It was my plan to publish the final chapter of Mr. Townsend's sad story, from the original Gossips of Rivertown, as the events in the story paralleled the events of Holy Week, but alas, I was distracted by the unholy events of the past week in Hudson. The following passage, which evokes the night spent in the Garden of Gethsemane, should have been published on Thursday, but here it is now.
Many a sorrowful struggle shook the soul of the minister of God; he knew that by his silence he was bringing shame upon the church and the Master whom he served. Yet he shrank from having his disgrace publicly proclaimed, and quite as much from the only defence he could urge.
While thus meditating one evening, he received a summons to attend a church council and defend himself against the charges made by a large portion of his congregation. Mrs. Townsend saw him compress his lips as the note was handed to him, and guessed its import.
"Tell them all," she said; "it is a morbid fear in which you have indulged. Ask God's assistance, His protection. We must leave this place and this people, but do not let a stain rest upon your name."
The evening appointed for the trial came. Mr. Townsend had passed the whole day alone in his study—no, not alone, for the shadow of a mighty Presence filled the room; and in this lofty communion the sorely-tried had found strength and consolation.
A light step crossed the threshold with the twilight, and the wife for whom he was that moment praying, stood beside him. A smile of gentle encouragement shone in her eyes as she fondly kissed his high white forehead, from which he had pushed back the masses of his dark hair.
"I feel this most for you, Louisa," he said, as he clasped her hand. "If your mother, your father should hear of the sorrow, the disgrace I have brought upon their idol, how could I answer them?"
"They never can hear of it, we are so remote from their circle. See"—and she held up a letter before him—"here is a long, kind message from mamma. I have not opened it yet; I have kept it to entertain me this evening, to sustain my spirits while you are absent. It would be sad, indeed, were they to learn what has passed."
She did not say more, but she knew that these parents would not easily overlook such a stain—so they would consider it—and would regard with less allowance than ever a marriage to which they had yielded a reluctant consent.
The study grew quite dark as they sat there, neither speaking for some time. It was well that Mr. Townsend could not see the fearful traces of anxiety and illness in the languid expression that stole over his wife's face, and the effort she made to control her emotion that she might not unnerve him. Nor did he notice it when they parted, though the firelight revealed the long and earnest gaze with which she seemed to read his inmost thoughts. After he had left the house, a recollection of how strangely tender her last kiss had been, and how long she had clasped his hand, came over him with a fear of some undefined ill, and he turned to retrace his steps. "What a foolish thought," he half murmured, and once more hurried onward.
Sketch the Fifth. Male Gossips. Chapter IV