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THE WIFE OF OUR NEW MINISTER.
BY T. S. ARTHUR.
There had been a pastoral change in our congregation. The people, after a ten years' trial of good old Mr. Wharton, and his amiable, compliant wife, came to the conclusion that a different kind of preacher, with a different kind of wife, would vastly improve their spiritual condition. There was a lack of strength about Mr. Wharton (so it was alleged), and certain prominent ladies in the church had wished (aloud) so often that Mrs. Wharton were less old-fashioned in her ways, that change, sooner or later, had come to be a settled thing in the minds of a majority. It was simply a question of time; and time settled the question. The change was made. Old Mr. Wharton and his wife retired, and Rev. Mr. Newton and his wife took their places in the pastorate of the congregation—I say "Mr. Newton and his wife," for our people think, or used to think, that a ministers place entitled them to the services of his wife, also, and regarded her duties among them in quite as high a light as they did the duties of her husband.
I happened to be away from the village at the time this change was made, and did not return until after Mr. Newton and his wife had been doing duty for something over three months.
"How do you like the new minister?" was among the first of my inquiries.
"He's a charming preacher, Mrs. B ," was the reply I received on every hand. Yet I saw, by the manner of my friends, that some drawback existed.
"How do you like his wife I'
Ah! The little mystery was explained Mr. Newton was well enough. But his wife 1
"What kiud of a woman is she I" I asked.
"Don't know. Can't make her out," was the vague answer received.
"Is she anything like Mrs. Wharton?"
"Oh dear, no! I only wish she was. Why, she doesn't take a particle of interest in the church. Hasn't been to one of the scripture readings nor prayer meetings; nor to the weekly 8ewing circle; nor even to the Sunday-school. We calculated entirely on her taking the senior girls' class which Mrs. Wharton taught for so many years; and a committee of ladies waited on her with an invitation to do so; but she actually declined, declaring that she had neither taste nor aptitude for teaching! Now, what do you think of that for a minister's wife? Did you ever hear of anything like it?"
I saw, at a glance, that there was trouble ahead; Miss Phoebe Lane, who made me this communication, was an active "circulating medium" in the congregation. She knew every
body's business, talked to everybody, and acted as opinion-maker to a large majority of ladies, who had too much to do in their families to have time for independent thinking on church matters.
I must confess that I felt a sort of liking for Mrs. Newton on this representation of Mia Lane. Mrs. Wharton had been such a pliant subject in the hands of my spinster friend, and a few like her, that an involuntary respect wis created for a minister's wife, who, in coming among us, could from the beginning show that she had an individuality of her own, and meant to hold by it.
Two or three days' intercourse with the members of the congregation satisfied me that Mrs. Newton would not do for the "Church of St, Charity." Mr. Newton was a delightful man! Such a preacher! So active in all the interest! of the Society 1 So pious! So humble-minded! But his wife! No woman could be less suited to her condition. It was even doubted whether she were a professor! Phoebe Lane was positive about it; and averred that she didn t believe there was a spark of piety in her soul. How a man like Mr. Newton could ever hare mated himself with such a wife was regarded by Miss Lane as one of the inexplicable mysteries. "A man like Mr. Newton, ;who might have had his choiceamong women!
I went to church with no ordinary feeling of interest on the sabbath following my return. Whether my leading impulses were of the earth, earthly, or of heaven, heavenly, I will not stop to question. Five minutes before the time for service to begin, a lady, just above the medium height, beautifully formed, and with a .'step of blended grace and dignity, passed along the aisle, leading a child by the hand, and took her seat in the minister's pew. Though not in MJ sense gaily dressed, there was a style and sir about her that by no means indicated a pioos disregard of worldly things. Taste had eridentlf presided at her toilet. I noticed a slight flutter running through the congregation, and the turning of many heads towards the minister8 pew, which occupied the most prominent place in the church. The lady did not look around her, nor show the slightest sign of interest in the people. How different, in all things, «• her appearance and bearing from that of good' kind, compliant Mrs. Wharton, whose pleasant* almost smiling face I had seen for so many years in that pew—a face turning, as by instinct, us mild sunlight ever and anon upon the congreg*" tion, while her husband broke for them we Bread of Life I
The contrast was hardly agreeable,
"She'll never do 1" whispered a lady-shadow of Miss Lane's bending to my ear from the pew just behind the one I occupied. "Proud as Lucifer, any one can see I" Such airs wont do for St. Charity."
"I made no reply. Though annoyed, I was yet sensibly influenced by the remark.
Very still, almost like a statue, sat Mrs. Newton, the minister's wife, and I could see that the child, a little girl six or seven years old, leaned very close to her. How I wished that she would turn towards the congregation! How I longed to see her face! But I was not granted this desire until after the morning's services were closed.
I was particularly pleased with Mr Newton. Hie sermon, in contrast with the usual discourses I had listened to from the lips of Mr. Wharton, was a masterpiece eloquence. No one seemed to listen to him with more rapt attention than Mrs. Newton.
At last the services closed, and the time came when my restless curiosity was to be satis 6eJ. The ministers wife turned her face to the congregation, and I had a view of every feature. It was a face, once seen, to be remembered. Classic almost to severity in its outline, the full lips and soft hazel eyes gave to it a gentle expression. You saw at a glance that she was a woman of thought as well as feeling.
A few ladies gathered around her as she stepped from the pew, and I noticed that her countenance lit up very pleasantly as she spoke to them. But there was nothing obsequious; no undue familiarity, no wordy atfability. A certain air of dignity and self-respect marked every attitude of her person, and every expression of her countenance. All vulgar familiarity towards her was out of the question—I saw that at a glance.
But only a few ladies in the congregation ventured to approach her. In the eyes of many she was proud, and they were not "going to force themselves upon her notice." The prejudice admitted into their minds by others made them shun, rather than court her acquaintance. Of the few who did notice her, some were attracted by affinity, and some by a desire to gain a little reflected importance. Others thought it but hospitable to show her attentions, as a stranger among them, and acted accordingly; though the force-work was apparent. Desiring to meet her and make her acquaintance, I asked to be introduced, and was presented by a friend. I thought her recption rather cold; and so after passing a formal word or two, moved past her to speak to an old acquaintance whom I had not met for some time.
"How do you like our new minister's wife, Mrs. B—?" was almost the first question.
"Can't say. Must know something about her first," I answered.
"She'll not do for us I" said my friend, warmly. "She's not the woman for St. Charity 1"
"What's the defect?" I inquired.
"It's all defect 1" was the sweeping reply.
"Just look at her I A pretty thing for a minister's wife, indeed! Why, she carries herself with the air of a queen I"
"Mr. Newton," said I, "is a charming speaker. I never heard a more beautiful sermon."
"Oh, Mr, Newton is splendid I" replied my acquaintance, warmly. "But his wife! Oh, dear! its dreadful! What could have possessed him to marry such a woman I She'll never suit us—never, never! Why, I don't believe she's even a professor. She didn't stay to the communion on last Sunday! Just think of that—and she the minister's wife! It's been the talk of the congregation ever since! We fully expected her to take a class in the Sundayschool—but no! We invited her to be present at our sewing-circle—but no; she couldn't leave her children! A mere excuse! Then we elected her President of our Indian Missionary Society; but she declined the honour, saying that she had neither time nor taste for such public duties; that with her, charity, for the present, must begin at home. Now, isn't that a Christian spirit for you r Our minister's wife to talk of charity beginning at home! Why, she's a heathen!"
My church acquaintance waxed warm.
"Some of our people were eager enough to get rid of dear, good Mrs. Wharton," she added. "She wasn't bright and fashionable enough for them; but I rather think they've got their match now I"
I met, here and there, a lady of our church, who belonged to the home duty mind-yourown-business class, who did not join in this hue and cry against Mrs. Newton who thought that, if she had neither taste nor inclination for Sabbath-school teaching, sewing-circles, or missionary societies, the congregation should not interfere with these peculiarities. She had three little children, to whom she gave all a mother's care; and as the slender income which her husband derived from the parish of St. Charity, would only permitof her keeping a single domestic, a large part of her time had, necessarily, to be given to household duties. "Nobody can say," remarked one of these ladies, in my hearing, "that she neglects her children, or wastes her husband's income. The little parsonage has never looked so attractive inside or out as now. Mrs. Wharton was not tidy, as we all know, and things around her were generally at sixes and sevens. And as for her children, they were always neglected. Many times have I seen them in soiled and shabby dresses, while their mother was at the sewing-circle, or somewhere else that she had no business to be."
But the ladies who talked in this way belonged to the "queer" ones of the congregation. They were not of the pious kind. So all they said went for nothing with the many.
Without "variableness or shadow of turning," as St. Paul says, did Mrs. Newton keep on her way. Home was her parish, and she was content to do her duty there. Occasionally she accepted an invitation to take tea and spend an evening abroad'; but in most cases she declined these pleasant entertainments, and though over three months had passed, there had yet been no tea-party at the parsonage. Mr. Newton, on the other hand, mingled very freely with his congregation—sat with them at their tables, and joined them in their social gatherings. Of course the absence of Mrs. Newton on these cccasions always formed a subject of remark; and it was generally voted that her failure to accompany her husband seriously marred the pleasures of the evening.
"Ah, if his wife were only like him 1"
This was invariably the sighiDg ejaculation of Miss Phoebe Lane, or some one of her party.
At last the matter assumed so serious a shape in the minds of certain leading ladies in the parish that it was determined to wait upon Mrs. Newton, and remonstrate with her on the course of conduct she was pursuing—" A course of conduct," urged Miss Lane, "that is working untold injury in our church. Ever since she came here a change for the worse has been going on in the congregation. Members are growing cold or indifferent. Our sewing-circles are losing theirinterest,the scripture readings and prayer-meetings are badly attended, and the Sabbath-school is d windling away. The social sphere, always so warm and attractive under the genial influence of good Mrs. Wharton, is fast losing its power —and all from this strange conduct on the part of our minister's wife. She must be talked to on the subject! If she doesn't know her duty, she must be taught it. If she wont hear her husband, she must hear the congregation."
A committee of ladies—Miss Lane at the head of them, and voluntary spokeswoman—finally undertook to set Mrs. Newton right in regard to her duties to the parish of St. Charity, and formally waited upon her for that purpose. Curiosity prompted me to accept an offered membership in that committee. Let me picture the interview with Mrs. Newton.
We found her sitting in her orderly-arranged parlour, her person as neat as everything around her, and her three children as sweet and pure as May blossoms. Two were playing on the floor, and the babe slept in the cradle, that was drawn so close to the mother that she could touch the rocker, if needed, with her foot. She was sewing on a shirt for her husband. Four ladies made up the committee—a formidable number. Mr. Newton was away, attending the the funeral of a poor labourer's child—so the coast was clear, and the culprit iu our power.
With an easy grace the minister's wife received us, and after we were all seated she stepped to the door and spoke to her girl, who was in the kitchen. A smart, tidy-looking domestic came forward, and Mrs. Newton said to her with a kindness of mauner that I could not help noticing—
"Take Alice and George into the garden, Jane, and keep them till I call you."
"Yes, ma'am." The girl spoke very cheerfully. The two children sprang up instantly from the floor, and bounding from the room
left us alone with Mrs. Newton and her Bleeping baby.
A grave silence followed. The commute was embarrassed, but the minister's wife was entirely at her ease.
"We have come," said Miss Lane, after liradry preliminary throat-clearings and bridling motions of the head peculiar to herself, "to hue a little conversation with you about our church matters."
Hadn't you better talk on that subject with my husband?" was answered with the utmost self-composure. "It is his particular province."
"No, ma'am," said Miss Lane, her voice gaining emphasis; "we have no fault to find with Mr. Newton. He does his part entirely to our satisfaction."
"Oh 1 I understand." Mrs. Newton spoke as if light were breaking into her mind.
•'Yes, ma'am," Miss Lane went on, "it is your duty in the church that we have come to talk about, not your husband's; and I hope you will not take it ill of us if we speak out plainly."
"Not by any means,,' replied Mrs. Newlon. I noticed a slight quiver in her voice, a (light flushing of her cheeks, and a brightening of her soft hazel eyes. But it was plain that she was fully self-possessed, and in no way intimidated by this unexpected citation to answer for delinquencies.
'• Not by any means," she repeated. "Speak out plainly, and if in any thing I have been direlect, I will confess my fault, and do all I can to lead a better life."
"Plain speaking is always best," said oar mouth-piece, oracularly; '■ so we will speak plainly. The fact is, Mrs. Newton, you hare failed almost entirely to meet the expectations of onr people."
"Indeed! I am grieved to learn this." Mn. Newton spoke seriously, but with no sign of disturbance. "I was not before aware that the people had any special claim upon me."
'■ No special claims upon you!" Miss Line uttered the words in undisguised astonishment. "No special claims!" she repeated, "and yon the wife of our minister 1"
"What do you expect of me?" calmly inquired Mrs. Newton.
"We have already intimated our expectations in various ways. There is the girl's senior class in Sunday-school; that, of course, we eipected you to take. And you are wanted on the Visit* ing Committee, and in our Missionary Society. Unless our minister's wife take the lead in the temporalities of the church nothing will prosper."
"Then," said Mrs. Newton, "it is understood, that while my husband's duties relate mainly to the spiritualities of the church, mine have, special regard to its temporalities."
"Certainly, ma'am! you have expressed the difference of relation exactly," replied Miss Lane, led on by the peculiar way in which Mrs. Newton put the question, to admit the existence of a very wide range of duties as required of that lady by the congregation of St. Charity.
"This is all new to me, ladies," said the minister's wife. "I was not aware before that any one in the congregation regarded me as bating failed in duty."
"Everyone so regards you." Our spokeswoman was a personage who used great plainness of speech.
"This should have been stated in the beginning' said Mrs, Newton. "How was I to know your views in the matter? I saw all of my husband's correspondence, but not a word was said about his wife or the parish requirements in her case. Now it appears that her range of duties is almost as wide as his. I ought to have known this before I came here,ladies; and Ireally think the complaint of failure of duty is against you instead of me. Let me ask, so as to reach a clear understanding of this matter, what salary you pay your minister's wife?"
"Salary!" gasped Miss Lane, her under jaw tailing, and her eyes projecting at least a quarter of an inch beyond their ordinary position, Salary!" she repeated, in a bewildered, halfconfounded way.
"Yes," quietly replied Mrs. Newton; "the salary. You do not, of course, require the services of your minister's wife in the way you propose without compensation."
"Preposterous.!" Miss Lane had recovered herself, and gained a little blind indignation with her own partial self-possession. "Did any one ever hear of a thing so absurd 1 In having your husband for our minister"
"You did not hire me," interrupted Mrs. Newton, with calm dignity. "Bear that in mind, if you please."
"Thank you for the remark, Mrs. Newton," said I, coming almost involuntarily to her aid. "It throws a flood of light upon the whole subject. We did not engage you, and have no claim upon a single hour of your time. All that the church of St. Charity has a right to ask of you is, that you do your duty as a wife and mother."
Mrs. Newton turned to me with a grateful look, and grasping my hand, said—
"Thank you, Mrs. B"
A little while she paused; but no one spoke in the deep silence. I think some wholesome convictions of truth were finding their way even into the mind of Miss Lane, who somehow reminded me of a withered leaf, or a piece of atffly-starched muslin suddenly drenched with water.
"My husband's duties are clear," very evenly spoke Mrs. Newton—very kindly, yet very firmly and very lucidly. My husband's duties are clear. He has come to you as a spiritual guide and instructor. His office is to point to Heaven and lead the way. It is a high and holy office. I honour him in it, and sustain him to the best of my ability. My duties are also clear. I am simply a wife and mother; and, God being my helper, I will faithfully discharge a wife and mother's sacred obligations. At
present these duties take up all my time; and conscience will not permit me to neglect real duties for the performance of imaginary ones. In doing such duties I best serve the church. This is my religion, and I have learned it from the Bible."
She paused for a few moments. No one replying to her remarks she went on:
"It lias been alleged that I am not pious eneugh for the people here. Perhaps not. But of one thing you may all be certain; I am no hypocrite. I shall never put on a pious exterior to hide the want of charity in my heart. As I am you will always see me."
Mrs. Newton paused again; but as none of her visitors showed any inclination to speak, she continued:
"My religion is somewhat peculiar, I believe. I do not keep it as a showy Sunday suit, but wear it every day. My essential worship consists in a daily discharge of my duties as a wife and mother; my formal worship, in the pious prostration of body and spirit before my Heavenly Father at set times, either in my closet or in the public assembly. The Sabbath to me is the golden clasp that binds together the circle of weekly duties. It is a blessing and a consolation, just in the degree that the worship of my six days has been essential worship."
"And are we to expect nothing of our minister's wife ?" said Miss Lane, in a very subdued voice. She was evidently conscious of having made a great mistake in her estimate of Mrs. Newton's character.
"Nothing more than her duty as a woman. If she have qualities which will give her a leading social influence, and have time to spare from home duties—which are always first—she ought to let these qualities become active for good. But no more can, with justice, be required from, her than any other woman in the congregation [ Your contract for service is with her husband, and not with her; and you have no more just claim upon her time, nor right to control her freedom, than you have upon the wife of your lawyer, doctor, or schoolmaster. It is this mistaken idea of the people with regard to ministers' wives that is producing so much trouble in societies, and making wretched the lives of hundreds of poor women, who hardly dare say that their souls are their own. It is not enough that the ministe'rs wife is expected to keep her house and clothe her children upon the lowest range of income, that will not allow her competent help, but she must spend half of her time in gossiping round among the idle or well-todo ladies of the congregation—take part in their sewing-circles, and attend all their various meetings for good or doubtful purposes.
"Now all this is wrong; and if you are not satisfied with my husband, because I will not imitate so bad an example, you must give him notice accordingly; or if you think my services absolutely essential to the prosperity of the church, just state the amount of salary you can afford to give, and if, for the sum, I can procure a person in every way competent as myself to assume the charge of my children and household, I will take into serious consideration your proposition. Beyond this, ladies, I can promise nothing."
"Thank you, again, my dear madam," said I, with warmth that expressed my real feelings, "for giving this matter its right solution! You have spoken out like a true, independent woman, as you are, and I will see that you views are correctly reported j consider me as your friend."
She turned upon me a grateful look, and, as she did so, I could see that my earnest words had brought a dimming moisture to her eye.
"I could wish," she answered, in a lower voice, "to number you all as my friends. I have come among you as a stranger, seeking no pre-eminence, but only desiring to do my duty as a woman, side by side with other women. The fact that my husband is your minister gives me of right, no position among you, and gives you no right to demand of me any public service. If my husband fails in his duty admonish him; butt in the name of justice and humanity,
do not establish any supervision over me. Let my private life be as sacred from intrusion u that of any other woman. This I have i right to demand, and I will be satisfied with nothing else."
Silenced, if not convinced, was Mill Phabt Lane, and she retired in due time with her committee of remonstrance and accusation, their colours trailing upon the ground. I lost no time in giving my history of the interview; repeating almost word for word the clear, strong language of Mrs. Newton, that she might hire the full benefit of her own statement of the cue. And I am happy to say that there was commonsense enough and right feeling enough in tie parish of St. Charity to do her justice. Her husband is still our minister, active, useful, and beloved: but as no salary has yet been set apart far his wife, she has not assumed any duties in the congregation, and from present appearance), I think, has no intention of doing so. But as a wife and mother her life is beautiful; and her example of far more benefit to the people under her husband's care, than all her more public acts could be, were she to enter npon all the duties once so thoughtlessly assigned to her.
OUR PARIS CORRESPONDENT.
Mv DEAR C
I hope this letter will be more fortunate than my last, and reach you. Why the other did not I cannot imagine; for if even the French authorities gave themselves the trouble to sus
Eect its contents, and open it, I cannot rememer that there was any treason in it, or anything liable to call for its suppression. It related to you the wonders of the Exhibition, and the festivities in honour of our Imperial and Royal guests, festivities, alas! that have been sadly interrupted by the news of the atrocious murder of the unfortunate Maximilian—news which for many days we could not credit, but which has proved too true. So of course the Court went into mourning, and all public files were suspended until the twenty-one days elapsed. The Emperor had, at first, given orders for them to be continued in honour of the Sultan and the Viceroy of Egypt, appointing the Prince Napoleon to preside over them; but the Sultan declared that be fully participated in the horror felt at the act perpetrated by the Mexicans, and sympathized in the mourning, so would not appear in state anywhere, and soon after left for England, as well as the Viceroy: conduct that the Parisians appreciated, and contrasted it with that of Maximilian's brother-in-law, the King of the Belgians, who, the nitiht the news arrived that the Emperor of Mexico had been taken prisoner and in all probability shot, danced as if nothing had occurred to call forth anxiety and sorrow. Wc all glossed on his
brotherly behaviour, it was the talk of Paris. Our Imperial and Royal guests in the month of June were, if report speaks true, anything but the most exemplary, and numeroai tales were afloat that scandalized even the Parisians, the King and Prince Royal of Prussia alone escaped our censure, and yet we are not overparticular. When the Sultan returns from England it is expected that balls and dinner! will recommence.
The distribution of prizes on the 1st of July was a very splendid scene. As to get itanding room near the Champs Elysees to see the Monarchs pass to the Palace of Industry w impossible, every corner was crammed—thajH to 6ay, every corner left open to the public; fm, as ever, of course the police took care to enforce order. The Emperor and Empress as well at the Sultan were received with immense cheering; the Prince of Wales was also greeted wiin marked enthusiasm, and bis smiling face pleased everyone. I should think that amid all tw fairy scenes lately contemplated in Parii, ^"^""^ equalled this one, so much talked of beforehand, and to describe it woud be impossible. OM incident that marked the fttn was the grant prize awarded the Emperor, for his """^ ottvriere.i (workmen's houses), and which tin little Prince Imperial presented to him. "ne* Monsieur Lesseps received the grand pnz« TM the Canal de Suez the Emperor shook W» with him. The Viceroy of Egypt wa«pr<*-n ncognitoj I suppose there was no room ">