Here is the end of the sad story of Mr. Townsend, pastor of the Congregational Church, from the original Gossips of Rivertown.
Before the close of that short week, a sad and silent crowd gathered in the house so lately the abode of quiet domestic happiness.
One by one they passed into the darkened room, and stood beside the coffin of her who had been an angel of consolation to them all. A smile of peace dwelt on the still features; the long lashes, never again to be upraised, rested upon the cheek henceforth to know not the moisture of bitter tears. So holy, so calm was that perfect repose, that those who were weeping involuntarily checked the expression of their grief. Why weep for her? At rest from all pain, lying there so peacefully, with her babe clasped to her heart—the babe that had but glanced at the light of earth, and then closed its soft blue eyes willingly, to be borne in the arms of a dying mother "into the silent land."
When the simple rite was nearly ended, and they were preparing to close the coffin for the last time, one bent over it that refused to be comforted. The last three days had stamped the mark of years upon their pastor's haggard face. There was a wildness in the glance he sent among his people, that made every one shudder with the fear that the fate he dreaded was come upon him; but this changed to an indescribable expression of yearning agony, when he lifted his wondering children for the last look upon their mother's face. Then came a still and gentle woman, far older, but much like the mother of these little ones, and a stern man, whose face softened for an instant as he gazed into the coffin, but instantly settled again to a harsh and resolute rigidity.
Those who pitied all the stricken group, and would willingly have borne a part of their suffering for them, did not know that the father of the dead cursed in his heart the man who had won his daughter from her early home, even while he looked upon her holy face, nor that his harsh threat of forcing her to return thither, conveyed in the letter she had so fondly welcomed, was the immediate cause of all this desolation.
How the slanders, to which he gave full credence, had reached Mr. Warner, was never known, but they had caused his hasty resolve to withdraw her from a protection he had never fully assented to, and the cruel letter had proved the death-blow to her already overburdened heart.
Mr. Townsend did not go mad; though, with a knowledge of his history, many feared that he would become a maniac. His sorrow seemed after a time a thing apart from actual life, and he entered as earnestly as ever upon the duties of his calling. A chastened expression of sadness became habitual to his face; the smile so many loved became more rare than ever. He could not stay where every thing excited some agonizing recollection of the past, but in a new sphere, and surrounded by those who appreciated his singularly elevated character, he fulfilled a round of unostentatious and benevolent labour. His people saw him always calm and rarely outwardly depressed, but they did not know of the hours in which he "wrestled with hidden pain." The solace of his children's society was rarely accorded to him. They are growing up in the house in which their mother's childhood had been passed, and will inherit the wealth which was her rightful portion.
The first cause of this strange and fearful sundering of a happy family, was altered little by the consequences of his malicious slander. True, he was degraded from his office of deacon, and for an interval shut out from the communion of the church, but he only vouchsafed the remark "that he didn't mean to make no mischief, and it all came of Deacon Whiting's taking it up so seriously."
Deacon Whiting at length ceased trying to account for the mysterious Providence that had sent so severe a trial upon an innocent and truly excellent man.
"God knows best though," he would say to his wife, "and I suppose it's all right. I've often thought our minister's wife was getting too good for this world, but unless it was what made us all really charitable towards each other, and careful in particular as to what we say about our neighbours' failings, I don't see why she might not have been taken to Heaven without suffering all she did. However, we haven't changed our minister since, and before that no one ever stayed with us over two years."
It would be hard, indeed, were we to attempt to explain why the innocent are so often the greatest sufferers in this weary world; and many a heart would utterly fail, were it not for a firm trust that all these things shall be known and approved hereafter.
Our sketch has more than its foundation in reality.