cradle, and now she laid aside the gaiety and idleness of her luxurious life, to become the sharer in the humble fortunes of the pastor of a village church.

They had first met in the saloons of fashion, where the young lawyer so rapidly rising in his profession, and the beautiful heiress, Louise Warner, were the observed of many eyes. But though it was only natural that mutual admiration should result in deep regard, no one dreamed that this would still continue when "Townsend had become a mad religious enthusiast"—so said his gayer friends—and avowed his intention of forsaking the paths of wealth and ambition, for that lowlier way which his Master had through suffering trod.

Her parents argued and even pleaded in vain. Her duty to them would not admit that she should marry without their consent, yet she declared her intention of holding sacred the vows she had plighted to one whom she truly esteemed. When they saw that this resolution did not arise from a girlish sentimentality, but from a sincere conviction of duty and an entire change in her hitherto thoughtless character, opposition ceased.

"Let the child be happy in her own way," said her father; and so they were united, and the fashionable world wondered, pitied them, and as soon forgot even their existence.

None of their church to whom he came as a friend and a guide, knew of the self-denial Mr. Townsend had already practised, or how different was the quiet, humble life they now led, from that to which they had been accustomed. Rumours that Mrs. Townsend's family were wealthy, had, indeed, been borne to Rivertown; but the inhabitants decided it could not be true, when they saw how plainly she dressed and how studiously she avoided anything like display. True she had a piano, and for a long time some of the more rigid seemed disposed to consider it an unpardonable sin. Mrs. Townsend was a fine musician, and did not feel herself called upon to close her instrument for ever, or silence the brilliant voice on whose cultivation so much care had been bestowed. Surely those are "righteous overmuch" who would deny us the most exquisite and the purest of earthly pleasures—"the only one," says Horace Walpole, "we are sure of enjoying still in Heaven!" So thought Mrs. Townsend, and so said her husband, as, after the day's weary duties were ended, he listened to the choral strains which Handel and Haydn have left to keep their memory for ever in the hearts of men.

Sketch the Fifth. Male Gossips. Chapter I

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